24 February 2018

Future War Stories from the East: Starship Troopers 1988 Anime OVA (Uchu no Senshi)


There are few military science fiction works that equal the impact and popularity of Robert Heinlein’s  1959 novel Starship Troopers. It is one of the founding works of the entire genre of military sci-fi, pioneer of armored power suits, and one of the works that spread the insect-type alien enemies. While the original book was adapted into a tabletop war game by Avalon Hill in 1976, it was the 1997 Paul Verhoeven film adaptation that propelled the world of SST into a whole new level of popularity and influence. In some ways, the entire genre of military science fiction is dominated by this single book…but it does not mean that every adaptation of SST has met with global acclaim and widespread influence. One of the relatively unknown works based on the 1959 novel is the Bandai Visual/Sunrise 1988 six-part OVA called: Uchu no Senshi (宇宙の戦士). In this latest installment of Future War Stories from the East, FWS will be FINALLY examining this mysterious SST work in all of its 1980s anime glory.

What is Uchu no Senshi?
In 1988, Sunrise and Bandai Visual would release Uchu no Senshi (or “Cosmic Warrior” in English) in a three part Laserdisc release-only format that was based on Starship Troopers the book more closely than other work to the then date. Two episodes of the OVA were released per disc and it was never made available in the West nor was aired on Japanese TV. Uchu no Senshi included some big names in 1980’s anime. The iconic power suit design was done by Kazutaka Miyatake while the OVA was directed by Tetsurō Amino with the iconic anime studio Sunrise behind the entire production that released the original Gundam! Added to this was Bandai Visual being the publisher of the SST anime. All of this adds up to Uchu no Senshi having some of the best in the mecha anime business…which makes the history of the 1988 SST anime even more bittersweet and odd.

The Plot and Setting of Uchu no Senshi
The overall plot of the six part OVA is a coming-of-age story centered on Johnny Rico and his quest for identity and destiny via service in the Mobile Infantry. It is during this two year time span of Johnny going from high school to an APS wearing MI trooper, the Earth Federation goes to war with an previously unknown alien species. Throughout his training and service, we meet a number of other characters that influence Johnny’s life and POV on his military service (his MI training eats up episodes 2-5).  It is the invasion of the aliens’ base-of-operation (or homeworld) on Klendathu that is the sum total of Rico’s experience and story. While the world of Starship Troopers is clearly spelled out in the 1959 novel and the 1997 film, there is little to go on here in the OVA, including the year and the extent of the Earth Federation’s reach or if “service guarantees citizenship”. Unlike the original novel or the 1997 film, the aliens of the OVA are not previously known and there is no history with the aliens prior to the events of the OVA. At the end of the OVA, we still do not know the fate of the aliens or if the war is continuing.

The Six Episodes of Uchu no Senshi

1."Johnnie" (released 10/25/1988)
The 1988 OVA opens with powered armor equipped soldiers assaulting across an alien high rocky desert terrain with a UGV mounted with a camera to record the battle between the MI and the aliens. Several MI die as the assault continues under heavy enemy fire as the MI answer with bullets and grenades. Then the battle ends and we are teleported to a high school football game where we meet Johnnie Rico. This episode provides the motivation and backstory for Rico signing up for Earth Federation military service. Much like the novel and film, Rico comes from money and he is being groomed to take over the family business, Rico Foods, in the same way his father was.
While this may be a sweet deal of having a good life and path already provided, Rico is walking through his own life and feels that he has no ownership over his own destiny. After the football game, Rico and his best friend Carl attend a party, where Rico is going to confess his feelings for cheerleader Carmencita. It is during a post-party nighttime trip to the beach that Johnny and Carmencita talk and he makes his mind up, he is enlisting in the military, just like his best friend Carl. As we already know, Carmencita is accepted to go into the elite naval academy, while Rico is selected for the glorious Mobile Infantry. This sends shockwaves through Johnnie’s family. His mother reacts strongly, crying and slapping Johnnie. After a moonlight drive with his father, Johnnie learns that Rico Foods has been shipping a great deal of long-life rations to the military that his father believes is a prelude to a war. By the time Johnnie leaves for basic training, he was still unable to patch things up with his mother.

