Star Driver is Awesome and I’m Going to Keep Watching It

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Within 48 hours of the airing of the first episode I come across a bevy of disapproving or skeptical opinions on it, even from writers I like, respect, and/or enjoy reading (there are distinctions, you see but this guy fits all three). I was feeling rather disheartened because I felt I was the only blog writer who appreciated the episode discriminatingly (except this guy, whose take on it is awesome).

In this post I’ll present some opinions I’ve found (favorable to Star Driver) that I agree with and/or find interesting or provocative, then move on to things that personally delight me about the show beyond the obvious (robots).

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Pontifus says:

Some people seem to have a hard time following the plot. And indeed the pacing is sort of frantic, particularly in the first episode. But essentially what the show does is lay out a bunch of tropes you already know. You don’t really need explicit context because you bring context enough to the show.

I mean, we get the hotblooded, justice-filled hero from out of town. He even mentions his now-absent mentor, in this case a grandfather. We know that guy. He’s the Hero at about monomyth stage four (going on five). We get the cheerful love interest, the stoic and reasonable friend — we know them, too. Then about halfway through episode one the show drops the evil organization on us, and we’re bombarded with bits and pieces of villainous scheming — but, really, our understanding is rooted in the fact that this is the evil organization, and, broadly speaking, they could only possibly want one thing, right? Hell, we even know that town with a secret that everyone but the protagonist knows. Of course we still can’t grasp the precise arcano-mechanics of the mecha, the island maidens, and so on, but that’s not the sort of thing we’d expect to see explained fully in the first two episodes anyway.

I guess one could make a case vs. Star Driver on the grounds that it expects too much of its viewers. Surely not everyone can just put everything together from prior knowledge — and, yeah, that seems to be a problem here, but I do think that the pacing works well enough that you can miss something (as I’m sure I have) and still have fun with it.

What do we call this kind of storytelling? The term I’ve been using is advanced, meaning simply that it’s a story that expects its consumers to consume with the skillset of seasoned consumers, people who do stories with some frequency and a certain degree of thoughtfulness. But that definition really rubs me the wrong way. I don’t want to sound so self-satisfying. We might call it a database narrative, but this kind of story appears often enough outside the database as defined as an anime/manga thing. So if you have a better idea, let me know.

An excellent enumeration of the elements, with some insight on the nature of the presentation of such elements. I don’t have a better idea, but cinco bajeena does:

The whole story revolves around the hoe girls vs. the pure-pure drama club virgins, and the ultimate victory is their deflowering — but along comes the galactic bishounen, who may or may not be gay but definitely will protect their hymens.

No… really.

While this is seriously over 9000 times deeper than your garden variety anime, I really do hope that Enokido’s trademark — everything working on a different level and not being quite what it seems — will be in effect for this series.

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Put it that way, what a trip! You know what, I’m all for this seemingly confused mess of sexual politics and presentation. The text seems to know what it wants to say, but at the same time confused about what it ends up saying. This is fine with me. I don’t have to be generous with granting the text the benefit of the doubt that it’s generating intentional ambiguity. I’m not inclined to. It doesn’t mean that I can’t appreciate the resulting basket of goods.

What I’m perfectly willing to grant is that the whole thing is sexually charged, just like Revolutionary Girl Utena is. How far it goes to evoke the comparison is something I won’t predict, but after two episodes it’s something that I enjoy very much. I can’t get enough of RGU and to do something like it, and replace swords with robots, is something I’m all excited about.

There are many ways Star Driver remembers love for Revolutionary Girl Utena, but what I want to bring your attention to is the ritualized combat, evoking repetition and variation though not as all-pervasive as RGU which used it all over the place. Nonetheless it achieves an effect that good world-building does: a sense of immersion into something important and meaningful; strange and familiar all at once:

 

Awesome. Yes. Now watch the Star Driver equivalent:

 

There are the androgynous fashion of the protagonists. There’s the waterworks. There is the sigil key item (Rose Crest ring, X chest) There’s a song that triggers the event. There’s an ascent. There’s the special, if not magical place where the duels occur. There’s the stylized transformation from mundane clothing to “formal” dueling costume. There is a maiden at stake (Anthy, then Wako). The protagonists are independent players against a powerful student organization.

