Three years after their adventure, Lafiel becomes captain on the brand new assault ship Basroil and Jinto finishes his training to become a supply officer and joins Lafiels crew. They set out to join a large fleet with the mission of defending the strategically important Laptic Gate from a force 15 times larger than their own. And to bring even more worries, their new fleet commander is from the Bebous family, a family notorious for their "Spectacular Insanity".
Please watch Crest of the Stars before starting this series for maximum enjoyment and understanding of the plot.
Seikai no Senki, or Banner of the Stars, is the 13 episode sequel to Crest of the Stars. It follows the development of the relationship between Lafiel, the Abh princess, and Jinto, son of the administrator of a planet that surrendered and got his family made into Abh nobility.
In Banner of the Stars, Lafiel is now captain of her own Assault ship. Jinto, who promised Lafiel that he would study hard and become a supply officer, has been requisitioned to join Lafiel's crew aboard the Basroil. He
brings with him Diaho, the ginger cat Lafiel bequeathed to him at the end of Crest of the Stars.
Banner of the Stars is about the Abh Empire's quest to retake territories they lost to The United Mankind. As such, a majority of the story is made up of battle scenes, which are quite well done. The only drawback to the animation is that they re-used those scenes a LOT, similarly with the soundtrack, or I would have rated it a lot higher.
Character development again, is key. You identify with Jinto, and to a lesser extent, Lafiel. There are those characters that you love to hate, and those are well done also. Even Diaho, the cat, is a character in his own right.
The story was a lot better than Crest of the Stars, and overall Banner of the Stars was good, just not as outstanding as some of the other high quality recent releases.
When looking at an anime like Banner of the Stars I, it becomes an interesting task to put one's own life into perspective. While they are dealing with space, war, and strategies, it makes our own problems seem miniscule in comparison. Forgetting to turn off the light in that room, misplacing the car keys, or not having something nice to wear for dinner become afterthoughts instead of vitally pressing issues. But what this next iteration in the Crest of the Stars series shows is that, despite such massive hardships encircling our persons, those insignificant details somehow always matter.
of the Stars I takes place three years after the events of its predecessor, Crest of the Stars. Jinto has been educated as a supply manager, Lafiel has taken command of the assault vessel Basroil, and together, alongside a few other crew members, will be joining in the war against the Triple Nations Alliance.
Banner of the Stars I looks to separate itself slightly from its initial season by attempting to strike a more unified balance between the space-time exploits and the more grounded character exploration. Whereas the first season focused mostly on Jinto and Lafiel's relationship with the war acting as the backdrop, the second season spreads out the character focus while having the war acting as the stage. What is given, then, is a look at the various people attached to the battles and a surprisingly high degree of diverse scenarios. For example, the anime will show the terror of fighting a disadvantaged battle or the bravery needed when abandoning a ship one moment and having crew members sit down for a drink or showcasing the commander and his chief-of-communications bicker about her love life the next. The aforementioned talk of perspective encompasses the entire season, showing that both the large scale conflicts and the smaller scale conversations are equally important.
And this is something that is desperately needed. Not that it can't be one way or the other, but because the show requires both time and connections for the cast at play in order to make their inclusion meaningful. Having such brutality depicted means nothing if the majority of the pieces are expendable or forgettable. This obviously isn't true for Jinto and Lafiel; we have their background and established relationship, and therefore their predicaments carry the most emotional weight. Which is why so much focus is placed on Samson the country-dad, Atosuryua the Hecto-Commander, Admiral Abriel the calm and persistent leader, and the insane Bebaus Brothers. But it also serves another purpose: showcasing the multitude of parts, or perspectives, on the war itself. Not everyone revels in the fighting for the same reasons. Lafiel does it out of honor, to prove her worth; Nereis does it to combat his and his family's unkind reputation; and Admiral Spoor does it because she has nothing better to do. The sequences themselves are always well done, but because the anime nurtures the characters so equally, it makes them all more than just action without substance.
