Future-Hero Space Pilot Looking GAR

I thought about many weighty topics for this post. I considered revisiting my article earlier this year on the subject of gender roles in anime, which judging by the sheer volume and ferocity (in both directions) of the feedback I received, was surely the most provocative anime-related piece I’ve written. I thought about something historical, looking at anime over the last four decades. But in the end, given that it’s the holidays and I’m a little tired of controversy, I thought it’d be nice to simply say a few words about a series that meant an awful lot to me as an anime fan.

The catch phrase that ended every episode preview of Outlaw Star on The Cartoon Network – “You’d better get ready!” – is one of my first truly indelible anime memories. Along, of course, with the OP and ED (especially the former) and the growing sense that anime was more than badly-dubbed Speed Racer and Star Blazers (you probably know it as Space Battleship Yamato). Outlaw Star wasn’t the first anime that blew my mind – that was Evangelion – but it was the first one that opened it. It was, in effect, my gateway drug – and that’s exactly why I recommended it in an earlier podcast as a great first series to show to a non-anime fan.

The Main Cast

I often wonder how many modern anime fans have seen OS. It was somewhat popular in the U.S. but even here, largely overshadowed by Cowboy Bebop on TCN. It was never hugely successful in Japan (starting a long and depressing relationship trend between me and anime), which was the reason a proposed sequel – which creator Iko Takehiko wanted to produce – never got off the ground. But the fan base, while small, was rabid – and I know there are still a few of us around these days. The series is out on DVD pretty much everywhere, and a few younger fans certainly know of it. But given how great it was and how predictive it was of future trends in anime, not nearly enough.

Given the nature of these holiday posts I couldn’t possibly go into all the reasons I love Outlaw Star, but I can at least give you a few. In the first place, given the production date (1998) the show is technically superior – it’s some of Sunrise’s finest work in the context of the time it was made. The music is fantastic (you can look at the résumé of Outani Kou and find few more impressive in anime music). The cast is uniformly superb, with Hashi Takaya as the A.I. Gilliam (a very influential character) especially standing out, and Kawasumi Ayako making her debut performance as Melfina.

Families Come in Many Forms

What is Outlaw Star? “Space Western” is a term I sometimes see used, and it’s not a bad fit in some ways. First and foremost for me, it’s arguably the finest example in anime of one of my favorite themes, the “aniki” relationship (I think Kamina and Simon owe a great deal to Gene and Jim). Gene Starwind is the genius pilot always on the wrong side of the law – and the creditors – and Jim Hawking is the young orphan who keeps his tech running smoothly and his ass out of jail (mostly). The official subtitle of the show is “Future-Retro Hero Story” and that’s not a bad fit either – it’s classically sci-fi, but the character elements are simply classic, and these heroes are the most interesting kind – flawed and vulnerable but ultimately driven by loyalty and a sense of adventure.

Outlaw Star is also very sexy, featuring a cast of lovely females that sometimes cast old tropes in new ways, and sometimes simply forge new ones. If you think you’ve seen these characters before, Outlaw Star might just be the reason in some cases – it’s certainly been influential enough on the casts of other series in the 14 years since its production. Every fan of the series has a favorite among them – the simple but volcanic cat-girl Aisha, the cool and deadly assassin “Twilight“ Suzuka, and the lovely and mysterious girl at the center of everything – Melina (my personal fave). She’s the one whose relationship with both Gene and Jim is developed to a depth that complies belies the somewhat light-hearted outward tone of the show.

Something for Everyone

This is also a very funny show. Some of it comes from characters like Fred Luo – another guy you’ll think you’ve see before, but that’s largely because of how often he’s been copied – and some of it from the lively and often very edgy visual and verbal humor that runs through the entire series, often involving conversations between Jim and Gilliam. The edgy part is amply evident in the wealth of material that was edited out for the CN airing: for example, Jim suggests that Gene sell his body to raise much-needed cash, and Gene replies “We’d make a lot more selling yours.” And then there’s the entire episode CN refused to air, the legendary “Hot Springs Planet Tenrei” which, while it may not have invented the hot springs episode trope, certainly set a raunchy and hilarious (and plot-relevant) new standard that’s rarely been equaled. Yet the series was also capable of sober, even heartbreaking emotional depth – often involving Melfina, but most impressively in the atypical episode “Cats, Girls and Spaceships”. Not only is it the best episode of OS, but one of the best anime episodes ever. It’s surprising, powerful and incredibly sad. Outlaw Star didn’t reach for those emotional depths that often, but that made them all the more impact when it did.