Now for the difficult question: Is a shiny, database update of Revolutionary Girl Utena enough? Will Star Driver have done enough by presenting a variation of RGU elements and some of the themes? Well, for database animals, perhaps. But for some of us who ask more from our anime, be it powerful characterization, an intricate but solid plot, a story that compels beyond novelty, or all of the above, it’s tough.

For now I think it’s enough to say that the love remembered for Revolutionary Girl Utena is awesome, and makes me want to watch more. It maybe difficult to ask for a revolution from Star Driver in anime, or even school anime, or even robot anime, or both (Code Geass and Macross Frontier both had high school settings and characters), but I’d like to see it try.

About ghostlightning

I entered the anime blogging sphere as a lurker around Spring 2008. We Remember Love is my first anime blog. Click here if this is your first time to visit WRL.
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51 Responses to Star Driver is Awesome and I’m Going to Keep Watching It

  1. BenDTU says:

    First?

    I’m enjoying the mecha parts of it, but the ‘high school shenanigans’ part of it is giving me a hardcore Code Geass vibe.

    Well, the whole series is giving me a Code Geass vibe, it probably doesn’t help the same group is subbing it as when I was watching R2. Either way I think we’re pretty safe to say it’ll be better than Heroman since it only took them 2 episodes to pull out a wave motion cannon instead of 26.

    • First, I didn’t mind the highschool antics of Code Geass and here the setting is central as opposed to circumstantial. Besides, these highschool elements really draw from Utena anyway, which is awesome.

      The robot action is delightful too, having fluid and stylized brawling along with finisher beam weapon. I just want the show to heavily favor the former.

  2. Emperor J says:

    I guess going off of the one episode I did watch of this, I really didn’t see anything of this sort. I suppose it’s always nice having perspectives like this, and a lot of the hate seen here would also have been directed at Utena if it aired now, but the presentation just didn’t appeal to me in that episode.

    • I prefer a forthright lack of affinity with the presentation (a very important part of this show) than all sorts of disparagement of the content.

      I agree that Utena may get of high volume and high profile hate if it aired today. This despite the widespread acceptance of Shinbo x Shaft anime.

  3. BenDTU says:

    Also out of curiosity, are you still watching SRWOG The Inspector?

    • Yes, behold the continuous debuts of the superprototypes. The Tiger robot rubs me the wrong way but I’ve been crawling across the desert for so long that I’ll drink all of this up.

      • BenDTU says:

        Just wait until they transform into TigerDragon robot and DragonTiger robot. That being said, we better get their theme songs or I’ll be mad.

        Spoiler: It probably won’t look that awesome when they do turn up.

      • schneider says:

        Superprototypes is the name of the game in SRWOG. The game got away with making the moments as awesome as possible, so I hope the anime follows suit as well.

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  5. Ryan says:

    It maybe difficult to ask for a revolution from Star Driver in anime, or even school anime, or even robot anime, or both (…), but I’d like to see it try.

    I think it is asking quite a lot, but the potential is definitely there and having this sexual charge you’ve mentioned, I feel that’s a solid tilt which can drive the series in an impressive direction; it offers a extra layer for analysis/implication as well.

    If it all comes crashing down, it will more than likely be the fault of execution and/or planning imo, because the raw ingredients are generally fresh atm.

    • Yeah and if it doesn’t quite meet these I may end up liking it more than Xam’d just for the fun factor and robot content.

      • abitidi says:

        just for the fun factor
        At least for me, the fun factor is all I need to watch a show. IMO Star Driver definately remembers love for the times when every show had the same plot but we watched them anyways. Because it was fun. Is it wrong to think that a show doesn’t necessarliy need an original plot or outstanding characters to be enjoyable? I think it’s precisely because Star Driver relies on so many established tropes that I can enjoy it this much. I know what to expect, and I know it will be awesome.

