(This has been adapted from my reddit thread)
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.
Banner 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
Final Score: 7/10