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Last Line of Defense

Or the adventures of Earth's pony-tailed protectors.

by Patrick King

It's fitting that the month which brought us the Summer Olympics - symbolic of worldwide unity - is also the month that hastened Stratos 4 to my doorstep.

It is even more appropriate that both the Olympics and this particular series feature plenty of friendly competition while more serious events transpire elsewhere. Instead of warfare, the characters in Stratos 4 face a significantly more aggressive, less caring foe.

Nature.

Half a century prior to the events of this series, a huge cluster of comets was detected millions of miles away from our solar system.

A million miles, sadly, is a walk around the block when you're an icy ball of destruction on a collision course with mankind's favorite planet, Earth.

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Incredibly enough, the people of Earth put aside their differences in face of this impending disaster. Even though a single comet strike could potentially do enough damage to wipe out all human life, sometimes I think the least believable element in Stratos 4 is the suggestion which mankind would actually band together for something.

Then again, hundreds of life-threatening comets careening towards one's home can be, understandably, one heck of a motivator.

If you've missed out on films like Armageddon or Deep Impact ("missed out" being a relative term for many people), then allow me to explain how terrible a comet strike can be.

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First, there is the simple threat a huge amount of mass poses to its landing zone. Depending on the comet's size, anything nearby has a disconcertingly bad chance of not being blown away by the sheer force of its impact.

Perhaps even more frightening than the blast from an interstellar projectile's landing are various environmental effects it might have, depending upon whether it lands on water or solid ground.

If the comet has a water landing, there is a likely chance it could cause catastrophic tidal waves. It's also believed that tsunamis may form from the icy beast's entry into our climate.

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The worst possibility, again, depending on the size of said comet, can be if it makes contact with land. If it is large enough, it could kick up an immense particle cloud, theoretically thick enough to block out the nurturing rays of the sun, causing an artificial worldwide winter.

Even if it's only car-sized, comet strikes are not very fun.

Thus, Earth's peoples decided to form a group of protectors. Their mission: destroy every trace of the natural aggressors before they have a chance to hit the planet's surface. There are two primary defense forces. The more important - and more respected - of the two is known as the Comet Blasters. These brave pilots orbit the Earth in a space station, taking off from their celestial home the moment a malignant comet comes within striking distance. Using a special incendiary device, they attempt to disintegrate a comet before it comes near the Earth. Most of the time they are successful, and so they are seen as heroes to the surface people.

The Meteor Sweepers "clean up" after the Comet Blasters, though their job is every bit as important as the task of their space-bound companions.

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When a comet is not fully destroyed, it's the Sweepers' job to wipe out the smaller remnants of an object. It's actually harder to take care of these smaller threats, because not only are they harder to hit due to size reduction, but it's also troublesome to predict their trajectory after a blast which separates them from their parent body.

To increase the accuracy of the Meteor Sweepers, they take off in extremely high altitude jets from a launching truck. They're essentially aimed at the target and then blast off, using what a documentary on the disc calls a "zero length launch." They have one chance to go up in the sky, remove the remaining threat to the planet, and then return to the surface, depleted of fuel.

These are the people that concern us in Stratos 4. And because this is anime, they are, of course, teenage girls. In fairness, however, I seem to recall the great Robert Heinlein himself suggesting in his novel, Starship Troopers that women make better pilots than men simply because their naturally better able to keep peripheral targets organized in their minds.

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Whether that's true or not, I really doubt much science came into consideration while creating this series. So we stray from scientific fact and move towards what promises to be an endearing tale of four young girls, the greatest threat to ever face mankind, and what they plan to do about it.

Living on an isolated military base on Shimoji Island, Mikaze Honjyo doesn't start the series feeling like the hero that the citizens of the world believe she is. Though she's completed a rigorous training regimen, she still has trouble listening to her professors, isn't too keen on keeping physically fit, and barely has any motivation to show up for duty on time.

Mikaze's friends are painfully aware of her inexplicable lethargy. Her roommate, Shizuha Do, is frequently made tardy by Mikaze's inability to get to the base on time. Another partner and classmate, the highly athletic Ayamo Nakamura, is quickly getting tired of Mikaze's complete lack in energy. Even the reserved, intelligent Karin Kikuhara - another close friend of Mikaze's - would be tempted to suggest Mikaze should retire from service.

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Her heart is clearly not in her job, and when the lives of every person on the Earth depend upon Mikaze and her co-pilots, it is a problem of planetary importance.

However, when the first wave of comet fragments escape the Comet Blasters and Mikaze's unit is - unexpectedly - called to scramble, she suddenly finds her purpose in life. A breeze gives her the push she needs to get into the cockpit of her plane, and she takes to the sky like a bird. Seeing as the word "kaze," or "wind" is a part of her name, this is something viewers might not have much trouble predicting.

What we cannot predict is how the Meteor Sweepers are going to react to the various conflicts - both extraterrestrial and domestic - that arise while they work as the last line of defense between annihilation and continued presence of human life on Earth. Expect humor, a little bit of fanservice, and a whole lot of inspirational shojo in this new series from AD Vision. It may not promise to be the most realistic new science fiction series, but those pilots sure are cute!

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