Angel Links
Okay, let's start with the basics. Let's start with a story set in the same universe as Outlaw Star, already a proven success. But let's focus on new characters-- instead of freewheeling outlaws, let's focus on benevolent adventurers, dedicated to fighting space pirates. Right, got that? Okay, let's start adding the stereotypes. First, we'll make the captain a 16-year-old girl, and endow her with breasts the size of bowling balls, and dress her up like a go-go dancer. Oh, and also, she has a cute, fuzzy pal that we can market as a plushie if all goes well. We'll give her a crew, starting with a sullen, smoldering young male advisor. We'll add a cool strategist, who looks kinda like Aimee Mann back in her 'Til Tuesday days. Finally, we have to have an alien-- we'll make it a grumpy, war-centric dragon guy. We can't call him "Worf", so we'll call him something similarly guttural and monosyllabic. Presto-- instant formulaic sci-fi anime!
That's what we're given in Angel Links, the recent quasi-sequel to the well-liked (and deservedly so) Outlaw Star. The crew is led by the startlingly perky Meifon Li. She formed Angel Links as an independent security consultancy at the behest of her dead grandfather. The catch is, gramps wanted her to make Angel Links' services free, as a boon to small businesses who have trouble operating in the pirate-infested Oracion star system. This is interesting-- on one hand, she's hailed as a hero wherever she goes, and is always swamped with clients-- on the other hand, a competitor of hers chides her for creating a false economy, pointing out that services like security shouldn't really be given out for free.

Meifon perserveres despite this, thanks partly to her ship, the incredibly powerful Angel, and thanks to her crew-- the smoldering hunk o' meat is Hida, who tends to hover protectively over Meifon, while Valeria is the ice-cold think-tank and Duuz is the prideful, glibly violent Dragonite, an enormous lizard-man. Meifon also has an advantage that hides in her ample cleavage-- it's Taffei, a tiny winged feline creature that transforms into Meifon's sword. Weird. Of course, no series is complete without villains, and Angel Links has a few-- the thing is, they're largely disposeable characters, grunting, ill-mannerered thugs who always end up getting blown to smithereens. Some of them have an amusing schtick (my favorite pirates were a team of two brothers, who feud constantly, their allegiances as divisive as their taste in food-- because each is constantly chowing down), but they're largely uninteresting.

The only real bright spots, in terms of supporting characters, are Leon Lau, a local rich boy philanthropist who seems to have caught Meifon's eye (having the two kissing in the opening credits is a hell of a hint) and Gordon Hoi, a disgruntled competitor of Angel Links'-- he definitely has the most potential to be interesting, or at least hilarious-- his stocky stature, scowl, and perpetual need to be stroking some sort of small animal (potbellied pig, cat, etc.) is amusingly reminiscent of Donald Pleasance in Dr. No. But outside of this, there's not much of a continuing plot yet-- Meifon has occasional flashbacks to her troubled childhood, and Hida finds an odd clue about her background in a cemetary, but for the most part it's just all about beating up space pirates, whether they're taking hostages, stealing cargo, or trying to abduct Lief-Living Ether Fliers (or, as I call them, "space whales"). Yep, that's right, space whales.

So what does this all have to do with Outlaw Star? Not a whole lot. We get to see exactly what the connection is on the DVD-- footage from Outlaw Star, depicting the first appearance of the Angel Links organization, is included. Basically, Gene and company hail out of Blue Heaven, and raise most of their hell in the Heifong system. Angel Links are simply in another part of the galaxy. It's amusing to see Gene stand toe-to-toe with Duuz, however. Valeria also appears in this sequence, but no sign of Meifon. Amusingly, it looks like there's also a continuity glitch-- Jim refers to Duuz as a saurian, saying that he's a product of gene (no pun intended) splicing. In Angel Links, Duuz is a Dragonite, a member of a proud, ancient warrior race. Hmmm, very inconsistent. Oh! Also, keep your eyes peeled for a quick walk-by by Fred Luo in episode 1 of Angel Links. That's about the extent of the connection, aside from common technology like dragonstones and grappler ships.

The dub... well, it's Ocean. I tried to like it, really I did, but the dialogue came out flat from most of the characters, and I turned it off after 5 minutes. The sub was a little more bearable, with Ryoka Yuzuki turning in a reliably cute Meifon and Kenji Utsumi playing a nicely-gruff Duuz. The animation quality in Angel Links was really all over the place-- some sequences were jaw-droppingly gorgeous, while others were spare and a little clumsy. One thing that bothered me was the fact that Meifon's character design seemed to change subtly from episode to episode-- the mark of an animation director not doing their job very well. Character design, by Asako Nishida, is pretty nice-- most of the cast look interesting, and despite her titanic baggage up front, Meifon's got a pretty face-- just look at the cover. I really enjoyed the mecha design, by Kazutaka Miyatake-- he really goes to town with the whole "grappler ship" concept, going as far as equipping small, sleek, one-man fighters with large grappler arms. The OP and ED songs are typical j-pop fare-- nothing new. The DVD looks very good-- no noticeable errors, a nice transfer by our pals at POP/Cinram, and a couple of decent extras in the Outlaw Star footage and a creditless opening.

But despite the Outlaw Star connection, Angel Links mostly just came off as trite and only occasionally entertaining. Why is this? Well, I think it's just a matter of how stereotypes were handled-- Outlaw Star was almost instantly likeable, because reliable steretypes were recycled, but promptly skewed-- Gene Starwind comes off initially as a brash tough guy, but it's soon apparent that he's mostly just a drunken, bumbling womanizer-- only his 11-year-old annoying-brat sidekick is smart enough to keep him off the streets. Angel Links isn't nearly as daring as this-- all of the stereotypes are nice and safe and familiar, and they don't shift at all.

I guess what I'm saying is, Angel Links just lacks excitement. There are space battles, and competently-written stories, but it just doesn't quite come together convincingly. I'm interested enough in Angel Links to keep watching, but I can only really recommend it if you're having a slow month and can't find anything more immediately interesting to watch. Finally, I find myself looking at fare like Angel Links and Nanako, and I have to wonder where this prediliction for 16-year-old girls with tits the size of howitzer shells is coming from. Fan service is a time-honored tradition, but this is ridiculous!

Grade: C+