12 March 2018

The Masterworks: the Best of Military Science Fiction (TV)- SPACE: ABOVE and BEYOND (1995-1996)

During the 1990's, science fiction was increasingly popular on the American small screen and each major network (there were four at the time) was developing science fiction shows to feed the trend throughout the 1990's. The titan of sci-fi TV was Star Trek, but rapidly, FOX was catching up with the X-Files, Sliders, and Millennium. Then in 1995, FOX would green-light the military sci-fi plot from X-Files alumnus James Wong and Glen Morgan. That show, Space: Above and Beyond (SAAB) would only last one season out of a planned three to five seasons, but its impact would endure for years onward. We can see the DNA of SAAB, in HALO, BSG, and even my own writings. For this and many reasons that I will explore and explain why FWS has awarded the title of Best Military Science Fiction Television show to Space: Above and Beyond.

What is “Space: Above and Beyond”?
You *could* be forgiven if you had never heard of Space: Above and Beyond (AKA “Space: 2063") given its limited run back on FOX stations back 1995-1996 and reruns on SyFy Channel. Created by two X-Files veterans, James Wong and Glen Morgan, the show was envisioned as a throwback to World War II combat dramas, classic Military SF books like The Forever War, and classic WWII books that had the 21st-century space-based conflict rooted in the grim realities of war. At the time, it was one of the most expensive shows on network TV, with episodes costing between $1.5 and $2.4 million. The one-season show took place in 2063-2064 detailing the actions and lives of the 58th space aviator squadron, the “Wild Cards”, of the US Marine Corps during the Chig War.
The primary base-of-operations of the 58th was the US Navy space carrier, the Saratoga and they were under the command of Colonel T.C. McQueen. The show embraced an “X-Files” air framed with current USMC culture that did not avoid the tough topics associated with war, coupled with then cutting-edge CGI SFX. Over the course of the 24 episodes, we saw the 58th fight on ground across many exo-planets with various atmospheres and in the cockpits of the SA-43 Hammerhead endo/exo attack jets, along with piloting the ISSAPC tactical transports. As the war deepened and alter, so did the core characters with lasting impact for what happened to them. While some attempts were made to save the show, it was too little, too late causing SAAB not to be renewed for the second season and many of us to wonder about the cliffhanger. In 2005, a barebones DVD boxset was released with an expanded international DVD set being released in 2012 for Region 2 with a documentary.

Making the case for Space

The Characters
There are the core six characters of SAAB that all of the action revolves around and while the showrunners original envisioned Lt. Nathan West’s quest to find his girlfriend that was taken by the Chigs, abut ll of the cast grew to make SAAB richer and much more compelling. All of them are written as real people with strengths, weaknesses, vices, and virtues that all add to the richness of the show. I grew to love the 58th and when the show ended and some died, I took it personally. While many of the other runners-up to the title of best MSF show have compelling and beloved characters, they are more sci-fi cardboard when compared to SAAB or BSG…maybe it’s because our flaws make our fictional characters more true and relatable than others that are too perfect and polished.
Many, even at the time, pointed out that casting and writing brought out the best in the material and the world of 2063/2064. It was also a show that allowed their characters to be three dimensional that can be seen in Col. McQueen and Cpt. Shane Vansen. McQueen is a true warrior was created to fight for natural-born in the AI Rebellion, and he struggled with the loss of family and bitter racism before being reborn into an elite space marine pilot of the 126th. Just when you think you know McQueen, you discover another side. That was the case with Vansen, who appears to be a more typical wounded tough chick trope character...but then you discover her love of pool and just everything packed into the episode "Never No More".

Realistic War in Space
Just taking a sample of SAAB episodes allows you to see the hard reality that the 58th and the rest of the cast live under. during the war The war in space is brutal with Earth losing for the first six months against a truly alien enemy. However, it is not all bullets and funerals, there are poker games with colorful drinks that are designed to distance yourself from the next mission briefing. Above it all, you have your buddies that watch your six as you watch theirs. I was impressed by the other touches of projecting the realities of war in outer space that drawn from common issues expressed by soldiers since the Roman Legions: bad food, the quest for good toilet paper, trying to keep up with Football and events back home, good luck charms, and Christmas far away. This made the show just that more human and real in a way that most other MSF shows save for maybe BSG, could not replicate. This came from the frame-of-reference that Glen Morgan and James Wong were using to create the mood of the war in 2063/2064 via the actual historical account of war and noted military science fiction literature. It also helps that the creators used the war in the Pacific as a template for the Chig War.

The Mystery of the Chigs and AeroTech
A mystery is an important component in any fiction setting, especially in sci-fi. I can still remember the mystery of Borg, the shadowy motivations of the conspiracy in the X-Files, the Fremen, what the ship at the bottom of the ocean was in Sphere. Given the X-Files DNA in Space: Above and Beyond along with being on the same network, there were several mysteries built into the central story and even some characters. The two largest were the megacorporation of AeroTech’s motivations for starting a war between the Chigs and the Earth along with just who the hell the Chigs were. These were nice additions to the standard science fiction model and it made SAAB just that richer when the payoff came, which was pretty good. It was also cool when Millennium used AeroTech as well and connected them to Operation: ODESSA.

Real Honest Emotions and Actions
While I am a reformed Trekkie, I would be lying to you if I thought that the majority of Star Trek characters were remotely realistic or even honest in their emotions/humanity most of the time. When those more real moments came in Trek, they are often compelling, especially when it is Captain Picard (seriously how great of an actor is Patrick Steward?). SAAB was packed with humans being humans, and it made the emotional impact just that much more real than most other sci-fi stories. While there were spaceships, FLT, and alien worlds, when Shane brutally stabs a AI soldiers with her combat knife over and over for the truth of why her parents were murdered, that is the real meat of the series. Most of us would do the same thing and that reflects the honest motivations and actions of the characters. As Colonel McQueen asks: “Who Am I”? And that is the most human of all questions, especially a soldier during wartime.

