Banner of the Stars III

I've watched a lot of fan service shows lately. Now I don't mean the kind of shows you wouldn't take home to Mama, filled with panty shots and innuendo. I mean programs intended to take advantage of an audience that is already bought in. Exhibit A? FullMetal Alchemist: The Sacred Star of Milos. Exhibit B? Trigun: Badlands Flashback. Both are films that had no real purpose in the overall storyline of their shows. They were designed to please fans and make money off their desire to revisit favorite characters. Both movies were enjoyable enough, but if I'd never seen them, I'd be no worse off.

It would be easy to dismiss Banner of the Stars III as fan service. Little happens of major importance to the core storyline. There are plenty of bits included to fill the faithful with glee. And yet, it is considerably better than the "fan service" designation would indicate. By bookending the series with direct references to Crest of the Stars, tying up some loose ends, and providing the character interactions missing from its immediate predecessor, Banner of the Stars III is not just an exercise in renewing old friendships but a worthwhile closing entry in the series.

While the crew of the Basroil is going their separate ways, it's not yet goodbye. After his harrowing ordeal in Banner II, Jinto takes some time off to settle some affairs, including a needed return to his homeworld. Rather than taking off immediately for her next command, Lafiel decides to join him until he's ready to return to active duty, even though she's still baffled by his desire to be earthside. As they arrive, a deal comes through from an old friend that will benefit Jinto's planet greatly...but at a hard price Jinto must decide if he's willing to pay.

One attractive element that will have no fan complaining is the visual upgrade. While I wouldn't say that the series ever looked bad, it's never looked better than it does here. There are a few quick flashbacks to Crest of the Stars included, and the lack of sharp detail in that series is evident. Granted, there isn't much actual animation here to judge; like its predecessors, Banner III is more about personal interrelationships and less about space battle eye candy. Nevertheless, it was nice to see Jinto, Lafiel, and the gang looking their best.

The two-OVA series is overlong by about an OVA. The problem is that they stuff in scenes that don't really belong but cater exclusively to fans. For example, there's a food fight. Really? In this series? Then the pilot who created a minor love triangle in the first Banner of the Stars is relegated to driving around a starship at stupid-breakneck speed. We even get a blink-and-miss-it glimpse of Lafiel in the bath. All of it is fan service in the worst sense of the phrase. These pointless bits were annoying, and they took up too much of the first episode.

I was pleased by the overall result, though, because the distractions don't keep the focus away from our star-crossed couple. After the whole of Banner II was spent trying to get them back together, it is great to have time for them to recognize their feelings for each other, no matter how oblique they may be. Several character arcs and plotlines come full circle, fulfilling promises made in the very first episode of the ongoing series. Since the novel series on which the show is based was left unfinished, there's no firm resolution, but this is a fitting wrap-up that should please most viewers who've gotten this far.

Unfortunately, Banner of the Stars III has never been released in the United States, a curiosity given that the rest of the series has been available for years (and has been licensed-rescued at least once), but it's not hard to find subtitled on the Internet. This might leave dub fans in the lurch, but the dub of the series was lousy anyway.

The Crest/Banner of the Stars series has been highly rated in anime circles for over a decade. It has weaknesses that have been glossed over, and that's unfortunate, as I went into the whole thing with higher expectations than I should have. But despite its failings, it is a unique program that eschews typical genre trappings, providing us with a glimpse into a gigantic universal war as seen through the eyes of two of its minor participants. It is, perhaps, too true to its source material, telling us things that we should see instead. But with terrific music, compelling leads, and a willingness to stand out in the crowd, it's a show that most sci-fi lovers and otaku alike will enjoy.

Banner of the Stars III -- very brief nudity, mild language -- B+