Tag Archives: review

Review: Banner of the Stars

Banner of the Stars continues three years after the beginning of a galactic war that started in Crest of the Stars. Lafiel, an Abh from the royal Abriel family, is made captain of an assault ship called the Basroil. Among her crew are two other Abh, and two humans, one a commoner and the other a noble.

The bulk of the show follows Lafiel and the crew of the Basroil, with the core of the focus being Lafiel and the human noble, Jinto, her companion from the prequel series. While these two do remain the main characters, I would say that in contrast to Crest of the Stars the new series focuses more time on Lafiel while Jinto takes a more supportive role. The story is told from Jinto’s perspective, but Lafiel is given a much larger role. This is all well and good, because I think Lafiel is a much more interesting character than Jinto.

There is no real villain in this season, as there was in the first season; however, interestingly, Lafiel is put under the command of Baroness Loy Atosuryua, sister of the antagonist from season one, Baron Klowal Atosuryua. The uncertainty between Lafiel and her commander—due to the circumstances surrounding the death of the Baroness’s brother—provides a very interesting section of the series. Lafiel is not sure what to think of her commander and her motives. Perhaps my favorite episode is a birthday celebration for her late brother being thrown by the Baroness, in which she meticulously reproduces the dinner that Lafiel and her brother the Baron had. Lafiel is unsure how to interpret this and what results is one of the best episodes in the series.

Miho Yamada plays Loy Atosuryua, Lafiel's commander and perhaps the best looking character in the show.

Miho Yamada plays Loy Atosuryua, Lafiel’s commander and perhaps the best looking character in the show.

Beyond that, the major event driving the series is the galactic war. It begins with an explanation that both sides (the Abh Empire and a coalition of human nations) first exhausted almost all of their military capabilities in the opening stages of the war, and both sides spent the next three years rebuilding their forces. Lafiel is given command of an assault ship, much to her dismay. This position causes much distress to Lafiel, because as a member of royalty she is not accustomed to being subordinate to others. This, by the way, is another point that adds much to the richness and development of the characters. Lafiel being put in these challenging situations—despite her expectation and desire to command a fleet—is one of the best parts of the show, because it allows the series to play around with the lore that was developed. Families and class ranking are an important part of the series, but instead of being pointless details the series plays with it.

Well, finally to war itself. The way the war is handled would be best described as similar to Legend of the Galactic Heroes. In that sense, characters will discuss the enemy attack entire episodes before it actually happens. The series is minute in detail; everything is looked at. Lafiel’s position as a commander of an assault ship makes this possible, because part of her duties is reconnaissance. That aspect of warfare is probably given its greatest look in this series than any other, because I do not remember any other series that would devote so much time towards scouting and skirmishing. It is similar to Legend of the Galactic Heroes in that the warfare is depicted after they show you the lengthy preparation that went into it, but differs in that it focuses on the smaller units. Large capital ships act more as a cavalry reinforcement that saves the scouting ships from doom.

Strategy and tactics is also discussed extensively, and this is one portion where the show fails. Strategic location domination seems to be the most important aspect in galactic warfare strategy, but Lord help me if I know anything about it. The characters will debate which fleet should defend where, but I find it hard to follow along if I have no idea where these places are and why they are important. This is one of those shows where I had to look up a map and read explanations online just to understand what these people were saying. Also present in this show is a pet peeve: maps are displayed as 2-dimensional planes, which makes no sense in space!

Strategy and tactics play a bigger role in this season. Some of it is easy to follow; some of it is not.

Strategy and tactics play a bigger role in this season. Some of it is easy to follow; some of it is not.

Banner of the Stars is a huge improvement from season one. Space battles are much more plentiful, and I find the show’s approach to them to be a breath of fresh air. However, many aspects still remain: the dialogue is still dry and very wordy. Characters will have conversations that could easily take up half of the episode, as they discuss seemingly whatever comes to their mind. I do not think I have ever seen characters so thorough in their self-reflection. The original creator, Hiroyuki Morioka (who also writes the novels this series is based upon), seemed more interested in making a fictional world than a story. Regardless, the characters are much more interesting this time around, particularly Lafiel. She is one the best parts of the show, perhaps one of my favorites in anime.