A Breed Apart from Trek and Wars
At the time of SAAB’s television run, Star Trek dominated the airwaves and other networks were building shows to capitalize on the sci-fi trend and even news was leaking about a big screen adaptation of Starship Troopers. For most sci-fi fans, they framed SAAB under the Trek and Wars perspective and SAAB was not them nor was it designed to be so. The studio wanted a cross between the X-Files and Top Gun, and Morgan and Wong packaged SAAB to appeal to parts of this request. The show was nothing like any sci-fi on at the time, even X-Files, and it made the THREE Trek shows seem totally lacking and stiff and to me, SAAB was just a breed apart and compelling as hell when the gritty portrayal of a future war that is fought in the alien mud.

The 2063/2064 World of SAAB
World building is one of the key most elements in science fiction and while SAAB had a rough time establishing some elements of their world, like FTL, the reason for the In-Vitros, and the lack of international military units; it was good once it gelled together. The use of classic Country & Western music, modern clothing, set design, classic literature, and pulling stories from military history was a masterstroke. The way all of these elements fit together to form a flavorful world of 2063/2064, even in the armored hull of the Space Carrier Saratoga, is just so organic and good that it impresses me each time to the point that I used it has an example for my own military sci-fi writing.

The Impact of SAAB
There was nothing like SAAB before it came onto the airwaves in 1995 and it became a primary inspiration for other science fiction works like HALO: Combat Evolved and the 2003 Reimaged Battlestar Galactica along with a number of creators in the genre. Often impact is due to the mastery of a work to inspirit others, and SAAB has been an influence to creators in vast ways along with being an example of how good military science fiction can be.

It's About the Soldiers, not the Captain, the Tech, or the Ship
Quite often the primary cast of characters in a science fiction show are the senior staff of the starship or space station with some characters from the local hangouts of the main characters thrown in. This followed up by the ship or space station has a primary character as well along with some sort of technical issue or some android searching for its inner humanity being a foundational element. These factors can muddy the waters of showing a future war in deep space and SAAB thankfully did not make this mistake. SAAB is not about the Saratoga space nuclear carrier, the space attack jets, or the senior staff of the 'Toga, but the Marines of the 58th squadron, who were just one of a dozen squadrons onboard the American warship. While the commander of the vessel was featured along with some important senior-level civilian and military personnel they were not the heart of the show, that belonged to the 58th was along with Colonel McQueen. Military organizations are vast entities with millions of people involved and all of them have stories to tell of their time in service and heroic deeds they did during times of war and peace. We only see hints of these service personnel in a few episodes of Trek like "Lower Decks".

The Runnings-Up

The 2003 Battlestar Galactica Series
There are many that would challenge SAAB’s award and importance with the 2003 masterful reboot of the 1978 TV series Battlestar Galactica, and I have to say that I nearly awarded Ronald D. Moore’s BSG with the title. Give the impact, production value, acting, scope, and compelling narrative; it was a hard choice. However, while the show is firmly centered on the Colonial military in all aspects and the Galactica, in some ways, the war between the 12 Colonies and the Cylons was over the moment the show began.
There are some rich space combat sequences that are some of the finest in military sci-fi, the show itself is about redemption, what it means to be human, the duality of being human, loyalty, and the forces at work behind the scenes in the universe. The show is brutal in tone and nearly unforgiving until the end. Unlike many, I actually really like the ending and respect the choice made by the survivors and the writers. When compared to SAAB, which was an influence on BSG, the show’s metaphysical aspects overrun the survivor’s tale and the quest for Earth and the internal drama of the characters spill over time and time again. It is so damn close to being the very best live-action military sci-fi show that it is nearly a shadow to SAAB.     

Deep Space 9
That are those that claim that DS9 is the best Trek show, and they could be right, but others have claimed it is the best Military SF show…and they are wrong. While DS9 broke all kinds of new ground when came to Trek, it was lacking in its ability to showcase a military sci-fi storyline. While DS9 dealt with a brief Klingon War and the bloody Dominion War, Trek seemed unable to bring a reality to the war and the involvement of the Wormhole aliens was just too much along with Sisko’s breakdown. I grew tired of the storyline and the drama has been sucked out. While it was a brave attempt, it failed to live up to the promise. I decided to compare several episodes of DS9 and several of SAAB…and there was no real comparison. The cardboard characters of DS9, the shallow emotion impact of the combat, and the “reality” of life during wartime all pale in comparison to SAAB. I never felt it, never believe it, and while some scenes were cool, especially for Trek, it could not equal what SAAB was laying down and it seems hollow. To me, Enterprise did a much better job of a “Trek War” scenario than DS9 with the Xindi story arch.

Babylon 5
If there was a second runner-up to BSG, it would be B5. During my high school days and early college, I watched B5 from season 2 onwards and I loved it. While the other space station 90s sci-fi show, DS9 had superior special effects, bigger budget, and the name Trek behind it, B5 just outdid them when it came to showing war in space and having more charm and heart. There were many episodes that were solid sci-fi TV with true emotions and compelling events. When the show switches from the Shadow War and moves to the B5 crew attempting to liberate the Earth Alliance from Clark, there were some damn fine moments that have stayed with me. The TNT funded TV movie “In the Beginning” is the best military science fiction TV-movie by far and it is damn good television whatever the budget. However, they are not all stellar episodes, and when B5 wasn’t good, it was damn cheesy with plenty of unpolished elements. When comparing it to SAAB, it just cannot overcome that show and it is why it is a runner-up. 