2."Hendrick" (released 10/25/1988)
It is here that we see the basic training of Mobile Infantry recruits with all of the standard tropes of basic training: harsh marching, loose talk in the barracks, Drill Sergeants flexing their Kung-Fu skills against the new meat, force-on-force training, and learning to throw a knife…! Much like the film and the book, the OVA does include the infamous knife throwing training and Sgt. Zim taking on the new recruits in hand-to-hand combat. It is here that Johnnie meets fellow recruit Hendrick, who seems unhappy with the ways of basic. Towards the end of the episode, we see training with the powered armor and several of the recruits being tasked with combating a wildfire with fire suppression equipment.
It is here that Hendrick learns that he is not fit for combat and is drummed out of the MI. It is here also that Johnnie disobeys direct recall orders to rescue a firefighting trapped in a blazing building. While he did save a life, Sgt. Zim is displeased that he disobeyed a direct order. Back a base, Zim beats the shit out of Johnnie and then forces him to run. While Rico knew he made the right call, morally, he begins to understand the importance of following orders. While Rico is training, his mother is at the New Buenos Aires spaceport to meet her friend Maria as the luxury space cruiser, the Queen Alexandra, arrives. Once it lands, the terrible truth is revealed, the aliens have taken over the Queen Alexandra and the massive creature releases HE DE bolts and spores. Armored MI troopers show up and a major battle ensues, level ling portions of New Buenos Aires and killing Johnnie’s mother.


3."Maria" (released 11/25/1988)
Mail has always been an important part of a soldier’s life and the MI is no different. There several mail calls in the OVA, and this causes Johnnie to finally compose a letter to his high school crush, Carmencita, while another letter arrives: news of his mother’s death in the spaceport attack that cost one million lives. It is during a briefing detailing the attack on Earth that the announcement is made that training will be accelerated in preparation for a massive strike back on the aliens. They are to report to the lunar Federation base for planetary assault training. It is around this time that Johnnie runs into Carmencita and during their difficult talk; one of Johnnie’s teammates asks if he got a nude picture of his crush. In response, Carmencita slaps Rico and the guys punish the teammate. While the training is intense, Rico is not himself and it costs the team during lunar force-on-force training with a building with automated defensive systems. As punishment, the unit is put on toilet duty and the Johnnie is beaten up.  The unit makes up via a loose bottle of booze.


4."Greg" (released 11/25/1988)
One of the final training simulations for the MI troopers is a massive force-on-force war game engagement on Mars against other MI troopers playing the OPFOR. Johnnie is promoted to squad leader and worries about his performance in the upcoming training. One of Rico’s squadmates, Greg, attempts to reassure Johnnie and vows to support him in the field. During this, alien spores attach themselves to a Martian sentry vehicle and attack the Martian Occupation base. At the same time that the base personnel are being slaughtered, the wargame unfolds with the armored troopers slinging paintballs at one another. When Johnnie’s squad hits to the Mars Occupation base to reload, they discover bodies everywhere and are ordered to investigate. Once it is confirmed that the aliens are here, they request for Sgt. Zim to send armored MI troopers to deal with the aliens. Before they can follow orders and pull out, the ETs jump Rico and Greg. Rico orders Greg to get out and obey the recall order. He disobeys and attempts to rescue his comrade, but is cut in half and Rico was next until armed MI suits show up and deal with the pink angry aliens with a hail of lead. After the rescue, Zim lectures the squad about following orders and that Greg will not be buried with military honors due to disobeying direct orders. He orders them to collect Greg’s gear and it is there that they learn that Greg had a girlfriend. 