I certainly hope at least some of you have seen Outlaw Star – and I hope a few of you who haven’t will try it after reading this. I’ve watched the series again recently and it holds up beautifully (of course it’s best subbed, but the dub actually happens to be one of the few good ones as well). It’s just one of those shows that does everything right, and has something to appeal to a wide range of tastes. In terms of straightforward emotional honest and really engaging characters, I’ve rarely seen in bettered in more than a decade of watching anime – a decade of watching that Outlaw Star was at least somewhat responsible for.

Hey – I Get Cut Out Because I’m Short?!


  1. I saw the name of the anime in question for this post and as soon as I read outlaw star I clicked rabidly. This was indeed one of the first anime i had ever seen (back when I was a child no less) and man was it AWESOME. This anime gave me a feel of adventure and wanting to fight pirates!(in space!). I have rewatched this series to death and last year bought the collection on DVD and have rewatched it AGAIN and man its not like plot heavy but its just so much fun, which makes it fun to sit through each time for me! Currently 19 so I don’t know under which category i’d fall in terms of anime fan age group for this show. Doesn’t really matter much but oh well brought it up anyway 😀

    1. I never had the chance to see outlaw star on tv back in the day and the first time I had ever seen it was on the internet a year ago. I must agree that this show is quite amazing. Does anybody else here remember Escaflowne? It was the first anime i had ever watched myself. O the memories of awesome knight mecha on a warm saturday morning.

      Allen Walker
  2. Ah the hot springs ep. I remember I bought the dvds w/o knowing that ep even existed, despite seeing the whole series years back on CN, and it was like watching an after-TV-series OVA episode of your favorite chars in their ‘full glory'(hehe, get it?).

    Not to ramble on too much, but the highest appeal to this show for me is the INCREDIBLE variety in the cast, both visually and personally, and how they all practically play off each other’s quirks. No matter what situation the team was in, you KNOW you’ll get a few laughs out of it.

    You should really add that great Toonami promo of it


    Man, you know when they showed that back in the day, you were TOTALLY PSYCHED to see it X03!

  3. Melfina = <3

    I loved this series especially Melfina and I loved her voice when she was singing, sooo~ beautiful. Actually Melfina kinda reminds me of Rei Ayanami, that's probably another reason why I like her. ^_^

    Here is the song “Hiru no Tsuki”. Enjoy! ^_^

    I agree with you GE, Kamina and Simon probably learned about brotherhood from Gene and Jim. Now I want to see a cross-over between TTGL and Outlaw Star. It will most definitely be awesome!!!

    This was also the 1st anime that made me care for a “spaceship” all because of Gilliam. XD

    I also remember that episode about Jim’s 1st love. WOW!…just Wow!, that’s the only thing I could say when I watched it, we all know how it was going to end, but I still hoped for a better conclusion for the both of them, it was really sad and painful to watch. ;_;

    For me this show is a classic, and should be watched by more people, I highly recommend it!

    I’m glad you decided to blog this GE and I hope you’re all better now. Happy Holidays!!!

    Just Passing By
  4. I loved, and still love, this show!!! So excited you brought it back to the light. Though I’ve seen plenty of space anime since, I never thought about how ground breaking it was with all the races and even just the way life worked in their galaxy(s).

    The bounty hunter brothers, one being completely A.I. also left a big impression on me, since he had the potential to understand Melfina better… but that wasn’t who she picked. Big fights, an extremely flawed and down-to-earth hero, plus a girl who runs the spaceship’s system. Wow.

    My only question now: was Melfina the original ‘naked suitcase girl’? And if so, I hope Firefly gave some credit there.

  5. While it starred in my prime years off toonami/CN I have never watched or heard of this show. But as most of these ‘Twelve days of anime’ posts it has motivated me to go and watch this show. Thank you very much for the post Enzo.

  6. This and robotech pretty much got me to love anime, because of these I ended up watching ghost in the shell and some of the ghibli movies and eva and beboop and eventually started my anime dl career. Probably why I love any mecha and spaceship faring anime in general now a days, that sense of sci-fi adventure.

    Before I just watched DZ, yu-gi-oh, pokemon, card captors not really knowing they were anime. But outlaw star definitely has big influence in getting me into actually caring for anime specifically for me to hunt it out.

  7. I remember this show. It was also one my first anime series, right after Evangelion (and Dragonball, I guess). I didn’t really understand how anime worked back then, so I was completely mystified by Shizuka’s wooden sword. The finale came from left field for me; I was not ready and was horribly surprised that, yes, the show just ended.

  8. There’s a reason my tag is always Jimhawk. I fucking love this show, and is to date the only show I have felt like I needed the DVD set for.

    My friends all fell in love with Cowboy Bebop; I, instead, fell for Outlaw Star, and hard. What I enjoy about both series when discussing them is pointing out how similar and yet how starkly different they really are.