Stargate SG-1 and Atlantis
The longest-running and most successful military science fiction TV show of all time is undoubtedly Stargate SG-1 and it has been told me over and over again that it is the best MSF television show. I’ll be honest here, I’ve never seen much of SG-1 until the invasion of the Ori and I have never been a big fan of the original 1994 film. While I respect SG-1 and have liked some of the episodes I’ve seen, it is not serious enough in tone for the title of best live-action military sci-fi television show. One of the elements I respect the most is how they took the best pieces of the film and used them to establish a new universe of SG-1 that was much better than the original film, which is very rare in TV shows based on films.
One of the measures of that success was that SG-1 forged a loyal fan (Gaters) base that was every bit as dedicated as Trekkies and that cannot be dismissed. I’m a little odd in that I watched much more of Atlantis than SG-1, and I’m a bigger fan of the Atlantis than SG-1 due to the setting, the core characters, and stories...maybe not the Wraith space vampires though. Much like my take on why SG-1 does not rank above BSG or SAAB, Atlantis is just too similar to SG-1 for Atlantis to achieve breakaway velocity for its parent work to be more than a runner-up in itself.

 If SAAB Was So Great Then Why was it Cancelled?!
Every runner-up TV show that was under consideration for the Award of "Best of Military SF television show" had one major advantage over SAAB: they ran for more than one season and that begs the question: if SAAB was so great, than why was it canceled? Time and money is the simplestlist answer to that question. FOX was hoping to replicate the mega-success of the X-Files and take advantage of the popularity of sci-fi TV with a series of shows and FOX is not patience especially with shows costing them a ton of money show. FOX had wrapped a great of these collective hopes and goals into SAAB. The television and sci-fi press did a number of articles on the show and there was positive feedback from the critics, the fans, and some good ratings…but it was not to the level that FOX needed to justify the cost. To their credit, FOX pour a great deal of money in SAAB and the show looked great, but FOX crippled the show by fitting it into the post-Football Sunday night time slot.
This TV night is known by many as the “graveyard” of timeslots and the bleed over from longer-running games caused the targeted audience to go elsewhere for their sci-fi entertainment. I was forced to tape SAAB on my VHS due to often working at MacDonald’s on Sunday nights due to my college schedule and often football would run over into my precious show and I would miss about a quarter of SAAB and FOX did not re-air the episodes to make up for the cut-ins. Seriously, I did not see the show complete until I bought the DVD set in 2005!
Adding to this was that some TV markets did not even air the episode or moved it around, losing even more fans because they simply could not find it. Given that this was the mid-90s, the internet could not overcome the jumping around of SAAB, causing the audience to not find their show, despite the positive reaction to sci-fi fans online. So, FOX gives a bad timeslot for much of the run of SAAB for the show die in and then couple the low rating with the massive expense of the show ($1.5-$2.4 million). FOX was displeased with their Space-Top-Gun- meets-the X-Files show not performing to the same level and it looked like the hangman’s noose for SAAB by March of 1996. Still, it wasn’t clear to the production that they would not be renewed, causing the cliffhanger never to be resolved at the time of filming.
For the last five episodes of SAAB, FOX switched the show from its 7pm timeslot to Fridays as a lead-in to the X-Files to evaluated if the show should be renewed or not. However, only two episodes were aired at the new timeslot and the last two episodes of the entire series were oddly switched, without notice or promotion, to Saturday evenings. It seems that FOX made the go-no-go call within those two episodes. There were rumors that the Sci-Fi Channel was eyeballing SAAB for themselves, but nothing came of it, and the show disappeared into the mists of time. There have been other rumors that Ronald D. Moore originally pitched to the SyFy Channel a rebooted of Space: Above and Beyond along with his vision of rebooted BSG and BSG got the call for a pilot.

This show came at a critical time in my life. 1995-1996 were turbulent years and I can say that SAAB got me through some of those trying times. During my last year in high school, I was enrolled part-time in college at the same time, taking Jeet Kune Do, working at MacDonald’s, and watching my father’s business implode along with parents’ relationship. Science fiction and my friends got me through these events, and I credit the realistic nature of SAAB of helping. At the time of SAAB’s run, I also became involved with a co-worker going into the Army, and she was just as brassy and ballsy as Vansen.
Being aware of the show since the teaser trailers on FOX during the X-Files, I could not wait to see the fulfillment of what “Space: Above and Beyond” was. Within the first two episodes, I was hooked and I became my favorite show of that time. I would re-watch the episodes over and over, rapidly becoming a major influence on my life and writing. I fully understand that this influence has colored my view of the show and its impact, but I cannot choose anything else than SAAB for the best live-action military science fiction TV show. I still watch the series from time-to-time on the basic DVD boxset and each time, I am drawn back into the world of the Chig War and the 58th. Always faithful, my friends.

Next Time on FWS...
From much of early years of life, I wanted nothing more badly than to be an astronaut. I would have done nearly anything to be on a shuttle mission and it was a hard day when I realized in 4th grade that my math skills would never allow me to journey into space...never fully recovered from that childhood trauma. Being a social studies teacher and a lover of space, I very much enjoy the history of space flight and exploration including some conspiracy theories associated. So, next time we will be exploring 20 military space oddities and mysteries that are drawn from real history and conspiracy theories.


-FWS Own Forgotten Classics Blogpost:

-Beyond the Bitter End:

-Space: 2063 Ready Room

04 March 2018

FWS News Feed: Futurism Sci-Fi Story Contest (3/26/18)

While things are getting sorted out after a very bad week around here, I thought I would share something that applies to a great number of us: writing contests. FWS normally refuses a great number of "opportunities" by companies to use the platform of FWS for selling something in exchange for money. I want FWS to a platform you trust and not feel that I am a predator and this is all about monetary gain...because gods know that much of human society and life is about be used or using each other for making money. A few days, a website I read, Futurism, reach out to be me to promote their sci-fi story contest for the Kuri home robot product. Writing contest is a great way to flex your creative muscle and dip into the pool of creative writing and this could be a good start. As I said, I refuse nearly all of these, but I felt this one was worth your time and FWS space due to my deep love for robot stories...Asimov, you know.  Let me know what you think and if you are mad about this being on FWS...let me know that too.

Here is the fine print on the contest:

Futurism.Media, a leading science fiction site, has teamed up with Mayfield Robotics to create the #KuriStory science fiction contest.

