Star Ocean EX Vol.01: The Inception Review
Based on a classic Playstation RPG called Star Ocean: The Second Story, which itself was a sequel to an older SuperNES game; Star Ocean EX continues the grand tradition of lousy RPG to Anime adaptations.
The hero of this adventure is Claude C.Kenni, a low ranked officer serving on the Federation Force's top Battleship, the Calnus. The captain of this vessel is none other than his own father, Ronix who also happens to be the most legendary war hero in the force, which puts a high level of expectation on the young Claude's shoulders. Standards which so far he has failed to live up to, but his life is about to change forever. On a routine mission to investigate strange energy readings emanating from the planet Mirikonia, the Calnus arrives to discover the source of these disturbances is a huge mysterious dome that appears to have crashed into the landscape from space. Venturing inside, the ship's crew find that the interior has been utterly decimated in the collision. In the midst of the rubble Claude discovers the ruins of what looks like a gateway and, disregarding strict orders to keep his distance, he closes in to investigate only to inadvertently activate the device. It teleports him away to a strange alien world where the technology is close to the middle ages and whose inhabitants have been living through a series of natural disasters and constant attacks from mutant monsters that roam the countryside. It's a world in need of a hero, and it just so happens one was prophesised to arrive from another world and rid the land of all its troubles. Could Claude C.Kenni be this mystical warrior?
Although Star Ocean EX is obviously aimed primarily at young fans of the Playstation game, it's pretty clear that this is a lazy, mediocre production. The fact I've never played the console progenitor may well have hindered any enjoyment of the in-game references and re-enactments I might have had, but to be honest, I fail to see how familiarity with the original could lift this show out of the doldrums. The premise is the fairly standard Shojou (Girl's Manga/Anime) adventure set up: A hero trapped in a mystical land which they have been prophesised to save, but seeing as this is more a Shonen (Boy's) show, we have a male hero and the action remains the primary focus, with romantic love triangles left reasonably on the sidelines. This is all well and good as long as the action delivers, but just about every set piece across the five episodes in this first volume are so contrived they're truly groan-worthy. For example, when Claude is first teleported to Mirikonia he makes it just in time to see the love interest of the show, Rena, get attacked by a gorilla-like creature. Now, does he dive in and attempt to rescue Rena in a speedy fashion? Nope, he dives in then decides now's a good time to merely stand in front of the thing with his gun raised so he can reflect back on comments his father made to him a mere few minutes prior in the episode, just in case the audience has the memory of a gnat. This naturally presents the creature with about two minutes of screentime for it to slap the gun away and continue with the attack – a wonderful display of dramatic tension if ever I've seen one! The director clearly wants to convey Claude's sense of self doubt here, but he seems unable to do so in a manner that is both pacy and doesn't hit us over the head like a big cricket bat that Claude has a long way to go before he becomes the heroic man he so desperately wants to be.
As with most first volumes, this one essentially boils down to introducing the main characters and some swift establishment of a basic plot. Claude has been teleported to this fantastical world from a device inside a large sphere. In this world he is supposedly a fated warrior, a position he's all too eager to deny, and naturally he spends the episodes on this disc largely running away from any responsibilities rather than accepting them. Cowardice isn't a particularly audience-friendly trait, so obviously our young hero always has a change of heart whenever another bout of self-doubt sets in. This process is repeated ad nauseam by the end of volume, but little by little a rudimentary storyline comes into focus. Claude may be unwilling to accept he's the fated warrior of the land, but he will accept that the suspected cause of the natural disasters and hideous monsters could be linked to the device that teleported him there in the first place. Apparently it all stems from a huge meteor that crashed into the planet's surface. This big dome has been named "The Sorcery Globe" because small fragments from it scattered across the land during the collision, and each one has a strange magical ability to corrupt good people and turn just about any living being into a bloodthirsty monster. So Claude is going to find this stone and see if the gateway that brought him to this land can also send him back.
