Mighty Space Miners

I'm writing this review not fifteen minutes after watching Mighty Space Miners, and perhaps that's a bad idea. I usually try and give an anime a day, or at least an afternoon, to digest before I write about them. But the way I feel about this one could dissipate with time, and I don't want that. Mighty Space Miners is an excellent anime with one huge flaw: it isn't done. Gorgeously animated and smartly crafted, it's one of the rare anime with a 12-year-old as its main character I could thoroughly enjoy. But the ending? It's such a cliffhanger--and one that will never be resolved, seeing that the anime is now 10 years old--that the more you enjoy the show, the more you will despise getting sucked into something so good that has no resolution. We're left dangling so bad that I'm not sure, despite how wonderful it is, I can even recommend it.

But I can certainly tell you what it's about...in the late 21st century, mankind has built an industry in space around harvesting minerals and resources from comets and meteors, making sure that potentially dangerous ones are harmlessly diverted from their wayward paths. Into this brave profession is thrown Ushiwaka, a headstrong boy inches away from his teenage years who wants to pass his training tests and become a full-fledged miner. His father's been away for four years in deep space, but he's returning home, and nothing would please Ushiwaka better than being a man when his father arrives.

But that's when the problems start. While Ushiwaka is out on his certification test, a military satellite doesn't receive the proper radio signal and starts firing missiles during an operation with Halley's Comet. A path of devastation and debris is left in the wake of the attack, leaving the mining colony Tortatis out of orbit, adrift, and on a collision course with Earth. Mysteriously, no rescue shuttles are coming, and the colony's home nation and corporate backers suddenly decided the Tortatis will have to survive on its own. As Ushiwaka struggles to make his way back to the colony through the maze of space junk, the leadership of Tortatis must find why they are being left to die, either stranded in space or incinerated upon re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere.

It is incredibly rare to find as good looking an OVA release as Mighty Space Miners. The artwork is as detailed (if not more so) than some theatrical anime releases. It's a thrill to watch what really appears to have been a labor of love for the team to create. This was made during the "last hurrah" when animated features in Japan still had a budget, and it shows. From a technical standpoint, I do need to mention that the opening song is nothing short of atrocious, but that's easily skipped.

From a story perspective, everything here works well. The lead character could have been incredibly annoying, and he is at times, but only to the extent that a 12-year-old know-it-all can be. There are many supporting characters that all appear solidly rounded, much more so than expected in two OVAs. The story, while not particularly innovative, makes the most of its settings and surroundings. There's genuine tension. There's real buildup and suspense. And apart from the callousness shown towards some crewmen unfortunately killed in the accident, it rings even on a basic emotional level. I was into this thing.

But it appears that having great artwork must have taken its toll on the budget, for there is nothing more available than the 2 OVAs that make up what ADV Films sold together on a single videocassette in the US. This is a sad blow, because not only are we left with an immense cliffhanger to the central plot dilemma, nothing else has been resolved either. Some shows, like the brilliant but sadly cancelled MIRACLES with Skeet Ulrich, have continuing storylines but each episode can stand alone. We get no such relief here. Even the ending of The Matrix Reloaded was less abrupt! With absolutely no ending, unless you happen to like spending your time imagining what might have been, it is a pointless exercise from a plot perspective.

I would give more grief to ADV Films for releasing yet another incomplete show (as they did with Ninja Resurrection) if they had re-released it onto DVD. But the show is gone from their website completely as of June 2004...so either they had the good sense not to put a partially-completed show out that way, or it didn't make enough money of VHS to justify a DVD release. My better is on the latter, but you never know.

At any rate, if you are a fan of animation as much as story, you really should see Mighty Space Miners. It looks wonderful. But if you are like me and value story and completeness, it will draw you in only to disappoint you in the end. As such, I'm assigning it three letter grades, which in my mind is the only equitable way to handle it. It's impressive but incomplete.

Mighty Space Miners -- brief male rear nudity, profanity -- A (for animation and story that's there), D (for incomplete story), B- overall