The Summer 2016 Anime Preview Guide
Regalia: The Three Sacred Stars
How would you rate episode 1 of
Regalia: The Three Sacred Stars ?
What is this?
Rena and her “little sister” Yui have been together for a long time, though Yui's busy schedule now tends to keep them apart. But as a rare afternoon date between the two approaches, Rena is confronted by a ghost from a previous life when the mysterious girl Kei appears before her. Hunting after Kei, Rena is thrown into a battle where she must confront her old nature and fight at the helm of a massive Regalia Gear to defend her home and family. But can Rena fight off the demons of her past while still holding on to the life she has found with her sister? Regalia: The Three Sacred Stars is an original anime work and can be found streaming on Funimation, Thursdays at 10:00 AM EST.
How was the first episode?
I have watched the first episode of this all the way through once and partway through a second time, and I'm still not sure what the heck I watched. The first episode actually does seem like it intends to tell a story, but it is such a hodgepodge of elements that it's not all that coherent. Anime fans tend to not be too appreciative of a series taking ample time to explain itself at the beginning, but this is one case where I think the series could have benefited from it.
From what I can make out, it involves mecha that are somehow tied to young-seeming girls; in fact, at least one of the young-seeming girls is actually the embodiment of the core of one of the mecha, or perhaps its avatar? A dozen years ago something really explosively bad happened involving a mecha fight, and one of these girls may have lost her memory, while another one wants her to get it back for some reason. A young woman who looks considerably older refers to the first girl as her “older sister,” although I get the impression that's not meant in the familial sense in this case, as both of them wear rings suggestive of wedding bands and they're supposed to be on a date before the other girl interferes. So I guess yuri is supposed to be part of this scheme, and loli-involved yuri at that. The young woman ends up piloting the mecha that the first girl manifest when a thug who has his own mecha challenges her and won't take “no” for an answer. That, of course, leads to big, flashy action scenes.
And boy are the action scenes flashy! Even if the rest of the episode doesn't make much sense, it's worth watching for those fights alone. These are dark, intense affairs backed by heavily ominous music and supported by deep, rich colors and impressive animation. The artistry also produces a very nice Lolita look for the second girl, though other character designs are more ordinary.
I get the sense that there actually could be something to this series if it ever gets around to explaining itself better. Because of that, I am willing to give it the benefit of the doubt for now. However, it is going to have get itself together to keep its viewers.
I'm having a bit of trouble making up my mind about this episode. Largely this is because I feel like it is implying an awful lot rather than making things more clear, and that's not a style of storytelling I especially like. On the other hand, I kind of admire Regalia: The Three Sacred Stars for using adorable little girls as its mecha pilots (or at least as its mecha control systems/batteries) rather than broody teen boys. Of course, the strong implication is that these girls only look like they're eight years old, and protagonist Rena says that she's not human, but rather the “core” for the mecha she materializes. The fact that twelve years ago there was some sort of cataclysmic event that appears to have left Rena stranded in a ruined city looking exactly as she does now either marks the moment when she ceased to be human or at least when her growth was halted; her more developed sister Yui refers to her as “onee-chan,” and the brief scan of family photos we get in the beginning of the episode shows us Yui growing taller while Rena remains stagnant. Now another apparent little girl has come to bring Yui back into the mecha-driving fold, complete with an “older” girl she's awfully attached to, which plants the idea that Rena will need Yui to successfully pilot her mech.
All of this is fairly interesting, although with Yui and Rena having been raised as sisters I'm not wild about the yuri subtext. (I have a harder time with grown-up-together sister/sister yuri than most other genre fantasies since I have two younger sisters.) Where things started to falter for me was with the fact that Yui may or may not be the empress of the kingdom, which felt like something I really wanted to be clear. (Also, if she's the ruler, how is she living with Rena in the city?) The fairly substantial cast of other little girls is another point that worries me, although it does look as if girls like Rena may be some sort of androids based on a particular person: there are three others who look like her, one of whom is an adult, and Kei's special someone also looks quite similar to her. I do quite like the look of the show, which is a nice mix of light and dark in its colors and the trick of Rena transforming one arm of the mech into a large version of her own human arm is neat.
The potential is there for this show, I'm just not sure it's there for me. Given how heavily it enjoys implying Big Things, I'm a bit afraid that it will simply crumble under its own weight as it goes on, and I really would have liked the first episode to perhaps have indicated why they need to fight – Rena and Yui's battle against the random dude sent by Kei doesn't feel all that necessary to the plot other than to get them in the mech in the first place. Things may smooth out, but I have too many reservations about this to want to see if and how.
I'm having a tough time judging Regalia: The Three Sacred Stars based on its first episode alone. Its technical merits are solid enough, but its story and characters are very much up in the air at this point. The show makes some unusual and intriguing choices, the most significant of which might be making a mecha series without a featureless teenage boy as its protagonist. Even though some of these ideas sound good on paper, it's difficult to get a read on how well they're going to work in practice.
