Starship Troopers OVA
By Dennis Fitzsimmons
So, let’s talk about something weird, the 6-part OVA adaptation of Robert Heinlein’s famous novel Starship Troopers. Yes, there exists an anime adaptation, and it has nothing to do with Paul Verhoeven’s film of the same name. Unfortunately, this OVA is a real disappointment.
The fact that this is an anime based off a successful American novel puts it in the pantheon of adaptations of western work by Japan, which includes the likes of the Batman manga, the Tokusatsu Spider-Man series, and the attempt to make E.E. Smith’s Lensman series into a movie and spinoff TV series. These were media which weren’t supposed to be released outside of Japan, but eventually did through the flow of information.
How Starship Troopers got an OVA adaptation is an interesting story on its own. The novel didn’t get a Japanese translation until 1967, and it wasn’t until 1977, when Space Battleship Yamato mechanical designer Kazutaka Miyatake and Guin Saga artist Naoyuki Kato provided the illustrations for the Powered Suit for a second printing of the novel, that the novel took off in Japan. This design exploded in the nascent otaku culture, and eventually this design led to the creation of one of the biggest anime cornerstones in the Gundam metaseries.
So, when the series was adapted into OVAs in the late 80s, it was not surprising. The OVA series was made by Sunrise, the studio behind Gundam. The staff assembled was decent, if unspectacular. The series director was Tetsuro Amino, who would later be known for directing The Heroic Legend of Arslan OVAs, and Macross 7 in the 90s. The series writers were Tsunehisa Ito, a Tomino regular who wrote for Xabungle in 1982-83, and cowrote the screenplay for Gundam F91, and Shou Aikawa. Aikawa has a checkered reputation as a writer, having written some of the trashiest OVAs ever in Angel Cop, Violence Jack and Genocyber, among many others. He got better and eventually became the head-writer of Martian Successor Nadeisco and the 2003 Fullmetal Alchemist series. So, while not great, there is promise here.
“Okay, situation time, you’re down by 5, with 15 seconds left, there was a penalty on a chop block, which means it’s 1st & 25, on the Opponents 45, what do you do? Everything says go long, and get out of bounds, if you can’t, call your final timeout.”
And right away, that promise is delivered with an intense action scene featuring the powered suits, and then we cut to a football game, and our “protagonist” Johnny Rico, after he fails to score a winning touchdown…even though it would have made more dramatic sense for him to lateral the ball to a teammate who runs it in for a TD. He is uncertain about what to do about his future, despite the fact that his father runs a large shipping company. After seeing a girl he likes named Carmencita joining the military, Rico decides he wants to join the military as well, whilst not telling his parents. Whoops. The first episode is, for lack of a better term, uninteresting. For a series built around mechs, there’s not a lot of them here, and the “drama” means popping the Dramamine, because it’s clear, from the audience perspective, Rico made the wrong choice.
And the latest inductee to the bland main character hall of fame is…Johnny Rico.
The first episode was bland and dull, but the second episode was a lot better, because we focus on the Powered Suit. The first nine minutes focuses on basic training, and we’ve seen these scenes before. When it gets interesting is during a firefighting mission, and the Powered Suits come out. It’s a glorious remarkable sight, and to this day still look very, very cool. So, after this breath of fresh air, the series stalled badly with episode three. The only interesting thing which happened in that episode was, Rico learning his mother (who had slapped him in episode one) passed on, and it seemed to light a fire underneath Johnny. However, the next episode stalled character development, until around the sixteen-minute mark. Then we first see the bugs, these giant pink things with eyes and tentacles. Go ahead, write your own joke in the comments, it’s probably better than mine anyway.
Episode five began terribly with Rico graduating from the academy (shouldn’t this have occurred by episode three?), and two boring and uninteresting Earth-based scenes. Then it decided to send the infantry team into space to fight the giant bubblegum hentai monsters. I guess this is how you jumpstart momentum for a series which was dull and dead by the first half of this episode! Was it still dull and tedious? You bet! At this point, however I didn’t care because something interesting was happening! What further raised the stakes was the plot twist of Carmencita getting on a ship, which wound up being destroyed by the GBGHM, and I was thinking, “okay series, you’ve pulled a great potential ending out of your ass, let’s see you make her death stick.” And I knew in the back of my mind they weren’t going to kill her off, because I know too much about the art of storytelling.
What the heck are those things? I think my description ‘Giant Bubblegum Hentai Monsters’ makes sense.
Still, it looked like it would hold. And throughout the tedious, yet occasionally exciting fight scenes with the Mechs and pink monsters, were still enjoyable, if silly. However, things immediately fell apart when Rico wakes up on a hospital bed, and a nurse tells him there’s someone who wants to see him on the observation deck. To no one’s surprise, it’s Carmencita. And before Rico can complete his confession of love, the episode (and by extension, the series) just ends. Just stops, as if it cold-cocked me. I’m still not sure if this is brilliant, or unintentional trolling. But this isn’t trolling, because that would be deliberate. This is representing another bad trend in OVAs, the unfinished ending. And it seems like it was leading into a 7th episode, so the fact the series stop dead on this cliffhanger is the topper of this dull exercise.
The OVA series has multiple and numerous problems, there’s plenty of pacing issues, and the music has aged rather poorly. At one point, an insert song sounded like a note for note rip-off of the 70s hit “Still the One”! Seriously. This is one of those series which cried out for a composer like Kentaro Haneda (composer of the original Macross series) or a Toshiyuki Watanabe (composer of Majestic Prince, and 80s stalwart: Metal Armor Dragonaut), who could emphasize the 80s, and make it still sound fresh.
Despite all complaints, the Powered Suits are easily the coolest thing in this OVA series
Animation-wise, the series is OK. OVAs in the 80s had this stigma of being badly animated, and while there were plenty of examples, Starship Troopers is around the middle of the road. Not Neo-Tokyo levels, but miles ahead from M.D. Geist levels. The other big problem is the character design. In a good anime, every character is distinctive, but not so much here. Considering the OVA devotes a substantial amount of time to these people, everyone looking the same is a big problem.
Unlike the Gundam metaseries, which thrived with strong character drama alongside awesome mecha fights, Starship Troopers lack this balance. While the action scenes work for the most part, the drama is duller than a butter knife. The music has also aged terribly, and completely unfitting for a dramatic series about war, instead feeling like it belongs in a 1980s greatest hits album. While the animation is okay, the bad character design sets the series back, even further. In conclusion, the Starship Troopers OVA is a resounding dud.
- The Power Suits are a remarkable sight, and still look cool.
- The Action scenes (when they happen) are well done.
- The animation (for an OVA) is quite solid.
- The story itself is deadly dull.
- The character design makes everyone look the same.
- Johnny Rico isn’t an interesting protagonist.
- The music is heavily dated and rips off a 70s hit song, note-for-note.
- The pacing issues cause events which should have happened by the 3rd episode appear 2 episodes later.