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GENRE: Anime ORIGINAL AIR DATES: January 8 - June 25, 1998
// review by EscapeRouteBritish

The Wild West of Outer-Space

Gene Starwind is a hot-blooded womanizer going from job to job with no clear sense of direction. His best friend is an eleven-year-old boy named Jim Hawkings who drinks coffee and crunches numbers for a living. The two take on a job from an outlaw named Hilda, which sparks a crazy adventure spanning 26 episodes of aggressively late-nineties anime, with all the hallmarks of the era both bad and good. This is Outlaw Star; an animated series that ran on Japanese TV in 1998, animated by Sunrise with assistance from XEBEC. It aired on TV in North America but from what I can gather it never aired in the United Kingdom. I finally managed to watch the show for the first time on the limited Anime Legends DVD release from Beez. This release erroneously lists the show as having 25 episodes and has a 12 age certificate though this uncut version of the show easily warrants a 15.

Much like its main character Gene, this show's legendary reputation precedes it and yet nobody ever seems to talk about it. The series is based on the manga Starward Warrior Knight Outlaw Star, but I can only assume the show is somewhat accurate to the source material because the manga was never officially published in English anywhere. Thankfully, the animated series got an English dub of classic 90s dubiety so it can be watched either that way or in its original Japanese with subtitles depending on what you prefer.

It is difficult to talk about Outlaw Star without comparing it to Cowboy Bebop, which ends up casting Outlaw Star in an unfavourable light. Outlaw Star is a lesser refined take on the space-age romanticism of sci-fi anime, though its jagged edges and unseemly blemishes give it a certain charm. On the surface level, it greatly resembles its contemporary Cowboy Bebop; both shows feature a crew of misfits taking odd jobs to make ends meet, with barely enough money to afford food let alone ship repairs, going from planet to planet hoping to make it big. Though in this sense Outlaw Star and Cowboy Bebop are quite similar, Outlaw Star does contain an over-arching story where Bebop doesn't. Instead of focusing on character backgrounds and getting to know each of the main cast as Bebop does, Outlaw Star chooses to keep a lot of this a mystery while focusing on a main treasure hunt that takes up most of its 26 episode run.

This results in a show with a cast that I feel less connected to, but with a story I was desperate to see reach a conclusion. It's not like characters don't see development at all, because they do, it just isn't a major focus like with Bebop. Despite Outlaw Star starting strong it dwindles early on and struggles to maintain the same excellent pacing and development it had at the beginning. Thankfully, the show's excellent sense of humour and ballsy "acceptable at the time" comedy smack it squarely in the enjoyable category like a finely aged wine, to the point where you're so intoxicated that the mediocre plot doesn't bother you.


Wow, it's like they know everything about me!

The main cast is searching for a treasure called the Galactic Leyline. The search first leads them to a girl named Melfina who they discover in suspended animation, then to a spaceship called the XGP which they decide to steal. From here, the true search for this treasure begins, with each step of the journey landing the crew in more debt and more danger. Along the way, the crew expands to include a samurai assassin named Twilight Suzuka and a beast-girl who hails from a planet of animal warriors named Aisha Clanclan. Each character is not explored outside of their original premise and receives a brief conclusion to their weak character development in the last few episodes.

The English dub was directed by veteran voice actress Wendee Lee, and is definitely a product of its era. While the flaps match, the voices often sound forced to do so. The cast consists of voice talent that you will have heard throughout your childhood, though not any specifically well-known voice actors. Performances vary but the overall quality of the dub is consistent and above average. Stand-out roles are Ezra Weisz as flamboyant arms-dealer Fred Luo and Peter Spellos channeling his best "2001: A Space Odyssey" as on-board computer Gilliam. The main cast in general sounds like they're trying far too hard to be cocky self-absorbed jerks, but considering many of them are cocky self-absorbed jerks it ends up working rather well. I'd recommend watching the show in its original Japanese though if you're not picky, it holds up better.

Recommending Outlaw Star is difficult. On the one hand, it is a show with an excellent rugged art style and rough hand-drawn quality to it that I'd have no trouble convincing classic anime fans to watch. There's but one problem, I would wager that anybody who considers themselves to be a classic anime fan will have likely already seen Outlaw Star at least once, possibly way back when it aired on Cartoon Network's Toonami in the early 2000s or later when it was re-broadcast with significantly fewer edits in 2017. Recommending the show to those who have already likely seen it seems rather pointless, whereas recommending this show to those who enjoy modern, cleanly animated shows with quality writing honed from decades of anime production may struggle to get anything from Outlaw Star other than disappointment at its disjointed narrative and meager delivery. I can only vouch on my experience with the show as someone who's looking to catch up on all the shows he missed. While Outlaw Star did deliver some sincere laughs I didn't find anything within its story to hook me. It is significantly telling that I finished this series simply to say I had "watched the legendary Outlaw Star".

It is truly unfortunate that the series couldn't wrangle anything out of me apart from a few good laughs, and unfortunately, it pales in comparison to Cowboy Bebop in practically every facet. Outlaw Star really is the epitome of the "maybe the real treasure was the friends we made along the way", but I wouldn't treasure a friendship with any of these awkward self-absorbed delinquents.


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