Outlaw Star (Seihō Bukyō Autorō Sutā) 1998
Space Opera is one of my favourite genres so I was already pre-disposed toward enjoying Outlaw Star before I saw it, I must admit.
And it’s definitely what I was looking for: a fast-paced space adventure that mixes the episodic with over-arching plot but spends a nice amount of time on comedy too – and occasionally, the melodrama that comes from the ‘opera’ part of the genre.
Like so many anime, Outlaw Star is based on an existing manga, but unlike a fair few of them, Sunrise had a full story to work from when they started (I’m pretty sure), so if you come across Outlaw Star you’ll get a series that has a beginning, middle and end. Sweet deal, huh?
And like every adaptation out there, it’s easy to argue that certain elements needed more or less screen time, but I had no problem with the overall mix of comedy/action/adventure.
In terms of structure, what I did wish for was a little more of the main concern threaded into the background of those first episodic installments, the ones appearing right after the Hilda arc. The next few chapters have great internal structure and an equal share of comedy and action as you meet and then get to know the people Gene and Jim end up adopting as part of the Outlaw Star’s crew, so it doesn’t feel like wasted time of course.
That central plot (featuring the mysterious Melfina and her origins) being sidelined at times is actually worked into the story and Gene’s character – he’s the cocky but good-natured bounty-hunter type that will, for some folks, bring Spike Spiegel to mind, I guess.
And comparisons to Cowboy Bebop sometimes pop up with Outlaw Star and it’s fair in some ways – they share a production company and both shows feature futuristic settings, space battles, bounty-hunting (ish) but being broke and a cocky male lead supported by a mismatched crew… yet tonally they’re very different. Outlaw Star focuses more on comedy and adventure, while Bebop is ultimately a sombre series*.
But they’re similar also in the fact that most folks seem to care for the characters by the end of the respective shows and while Gene and Aisha are probably common favs, I think the square(?) within me identified most with Jim. Poor Jim, who along with the ship’s computer, was the level-headed one cursed with putting up with Gene’s pig-headedness 😀
At times the character models seemed inconsistent but the designs (of ships and stations also) are distinctive so I got over that issue, and it wasn’t ‘off’ very often either. Cool opening song too but I’ll add that another way that Outlaw Star differs from Cowboy Bebop is their approach to fan-service.
Bebop is occasionally more subtle about it but wow, the ‘hot springs planet episode’ in Outlaw Star is way over the top. So much so that it’s doubtless a self-aware parody of the whole idea of a fan-service episode. And while there’s no plot-based reason for Melfina to be naked while helping pilot the ship, the show does undress Gene a fair bit too.
So, finally to some sort of recommendation, right?
Well, keeping in mind that I’ve mentioned my biases… this is worth seeing if you’re a fan of any of the genres I’ve mentioned above or interested in Sunrise during the 1990s, and while it’s not flawless it is fun, I reckon.
* I wanted to note that on the off chance you come across (misguided) folks looking down on Outlaw Star as knock-off of Cowboy Bebop, you can remind them that OS started screening a couple of months prior and wasn’t cancelled during its original run 😀