Home > Episode Reviews, First Impressions > Star Driver Episodes 1 and 2 – Star Oddity

Star Driver Episodes 1 and 2 – Star Oddity

It’s been a rough 12 months for giant robot anime. Based on a quick search, there haven’t been any new entries into this normally crowded genre in the entirety of 2010.

Some have suggested that the genre had been getting a little stale and played out. This boredom undoubtedly stems mainly from last year, which saw series about giant robots playing basketball, and motorcycles which transformed into giant robots to fight fascism.

But now, giant robots are back, and Star Driver is leading the way. Is it going to bring a giant robot renaissance in its wake? If they’re going to be like this, I really hope not.

I like the opening credits video, which features a stylized Takuto running, predominately sideways

I normally like mecha anime, but, like everyone else, I had grown weary of them in past years. Even by anime standards, mecha shows tend to be moribund and mired in cliché. Sure, there’s the occasional exception to the rule, but even those can’t get past the usual formula: there’s a high school kid who somehow becomes pilot a walking pile of death-dealing steel, which is better than everyone else’s, and he destroys the forces of evil through the purity of his heart/force of his will/mad skills.

If you’re lucky, he’ll have some severe mental problems, or be an entertaining comic figure, or merely a pawn in some convoluted scheme to gain power. But those are the rare exceptions to the rule.

Star Driver is not an exception to the rule.

I somehow managed to avoid getting a beefcake screen cap, so this will have to do

Forces seem to have conspired against me to write about lady otaku this season. Although I normally focus on shows aimed at male otaku—who are more numerous, and whose motivations I have a better handle on, for obvious reasons—this season I am writing about a bunch of shows that either feature lady otaku as characters or are aimed at them.

Star Driver is the latter. One of the weird shifts of the last ten years in anime has been the rise in shows about magical girls—a genre traditionally aimed at young girls—made primarily for men. It’s one of the events that presaged the rise of the creepily sexualized shows that so dominate today’s anime landscape.

Star Driver appears to be part of another such crossover. Mecha anime has for years been aimed towards boys and young men, but over the last ten or so years there’s been a rise in female fans fixated on the handsome and brave men doing mecha battle with one another.

Wako and Sugata are supposedly interested in each other, but Wako is too busy making eyes at Takuto, and Sugata is too cool to ever admit he is capable of emotion. Typical anime couple, in other words

Star Driver is the first traditional mecha show I can think of, however, that gives its female audience equal attention. I say this mostly because the giant robots are almost an afterthought to all the flirting, kissing and shy Significant Glances flying back and forth.

The main focus is the love triangle between heroine Wako Agemaki, her fiancee through an arranged marriage, Sugata Shindou, and the mysterious Takuto Tsunashi, who washes up on the beach after an ill-advised attempt to swim across the sea to the island the show takes place on.

Wako is the South Maiden, one of (apparently) four maidens named after the cardinal directions. She is being hunted by the show’s villains, the Glittering Crux, which sounds like it should be the name of some elaborately flamboyant bondage masquerade conspiracy—and totally is!

This is the least risque and fetishistic of the Glittering Crux costumes

The Glittering Crux are hunting the maidens in giant robots—which the show calls Cybodies, following the mecha tradition of being a jargon-filled mess of nonsense—so that they can bring the power of the Cybody to this dimension.

See, whenever a Cybody is activated, time stops for everybody but the Cybody, the Maidens, and a select few capable of entering this special dimension, which the show calls “Zero Time”. In Zero Time, people float around on bubbles murmuring about the Significant Events that are about to happen, Maidens are hunted and robots—sorry, Cybodies—duke it out against a cosmic backdrop that is either ripping off Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann or whatever Tengen Toppa was ripping off when it did it first.

There are moments when the show seems really pretty. Or at least well-drawn

Being the prettiest boy and therefore the main character, Takuto is obviously capable of generating his own Cybody, which he uses to fight the Crux. He does this without using a Cybercasket (that’s…too…much…jargon), the mechanical contraptions the Crux uses to pilot their Cybodies, which look like the world’s dullest theme park ride designed by Salvador Dali.

When piloting his Cybody, Takuto becomes Ginga Bishounen, or Galactic Pretty-Boy, who looks like the drum major of a glam rock marching band.

Sugata is yet another obscenely wealthy anime character, but otherwise unremarkable. In fact, he might be the most normal character in this show. And that’s disturbing.

I don't know which is funnier, the name "Galactic Pretty Boy" or his character design

Star Driver is the most convoluted, undirected, stylistic train wreck I’ve seen in a long time. It clearly wants to be different, but the conceptual artists don’t have any clue how to synthesize their collective inspirations. The end result is a bizarre mash-up of the gothic nightmares of Neon Genesis Evangelion, the bright, bombastic color explosions of super robot shows and the balls-out weirdness of your garden-variety visual kei band.

The characters are all designed mainly to fulfill the fantasies of whichever gender of animated character you prefer, but without any real thought or effort. The male characters are all glittering pretty boys, tall and thin in the style most desired of fangirls, although Takuto is obviously the glitteringest and prettiest of them all.

Here's why you don't see many close-up shots of anime faces: those huge, doe-like eyes, burrowing into your soul!

The female characters are all designed to be as cute as possible in the most unremarkable way possible. I had to remind myself that Wako was the one with short hair, because I kept thinking she was the one in pigtails.

Everything about the art is jarring and painful. The realistically-rendered 3D backgrounds don’t mesh with the rounded, cartoonish character designs, which also clash with the airy, angular design of the mecha. It’s just a gigantic mess.

The writing and direction doesn’t fare much better. Dialogue, especially in the first episode, consists mostly of characters throwing disjointed, unconnected lines at each other, making exchanges seem less like conversations and more like non sequitur contests.

It seems to be mostly a lazy way of delivering exposition, which the show piles on thickly, with seemingly no concern for the fact that none of it makes any sense. Even the parts that don’t relate to the show’s confusing and bizarre mythology are confusing and bizarre. You’ve got maids wearing animal ears, a high school with apparently no adults and on-screen narration that only comes on to make sexual remarks.

There's a lot of kissing in the second episode. It doesn't happen a lot in anime, because it's really hard to draw anime characters kissing without looking weird

There’s a lot of conspiracy and intrigue, and the painfully awkward stirrings of high school romance, but everything feels thrown together, without any concern for plotting or narrative. The intrigue is too deeply intertwined with the show’s insane mythology, which, despite spending most of two episodes on exposition, you still don’t know enough about to be interesting.

Making the romance plots interesting would require any of the characters to be more than a one-dimensional archetype, and none of them are.

All of this is more interesting than the giant robot scenes, which feel like they were written solely because the artists wanted to draw robots fighting. About halfway through both episodes, someone attacks out of the blue, everyone goes into “Zero Time”, and Takuto beats the snot out of him.

I think they explain why the maids are wearing animal ears, but it was buried in the flood of other exposition

There’s no dramatic tension, or even purpose, other than someone wanted to attack Wako for some vaguely-undefined plot reason. If they weren’t so well-drawn, it would just be a completely waste of everyone’s time. As it is, it’s just a waste of the writer’s time, and the viewers.

Star Driver tries to be the kind of surreal, dark-but-lighthearted mecha anime that people have been trying to make ever since Evangelion made it popular fifteen years ago. It’s surreal, alright, but not in a good way. It’s an incomprehensible mess that’s bland and generic when it’s not confusing. And not confusing in a good, David Lynch way, but in a bad, pretentious-recent-film-school-graduate way. It’s just something that you should never watch, ever. Maybe then people will stop making shows like it.

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  1. January 9, 2011 at 11:42 pm

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