The problem here is that Regalia is trying really hard to avoid tipping its hand this early in the game. The relationship between Rena and her “sister” (they don't seem to be related by blood) Yui is kept pretty ambiguous, and it's tough to tell if they just care about one another as adopted sisters or if there's something more to it. That trend of keeping the audience in the dark continues throughout the episode, with characters popping in here and there to make cryptic references to past events. Even the ending is a bit baffling, with Yui being revealed as the Empress of her country despite the fact that she somehow wandered into a giant robot fight without any bodyguards showing up. Whether all this deliberate mystery comes across as a compelling hook or a cheap narrative trick is up for debate, but at least it's a little different from the usual mecha formula.
The aforementioned giant robot fight showcases some respectable animation, even if the robots themselves look a little bland. The biggest issue is with the disposable bad guy Rena ends up fighting against; he's just your average evil henchman, devoid of any interesting qualities. The fight plays out as you'd expect, with Yui more or less unfazed by the revelation that her older sister can summon a giant robot out of thin air. We get a few glimpses of other girls who presumably have robots of their own, and much of Regalia's appeal as a mecha series will depend on whether or not these characters make for interesting allies and enemies.
The optimist in me really appreciates this show's efforts to distinguish itself from the rest of the genre, and it has a lot of potential if it can put its unique elements to good use. On the other hand, I've seen far too many promising mecha titles collapse under the weight of overblown plot twists and badly written philosophical monologues to take everything here at face value. I can see Regalia: The Three Sacred Stars going just about anywhere at this point, and I hope it can hold together over the course of the season.
Regalia's first episode really surprised me by the end. The show starts off in typical and fairly slow fashion - after a climactic robot duel in the opening scene, we spend long minutes getting accustomed to the sibling bond between Rena and Yui. As Rena is dragged from a potential lunch date by a mysterious figure from her past, it seems likely that Yui will be turned into a sacrifice-motivation - she'll hunt down her sister, get killed in Rena's fight, and then become Rena's reason to keep fighting.
But then, pretty much the opposite happens. Yui runs into Rena's robot duel, but she doesn't get in the way - she actually motivates Rena, and then the two of them fight together. In the end, Yui seems to “pilot” her sister, as the two fight back against a disposable bad guy and reaffirm their sibling bond.
That's actually a pretty satisfying twist! It's nice seeing a robot fighting show that doesn't just star a female protagonist, but makes the clear bond between two sisters the core of its emotional material. Shows about sisters are rare enough as it is, and seeing a classic “boy finds giant robot and pursues his destiny” frame attached to this pair makes for a satisfying revision of an old classic.
On top of that, the robot duel that consumes the second half of this episode is also really awesome. This has been a pretty dire season as far as action shows go, but Regalia seems ready to make up for at least some of that lack. Rena's robot features an appealingly acrobatic design topped off with a dashing cloak-scarf, and the exchanges between her regalia and its equally well-designed opponent are brought to life through vivid fluid animation. Solid choreography, strong fundamental designs, and fight beats matched to the emotional notes of the two sisters make for a very satisfying first climax.
It seems likely enough that those two strengths will be more or less what we're getting with this show - the final scenes here showed off a variety of other girls who'll likely get introduced episodically, and nothing about the overarching plot seems particularly interesting. But if you're interested in either cute girls for their own sake, shows focused on family bonds, or sweet robot action scenes, The Three Sacred Stars has at least one thing you'll probably like. A very unexpectedly strong premiere.
Rating: Not For Me!
So, upfront, Regalia: The Three Sacred Stars is Capital-N Not For Me. This show lands squarely in the “yuri loli mecha” subgenre, a place populated by shows like Nanoha, Kannazuki no Miko (although that one was a little less ‘loli’ if I remember), Blue Drop and more. If you're not in to that – loli characters almost kissing, then beating the tar out of eachother with giant robots while having very serious and emotionally impactful conversations about it – this may not be for you either. The genre has produced some pretty impressive work and there are thousands of fans who will very convincingly tell you that plenty of this stuff is great – and it is – I've just never personally been attracted to the concept. That's no harm no foul on the show itself, but buyer beware.
The big problem here is the story construction – there are plenty of anime out there that feel like they're little more than a few of the creative staff's favorite things strung together in a profit-maximizing fashion (in a single show you may find two of the three following things: cat girls with flat chests and knobby knees, big-boobed ghost girls who believe in cruel-hearted social darwinism, incurably horny 17-year old undead mecha pilots with visible camel toe and daddy issues). Sometimes when that's the goal – pick some fun fetishes, hope people show up – the result can actually be kinda charming and cool (example: Monster Musume). If you bog it all down with half-written, super vague sci-fi lore and extremely serious melodrama, that's where you lose me – and Regalia lost me almost immediately.
What really got me is that this show isn't based on anything – it's written exactly in the way other confusing game adaptations are, where I get 10 minutes into the episode and wonder if I'm supposed to have read all the optional “grimoire” sections of some Match-3 game with RPG elements I've never heard of. So when I went looking for whatever this thing was surely based on, I came up short – and deduced that the kissin’, fightin’ mecha lolis are supposed to be enough to hook me on the otherwise still-completely-obscured original sci-fi plot. Since they aren't, I guess I need to check out now – someone let me know if this one turns into a masterpiece by the end, but based on the way they're telling the story right now, I'm not keeping my hopes up.
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