Science fiction writers unite! Let’s come together and give Kuri an origin story. Is Kuri from another planet? Was she adopted by a little girl who wanted a best friend? Was Kuri created by a thought leading roboticist? All great superheroes and unforgettable characters have an origin - let’s find out what Kuri’s is.

Kuri is a helpful home robot with an endearing personality. Kuri’s mobility, awareness, and personality lend itself to be the next big innovation in home robotics. With emotive eyes and a friendly disposition, Kuri is an adorable home robot that lets you capture special moments, check in on your home while you’re away, play music, podcasts, and audiobooks, and so much more!

Hashtag your submission with #KuriStory and #HeyKuri to be considered in the contest, and submit before March 26, 2018.

All qualifying submissions will be featured in the Kuri’s Story collection on Futurism.media. One grand prize winner will be featured on Kuri’s Blog and win a $100 Amazon Gift Card and a Premium Kuri Swag Bag. Two runner-ups will receive a $25 Amazon Gift Card and Kuri Swag Bag.

How To Enter
Create or sign in to your free account at https://vocal.media/signup
Create and submit your story to the community “Futurism”, including the hashtag #KuriStory in the beginning or the end of your story
Connect your Vocal account to Stripe (Step by Step process here)
Share your post on social tagging #KuriStory and #HeyKuri
After you have successfully submitted your #KuriStory, it will be sent to the Vocal moderators. If your story needs any updates or does not meet quality standards or the submission guidelines, the story will be sent back to you for edits.

If your story is approved, your submission will appear in the Kuri’s Story collection.

For more information, and to see if you are eligible to enter the contest, please read the Official Rules here.

24 February 2018

Future War Stories from the East: Starship Troopers 1988 Anime OVA (Uchu no Senshi)

There are few military science fiction works that equal the impact and popularity of Robert Heinlein’s  1959 novel Starship Troopers. It is one of the founding works of the entire genre of military sci-fi, pioneer of armored power suits, and one of the works that spread the insect-type alien enemies. While the original book was adapted into a tabletop war game by Avalon Hill in 1976, it was the 1997 Paul Verhoeven film adaptation that propelled the world of SST into a whole new level of popularity and influence. In some ways, the entire genre of military science fiction is dominated by this single book…but it does not mean that every adaptation of SST has met with global acclaim and widespread influence. One of the relatively unknown works based on the 1959 novel is the Bandai Visual/Sunrise 1988 six-part OVA called: Uchu no Senshi (宇宙の戦士). In this latest installment of Future War Stories from the East, FWS will be FINALLY examining this mysterious SST work in all of its 1980s anime glory.

What is Uchu no Senshi?
In 1988, Sunrise and Bandai Visual would release Uchu no Senshi (or “Cosmic Warrior” in English) in a three part Laserdisc release-only format that was based on Starship Troopers the book more closely than other work to the then date. Two episodes of the OVA were released per disc and it was never made available in the West nor was aired on Japanese TV. Uchu no Senshi included some big names in 1980’s anime. The iconic power suit design was done by Kazutaka Miyatake while the OVA was directed by Tetsurō Amino with the iconic anime studio Sunrise behind the entire production that released the original Gundam! Added to this was Bandai Visual being the publisher of the SST anime. All of this adds up to Uchu no Senshi having some of the best in the mecha anime business…which makes the history of the 1988 SST anime even more bittersweet and odd.

The Plot and Setting of Uchu no Senshi
The overall plot of the six part OVA is a coming-of-age story centered on Johnny Rico and his quest for identity and destiny via service in the Mobile Infantry. It is during this two year time span of Johnny going from high school to an APS wearing MI trooper, the Earth Federation goes to war with an previously unknown alien species. Throughout his training and service, we meet a number of other characters that influence Johnny’s life and POV on his military service (his MI training eats up episodes 2-5).  It is the invasion of the aliens’ base-of-operation (or homeworld) on Klendathu that is the sum total of Rico’s experience and story. While the world of Starship Troopers is clearly spelled out in the 1959 novel and the 1997 film, there is little to go on here in the OVA, including the year and the extent of the Earth Federation’s reach or if “service guarantees citizenship”. Unlike the original novel or the 1997 film, the aliens of the OVA are not previously known and there is no history with the aliens prior to the events of the OVA. At the end of the OVA, we still do not know the fate of the aliens or if the war is continuing.

The Six Episodes of Uchu no Senshi

1."Johnnie" (released 10/25/1988)
The 1988 OVA opens with powered armor equipped soldiers assaulting across an alien high rocky desert terrain with a UGV mounted with a camera to record the battle between the MI and the aliens. Several MI die as the assault continues under heavy enemy fire as the MI answer with bullets and grenades. Then the battle ends and we are teleported to a high school football game where we meet Johnnie Rico. This episode provides the motivation and backstory for Rico signing up for Earth Federation military service. Much like the novel and film, Rico comes from money and he is being groomed to take over the family business, Rico Foods, in the same way his father was.
While this may be a sweet deal of having a good life and path already provided, Rico is walking through his own life and feels that he has no ownership over his own destiny. After the football game, Rico and his best friend Carl attend a party, where Rico is going to confess his feelings for cheerleader Carmencita. It is during a post-party nighttime trip to the beach that Johnny and Carmencita talk and he makes his mind up, he is enlisting in the military, just like his best friend Carl. As we already know, Carmencita is accepted to go into the elite naval academy, while Rico is selected for the glorious Mobile Infantry. This sends shockwaves through Johnnie’s family. His mother reacts strongly, crying and slapping Johnnie. After a moonlight drive with his father, Johnnie learns that Rico Foods has been shipping a great deal of long-life rations to the military that his father believes is a prelude to a war. By the time Johnnie leaves for basic training, he was still unable to patch things up with his mother.

