Stratos 4: Flight 03 Review
Mikaze, Ayamo, Shizuha and Karin have come a long way since their early training days. Now they’re about to face their toughest trials as the orbital defence stations are taken over by a mysterious force and Karin is snatched away from them and taken into custody. Conspiracy theories abound as the Meteor Sweepers head off into space for the first time, in an attempt to prevent a deadly plan from taking over the population of Earth.
After a fairly bright and breezy rest and relaxation episode Stratos 4 breaks away somewhat from its mould to get into its big, revealing storyline. On one hand it’s nice that Studio Fantasia have managed to come up with a twist that wasn’t expected, but on the other it’s something that isn’t entirely interesting. Director Takeshi Mori has over the course made the series less about Mikaze and more about Karin, which came into prominence half way during the last volume. This took the series in an interesting direction because Karin had always been such an ambiguous figure; likewise as were the majority of Comet Blasters. So all of this comes to a head as we get to the real grit of the series and overall impressions are mixed. The writers have crossed into X-Files territory, taking up conspiracy theories, Lone Gunmen style groups and cigarette smoking men; it’s a bizarre change of pace as these storylines momentarily take us out of the series, because now we’re watching a show about aliens or evolving humans. We still have spatters of character development but the truth is that these just aren’t extended enough to make these girls any deeper than they were last time. Of course the main prerogative is to present them as an unbreakable team, whose bond of friendship is the ultimate bond of – friendship.
The series manages to retain its fun sense of being for the most part, throwing in a few visual gags so as not to bog down the storyline in anything overly serious, but the very things that made some of the side stories interesting are largely glossed over, such as several relationships which are connected merely by brief flashbacks and character motivations which don’t seem to go anywhere, or become rewarded later on. With five episodes on this final disc a lot more should have certainly been addressed, but the main bulk here concerns itself over Karin’s rescue and does little else but pad things out with insignificant details. It’s disappointing and a shame, especially when volume 2 was showing some real promise. It’s not all bad however; the animation and performances are energetic and there is a fair amount of joy to be had from this, but ultimately it’s a lightweight affair that ends on a pleasant note.
Code: 109 – Vapour Trail
The girls are enjoying a nice bit of R&R at the nearby onsen when Mr Iwasaki unexpectedly shows up, much to their amusement. Whilst there they run into a group of geeky conspiracy theorists, who inform them that the Comet Blasters may be involved in a secret plan, and may even have been responsible for some of the 20th century’s most shocking crimes.
Code: 110 – Mission Abort
Mikaze and her friends are studying hard for their upcoming tests, while up in space something strange is going on with the Comet Blasters. Karin is starting to act very strange; what’s with her enormous appetite and sudden lethargic attitude?
Code: 111 – Target Merge
Karin has been taken away by a mysterious organisation, which prompts the girls to ask for an immediate leave so that they may rescue her. Mikaze and Shizuha are given permission to search for Karin, which means they will need to go undercover and infiltrate a base. Not an easy task, but their friends are ready to lend a hand.
Code: 112 – Engage!
Karin has begun to learn more about who she is as half of the crew onboard the space station put their plan into action. Meanwhile the secret organisation is questioning the group of nerds who the girls met not too long ago. Mikaze and her friends are about to launch into space for the first time in the hopes of bringing Karin back home safely.
Code: 113 – Final Approach
With the Earth defence base locked down in an investigation Mikaze and company head toward the Comet Blaster’s station. Arriving at the station they soon become caught up in a battle for survival between the separated groups, brought on by a bout of human evolution. The truth will finally come out as they race to save their friend Karin and attempt to destroy a giant meteor before it wipes out half of Japan.
Beez present Volume 3 as they have done with the previous volumes, coming in a white amaray case which 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 nightgowns 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 pixilation 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 (such as “proobably”) read well. They are also well positioned and timed, so as not to cause any distractions.
Interview with Director and VA Cast (15.52)
The director Takeshi Moro is joined by VA’s Fumiko Orikasa (Karin), Yumi Kakazu (Mikaze), Shiho Kikuchi (Ayamo) and Kaori Shimizu (Shizuha) for this fun interview session that takes place at a Chinese restaurant. They seem to have no idea what they’re doing, which is stressed a couple of times but they soon get into the habit of asking each other questions, some of which aren’t entirely possible to answer fully due to the series’ limitations it would seem. But they discuss their favourite moments and the interview moves along at a nice and relaxed pace.
A creditless ending for episode thirteen and trailers for other bEEZ releases round off the features.
The adventures of Mikaze and her friends have continued in a second series from Studio Fantasia. Perhaps one day I will be able to revisit these characters in the hopes that things will have changed dramatically. For now this first series is going to have to do. It’s not Fantasia’s strongest anime, despite the characters being potentially interesting. To see them break away from panty laden series is nice, even though that’s something which they clearly seem to be best at doing. With a little tightening up in their storylines they could be producing some sweet little shows, so I’ll keep an eye out for them and keep my fingers crossed.