5."Cherenkov" (released 12/17/1988)
It has been six months since the events on Mars and it is graduation day for the 20% of the class that made through it the training and Rico is finally a Mobile Infantry trooper with a blessing from Zim. With the unit getting a liberty before being assigned to their new unit, Rico and Smith go to meet Greg’s girlfriend and explain about what a hero Greg was. To their surprise, she is getting married and it leaves the two men depressed. They stop at a local bar after their car breaks to down some cans of Budweiser (yes, they are actually cans of Bud), then some extras from the first Mad Max 1979 film show up and there is a rumble. As the balloon is about to go up, the new members of Willey’s Wildcats are transferred to an orbital space station to meet their new squad and board their new vessels, the Roger Young. It is here that Carmencita and Johnnie reunion again, and she gives a letter and a swimsuit photo. While Johnnie read the note saying that she will be posted to the training vessel Saratoga, the rest of his squad engage in a station-side barroom brawl with naval personnel. It is also here on the space station that we meet Cherenkov, the machine gunner for their squad and big son of a bitch. However, he is sucker punched during the dust up with the naval guys. As the episode ends, Willey’s Wildcats are boarding the Roger Young as news comes down that the Saratoga was destroyed, Johnnie drops the photo of Carmencita.

6."Carmencita" (released 12/17/1988)
After an FTL jump, the Roger Young assumes launch position in the upper atmosphere of the ETs base-of-operations or their homeworld: Klendathu. The unit loads up into drop pods and hundreds of encased MI troopers stage a massive airborne assault on the jungle world of Klenathu. The enemy launches a thick blanket of AAA fire and MI troopers die in their coffins. Rico’s squad hits the dirt and launches an attack on any enemy units. All manner of ET forms attack from the ground, from the trees, and from the air; taking their toll on the MI troopers minds and will. Several soldiers break down and allow themselves to be killed or others wounded, including Rico. Lt. Dan, sorry, Sgt. Dan leads an assault on a massive alien bio-mass cluster that seems to be “a base” or “brain”, but Sgt. Dan becomes trapped. The rest of the squad pour on the fire and rescue Sgt. Dan and watch the alien bio-mass burn. In the last scene of the OVA, Rico is an lunar military hospital and he is summoned to an observation deck. It is there that Rico sees a wounded Carmencita and Rico is about to confess his love for her as the credits roll. Thus, ending the 1988 SST OVA and so is the mystery surrounding this SST adaptation.

The Powered Armor of Uchu no Senshi
One of the most familiar concepts of the 1959 novel is the use of three variants of combat rated CLASS-II powered armor by the Mobile Infantry allowing for a single trooper to have great power, mobility, and control over the battlespace. While this is a bedrock concept in the novel and spread throughout science fiction, it was sadly omitted from the 1997 film and was only included on the 3rd 2009 film and the following animated films. However, it was included in the 1976 Avalon Hill board game, the 1988 OVA, and the CGI TV series. The design of the powered armor in Uchu no Senshi was done by legendary mechanical designer Kazutaka Miyatake who worked on Macross, Space Cruiser Yamato, Gundam SEED, Gunbuster, and even Dirty Pair. Seriously, this man is a god of mechanical design! For many fans of SST, his design,  known as the “Studio Nue design powered armor” was to be considered the realization of Heinlein’s description and one of the best elements of Uchu no Senshi. This was not the first appearance of this powered armor in Japanese sci-fi culture. In the 8mm animated film opening to the Japanese Daicon III and IV 1981 science fiction conventions, we see the same powered armor design.
The likely first appearance of this ionic powered armor design is seen the 1977 or 1975 Hayakawa Publishing Japanese language edition cover art of the Starship Troopers novel by noted illustrator Naoyuki Kato. It should be said that while the two designs by Kato and Studio Nue are very similar, Kato’s armor design was not used for the 1988 OVA. In the OVA, there several variants of the powered suit (AKA enhanced combat suit) seen, including a yellow training version, and three combat models in various livery, but only two were seen in the anime (“soldier” and “commander”).
The most common in the MI of the OVA and seen on-screen was the “soldier” type that had the Y-rack, various hand mounted weapon systems including a KE carbine, flamethrower, MG42-like machine gun, and rocket launchers along with armor mounted heavier weapons like laser cannons, auto-cannons, heavier rockets. The “commander” powered suit was designed for field commanders to coordinate with their troopers with advanced communication and sensor equipment. There was to be originally the “area support suit” which was akin to the scout powered armor featured in the book, but this was cut prior to animation and only exists in concept art. Two interesting pieces of trivia about the Uchu no Senshi powered armor was that the production staff “borrowed” the sound effects of the armor opening and closing from the power loader exo-suit in ALIENS some other sound effects from Bubblegum Crisis, like the APS carbine rifle. One of the great things about the Japanese animation industry is that often release very detailed and cool model kits for their productions and the MI powered armor was no different. Over the years, nine official model kits in plastic and metal of the very iconic Studio Nue designed powered suit has been released since 1988 by several companies in several scales. Interestingly enough, not with any official connection to the Heinlein book or the OVA…is this due to copyright issues of the OVA not be official licensed? either way, the powered suit are an amazing design.