2."Hendrick" (released 10/25/1988)
It is here that we see the basic training of Mobile Infantry recruits with all of the standard tropes of basic training: harsh marching, loose talk in the barracks, Drill Sergeants flexing their Kung-Fu skills against the new meat, force-on-force training, and learning to throw a knife…! Much like the film and the book, the OVA does include the infamous knife throwing training and Sgt. Zim taking on the new recruits in hand-to-hand combat. It is here that Johnnie meets fellow recruit Hendrick, who seems unhappy with the ways of basic. Towards the end of the episode, we see training with the powered armor and several of the recruits being tasked with combating a wildfire with fire suppression equipment.
It is here that Hendrick learns that he is not fit for combat and is drummed out of the MI. It is here also that Johnnie disobeys direct recall orders to rescue a firefighting trapped in a blazing building. While he did save a life, Sgt. Zim is displeased that he disobeyed a direct order. Back a base, Zim beats the shit out of Johnnie and then forces him to run. While Rico knew he made the right call, morally, he begins to understand the importance of following orders. While Rico is training, his mother is at the New Buenos Aires spaceport to meet her friend Maria as the luxury space cruiser, the Queen Alexandra, arrives. Once it lands, the terrible truth is revealed, the aliens have taken over the Queen Alexandra and the massive creature releases HE DE bolts and spores. Armored MI troopers show up and a major battle ensues, level ling portions of New Buenos Aires and killing Johnnie’s mother.

3."Maria" (released 11/25/1988)
Mail has always been an important part of a soldier’s life and the MI is no different. There several mail calls in the OVA, and this causes Johnnie to finally compose a letter to his high school crush, Carmencita, while another letter arrives: news of his mother’s death in the spaceport attack that cost one million lives. It is during a briefing detailing the attack on Earth that the announcement is made that training will be accelerated in preparation for a massive strike back on the aliens. They are to report to the lunar Federation base for planetary assault training. It is around this time that Johnnie runs into Carmencita and during their difficult talk; one of Johnnie’s teammates asks if he got a nude picture of his crush. In response, Carmencita slaps Rico and the guys punish the teammate. While the training is intense, Rico is not himself and it costs the team during lunar force-on-force training with a building with automated defensive systems. As punishment, the unit is put on toilet duty and the Johnnie is beaten up.  The unit makes up via a loose bottle of booze.

4."Greg" (released 11/25/1988)
One of the final training simulations for the MI troopers is a massive force-on-force war game engagement on Mars against other MI troopers playing the OPFOR. Johnnie is promoted to squad leader and worries about his performance in the upcoming training. One of Rico’s squadmates, Greg, attempts to reassure Johnnie and vows to support him in the field. During this, alien spores attach themselves to a Martian sentry vehicle and attack the Martian Occupation base. At the same time that the base personnel are being slaughtered, the wargame unfolds with the armored troopers slinging paintballs at one another. When Johnnie’s squad hits to the Mars Occupation base to reload, they discover bodies everywhere and are ordered to investigate. Once it is confirmed that the aliens are here, they request for Sgt. Zim to send armored MI troopers to deal with the aliens. Before they can follow orders and pull out, the ETs jump Rico and Greg. Rico orders Greg to get out and obey the recall order. He disobeys and attempts to rescue his comrade, but is cut in half and Rico was next until armed MI suits show up and deal with the pink angry aliens with a hail of lead. After the rescue, Zim lectures the squad about following orders and that Greg will not be buried with military honors due to disobeying direct orders. He orders them to collect Greg’s gear and it is there that they learn that Greg had a girlfriend. 

5."Cherenkov" (released 12/17/1988)
It has been six months since the events on Mars and it is graduation day for the 20% of the class that made through it the training and Rico is finally a Mobile Infantry trooper with a blessing from Zim. With the unit getting a liberty before being assigned to their new unit, Rico and Smith go to meet Greg’s girlfriend and explain about what a hero Greg was. To their surprise, she is getting married and it leaves the two men depressed. They stop at a local bar after their car breaks to down some cans of Budweiser (yes, they are actually cans of Bud), then some extras from the first Mad Max 1979 film show up and there is a rumble. As the balloon is about to go up, the new members of Willey’s Wildcats are transferred to an orbital space station to meet their new squad and board their new vessels, the Roger Young. It is here that Carmencita and Johnnie reunion again, and she gives a letter and a swimsuit photo. While Johnnie read the note saying that she will be posted to the training vessel Saratoga, the rest of his squad engage in a station-side barroom brawl with naval personnel. It is also here on the space station that we meet Cherenkov, the machine gunner for their squad and big son of a bitch. However, he is sucker punched during the dust up with the naval guys. As the episode ends, Willey’s Wildcats are boarding the Roger Young as news comes down that the Saratoga was destroyed, Johnnie drops the photo of Carmencita.

6."Carmencita" (released 12/17/1988)
After an FTL jump, the Roger Young assumes launch position in the upper atmosphere of the ETs base-of-operations or their homeworld: Klendathu. The unit loads up into drop pods and hundreds of encased MI troopers stage a massive airborne assault on the jungle world of Klenathu. The enemy launches a thick blanket of AAA fire and MI troopers die in their coffins. Rico’s squad hits the dirt and launches an attack on any enemy units. All manner of ET forms attack from the ground, from the trees, and from the air; taking their toll on the MI troopers minds and will. Several soldiers break down and allow themselves to be killed or others wounded, including Rico. Lt. Dan, sorry, Sgt. Dan leads an assault on a massive alien bio-mass cluster that seems to be “a base” or “brain”, but Sgt. Dan becomes trapped. The rest of the squad pour on the fire and rescue Sgt. Dan and watch the alien bio-mass burn. In the last scene of the OVA, Rico is an lunar military hospital and he is summoned to an observation deck. It is there that Rico sees a wounded Carmencita and Rico is about to confess his love for her as the credits roll. Thus, ending the 1988 SST OVA and so is the mystery surrounding this SST adaptation.

