Banner of the Stars: Initial Thoughts

Still working though the original set of Anime recommendations, next up is Banner of the Stars. Netflix didn’t have it in stock, so I had to delay a bit, but I found a cheapo thinpack and bought it. I’m about halfway through the series. Assorted thoughts, comments, questions, and screenshots below.

  • The series follows a war between The United Mankind and the Abh Empire. The story is told through the eyes of Abriel Lafiel and Lin Jinto. Lafiel is a princess of the Abh Empire and the captain of a small attack ship, the Basroil. Jinto is her supply officer and secretary. He’s also royalty, though he’s the last surviving member of his family, and his membership in the Abh Empire seems to be more of a legal formality than a race thing (this is one of the interesting things about the universe this story is set in – more later in this post). This is a war story, but so far the emphasis seems to be on Lafiel and Jinto. There’s some romantic tension there, and I can see the beginnings of a love triangle. Again, I’m 6 episodes into the series. So far, so good, though I’m getting the feeling that I probably should have watched Crest of the Stars first (I assume most of the backstory between Lafiel and Jinto is covered in that series).

    Jinto & Abriel
    Jinto & Abriel

  • So far, the story is told entirely from the perspective of the Abh. From what I can understand, the Abh are a race of humans who have been genetically engineered for life in space. For instance, they seem to have developed a new sensory organ that helps with space navigation (they use headpieces to interface with it, which is why it looks like all the characters are wearing a tiara). As previously mentioned, Jinto is technically Abh, but he’s also a “grounder” (i.e. someone who was born and grew up on a planet) and I think his status as a member of the Abh is more legal than genetic (though I guess if your race is defined by genetic modification, a human could change to that race pretty easily). Interestingly, Jinto is referred to as a “Count” which I believe outranks “Princess” in terms of nobility, yet Princess Abriel is Jinto’s military superior. We don’t actually see much of the United Mankind empire, but one interesting thing about them is that they don’t seem to be demonized. They’re not the Nazis of the Banner universe, they’re just enemies. Also, there don’t seem to be any secret weapons or invincible ships on their side (something I saw in Vandread and Martian Successor Nadesico). Though neither side knows of the other side’s true fleet strength, the focus seems to be more on tactics and strategy than simple brute force or secret weapons. This tends to make for a more believable and interesting universe…
  • So far, I’ve only seen one major battle in the series. I admit that some of the strategy and tactics went a bit over my head, but I like how this series is progressing. Other space opera series (like, for instance, Vandread) seem to have a battle every episode, which can get a bit tiresome. Banner is taking its time, arranging various elements and strategies before jumping into battle. It looks like the series is building towards a big climatic battle during the last 4 episodes, which I’m told is fantastic.
  • The music in the series bears a strong resemblance to the music in the Galactic Civiliazations II video game. Since this series was produced several years before Galciv II, I’m guessing that the composer for Galciv II was familiar with this soundtrack… In any case, I do like the music, and it seems to fit well with the space opera theme.
  • The animation quality doesn’t seem all that spectacular, but it’s serviceable. There seems to be an abundance of closeups (where the only thing moving is the character’s mouth) and a lot of reused background stuff. This is all rather common though, and didn’t really distract me much. Character design is a little interesting. I don’t know why, but the eyes in this series seem larger than normal (or maybe it’s the proportions of the various pieces of the eye that are catching my attention). Anime is infamous for having larger eyes than normal, but this series seems even more excessive than usual. Perhaps I’m just becoming more and more obvservant of eyes in Anime (in other news, closed eye syndrome continues unabated). Also, perhaps because the eyes are larger than normal, some characters have eyes with pupils (Lafiel and Jinto have pupils, see screenshots), and others seem to be entirely iris (Ekuryua, the person on the right in the below screenshot, doesn’t seem to have a pupil). In animation, you can sometimes get away without drawing a pupil if the eyes are small enough, but since some of the eyes are still huge, it can be a little strange… The other interesting thing about the character designs is that some characters have long, pointy ears, while others have more normal human ears. The people that have the long pointy ears seem to be nobility (for instance, there are two people from the Abriel family in the series and they both have pointy ears, see the screenshots of Lafiel and Admiral Abriel (his screenshot is further down)), but then, some nobles don’t have them either (Jinto doesn’t and neither do the Biboth brothers). The noses also seem pointier. Not sure if there’s any significance to any of this (perhaps these are indications of various genetic enhancements the Abh have implemented), or if I’m just being overly picky.