    1. yeah well except that Outlaw Star is more geared towards youngins. More children friendly, if you will. Of course it may feel it has more souls, LOL! Children lose souls as they grow up and become cold and heartless under corporation overlords. Gasp! Have I said too much?? Anyway they are really in different genres, with the only similarity being space travel.

      I prefer Cowboy Bebop, not because every uncle and old 20-something love it, but it’s more mature and serious (not all the times). Especially the crown-psycho killer episode, which was very psychedelic and experimental.

  9. Outlaw Star: it was the series my father and I found after Bebop & Trigun and were looking for something more in the same vein. It was a good show, but it didn’t grab me quite as hard as the other two.

  10. It’s been a stroll down memory lane this evening for me, hearing the openings of MKR and then hearing Kiseki no Umi from Maaya Sakamoto back in the Lodoss days, and now – Outlaw Star. This one stands out so much thanks to CN and the dub. For some reason, I can easily sit through the English dubs of Outlaw Star, Cowbow Bebop, and YYH just to name a few during that ‘era’, but that’s a different post.

    I loved this show as a kid – what child doesn’t look up at the stars and wish to fly among them? It was a dream – a wish that was fulfilled as I watched this show. It opened my eyes to the sheer potential of what anime could do in the right hands.

    Thank you, now I have to go see where my box set of Outlaw Star ended up in. XD

  11. I guess that is one of the reasons I liked having a job when I was 14-18. I used to blow my money on VHS anime. Outlaw star was the series I collected after Evangelion, and it was one of my all time favorites. I never did catch it with any of the editing.

    Talking about beginnings though. I remember all my interest in anime stemming from Saturday morning Sci fi channel. Flipping through the channels for a cartoon, to find 8 man after on. Watching it for 5 minutes to realize that something was severely different than anything I had ever seen before. I remember my sleeping schedule completely shifting to make sure I woke up every Saturday at 6. Vampire hunter D and Lodoss Wars then led me to my local store where my paycheck got dissolved every month ><

  12. I remember Outlaw Star from it’s original run on Toonami back a long time ago. I was still in Middle School then and I just had to see this anime every time it was on, and I loved it. I would definitely say that this one is what got me started on anime way back when…then Cowboy Bebop, and the rest from there.

    A definite must see.

  13. Ah, Outlaw Star~ The thing I remembered the best about it is the ED song, Hiru no Tsuki. It left a really deep impression on me for some reason. Even to this day I would sometimes start to whistle it while I’m working or drawing.

  14. While I consider DBZ to be my gateway, I think Outlaw Star was the wet concrete I stepped into that cemented my stay in the world of anime. Aisha Clanclan will always hold a special place in my heart.

    Now it’s time to rewatch the entire series.

    1. ^This, exactly this. Also, Aisha was an exceptional Ctarl-Ctarl (oh yeah, I still remember that) – probably about 5-6 anime tropes in one character but it worked, and worked well. Each character was dynamic and had interesting and fleshed-out pasts. Great stuff.

  15. Ahhhhhhh!! Yes! Outlaw Star was one of my first animes too back when Toonami was on like right after school. I was only like 8 years old, so I was totally ignorant of how horrible the english dub really was. But it didn’t matter. It was awesome to me and I wanted to be like Gene (pft I’ve never paid attention to gender roles) or Suzuka. Another great one (I feel at least) that many people don’t talk about anymore is Escaflowne. You should do a post on Escaflowne and Gundam Wing! Omgah, the mecha animes of way back when.

  16. Ah, perfect timing, i was just having my regular “Nostalgic” moment when i open my old anime OP/ED folder and start watching some of my fav themes from older animes (which in turn bring back my memories of those shows) .. you couldn’t have chose a better time (yeah, i’m playing the OP and ED themes of OutlawStar right now while typing this).

    Back in the day i was just getting into my level-2 anime phase (moving from Mazinger Z and Captin Tsubasa to Evangelion, Trigun and Cowboybebop), back then i just finished watching CB and was blown away by its sheer quality and how much fun it was to watch, few months later i stumpled upon Outlaw Start … at first glance i thought OS was just a cheap rip-off Cowboy Bebop (probably due to the western-in-space themes and the larger-than-life characters both shows had) .. but oh how wrong i was .. right after the first episode i realized that it is really quite different, when i saw the first space battle (with the spaceships wrestling each other with mechanical arms) i knew i was in for a treat, and the differences between CB and OS started getting more clear and profound .. OS had it’s own brand of humor (more akin to older animes than to CB) and story progressed in a different fashion than CB … OS also had impressive mechanical designs and used them so well in creative ways (the aforementioned space-ship-wrestling), there where also hints of the supernatural here (or rather very advanced science that feels like magic) .. the ending got a little confusing at some points but it all ended well in the epilogue/aftermath.