The Powered Armor of Uchu no Senshi
One of the most familiar concepts of the 1959 novel is the use of three variants of combat rated CLASS-II powered armor by the Mobile Infantry allowing for a single trooper to have great power, mobility, and control over the battlespace. While this is a bedrock concept in the novel and spread throughout science fiction, it was sadly omitted from the 1997 film and was only included on the 3rd 2009 film and the following animated films. However, it was included in the 1976 Avalon Hill board game, the 1988 OVA, and the CGI TV series. The design of the powered armor in Uchu no Senshi was done by legendary mechanical designer Kazutaka Miyatake who worked on Macross, Space Cruiser Yamato, Gundam SEED, Gunbuster, and even Dirty Pair. Seriously, this man is a god of mechanical design! For many fans of SST, his design,  known as the “Studio Nue design powered armor” was to be considered the realization of Heinlein’s description and one of the best elements of Uchu no Senshi. This was not the first appearance of this powered armor in Japanese sci-fi culture. In the 8mm animated film opening to the Japanese Daicon III and IV 1981 science fiction conventions, we see the same powered armor design.
The likely first appearance of this ionic powered armor design is seen the 1977 or 1975 Hayakawa Publishing Japanese language edition cover art of the Starship Troopers novel by noted illustrator Naoyuki Kato. It should be said that while the two designs by Kato and Studio Nue are very similar, Kato’s armor design was not used for the 1988 OVA. In the OVA, there several variants of the powered suit (AKA enhanced combat suit) seen, including a yellow training version, and three combat models in various livery, but only two were seen in the anime (“soldier” and “commander”).
The most common in the MI of the OVA and seen on-screen was the “soldier” type that had the Y-rack, various hand mounted weapon systems including a KE carbine, flamethrower, MG42-like machine gun, and rocket launchers along with armor mounted heavier weapons like laser cannons, auto-cannons, heavier rockets. The “commander” powered suit was designed for field commanders to coordinate with their troopers with advanced communication and sensor equipment. There was to be originally the “area support suit” which was akin to the scout powered armor featured in the book, but this was cut prior to animation and only exists in concept art. Two interesting pieces of trivia about the Uchu no Senshi powered armor was that the production staff “borrowed” the sound effects of the armor opening and closing from the power loader exo-suit in ALIENS some other sound effects from Bubblegum Crisis, like the APS carbine rifle. One of the great things about the Japanese animation industry is that often release very detailed and cool model kits for their productions and the MI powered armor was no different. Over the years, nine official model kits in plastic and metal of the very iconic Studio Nue designed powered suit has been released since 1988 by several companies in several scales. Interestingly enough, not with any official connection to the Heinlein book or the OVA…is this due to copyright issues of the OVA not be official licensed? either way, the powered suit are an amazing design.

The Enemy of Uchu no Senshi
In the 1959 novel, the primary enemy was the Pseudo-Arachnids, the intelligent spider-like species that used weapons and starships against the Terrans. While the design of the Arachnids fitting Heinlein’s vision was included in the 1976 Avalon Hill combat board game and some of the cover art, it was dumbed down severely for the 1997 SST film and that new design of the Arachnids would dominate SST. Those bugs would be seen in all three live-action films, the CGI TV series, the Mongoose wargame system, the computer game, and the recent animated films along with the 1997 toyline. While many fans have want to see and experience the ET smart Spiders of the novel, they did not get it in the 1988 OVA either.
The organic, nearly aquatic/ jellyfish design of the pink-red-purple hued alien enemy in Uchu no Senshi was unlike anything we’ve seen in any other SST work. I cannot locate any information on why director Tetsurō Amino chose to go with such a radical departure from the insect aliens of the novel. This more aggressive jellyfish design altered the relationship between Terrans and the bugs as explained in the book. In the OVA, the Earth Federation was unaware of the aliens until they attacked the outer worlds of the Federation, causing frontline MI units to engage them in combat. These attacks were not released to the public until the assault on the city of New Buenos Aires killed one million military and civilians.
When we examine this spacefaring hive-mind species, we see that take various forms, including airborne, and are able to be spread via spore from a central biomass that allows the colonizing of hostile worlds quickly. While their outer layer is able to resist bullets, they are still able to be killed via conventional weapons. What makes these aggressive ETs so dangerous is their ability to spawn huge numbers of combat forms that are fearless in the face of armored Terrans and their high explosive, high-velocity globules. This is their most common type of weapon used by the ETs and it appears to be a form of possible organic directed-energy bolts that formed sticky explosive globules. However, according to the “Starship Troopers Memorial Book” published in Japan, the Directed Energy bolts were formed out of a liquefied metal that was allowed for the sticky properties seen in the combat footage. There is no word on how the ETs were able to generate these high-velocity globules that seemed to be biological weapon system. I personally believe that the overall design and presentation of the enemy aliens in Uchu no Senshi is one the weakest design and story elements in the OVA and it does not live up the enemy presented in neither the book nor the films.

The Historical Context of Uchu no Senshi
Given that FWS has discussed the 1980s the western market for anime and manga several times, along with the Giant Robot Crazy, I think we should examine the Japanese anime market back in the 1980s, especially since Uchu no Senshi never officially left Japan. Several events collimated in the shaping of the 1980s Japanese animation industry: the advent of LaserDiscs, new major animation studios were founded, and the establishment of the home video market. While the 1970s belonged to anime on TV, the 1980s belonged to the OVA on LaserDiscs in Japan. With the influx of the popularity of science fiction and these new studios coupled with the OVA format, experimentation was the order of the day as we saw in Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. It was this time period that Uchu no Senshi was born into: as an OVA LaserDisc and somewhat experimental in its subject matter.

