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On Star Ocean EX and Other Video Game Anime...

August 3, 2001

Anime and Manga Meta-Review - Star Ocean Ex.

I just happened to peruse Andrew Shelton's review of Star Ocean EX. Now, having only seen a slight amount of the series, I am in no position to rebut or support his review entirely. However, his opinion (which is perfectly valid considering what he professes to know about the series) illustrates a big problem with the genre which he has apparently unknowingly stumbled onto: the genre of role-playing video game anime.

One of the most important aspects of anime, yet one of the most consistently ignored or unacknowledged, is its source material. Very few anime were actually originally conceived as storylines for animation. The majority of anime are based on manga, which is perfectly understandable considering the comics-heavy Japanese culture, and Western anime fandom seems to know this well. Other well-known anime are based on novels which are far less known (at least in the States), like Crest of the Stars, The Slayers, and Record of Lodoss War.

Then there are video game-based anime, the most popular of which are based on fighting games (Street Fighter, Fatal Fury) and dating simulations (Sakura Wars, Sentimental Graffiti, End of Summer). These range from good to wretched, depending on the source material used, the faithfulness of the anime, and the quality of the direction and animation. Generally, however, plot is sacrificed for likable characters.

Star Ocean EX hails from a pedigree that is fairly rare in anime - it is based on a role-playing video game, in particular, the second installment of the Star Ocean series, which was released in Japan and the United States as Star Ocean: The Second Story. The storyline, as in the anime, revolves around two characters, Claude and Rena, as they adventure through a quasi-medieval world trying to save it from a gathering horde of monsters, unknowing of the true, and far more sinister plot, which is revealed halfway through the game and has (literally) universal implications. In the meantime, the game (which is played from either main character's point of view) involves plenty of character development and interaction, including romance and comic relief.

Anyone who has seen Star Ocean: The Second Story (and beaten it) knows full well where the plot is going, who (and what) the characters are, and why.

And that is the very downfall of a TV series like Star Ocean EX. You see, having a series based on a detailed universe well-known in a particular fandom (gaming) is a Catch-22.

For the sake of the newbies, a show like Star Ocean EX must introduce and explain away all the characters, the world setting, and the plot. However, to appease all the fans, it must be done in a relatively succinct and terse fashion so as to actually keep the plot going at a decent clip. Not only that, but changes MUST be made in order to pace the story correctly for the format (TV series episodes) that the show is in. And that means changing certain events, or omitting them outright.

So what potentially happens? Everything is oversimplified for the newbies, while too many characters are introduced for the sake of appeasing the gaming fans who would riot if something or someone was omitted. The non-gamers who watch it don't understand where the story is going or why it all seems so stock, while the gamers nitpick and decry the treatment of "their" characters. The TV series won't have time for all those moments of character interaction, and they'll probably concentrate on the action and plot, which, when you really think about it, aren't the main point of a role-playing game at all!

And guess what? Console RPGs are only really popular in two countries - Japan, and the US, and they're a relatively minor component of the US gaming scene at that, especially when compared to fighting games.

So all the anime fans in Europe, Australia, and South America get to see an anime with no prior experience of the source material, and they will wonder what all the fuss was about, and move on to something more interesting and universal, like Captain Tsubasa, or Gundam Wing or something like that.

Well it sounded like a good idea.

So you've probably figured out by now that I am a fan of the original video game. Why am I not decrying a lukewarm review over this series? Because I understand where he's coming from as a reviewer. A while back, I rented a one-shot OAV known as Fire Emblem. Well, this anime is based off a role-playing series which is very popular in Japan, but was never released in America. So without being familiar with the characters or plot, I viewed it and found it fairly substandard. There was no way I could know what to expect, and I understand Andrew Shelton's opinion entirely. It is no less and no more valid than my own opinion of Fire Emblem - and I will probably disagree with him more than anything, but I'm certainly not going to tell him he's wrong.

On the other side of the coin, of course, are the Final Fantasy OAVs, which are almost universally reviled (or lampooned) by Final Fantasy game fans (like myself), but are quite appreciated by those utterly ignorant of the series.

What happens now? Well, first, THEM Anime Reviews is going to hunker down in front of its new flagship computer (soon to be installed, probably in late August or early September), watch a few of the dang episodes, write its review, and then make this prediction:

If you're a fan of Star Ocean: The Second Story, or its never-released-in-America predecessor, Star Ocean, then you'll probably like the show no matter what, even if (as we predict, and is blatantly obvious) Claude ends up with Rena, Ashton ends up with Precis, so on.

If you have no idea what Star Ocean: The Second Story IS even after we've told you it is a role-playing game for the PlayStation - then you probably won't understand Star Ocean EX either, regardless of the quality of the voice cast, animation, or plot. There's simply too much background material to absorb in the short space of time that it takes to get someone hooked or turned off on an anime.

My point? The problem with console role-playing game anime ... is that they're based on console role-playing games.

Keep an eye out for our review once it gets here. Until then....

Happy viewing!

- Carlos Ross


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