    Abriel & Ekuryua
    Abriel & Ekuryua have big eyes

  • The first scene in the series is quite confusing – it doesn’t seem to have been translated into english (on either the dub or the subtitle). For a while, I thought I had messed something up with the setup of the subtitles and audio. In any case, after that first scene, everything seems to be fine. Not sure what the deal is there. The only other annoyance is that sometimes the subtitles are rendered right on top of what appear to be Japanese subtitles, making them hard to read (this is particularly annoying during the OP when you hear a voice describe events leading up to the current war). A bit strange, but after I got used to it, it’s fine.

I should be able to finish the series this week, and I’m told that I’m going to want to watch the last 4 episodes all at once. Hopefully, I’ll have my final review done next week.

A few more screenshots and comments below the fold…

This is Admiral Abriel, apparently a relation of Lafiel. He shares the distinctive pointy ears of the Abriel family. This screenshot also shows one of the odd features of the animation… namely, that you can see through his hair. Sometimes this is more prominent than others, and it’s usually fine, but shots like this are a little odd..

Admiral Abriel
Admiral Abriel

One of the interesting things about SF in general is how little things change. For instance, the Abh apparently salute using only two fingers.

Jinto Saluting
Jinto Saluting

One of the things I like about the series is that strategy and tactics seem to be the focus, rather than just the combat. The series follows Operation Phantom Flame, an offensive by the Abh empire. Here’s a screenshot of the general strategy. There’s a primary thrust up the middle to attain the main objectives, followed by a pincer movement to pick up other systems along the same path. Apparently, there are allies on the other side of this screen which the main Abh force hopes to hook up with.

The Pincer Movement, diagrammed
The Pincer Movement, diagrammed

As previously mentioned, the music in Galciv II is very similar to the music in this series. As such, I thought it was funny when this screen came up – a screen that is very similar to the graphs in Galciv II. Of course, this is more of a coincidence than anything else (it’s not like the Banner folks invented the line graph), but the interfaces are very similar.

Resources Graph
Resources Graph

That’s all for now. Again, more later in the week…

7 thoughts on “Banner of the Stars: Initial Thoughts”

  1. Hmmm, what can I say that’s not spoilers?

    The term “Abh” as used in the series has two meanings, which only somewhat overlap. First, they are people who are the result of genetic engineering to adapt them to space. They all have blue hair, in some shade or other; they’re all handsome or beautiful. They live two or three times as long as genetic humans. There are other differences.

    It’s also a legal term; it refers to full citizens of the Humankind Empire of Abh. (Actually, the term for this is translated as “knight”.) All genetic Abh are full citizens, but there are many who are genetic grounders who are citizens as well.

    So it turns out that both Samson and Jinto are considered Abh. It isn’t possible to genetically retrofit grounders with those changes, but the law says that all their children must be genetically modified. So any children that Samson or Jinto may eventually have will have the sense organ, have blue hair, extended life spans, and so on.

    The reason Jinto is Abh is because he’s nobility, for reasons which were made clear in the first series. The reason Samson is Abh is because he’s an officer. Any grounder who accepts a commission becomes a knight, and thus becomes Abh.

    One reason that’s a good thing is that grounders who don’t become knights are pretty much property of their home planets. Joining the Navy only gives them temporary privilege to leave. Once they leave the Navy, they have no choice but to return to their home planets. But Samson is now a citizen of the empire, and no longer has that obligation. When he retires, he can go anywhere he wants.

    The situation with noble ranks and military ranks is complicated. Atosuryua, the squadron commander, has the highest military rank of the three. Lafiel is lower than her, and Jinto lower than that.

    In terms of nobility, though, it’s a lot more complicated. Jinto is a Count (or Earl, hakushaku translates to both English terms) because his system has an inhabited planet. (And it’s a good one, with a population of several million.) Lafiel is a Viscount (shishaku) which is lower ranked. Her system has an uninhabited planet which can be terraformed. That’s what those ranks mean. If, eventually, Lafiel does terraform that planet and settle it, she’ll automatically be promoted to Count.

    If either of their planets ever reach a population of 100 million, they’ll be promoted to Duke (koushaku).

    Atosuryua is a baron (danshaku) which is even lower yet. What that means is that her system doesn’t contain a habitable planet. And because of that, promotion is impossible.

    Interestingly, “Princess” is not a formal title, though Lafiel is usually referred to that way rather than as “Viscountess”. Her full legal name makes her “Viscountess”, not “Princess”.

    So at that dinner party, if it had been a military event Atosuryua would have been top ranked, Lafiel would have been next, and Jinto would have been at the bottom. But in civilian terms, Jinto was actually the top ranked one — except that currently his system is in enemy hands. Lafiel would have been next, and Atosuryua would have been last, especially since she isn’t the Baron yet; her father still holds that title. (Just in passing, her father is a genetic grounder.) However, in practice Atosuryua could be considered top ranked anyway because she’s the only one who has subjects. (Until such time as Jinto’s system is retaken by the Empire.)

