The basic premise of the series is that some 200 years ago, an electromagnetic shockwave hit Earth, nearly destroying everything. The shockwave came from a star going supernova -- and a second wave (and this time it'll contain matter as well). Mankind starts building "Foundations", large space stations, to prepare for the Second Wave. This is called the Big Mission.
Main character is Katase Shima, a girl who is going to Foundation II: Stellvia, to study there as a prep student. Apparently she had a big fight with her mother about it (so they don't really say goodbye). She meets various other prep students and turns out to be an ace programmer but a horrible pilot.
It's another 'coming of age' story, set in a school in space. It had undertones of a science-fiction version of Hogwarts: different instructors for (sometimes very practical) subjects like piloting, teachers who are not that strict, and the whole society of students that sorts out its own problems. There's humor and drama, and by the time the Big Mission is about to begin, you're thoroughly hooked to the plot.
The weird thing is, that the Big Mission occurs somewhere halfway the series. By this time, Shima has turned into an ace pilot, so you just know she'll have a major role to play in things to come. And you wouldn't be dissapointed.
After the Big Mission, we get some character development (mainly in the area of Shima's relationship with Kouta), and then we get plunged into the plot again: the aliens turn up, tensions between the Foundations runs high, and one Foundation even gets destroyed by the aliens!
The last part of the series is a big of a drag: Shima can't cope with not being the best of the class (she does work hard, admittedly) -- and it stings even more that it's Kouta who is better than her in almost every aspect (perhaps this is another subtle show of Japan's innate misogyny). She spends a lot of time crying in the last 4 to 5 episodes, and that drags the plot down.
The last two episodes are really intense though, and I liked those very much. Though I wonder what became of the aliens: they act as some sort of Deus ex Machina: they show the humans how to slow down the Space Fracture and supply a map, but then they just... dissapear. And they even dissapear from people's minds. No-one seems to think: "Hey, I wonder what those aliens are all about. Let's seek them out, shall we?"
- Character designs;
- Integration of the CGI with the cell-animation;
- High production standards;
- Most of the plot is pretty exciting.
- Some of the plot drags;
- Loose threads in the plot;
- The students solve all the problems for the teachers -- in my time, the teacher were better at their subjects than the students, but perhaps that's just me.
Overall, I'll give it an 7.5.