Gene Starwind and his little buddy Jim Hawking will take on just about any job if the price is right. That’s why they didn’t think much about it when a beautiful woman comes to them on the backwater planet Sentinel III looking for a bodyguard. They soon come to regret that when they’re attacked by the Kei Pirates and find out their client is the infamous outlaw “Hot Ice” Hilda. Hilda has stolen something very important to both the pirates and the Space Forces–the key to the powerful grappler ship XGP 15A-II, which the two organizations built to find the Galactic Leyline. And since getting involved with the outlaws, pirates, and Space Forces wasn’t quite enough, it turns out the key is a naked bio-android girl named Melfina. Gene’s got no choice but to get over his space-phobia now as he’s forced to head out into the final frontier and find out just what the hell is so great about the Galactic Leyline.
Outlaw Star is something of an old shame of mine. It’s probably the most noteworthy anime from the Toonami/Adult Swim days that I never really saw any of, and I don’t think I have a good excuse for that. I pretty much just never had the urge to catch it even though I love Cowboy Bebop and count Trigun as one of my all-time favorite anime (I’ve always considered these the “Three Big Space Westerns” of anime). Couldn’t tell you why. I remember the ads on Toonami that were so well done. They’d give me chills, but I’d never watch the show. That is until a friend of mine who kinda worships the show handed me one of his DVD copies for the 2017 Summer of Anime. It wasn’t quite what I wanted it to be, but it’s still a damn fun anime to watch.
I’d like to start this off with the crew of the titular ship. Gene is a really interesting main character. He’s a bit of a drunk and a womanizer, but he’s also a great hand to have in a fight and determined to finish whatever job he gets hired for. He’s not as cynical as Spike nor as optimistic as Vash, but his loud brashness makes him the perfect lead for this show. I wish more would’ve been done with the other four members. I appreciate how Jim just kinda has that ride or die mentality, but I don’t think we ever find out what led him to Gene or why they’re so close. Melfina has the typical robot stuff (“Am I really alive?” “Why was I made?” etc.), and that’s about it. The super awesome badass bounty hunter babe “Twilight” Suzuka and the catgirl Ctarl-Ctarl officer Aisha Clanclan are similarly let down in the backstory and character growth departments. They are a really fun cast, though. Even if it takes them a while to get together.
The antagonists sorta fare better. Gene’s main rivals in all things outlaw are the dreaded MacDougall brothers. Ron is the older, more grizzled two and uses a caster gun and pilots a grappler ship like Gene. Harry is the younger MacDougall who’s essentially the Melfina of his and his brother’s ship, but his character arc is actually one of the more fascinating in the series. Genuinely surprised me. The other main antagonists are some of the more powerful Kei Pirates, Lord Hazanko and the Anten Seven. The encounters with the Seven can be extremely comedic, absolutely heartbreaking, or anything in between. The first one the crew deals with–Shimi–is by far my favorite, and I really wish the others had gotten solid episodes like he did. Hazanko’s just the big evil bad guy with all the magic stuff. Cool main antagonist, but he felt more like a final boss in a video game than an actual character.
Okay, my two big complaints can kinda be summed up in one–pacing. To flesh out those two, though…first, it takes too long for the crew to come together. They don’t get their ship until episode four, I think Suzuka joins them in episode seven, and Aisha finally gets on the ship for good in the eleventh episode. It takes almost half the show for the crew we’ve seen in the opening since the first episode to come together. Secondly, some of the filler can be rough to sit through. It took me longer to watch Outlaw Star than I expected just because I was never sure if I was gonna get pointless episode or not. That tends to happen far too often throughout its 26-episode run. So yeah, this anime can drag at times.
But, I basically love everything else. The series just oozes everything cool about the ’90s. The way it looks, moves, feels, and sounds embraces the time it was made. And I love that stuff. Making something timeless is often the goal of any creator, but there’s also something to be said for those time-capsule gems of their eras. Outlaw Star is so gloriously 20 years old that it’s amazing. It’s OP is a great earworm, the character designs are lovingly exaggerated, and the ships have that cool, sleek hand-drawn feel about them.
When all is said and done, Outlaw Star is an 8 or 8.5 for me. Even though I love how well it represents the period of anime I grew up watching, the severe pacing issues prevent me from calling it truly great. It’s barely just south of it, though.