Lost Universe is the science fiction anime equivalent of Slayers, by substantially the same staff and set in a parallel universe, and it’s pleasant enough. Unfortunately, it fizzles into very little by the end. Given its relatively small cast, very few of the characters have clear motivations, and the ultimate threat isn’t really threatening enough. When it appears that the void of space is what’s at stake rather than visible land and people, it’s much harder to connect.
Kane Blueriver is a trouble contractor, aided by his holographic assistant Canal. They quickly recruit “the best in the universe”, Millie, to their side and, after taking on a few contracts, they find themselves battling against the Lost Ships and, ultimately, Dark Star.
The concept of a “Lost Universe” is pretty cool. The Lost Ships represent ancient orthodoxies and technologies no longer within the ability of men to replicate. Had this aspect been explored, with maybe some ship archaeology performed, this could have turned out much more interesting than it did.
Alas! The Lost Ships are never really explained and, given the late nineties vintage of the animation, they don’t look much like anything at all. This was the era of half arsed CG, and the finished product suffers for it.
The three main characters are well defined enough to avoid complaint; Millie is initially an unwanted member of the team but ultimately proves herself to have core competencies. The one ditzy character allowed anywhere near the plot is so tangential that she doesn’t have to be worried about.
Kane and Canal are also invested with enough pathos to get by, but the rest of the cast are too muddied by mystery in the final examination. Rail, for instance … What the Hell is his deal? There’s a long time before his final reveal, but it doesn’t seem connected to anything that came before it.
Similarly, trump cards are set up early in the series and they pay off too late and too insignificantly.
There are two series at play here: the episodic contract episodes are nice enough, and the first gives a very good sense of world building, with a suggestion of fantasy trappings in science fiction garb, but this is never truly followed through on. Nothing of any significance or of much hilarity (this is, ostensibly, a comedy series) happens in these episodes, but they’re nice enough.
The overarching drama that periodically shows up and eventually takes over is very Star Wars, with the laser swords that the characters use ultimately coming down to the simple matter of one character wanting another to join the dark side. Yes. Indeed.
Visually it’s from the same team as Slayers but the charm doesn’t translate to space and the endless black is oppressive. The team doesn’t have the nous to animate space operas in a meaningful way and consequently little of importance is conveyed in the largely identical action sequences that punctuate the episodes.
Lost Universe isn’t that uncommon in anime: a cool idea with potential that never quite delivers. It’s not a failure or write off, and I don’t regret watching it, but it’s lamentably inessential. The liner notes on the DVDs suggest that the novels upon which it’s based would be more satisfactory.
As far as anime goes, if you want basically the same thing but with terrestrial characters and a more properly realised world and story, Slayers is your series.