If Star Trek and the Tales Of series had a baby, you can bet it would look like Star Ocean. This is because it essentially is. The first game, after all, was made by disillusioned Tales Of devs who were big Star Trek fans. The game’s opening cutscene is narrated with the same ” to go where no man has gone before” Star Trek is known for. No wonder it was only released in Japan.
Alas, many years have passed since 1996. And the Star Ocean videogame series has undergone multiple changes. Not only that, but it has branched out into mobile games, manga, and anime – the latter of which we’re talking about here. Because honestly, it’s kind of overlooked, especially as a gateway into anime itself.
What’s Star Ocean Ex All About?
Star Ocean EX was released in 2001. The show ran for 26 episodes on TV Tokyo from April 3, 2001, to September 3, 2001. As with any anime, it wouldn’t be long before the show hit Western borders. In 2004, now-defunct company Geneon USA dubbed the show and distributed it on DVD. In 2018, Discotek Media claimed the license and began distributing the show on Blu-Ray.
The anime is based on the 1999-2001 Star Ocean: The Second Story manga. The manga, in turn, is based on the 1999 PlayStation game of the same name. The story follows the exploits of Claude C. Kenni, a young man unwittingly stranded on the underdeveloped planet of Expel. There, he learns of the insidious Sorcery Globe, a mysterious calamity causing strange incidents on the planet. Alongside Rena Lanford, a teenage girl with secrets of her own, he journeys to discover the secrets behind the Globe – and, hopefully, a way back home.
The anime is a fast-paced episodic series. The series chronicles Claude’s journey as he ventures from town-to-town, meeting new faces and defeating the mutated creatures that appeared as a result of the Sorcery Globe. In this sense, it’s a ‘freak-of-the-week’-type show that has Claude and his allies deal with a new threat. As you can tell, the story isn’t revolutionary – instead, the show’s appeal lies more in its execution than its concept.
The Characters of Star Ocean Ex
The biggest appeal of Star Ocean EX is its characters. Claude meets new party members on his journey, and their personalities are well-defined. Claude is your typical noble hero – who also suffers from Daddy Issues. Rena is the innocent, charming young girl with healing abilities. Meanwhile, Celine Jules is a mouthy yet feminine wielder of Heraldic magic, while Ashton Anchors is the down-on-his-luck comic relief with dragons on his back.
All four of these ‘main party members’ gel pretty well in the anime. What helps is that the English Dub, while not without its issues, has a great cast. This includes Venus Terzo (Princess Millerna Aston in Vision of Escaflowne), who is flawless as snarky, feisty Celine. Meanwhile, the late Gabe Khouth (Nicol Amalfi in Gundam SEED) is lovingly eccentric as the inept Ashton Anchors. To be honest, it’s a good thing the cast is so talented since Star Ocean EX doesn’t delve too much into their backstories. And to add, the personal reasons they go along on the journey soon fade away in favor of the main plot.
Out of all the characters, Claude and Rena are given the most focus in terms of backstory and relationships. As mentioned, Claude suffers from some extreme Daddy issues. Raised in the shadow of Earth Admiral Ronyx J. Kenni, Claude’s arc is about finding his own identity and removing the mental blocks that stop him from becoming his own man. Conversely, Rena’s arc is less compelling – while endearing personality-wise due to her childlike empathy, we don’t learn the truth behind her origins until the very end of the show.
The Animation of Star Ocean EX
Here’s where we get to the anime’s weakest point – the animation. Now, look, the overall presentation is colorful and pleasant to look at. However, when we compare the character design of the original manga (and those of the game before it), the anime versions are simplified visually and pale in comparison to artist Mayumi Azuma’s drawings. The character expressions are relatively blank, and small details like the pattern on Celine’s stockings are absent. Small things that add up to character are entirely removed.
The backgrounds and location design are also uninspired. You’d be hard-pressed to distinguish between the Cross and Lacour Kingdoms just by looking at them. To be fair, the script does nothing to embellish on the universe in which it’s set, so it’s not entirely the visual’s fault. However, when the ‘dungeons’ the party enters are nothing more than bland samey vide-game-like corridors, the lack of effort is disturbingly clear.
But the real shame goes to Star Ocean EX‘s fight scenes. Rather than take the time to animate them, the Powers-That-Be opt for a slide show. Fights are mostly a series of ‘stills’ that might occasionally bring along a ‘camera shake’ for good measure. Sometimes, the show does include some animation (i.e., the occasional sword swing), but for the most part, it’s absent. There is further shame when Celine’s spells have no gravitas or threat – they have a less visual impact than the videogame. Given that anime is purely a visual medium, you’d think more focus would’ve been spent ensuring otherwise.
So, is this anime worth visiting/revisiting?
Star Ocean EX isn’t the worst video game-based anime to exist. As a kid, I watched it multiple times. Why? Well, for starters, it was based on my then-favorite videogame. But also, because the anime medium allows for a deeper examination of characters than games, I found myself relating a lot to Claude Kenni. He’s a young man whose arrogance lands him in a less-than-stellar situation. But regardless, he makes the best of his situation and tries to find a way out of it.
In this sense, for younger viewers, I feel that Star Ocean EX is an underrated ‘gateway anime.’ The overall narrative is nothing mind-blowing, but its cliched nature at least breeds some familiarity as you venture into the alien world of anime. Meanwhile, the series shows new viewers how the medium can explore character depth in ways other animated forms can’t. Although Star Ocean EX is criticized for having a Saturday Morning Cartoon feel, it has plenty of elements that wouldn’t be allowed on Western Saturday Morning TV. From the emotional depth of Claude Kenni – and some genuinely disturbing monsters and scenes – it was something new for me when I first watched it.
Thus, as far as Star Ocean EX goes, it’s not an anime ocean of stars. However, it is a spaceship that can carry you into the first stages of your anime journey.