Animated Star Wars homages and rip-offs
December 29, 2007 12:01 AM   Subscribe

Are there any good (or at least decent) animated features that have that Star Wars-esque space opera adventure feel to it?

I always wondered why there are countless live-action movies that were heavily inspired by the original Star Wars series (and by the stuff that inspired Star Wars, including Buck Rogers and Star Trek), yet I can't really think of any examples off-hand that were of the animated variety. "Titan AE" is really the only American one that seems to best fit what I'm thinking of, and that was a disappointment. The original Transformers movie (which I still love) is often said to have obvious parallels, but I'm not sure that'd count. I enjoyed "Sky Captain" but I'd consider it live-action.

While I'd prefer something I can see in one day, TV series would work, too. I'm starting on the original Japanese version of Robotech, which is somewhat close to what I'm looking for.

I've seen the first couple episodes of Star Blazers (which was pre-SW), but it didn't really capture my imagination. Does it get better?

Also, I've never read Heinlein, but from what I know of his young adult novels, those seem to be deserving of an animated adaptation or two. Has anything been made along those lines?

I'd hoping for something serious but still fun (ie, not like Battlestar). And something accessible... For all the unanimous praise I hear of Miyazaki's work, I often have a hell of a time trying to make sense of it.
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing to Media & Arts (23 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I dunno about Star Wars-esque space opera adventure feel, but Cowboy Bebop and Planetes are two sci-fi anime series that are really great in the way they depict "everyday" life in the future.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 12:30 AM on December 29, 2007

Star Blazers (also known as Yamato), was immediately what I was going to suggest upon reading the header of this post but if you liked that, look into any other Matsumoto Reiji works, I really like Captain Harlock personally. Also, the Yamato movies are great if you can find them.

I hated Miyazaki until I learned Japanese, then it made sense all of the sudden. Most of it doesn't really fit into the "epic drama" genre though. More the "warms the heart" sort of thing.

Not what you asked for, but check out Satoshi Kon if you're looking for other good anime, he's not so well known within Japan because he's a little more progressive, but awesome nonetheless.
posted by fan_of_all_things_small at 12:34 AM on December 29, 2007

Sorry, I read incorrectly that you liked Yamato. Check out older Gundam if you like Robotech.
posted by fan_of_all_things_small at 12:36 AM on December 29, 2007

I'm not the world's biggest anime fan (outside of the first ~6 Robotech episodes which I caught by accident when they were first shown) but I found the Last Exile [netflix] series to be worthwhile. Reasonably deep and SFy; though not an interstellar-scale adventure, it does have its moments and parallels to the Star Wars arc.
posted by panamax at 1:17 AM on December 29, 2007

How about The Wings of Honneamise?
posted by armage at 1:20 AM on December 29, 2007

Oh, for a one-night film, Royal Space Force: Wings of Honneamise [netflix] is pretty good, too. Again, not the space-empire scale (I too, would like to see some high-quality Dune-level story construction with anime-adult themes) . . . ah, this reminds me . . . there IS an interstellar-scale anime film, Voices of a Distant Star [yes, netflix]. . . . not quite the scale of Star Wars but SciFi and interesting for what it is.
posted by panamax at 1:31 AM on December 29, 2007

posted by panamax at 1:32 AM on December 29, 2007

What you want is the story of Jinto and Lafiel, told in a series of anime releases:

Crest of the Stars
Banner of the Stars
Banner of the Stars II

You can purchase them here: Crest Banner BannerII

There's also a 2-episode "Banner III" but it hasn't been licensed for region 1.

It isn't really inspired by Star Wars as such, but it is a story about a major interstellar war.

Background: Long before the events of the series, humans discovered "planespace". It's an alternate universe that is, oddly, two dimensional. Entry points into planespace are called "sords". Normal matter that enters planespace through a sord is instantly destroyed, but a technology was found to create spacetime bubbles, literally tiny universes, which could exist in plane space while containing three dimensional objects. So humanity began to explore.

But that was difficult and dangerous, so humans genetically engineered a slave race out of humanity, to use as explorers. They were known as Abh, and they were better than humans. All Abh have blue hair and they are all handsome or beautiful. They live 200-250 years and don't age. They are stronger than humans and have faster reflexes. They also have an extra sense, a compound eye in the middle of their foreheads. They wear headsets which have computer displays in them, mounted on top of their compound eyes, and with proper training and the right computer programs that gives them 360 degree awareness when piloting a ship.

Eventually the Abh rose in revolution, and in some areas took over their former masters. They established the Humankind Empire of Abh, a feudal system. And they've been engaged in a slow process of conquest ever since.

At the beginning of the series, there are five interstellar empires. The other four are run by genetic humans (known as "grounders"). The Empire holds about half of the inhabited planets of the galaxy, and the other four make up the other half.