    What else? Um, you’re right that this is not a war which will be won with wizard weapons. No Death Stars, no Super Vandreads. There are weapon advances, and new classes of ships appear, but this is mostly a war of maneuver and battle, and in some cases of attrition. Strategy, tactics, and logistics will prevail, not miracles or heroes. It’s also probably going to take several hundred years before it’s all over, because the Abh don’t intend to quit until they’ve won it all or lost it all.

    Regarding the ears, that’s a sign of the royal family. Only members of one of the Abriel clans, of which there are 13 (? or 17? I don’t remember for sure). Lafiel’s clan is Cluyve. There are a bunch of rules about that which have the effect of keeping the size of those clans small, and part of that is that some members of the royal family essentially are booted. They don’t apparently have to get their ears bobbed, but their kids are genetically engineered to have normal ears.

    As to the tactics in plane-space battles, the key thing you need to know is that the more mass there is in a spacetime bubble, the slower it moves. If you want to move fast you need a small ship in its own bubble, and thus they have to stay spread out, because bubbles which come close enough together automatically merge.

    I think that’s all I can really say now without spoiling anything. You’ll learn more soon enough.

  2. Thanks for the info! I guess I need to brush up on my knowledge of nobility:) It is interesting though. I’m assuming a good portion of this is brought up in Crest of the Stars (though perhaps not in as much detail…). I’m not having any problem with Banner and the flashbacks seem to be sufficient, but it does seem that Crest would have added some more background.

    What is Atosuryua’s rank? She seems to be above Captain Abriel, but beneath Admiral Abriel. Also, where does Admiral Spoor fit in?

    The spacetime bubble tactics are interesting. I hadn’t internalized how they worked, but your info should help…

  3. The nominal ranks used in the Empire Navy don’t really translate into the ranks we use.

    A lot of this stuff is explained on this web site, but you probably shouldn’t go there yet because it’s got spoilers.

    The Navy’s rank structure was developed in the early days when the Abh had fewer than a hundred ships, most of which were tiny and tended to fight in tight formations. Anyway, from low to high:

    retsuyoku-shoushi “rear flyer” (Ekuryua, Samson)

    kouei-shoushi “wing flyer” (Jinto, I think)

    zen’ei-shoushi “front flyer” (Sobaash)

    jusshouchou “Deca-commander” (Lafiel)

    fuku-hyakushouchou “Vice Hecto-commander”

    hyakushouchou “Hecto-commander” (Atosuryua)

    senshouchou “Kilo-commander”

    jun-teitoku “Commodore”

    And then there are four more ranks of admiral, and Spoor is one of those but I’m not sure which. The top one is “teikoku gensui” or “Imperial Admiral” and the person in that position is also crown prince (or crown princess). That position can only be held by an Abriel. Currently it’s Dusanyu.

    The ranks are indicated by the pattern of bars on the headpieces, and Jinto has a third bar on his where Ekuryua and Samson do not. That’s why I think he’s an O-2 instead of an O-1. Likely it was a courtesy promotion upon graduation from OCS due to him being a noble. (Just in passing, silver headpieces are indications of Navy service; gold headpieces are indications of civilian nobility. That’s why all three of them were wearing gold for that dinner; they were in their civvies.)

    There are also a bunch of different organizations in the military, and they’re identified by the trim color on the uniforms. Lafiel, Sobaash, and Ekuryua are all “Flying section”; uniform trim is red. I think that Samson is Maintenance section, green trim. I think Jinto is Administration section, gray trim.

    On Basroil there are fifteen enlisted. Twelve of those report to Samson and three of those report to Jinto.

    The imperial succession is interesting because it’s not by blood line, and because succession takes place because of a push from below, not because of an absence above. The current empress happens to be Cluyve; she’s Lafiel’s grandmother. But Dusanyu is a different clan.

    All nobles have a legal obligation to serve in the Navy. The higher ranked they are, the longer they’re required to serve. Jinto’s legal obligation is ten years, which began at the end of Crest when he entered a three year training program to become a supply officer. Banner begins shortly after his graduation, and Basroil is his first assignment.

    But for the Abriel it’s different. All the princes and princesses of the various clans must serve until such time as one of them is found to be qualified to become Imperial Admiral, commander of the Navy. At that point the current emperor (or empress) resigns, and the current Imperial Admiral moves up and assumes the throne. All the other candidates from that generation are then expected to leave the Navy and to become part of the reserves. That’s why Lafiel’s father is not in the Navy; he’s in the same generation as Dusanyu, and he retired from the Navy when Dusanyu became Imperial Admiral (i.e. crown prince).