Unfortunately, Banner of the Stars I follows the same negative that Crest of the Stars employed, and that is losing itself thematically. There are essentially three different ideas being tossed around by the show: the concept of death, having a place, and knowing "who you are," each of which revolves around Jinto. The first, on death, is looked at nicely enough. The previous event of Baron Febdash's killing sparks thoughts in him, he witnesses destruction all around, and he has personal, near-death experiences. And so what is discussed are the "duties of the living" and learning that nobody, no matter their standing, has someone there who cares for them. Sort of piggybacking on this motif, "having a home" is loosely talked during particular scenes, but only when convenient and therefore being rather lackluster. The final theme of existentialism comes out of nowhere and only serves to cloud the already explored messages. The anime wants to tackle these ideas, but cannot, due to either time, focus, or (most likely) both. These halfhearted attempts thus serve as nothing more than hindrances in the end.
Much of the action and the "action" within Banner of the Stars I takes place within space and the inner confines of the vessels, respectively. The locales usually don't contain a wealth of originality -- space is expansive and black, space-time fusion is sometimes colorful, the main deck and other rooms are almost always bluish-gray, etc. -- but they do contain a nice amount of detail. Banners, three-dimensional maps, aquariums, viewing windows; in order to combat the "staleness" of the environments, the show does what it can to make each one feel separate and unique.
The character designs remain more or less the same for Jinto, Lafiel, and Admiral Spoor (besides seeing her with her hair down). The newcomers each have their own signature looks -- Samson with his scar, Ekuryua's glazed eyes and short hair, and the Bebaus Brothers' twin-style designs -- are futuristic but not overly unrealistic. Alongside everyone's respective war outfits, everyone fits the part. Also of note are the differing vessels -- the attackers, the patrol ships, the flagships, etc. Some appear specialized (Spoor's red-and-pronged behemoth), most appear similar (the Basroil's black painting and anti-proton cannon are common, as are the United Mankind's signature green ships), yet all are nicely detailed.
Banner of the Stars I contains many more battles and skirmishes when compared to its former season. For this reason, the actual animation is above-average. Lasers fly, mines target, explosions are rampant, battleships move, characters react; there is a plethora of opportunities for the anime to strut its stuff, and takes as many of these chances in which to do so.
As has already been pointed out, Banner of the Stars I effectively spreads out its resources when dealing with its characters. While this provides a more well-rounded experience, this leads to a poor side-effect: the stagnation of Lafiel and Jinto's characters.
Crest of the Stars introduced, characterized, and developed our duo quite nicely throughout its run. This time, they simply seem to stagnate. Lafiel remains proud and determined, but doesn't receive nearly as much attention as should be warranted to her. The show provides her with some humanization in the form of very tiny reactions and monologues when thinking or interacting with Jinto. But they're rather insignificant and often ignored, even by her. Other insights are given -- such as her stance on death and her convictions as a captain -- but they only help to drive the story, not propel her character.
Jinto suffers the same fate. Even after taking into account all of his philosophical questioning, he never seems to take any of it to heart. Focusing solely on the most concentrated theme, the war surrounding him gives ample opportunities to try to understand life, death, and his position within it all. But there is no real resolution to the thinking; it merely ends once Lafiel comforts him by stating that she would most certainly be saddened by his passing. This peace of mind is cute, and while it moves their relationship forward ever so minimally, it unfortunately doesn't mean much in relation to this season since so much time was spent away from the couple. If anything, Jinto pulls out marginally ahead of Lafiel due to Diaho. The cat garners a lot of attention, both from the crew members and from the narrative, serving as symbolism for what Jinto's person should be. He is constantly debated on: with Diaho's memories of others questioned, whether the ship is appropriate for him, and his seemingly carefree nature in terms of the situation. In other words, everyone (including Jinto) describes the lovable pet in such a way that is applicable both to him and his master. Diaho isn't worried about death, doesn't mind the home he has, and hasn't questioned his being; he simply looks to enjoy the time he has now, doing what he loves (catching mice), relishing in other's company, and experiencing what life has to offer. That is, having such a grandiose perception of the world may not always be the right way to take things. Sometimes, all that you need to worry about has been next to you this entire time.