The Enemy of Uchu no Senshi
In the 1959 novel, the primary enemy was the Pseudo-Arachnids, the intelligent spider-like species that used weapons and starships against the Terrans. While the design of the Arachnids fitting Heinlein’s vision was included in the 1976 Avalon Hill combat board game and some of the cover art, it was dumbed down severely for the 1997 SST film and that new design of the Arachnids would dominate SST. Those bugs would be seen in all three live-action films, the CGI TV series, the Mongoose wargame system, the computer game, and the recent animated films along with the 1997 toyline. While many fans have want to see and experience the ET smart Spiders of the novel, they did not get it in the 1988 OVA either.
The organic, nearly aquatic/ jellyfish design of the pink-red-purple hued alien enemy in Uchu no Senshi was unlike anything we’ve seen in any other SST work. I cannot locate any information on why director Tetsurō Amino chose to go with such a radical departure from the insect aliens of the novel. This more aggressive jellyfish design altered the relationship between Terrans and the bugs as explained in the book. In the OVA, the Earth Federation was unaware of the aliens until they attacked the outer worlds of the Federation, causing frontline MI units to engage them in combat. These attacks were not released to the public until the assault on the city of New Buenos Aires killed one million military and civilians.
When we examine this spacefaring hive-mind species, we see that take various forms, including airborne, and are able to be spread via spore from a central biomass that allows the colonizing of hostile worlds quickly. While their outer layer is able to resist bullets, they are still able to be killed via conventional weapons. What makes these aggressive ETs so dangerous is their ability to spawn huge numbers of combat forms that are fearless in the face of armored Terrans and their high explosive, high-velocity globules. This is their most common type of weapon used by the ETs and it appears to be a form of possible organic directed-energy bolts that formed sticky explosive globules. However, according to the “Starship Troopers Memorial Book” published in Japan, the Directed Energy bolts were formed out of a liquefied metal that was allowed for the sticky properties seen in the combat footage. There is no word on how the ETs were able to generate these high-velocity globules that seemed to be biological weapon system. I personally believe that the overall design and presentation of the enemy aliens in Uchu no Senshi is one the weakest design and story elements in the OVA and it does not live up the enemy presented in neither the book nor the films.

The Historical Context of Uchu no Senshi
Given that FWS has discussed the 1980s the western market for anime and manga several times, along with the Giant Robot Crazy, I think we should examine the Japanese anime market back in the 1980s, especially since Uchu no Senshi never officially left Japan. Several events collimated in the shaping of the 1980s Japanese animation industry: the advent of LaserDiscs, new major animation studios were founded, and the establishment of the home video market. While the 1970s belonged to anime on TV, the 1980s belonged to the OVA on LaserDiscs in Japan. With the influx of the popularity of science fiction and these new studios coupled with the OVA format, experimentation was the order of the day as we saw in Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. It was this time period that Uchu no Senshi was born into: as an OVA LaserDisc and somewhat experimental in its subject matter.