Every planet in the Empire has its own feudal lord. Jinto's home planet was isolated and didn't know about any of this, until an Abh fleet came calling and absorbed them into the Abh empire. Jinto's father was president of the planet, and he sold out. In exchange for surrender, he was made feudal ruler of the planet, with a noble rank of Count. (Or Earl; the Japanese word can be translated into either of those English titles.) Jinto, as his heir, was sent off-planet to be educated in the ways of the Abh, for though he is genetically a grounder, he is legally Abh because he is nobility.

So he spends several years on another planet, studying the Abh language and writing and getting all the rest of the education he needs.

All noble heirs like Jinto have a legal obligation to serve in the Imperial star forces for varying periods of time. Jinto's obligation is 10 years, and upon graduating from that school he is picked up by the Imperial Cruiser Gosroth to be taken to the capital, Lakfakalle, to begin to attend three years of supply officer training school, after which he will spend 7 years somewhere in the fleet.

A pilot trainee, a beautiful Abh girl, is sent to pick him up in a shuttle. Her name is Lafiel, and the two of them become friends, and then more than that.

The Gosroth is attacked by ships from the United Mankind, one of the enemy empires. The captain of the Gosroth decides that Jinto, still technically a civilian, should be saved, so Lafiel is assigned to pilot him in an interstellar messenger ship, small and fast but unarmed. "Crest of the Stars" is about what they have to go through, caught up in the opening shots of a major war, in order to reach safety. At the end, Jinto learns that his home planet has been lost to the enemy. He is a man without a world. But he is still a noble, and still has his obligation to serve. Jinto enters officer training school and Lafiel goes to a new assignment in the fleet.

She is due to gain command of a ship about the time he is due to graduate, and they make an agreement that he will join her crew when the time comes. (There's something special about Lafiel that I'm deliberately not mentioning.)

"Banner of the Stars" begins three years later, with the commissioning of the attack ship Basroil, which in analogous terms is smaller than a destroyer but bigger than a PT boat, and there are thousands of them in the Imperial Star Force. Ships of that class have a crew of 5 officers and 15 enlisted, and Lafiel is assigned as skipper. Jinto becomes her supply officer and secretary. The other members of the bridge crew are Sobaash, executive officer (female Abh, probably about 55 but looks young), Samson, chief engineer (grounder, about 45), and Ekuryua, third pilot, (female Abh, about 18). All the enlisted are grounder men.

Shortly after the events of "Crest" there was a huge battle which decimated both sides. They agreed to a ceasefire and everyone feverishly began building, in preparation for resumption of hostilities.

At the beginning of Banner, the Empire has rebuilt and is ready to go on the offensive. "Operation Phantom Flame" is the plan to cut a salient which would divide the United Mankind in half. Then the Empire expects toto reduce and conquer one part of it, a process that will probably take 10-15 years all told but will seriously cripple the adversary if successful.

Basroil is assigned to a fleet which is garrisoning the Aptic system, one of the first that was taken in Phantom Flame.
Eventually there's a major counterattack, and the focus is the Aptic system. That leads to the Battle of Aptic Gate, probably the most terrifying and gripping battle I've ever watched in fiction. It puts everything in the Star Wars movies to shame.

"Banner" is my favorite of the series. "Banner II" wasn't as good. There's another gap, of maybe three years. Because Jinto and Lafiel are both nobles, then as new regions are being conquered the Empire needs ambassadors (effectively military governors), and Jinto and Lafiel have been pulling a lot of that kind of duty -- and Lafiel is sick of it. Banner II is about one of those assignments.

I could say a whole lot more, but I shouldn't because this is already too long and anyway they'd be spoilers. What I will say is that Jinto and Lafiel are a lot more interesting characters than anyone in Star Wars, and a lot of the reason the series works is because they're so amazing.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 1:36 AM on December 29, 2007

Seconding the recommendations of Cowboy Bebop and Last Exile. Also, Satoshi Kon is one of my favorite directors ever.
posted by cmgonzalez at 1:58 AM on December 29, 2007

Legend of Galactic Heroes - The story is staged in the distant future within our own Milky Way Galaxy, approximately in the 35th century. Unlike other science fiction stories, there are no alien civilizations. A portion of the galaxy is filled with terraformed worlds inhabited by interstellar traveling human beings. For 150 years two mighty space powers have intermittently warred with each other: the Galactic Empire and the Free Planets Alliance.

