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The Spring 2023 Anime Preview Guide
Stella of the Theater: World Dai Star

How would you rate episode 1 of
Stella of the Theater: World Dai Star ?
Community score: 3.8

What is this?


The story is set in a world after Dai Star stage performers exploded in worldwide popularity in the 20th century. 16-year-old Kokona Ōtori follows her dream of becoming a World Dai Star by auditioning for the Sirius theatrical troupe.

Stella of the Theater: World Dai Star is an original anime part of multimedia project and streams on Crunchyroll on Sundays.

How was the first episode?

Richard Eisenbeis

I wonder how many anime I've seen with this same basic setup. We have our peppy hero who lacks self-confidence but dreams of becoming a star of some sort (be it sports or performance-based). On the way to get their big chance, they come across their high-pedigree soon-to-be rival, who is needlessly mean and looks down on our hero. Then, when they get their chance, everything looks to be going badly but they are able to turn it all around at the last second and make the team/pass the audition.

Luckily, Stella of the Theater: World Dai Star has something that makes it stand out from all the others: Kokona's best friend, Shizuka. Shizuka is a great actress and a solid coach for Kokona. But she is also the episode's driving mystery. Why, if she's so good, is she not auditioning too? Why is she so set on filling a support role? Heck, even at the episode's climax, Kokona only passes the audition because she mimics how she believes Shizuka would have acted the part.

But if you watch carefully, all the hints for solving this mystery are there. While Shizuka is constantly on screen along with Kokona, no one ever addresses her directly except for Kokona. Likewise, no one responds to any of her comments. Beyond that, she is always in the same outfit and never carries a bag—even when Kokona does for their trip to Tokyo. And when Kokona has a conversation with Shizuka in front of Yae, Yae calls Kokona a strange girl.

All this leads to one conclusion: Shizuka does not exist (or if she does, she's a ghost that only Kokona can see). This is confirmed in the episode's final shot where Noa and Yae watch Kokona walking away, talking to herself. The entire situation with Shizuka, how it looms over the episode and changes how you view the whole story once you realize what is going on, drastically elevates this episode.

I could honestly not care less about Kokona's dream or the people in the stage troop she wants to join. However, I am highly invested in Shizuka. Is she an imaginary friend? The delusion of a mentally ill girl? A ghost of a dead loved one? And, perhaps even more importantly, does Kokona even realize what is going on? Does she understand no one else can see Shizuka—that everyone else thinks she is talking to herself? Or is she completely unaware of the situation?

So, congratulations Stella of the Theater: World Dai Star. You've got me hooked. Take your four stars. I'll see you next week.

How was the first episode?

James Beckett

Stella of the Theater: World Dai Star is one of those anime premieres that I had a fairly negative reaction to, though for reasons I am honestly not looking forward to trying to get down in the form of a brief Preview Guide entry because they boil down to philosophical exceptions that I take with the core premise of the show, which are difficult to articulate even when you aren't in the middle of the start-of-season crunch. Let me get out of the way now that I think, on a technical level, Stella of the Theater is a solid production. It's got vibrant colors, appealing character designs, and a focus on girls aspiring to be world-famous theater performers that I can see appealing to a lot of folks. The animation also takes care to be as expressive as possible when communicating the nuances (or lack thereof) of the different actresses' performances, which is always good to see. The show just isn't for me.

Here's the thing: Stella of the Theater is trying to tell a compelling (but typical) idol-anime style story using the trappings of live, theatrical productions, which is an uphill battle that most anime would be destined to lose, I think. So much of what makes theatrical performances compelling lies in the elements of production and performance that are very difficult to replicate using two-dimensional pictures set to a bunch of disembodied voices. Things like the size, dimension, and design of the physical space in which the performance is being held, the chemistry shared between the real people that occupy that space, and the full context of the story being performed are all vital components to what makes theater even function as a medium, and even the most talented cast and crew are going to struggle to get any of that appeal across when working within the medium of televised animation. That goes double for a show going for this particular style, all covered in candy-coated gloss and rooted in idol-anime aesthetics that prioritize distinct and exaggerated character designs over anything resembling real human expression.

