Banner of the Stars II
With the success of Operation Phantom Flame, the Humankind Empire Abh has now turned its eye to recapturing all previously lost territories and has launched Operation Hunter for this purpose. At the vanguard of the Imperial forces, Admiral Bebaus' Fourth Fleet has been making such a steady and quick advance that one of the primary concerns has become simply finding enough personnel to serve as territorial ambassadors to the newly conquered territories particularly given his concern over appointing nobility to the position.
Jinto and Lafiel find themselves appointed ambassadors to the planet of Lobnas. What should be a simple, yet boring, diplomatic duty turns into something much more complicated and dangerous when they discover the Lobnas isn't a normal colony of the United Mankind but instead a massive prison colony.
Let me note that though it is possible to watch and enjoy Banner of the Stars II without having seen Crest of the Stars or Banner of the Stars, without the previous two series' world, plot, and character development much of the impact of events in this title would be lost on a viewer. This review will approach the title in context of all three series and I encourage the viewer to seek out the other series first if they have yet to see them.
Additionally, let me note that the dub is this title isn't particularly strong. Though I'll admit I normally tend to lean against dubs anyway, I feel that the dub is this title, particularly given how dialog intensive it is, could actively detract from a viewer's enjoyment of the title. While it isn't as much of an issue as it was say in Crest of the Stars, it still was noticeable and I recommend watching the title with the Japanese audio track.
Now on to the review proper.
In an unusual move, the opening scene of Banner of the Stars II is completely in Abh without either English or Japanese subtitles. Besides simply being an interesting exercise in creative linguistics, this is critical to setting up a sense of foreboding and drama that will hang over the show in regards to one of the main characters as the Abh language scene apparently shows the aftermath of certain events later in the show. We don't see the actual end of the events until later, so despite anticipating that they are coming up due to what we see in the opening scene, a sense of effective dramatic tension is still maintained.
Of course, the use of such elements as the Abh language (in most Abh scenes the language is subtitled for our Lander convenience), brief historical overviews, and the like help show the extreme level of detail present in this title. Like in the two previous Stars titles, this helps bring to life a complex and plausible future. Banner of the Stars II not only makes good use of what has come before it but still manages to give the viewer even more insight into the universe, the Abh, and for a bit more insight into certain aspects of the United Mankind (one of my few complaints about these shows is the lack of detail about United Mankind). I was struck by how effectively the show let us understand the Abh approach to various fundamental social and governmental functions while all the while never depicting the Abh's positions as necessarily or innately superior or inferior to those of the United Mankind but instead rather just a different way of approaching life. The interaction between Jinto, Lafiel, and the planetary representatives of Lobnas helped to effectively communicate and reinforce the nature of the relationship between the Abh and their conquered worlds without necessitating too much exposition.
The character work in Banner of the Stars II was uniformly excellent as I've come to expect from this particular franchise. It isn't only Jinto and Lafiel who get attention but a wide variety of major and minor characters ranging from some of the prisoners on the planet to the engaging and redoubtable Admiral Spoor. The attention and humanity focused on all the characters that appear makes for highly engaging drama. In a lesser show, the sheer number of people getting screen time would have likely resulted in people seeming underdeveloped but this title's solid writing helps even some of the characters getting only a handful of scenes come off as fully realized people. Of course, the main characters, Jinto and Lafiel, get the most focus and I continued to be impressed about how such previously well-developed characters had even more texture and depth added to them. The show gives a lot more insight into Lafiel, in particular, and how the way she has been raised and her destiny has affected her.
Plot progression and pacing was well handled especially considering the complexity of weaving in the various threads from so many different individual narratives into something that is engaging overall. As with the two previous shows, the opening pacing is a bit deliberate and slow but not too plodding. Banner of the Stars II is a very dialogue intensive series and depending on your tastes you might find that off-putting, however the strong writing and interesting characters help draw the viewer into these scenes rather than making them a chore.
When compared to the two previous titles, there perhaps isn't as much overall action but there are still several well-done space battles including a particularly brutal one toward the end involving Admiral Spoor's fleet which helps set up some good character development scenes for Admiral Spoor, her chief of staff, and Lafiel. We also have the opportunity to see some brief ground combat. All the action scenes are well integrated into the plot and generally are integrated with, as in the above example, good character work or thematic exploration.
Artwork and animation is actually improved a bit over the two previous titles (this is particularly obvious in a flashback to certain scenes from Crest of the Stars). There is more use of CGI for certain space scenes but it was handled and integrated well and only serves to enhance the scenes in which it is present. As I noted earlier, there are fewer battles overall in this title since it is focusing more on the planet Lobnas the actions of fleet.
Though I enjoyed the classically styled music of Banner of the Stars II, I must admit that it seems like they haven't produced that many new background pieces that are particularly different than what was present in the last few series. This recycling of music didn't bother me too much, given that I liked the music to begin with but I wished they could have done just a bit more with making the final chapter a bit more distinctive in such aspects. It is one of my few complaints about an otherwise excellent title.
As the show ended, I found myself wanting more. This isn't to say that they don't do a good job of closing it out and also bringing the over all narrative full circle from the very beginning scenes of Crest of the Stars. In fact I was rather pleased with the ending (make sure you watch through the entire end credits of the final episode by the way) but the fictional universe and characters that have been brought to life in Crest of the Stars, Banner of the Stars, and Banner of the Stars II were so fascinating and engaging that I am just eager to see more. As this apparently wasn't intended as the true closing chapter of the Stars storyline, fans of the series and quality science fiction drama may have something to look forward to in the future.
With its excellent character work and engaging plot, Banner of the Stars II is a nice continuation (or perhaps ending) to the grand Crest of the Stars and Banner of the Stars storyline. It can get a bit dialogue intensive at times at the expense of actual action, so if that bugs you, you might want to subtract a star and perhaps another if you don't like science fiction at all though I should note this a series where the characters come first and the science comes second. — Jeremy A Beard
Recommended Audience: There are literally thousands of people killed in this title though most of those are in space battles. Several men are executed by criminals and given the nature of Lobnas, discussions about such crimes as rape (there are no actual rapes noted in the show though), murder, and drug abuse are rather prominent at some points. Overall, it is best for teens and above.
Version(s) Viewed: R1 DVD
Review Status: Full (10/10)
Banner of the Stars II © 2001 Hiroyuki Morioka / Hayakawa Shobou / Sunrise
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