Sunday, January 16, 2011

Walking Backwards Through the Cosmic Mirror

(Welcome to the first article of our new season write-ups! A couple warnings before I begin: first, this isn't a review or preview making a judgment on whether or not Star Driver is any good. It assumes that the reader is following the anime, and talks more about how the series is progressing, what it's doing right and wrong, and speculation on where it will go next. It's meant to spark discussion and debate. If you haven't seen the series and plan to, avert your eyes before it's too late, since there are mild spoilers below.)

Islands are imbued with a special kind of mystique. They are the homes of giant sea monsters, strange tribes of cannibals, Gothic mysteries, recluses, crazies, revolutionaries, and psuedo-humans. They are isolated places, with a ferry being their only connection to the real world as the rest of us know it, if they even have one at all. An island is the perfect place to find buried mecha made with lost technology and a secret society of teenagers hell-bent on using that mecha for nefarious purposes.

Star Driver does a great job of capturing that mystique, creating a world that lives in a bubble, isolated from the rest of the reality as you and I would know it. This is what intrigues the most about Star Driver's concept: the idea that a truly weird and fantastic world is a ferry ride away. It's a fascination that has helped hold the series up even as it doesn't quite live up to its potential.

As enjoyable as the series has been, it feels like it has all the pieces to be an even better series that it can't quite fit together. A lot of that probably has to do with its very large cast. We have three main characters and a much larger rogue's gallery of villains in the "Glittering Crux". Until recently, we haven't gotten a chance to really know any of them, and more importantly, why they're doing what they're doing. What is the Departure, and why do they want it to happen? How and why are the island's maidens guardians against Glittering Crux unleashing the Departure? And why does Takuto care about any of this? And where does he get his own Cybody, and why does he have to transform into the Galactic Pretty Boy when he uses it?

Perhaps some of these are just conceits I should accept at face value, but in contrast to what I wrote above, this series feels like it has too many mysteries. It's getting hard to care about our characters without some much needed development, but I suspect this shouldn't be a problem for much longer.

Screenwriter YĆ“ji Enokido's most famous series script, Revolutionary Girl Utena, is the obvious spiritual predecessor Star Driver, and while there are many similarities between the two, I'm only going to touch on one here. Utena's roots are in magical girl series like Sailor Moon, and similarly, Utena's episodes had a very rigorous structure. The series was divided into four arcs, each with a distinct visual theme and gimmick. Each episode in these arcs also had a predictable structure, usually culminating in a duel with Utena. This helped tie the series together, making it more satisfying even when the overarching story itself barely moved, since it helped flesh out each character.

An identical structure is emerging in Star Driver. So far we've had two arcs: one that introduced the main characters and each villain in the Glittering Crux's Evil Council, and another that mostly recycles those villains and fleshes out who they are and why they are members. Each arc seems to be divided by which "songstress" sings before "Zero Time" sets in, and who is heading the Glittering Crux council at the time. If this is true, I have several guesses about where this series is going. I suspect each "songstress" is a maiden, including the caged girl from the first arc, and if that is true, then two other assumptions seem probable. We know Glittering Crux wants to find out where the West Maiden is hiding to take their Cybodies to the next level and defeat the Galactic Pretty Boy. Perhaps the caged girl, Sakana, was a maiden whose seal was broken by Glittering Crux, and that subdual might be why they're able to use their Cybodies in the first place. This leads me to think that there is some key backstory about Sakana that will explain a lot of mysteries. For once, I would actually like a flashback episode!

Even if I'm wrong, this emerging structure suggests that my problems with character motivations should be cleared soon. We've already gotten a fascinating look into the screwed-up family politics of Mrs. Watanabe and her servants, and a bit about Benio and why she's a member of Glittering Crux, even if that revelation ended up creating a few more questions than answers. And I'm sure there's even better things to come. Like the soft patter of rain on your window before a thunderstorm sets in, Star Driver is building anticipation towards something much bigger.

Stray Thoughts
This will be a regular section of my recaps where I add thoughts too short or random to fit in the recap. For example:

  • Isn't Star Driver's opening theme perfect? Is it premature to put this up there with Cowboy Bebop and Paranoia Agent as a classic opening theme?
  • I also love Takuto's transformation sequence since I'm a sucker for dramatic gestures and large capes.
  • Gerald Rathkolb talks about a bit about some of his misgivings about Star Driver in Episode #91 of the Anime World Order podcast, and it's worth a listen.
  • To summon their mecha Cybodies, the pilots shout "Apprivoise!" Intriguingly, that's French for "to tame." Could that mean that the Cybodies are like the mecha in Evangelion—monsters that are barely under their master's control?
  • That moment when Marino realized why she was falling in love Takuto was pretty potent. I'm expecting this all to go pear-shaped in the next few episodes, since Marino can't possibly protect her sister and love Takuto. Eventually, she's going to be forced to reveal her true feelings to the rest of Glittering Crux.
  • Those meetings between the Head and Sugata are looking increasingly sinister.
  • I get that Takuto's pretty, but with every girl, friend or foe, falling for him, the series is starting to acquire the stench of a wish-fulfillment harem series. I hope this isn't a development we see more of.
  • Do you mind the glass?

No comments:

Post a Comment