        • It is not wrong at all.

          It is equally not wrong to want other things, or more things too.

          It gets problematic when people start imposing their particular desires or tastes not so much on the show itself, but on other fans — making anyone who doesn’t share the extent or limit of their tastes wrong.

  6. gaguri says:

    like mentioned above the clip reminds me lot more of Code Geass than Utena. I loved Utena’s ritual sequence, and it’s not like I hate mecha transformations (TTGL does it gloriously) but I can’t find much love for the one above (although her singing was beautiful). Anyway, Utena related or not, I hope at the end it proves to be more than just for database animals!

    • Is it the character designs? I find it difficult to feel a strong Code Geass vibe, perhaps mainly because of my own three-decade history with mecha pilot boarding scenes, transformation scenes, and combining scenes. CG is but a part in its tradition albeit a very interesting one.

      But I don’t blame you given how recent and popular/notorious CG is, and significant attention was given to its high school setting that can be quite absurd.

  7. sadakups says:

    Man, I’ve been waiting for you to comment on this show. I’m pretty much getting tired of the words FABULOUS and FAGGOTRY being used over and over.

    • Anyone who uses “faggotry” shouldn’t be trusted with opinions on anime i swear to god

      fabulous and foppery are good though

    • Lazy meme spamming is nothing new and especially after Code Geass. People want to relive the trollan glory, or maybe some who were late to the party are too eager to make this another one.

      • ZeroOBK says:

        I think this is a bit different from back in the Code Geass days. A good amount of the attitude back then was something like “This is a trainwreck, why am I watching this terrible anime?!” In other words, things were fairly negative. On the other hand, when you have people say “fabulous” or “kiraboshi” about Star Driver I believe it’s more like they’re saying “I think this anime is ridiculous, but I love it that way.”

  8. Mukizu says:

    Well, I can’t see Code Geass here at all.
    Also the series have quite a low rating(1,2% if I’m not mistaken), so it could be canceled if the situation won’t change

  9. Jack says:

    “Star Driver is Awesome and I’m Going to Keep Watching It” – I think we can safely say that’s a wise stance to take.

    I’m actually slightly surprised at the amount of negative discussion the first episode got.

    I suppose some of it was expect, but some of the comments I’ve read are quite surprising. E. g. ” I also question the choice of calling the main character a “Galactic Bishounen”. That in and of itself suggests that the creators aren’t taking this show seriously.”

    I hadn’t believed that you’d need to examine the show very closely to see that it’s tone was not very serious (like the first few scenes…or perhaps every scene?)

    • It is very serious about making sure that it’s not taken very seriously, if you know what I mean. I don’t think one really puts in a potentially career-sustaining effort without seriousness.

      Levity, lightheartedness, combined with so many other elements demand a steady hand in terms of writing, plotting, storyboarding… comedy is heard, even if the show isn’t about jokes. Or, if it is about a set of contextual meta jokes like this one could be.

      Or, it’s rather serious at how it seemingly asks us not to take ourselves too seriously when enjoying the show. That, to me, is serious business (but that’s me).

  10. Kaioshin Sama says:

    Man can’t get enough of that “launch sequence” for Tauburn. The singing starts kind of awkward but gradually meshes into it’s own cool sequence and actually becomes kind of catchy. Plus the sassy posing…..

    Anyway I admit to having to cheat a bit to understand what was going on in the first two episodes by reading a translation of Newtype comments from the director. I don’t get the sense that I’ve missed anything yet.

  11. Vince says:

    Nice to see someone else have as much fun as I had watching this. I was honestly surprised to see the negative reaction Star Driver got all over the ‘net, to the point of me wondering if I’m watching the same show as everyone else.

