Kiyoyuki YanadaTomomichi NishimuraBanjou GingaUnshou Ishizuka
Space Travelers (anime)
Medium: OVA
Year: 2000
Director: Takashi Ui
Original creator: Katsuyuki Motohiro
Writer: Katsuhiko Koide
Studio: Media Vision, Robot
Keywords: Space Travelers, anime, SF
Actor: Shinichiro Miki, Banjou Ginga, Hideki Ogihara, Kotono Mitsuishi, Shigeru Chiba, Shinobu Adachi, Takaco Kato, Yutaka Aoyama, Hisayoshi Izaki, Hitoshi Bifu, Katsunosuke Hori, Kiyoyuki Yanada, Mahito Tsujimura, Mie Odagi, Tomomichi Nishimura, Unshou Ishizuka, Yuji Ueda, Yuki Matsuda
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Format: 60 minutes
Website category: Anime early 00s
Review date: 17 November 2011
I liked it much more than most people did. Considering its handicaps, I even thought it was good.
Firstly, its origins. It's a spin-off of the live-action Space Travelers movie that was released the same year, in which one of the characters is a fan of the fictional Space Travelers anime. What's more, we see excerpts from it. Any other movie would have merely whipped up those clips and stopped there, but this lot actually created a sixty-minute Space Travelers anime movie. This even got a DVD release in the West, unlike its parent.
I liked the live-action Space Travelers. It's big, confident and a lot of fun, although it takes some confusing tonal decisions later on and becomes a light-hearted comedy in an increasingly dark situation. It's a film that deserves to put bums on seats, which is something you couldn't say of most of its contemporaries. I love Tokyo Trash Baby, for instance, but it probably had an audience of three old ladies and a dog. The anime though had its hands tied behind its back:
1 - It's a one-off sixty-minute OVA, not the full series it's supposed to be. This is a fiendishly difficult format to do well. The best you can normally hope for is for these to be watchable but forgettable.
2 - Its cast is too big. What's more, there's nothing the anime producers could have done about this. In the live-action Space Travelers, eight people in a bank siege take on the identities of the heroes of the anime. Therefore not only did this have to be a sixty-minute action romp with spaceships and gunfights (sigh), but it also had to be a showcase for the eight-man team of Jetter, Bomber, Cat, Papillon, Hoi, Tanner, Irene and Dragon. This is ludicrous. No one in real life would do that. They're all in the title sequence, each getting their own freeze-frame and on-screen information box, but even that much is information overload.
3 - Fundamentally it's spin-off merchandising, made to an impossible brief. It didn't even occur to me that it might be good. Watched in that light, it's infinitely better than it deserved to be. It's fun. It's also cliched and kind of pointless, but those cliches have been lifted from the best pulp sources, most obviously Star Wars, and they're being executed fairly well.
The biggest hurdle is of course the cast. To my surprise, not only do they manage to make everyone distinctive, but one or two even attain faint glimmers of inner life. There's a default setting of "cocky preening and smug", but closer examination will reveal that this is only true of half of our heroes and it's only irritating in one or two of them. The two ultra-violent taciturn lumps were my favourites, Dragon (grumpy samurai) and Bomber (massive muscleman with a weapons cage). They're a laugh. Dragon in particular is so unrelentingly miserable that he's almost funny. Papillon and Irene have big boobs, but Papillon is an ice-cool femme fatale while Irene is a joyfully gun-loving psycho. They take this nearly to the point of idiocy. Hmmm. I can see the appeal of the character, but I found her faintly annoying... which is at least better than the brat. The latter's clearly meant to be a twat, but I'd guess we're expected to want him to shut up, whereas I personally wanted to see him slowly and bloodily tortured to death.
The two characters not defined by their sole character trait are Hoi and Jetter. Hoi is a slick thief until there's any danger at all, whereupon he becomes a coward. Okay, that's two character traits. He's basically as paper-thin as the others. Meanwhile Jetter (the gang's leader) might initially look personality-free, but he's an efficient leader who, despite being cool and brave, believes in the un-Japanese philosophy of never sacrificing your life for any cause, no matter how noble. Obviously this is the opposite of how action heroes normally blather on. It's distinctive. I liked him. You don't have to agree with what he's saying to appreciate what he adds to the movie. Jetter is a man with strong and slightly unusual beliefs, who's willing to back them up with both actions and reasoned argument.
This isn't deep, but it does the job. You can remember who everyone is and they fulfil their function as the heroes of an action-adventure SF movie. As a group, they're entertaining. I'd have liked it even more had their characterisation been less shallow, but let's not forget that the production team have already performed a labour of Hercules.
The plot again does its job. I enjoyed it. You couldn't call it original, but I liked the fact that our heroes actually have to use their intelligence. The worldbuilding also adds some flavour. It's nothing special, but note how much background is in that pre-credits sequence, for instance. The Earth has been captured in an Orbital Ring System which goes around the planet like a wristband, while their technology seems particularly good at robotics and energy shields. However there are plot holes:
(a) Even though our heroes are suspicious of the situation, no one ever wonders about the convenient timing of that first robot attack. This is because it's there entirely to give the audience a bit of gunplay to watch.
(b) The rebels are trying to bring fuel to Earth for their rocket. They fail, so the rocket can't go anywhere... except that after a Jetter pep talk, everything proceeds as required. Eh? You might be able to circumvent this by arguing that a certain character had been lying, but I'm not sure about that.
(c) Jetter walks up to a bomb, taking no precautions, and duly gets blown up. Then, in the next scene, he's fine. This is never explained or discussed. In fairness this is obviously yet more of that shield technology, but even so he must either be a cretin or have been making scary assumptions as to the bomb's power levels. (Further note: this is Jetter.)
Overall, I thought this was fine. It's throwaway action fluff, yes, but that was the best we could reasonably expect and within those constraints I think it manages to be respectable. It looks good, its plot works and it does much better than expected with its unwieldy cast. Emotionally it's lightweight, but I'm not going to throw bricks at it for that. Low expectations will undoubtedly have played a big part here, but I enjoyed it.