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).
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.
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.
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.