Some time ago, I reviewed Crest of the Stars, a thirteen episode space opera that impressed me with its ability to blend character drama with a galaxy-spanning main plot. Having thus got a taste for the series, I needed more, and so it was that in due course I came to see the three Banner of the Stars series, sequels covering the events of the later novels. But ultimately, could they live up to the high standard set by their predecessor?
Banner of the Stars
Set three years after the events of Crest of the Stars, the first Banner series sees Lafiel take command of the attack ship Basroil, with Jinto as supply officer and a whole new cast of named characters as the main crew members. The Abh are now ready to make a determined stand against the aggression of the United Mankind, but even though their mighty fleet means that victory will be almost inevitable, the battle won’t be without its losses.
My favourite of all three Banner series and on a par with Crest of the Stars, Banner I showcases what the franchise does best- combining the story of individual characters with a more macroscopic drama. For the former, we have Lafiel and her crew on the Basroil, experiencing space battle firsthand, with all the tension of slow tactical battles, the immediacy of fast-paced conflict and the horror of losing comrades. At the same time, however, we also get to see the workings of the admiralty as they plan out the war from the comfort of their spaceships, giving us an idea of the overall flow of the conflict. Overall, the result is a compelling story that keeps us gripped from start to finish, although there is a general lack of any perspective into the war from the other side- the United Mankind are just a faceless enemy for the Abh to fight.
As before, the characters themselves are crucial to bringing the story to life, with this series bringing back Jinto, Lafiel and several other recurring characters, as well as adding new personalities to the mix- everyone from grizzled frontline veterans to whimsical admirals. There are plenty of interesting characters around, but with only thirteen episodes the only way to properly develop even a fraction of them is through lengthy dialogue scenes that won’t be to everyone’s tastes. Even so, it’s good to see how Jinto and Lafiel have grown up since their earlier adventures, and how they continue to mature over the course of the series.
Visually, the first two Banner of the Stars series are on a par with Crest of the Stars, using decent enough animation for their time, and character designs that are generally solid and attractive if a little 1990s in their large-eyed nature. Background music is also essentially unchanged, using grandiose and orchestral space themes to set the tone for the series.
Banner of the Stars II
If you were expecting more of the same from Banner of the Stars II, then you’ll be either disappointed or pleasantly surprised to learn that the franchise tries something a little different in this series. By this point, the Abh are basically cleaning up the last of the United Mankind forces and claiming their planets as they go, but even this isn’t without its dangers. For Jinto, Lafiel and the crew of the Basroil, it means getting lumbered with the administration of a prison planet where fertile men, fertile women and sterile people of both sexes have been separated into different compounds- each with different goals. With tensions high and the situation at a near explosive point, our heroes will have to put their very lives on the line to make it through.
Whilst this story is certainly intriguing in its own right, somehow these planet-bound adventures interspersed by yet more dialogue scenes from the admirals just didn’t appeal as much as the earlier series. With only ten episodes in which to work, the plot became a little rushed in places, with changes of heart occurring all too quickly, and a latter episode arc about a temporary withdrawal from the planet due to United Mankind forces approaching coming off as a little too poorly explained to really understand what was going on and why (even so, this section did include some admirable verbal sparring with the enemy forces).
This time around, the main cast stays pretty much the same, and although the reduced episode count makes it even harder to fit development in, the series still tries its best. As always, Jinto and Lafiel are the most important, with each having to overcome personal hurdles- and this time they have to do it while separated from each other. Can Lafiel take command as an Abh must without the one person she can be herself around? Will Jinto survive the perils of the planet’s surface? The opening sequence of the series paints a pessimistic picture, but the only way to find out the true outcome is to watch for yourself.
Banner of the Stars III
A two episode OVA that covers the next novel in the series, Banner III is probably the weakest of the lot, simply because it doesn’t have a great deal of time in which to tell its story. With Lafiel by his side, Jinto finally plucks up the courage to return to the Hyde System, but now that he has ‘turned Abh’, will anyone there be pleased to see him? Should he try to fulfil his role as their Count, or give it all up and remain an Abh- never to go home again? And even as Jinto faces this painful decision, elsewhere in the Empire, a new squadron of ships is being commissioned.
As it was only produced in 2005, Banner III is at least an improvement on its predecessors in terms of visuals- the animation is a lot cleaner, although as with the Hunter X Hunter OVAs this means that it also loses a bit of its old school individuality. Overall, it’s a shame that this couldn’t have been a proper TV series, but whilst it may be the weak link in the family, it is still worthy enough in its own right.
Bonus OVA: Passage of the Stars (aka Crest of the Stars: Birth)
Also included in the Banner of the Stars II boxset is a prequel OVA in which Lafiel’s parents (or parents-to-be, as they were back then), decide to investigate an abandoned spaceship- only to discover a hidden chapter in human history. Although brief, this is an interesting segment that fleshes out Lafiel’s parents a bit more, and is certainly required viewing if you’re planning to tackle the franchise.
One of the better sci-fi series out there, Banner of the Stars is all about showing us conflict on both the individual and overall level, creating a compelling space opera that will unite fans of both anime and sci-fi. Admittedly, the later series in particular are let down by a lack of time in which to expand on their themes, but nonetheless the franchise is definitely worth looking into.