Why was Uchu no Senshi Never Imported to the West?
There is no clear reason why Sunrise/Bandai Visual never released Uchu no Senshi OVA in the western markets that even extends to this very day...but I’ve developed a few theories over the years since I first learned about this Military SF oddity. First is that Uchu no Senshi was only released on Laserdisc in Japan, which is not a format that was ever gained much popularity in the United States and as far as I know that is the only format it was ever released on. Then there is the matter of Uchu no Senshi was rumored not to be an unauthorized adaptation of the iconic work and the OVA was not approved by either the American publisher of SST nor Heinlein (who died in 1988) that owned the rights to SST.
Lastly, is the timing of Uchu no Senshi. The western anime/manga market was growing in the late-1980s, but it is nothing like we have today where you watch anime on any device or go any major retailer and buy anime or manga. While at the time of Uchu no Senshi, there was some OVAs imported to the west, some anime TV shows dubbed and then aired on American TV like Battle of the Planets, and there were American companies’ published Japanese comics, like First Comics releasing Lone Wolf and Cub. However, I don’t believe that Uchu no Senshi would have been successful. One of the factors holding a title like this one back from the American market was the format of the time: VHS. DVDs lessened the cost of buying entire anime series by more than half and this opened up more of the US market for anime. I can still remember wanting to buy all of ROBOTECH or Starblazers at the time they were released on VHS and it was hundreds of dollars. Not so on DVD, allowing us to finally have complete collections without selling vital organs. As I said above, Laserdisc never caught on in the States and I guess VHS release of Uchu no Senshi was not in the cards. If it had been released on VHS in the States, it could have been similar to the release of Bubble Gum Crisis, being spread over several VHS volumes.
For a current release on disc to happened, the legal issues would need to be sorted out and that is not the only roadblock if it was to be a US release of the old SST anime: the modern SST animated films. Not only is there a CGI animated TV series, but there is the Japanese-American 2012 film Invasion and the 2017 Traitor of Mars that have muddied up the waters for the intended audience. The 1988 Japanese OVA has no relation to the 1997 American film that spawned an alternate vision and universe of the 1959 book and monopolized the very name in the minds of most western audiences. I can just see buyers complaining in the Amazon.com review section over buying the 1988 OVA when they really wanted the TV series or the modern animated SST movies. The window may have passed for Uchu no Senshi to be released in the west.

Uchu no Senshi in the West
Unlike other entry in the Future War Stories from the East Fang of the Sun Dougram, there is little-to-nothing of the 1988 SST OVA in the west…which is odd to give the subject matter and time period. At the time that Uchu no Senshi was released, western companies were releasing anime on the airwaves and on VHS tape, but this one escaped the 90’s rash of imported dub titles by all manner of western anime companies like US Manga Corps (Central Park Media), AnimEigo, and Viz Media. Knowledge of Uchu no Senshi was extremely limited in the west due to it never being formally dubbed, released only on LaserDisc, and unauthorized existence. Hell, even the model kits of the Mobile Infantry powered armor suits designed Kazutaka Miyatake that were released from-time-to-time in Japan were never released in the west. Everything of Uchu no Senshi in the west has been imported from various websites or bootlegged. Some enterprising souls have dubbed the LaserDisc and transferred it onto DVD or uploaded to various video sharing sites. I first learned about Uchu no Senshi via a brief mention in the old Animerica, and it was only around the time I founded FWS that I researched the obscure 1988 OVA. It was through the TrooperPX.com website that began my journey towards discovery. As well as being the design for the OVA, it was also used on one of the Japanese language edition Starship Troopers novel’s cover art. This sort of “canonized” and connected Kazutaka Miyatake’s powered suit to Heinlein’s powered armor in the minds of some.   

