Just like Full Metal Panic, this is another series that I tie to my lost brother. In a completely different way though, because not only did he make the Sword Breaker (protagonist ship) out of legos, he tried to get me absorbed into the series as well. Tried is the key, because when it aired on tv, I was never absorbed by it in anyway. Yes, this one appeared on tv. Back in the day, around 2001, there was a channel called the “International Channel” that used to air anime on the weekends. Lost Universe’s dub, along with the Spanish dub of DBZ’s Buu saga, were some of the many shows that appeared on that channel. I swear Patlabor was another one, but I am losing focus here. As the story goes with this series, despite all the feelings that I have been built into the series for years and how I felt about it in my younger years, I didn’t like Lost Universe then and I don’t like it now.
Some could say that this is Slayers in space, because of the series creator, but I don’t think that is accurate at all. Just watch out, because I don’t care about spoilers when it comes to this show.
Have you ever watched Star Wars? What about some other late 90’s anime by the name of Trigun, Cowboy Bebop, and Outlaw Star? I’m just saying that this show is yet another late 90’s space western anime with a broke protagonist crew of three that go through episodic hijinks. They expand the universe the story takes place in the first, but it turns into something closer to the Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi in the second half of Lost Universe’s run. Another series that has a jokey joke first half with a more serious second half.
So what separates Lost Universe from the rest of those series? The concept called the lost ship. These are ships are the most powerful ships in that universe and have unique abilities that normal, human manufactured ships don’t have. There is one good lost ship, the Sword Breaker, which is a white ship, and has a hologram personal who is a cute girl maid outfit. All the evil ones are black in color and want to destroy the universe. So, a barely unique twist on a classic story that has been done before again and again. I should have noticed that there was a problem in the beginning, but I had to give Lose Universe the benefit of the doubt. The show goes down routes that you would expect it to just by the description that I gave you, so I spent a lot of time waiting for each plot beat to happen, then disappointed by the execution.
Despite some early moments in the show that give some character to our characters, every single character in Lost Universe is either just a plain archetype, a cliché, a force of nature, or barely developed enough to have a personality at all. It’s incredibly frustrating for me, because I watch show through the characters most of the time. Even if an anime is story focused, the characters at least need to be developed enough to still carry the story on their backs. Maybe I am completely unreasonable, but that’s how I watch my mediums.
For example, let’s talk about our protagonist named Kane Blueriver. (Yeah, that’s a very stupid Star Wars like name.) He is literal anime Luke Skywalker/hero protagonist insert. The beginning of the anime series, we are given some moments where he is more then this. One time he mentioned Captain Harlock when he sliced opened a car in half with his sword during a chase scene. It gave him some more character because it meant he read manga which is a lot of fun. Also, he constantly obsesses over the cape he is wearing. Kane spends many scenes sewing and fixing it, so its something that makes him so distinctive the rest of the characters. He never gets anymore traits, because both of those are dropped in the second half. Why? Because he’s just single mindedly angsty over defeating the person who killed his grandma. He must get stronger and that’s all Lost Universe focuses on, so the series gets incredibly tedious at this point. So much potential is wasted in this series
Then there are the other team members and side characters that play a role in the Sword Breaker’s craziness as well. Canal is the ship’s A.I. and is actually given some development while watching over Kane, but all of her backstory is fully explored at the end of the show. Then there is the other character, Millie. She has a comedic entrance where she forces her place on the Sword Breaker and the other two have to reconcile with her demanding presence. You know what, that’s insanely funny to me because it shows how insane she is. Millie is a character that wants to be the best in the universe at everything and is an excellent shot, but all of her character traits fall away in the second half. At that point, Millie is cooking to help solve Kane’s angst pining over him when she was left in the Sword Breaker’s wake. Where is the character agency here? Why is everything like this?
