An enjoyable flick
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Sol Bianca doesn't have much new in the way of plot (this review is probably longer than the movie) and the characters are pretty familiar, but a few little things set it apart, and above all else, Sol Bianca is good old fashioned fun. The storyline itself is almost non-existent: You've got some space pirates, they help out a kid, they blow up the bad guys. That much is definite. But one thing that I thought was actually kind of amusing about the plot is that the good guys really weren't all that bright, and even the bad guy was just a two-bit dictator on a backwater planet. Instead of using all these clever plans to outsmart a vastly superior enemy and get away with it, the five women's general strategy was to just walk into a situation and assume either their physical prowess or really impressive hardware would get them out of it (which worked pretty well for them). Fans of more intelligent action movies will probably be annoyed by this, and even I was a tad put off by some of the extreme moments of good-guy supremacy, but at least the story wasn't really unrealistic--it's just that nobody was very clever. (Actually, I sort of enjoyed the underpreparedness of the Sol Bianca's crew.)But a functional if a bit dim-witted plot isn't what caused this one to win any awards (which it did), or what made it memorable. One of the things that stands out (and most likely the reason it was so popular in its time) is the action. It's not the fastest or most gripping action I've ever seen, but it's pretty darned good. There's a great airborne chase, plenty of gunfights (with pistols that may look small but pack enough of a wallop for a bazooka), a couple of slick space battles, and my personal all-time second-favorite anime weapon (for my favorite, see Project A-ko): a laser sniper rifle with enough range to pick people off from orbit (which is exactly what Feb does with it). When it gets going, the action is so much fun, you'll probably wish there was more of it--my only real complaint is that the whole thing was over too quickly, but you can't have everything. And speaking of all those cool guns, another thing that stands out in Sol Bianca is the technology. There are the above mentioned archaic-looking (but super-powerful) pistols and laser rifle, neat laser whips, and the Sol Bianca itself, with an onboard park, dimension diving capability, a variety of interesting weapons, and a generally unique design. There were a few additional touches that were nice, like the fact that the people of Tres were really tall.I really loved the chase sequence and the technology, but those aren't the real reason Sol Bianca stands out in my anime collection. There were two other things that set this one out from the pack for me. A lesser feature was that the story had that air of there being more to it than we're being told. There were a few things that showed up and were never fully explained, and a couple of points (like the origin of the Sol Bianca) that you got the feeling there was more to than we were being told. I enjoy that sort of storytelling, and although there was a LOT more of it in the sequel, this movie had a bit too. But, the one thing that really set Sol Bianca apart in my mind was the characters. They more or less fit into standard molds, but they were distinct and there seemed to be just a little more to them than just stereotypes. Not that they were masterworks of subtlety or something, but they were a little more three-dimensional than I was expecting, and there was a dynamic with the group that I enjoyed. Also nice was that they seemed a bit more realistic than standard action anime characters; they may have been space pirates, but I caught a whiff of "realness" to them that I found appealing. Past that, I can't really put my finger on what it is that I like about the group, but there is something, and after I saw the sequel (which, if you like the characters, I recommend), I felt vindicated--that movie definitely confirmed that whatever it was I liked about the characters in this one wasn't an accident.The final piece of the appeal of Sol Bianca, and probably what distinguishes it above all else, is the visuals. The character designs are attractive, memorable, and unusual; in keeping with the somewhat surprising realism of their personalities, they also looked more realistic than most anime, with almost realistically proportioned eyes. The rest of the world, though not quite as good, also has a distinct look to it, with a few nice locations and some neat mechanical design (the Sol Bianca in particular was really cool). Unfortunately, the animation isn't terribly smooth, but some of the character animation was well done, and the action sequences looked slick for the most part.The acting in this one stood out, too. The few minor parts weren't noteworthy at all, but Batros was very well cast and voiced with a proper amount of flair by Aono Takeshi, and the five women were all distinct and solidly acted. There may not have been much in the way of drama, but there was a sense of normalness to the acting and voices of the five women that I thought was quite appealing (to be honest, this is one of my all time favorite anime casts), and it also set them apart from a lot of anime heroines. It also went quite a way toward making them believable, as I mentioned above. Note, though, that ADV's creative translation bears part of the responsibility for some of the overly sentimental or awkward dialogue (not to mention a lot of profanity, though not really out of character). The music wasn't particularly notable, but there was a decent action theme that showed up a couple of times, and I thought the end theme was quite pretty.In all, it may not be higher cinema, and it's not even the greatest action flick you'll ever see, but Sol Bianca isn't bad, either; it has plenty of action, cool technology, very unusual character designs, and even characters that feel a little deeper than the archetypes they're based on. And, if nothing else, Sol Bianca is fun."