Stratos 4: Flight 02 Review
Mikaze must face the consequences of her actions when she’s called to attend an internal enquiry. As she slowly depresses herself in the process her colleagues begin to wonder what will happen, though some are less forgiving than others. Meanwhile the Comet Blasters are gaining more attention, which in turn places pressure on the Meteor Sweepers. Admiral begins to act strangely, Mr Sato is working himself into a love filled stupor and worst of all everyone’s parents are about to visit. How will Mikaze, Ayamo, Shizuha and Karin cope with all their new responsibility?
With Volume 2 of Stratos 4 I can put to rest some of my prior concerns. For a short series it’s taken some time to get to a point where it can turn itself around and provide a solid 100-minutes of entertainment. It does this in both comedy and drama terms but more importantly characterisation; with a few surprising twists along the way. Until now little effort was made to distinguish its main players; at least half of the characters involved were barely two-dimensional, in fact Mikaze was the only one who had been drawn out. While Volume 2 doesn’t improve in leaps and bounds it at least scratches a little more at our heroines. We also get to see some interesting new developments at the island base, with some new characters entering the fold and existing ones facing dilemmas.
The beginning of this volume sees Mikaze being summoned by the Okinawa Base Inquiry Committee. She’s gotten herself into a state of depression, having let her team mates down. Ayamo is still angry at her which puts a dampener on the unit, while Shizuha and Karin seem to be acting fairly neutral to it all. When Mikaze gets to the committee she is put under a series of gruelling questions. The committee members are all too aware that the pilots of the Cosmic Emergency Management Agency - of which they manage - place bets over who can fly the highest altitude. Despite her recurrent denial that anyone put her up to breaking rules, Mikaze begins to feel pressure from the board. When her friends are then called in to give their testimony she fears it could well be the end of her career. We’re then exposed to media reaction, where the Meteor Sweepers are swept under the rug in favour of praising the Comet Blasters. When the inquiry is over Mikaze jets off to the nearby hotel where the Comet Blasters are staying, crashing a conference she confronts the Blasters in a heated moment of anger, insulted by the way that they look down upon the Meteor Sweepers. With Ayamo and Shizuha close by she has her support, which of course sees them rectify their differences.
Mikaze, still on probation must now do chores around the base until notified otherwise. Sato is also under disciplinary for his embarrassing outbreak at the Comet Blaster’s conference meeting. But now, rather than have our episode (Checking Six) firmly concentrate on the characters dealing with their punishment it sets itself up from Admiral’s viewpoint once more. When the fat cat stows away on one of the girl’s bikes she takes to the base and causes some grief for Mikaze and Kisuragi. The episode becomes the first truly comical one and sets the tone for much of the volume. It’s bizarre in that Admiral (otherwise referred to as Alice) gets her own back story, which becomes integral to the ending of the episode. Here she meets a gang of rival cats who she thought had left the island long ago. Cue a rather amusing conversation (in cat language) that plays out as if we were watching any Yakuza film. Meanwhile everyone else is running in circles trying to find Admiral, who still has a missing chip attached to her fur. The episode also brings the base commander into the picture; a kind man with a strong sense of humour who appreciates the occasional mishap.
By episode 3, Mach Speed the characters begin to branch out. Sato’s love fuelled obsession over his old flame, Miharu is beginning to take its toll. In a bid to impress her he hopes to repair Stratos Zero and send it into space, but he’s going to need a lot of help. The girls volunteer, with Mikaze jumping in to offer her services as a pilot. Much of this episode deals with the characters coming together as a team, while elsewhere in space we get to look into life on the station. This is where Studio Fantasia can’t help but appease the fan service crowd, by including a lesbian twist that of course is totally understandable on a station filled with only women. But when the lesbian is Miharu, well that can only create all kinds of problems. This then takes its toll on Betty, who is now uncomfortable after Miharu’s advance; leaving some unanswered questions for the remainder of the volume.