The side characters are just as terrible. First, Rail is the funny cop that never provides help to the Sword Breaker at all, which is funny too. That is until he suddenly goes off to the dark side and pilots a Lost Ship completely out of nowhere. Where the hell did that come from? Rail’s side companion Nina is completely useless and can ruin technology by touching it, but when everything gets more dramatic, all she does is want to catch up to Rail. Nobody in this show is designed for this show to be dramatic and that is what is so insufferable about the second half. None of them are developed enough to have anything but one-dimensional angst that gets incredibly exhausting when it happens episode after episode after episode. Not even the space ship battles help. UGH.
The only interesting characters in this show are the villains. Every single one of them, besides the bland, blonde, bishounen Darth Vader, is interesting. Bishounen Darth Vader is just a force for evil. The attractive female antogonist is a literal boss in an undercover organization, but she has hunter personality in her and is clearly more skilled then Kane is when it comes to combat. She has an awesome laser wip. Now that I think about it, she is on the only female character that has her own agency. She is a subordinate, but never in a way that she feels controlled or relies on her leader and that is great. There is the older man subordinate that fails at destroying Kane and the Sword Breaker, and is terminated from the evil organization. I felt sorry for the guy, which is more emotion then I ever felt for angsty mcgee and the two other characters on the Sword Breaker.
Oh man, now I am about to bring up a comparison that I was trying to avoid until now. You know when this anime originally came out? 1998. Do you know what other famous space western anime came out in 1998? Cowboy Bebop. You wouldn’t know that if you watch one right after another. I realize that this isn’t a fair comparison at all, because Cowboy Bebop still looks amazing to this day due to Sunrise’s excellent production values at that time, but still….
Lost Universe is as minimal as it could get from all of these stand points. When our crew travels to different locations, each setting’s background is barely drawn. Yes, there is a feeling that each planet or space station feels different, but they don’t feel as real and as lived in as they could be. The character designs look like Slayer designs, which is fine and especially unique. All the ships are produced in mostly awful cg. There are fleets that are just copy and pasted in one way that are just there and don’t move at all. There are some solid fights centered around ships, but the quality is still incredibly questionable. Lost Universe has some amazing bits of animation here and there. I mean, there would some amazing action pieces. I won’t take those moments away from the show, but most scenes were repeated cuts of animation and still frames.
Some more unfair Cowboy Bebop comparisons
Before I rewatched this show, I already had a deep love for Cowboy Bebop. My love for it was amplified by watching Lost Universe. Why? Because while both shows had similar story and concepts during their runs, but Cowboy Bebop is far better in character execution and how the story is told compared to Lost Universe. Let’s talk about comedy episodes. None of Cowboy Bebop comedy episodes felt like a waste, because each of those felt like they were expanding on the characters personalities more than we’ve seen. Cowboy Andy comes to mind. Lost Universe just had funny gags that I liked a lot, like chicken cultist hijacking an airplane (in a space bound universe). That didn’t expand any of their characters in a unique way though. Kind of frustrating as a result.
Then there was the scope of each of the anime’s stories to character depth ratio that felt right for Cowboy Bebop and completely wrong for Lost Universe. Cowboy Bebop’s overarching story was a completely personal story for Spike, despite the fact that we have a vast universe that we could have the Cowboy Bebop travel around forever. You know what? It completely worked, because the episodic adventures were the things that built on his character and we knew him inside and out. On the other side, Lost Universe’s story is about saving the universe. It’s trying to do this epic story that everything is at stake, but we don’t care because the universe isn’t as shed out as it could be and the characters are all one note and terrible. So disappointing.
I honestly don’t know what else I can say here, because I feel like I spilled out through out this entire post. I mean, it is shows like this that display what the trends where like during different time periods of anime production. Mediocre shows like this one take up the current trends in an establish time period in order to get some attention. Ok, maybe I did have something else to say about this show. Because of this aspect, I can’t recommend this show at all. Maybe if you are a Slayer’s fan and want to know what else that creator can do. Otherwise, don’t bother with Lost Universe. Watch Cowboy Bebop instead. Cowboy Bebop at least has an ending. Lost Universe is still incomplete, which I can see why after it’s run. Sentimental Values are not helping this one. It’s legitimately terrible.
(On a side note, Is there a 90’s science fiction “comedy” anime that actually had a complete ending?)