Spectrum Nexus

Anime Info

Creator: A Sunrise Production
Director: Tetsuro Amino
Genre: Military Science Fiction
Length: 6 Episodes

Anime Not Licensed

Summary

+ Shows the powered armor
– War story shows hardly any war
– Rico's ethnicity changed

Overview

The novel Starship Troopers is one of the greatest science fiction novels of all time. It has been passionately loved, bitterly hated, and hotly debated ever since its debut in 1959. One of the most influential works in the military science fiction genre, Starship Troopers has inspired a host of novels, films, TV series, comics, and anime. The anime series Starship Troopers will inspire very little but boredom from its audience. While containing characters, themes, and plot elements from the novel it is a lukewarm adaptation which ruins a decent script with bad acting and flat, lifeless animation.

Public Rating

Our Rating

Score of 2.5 out of 5
2.5 out of 5

Starship Troopers Anime Review

Written by: Frank B. Chavez III on 3/20/2009

Introduction

In 1959, Robert A. Heinlein published the popular and controversial novel Starship Troopers. Set in an unspecified future, Starship Troopers tells the story of Juan "Johnnie" Rico as he progresses through the ranks of the Mobile Infantry during the interstellar war between humanity and an arachnid race known as the Bugs. Told as a first person narrative, the novel explores Heinlein's views on war, suffrage, civic virtue, capital punishment and juvenile delinquency. The novel would go on to influence a wide variety of science fiction novels, films, and comics including Ender's Game, The Forever War, and Aliens. It would also be adapted into a trilogy of live action films, a CGI animated series, and comic books. However, the first true adaptation of Starship Troopers was an anime series produced by Bandai in 1988.

Review

Starship Troopers is an unusual production. The quintessential American novel is adapted to the anime form with a curious Japanese sensibility. While well intentioned, the production is often amateurish at best, with weak animation, poor acting, and uneven story telling.

The series opens near the end of Johnnie Rico's senior year in high school. The son of a millionaire industrialist, he will inherit his father's company. However, this is not his choice, he doesn't know exactly what he wants from his future, but he does know that he wants to choose his own path in life. He is jealous that his best friend Carl will be joining the army to use his computer skills and his romantic crush Carmen "Carmencita" Ibanez will be joining the interstellar navy as a pilot. After Carl hacks into the government computer network and discovers that Earth may already be at war with an alien civilization, Johnnie decides to follow Carl and Carmen into the military. Incidentally, this is the last we see or hear of Carl, after this the series completely forgets about him in spite of the fact that he is supposed to be Johnnie's best friend. In the novel, Carl joins the Army Research and Development Division and is killed when his base is destroyed by the Arachnids.

When Johnnie tells his parents about his decision, his mother is furious and rejects him outright. His father, while upset, is more sympathetic, telling Johnnie that he won't stand in the way of his son making his own decisions. However, he does warn Johnnie that the government has been ordering huge amounts of food from his company and that he should prepare for the worst. A few days after submitting his application, Johnnie finds himself at Camp Arthur Currie, boot camp for the Federation's frontline combat force, the Mobile Infantry.

Johnnie's training is overseen by Career Ship's Sergeant Charles Zim, a stern but fair authority figure, and the second father figure depicted in the story. As in the novel, Johnnie finds boot camp extremely harsh and he contemplates quitting more than once, however, he becomes one of the handful of recruits to successfully make it all the way through training and join the MI. Rico is often depicted in contrast to a recruit named Hendrick. While Johnnie may think about quitting, Hendrick is a constant thorn in Sergeant Zim's side, questioning every order and training exercise, bitching loudly to other recruits, and even getting into a physical confrontation with Zim. Rico, on the other hand, proves himself to be a heroic if reckless young man who disobeys orders during fire fighting exercise an in order to save a survivor of the fire. Rico is the target of a beating from Zim for his disobedience but stays in the service while Hendrick eventually quits.

Show More Meanwhile, while Johnnie is playing hero, Buenos Aires comes under surprise attack by the Arachnids and his mother is killed. The Arachnids, depicted as tripedal, tentacled creatures with a single glowing eye, have stowed away in the cargo hold of a luxury space cruiser and upon landing wreak heavy damage on the city with weird energy weapons of some kind. Fortunately the first wave of attackers is destroyed by the Mobile Infantry before they can get beyond Buenos Aires; however it forces the Army to accelerate the training of new recruits so they can be sent to the front as soon as possible.