Accompanying him on this journey is the aforementioned blue-haired elfin girlie, Rena. She grew up believing this fated warrior would sweep her off her feet, unfortunately for her she ended up with a blonde wet drip. Nevertheless it's love at first sight for both of them, now all we've got to do is sit through an inordinate amount of will-they-won't-they scenarios. After an extremely dull hiatus in episodes two and three where Rena is kidnapped by an old childhood friend who is under the spell of one of the Sorcery Globe stones, the duo bump into Celine Jules: a brassy, sexy spell-caster who immediately starts flirting heavily with Claude and annoying the hell out of Rena, so we have another genre cliché to add to all the others. In episode four she gives these two the run-around by tricking them into helping her steal some old treasure. In the final episode on this disc the newly formed trio travels to Celine's hometown, only to find an evil gang of thugs are attempting to steal all the children in the village. Here we also meet a rival for Claude in the form of handsome, masterful swordsman Dias, another childhood friend of Rena's (She got about a bit it seems). He's surly and immediately hates Claude, but at least he's not under the influence of any evil stones at the moment.
Star Ocean EX needs to improve a hell of a lot across the next five volumes. So far the story has been extremely generic, the characters derivative, and the action set pieces horrendously contrived. Hopefully the next volume will rectify some of these problems.
While I have tried my best not to reveal too much about each episode in these synopses, please bare in mind that the second episode and onwards may feature spoilers for the episodes prior.
Episode 01. Transport: How do you escape from the shadow of a famous father? This is the dilemma facing Claude C. Kenni whose father Ronix is a Titan among military elite. Claude is just a low ranked officer waiting for a chance to shine, but all he gets his more trouble then he ever could have asked for. During a mission to investigate strange energy disturbances on the planet Mirikonia he finds himself transported away to a fantastical world of myth and legend, where monsters terrorize the general populace
Episode 02. Encounter: Ever since Claude rescued Rena from the monster she has become convinced that he is the prophesized mystical warrior that's come to save the people from the demonic threats. With this in mind she takes him back to town so that he can meet her people and also persuade him of his fated destiny, but Claude refuses to believe the Mirikonian legends. Whilst this is going on Rena's childhood friend Allen strolls into town looking for her hand in marriage.
Episode 03. The Magic Stone: Allen has kidnapped Rena and is holding her prisoner in his stronghold, but Claude is on his way to thwart the evil cad before he can force Rena's hand in marriage. He bursts into Allen's throne room and demands that she be set free, but Allen's not going down without a fight…
Episode 04. Heraldic Magic: Claude and Rena's journey to discover the Sorcery Globe has just begun and their latest destination is Cross Town. Here they bump into a lively young woman named Celine Jules. She's looking for bodyguards to accompany her on a quest to find lost treasure and Claude immediately catches her eye, but for obvious reasons he remains uninterested. That is until Celine tells them the treasure she's after is supposedly linked to this mysterious Sorcery Globe.
Episode 05. Kuhazan: Visiting Celine's hometown: The Village of Mars, the trio come across a gang of bandits who are attempting to hijack a carriage full of children. Claude wastes no time in fending off most of these would-be kidnappers, but one manages to escape with the carriage in tow. Just when all hope of a rescue seems lost a skillful swordsman appears to thwart the criminal in his tracks. This swordsman is named Dias, and he's another childhood friend of Rena's. He joins Rena and company in investigating why the bandits were trying to steal away the village's children in the first place.
PresentationPresented in the original 4:3 ratio, Star Ocean EX has a very vivid palette that consists mostly of primary colours and it all looks rather glorious on this DVD, which reproduces the colours boldly and cleanly with no chroma noise or print damage to speak of – although as ever you'll find some mosquito noise here and there if you seek it out. Detail levels are good without resorting to Edge Enhancements and the image is free from cross-colouration issues. Contrast and Brightness levels are also excellent, giving Star Ocean EX a very pleasing appearance indeed.
A choice of Japanese or English DD2.0 Surround have made it onto the disc, the former of which providing a good solid sonic experience. Dialogue sounds clear and smooth, with no tearing and the sound effects kick in quite well when the action starts, throughout this the bass remains warm and full. The English track sounds almost identical, but for some reason the dialogue sounds quite muffled and flat in comparison to the Japanese – which certainly comes as a surprise for a show that's only four years old at the time of writing this review!
As for the English dub, it's not the finest example out there. This one sounds rather flat and forced throughout but considering the show isn't exactly the most dramatic out there, then I guess it does the job.
Optional English subtitles are present with no spelling or grammatical errors I can recall.