Banner of the Stars II

It's always nice when a strong but flawed series gets back on track. Crest of the Stars started off well, establishing the centerpiece relationship between a young man named Jinto and his alien counterpart Lafiel as they became a tiny piece of an intergalactic conflict. The growing affection between the two powered that series and showed that a talky space opera without tons of action could still be compelling. The second season, Banner of the Stars, involves gigantic space battles near the end, but it outstayed its welcome with several episodes consumed with non-essential blather between soldiers waiting around for something to happen. Its lack of focus on Jinto and Lafiel sidelined why I enjoyed the first series so much.

Banner of the Stars II starts off much like its predecessor, and its first couple of episodes are a slog. But at only ten episodes and focused more strongly on its leads, Banner II eventually picks up and becomes as exciting as anything in the first season. I gulped down the last six episodes in one day, which is unusual for me. Fans of the budding romance may still find themselves a little disappointed, and a few lapses frustrate, but Banner of the Stars II proves why the license to this show was rescued a decade after its original American release.

As the Ahb begin moving into the territories they've overtaken in their conflict with the United Mankind, somebody's got to begin diplomatic relations with the planets that have crossed borders. That's Jinto and Lafiel's job. They are assigned to Lobnas II only to quickly discover that it's a penal colony. Different factions of prisoners debate along with the colony's warden and staff who should get off the planet first -- if they should be allowed to leave at all. But some inmates are in no mood for talk, and rebellion quickly foments. If Jinto and Lafiel are to rescue the innocent and put down the insurrection, they are going to have to do it quickly before the United Mankind returns to reclaim the sector. As everything goes haywire, Lafiel will make fateful decisions that could determine the fate of the young man she has journeyed with across the stars.

While the plot of Banner of the Stars II isn't terribly original, it mostly succeeds in making it Jinto and Lafiel's story again. After a surprising flash-forward opening, the first episode is interminable, and I feared we were back to the boredom prevalent in the first Banner series. But that turns out to be mostly setup, and once we get back to the crew of the Basroil, it clicks. The negotiations between the different cabals on Lobnas II aren't that interesting, and that takes up a couple more episodes where I checked my watch once too often. But once the prison planet peace talks break down, the show moves into high gear and doesn't back down.

There's a healthy amount of frustration and tension built into the show, mostly because Jinto and Lafiel are rarely if ever together. Still, the show never loses sight of them, and sequences where they don't appear are still intriguing because they directly relate to their plight. For example, episode eight features mostly side characters; I'm not sure if we get more than a glimpse or two of Jinto and Lafiel the whole time. Yet the mission of our supporting cast featured in that episode is to buy time against the United Mankind fleet, time that will help our twosome escape the Lobnas II system with as many emigrants as possible. Banner of the Stars II doesn't make the mistake of its predecessor of thinking that we care about events that don't affect our leads.

There are also moments that are simply great. One standout includes Lafiel's nonchalant conversation with some trigger-happy prison leaders about Abh Hell -- not a place in the afterlife, but what the Abh do to those on whom they must extract vengeance. The tone is pitch perfect. While Lafiel fits the stereotype of the standoffish-bossy-grouchy-witch tsundere, places in Banner II peel back the onion layers. They show her alien self, that proud and cocky Abh nature, but they also reveal how much of Jinto's humanity has rubbed off on her. Banner I revealed character through long, windy conversations; Banner II reveals character by their reactions under fire.

I'm still surprised by a few production decisions in Banner II. The character who represents the women's side of the penal colony is nothing but eye candy that wears halter-tops and Daisy Dukes. You can't take her seriously, especially when the camera pans inappropriately or focuses on her posterior. For an unusually intelligent show, the fan service is surprising and strikingly out of place. On the other hand, the production values continue to go up, which makes the occasional mistake all that more noticeable. You won't mistake this for a high-budget A-list title, but it's unusual for animation quality to go up during a show's run, so I did appreciate the 95% or so that looked better than the preceding sections. The opening theme from Crest of the Stars is still used and its melody found in various places throughout the program. Some might consider it repetitive, but it's one of the most beautiful pieces I've ever heard in an anime, so I don't mind.

Banner of the Stars II is light on resolution to the Jinto/Lafiel story. While there is a final segment to come, Banner of the Stars III, I couldn't help but wish there was more within this particular entry. I imagine fans will find this intriguing and enjoyable, but satisfying? Not really. If you've made it through Crest and Banner I, there's no reason to stop watching...Banner II is worth your time. While I might not rate this series as highly as some of my contemporaries, it is unique proof that anime can entertain and have a brain.

Banner of the Stars II -- violence, profanity, mild fan service -- B+