Episode 1: Outlaw World

A quick overview of criticism – when I’m writing (or you’re reading) a critical analysis, we’re talking about a pretty narrow field of information, at least as related to fiction. What happens, where it happens, who it happens to, and how it happens, or plot, setting, character and form. A critic’s big job is to decide where to direct criticism. Ironically, it is hardest to write good, interesting stuff about plot driven shows1. When nothing happens, writers like me are free to run off and do “interpretations” that have jack-all to do with the actual show in question2.

Outlaw Star is a very plot-based show, where characters are defined by broad strokes and bold actions. When the pace is slack, when the characters aren’t well-defined, when the action is pedestrian, this makes for boring viewing. So the first episode of Outlaw Star was probably a lot harder to come up with than it looks, because it moves quickly without getting out of hand, and is well directed enough that the copious action never becomes confusing.

In this first episode, we’re introduced to all of the major players and villains of the first third of the show’s run, all in very short order. “Ice” Hilda, the weird Tao-ist pirates, and our main heroes Gene Starwind and Jim Hawkins.

The best thing about Gene Starwind, and what makes him (ironically) more likeable than the average sf-anime hero, is that he’s a jerk. Not just selfish, either. Gene is a real jackass. Violent, arrogant, with no qualms about putting a gun to the head of a lady. He drinks, he cops feels, he whores, he lusts. He’s the sort of guy that a lot of other anime heroes pretend to be but aren’t, or are only in a comic sense. Gene may have a heart of gold, but it isn’t clear right from the outset. And that makes a big difference in how interesting his character, and subsequently the show is.

Each episode of Outlaw Star has a pre-opening animation, most often with some narration giving us background on the world the show inhabits. This first episode we watch a space battle between Gene Starwind and some pirates in some highly improbable spaceships, so we know from the get go that Gene is going to fulfill his dream of going out into space. This cock-sure attitude provides a lot of the forward momentum for the episode, and the show in general. It also makes the show a little less gritty than I think it would like – the semi-comic bantering between Jim and Gene doesn’t sit too well with the bloody gun fights, at least tonally speaking. What does work, and helps build a more believable world, is the down-to-earth practicality the show displays3. When Gene and Jim are ready to start off on their adventure with the client they are guarding, Gene steps on the gas and their hover-car promptly falls to the ground. Next shot, the two of them working like mad to repair whatever’s wrong. Like all the beat up models in Star Wars (a level of grit conspicuously missing in the more recent episodes) these little touches help Outlaw Star seems to take place in a living world.

1Ironic because it would seem easier to just write “this happened, then this happened, then this happened”. I could do that, but then we’d all be bored to tears, and I’m sure there are other places on-line where you could get that sort of info.

2This is one of the reasons critics tend to favor movies where nothing happens, because they can pretend all sorts of things really did happen, and only they can interpret it for you.

3Like a show it resembles superficially, Cowboy Bebop, making money is a constant worry. The price of weapons, paying off debt, all of these figure very heavily throughout both shows, these practical matters creating a weightier world. My favorite s
pecific example from either show: In Cowboy Bebop, Spike fires some missile that lose their tracking and go off target. Jet puts his head in his hands and says “The cheap ones are worthless.” Love it.
Rating :B+

About Kent Conrad

To contact Kent Conrad, email kentc@explodedgoat.com