Info Center
Legal Torrents
posted by bindasj at 3:20 AM on December 29, 2007

I'm personally partial to Titan A.E. It's a Don Bluth animated feature with great production values, a fairly mature story line, and a thumpin' sound track
posted by Capostrophe at 4:45 AM on December 29, 2007

Legal Torrents

When did Central Anime license Legend of the Galactic Heroes and how can they afford to give such an expensive property away for free? Or did you mean legal in the sense of "no one outside of Japan is likely to come after you for copyright violation because nobody outside of Japan has a stake in this series"?
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 5:42 AM on December 29, 2007

Star Wars: Clone Wars was animated and even better than any of the Star Wars films.
posted by juiceCake at 7:11 AM on December 29, 2007

I will second Titan A.E. It is a wonderful animated film with a great story and a unique look. The characters are animated in traditional "flat" style, among very detailed 3D computer-rendered settings.

Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within is worth seeing as well, as the first computer-generated animated motion picture with photo-realistic characters.
posted by The Deej at 7:55 AM on December 29, 2007

Cowboy Bebop is not a good suggestion for what the OP is asking for, because there is no space combat between fleets. (Also, the ending is like being slugged in the gut. I hated the ending.)
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 8:43 AM on December 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

Though there are several different elements from the Star Wars story, I think you might enjoy the epic-ness and overall quality of Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind.
posted by lubujackson at 8:46 AM on December 29, 2007

Possibly Battle Of The Planets.
posted by rhizome at 9:26 AM on December 29, 2007

I just want to second SCDB's recommendation..

The Banner/Crest of the Stars series is the first thing I thought of when I read the question.

It's a little harder sci-fi than Star Wars (due to the crazy tactics those spacetime bubbles traveling in a 2-d plane cause -- they only know the enemy is going to appear somewhere along a curve), but it's got a light-hearted side to it as well. And oh, the space battles!
posted by jbrjake at 1:05 PM on December 29, 2007

posted by euphorb at 1:16 PM on December 29, 2007

Yeah, it's hard to tell if you want Sci-Fi stuff, or you like the Joseph Campbell mythological hero type stuff... If you're looking for the unwilling hero and rag-tag group of friends mounting an epic battle against the bad-guys (some of which may be redeemable).... (and you don't quite get Japanese anime...)

Watch Nickelodeon's "Avatar the last air bender", best US cartoon in a long time, very episodic, very character development oriented.

If you want Sci-Fi, others have given better recommendations. Pro-tip, watch anime in Japanese with subtitles. IMHO, foreign films of any sort are much better with subtitles than dubbed dialog... watching with subtitles will probably cure you of not understanding Miyazaki films.
posted by zengargoyle at 1:50 PM on December 29, 2007

Cowboy Bebop and Avatar both seem to get a lot of acclaim, so those have been on my radar and will be at the top of my queue now. "Wings of Honneamise" and "Nausicaa" will probably be my first choices, being self-contained movies.

"Crest of the Stars" and "Last Exile" have piqued my curiosity. I still plan on seeing more of "Star Blazers" eventually, unless the original "Yamato" versions are available (only the edited movies seem to be on Netflix).

I liked "Voices of a Distant Star," even if it's (understandably) sparse. "Clone Wars" was must-see, though I liked the lengthier installments of the second volume much more satisfying.

Normally I prefer anime in the original Japanese... American dubs often have that hammy/jarring tone to it. The first Macross DVD included the old Robotech dubs for the pilot only, and those sounded a lot better than the newer ones that were created.

Still, I think it might just be that Miyazaki films are just too "Japanese," and it's hard to digest completely without knowledge of the culture. I get by on Kurosawa films just fine. I was thinking maybe hearing the English voiceovers might actually make it more understandable by filling in culture gaps, even if it's not quite as authentic. I may start out with the dubs on "Nausicaa," especially with the presence of Patrick Stewart and Mark Hamill.

I wanted to like Titan AE, and it had potential, but I just didn't care much for the results. I'm just surprised that that sort of feature-length animated sci-fi seems so rare in the US. I thought maybe I'd just missed some other titles. Brad Bird's stuff seems to be as close as you can get. I'm not sure if I should try "Treasure Planet."

I guess part of my question has to do with the fact that I would've figured all the kids of the Star Wars generation who ended up in animation would've produced more of this stuff by now. (Alas, I might've been one of them had I more diligence in my college days). Or maybe the answer lies in the financial failures of Titan, Iron Giant, Treasure Planet, and even Sky Captain...
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 1:14 AM on December 30, 2007

If you do watch "Crest of the Stars" (and I really hope you will) I strongly urge you to watch it in Japanese with subtitles. Lafiel was voiced by Kawasumi Ayako, one of my top five favorite seiyuu, and her performance is outstanding.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 11:17 PM on December 30, 2007

okay, so on the recommendation of this thread i downloaded planetes...

and watched the first episode...

and devoured the rest of the series in a weekend.

you really oughta see that show.

also nthing last exile. it's not nearly as space-y as bebop or planetes or some of the others, but it's a brilliant series nonetheless.
posted by phredgreen at 6:35 AM on December 31, 2007

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