Somewhere in the farthest unknown regions of deep space, an ages long war has raged on between the female humanoid Solnoid race, and the biomechanical threat known only as Paranoid. During a particularly heated space battle, the starship dubbed Star Leaf has found itself with a spunky, hotheaded fighter pilot as new crewmember mere minutes before being forced to undertake warp after orders are relayed to defend a much valued set of coordinates; the planet, Chaos. And yet despite evasive maneuvers, the mostly young crew of Solnoid officers are in for the shock of their lives when the Paranoid have set in motion a plan that not only threatens the future of all onboard, but of the future of both races combined. And thus is the broken down plotline of this feature length first outing for what became one of AIC’s most prolific franchises, Gall Force. Originally started as a 3D photo comic, Gall Force refined the best of both heavy ends of the 1980s otaku fantasy juggernaut by way of taking what could be seen as cute, chubby moe prototypes, and infusing them into a somewhat hard science fiction armor. What results is something that contemporary anime just doesn’t seem to have room for this side of Moretsu Pirates; a derivative, yet surprisingly well-executed mashup of western science fiction & space mecha melodrama. And this initial film released in the summer of 1986, and directed by Katsuhito Akiyama (Bubblegum Crisis) continues to remain a personal favorite despite its shortcomings.
For some time, I had long considered sharing a few words regarding this first go-round for the girls of GF, but had a real hard time trying to figure out an angle to work with as a work like this is rare in that for what it looks like to the casual observer, is a lot richer in detail than many might assume. One on hand, it does fulfill the “cute girls in space with guns and powered armor” one might expect from this era, but on another, it also takes the time within 88 minutes to establish the shared existence of these characters, as well as their mechanically inclined environs, and even language/typography. And to top it off, as the film rarely to never allows viewers to catch a breath once the title card bursts on the screen. There are no extended monologues, no overt platitudes on existence. These ladies are on a collision course with destiny, and there’s simply no time for such things. With a plot that borrows liberally from favorite films and novels (largely Ridley Scott’s ALIEN, which easily lends the gender choice an added amount of potentially controversial thematic depth), Eternal Story was scribed by the often underappreciated Sukehiro Tomita (Macross: DYRL), which grants the characters enough sci-fi geek cred in the dialogue and language. From an alien stowaway, to the death defying troubles they experience on the ship as well as outside, this is a fitting form for Japanese cinema of the time to do their own successful riff on classic space yarns. (Having recently reviewed the mind-blowingly odd Sayonara Jupiter recently- this is a most welcome argument for anime being the better way to go)
So as the story quickly unfolds, the crew of the Star Leaf led by cool-headed officers Eluza & Raby, now must contend with not only an invader on their ship, but a caustic but potentially dependable new crewmember, and possibly even their superiors in what culminates in an often shining example of how cool a gynocentric space adventure could be. Being faced with threats initially stemming from what seem to be outside forces, soon becomes one of greater concern when revelations (not to mention some terrible losses) spur forth an even more disturbing truth regarding the crew, and their central role in a plot to end a generations-spanning conflict. Having been perpetuated all this time via genetic engineering, the Solnoids have until now only known one universal method of reproduction to perpetuate their species. So when a shocking twist takes place in the film’s latter half, perhaps it only makes perfect sense that a remainder of the crew feels somewhat betrayed by those who would be their respected elders. And in between all the monster attacks, hair-breadth escapes, self-sacrifices, and hard suit & mecha battles (in space AND on land!), what we have here is something far more involved than merely a pastiche of Japan’s then fevered fascination with space war. It becomes a treatise on the nature of sexual roles, protracted conflict, and life’s ability to dodge even the most terrifying headshot by mere millimeters.
After many years of going back to this first film, one must admit that there are a few things worth considering in the narrative that could raise a few eyebrows. As mentioned before, the Solnoid crew of the Star Leaf are soon faced with a plot to end the war via a clandestine plan to combine both warring races, to the terrified reaction of those who make the bombshell discovery. And since these are a solely female race of beings who have only known cloning as their means of reproduction, one can imagine the reaction at the prospect of seeing what is ostensibly a baby male. But things get a little weird when the remaining crew members experience a collective series of dreams that all lead toward the new addition of a male version of their race into the gene pool. All to the tune of an all-too 1980s teen-pop song, the implication that these lifelong warrior types would go completely gooey for a phantom companion seems more than a little contradictory to the majority of the film. What was likely considered to be a narrative shorthand for implying what is to come of our central species by the end can easily be considered a dreadful oversimplification. The very idea that all these young ladies needed to feel at uncommon ease was some random male continues to be a dated thorn in my side. The story also finds itself a little out of steam come the arrival at Chaos. These along with the crew losing what was easily my favorite member by the end of the first half chock up my most egregious complaints.
And considering what became of AIC’s reputation years later, it’s also a bit of a sad thing to say that for an IP that received so much exposure in the US home video market, so many people continue to overlook just how ambitious this all was. Considering that the Gall Force metaseries predates the OVA classic, Bubblegum Crisis, and contains many of that iconic series’ original staff, one would surmise that this would have as much widespread notoriety among older school anime fans. And this is where a potentially controversial statement just might creep in; as much as this writer truly enjoys the adventures of the Knight Sabers, it’s Tomita’s script for Eternal Story that elevates the material beyond anything that came after. And with some truly iconic & diverse character design work by personal favorite, Kenichi Sonoda, some still great mechanical work by Hideki Kakinuma, and memorable synth music courtesy of Ishizo Seo, the overall feel of Gall Force’s initial outing is assured and exciting. The seven-member crew comprised of Eluza, Raby, Lufy, Pony, Catty, Remy & Patty somehow achieves a certain amount of diversity in their personalities and gestures. So rarely does it succumb to the pitfalls so many OVAs and shows of the time did, that it truly feels like a thoughtful one-shot. As for the follow-up OVAs, as cool as they are, they carry little of the promise and care of this primary chapter. For me, it remains something of a lost little gem that despite its release via Central Park Media during the salad days of anime on VHS, deserves more viewers, as well as more evaluation in the shadow of that bloated, disjointed musical that came after. In the case of that series, it was all about loving the idea of a great show, while with Eternal Story, we get the greatness AND the ideas. Because as the moving little coda implies; what has happened, can indeed happen again.