    • I think there are at least as many people who enjoy this show so far, only that it’s difficult for many to take a stand because the dismissals come far too easy from many of those who make them, and it’s almost like the casual fan who admits to liking this becomes too easy to attack with a thousand memes.

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  13. kadian1364 says:

    I think Star Driver is more like Code Geass than Utena because it feels so out of control. Utena was able to really hone in on certain imagery or dialogue so that (I felt) everything had purpose, like to contradict a previously assumed statement or drive home some symbolism. The way Star Driver throws out random scenes gives me no baseline to understand it other than from calling back to past anime. Remembering love is good and all, but it has to be able to stand on its own first.

    • If we insist on that binary then yes, your reasoning is sound. Utena always felt it was steered with the steadiest of hands to the point that you can tell it’s messing with you.

      This show is still very busy trying to make you like it.

      Now I’m with ponchan and cinco, there’s enough to establish it as a show given what they say; it’s become difficult actually to see it for itself because of the heavy referencing, which to me implies a level of ambition. This is where the issue really lies: can it be excellent?

      Anything else would feel like a failure.

    • Camario says:

      Generally speaking, I don’t think Star Driver is simply being random for the sake of being random. It’s just trying to establish its characters and world in a different way, while being fairly self-indulgent at the same time. Some specific events might turn out to be totally random, but I would say it’s too early to judge whether or not there will be any interesting callbacks to what has already happened that might even make some us see them in a new light.

      Then again, I’m also of the opinion that Code Geass wasn’t necessarily truly out of control either, at least not until the last half of the second season (which means it wasn’t overall , by extension, since IMHO there was a underlying method to a lot of the madness beyond all the online brouhaha). That being the case, I’m not too impatient about what Star Driver does or or doesn’t do in the long run.

  14. adaywithoutme says:

    I’ll grant Star Driver this – it got immensely better in the second episode, to the point where I am willing to commit to watching the whole season. However, I remain deeply skeptical overall, if only because I’ve seen people make RGU comparisons before with the mediocre and multiply-flawed Melody of Oblivion, and also since I think it really is too early to tell. I’ll also admit that I don’t see any of RGU’s spirit of feminism present in these proceedings, and I think that feminism was vital to the overall show itself. Star Driver seems to be going a more traditional route, at least as indicated by the fanservicey outfits of the masked women and by the fact that our would-be Utena is male yet our would-be Anthy has remained female. But I’m perfectly willing to keep watching to be proven wrong; I’m just not expecting to be.

    • The feminist content in RGU is both central and very important to it. However, I admit that I never watched it for the feminism or the sexual politics. Those, to me, were just as important, or no more important than the liberties it took in storytelling, the devices it used like the shadow puppets, the music, etc.

      Given the flat valuation I make (flat but very high), an assortment of references to a subset of these factors/elements from RGU is something I will appreciate very much. Ultimately this post says that I am committed to watch the rest of the show, the only thing different between me and some others is that I enthusiastically anticipate its success while others (you) watch it with guarded skepticism.

      I’ll wager that I’m going to have a lot more fun.

    • Salinea says:

      I’ll also admit that I don’t see any of RGU’s spirit of feminism present in these proceedings, and I think that feminism was vital to the overall show itself.
      That’s one of the thing that disturbs me with all the comparison, ignoring the fact that the essential boldness, depth and transgression of Utena had to do with its feminist aspect.

      Then again, it’s not yet impossible for Star Driver to be an interesting show in that way as well. The appropriation of Mahou Shoujo styles with a male hero in a mecha show could lead to fun stuff as well – I certainly think feminism also applies to criticism of the way men also are punished by sexist cultures if they stray from “manly” norms of behaviour.
      Or it could be just some light hearted fair with fun mixing of genre that don’t actually lead anywhere. It’s just too early to tell.

      • I maintain that a fair comparison for RGU can be made without the sexual politics.

        However, my point here isn’t that Galactic Pretty Boy is trying to be RGU or match RGU, but rather how it remembers love for it, how it pays homage, how it genuflects to it.