    The characters also leave an impression and are well realized in both their designs and personalities (although i hoped Aisha and Suzuka got more attention like the three main characters) … the bro dynamics between Gene and Jim where really interesting and the relation Melfina shared with both was really akin to make-shift family .. which was also pretty interesting.

    I really wished there was more of it (Too bad the sequel never got to be made, here is some info on it from the Wiki page –> [b]”Morning Star Studio also drafted a proposed a direct, OVA sequel series to Outlaw Star titled Outlaw Star 2: Sword of Wind on its official website with character designs and a plot outline. Set three years after the events of Outlaw Star, it was to continue the adventures of Gene Starwind and Jim Hawking in their new starship named “Sword of Wind”. Due to the lack of the franchise’s popularity in Japan and the busy schedule of animation director Mitsuru Hongo, no production date was set. In October 2001, Takehiko Itō commented that his team only had static, preliminary plans for the sequel series and that they could perhaps continue the manga series in the future”[/b]

    Still i found out a short anime series called “Angle Links”, it’s sort of a spin-off Outlaw Star that happens in the same universe .. Gene and the other don’t show up in it but some other side-characters from OS show up and it has the same atmosphere as OS (love it’s OP/ED too) .. and if you want to see more of the OS universe you should really check it .. it isn’t as good as OS but it also isn’t bad at all.

    Speaking of the OP and ED of OS .. wasn’t anyone surprised by the strange contrast between the upbeat dynamic OP that showcases the characters, artstyle and humor that the series features and the two endings that have intricate, beautiful and somewhat surreal Sci-Fi themed art (that frankly has nothing to do with the series itself) and two very soothing and slow-paced songs .. it was strange really but i couldn’t help fall in love with the OP and both EDs .. the ending themes specifically seemed like they were love-letters dedicated to the classic space Sci-Fi genre in general .. here is a link to a site that has the screen-caps from the endings –> http://www.angelfire.com/anime2/ols/end/index.html … also the OP of Angle Links is pretty upbeat and has some lovely song and animation .. google it.

    Overall Outlaw Star is indeed among my top fav anime and one of the shows that cemented my anime-watching habits and left a good memory with all it’s upbeat larger -than-life characters, its humor and spacer-western sci-fi themes .. for anyone who hasn’t watched it yet .. go ahead and watch it .. you won’t regret it .. it stands toe to toe with the likes of Cowboy Bebop and Trigun.
    And finally i have to say thanks for the nostalgia trip ^_^

  17. I still love Outlaw Star and watch the DVD collection from time to time.

    In terms of the axed hot springs episode on TV, it was also the only episode that featured Tobigera in action and (hilariously) failing, lol.

    It is a great mix of things. Space western is definitely one, usually with the fighting with pirates or characters like Hilda, Leilong/Shimi, and the MacDougall Brothers. But also there’s space samurai with ones like Suzuka and Hitoriga, and perhaps even space “RPG” with all the black magic involved with Hazanko and Tao Masters, and the Caster guns, and the three usually ending up mixed together in one way or another.

  18. (Haven’t finished reading this, just had to ask first because I’m really curious now ^^) Could someone please point me to Guardian Enzo’s post on gender roles in anime? Google failed me there. Kthxbye! 😀

  19. One of my favorite childhood shows, hands down. I used to rush home after middle school every day so I could watch it on Toonami. Then I re-watched it (subbed) my freshman year of college and finally got to see it in all its unedited glory. I didn’t think it was possible, but I loved it even more after that. Plus, the opening song still pops into my head every now and then! It’s definitely time to re-watch this one ^^

  20. Nice post. I haven’t thought about that show in a long time. Outlaw Star and Gundam Wing did well in the US unlike Japan. It was interesting.
    PS-I think Evangelion blows everyone’s mind the first time ^.~
    I vote for Revolutionary Girl Utena as the next Twelve Days of Anime feature.

  21. Outlaw Star huh? I guess every oldfag anime fan has heard of the name. It has been aired in my country several times already and it never gets bored. I love the show to bits.

    The thing with old anime is that it’s originality. Correct me, but I can never remember another space-faring anime that has cool dogfights, awesome girls, intriguing story-line and fun characters.

    The Moondoggie
    1. Well, Cowboy Bebop, but Outlaw Star’s like it’s more hot-blooded, guitar playing sibling while Bebop is the one that’s more depressed and likes to play the sax. And together they would make an awesome band.

      They’re basically both really awesome, but different, versions of the same show.


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