Go Gate further develops the characters by introducing their families, who visit for the island base‘s 38th anniversary. We discover what it is that makes the girls tick. Mikaze’s father is an ace pilot who always manages to talk himself up a treat, while her sister is a bit of a cold diva with an icy exterior and competitive attitude. Shizuha’s father is an overly energetic photographer who would rather show his love by taking endless photos of his daughter than engage in any conversation with her. Ayamo has a little brother who she’s always fighting with but it’s Karin who stands out, because she has no one. Until now her character has been dull to say the least. She’s acted like a lost alien throughout seven episodes but now we see a little light shed on her background. Her parents died when she was little and she’s started to have flashbacks which have been conjuring painful memories for her. Though her character remains a little distant it’s a positive sign by the end that she just might become more essential to the plot. Then there’s Kisuragi, who despite being old enough is still getting nagged by her mother to marry. The main trouble here is that the girls’ parents refuse to allow them to follow their dream of flying into space in a rickety rocket that they’ve just fixed. The Stratos Zero came from a line of shuttles that were apparently unstable. The parents threaten to have their daughters transferred, which results in some fallings out. Leave it up to Grandma though to sort things out. The volume ends on a satisfying note, which gives me hope that the final volume will end things on a high.
Volume 2 contains the following four episodes:
Code: 105 - Go Around
Having almost caused a major catastrophe, Mikaze is summoned to a committee hearing, whereby she will have her fate decided. Meanwhile Ayamo is still angry over her actions and attitude, while Karin lies in hospital. The Meteor Blasters find themselves being snubbed when the Comet Blasters receive a huge amount of media attention. Will they be able to keep their rivalry at a distance?
Code: 106 - Checking Six
Mikaze is on disciplinary probation and must carry out several chores back at the base. These include washing up and cooking, along with general cleaning duties. Meanwhile, Admiral has managed to get herself onto the base, where she then begins to cause Mikaze nothing but grief, running off with an important data chip. The entire base is ordered to cease operations and must search for Admiral and retrieve the chip.
Code: 107 - Mach Speed
Mikaze is back on duty, but she faces a temporary salary cut. She soon learns that Sato has been working on repairing an old craft named Stratos Zero. She volunteers to help him if she gets to fly it into space. Her friends join in and prepare for the big test day. In space the Comet Blasters are enjoying a little rest, but group leader Miharu has started to get a little too close to one of her team mates.
Code: 108 - Go Gate
It’s the 38th island base festival and everybody’s family has been invited to take part in the celebration. Mikaze, Shizuha and Ayamo have to contend with their over protective folks, while Karin disappears for a little quiet time.
Beez present Volume 2 in the same manner as the first. Coming in a white amaray this features a reversible sleeve. On the front you’ll see the girls kitted out in their pilot uniforms, while on the reverse you’ll find the exact same pose but the girls are wearing bikinis in place of their uniforms.
The series is presented in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio. Detail is fine and colours are very vibrant. Edge Enhancement is slight. As mentioned previously there are spots of pixelation and macro blocking, which occurs during quick panning shots. These are very noticeable during the opening credits and a few moments throughout each episode. Some slight banding rears its head but things stay very watchable.
For sound we’re treated to Japanese and English 2.0 tracks. Both sound spot on, although the Japanese track has a little more bite to it. Nothing has changed since Volume 1 which means that dialogue is well centred and stays crisp and clear throughout, while a little directionality is employed for the flight sequences.
Optional English subtitles are included and aside from one or two minor spelling mistakes read well. They are also well positioned and timed, so as not to cause any distractions.
Music Clip (4.08)
This is the opening theme in its entirety; a superb and uplifting track that echoes the series’ intentions very well. Accompanying it are selected clips from the series, which have been nicely edited together. No subtitles are included.
Interview and Video Clip (7.12)
This is a short interview with Megumi Hinata, from “Melocure” who talks about the decision behind making “1st Priority” their next single. Hinata mentions that the song ended up influencing many people and proved to be a positive message, of which she’s very proud. She then introduces a short video starring herself and Ritsuko Okazaki. It’s a little sad seeing Ritsuko on screen; those who are big time anime fans will know that she recently passed away. Having provided some classic anime themes in the past her input will duly be missed. This video clip can also be accessed separately from the extras menu.
This ending animation is adopted toward the middle of the series’ run, and fun it is too. As Admiral walks across the screen the background becomes filled with super-deformed likenesses of every character in the series. Very cute. No subtitles are included.
The trailers available to view are for Mobile Suit Gundam Seed, s-CRY-ed, Witch Hunter Robin, Wolf’s Rain and .hack//SIGN.
I’m pleased to say that Stratos 4 has picked up a little for its second volume with sharper comical moments and characters who are beginning to take shape as we’re finally given some understanding as to how they tick. There still remains plenty of room for improvement however with some of the key players being singled out more than others, so with Volume 3 being the last in this series fingers crossed that it pans out well.