The newfound focus on the side cast is a boon, despite it simultaneously being a hindrance to the main cast. There are essentially three other duos besides Jinto and Lafiel: Nereis and Nefee, Admiral Abriel and his chief-of-communications, and Admiral Spoor and her chief-of-communications. Despite all three of the couplings being more or less the "same," each has their own nuances and specific interactions that make the war itself feel more human. The Bebaus Brothers are true siblings; they bicker and quarrel, but respect each other's viewpoints. Abriel teases his right-hand officer constantly; quite uncharacteristic for the leader of the largest empire in the galaxy. And Spoor revels in riling up her closest confidant; she finds it more fun to be a sadist towards him than actually participating in the battles. Each dynamic never feels abnormal, even with the craziness of the skirmishes enveloping everyone. And it's not just these pairings. Jinto and Ekuryua, Lafiel and Atosuryua, and Samson and Sobaash are other relationships that provide similar offerings: a unique and realistic set of interactions.
The OP remains nearly the same as the one used in Crest of the Stars. It's majestic, orchestral, and fitting, making it a wise decision to keep it around for this season.
The ED is surprisingly good. The catchy drums, guitar, and vocals start off plain enough. But by the halfway point, the background singers kick in, and the power of the song does, too. Oddly, the song's lyrics focus on love and togetherness when the majority of the season does not, making at least that aspect of the track rather puzzling.
Like the OP, the rest of the soundtrack remains relatively the same when compared to the first season. Synth, drum, and guitar tracks are used during tense moments, flute and piano pieces during the calm ones, and resounding trumpets and drums during those triumphant times. Once again, the track fits the anime well but doesn't have the capability of standing on its own.
More reiteration, but voice-acting is again average across the board with no special shout-outs to be had.
This season was a bit more of a spectacle. Many of the fights in space were all over the place, in a good way. Directed attacks, multiple strategies, combat prowess, winning and losing; watching everything go down, both the good and the bad, was a lot more fun and involved. Especially since Jinto and Lafiel actually have impact in what eventually plays out.
And while the newer characters are fun and interesting, it was a shame to see such a drop in attention on Jinto and Lafiel's relationship. I like their characters, and I like their dynamic -- it reminds me of a husband and wife "arguing" about the smallest of problems. What was given falls in line with the way the previous season ended, but I would have liked more from them, both in progression and focus.
As it stands, Banner of the Stars I is a small improvement over its first season. With a stronger story, better animation, yet small dip in character development, what is offered is a nice continuation to an already established tale. Hopefully Jinto and Lafiel can juggle both their relationship and the war in the events to come.
Story: Good, balance of war and character exploration, varying perspectives, still thematically lost
Animation: Good, nice art style, good character and battleship designs, above-average actual animation
Characters: Good, Jinto and Lafiel stagnate somewhat, side-cast dynamics and characterization help to alleviate this issue
Sound: Good, good OP, good ED, nice soundtrack, okay VA work
Enjoyment: Good, cool space battles, fun new characters, but needed more focus on Jinto and Lafiel
Seikai no Senki, as you all know, continues from where its prequel series Seikai no Monshou aka Crest of the Stars left off, and so the basic premise and setting is the same here too. Humankind is under attack by the Abh Empire, and it is up to United Mankind and their allies to stave off the impending advance after a temporary ceasefire...wait, that's wrong, you say? I didn't actually say anything inaccurate here...oh wait, I forgot - silly me - this story is told from the invaders' perspective, and it's them that you're supposed to root for.
Seriously though, given just how utterly horrified I
was by Crest of the Stars (scoring it a 1/10 in my review), you might wonder why I even bothered with the sequel. The thing is this - this show seemed to be more about its battle than about its political justifications, so I figured maybe there's actually some scope for enjoyment here as long as you could put the god-awful politics aside - temporarily, at least. Unfortunately though, even on its own terms, the battle simply isn't as engaging as you'd expect it to be. And on the other hand, it isn't long before the horrible politics creep right back and break your immersion anyhow. This right here is the long and short of it - the rest of my review will be about justifying and elaborating on this stand.
The show starts off getting you up to speed with the current status quo, as well as the military logistics of the Abh fleet. It also introduces you to the crew of the attack ship Basroil captained by our lead character Lafiel Abriel, with our other lead Lin Jinto serving as a supply officer. A Terran combat veteran called Samson is notably part of the bridge crew, along with Ekuruya, a somewhat withdrawn and introverted Abh girl who seems overly attached to Jinto's pet cat, and another Abh lady whose name I forget. Also introduced are the various Abh military commanders whom I'll get to later. The show wastes no time getting into combat mode, and before you know it the introductions are over and you're thrust into the immediacy of the war. One thing that the Seikai series as a whole does deserve credit for is its pacing.
