STUDIO: Shout Factory
MSRP: $17.99 (Both)
RATED: Not rated / G
360 minutes (Both)

The Making of Oban   Star-Racers, Parts 1 & 2
Star-Racer Profiles
Original Concept Art
Original MIPCOM Presentation
Complete Opening Title   Sequence

The Pitch

No, this is pod racing.

The Humans

Chiara Zanni, Sam Vincent, Michael Dobson, Ron Halder, Paul Dobson, Dexter Bell, Brian Drummond, Kirby Morrow, Allesandro Juliani, Nicole Oliver.

The Nutshell

15-year-old Eva Wei is a headstrong and mechanically-inclined student at a strict boarding school who only longs to see her father, Don Wei, who abandoned her there 10 years prior without ever having contacted her since.  After her birthday, Eva escapes the school and tracks down her father, who is the manager of Earth’s best Star-Racing team.  Although eager to see Wei, circumstances dictate that Eva assume an alias of Molly, a mechanic looking for a job when the abrasive Wei doesn’t even recognize her.  It’s not long thereafter that Wei and his team are chosen by the President to represent Earth in the Great Race of Oban, a competition comprised of teams from all over the galaxy who are there to vie for the Ultimate Prize, which is said to be the granting of one wish, no matter how large or small. 

“Hey you, artist!  Where the f*$k is my nose…!”

The Great Race is overseen by the Avatar, a being of incredible power.  The race has also served to preserve a fragile truce between Earth and a malevolent race called the Crogs, who would like nothing better than to totally annihilate humanity.  However, the only way that the truce can be preserved is for Earth to win the race and claim the Ultimate Prize.  Molly stows away in the transport taking the team to Alwas, a planet where the qualifying trials to the Great Race are being held.  After the team’s pilot, the cocky and headstrong Rick Thunderbolt, is injured and forced to retire after his Star-Racer is sabotaged, Molly steals it and enters herself in the race.  Her goal is to claim the Ultimate Prize and to be reunited with her mother, Maya, who was a legendary Star-Racer killed in a race 10 years prior. Don Wei grudgingly has to admit that Molly is Earth’s best – and only – chance to win the race and save the planet from an impending Crog invasion, although for Molly, the race has much more personal stakes.

“Of course I know what Hentai is.  *pause*  “Okay, I don’t know.  What is it?”
“Follow me…”

The Lowdown

Man, was I surprised by how much I liked this story.  This isn’t just some thrown-together, annoyingly kid-friendly and formulaic Anime cartoon.  Oban Star-Racers is a two-part, 26-episode epic with fantastic production and character design (except a certain lack of a major body part which we’ll get to), great 2-D and 3-D animation and it really manages to hold your interest.  I watched the entire thing over a couple of days and was genuinely looking forward to getting to each new episode.  The series is skewed more for kids, but there’s enough to keep the crotchety entertained as well.

“I have you now, Lance Rogan…”

The most obvious parallel I can draw to Oban is that it’s essentially an extended version of the pod race sequence from Phantom Menace, with Molly filling Anakin’s role (only not as horrifyingly badly). Her Star-Racer is the Whizzing Arrow, which looks like a cross between a pod and one of those old Gee Bee racing planes.  She has a tail gunner in Jordan, along with a support team of two mechanics and her father, who runs the team.  In Vol. 1, she also gets help in training from Rick after his crash and realization that he can no longer race.

“Molly, why the hell is Rick naked?”
“He wanted to show me his tattoo of the Great Wall…”

One of the highlights of the series is also the production and character design of the aliens.  There’s a wide assortment of both the alien pilots and their racers.  Of course one drawback is the noticeable lack of an olfactory organ with all of the human characters.  Nevertheless, the story, although roughly 8 hours in length, doesn’t ever seem to sag under its own weight.  The narrative moves along nicely, and the mystery of the race’s true purpose is peeled away one layer at a time like an onion, one that doesn’t stink nearly as much as Jake Lloyd.

Girl #1: “Wow, he is really buff!”
Girl #2: “Oh I don’t know, I heard Van Damme kicked his ass twice…”

About half of the episodes in Vol. 1 involve Molly and Jordan racing a different opponent with a unique style of racer.  This includes Prince Aikka, Molly’s love interest, who rides a giant bug and uses a magic bow and arrow; Groor, a biomechanical racer who runs on steam; and Ceres, a stick figure Tiki-looking character riding a stick figure ship that runs on gravimetric energy.  There’s also Para-Dice, a member of a cyber-cat race who flies her ship with dance game controls.  The main baddie of Vol. 1 one is Col. Toros of the Crogs, who pilots a circular ship with three blades called a Trident.  The racing on Alwas is a single-elimination tournament type.

Vol. 2 has even more racers and the format of the race is different in that the nine qualifiers, including Molly and Aikka all race through checkpoints in a series of nine races.  Racers here include Sul, who is a magician who rides diamond-shaped images of light.  Ning and Skun are a couple of Goth / bat sisters with a penchant for leather.  Kross is the General of the Crog Imperium after Toros is beheaded for losing a race to Molly.  Ondai is a robot who flies a ship that can turn into a robot with arms and legs and bladed weapons.  And Lord Furter is a short, Cutler Beckett-type who captains a space galleon.

The wide array of racers and races, along with the issues that Molly is trying to work out, including the relationship with her father, with Aikka, and even with her mother, sustain the story through the many episodes.  It does incorporate a lot of the more pedestrian tendencies of Anime, like spiky hair, small characters against ridiculously large characters, and having a “chosen” character.  I can’t help thinking that if it were made a little more adult, with a more Death Race 2000 type of environment. it would have been even better.  Nevertheless, Oban Star-Racers is a lot better than I would have at first given it credit for and makes for a pretty entertaining watch.

“I have a website I’d like to show you…”

The Package

As I mentioned, the art is top notch, mixing both sharp 2-D and 3-D animation.  You have a choice of Dolby 2.0 or 5.1, although there are no subtitles and the only language is English.  There are several special features including Star-Racer Profiles, which are blink-and-miss-them breakdowns of the racers and their rides.  There’s also original concept art and trailers, as well as a sneak peak of Vol. 2 on DVD in Vol. 1.  Finally, The Making of Oban Star-Racers, is a good two-part documentary spanning both volumes that runs about 68 minutes, with the first part in Vol. 1 running at 28 minutes and the latter in Vol. 2 around 40 minutes.

Vol. 1: 6.4 out of 10
Vol. 2: 6.6 ot of 10