How Close is Uchu no Senshi to the 1959 Book and the 1997 Movie?
It is reported over and over again that this 1988 anime OVA that bears the title of "Starship Troopers", is the closest visual adaptation to the iconic 1959 novel. Those that make this claim are both dead wrong and sort of correct. For the record and as far as I know, there is no direct visual adaptation of Heinlein's 1959 book and out of a contest between the 1988 OVA and the 1997 film, the 1997 film is closer I think in spirit and message. While it is true that the pacing of Uchu no Senshi is closer to the 1959 novel, due to the majority of the six episodes is devoted to Rico's training and only the last episode being concerned with the war against the aliens; there are vast differences.
The overall setting of Heinlein's SST is completely missing. There is no "service guarantees citizenship" aspect of the future Terran society, none of the harsh corporal punishment, the aliens of Uchu no Senshi are more organic than insectoids along with the lack of the previous history between the Federation and the Arachnids. All of those elements are incorporated in the 1997 film along with the overall tone that more closely mirrors the society of Heinlein's political views. For the most part, unless the English subtitles are completely wrong, there is no of this in the OVA. While it is true that the Mobile Infantry powered armor is there in all of its 1980s anime mecha glory, I was rather surprised how little the 1988 OVA is connected to the 1959 book. However, it seems to me that there are some similarities between the OVA and the Verhoeven film that led me to believe that the 1997 production was aware of the 1988 OVA or had actually seen it. For example, Johnny Rico plays a football-like game in high school, Carmen is his love interest, a fight between Fleet and MI Troopers, the Federation lunar bases, and Rico being wounded and Carmen somehow involved. 

Why is Uchu no Senshi Considered Military SF?
While it is true that this 1988 OVA by Bandai Visual is directly based on or around one of the most important military science fiction works of all time that continues to have an influence on the genre as a whole, the anime also is military sci-fi on its own. Unlike many other Military SF animes we will be discussing over the life of the Future War Stories of the East serial, Uchu no Senshi involves the basic training of the main characters in much more detail than many other military science fiction animes than just showing the combat aspect of war or the human cost of war. Much like the Gundam: 0080 War in the Pocket, the cost of war is heavily explored and the toll it takes on those that survive is seen in the SST OVA. We families ripped apart, soldiers mental shocked by the death and destruction of the war with the aliens, and the rigor of military life and following orders that go against basic human instinct. For many that come at any other SST work from the perspective of the 1997 nearly-pornographic future war film, the pace, and scope of the 1988 OVA is rather shocking, slow, and lacking in unisex shower scenes, but Uchu no Senshi is military science fiction.

The Impact and Legacy of Uchu no Senshi
Information on the OVA has been difficult to track down overall, especially when it concerns the impact on the Japanese anime market in 1988. There simply are no figures for sales or how popular it was, or even reviews at the time. I am going to make a great leap here, but I personally believe that Uchu no Senshi did not reach the heights of other anime OVAs at the time and it was lost, for the most part, in the flood of anime titles coming out. There is one element of Uchu no Senshi that did impact the anime market and does have an important legacy is the Studio Nue powered armor suit.
While many of us in the west never knew about a 1980s Starship Troopers anime, some of us have seen the powered armor in art or as an imported model kit. It is the power of that design by Kazutaka Miyatake that propelled the combat powered suit to be the true ambassador for the hidden Uchu no Senshi, compelling some of us that wanted to know more to scour the internet for clues of this mythical powered armor and the SST OVA of 1988. It even compelled Japanese artist Naoyuki Katoh to create a 1:1 copy of the powered armor for a special exhibition in 2010. That is the true legacy of this oddball, unauthorized, LaserDisc OVA from Bandai: the mystery of it all. When you first learn that there was an anime made of Starship Troopers with actual powered armor of the Mobile Infantry made in the golden 80s, it is difficult to understand why it was never imported or why it is not more popular on the internet…after all, SST is one of the most enduring and discussed titles in all of sci-fi literature. However, sometimes the mystery is better than the truth and you learn that clearly once you watch the OVA for yourself.

Is it Worth Watching Today and Is It Any Good?