Now there are two levels at which the battle is depicted: at the here-and-now tactical level, we're shown the trials that the leads face and how they deal with them; and at the strategic level, we're shown various higher-order commanders as they squabble amongst each other and come to crucial decisions. At the level of the here-and now, the show does its fair bit to try and create tension, but after a while its effect wears off. There are only so many times you can hear sector 12 taking 70% damage, sector 5 taking 45% damage and all that...before finding yourself ceasing to care. At the strategic level, on the other hand, it makes even less of an impression. The commanders seem supremely sure of themselves to the point of detachment (one of them goes for a bath in the middle of the fighting), so what reason does the viewer have to care?
Another factor that could significantly affect the viewer's immersion in the battle is that you only get to see the Abh side of the strategising, and you only ever learn of United Mankind's strategy or tactics through the obstacles the Abh side faces. So on one hand you get to see how chivalrously the Abh face off against their opponents, and how dastardly the enemy is...because that's what they tell you. One unintentionally good thing about this one-sided view of the war, though, is that the enemy is never given a face this time. You only get to see either their ships or mines being blown up. No dastardly, gratuitously-villainous, moustache-twirling military commanders from the ranks of United Mankind plague the screen this time around (that job is taken over by the Abh commanders, albeit unintentionally - more on that later).
With that out of the way, it's now time to address the Elephant in the Room i.e. the two-faced politics of this show. No, you saw this coming a mile away - and no, there's no getting around this. Because quite simply, not only is it thematically central to the whole story, but it also taints and utterly poisons everything it comes into contact with. So anyway, we're right back to what Crest of the Stars did worst - any humans who do not wholeheartedly and with tears of gratitude accept Abh overlordship are portrayed as corrupt, greedy, morally broke or otherwise generally pathetic. The president of the Aptic system, which the Abh forcefully took over, gives a defiant speech to never surrender to the Abh invaders - but he is shown to do so just to look good to his voters. He even suggests behind-the-scenes that the Abh retort with racist and condescending insults to spice things up for the cameras. The Abh's offer to accept surrender from the Aptic government without imposing any deadline on them is made to look like a magnanimous act of generosity. Even those working for the Abh fare no better - a nation is shown to have joined with the Abh simply because the Abh didn't object to their dietary habits whereas the Terran alliances were absolutely appalled.
And then of course, there's the United Mankind - the only force in the Galaxy that poses any credible threat to Abh dominion. Their policy is depicted not as a legitimate political resistance to the Abh's unilateral aggression (which it easily could and should have been), but as a dogmatic mission to either enslave or exterminate the entire Abh race. And surely enough, they are portrayed as genocidal maniacs (albeit off-screen this time) who do not consider the Abh to be human, and treat them as fair game for especially cruel and inhuman battle tactics.
On the other hand, Abh commanders like Crown Prince Abriel and Baroness Spoor or even the Bebaus twins, whose actions would have branded them as war criminals in just about any other narrative, are not only never (intentionally) made to look bad, but rather made to look like eccentric geniuses whose outwardly obnoxious antics belie just how wonderful and compassionate they supposedly are beneath the surface. The show accomplishes this with its singularly worst act of hypocrisy - while it's abundantly clear to any rational person that these commanders took many of their decisions with a callous and blatant disregard for human lives, their actions are ultimately justified by the show on grounds that these decisions somehow end up working out for the best. A related point is how the show expects you to overlook all of Abriel's needless endangerment of human lives because he expresses the coy sentiment that he'd never be able to forgive himself if anything happened to Lafiel (his descendant) or Jinto. The exact same issue loomed in Crest of the Stars as well, and Banner of the Stars continues in the same dishonoured tradition.
Later on in the series, the Terran-born Prime Minister of the Abh Empire has a brief parting talk with the infamous eyepatch-wearing ambassador from the last series, where he praisingly refers to the Empire as "the only force in the galaxy that can impose modernity on the surface worlds". That right there is the big pretext that the show provides to justify all of the Abh's military aggression over anyone who seeks to oppose their completely one-sided dominion over humans. I continue to be surprised at how many people seem perfectly fine with this.