    Young Abriels, candidates for the throne, are put on a fast track to ship command, which is why it’s not very surprising to anyone that Lafiel has command of Basroil at the age of 18. That’s the norm. But after that they’re not supposed to be singled out for advancement. They have to win their way up to high rank on their own.

    Inevitably, of course, it will be tricky for everyone involved in serving with a candidate, so everything important that happens regarding the Navy career of all candidates has to be approved by the Council of ex-Emperors. It consists of one representative from each of the clans, either an ex-emperor or the current clan head (who are known as kings). They have to approve all assignments, all promotions, all decorations, and of course also anything negative. Nor are they necessarily easy on the candidates; the point of this is a flame test to see which of them is qualified eventually to lead the empire.

    Because of that, candidates don’t necessarily get safe jobs. Even in time of war there are a lot of safe assignments available, but Abriel candidates don’t get those. They’re not put into ridiculously dangerous positions, either, but they are given assignments where it’s expected that they’ll see combat — and as a result some of them do die.

    There’s a tradition in the navy of allowing commanding officers to request certain personnel serve with them. For instance, at the end of Crest Spoor was promoted from leading a squadron of patrol ships to fleet command, and she took most of her bridge crew with her to be her fleet command staff (much to their displeasure).

    At the end of Crest, as Jinto is about to enter OCS, Lafiel tells him that about the time he’s scheduled to graduate, she will be getting her first ship command, and they agree that he will request service with her and she will ask for him. Absent some serious reason to the contrary that request would have been granted even if they weren’t special. But since Lafiel’s father is in the council of ex-emperors and because he fully approves of Jinto, it was particularly easy for them to get that assignment.

    It didn’t have to be that way. Jinto isn’t under the Council’s thumb, and as long as he honorably fulfils his 10 year obligation no one will look askance at him. It was entirely possible for him to spend 7 years in a rear area pushing paper, and in fact I suspect that would have been the most likley outcome. Instead, he specifically requested just about the most dangerous assignment possible for a supply officer: on an attack ship, commanded by an Abriel candidate. Much honor comes to him because of this, by the way, and I’m not kidding.

    It becomes clear over the course of the full series that the Council considers Jinto to be a very good influence on Lafiel, and a major asset to her, and fully approves of having him serve with her. As an example of that without going into too much detail, Jinto is badly hurt in Banner II, and Lafiel takes a long period of leave from the Navy to stay with him and help nurse him back to health. He asks her if that’s a problem and she says it isn’t. Probably on paper that’s true anyway, since by that point she’d served more than ten years and probably was due for leave, but in addition there’s the fact that the Council approves of her relationship with him, so it really wasn’t an issue. In Banner III he’s back to full strength and they both return to the fleet.

    A lot of time passes in this series; there are large gaps between the segments. By Banner III Jinto has served his full ten years, but there’s nothing that says he has to leave the Navy, and he’s already long since made up his mind that he’s going to stay with Lafiel no matter where she goes and what she does — and she thinks the same thing.

    And he genuinely is a major asset to her. She needs a friend; she needs someone who will tease her. She needs someone who she can tease without them being terrified of her. She needs someone who will look her in the eye and call her by her given name, someone with whom she can be just Lafiel rather than Princess Abriel. She needs that to stay sane.

    And perhaps most important of all, she needs someone who will tell her when she’s screwing up.

    There’s a different way he’s of use, and you’ve already seen it. Jinto has the common touch; he’s approachable. People who need to send a back-channel message to Lafiel may find it easier to talk to him, and the reason that works is because no one is in any doubt about the fact that his loyalty is fully to her. You saw Atosuryua use him that way a couple of times, and in voice-over he lamented the fact that everyone seemed comfortable talking to him.

    He hasn’t quite woken up yet to the fact that this is a good thing. But Lafiel’s father sure knows, and it’s another reason why he fully approves of Jinto.

    And in the first episode of Banner, Samson and Sobaash talk to him about that, too, and let him know that it’s an important duty of his, even though unofficial.

    …umm, which is probably much more than you really wanted to know. Sorry about that.

  4. No worries, I actually find it rather interesting. I hadn’t realized there was a third Banner series (for a total of 4 series), but at this point, I think I’ve already determined that I’m going to want to watch at least Crest…

  5. The first scene in the series is quite confusing – it doesn’t seem to have been translated into english.

    If you listen to the dialogue, it’s in Abh. This was more obvious in Crest of the Stars, where the intro was narrated in Abh, and subtitled in Japanese, with english subtitles superimposed.

  6. David, yes, and when the English subtitles are superimposed on top of the Japanese subtitles, it’s almost impossible to read… Very annoying.

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