For an example of how animation can engage with the specific strengths of live theater, look no further than Masaaki Yuasa's latest film, INU-OH, which weaponizes Science SARU's trademark skill at intentionally rough-hewn and expressionistic animation to convey the feeling that one would get seeing such incredible musical spectacle in person, in addition to paying special care to communicate the small technical details that go into putting on the Medieval equivalent of a rock concert. Revue Starlight is another excellent example of how an anime can utilize the language of theater on a very allegorical level to enhance the surreal symbolism it needs to tell its story.

Stella of the Theater, though, is too clean to feel real and too literal to capture a theatrical performance's dream logic. The closest we get is when we see Kathrina utilize her special “Sense” power to get in the zone and audition well, but that honestly comes across as way too goofy for my tastes, even if we take it as a visual metaphor. Theatrical performance is cool because it is rooted in an actor's specific physical and vocal choices, honed over countless hours of practice and fine-tuning. Not, you know, magical acting superpowers. Maybe this show will come into its own down the line, but I suspect that the vision of stage performance it is trying to sell will never be my bag.

Rebecca Silverman

There's some serious Glass Mask-ing going on in this episode, and that's probably the strongest part of it. It's also a good reason to check out what would otherwise be another show about color-coded cute girls performing – they're not idols if you're sick of them, and some real attention has been paid to the details of performing. There's a notable change in quality when the girls are on stage, from the shifts in body language and voice to the lighting, and it's quite striking. Protagonist Kokona's change from aggressively friendly to cringing terror to playing the prince shows her as a more realized character. It demonstrates the allure of acting in the first place: getting to be someone else for a little while.

From there, however, things go somewhat downhill. The other girls fall into familiar types, to the point where we should probably count ourselves lucky that blonde Kathrina doesn't suddenly sprout curls and start laughing, “oh ho ho.” Noa is abrasive, apparently so that she can weed out the less skilled hopefuls who want to join the theater troupe, and Shizuka…well, Shizuka is the plot twist, and it's not a particularly hidden one. Why is Kokona auditioning and not Shizuka when Shizuka is so clearly a good actress? Why does only Kokona talk to Shizuka? There are two possibilities, and I daresay I can guess which one. It is decently done, though, so I wouldn't say it's a dead giveaway from the start.

I do want to give the episode a lot of credit for one line – when Kokona complains that she doesn't know how to play Romeo because she's never been in love, Shizuka snaps back that she's also never solved a mystery – that's why it's called “acting.” It's a refutation of a particularly silly trope that I dislike: you must have personal experience to create something fictional, and it centers the stance of the episode on acting: it's a skill that comes down to interpretation, not personal experience. Again, this is The Glass Mask influence at work: like in that work, the characters here must put on their roles like donning a costume. If nothing else, that's a promising angle to take, and hopefully, the show will be able to live up to it.

Nicholas Dupree

I'm a bit conflicted on this one. On the one hand, while this isn't an amazing premiere, there's plenty to like about it. This is an advertisement tie-in for a mobile game, but it largely avoids the problems most series of its kind brings with them. There's a relatively small cast, and this episode zeroes in on introducing just a couple of them, giving us a firm grasp of the premise and our main characters' personalities.

The portrayal of stage acting is surprisingly robust. Throughout the auditions, we see not just the basics of emoting and reciting lines but also characters using the lighting and blocking of the stage to enhance their performances. While some weird in-universe terminology called “Sense” might get in the way, this episode is just about the actresses making considered decisions to elevate their performances. There are notable shifts in quality whenever a Big Acting Moment comes. While the fluidity of it clashes a bit with the show's usual production, it's impressive how well they're able to capture the physicality of stage performance. It's a well-produced, thoughtfully constructed show, and the central performances made me interested in seeing more.

On the other hand, I admit I spent a good portion of this episode distracted from the main plot because I realized the show's twist about three minutes in and kept waiting for the shoe-drop reveal. That's a “me” problem, but it didn't help that most of the material leading up to the auditions felt pretty perfunctory. Kokona herself doesn't leave much impression as a protagonist. She's a perfectly nice underdog, but nothing about her personality could distract me from waiting to see when they'd acknowledge that Shizuka was a ghost that only Kokona could see. The dialogue was far less interesting than the fact that nobody acknowledged or spoke to the blue girl the whole time, which probably isn't a great sign for the overall rapport of the cast.

So yeah, this episode was very good at what it needed to be good at, but there's also a significant amount of chaff, at least in this set-up episode. I'm interested enough to watch another episode or two to see a deeper exploration of stagecraft, but it's more curiosity than excitement.

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