Monday, October 05, 2009

So, Starship Operators had a fairly dire first three episodes. Oh, not in terms of animation, but there were way too many characters, they didn't spend much time establishing the setting or backstory, and the framing conceit is more, well, conceited than usual.

Said conceit: when their home planet in the galactic sticks is overrun by the neighborhood militaristic alliance - "the Kingdom" - a shipful of military cadets on a long-range training cruise arrange a "deal" with a powerful media network based off of Earth - the Galactic Network will finance their rebellion in exchange for broadcast rights. It's Survivor: Doomed Intergalactic War! This is a bit high-concept for my usual tastes, and when it was getting fansubbed, I never got past those three initial episodes. They were killing people off I hadn't even identified as individuals yet, and the nominal heroine didn't seem to be doing much of anything heroic, or even particularly distinctive.

I was buying pretty much anything I wouldn't be embarrassed to have on my shelves last summer, so this ended up in my "to-watch" stack, even though it hadn't been good enough to watch *free* the last time 'round. Luckily for me, it got better. Fast.

The version of war the writers and animators handed us - once things settled down & all the goofy adolescent bushwalla had been disposed of - was actually pretty nifty. It bears more resemblance to Walter Jon Williams' Praxis trilogy than Legend of Galactic Heroes, Star Wars, or most other supposed space operas. It really does feel like real fighting - hours and days of suspenseful boredom punctuated by seconds of screaming terror. Range and reaction arcs introduce actual tactics and operational art into the fighting, and logistics & strategy do their proper jobs of framing the respective pace and purpose of the fighting, concepts that probably will be alien to someone fed solely upon TV and film SF.

Furthermore, the heroine justifies her existence, and visibly & coherently demonstrates operational planning & wargaming, while not actually being the captain of the ship. We have an actual G-3, people! Although they call her "deputy captain", so points off for that.

Characters die in unnecessary and tragic fashion, and likable characters' failures cause those tragedies. Youth's idealism is used by the avuncular cynics who could be characterized as the cinders left by the ambitious idealism of earlier generations. Losing battles are resolved by unrelated, well-foreshadowed political developments. In the end, our protagonists don't so much triumph, as survive. For the most part.

In short, Spaceship Operators is an excellent little space opera. Shame it stumbled so badly getting out of the gate.

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