Jan 18, 2009
Beatnik (All reviews)
In the year 2395 an all-female crew of five make their appearance not with a bang, but with a crack. An electrical whip crack that is!

It’s not enough for them to wield these snaking lethal weapons, but their ship has to have an epic version too, slicing and dicing everything in its path. Their entrance is bold and assured, the direction patiently keeping our heroines' faces from us until the perfect moment, like Spielberg's reveal of Harrison Ford only after he's whipped a gun out of a rascal's hand at the beginning of his first Indy movie. Yes I just mentioned Sol Bianca and Spielberg's Raiders in the same sentence, sometimes you have to be compassionate in life, at least that’s the hokey message of the first episode of this OVA.

Ok, Sol Bianca has the same template as Outlaw Star, Cowboy Bebop and dozens of other sci-fi anime, and is crammed with every anime cliché you can think of, but at least it stars a fun group of characters squabbling and exchanging wisecracks you've heard a million times before but still grin at anyway.

The pirate crew of the Sol Bianca have multi-coloured bleached hair styles (you can tell because their eyebrows are still black!) and outfits resembling Power Rangers. This is the end of the 80's. A time when we weren’t afraid of colours; when good guys could wear something lighter than grey and bad guys weren’t cloaked in shadow all the time but confident enough to walk around looking like 80's pop band rejects.

A planet featured in the first episode is run by a generic despotic ruler, reminiscent of Street Fighter's M. Bison, and dressed a bit like Irresponsible Captain Tylor (minus the overcoat), though obviously lacking that guy's amiable attitude. Lacking in anything remarkable at all really which is a shame as we all love a scenery-chewing bad guy, but this guy isn’t even peckish. People on this planet are oppressed and working in mines. Mining for what exactly? Who knows? When you want to oppress, you just chuck them in mines!

Despite the fact that the episode's shenanigans are kick-started by a boy stowaway on a ship populated by all females, there is no lousy harem atmosphere, no pace-stopping sexual hijinks. Instead the humour is breezy good fun with the occasional blood-letting violence sprinkled throughout. The first episode's story is a completely forgettable liberation-fest, although I did find the last few scenes accidentally resonating a bit, for both the concept behind the idea and also an idealistic speech about a time before planes hit skyscrapers coupled with an iconic 20th century image.

The second episode is much more fun. Thank God for Die Hard practically inventing the 'exciting stuff happening in a contained environment' template, and thank God for anime running with it. Ok, the generics still continue, but it’s just more enjoyable watching a thriller cliché than a war resistance one.

The pirates this time are attempting to steal something expensive on a luxury ship but confront resistance in the form of bullets and thugs. The story moves on, but continually keeps the action inside spaceship interiors keeping with the semi-claustrophobic theme of the episode. There's also development on the pirate crew's ship itself, a character in its own right. Definitely one of the best spaceships in anime, with cool design, mysterious interior and history, it’s like a mobile futuristic apartment that just happens to have destructive capabilities included.

So with the second episode everything is funnier, dramatic, more action packed and entertaining and we finally see the potential of Sol Bianca, a potential not yet reached but still attainable if the franchise continues with sequels. With a bit more passion infused into the production, this franchise could be something special and at least get within whipping distance of anime like Bebop, and with the all-female crew would have just enough to make it distinguish itself from its rivals.

As it stands, Sol Bianca is easily lost in that crowd, as is evident from MAL's low statistic for the show, although a high statistic obviously isn’t a marker for quality, so maybe one day another Sol Bianca will be released with a better script and director involved, and will become a cult hit.

The characters in the OVA are fun, although the eldest and one who appears to be the leader is so laid back it’s like someone spiked her drink. She wanders around in a daze and doesn’t actually do much at all, which is a waste. The art is of course early 90's, but the animation is smooth as anything produced post millennium. The music is typical 80's synth rock/pop that dates it but also gives it charm that all 80's/90's anime have.

Sol Bianca ends on a baffling last scene that’s begging for elaboration, leaving you unsatisfied but wanting a bit more, which represents the entire OVA very well.