As I stated above, the mystery of this 1980s Japanese anime interpretation of the iconic 1959 novel is better than the actual reality of Uchu no Senshi. The mere existence of a 1980s Starship Troopers anime that was never imported to the west is a compelling reason to invest the time to watching (and reading) all six episodes. If you are a fan of 1980s anime films or SST than I can suggest to you to locate the OVA on YouTube and satisfy your curiosity. But, that's all it should be. Do not invest the money in buying a bootleg DVD for western players nor buying the Japanese LaserDiscs until you’ve seen it first. For me, it is not worth owning because it is just not that good. The most impressive elements of Uchu no Senshi is the CLASS-II powered armor Studio Nue design, the awesome art associated with the OVA, and just how bad the music is. Seriously, you could use it for an interrogation technique that would yield results without laying a hand on them. Despite the overall talent involved in the production and its design. While there good pieces here and there, like the powered armor design and seeing some of the characters from the book, it very uneven and there is no real payoff at the conclusion. Plus, it just does not seem like genuine SST.
While the book and film spend a great of time establishing the society and situation that Rico lives in, there is none of that is here, and it makes the OVA too free floating and without a foundation to root the events on-screen. While some complain about the lack of action, which the anime most devoted to training of the MI, the assumed conclusion with the invasion of the alien planet is very much lacking in grandeur and suffers from showing two soldiers completely cracking under pressure that is handled poorly and at the cost of mechs-vs.-aliens action that we all came to see. Then that brings up another unsuccessful element of the OVA: the aliens.
There was no good reason to alter the intelligence spiders of the book to the organic monsters of the OVA and this seriously handicaps the OVA in setting and storytelling. The bugs of the book and 1997 movie provided more sense of dread and terror than the pink jellyfish monsters of Uchu no Senshi. While the end is stereotypical of other war epics, the lack of the previous relationship between Rico and Carmencita makes the almost confession of love by Johnnie seems too much despite the horrors of war they both experience. While this could have been handled better, as it was in the 1997 film, the writing is just not there to support the visuals either.
While some may credit the lack of formal dub into English as one source of the unevenness of Uchu no Senshi, and it is a valid complaint, it is just badly scripted and planned with critical story element missing, draining the emotion and dramatic energy from the film. Some of this may have been able to be cleared up with a proper English dub that rounded out some of the roughness, there is the reality that the OVA was intended for a Japanese audience. Today’s anime is more geared to an international audience more so than anime of the 1970s and 1980s, and Uchu no Senshi Japanese roots really show through and can make the OVA seem odder to a western audience, even those that have watched other subbed titled animes and this really shows with the relationship between characters. Another more well-known 1980s OVA that is similar to the mishandling of the original source material and leaves the audience in blueballs over the lack of payoff is the 1988 Appleseed OVA also by Bandai Visual. In the final vote, watch it on YouTube, buy a model of the Studio Nue designed APS, and then read the book or watch the 1997 film.

Will There Ever Be a Faithful Adaptation of Heinlein’s Book?
While the internet may proclaim that Uchu no Senshi is the most faithful visual adaptation of the 1959 book, it is simply not true and nor it is true of any other SST adaptation…ever. While many plot, dialog, characters, and setting elements have been lifted for the several major works based on the SST novel, there has been no direct adaptation in video game form, graphic novel, manga, anime, TV series, play, or major motion picture. So that begs the question…will there ever be one? While FWS has discussed SST over and over again, and I regard it has one of the most important works of MSF ever, I am not a huge fan of the book or the world Heinlein created. After all, FWS awarded The Forever War the best MSF book ever over SST and tells you a great deal about bring a faithful adaptation of the 1959 book to a visual format. If the 1988 OVA is any indication or hint of what the book would look brought into the visual medium, we can see issues. The SST novel is flawed as a book due to Heinlein using the setting as a vehicle for his own political and social ideas at the cost of book’s flow. The 1997 film was able to make some of the ideas of Heinlein more entertaining and digestible and it my belief that any more faithful adaptation would require the same treatment. There would need to be more layers applied to the original text to sell it as visual entertainment. However, it should be noted that the bones are there in the original 1959 novel for there to be a great limited TV series based on the original book and setting and not one that nearly mocks the original novel’s world and message as the 1997 film did. There have been and continue to be attempts at presenting the original SST novel in a live-action format, but maybe the anime format could be used again? Only time will tell.

Next Time on FWS...

One of the most frequent topics asked online about the genre of military science fiction is "what is the best...?" Due to this, FWS has established The Masterworks: the Best of Military SF serial. We've covered the best MSF movie and the best MSF novel, but it is time to select the best live-action military sci-fi television series. Join us next time as FWS picks the Best Military Science Fiction Live-Action TV Series. Who will it be? By the way, this one was not easy to select.

