Anime of the Past: Odin: Photon Space Sailer Starlight

Wednesday, January 16th, 2013

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Discussing anime is a funny thing.  Though some treat it as a genre unto itself, it is simply a medium, or rather, a subset of the larger medium of animation that comes from a specific region of the globe.  And though we in the West have been generally treated to many of the medium’s bona fied classics, cult favorites, and popular entries of the various genres, we have also been subjected to some of the larger duds.  Just as in any other medium, for every Star Wars, there are countless artistic and commercial failures that fade away with time.

Such is the case with the 1985 feature film Odin: Photon Space Sailer Starlight (a.k.a.: Odin: Starlight Mutiny).  Envisioned as the first leg of a trilogy, the film was produced by Yoshinobu Nishizaki’s West Cape Corporation as an audacious space opera.  However, the film bombed at the Japanese box office, and the remaining chapters were cancelled.

In watching the film, it’s not hard to understand why.  The sprawling space epic that Odin was intended to be is sprawling to be sure; in fact, it sprawls too much.  Though the film is only 139 minutes long, it feels a great deal longer.  Odin was subsequently released internationally in a truncated form that clocks in at a much shorter 93 minutes.  While some might bristle at the notion of seeing so much material excised from the original release, frankly, such cutting could only serve to help.  The original cut is so slow and bloated that if it were a ship, it would be impossible to declare sea-worthy.  I was first introduced to the international cut of Odin in the mid-1990s when it aired as part of the Saturday morning rotation of anime films on the Sci-Fi Channel.  While it’s certainly a shorter film, however, it’s hard to say if it’s really much better than the theatrical cut, aside from the obvious quip, “Well, at least it isn’t as long.”

Odin

Sort of like watching this movie.

Both versions of the film have made their way onto at least one Western DVD release, and the remainder of my discussion here will reflect my experience with the original cut.

From the opening frames, Odin sets out to compare the exploration of the stars with humanity’s previous exploration of the seas, progressing from the early days of the Vikings in the North Sea to battles between European fleets before jumping ahead to the year 2099.  In this future, mankind has set about exploring and colonizing the solar system, but has yet to travel beyond Jupiter.  However, the Starlight is a brand new vessel with technologies meant to make further exploration possible.  The crew sets out on the maiden voyage to test the new gravity drive, but in the process receive a distress call and divert course to rescue the survivors of a mysterious attack.

Odin

It’s sort of like this, but in space, and the hats aren’t as large.

The crew finds one survivor; a young high school student of Nordic descent named Sarah Cyanbaker.  As they make their escape from the weapon that destroyed Sarah’s ship, they’re thrust into space near Uranus, where Sarah guides them to an ancient shipwreck containing ship logs and star chart data pointing to a distant planet called Odin.  The young crew, excited to go exploring reaches of space humanity has never seen, is instead disappointed when the captain orders their return to Earth.  And so they mutiny, locking the officers up before setting course for the unknown.

And then robots attack.  And then the ship is thrust into a space graveyard that exists in a space-time vacuum of some sort.  Then they somehow escape, fight more robots, and then reach the central base of a supercomputer called Belgel that has enslaved former residents of Odin, who had turned themselves into cyborgs to avoid being killed by a supernova that occurred 20,000 years before.  At this point, it’s also discovered that Sarah is the genetic legacy of the former queen of Odin, whose DNA was sent to distant planets so that it might survive, and a new ruler would come to revive their world.  The Starlight crew then destroys Belgel and continues on toward Odin.  Roll credits.

Odin

Sarah, comforting an unfortunate Odinian cyborg.

Does that sound like a lot to take in?  Well, there are a lot of details and characters that I left out.  Otherwise I’d have another page of synopsis to get through and you’d probably leave to read something else.  Suffice it to say, there some very large plot threads that are left unresolved as the film ends with the Starlight still about sixty light years from Odin.  Will Sarah become queen of a new Odinian society?  Will the faint hints of a budding romance between her and the hotshot pilot Akira bloom?  Will the Starlight crew ever return home?  There’s just no way to know.

But to be fair, for as long, plodding, and ponderous as the film is, there is some creative art design at work.  Taking the notion of the stars being another ocean to conquer to heart, the Starlight is designed to resemble a sort of high-tech, interstellar clipper.  Likewise, the crew wears uniforms that appear inspired at least in part by classical naval uniforms of old.  And though the film print that the DVD drew from is showing its age, it’s well-animated, colorful, and cinematically beautiful at points.

Odin

The Starlight’s design is a creative mix of past and fictional technology.

The same, however, cannot be said for the soundtrack.  Though there are tracks that do accompany certain scenes well, the producers made the mind-boggling choice to recruit Japanese metal band Loudness to record part of the soundtrack.  Their music simply isn’t a good fit for the tone of the film and can be utterly jarring at points.  Not the least of which being the end credits, which are run against a music video of the live band interspersed with scenes from the movie.  One could make the case that it was the ‘80s, and as such, ‘80s music is expected.  But that aside, there’s something about the soundtrack that just doesn’t fit right with the action.

Odin

And I thought Toto was a weird choice to score Dune.

The end result of all of this is a movie that is overstuffed, pretty to look at, and odd to listen to.  Like the space-time graveyard dimension that the Starlight becomes trapped in, time seems to stand still while watching Odin, and even the most patient may find their fortitude wearing thin before the end.  Like many wannabe epics, there are certainly seeds of good ideas here, and some even managed to blossom.  But the filmmakers’ ambition outreached their ability to deliver, and they fell well short of the desired outcome.

Odin: Photon Space Sailer Starlight was released on DVD in North America by U.S. Manga Corps, a label of Central Park Media.  The international version of the film can be watched in both the original Japanese as well as an English dub, but the theatrical cut is only in Japanese with subtitles.  The film is not rated, but contains violence.

About Justin Graham

Justin joined Oprainfall through…belligerence. (Note to others: This is not a good way to get noticed. This sort of thing only works once.) When he’s not writing about games or waxing nostalgic about anime older than a large portion of the site’s audience, he can be found playing JRPGs or beating up lots of dudes in Dynasty Warriors.