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In an Earth suffering a cometary bombardment (shades here of Star Blazers), two new defensive programs keep the world safe. The front line is held by the Comet Blasters, top gun pilots based in space stations beyond Earth, armed with nuclear warheads to destroy meteors before they can penetrate the atmosphere. The second line is the Meteor Sweepers, ground-based pilots in hypersonic planes who deal with any debris resulting from the space blasts. Heroine Mikaze is a teenager Meteor Sweeper trainee (in Okinawa, of course-see Gunbuster) who longs to become one of the elite Comet Blaster pilots. Like all teenage anime heroines, but most notably like her predecessor pilot in Hummingbirds, she has to struggle with her own shortcomings first, as she and her teammates learn the ropes.
Although the most obvious inspirations for Stratos Four are Deep Impact (1998) and Armageddon (1998), it often plays more like Gerry Anderson's UFO (1970), seen from the viewpoint of the Interceptor pilots and then filtered through teenage insecurity and powerlessness. Mikaze is a classic anime archetype: the daughter of renowned pilots, she flutters between an innate belief in her destiny to follow in the "family business" and teenage fretting that she should be choosing her own path, and not merely aping her parents. Later episodes inject a note of seriousness-there may be on-base high jinks like any school anime, and sops to the anime audience like a comic-relief cat, not to mention the outrageous suspension of disbelief required to watch a bunch of inept schoolgirls flying jet fighters, and yet Stratos Four does not shy away from moments of danger and tension. Later episodes include subplots about how the loneliness of a space station posting can turn a girl's mind to same-sex relationships and the obligatory alien menace, although the former eventually turns out to have been created as a viral infection by the latter. For this, we largely have Studio Fantasia to thank-while the people who gave us Agent Aika have toned down their legendary obsessions a little, there is still much ogling of technical hardware and ample provision of female pulchritude for the male viewer. This may also explain the wholly unnecessary subplot that finds part-time work for some of the pilots in a Chinese restaurant, thereby permitting the animators to put them into slinky cheongsam dresses on occasion.
The TV series was followed by two video sequels: Stratos Four: Return to Base, in which the girls have to deal with a space station threatening to fall out of the sky, and Stratos Four: Advance, the first episode of which was broadcast on TV before its Japanese release. Director Mori gets a coscripting credit on the two-part video and is the sole writer on the six-parter, but otherwise the principal crew is unchanged. After the DVD release of Stratos Four: Advance, later episodes were also broadcast on TV, leading some sources to file it as a TV anime. The titular Battle-Fairy Mave-chan (2005), in a spin-off of the plane-oriented Yukikaze series, was an avowed Stratos Four fan.
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