Would I recommend Banner of the Stars? I would, but with one precaution: you will either find it engrossing or extremely boring.

The House of Small Cubes – it all comes down to choice

After waking up from a comfortable dinner the previous night, the nameless main character of The House of Small Cubes steps out of bed and finds his feet in water. Stepping outside, we see that the world has been flooded by water. Humans have been forced to either continually build their houses upwards or live on ships. Realizing the severity of continuously raising sea levels, the nameless main character—who will henceforth be called the Old Man—begins to build a new house on top of his current one.

Submerging the camera below the surface of the water, we see that the Old Man has been struggling against raising sea levels—the cause of which is never even implied—for his entire life. His tower of homes reaches at least a dozen levels down to the sea floor, which used to be dry land similar to the kind most of us live on.

Upon completing his new home on top his old, he begins moving furniture that is now floating in his old home. While lifting furniture onto his boat, he drops his pipe and it sinks down a hatch into an older home of his. Between him and his pipe are several yards of water. Considering his old age, it would be difficult for him to just dive down there and get it before he drowns.

After he finishes moving his furniture, he sits down in his new home. Something is not right, however. His hand feels empty, so he rubs his fingers together. The next day, he looks through his belongings for a new pipe. There are dozens available, but none of them are quite right. While looking, he notices that a visiting merchant has scuba gear. Immediately he decides to dive down there to get his favorite pipe. This is the beginning of a 15 minute short film.

Throughout the beginning—and indeed the entirety—of The House of Small Cubes, no information is ever given to the audience by word; all of it is given through visuals. House of Small Cubes is a silent film; not completely silent, however, because Kunio Kato uses music in a perfect display of choreography. Action on the screen is perfectly in tune with the music; music plays, then pauses, and then resumes again. When the Old Man is looking through his belongings for a new pipe, music plays in the background; when he looks up and notices the scuba gear, the music pauses when he starts blinking, and then continues when he stops blinking.

Animated entirely by Japanese hands, Kato has given The House of Small Cubes a very European-style visual look. Houses are surreal looking, with impossible angles used mostly on the roofs. Movement is slow, but energetic; exaggerating the movement of shadows helps create a look that has more movement than it really does. Characters are big with flimsy limbs, much like in Lupin III although of course lacking the Mad Magazine inspiration.

Despite the look, I believe that in content we have a story that is ultimately Japanese; the Old Man does not find sadness in his journey, but rather soothing. It is, in a way, a celebration seeped in sadness, that is, a coming to terms with the impermanence of existence. At the end, despite any sadness the audience feels, the Old Man opens a bottle of wine and has a toast.

On the most basic level, Kato has created a story of recollection. When the Old Man retrieves his pipe, he then decides to travel deeper into his older homes. When he travels to each home, each visit triggers a significant memory in his mind. As he travels deeper, the memories grow older until eventually he reaches the place of his childhood: the sea floor, which never used to be the sea floor. The House of Small Cubes is, on a basic level, a story of nostalgia; the Old Man remembers those memories of his life. Indeed, it is done in a very original manner. Using raising sea levels as a vehicle for a man’s nostalgic experience is nothing short of creative. Combine that with the masterful use of music, and The House of Small Cubes is nothing short of a great short film that emotionally impacts its audience.

However, that is not the case—The House of Small Cubes is not a great short film. No, The House of Small Cubes is a masterpiece. Underneath this basic storyline, we have a film with a message.

Here we have a man that lived his life to provide best for his wife and daughter. Instead of giving into the disaster, he persevered and built as many homes as needed. All of the many houses he built were by his and his wife’s own hands. His life is one long tale of small details—much like each house is made of little bricks—but within his life are significant details, which he associates with whichever house he lived in. In this manner, the houses have become symbolic of the Old Man’s past life. Kato has created a life lesson for his audience, that is, life is made of small details, some more important than others, and it is made by our own choosing. Just as the Old Man’s carpentry has created for him a symbol of achievement, all of us will look at ourselves and remember what we accomplished. For the Old Man, his life is a house of small cubes.