The Fall 2016 Anime Preview Guide
Magic of Stella
How would you rate episode 1 of
Magic of Stella ?
What is this?
Tamaki Honda has long lived out in the boondocks, but she's joining her friend Yamine in the city to go to high school. Her new school is known for its relaxed atmosphere and numerous clubs, but she doesn't have any particular passion, so she's unsure what she wants at first. The club that most catches her attention is a more eccentric choice: the SNS, an all-girl game creation club. They're in desperate need of a new illustrator, and Tamaki has drawn some before and liked making games in elementary school, so she decides to join in the hopes of finding her passion in game-making. Magic of Stella is based on a 4-koma manga and can be found streaming on Daisuki, Mondays at 10:30 AM EST.
How was the first episode?
It took a little while for Magic of Stella to get going - in fact, the first few minutes don't offer much direction at all. But slice of life shows can be like that, and as the episode continued, this one turned out to be one of the more confident premieres of the season. It's undoubtedly stuck in firm genre appeal territory, but it's a sturdy and appealing episode.
As I've said many times before, slice of life shows lean heavily on the appeal of their characters, and that's definitely an area where Magic of Stella shines. Protagonist Tamaki Honda gives both this episode and the show at large a sense of emotional consequence and dramatic momentum. Initially fearful of never finding her own passion, her integration in her high school's game-making club feels very natural. And by the end of the episode, it seems likely that her rapid progress as an artist will give the show something resembling an actual hook going forward.
The rest of Stella's cast is equally strong, though not given as much time or focus to stand out. The members of the game-making club feel distinctive without falling into archetype or caricature - they all have unique but relatively grounded personalities, and their roles within the club don't dominate their personalities. Light jokes emerge naturally from the conversations of the group, and the show's slight sense of friction (the president's insistence on prioritizing the difficulty of game making, Tamaki's regular refrain of “what am I doing with my life?”) give it a tonal depth beyond “light and pleasant.”
Magic of Stella's execution is mostly just functional. I'm not really a fan of this show's character designs - they feel both too rounded and too similar to each other, and none of the characters were particularly expressive. The backgrounds fare better, but it seems likely that the show's clubroom setting won't give its nice environmental art that much time to shine. My main hope is that the fantasy settings of the opening song imply both that the show will go further into the craft and fun of creating games, as well as bring the club's gaming experiences to life through fantasy digressions.
Overall, Magic of Stella is unlikely to do much for those who aren't already fans of slice of life, but stands as a charming and solidly written example of its genre. It's not a top tier show, but it's a solid effort.
Let's get one thing out of the way first: Magic of Stella is undeniably a series banking on at least some degree of moe appeal, as it is essentially a “cute girls make games” series. That being said, this one does not engage in the kind of cuteness overload or hyper-pandering style that all too many other moe-focused series have done. In fact, it restrains itself enough that even those who normally don't care for heavy moe influences should find it tolerable.
Actually, “tolerable” might be too soft a word, as director Shinya Kawatsura (Kokoro Connect, Non Non Biyori) and a SILVER LINK animation team have produced something here that is simple but remarkably charming. None of the characters shown so far are outlandish but all have appreciable quirks, such as the programmer and (reluctant) club president who is normally expressionless but takes particular delight in creating “chaos” by making weird blends of drinks. She's very pragmatic towards Tamaki but also reassuring, a girl who doesn't seem to want to be the club's leader but does seem cut out for the role. For her part, Tamaki is character many teenagers could easily relate to: someone who has had diverse interests throughout her childhood but has yet to settle on one as a focus, so in effect she's trying to find herself. Without being pushy about it, the writing demonstrates how the SNS will be a great fit for her in that regard. In fact, given that this is based on a 4-koma manga, the levels of depth and characterization it shows in its first episode are quite surprising.
The first episode also stands out artistically, though whether or not that's for good reasons is another matter. It uses an exceedingly light, pale color scheme which suggests warmth and softness but which can also make the artistry seem washed-out. Background art is minimized, to the point that characters are sometimes animated in front of a blank, white screen. The character designs and animation are all crisp, clean, consistent, and suitably cute, though I did find it odd that the girls all look like they're still in middle school (if that!) even though they are supposed to be high school students. A gentle but unexpectedly effective musical score is also a great enhancement.
Magic of Stella may not end up being one of the season's stand-out titles, but it has a big capacity to be one of the season's understated charmers.
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