To - Elliptical Orbit & Symbiotic Planet

Image of DVD cover (68k jpg)

Released by: Madman Entertainment.
Region: Four.
Aspect Ratio: 16:9 (anamorphic)
Disc 1:

This is something I haven't seen for a while in anime - a good old fashioned science fiction story set in a moderately hard science fiction universe. Indeed we have two such stories here, rendered using CG animation such that it occupies a stylistic realm somewhere between live action and cell animation. Indeed it is directed by the same director for Vexille and the new Appleseed movies. Which I must admit filled me with some concern because while the new Appleseed movies looked lovely the plot was often slightly nonsensical and ultimately the films didn't really work all that well. Fortunately these two stories hold together quite well. Both are themed on the expansion of humanity out into space with each story set at a different time in that expansion.

'Elliptical Orbit' is set around a trans lunar catapult in low earth orbit. Routine for the crew is accepting the supplies being shuttled up and then flinging them into lunar orbit for collection by the moonbase. Their routine is interrupted by the arrival of the ship 'Flying Dutchman' from Alpha Centauri which needs repairs before setting down on Earth. Both the captain of the catapult and the captain of Flying Dutchman share an interesting relationship as the ship takes fifteen years to make a return trip.

'Symbiotic Planet' is a light riff on the Romeo and Juliet story with two competing colonies on a planet around Beta Hydrus, both want to settle and terraform the planet but neither side quite has the resources to do it. Both sides would prefer the other wasn't there and to complicate matters two researchers from differing colonies have met and fallen in love. Their illict relationship helps to raise suspicions and strain the fragile peace. Into all this comes a UN arbiter who is trying to help the two sides come to a compromise that lets both colonies begin the much needed work of bringing resources back to Earth.

Of the two I think 'Elliptical Orbit' is the stronger story but both are quite entertaining. It is so nice to see a decent science fiction story akin to the ones anime used to tell in the late seventies and early eighties. They attempt a hard science fiction [1] tone and for the most part it works. Small things niggle me like the ships banking in space like airplanes, them coasting to a stop when there is no air resistance to do that, the odd placement of the engines on the Dutchman [2], artificial gravity on the interiors, the catapult flinging the cargo directly at the moon (when it would be aiming for where the moon will be in two to three days time) and this odd fetish for the exterior surface of ships to have to had pointless little light panels everywhere.

Interestingly the script adaptation into English was not only well done but clearly someone is an astronomy buff as they corrected the mistake in the Japanese script of Beta Hydrus being 21 light years away - it is actually slightly over 24. Sadly they then get carbon dioxide and oxygen mixed up later on which the Japanese script doesn't so it is turns and roundabouts. But you don't lose any major nuance for listening to them in English and it is well acted to boot.

The only other thing to note is the the DVD has a little bit of shimmer in it. Hard to avoid because the ships and stations are all angular liney shapes with fine detail. I suspect the blue ray copy would be just stunning because despite the little bit of shimmer it looks really good here.

If you like science fiction and want to see more of it, then this is a disc worth checking out. Don't let the modern Appleseed remakes (especially the second one) put you off.

[1] Hard science fiction (or Hard SF for short) are SF stories that try to limit themselves to the understood laws of physics at the time they were written. Completely Hard SF stories therefore usually have relativistic travel taking centuries or longer between the stars without skipping around the light speed issue and often distinctly unvisual battles taking place where the opponents never see each other. It can be a matter of degree too - a story can be mostly hard SF but have one or two miracle technologies introduced (like a faster than light drive) but then generally they try to extrapolate what that technology does.

These stories are somewhere in the grey zone, they definitely aren't straight Hard SF as we do have an FTL drive present but they are trying to present a more realistic look at what travel into the cosmos entails.

[2] This just bugs the heck out of me - the main engines are mounted above the central axis of the ship and on an angled pair of booms. This would complicate maneuvering so much because you have your thrust point effectively mounted on a lever away from the body of the ship - meaning more energy has to be used to correct for the torsional effects this mounting causes. It wouldn't be so bad if the two booms were paired and symmetric across the ships' major axis but they both are on the same side. Clearly this is designed to look cool but without actualy thinking about the functionality of it.

Philip R. Banks
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