Why was Uchu no Senshi Never Imported to the West?
There is no clear reason why Sunrise/Bandai Visual never released Uchu no Senshi OVA in the western markets that even extends to this very day...but I’ve developed a few theories over the years since I first learned about this Military SF oddity. First is that Uchu no Senshi was only released on Laserdisc in Japan, which is not a format that was ever gained much popularity in the United States and as far as I know that is the only format it was ever released on. Then there is the matter of Uchu no Senshi was rumored not to be an unauthorized adaptation of the iconic work and the OVA was not approved by either the American publisher of SST nor Heinlein (who died in 1988) that owned the rights to SST.
Lastly, is the timing of Uchu no Senshi. The western anime/manga market was growing in the late-1980s, but it is nothing like we have today where you watch anime on any device or go any major retailer and buy anime or manga. While at the time of Uchu no Senshi, there was some OVAs imported to the west, some anime TV shows dubbed and then aired on American TV like Battle of the Planets, and there were American companies’ published Japanese comics, like First Comics releasing Lone Wolf and Cub. However, I don’t believe that Uchu no Senshi would have been successful. One of the factors holding a title like this one back from the American market was the format of the time: VHS. DVDs lessened the cost of buying entire anime series by more than half and this opened up more of the US market for anime. I can still remember wanting to buy all of ROBOTECH or Starblazers at the time they were released on VHS and it was hundreds of dollars. Not so on DVD, allowing us to finally have complete collections without selling vital organs. As I said above, Laserdisc never caught on in the States and I guess VHS release of Uchu no Senshi was not in the cards. If it had been released on VHS in the States, it could have been similar to the release of Bubble Gum Crisis, being spread over several VHS volumes.
For a current release on disc to happened, the legal issues would need to be sorted out and that is not the only roadblock if it was to be a US release of the old SST anime: the modern SST animated films. Not only is there a CGI animated TV series, but there is the Japanese-American 2012 film Invasion and the 2017 Traitor of Mars that have muddied up the waters for the intended audience. The 1988 Japanese OVA has no relation to the 1997 American film that spawned an alternate vision and universe of the 1959 book and monopolized the very name in the minds of most western audiences. I can just see buyers complaining in the Amazon.com review section over buying the 1988 OVA when they really wanted the TV series or the modern animated SST movies. The window may have passed for Uchu no Senshi to be released in the west.

Uchu no Senshi in the West
Unlike other entry in the Future War Stories from the East Fang of the Sun Dougram, there is little-to-nothing of the 1988 SST OVA in the west…which is odd to give the subject matter and time period. At the time that Uchu no Senshi was released, western companies were releasing anime on the airwaves and on VHS tape, but this one escaped the 90’s rash of imported dub titles by all manner of western anime companies like US Manga Corps (Central Park Media), AnimEigo, and Viz Media. Knowledge of Uchu no Senshi was extremely limited in the west due to it never being formally dubbed, released only on LaserDisc, and unauthorized existence. Hell, even the model kits of the Mobile Infantry powered armor suits designed Kazutaka Miyatake that were released from-time-to-time in Japan were never released in the west. Everything of Uchu no Senshi in the west has been imported from various websites or bootlegged. Some enterprising souls have dubbed the LaserDisc and transferred it onto DVD or uploaded to various video sharing sites. I first learned about Uchu no Senshi via a brief mention in the old Animerica, and it was only around the time I founded FWS that I researched the obscure 1988 OVA. It was through the TrooperPX.com website that began my journey towards discovery. As well as being the design for the OVA, it was also used on one of the Japanese language edition Starship Troopers novel’s cover art. This sort of “canonized” and connected Kazutaka Miyatake’s powered suit to Heinlein’s powered armor in the minds of some.   

How Close is Uchu no Senshi to the 1959 Book and the 1997 Movie?
It is reported over and over again that this 1988 anime OVA that bears the title of "Starship Troopers", is the closest visual adaptation to the iconic 1959 novel. Those that make this claim are both dead wrong and sort of correct. For the record and as far as I know, there is no direct visual adaptation of Heinlein's 1959 book and out of a contest between the 1988 OVA and the 1997 film, the 1997 film is closer I think in spirit and message. While it is true that the pacing of Uchu no Senshi is closer to the 1959 novel, due to the majority of the six episodes is devoted to Rico's training and only the last episode being concerned with the war against the aliens; there are vast differences.
The overall setting of Heinlein's SST is completely missing. There is no "service guarantees citizenship" aspect of the future Terran society, none of the harsh corporal punishment, the aliens of Uchu no Senshi are more organic than insectoids along with the lack of the previous history between the Federation and the Arachnids. All of those elements are incorporated in the 1997 film along with the overall tone that more closely mirrors the society of Heinlein's political views. For the most part, unless the English subtitles are completely wrong, there is no of this in the OVA. While it is true that the Mobile Infantry powered armor is there in all of its 1980s anime mecha glory, I was rather surprised how little the 1988 OVA is connected to the 1959 book. However, it seems to me that there are some similarities between the OVA and the Verhoeven film that led me to believe that the 1997 production was aware of the 1988 OVA or had actually seen it. For example, Johnny Rico plays a football-like game in high school, Carmen is his love interest, a fight between Fleet and MI Troopers, the Federation lunar bases, and Rico being wounded and Carmen somehow involved. 

Why is Uchu no Senshi Considered Military SF?
While it is true that this 1988 OVA by Bandai Visual is directly based on or around one of the most important military science fiction works of all time that continues to have an influence on the genre as a whole, the anime also is military sci-fi on its own. Unlike many other Military SF animes we will be discussing over the life of the Future War Stories of the East serial, Uchu no Senshi involves the basic training of the main characters in much more detail than many other military science fiction animes than just showing the combat aspect of war or the human cost of war. Much like the Gundam: 0080 War in the Pocket, the cost of war is heavily explored and the toll it takes on those that survive is seen in the SST OVA. We families ripped apart, soldiers mental shocked by the death and destruction of the war with the aliens, and the rigor of military life and following orders that go against basic human instinct. For many that come at any other SST work from the perspective of the 1997 nearly-pornographic future war film, the pace, and scope of the 1988 OVA is rather shocking, slow, and lacking in unisex shower scenes, but Uchu no Senshi is military science fiction.

