Sunday, April 15, 2018

Starship Troopers

One of my favorite projects at Yoroshiku Fansubs was the six-part sci-fi OVA, Starship Troopers (Uchuu no Senshi, literally Space Soldiers), released by Sunrise in 1988. It was based on Robert A. Heinlein's famous 1959 novel about interstellar combat, which predicted the development and use of powered battle suits and thus, arguably, gave rise to the whole mecha genre. Yoroshiku had a difficult time locating video source material and ultimately used a fan's DVD transcription of a VCD transcription of the original laserdiscs. Needless to say, the source material had suffered some degradation from the multiple transfers; for example, the preview at the end of episode 4 was missing. 

I've wanted to redo Starship Troopers from a better source for years. Unfortunately, the laserdiscs of Starship Troopers were quite rare and highly prized by collectors. Then late last year, a set was offered on Yahoo Auctions in Japan, and Erik of Piyo Piyo Productions snapped them up despite the cost. He encoded the material, and now Orphan has mapped the Yoroshiku subtitles, with the usual updates and modifications, to those raws.

The 1988 OVAs were the first media adaptation of Heinlein's book, which has subsequently been adapted for a series of big-budget live-action and anime movies. It is also the most faithful. However, like all of the adaptations, it is in some ways unsatisfactory to fans of the novel. The OVAs only cover the first half of the story. The hero, described in the book as being of Filipino descent, becomes a blond, blue-eyed Caucasian; the arachnoid aliens become tentacle-lashing BEMs; and so on.

In defense of the OVAs, a faithful adaption of Starship Troopers is probably infeasible, because it's actually a treatise on political philosophy (militaristic political philosophy at that) masquerading as a science-fiction action yarn. As critics have noted, the classroom and training scenes in the book are longer and more vivid than the action sequences. An anime or movie that faithfully reflected the book would feel more like propaganda than sci-fi.

As it stands, the OVAs chronicle the training and first combat experiences of Juan Rico, familiarly known as Johnnie. He enlists in the military after high school, mostly because the girl he admires/lusts after, Carmencita, has joined the Space Navy. To his dismay, Johnnie is assigned to the Mobile Infantry instead and the tough-minded care of Sergeant Zim. Training is long and difficult; 80% of the recruits wash out. The core of the training regimen is learning and mastering the use of the powered battle suits. Eventually, Johnnie and his buddies "Kitten" Smith and Pat Leivy are assigned to an actual combat unit, Willy's Wildcats. The Wildcats take part in the invasion of the aliens' homeworld. Johnnie is wounded and sent to recover; end of the OVAs, more or less.

The visual side of Starship Troopers is fairly typical late-80s animation. The battle suits look more like rocket-powered armor than flexible exoskeletons. Even though the show is set in a future with faster-than-light interstellar travel, people still drive mid-20th-century cars with big fins and no seat belts, and they drink Budweiser from cans. The clothing is recognizably late 20th century, down to the Mobile Infantry's dress uniforms (with ties). It's 1960s America, plus spaceships.

The voice cast appeared in many 80s and 90s OVAs and series. Matsumoto Yasunori (Johnnie) has had a long career, playing Rin in Joker: Marginal City, Muto in Oz, and Suiguito in Dragon Fist, all Orphan releases, as well as the singing knight Dick Saucer in the classic comedy Dragon Half and the magician Ichidaji Tohru in Every Day Is Sunday. Kamiya Akira (Sergeant Zim) is best known for the title roles in the City Hunter properties and the Kinnikuman franchise. He also stole the show as the lecherous robot Chiraku in Hoshi Neko Full House, an Orphan release. Sakuma Rei (Carmencita) played Shampoo in the Ranma 1/2 franchise, as well as the lecherous pirate Belga in Cosmic Fantasy, an Orphan release. Inoue Kazuhiko (Kitten Smith) played Yamaoka Shirou in Oishinbo and Yuki Eiri in Gravitation, but I know and love him best as the irascible, sake-swilling Nyanko-sensei in the Natsume Yuujichou properties. The director, Amino Tetsuro, demonstrated his versatility in other projects such as Macross 7 and several Lupin III TV specials.

The music, by Nanba Hiroyuki (of Dallos fame), is mostly functional, but the songs - opening, closing, and insert - are all in English, sung by Japanese vocalists. This seems quite baffling to me, but English lyrics for anime songs were a Thing in the late 80s. The lyricist, Linda Hennrick, lived in Japan and had an active career writing and translating songs for anime. She returned to the US in 2010 and continues to be involved with the Japanese music scene, according to her LinkedIn profile.

The original subtitles by Yoroshiku have held up well and required only minor tweaking, mostly for line length (Aegisub didn't have cps tracking back then). Staff credits

Translation                  AngelEngine, laalg (Yoroshiku)
                                  Sunachan (Orphan) - episode 4 preview
Timing                        Grv, Nanne (Yoroshiku)
                                  Yogicat - shifting, ninjacloud - fine timing (Orphan)
Editing                        Collectr (both)
QC                              Nanne, Saji, redbat, Sirus (Yoroshiku)
                                  Calyrica, VigorousJammer (Orphan)
Encoding                     Piyo Piyo Productions (Orphan)

The laserdiscs themselves are just adequate, with jittery frames and a fair amount of film burn. However, because of the tangled legal rights around Starship Troopers, I rather doubt that the OVAs will ever see a digital release.

So blast off into the "future," big-finned cars and all, with Starship Troopers. You can get it from the usual torrent sites or from IRC bot Orphan|Arutha in channels #nibl or #news on


  1. Fantastic stuff, shame the LDs is all that came out but great job tracking them down and offering a revamped version.

  2. I can't find this one on the usual site. Their upload is [Y-F]'s from 08.