At this moment, I’m watching Banner of the Stars II, which is the third part of one of anime’s most brilliant sci-fi series. It used to be more popular, but so few young fans know about it that it merits resurrecting the title “Hidden Gems of Anime.” This work began when Hiroyuki Morioka wrote the first novel of the Crest of the Stars series, which is told in three installments. Morioka created quite a sensation with this series, consisting of three volumes for Crest of the Stars and four for Banner of the Stars. He even introduced a new language for the Abh empire called Baronh, with which each season begins and the prologue is narrated. (Being ignorant of this, I began to worry that I had suddenly lost my ability to understand Japanese when I started watching it!) Some people have fallen for it to such an extent that they have learned this language, and the Japanese editions are written in both Baronh and Japanese–so one can even enjoy the novels that way!
Banner of the Stars II reminds me of what makes this series so fresh and enjoyable. Each season starts slowly, and they never rush the pace. One remarks on the abundant use of dialogue, the subjects of which range from mundane palaver to philosophical or cultural discussions to war room meetings. These conversations are often drawn out and evolve to include a spectrum of topics. Only the author’s great skill at conversation allows him to get away with it: these conversations always intrigue me. One almost wishes that one could be locked in a room with them for several hours just listening. No character lacks the wits for entertaining speech. In Banner of the Stars II, the conversation which started as a negotiation between Jinto and the leaders on a certain planet concerning plans for evacuation morphing into one on whether Lafiel and Jinto were homosexual was particularly amusing.
The way the series delineates the high level of civilization and the curious cultural practices of the Abh are another highlight. All the cultures are presented in a rather non-judgmental fashion. Technophilia pervades Abh culture so much that they have developed a sixth sense (a kind of sonar which allows them to fly space ships better) and have all their children designed for them in laboratories. They are all beautiful, tend toward being quite intelligent, and live for about 200 years. (I like thinking of them as space elves.) All are atheists and rule their dominion with great tolerance toward each planet’s practices.
The battles are intense, especially when they occur in “plane space,” a dimension which allows for swift intergalactic travel. Overall, the ships fight as if fleets of submarines, which lends a uniqueness to these battles: the ships rely mostly on mines and missiles (which resemble torpedoes), and certain compartments need to be sealed off as battle damage occurs. Also, the bridge tends to be dark and small–like a submarine’s conning tower.
The characters themselves rate high in likeability and diversity of character–another reason for the conversations being enjoyable. Jinto and Lafiel have been rated as the best anime couple by the defunct and greatly missed Anime Insider magazine. The battle-thirsty and coolheaded Beneej Spoor, who suffers from long bouts of ennui, also makes for one of my favorite characters.
Well, dear readers, those are the highlights for this series. I enjoy watching it in both English and Japanese, though the sub is superior. Hope this article has piqued your interest! Any other sci-fi series which you find enjoyable?