The Impact and Legacy of Uchu no Senshi
Information on the OVA has been difficult to track down overall, especially when it concerns the impact on the Japanese anime market in 1988. There simply are no figures for sales or how popular it was, or even reviews at the time. I am going to make a great leap here, but I personally believe that Uchu no Senshi did not reach the heights of other anime OVAs at the time and it was lost, for the most part, in the flood of anime titles coming out. There is one element of Uchu no Senshi that did impact the anime market and does have an important legacy is the Studio Nue powered armor suit.
While many of us in the west never knew about a 1980s Starship Troopers anime, some of us have seen the powered armor in art or as an imported model kit. It is the power of that design by Kazutaka Miyatake that propelled the combat powered suit to be the true ambassador for the hidden Uchu no Senshi, compelling some of us that wanted to know more to scour the internet for clues of this mythical powered armor and the SST OVA of 1988. It even compelled Japanese artist Naoyuki Katoh to create a 1:1 copy of the powered armor for a special exhibition in 2010. That is the true legacy of this oddball, unauthorized, LaserDisc OVA from Bandai: the mystery of it all. When you first learn that there was an anime made of Starship Troopers with actual powered armor of the Mobile Infantry made in the golden 80s, it is difficult to understand why it was never imported or why it is not more popular on the internet…after all, SST is one of the most enduring and discussed titles in all of sci-fi literature. However, sometimes the mystery is better than the truth and you learn that clearly once you watch the OVA for yourself.

Is it Worth Watching Today and Is It Any Good?

As I stated above, the mystery of this 1980s Japanese anime interpretation of the iconic 1959 novel is better than the actual reality of Uchu no Senshi. The mere existence of a 1980s Starship Troopers anime that was never imported to the west is a compelling reason to invest the time to watching (and reading) all six episodes. If you are a fan of 1980s anime films or SST than I can suggest to you to locate the OVA on YouTube and satisfy your curiosity. But, that's all it should be. Do not invest the money in buying a bootleg DVD for western players nor buying the Japanese LaserDiscs until you’ve seen it first. For me, it is not worth owning because it is just not that good. The most impressive elements of Uchu no Senshi is the CLASS-II powered armor Studio Nue design, the awesome art associated with the OVA, and just how bad the music is. Seriously, you could use it for an interrogation technique that would yield results without laying a hand on them. Despite the overall talent involved in the production and its design. While there good pieces here and there, like the powered armor design and seeing some of the characters from the book, it very uneven and there is no real payoff at the conclusion. Plus, it just does not seem like genuine SST.
While the book and film spend a great of time establishing the society and situation that Rico lives in, there is none of that is here, and it makes the OVA too free floating and without a foundation to root the events on-screen. While some complain about the lack of action, which the anime most devoted to training of the MI, the assumed conclusion with the invasion of the alien planet is very much lacking in grandeur and suffers from showing two soldiers completely cracking under pressure that is handled poorly and at the cost of mechs-vs.-aliens action that we all came to see. Then that brings up another unsuccessful element of the OVA: the aliens.
There was no good reason to alter the intelligence spiders of the book to the organic monsters of the OVA and this seriously handicaps the OVA in setting and storytelling. The bugs of the book and 1997 movie provided more sense of dread and terror than the pink jellyfish monsters of Uchu no Senshi. While the end is stereotypical of other war epics, the lack of the previous relationship between Rico and Carmencita makes the almost confession of love by Johnnie seems too much despite the horrors of war they both experience. While this could have been handled better, as it was in the 1997 film, the writing is just not there to support the visuals either.
While some may credit the lack of formal dub into English as one source of the unevenness of Uchu no Senshi, and it is a valid complaint, it is just badly scripted and planned with critical story element missing, draining the emotion and dramatic energy from the film. Some of this may have been able to be cleared up with a proper English dub that rounded out some of the roughness, there is the reality that the OVA was intended for a Japanese audience. Today’s anime is more geared to an international audience more so than anime of the 1970s and 1980s, and Uchu no Senshi Japanese roots really show through and can make the OVA seem odder to a western audience, even those that have watched other subbed titled animes and this really shows with the relationship between characters. Another more well-known 1980s OVA that is similar to the mishandling of the original source material and leaves the audience in blueballs over the lack of payoff is the 1988 Appleseed OVA also by Bandai Visual. In the final vote, watch it on YouTube, buy a model of the Studio Nue designed APS, and then read the book or watch the 1997 film.

Will There Ever Be a Faithful Adaptation of Heinlein’s Book?
While the internet may proclaim that Uchu no Senshi is the most faithful visual adaptation of the 1959 book, it is simply not true and nor it is true of any other SST adaptation…ever. While many plot, dialog, characters, and setting elements have been lifted for the several major works based on the SST novel, there has been no direct adaptation in video game form, graphic novel, manga, anime, TV series, play, or major motion picture. So that begs the question…will there ever be one? While FWS has discussed SST over and over again, and I regard it has one of the most important works of MSF ever, I am not a huge fan of the book or the world Heinlein created. After all, FWS awarded The Forever War the best MSF book ever over SST and tells you a great deal about bring a faithful adaptation of the 1959 book to a visual format. If the 1988 OVA is any indication or hint of what the book would look brought into the visual medium, we can see issues. The SST novel is flawed as a book due to Heinlein using the setting as a vehicle for his own political and social ideas at the cost of book’s flow. The 1997 film was able to make some of the ideas of Heinlein more entertaining and digestible and it my belief that any more faithful adaptation would require the same treatment. There would need to be more layers applied to the original text to sell it as visual entertainment. However, it should be noted that the bones are there in the original 1959 novel for there to be a great limited TV series based on the original book and setting and not one that nearly mocks the original novel’s world and message as the 1997 film did. There have been and continue to be attempts at presenting the original SST novel in a live-action format, but maybe the anime format could be used again? Only time will tell.

Next Time on FWS...

One of the most frequent topics asked online about the genre of military science fiction is "what is the best...?" Due to this, FWS has established The Masterworks: the Best of Military SF serial. We've covered the best MSF movie and the best MSF novel, but it is time to select the best live-action military sci-fi television series. Join us next time as FWS picks the Best Military Science Fiction Live-Action TV Series. Who will it be? By the way, this one was not easy to select.