With this review, I’ve officially hit 200 posts!
So for this (kind of but not really) special occasion I thought I’d track down the original adaptation of one of my favourite films, Starship Troopers.
The movie is large and kind of dumb but the Japanese version is something very different.
So let’s jump right in and remember; The only good bug is a dead bug!
Uchu no Senshi (Universal Warriors/Soldiers or Soldier of Space) was an OVA series directed by Tetsuro Amino (Macross 7) and was based upon the novel Starship Troopers written by Robert A. Heinlein. NOTE for sanity’s sake let’s call it Starship Troopers (OVA).
Much like most instalments of the series, the show follows Johnnie Rico, a brash (generally Filipino) high school student whom ends up enlisting in the military. Why? Cause…reasons.
The majority of the series is spent with Rico and his fellow recruits starting in basic training on Earth, moving on to advanced training on the moon to finally participating in war games on Mars.
However, while this is happening several of earth’s ships are attacked by an alien threat. The attacks end up on earth and during the battle Rico’s mother is killed.
During the training Rico uses his anger and the trust of his squadmates to become a leader and march them into battle.
On the technical side, the OVA is well…not a good-looking title.
While at the time the general animation style for most shows weren’t as great as they are now, Troopers looks like it suffered from a combination of a small budget and a short production schedule.
The character designs are bland and many of the backgrounds are unimpressive to say the least.
Despite the lack of creativity with the characters the show does do something better with the Power Suits and the aliens.
The mechs were designed by Kazutaka Miyatake, who originally drew them for a Japanese addition of the novel. The Power Armor suits look a lot like many of Miyatake’s other designs from Macross and Space Battleship Yamato.
Additionally the show takes the designs of the aliens into a different direction.
The Bugs as they’re called in the novel and feature films look different from the designs used in the Paul Verhoeven production and the following films and TV series that was based upon it.
Their designs make them look more menacing and foreboding, as they seem to reproduce quite easily. The few times they’re on screen their power is felt making them a well-developed enemy for Rico and the military.
Thematic wise there are a number of things that the OVA get’s right that the other films don’t, the biggest being tone.
While the film had a large budget and reproduced the world of Troopers more clearly, it’s tongue was planted in it’s cheek.
Don’t get me wrong, the humour and cheesy acting is charming at times, but the OVA is pretty serious with the events the story. All of the writing is more dramatic and there are a number of serious scenes between the main characters talking about their possible deaths.
Despite the more serious plot, the OVA doesn’t really give a clear reason why Rico joins the military.
In the novel and the films it’s clear that Rico wants to join the military as a way of serving his planet and becoming a citizen, the OVA however, doesn’t really give any real reason for him joining other than the girl he likes, Carmencita joined before him.
However, this lack of maturity in his reasons ends up being a plot point itself. Over the course of the OVA Rico ends up turning into a more mature soldier and a person due to the training and the situations he ends up in.
The film ended up doing a similar thing, however it did it more through Rico’s experience in battle. In the OVA much of the character development is done during the training sequences. In fact the majority of the OVA doesn’t even feature that much in the way of combat between the characters and the aliens.
But the battle between man and bug isn’t the point of the novel.
While it’s been a long time since I’ve read the book, I do remember the majority of the story revolving around the character’s training and grappling with the military lifestyle and mind frame.
The OVA doesn’t spend a lot of time with class room lectures but it does focus on Rico training in the mech suits, connecting with his squadmates and learning to be a good solder.
In fact, the majority of the conflicts that happen during the OVA are between the solders themselves.
The biggest being between Rico and his squadmates after he freezes during training. While the three are hard on him at first, they end up being harder on him more when the find out he hide his mother’s death from them.
The squad live and die as a unit and they ended up telling Rico that his problems aren’t his to deal with alone. The result ends up bringing the group closer together, making them more of a family.
These scenes end up being some of the more memorable parts of the show as much of the training is forgettable.
Despite training being boring, it’s backed up with one hell of a soundtrack.
The show features two main themes that alternate during the series, a closing theme and two insert songs all heard multiple times during the six episodes.
While the reuse of songs should be annoying, the tracks are so gloriously 80s that my heart came barely stand it.
With the training and 80s rock one could draw a comparison to Top Gun, which came out two years before this OVA. Here listen to the show’s first theme called Believe you’ll get what I mean.
Despite the soundtrack and use of the source material the OVA still has a host of problems aside from the animation.
As I wrote above, the majority of the shows training scenes are boring to say the least. The training consists mostly of the characters running towards cover, shooting gun turrets or playing capture the flag (much like Ender’s Game upon reflection).
While this training could be interesting, it’s presented in a way that makes it seem boring and unimportant.
These scenes are made longer due to the high number of time wasting shots. Long awkward shots of characters faces are used in some of the show’s more dramatic moments. Couple that with plenty of still frames of characters standing and parts of the show look more like a slide show.
Conversely the show’s final episode ends up looking good, featuring the same production quality of many mecha anime produced during the time. This leaves me to believe that the production spend more time working on the final episode’s battle scenes and ran out of time and money for the rest.
And finally while this isn’t altogether the show’s fault, the OVA is difficult to find, with the most common version being the original LaserDisc release.
With it being LaserDisc not only is the video quality low to begin with, but could be worse depending on both the player and the disc it was ripped from. The version I watched featured some audio and visual hiccups more than likely due to disc rot, which was common for Laser Discs.
That being said, the OVA is still kind of…charming.
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy the series for what it was. Many of the themes and sensibilities from the book are there and it takes the source material seriously.
If you’re a fan of the series or just the book this is a solid watch, just have fun trying to find it.
Uchu no Senshi was produced by Sunrise and Bandai Visual. The title is not licensed North America, Europe or Australia and has never been officially dubbed.