7 comments:

  1. Thanks for the article, I found it compelling, and through reading, very interesting in the end. I'm glad that you always put the same respect in your writing for any kind of subject.

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  2. Another wonderful and informative post.

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  3. Great work William!

    I keep getting surprise at level of research the Japanese are making with their 'kids' cartoons… anything from weapons to gear to tactics seem well thought off and realistic compared to their western counterparts. Why is it?

    About the aquatic aliens thing, if memory serve the Mimics in 'All u need is kill' were alien blowfish as well. Is there blowfish demons in Japanese mythology to explain such odd choice in alien physiology?

    Yoel

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  4. Thanks for all of the kind words! This blogpost has been on the draft pile for years, but I could not complete it until someone uploaded the OVA on YouTube. Once that happened and it stayed up, I was about to have the tools to complete this project.
    Given the geography of Japan, there are a number of forest and aquatic legendary creatures...and I think that is the best explanation for the switch of the aliens. And you are right about the Mimics in the All You Need is Kill light novel. I should have made that connection!
    One of the reason for the Japanese cartoon and comic market being more sophisticated than their western counterparts is that historically the Japanese view animation as an artform that communicate to all audiences and just to push toys on kids. Businessmen on the subway in Tokyo read manga, something you would not see in New York City. This culture has allowed for the soil to grow more mature material even for younger kids. Plus, the Japanese cultural attitudes nudity and violent are far different. I grew with anime at the age of 3 and I never looked back.
    Thanks for reading, sharing, and commenting!

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  5. Nice article, rly a pleasure to read William ;D

    I rly like the design of the mobile infantry suit from the starship troopers manga. Because itz rly well articulated for something that is so bulky. But I rly wish the manga released more details about it. I wonder how such a thing would operate in a conventional conflict...I estimate that the mobile infantry suit would maybe weigh around 500 kg (maybe 7 ft tall too), and is prob utilized as heavy infantry (or as a heavy squad support weapon) for urban combat....specifically for hunting down tanks...which sorta makes sense since the thing would have fairly high ground pressure (without special modifications) to make it sink in mud, but prob not enough to cave/collapse in a floor. And a tank's secondary machine gun defences would prob not be able to suppress them as easily as reg infantry, so they would be EVEN more annoying to deal with. Maybe these suits could also ride inside APCs into battle, but less of them would fit in, and they would have to keep the hull roof hatches open, because they are so damn tall & bulky

    ANWAYS DA SUIT, AND THE MANGA IS SO KEWL!!! I CAN'T STOP WATCHING IT!!! HALP!!! XD

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  6. I remember watching this anime a few years ago, I was like "they made an anime!" then I got a helping of disappointment with a side of awesome. From music to that awfull opening that just deosnt say "horrors of war". The biggest bonuses is the power armor and combat, its so badass and well designed.

    Recently when I rewatched it (admittedly I just rewatched the combat since the rest is dreadfully boring) to help combat the bad music I just had "klendathu drop" from the 1997 film playing on loop to really bring out the "epic" it needed.

    I'm eon glad your doing this "eastern" cereal, vie been waiting for you to do an article for this anime since you often talk about sst often. Keep up the good work.

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  7. Ah yes, the lost anime adaption of SST. Ever since I heard of it on TrooperPX.com, I had wanted to see this production and scoured the internet for any visual animation that would allow me to see it in all of its glory. Eventually, I found a website that allowed me to stream all of those episodes and, well, to be frank, the only thing I remembered clearly enough of the anime was "These blobs are the Arachnids?".

    Well, besides the designs of the Marauder armors, but the point really stands. Granted, it's probably been over a decade since I've seen those episodes and I have yet to see the YouTube versions of these videos, I can only assume that I'll be just as blase with the OVA as I had been when I had done so, if not even more so as I have seen a good fair share of anime since my first viewing.

    Honestly, I have not heard of the whole "unauthorized" production rumor, though it does explain a few things as to why it was never imported state-side, other than the other complaints. Still, I think that there's a chance that there could be an SST anime produced, it just has to escape the Verhoeven shadow and make its own identity. Difficult, I know, but not impossible.

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