        It’s the same way how I don’t think Eureka SeveN is trying to be Gundam, or trying to match it. But how it remembers love for the Gundam franchise is one of the most satisfying things for me to account for as a fan of anime in general.

        This in itself may have very little value for many viewers, but it is something is quite important to me and my particular aesthetic for shows and traditions of shows.

        • Salinea says:

          I don’t think Star Driver necessarily needs to be feminist in the same way that SKU, specifically; but in order for references to it not to ring hollow and superficial, I do believe it needs to have some kind of depth and complexity to its content. That content can be political, psychological, meta-narrative, anything; as long as it’s somewhat equal in innovation and boldness as Utena.

          No matter how many call back to a work you make, you can’t properly pay homage to it if you don’t remember what was at its core. You can’t pay remember love for Utena if female characters are only to be seductive villains in bondage gears (much as I love those bondage gears) or damsels in distress. That’s only remembering love for the outer trappings of Utena; not the heart of Utena. You don’t necessarily have to be as feminist as Utena; but you have to at least not have classically sexist character dynamics.

          I say that, but I do think Star Driver is using those shout out to Utena in order to foreshadow that they will subvert the classical gender dynamics they’ve got so far – and I’ll be disappointed if they don’t.

          • I’m with you, though I’m uncomfortable with seeing the references as hollow and superficial. Why? It’s because it assumes that the entire scene referenced in Utena is brimming with significant meaning in of itself. I don’t think it is.

            Part of the joy of Utena is the sheer number of symbolic and pseudo-symbolic (from an authorial intention POV) units thrown at the viewer. Many of these are red herrings.

            Taking out the authorial intention POV, this is all immaterial. The symbols mean whatever we create from it as participants in the text. However, if we take this POV we can no longer accuse Star Driver’s of being hollow since we only mean the symbols don’t mean the same things SKU’s does as we’ve ascribed them to, and we’re not willing to make meanings ourselves.

      • adaywithoutme says:

        The Galactic Pretty Boy thing is an interesting little thing in terms of gender, although I think it remains to be seen if it’ll go into anything deeper or will remain simply this ultra-campy thing intended for laughs more than anything.

  15. Suiman says:

    I also enjoyed the first episode very much. I have yet to watch RGU and I did not get any Code Geass vibes despite it being fabulous so I might be watching it differently from others. Nevertheless, the episode was so full of life. I would sincerely recommend it to others.

    A cheerleader might have failed in saving your soul, effeminate pretty boys on the other hand might just do the trick.

    • As Camario noted above, I did not relate to Code Geass as a pile of wreckage of WTFness. Similarly I don’t see any of these supposedly senseless things many viewers ascribe to Star Driver.

      I’m not averse to flamboyant male characters with a feminine aesthetic. Idk, maybe it’s because of some exposure to shojo or just an open mind towards gender politics and aesthetics in general.

  16. Cassandra says:

    I’m thrilled to find another ‘discriminatingly appreciative’ fan of the series. I started out with skepticism about this series- mostly because I was concerned that Enokido is taking the easy way out by mining familiar and now already too-well-used territory, and that the series feels like back tracing rather than new development – but I continued to watch the series and will see it all the way through. The second ep didn’t do a lot to help, but after reading the translated interview I’ve released some expectations about this series and now view it as sort of Enokido GaoGaiGar’ing his previous work. In which case, that’s fine, and I can view it with a less critical lens. Three and four have been great episodes, and I hope to see the show trend back upward – even if it does, still, feel all too familiar and almost predictable (a word I hoped never to have to use regarding an Enokido series.)

    • The thing about GaoGaiGar, or at least the Final, was that it was rather predictable. Arguably the very ending wasn’t, but that’s still debatable. Predictability isn’t that big a detriment for me (by itself), but rather the feeling of the work being half-assed wherein the predictability is but a symptom.

      Btw, I like your blog and I think your episodic reviews for this show is the one I’ll follow from week to week.

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