To make things worse, the show doesn't just leave things be even here: even when the crew are on their down-time and just breathing, either reflecting on their lot or even just making small talk, the show takes every opportunity to illustrate how superior the Abh are in every conceivable shape and form, and just how hopelessly unattainable that superiority is to ordinary humans (again, this ties in with the show's justification of the Abh's forceful takeover of human worlds). It may not be as blatant as it was in Crest of the Stars - but it's there, believe me. And it's done much more subtly this time.
Which brings me to the show's perhaps craftiest sleight-of-hand: during one of their breaks from the fighting, Jinto has a chat with Lafiel - reflecting upon his lot in life, the position he's been thrust into, and his possible career options from that point on. Lafiel also shares some of the decisions she's made about her own future. Throughout the span of that discussion, their relative lack of freedom and legroom within their position as Abh nobility gets brought up time and again, given just how pervasively it is a part of their reality. But under no circumstances is the Abh system itself, which is actually the root cause of their plight, ever brought into question or criticised. The most dumbfounding moment is when Jinto briefly contemplates giving up his title as Count of Hyde and simply returning to his homeworld, but then decides against it because he thinks the people would look down upon him for chickening out of his role as their overlord. Are you KIDDING me?! The people of Martine long for Independence from Abh dominion, and if an involuntarily-appointed governor were to turn down that post and return home, that would make a bold and heroic political statement against the Abh, and the people would have welcomed him home as a goddamned HERO!! Nope, Jinto has no choice (in his own mind, at least) but to continue in his dual roles as a petty officer in the Star Forces on one hand, and a puppet figurehead for Abh rule on his homeworld on the other. Interestingly though, there is one character (and an Abh one at that, to boot) who implicitly criticises the ways of the royals, but unfortunately that is just played away (by the show) as merely a personal insult over a previously-borne grudge, and never seriously explored later on.
On the technical side of things, the animation is somewhat better than the positively freakish fare that you had to endure last time. The sound and audio cues are pretty much exactly the same as last time, and they mostly do their job quietly and unobtrusively. The opening score, on the other hand (and especially the eerily ominous drum-rolls whenever the voice-over narrator or anyone else speaks Abh-tongue), made me feel deeply uneasy and nauseous - in much the same way that Richard Wagner's "Flight of the Valkyrie" today invokes imagery of cold-blooded monstrosity because of its rather unfortunate appropriation by the Nazi regime.
As for the characters, things are more or less exactly as they were in the last series. Jinto once again proves himself to be an accomplished sycophant. This time around, he is given more space to "develop" - as in, more airtime to express his self-pity with melodramatic wistfulness. Among other things, he broods that no one will miss him when he dies (awwww), and that he won't be around for as long as Lafiel. You know what, his worries might be unfounded - even in his early twenties, he still looks like a 14-15 year-old, and still retains a husky adolescent voice...maybe he has defied the odds and hit the genetic lottery after all! The show also tries to "humanize" Jinto by showing how he cringes in embarrassment at having to read out the Abh's official statements of hostile takeover, but it's a diversion from the plain-and-simple fact that he is perfectly OK with what the Abh are actually doing - the hypocrisy is simply sickening. Lafiel is, of course, exceedingly good to Jinto as always, and unfailingly generous to her crew - but underneath even that genuinely nice and dutiful personality is an uncritical mind, and an unquestioning obedience to the very system that serves to oppress her (and not to mention entire planets besides).
Overall, Banner of the Stars retains the core essence of what made Crest of the Stars so sickening and reprehensible. But where Crest of the Stars provoked shock and outrage, Banner was mostly BORING. The stakes are not something you can sympathise with without rooting for criminal invaders, and that's primarily what breaks the immersion factor whenever you're reminded of it. As for the battle itself, hardly anything that the main characters do seems to matter in the larger scheme of things - or even in their own lives, for that matter. If it seems "better" than Crest of the Stars, that's only because it simply has LESS of what made the latter show so unbearable - just so we're clear. That being said, this time around it seems to have gone for a new tactic of including less outwardly offensive scenes, and pushing its agenda more subtly through the "quiet-time" interactions between the characters, where much of its most skillful deception takes place. And looking back, it's quite evident that it was more interested in the latter agenda than with actually showing us an interesting battle, which is why I couldn't award it a decent score, even if I cast aside its politics from among my considerations. It seems it's just not possible to make good wine from bad grapes.