Viewers familiar with Heinlein's original novel will immediately notice the first liberty taken is Rico's ethnicity. In the novel, Rico is a Filipino whose parents speak Tagalog at home. In the anime, like Paul Verhoeven's movie that would be released nearly a decade later, Johnnie is a Caucasian from Argentina. It's a minor point, but robs the story of one of the novels sub-themes. In the novel, Heinlein uses the ethnic background to reinforce his idea that liberty and democracy are most appreciated by those who've had to struggle for them. More importantly, the series eschews much of the political and martial philosophy of the novel in favor of developing the interpersonal relationships between the characters. Debates over Heinlein's ideas have raged in science fiction fandom for decades, whole essays have been written on them, but much of that material is presented in the novel in the form of classroom lectures by Rico's instructors in History and Moral Philosophy. Classroom lectures work in a novel but they aren't that dramatic. In the series much of the information presented in the classroom lectures is implied in the dialog rather than explicitly stated in exposition, the characters often express their desire to become members of the Federation, a goal that it can only be achieved through Federal Service. While fans of the novel may complain that the series is not faithful enough to the book, this change is actually for the better. The anime remembers that the story is about human characters instead of vessels for Heinlein's philosophical musings. When philosophy is expressed it is a strange hodgepodge of Heinlein's ideas, Japanese beliefs, and pop psychology.

Like the novel, the anime spends much of its time following Johnnie through basic training, getting much of its action and drama following the potential Mobile Infantrymen through relentless drills and combat simulations on Earth, the Moon, and Mars. In the novel, Heinlein used much of Johnnie's training to explore his own ideas on individual personal growth. Following a more Japanese approach, the anime depicts its heroes learning how to put aside their egos and personal failings to come together as a team. Heinlein also used the novel to express his preference for corporal punishment including floggings for minor offenses and execution for more serious crimes. One of the most famous scenes from this section of the novel deals with the character of Hendrick. In the novel, he is court martialed, whipped, and finally dishonorably discharged from the Army after striking Zim. In the anime, Hendrick punches Zim and it is never mentioned again. Hendrick does eventually leave but it is of his own free will. Another major difference is the absence of recruit Dillinger. Dillinger goes AWOL from basic training, kidnaps a baby girl, holds her for ransom and eventually kills her. When he is eventually caught, Dillinger is executed by the army because "the army takes care of its own".

Show More
One aspect of Heinlein's philosophy that the series does pick up on is the idea that societies can only grow and change when faced with conflict of some sort. Rico discusses this idea with a fellow soldier named Smith while on leave in the countryside. Smith states that the world, which hasn't seen a real conflict in years, also hasn't changed in years and that he isn't sure he wants to fight for such stagnant people. In a scene taken almost directly from the novel, Smith's misgivings about humanity eventually lead to Smith and Rico getting into a barroom brawl with some local toughs.

The first taste of combat for the new recruits actually comes during a combat simulation when the Arachnids manage a sneak attack on Mars. In one harrowing scene, Johnnie is surrounded by Arachnids, about to be blasted by aliens when he is rescued by Greg, a fellow trainee who has violated an order to evacuate the building. Greg is killed and Johnnie is pulled out of harm's way by active duty MI troopers called in by Zim whose has violated his own orders not to suspend the simulation. Not long after, training ends and Johnnie and the remaining trainees find themselves aboard the Rodger Young on the way to the front.

When our heroes finally find themselves in real combat, it is depicted largely as described in the novel. The armored troopers are loaded into giant shotgun shells and fired from their carrier and into the combat zone. Once on the ground, the troopers have a wide variety of weapons at their disposal from machine guns to nuclear hand grenades. Heroically wounded in the battle, Johnnie wakes up in the hospital where he is reunited with Carmencita and the series abruptly ends -- after one battle. A series about an intergalactic war has one battle. The series omits more than half of the novel such as Rico's transfer from Willy's Wildcats to Rasczak's Roughnecks, his decision to go to Officer Cadet School and become the Roughnecks' Lieutenant, and his reunion with his father when his father gives up his life us an industrialist for the military.

The entire series proceeds with a curious sense of detachment as if there is a barrier between it and the audience. One of the major obstacles to enjoying the series is its visual style. The series was created in the 1980s and it shows, the animation is barely competent. The characters are typical doe-eyed stereotypes and there is very little original thought put into their design. We know that Johnnie Rico is a charismatic hero because he is drawn like one. He is blonde, blue-eyed, and looks like Luke Skywalker. We know that Sergeant Zim is tough because he is drawn like a generic tough. We known the alien Arachnids are evil because they are draw as monstrous beings. The animation never draws the audience into the story. In fact it does the opposite, reminding us at every moment that it is just a TV show.

Another major problem with the show is the voice acting. The actors in the series are given an excellent script which they deliver so flatly that it sounds like a cold reading not a performance. Characters witness attacks by aliens, the death of loved ones, and the destruction of cities and the most they can muster is a hissy fit. We know the characters are afraid because they say they are afraid, not because they actually act afraid.

Conclusion

Johnny Rico As a novel Starship Troopers is a classic. Love it or hate it, you cannot ignore it. As an anime series it's not so great. The series guts much of the novel's philosophy in favor of character development, however, the characters, while well written, are so poorly performed that we hardly notice their development. The animation is flat, unimaginative, and only excels in its depiction of action and combat. Because the series spends four of its six episodes on scenes of training, the series, which is supposed to be about an interstellar war, depicts combat roughly twice.

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