Reviewby Amy McNulty,
Magic of Stella
Episodes 1-12 Streaming
Well-to-do country bumpkin Tamaki Honda and her best friend Yumine Fuda embark on a long commute to their new high school in the city. Yumine, who quickly decides to become a member of the school's Illustrating Club at the Club PR event after school, encourages Tamaki to find a club—and a passion—of her own. Tamaki's not sure until a small and barely-visited club table catches her eye: the SNS Club (short for what translates to “Some Dead Fish Eyes, Not Enough Sun, Shuttle Run Club”), devoted to making doujin video games. Despite the club members' haggard appearances and a number of technical glitches in the sample game she plays, Tamaki is left awestruck. Her experiences developing games with the somewhat eccentric club as their lead character designer and artist will prove to be a formative part of her high school life.
Magic of Stella (the name makes sense when you learn it's a reference to one of the games they create) is small in scope but broad in appeal. It's a slice-of-life show with a comedic edge that never delves too heavily into slapstick comedy, but it never gets overly serious or dramatic either. It certainly qualifies as iyashikei anime, although the intensity ratchets up multiple times as different deadlines for completing the club's works approach. Still, the most uncomfortable the show ever gets is the poor characters overworking themselves, putting their health on the line to complete the project on time—demonstrating the characters' devotion to the game-making that brings them all together.
The show is almost laser-focused on the girls' SNS activities, only rarely stepping outside of those boundaries to exhibit the girls in class or at home. Tamaki, being the main character, is the most developed and has several humorous personality quirks and secondary characters in her orbit, including (but not limited to) a proclivity to draw primarily handsome middle-aged men out of a somewhat excessive love for her rarely-home father, a grandmother who seems like a gracious gentlewoman but hides a monstrous side when crossed, and her yaoi-loving best friend Yumine, who stops by the SNS Club on occasion to make sure no one is taking advantage of her somewhat airheaded and kindhearted friend. Other characters like club president and programmer Shiina Murakami and scenario writer/author Ayame Seki are more one-note and have less developed backgrounds, although only club composer Kayo Fujikawa seems to have her life outside of the club ignored entirely.
There's also the former club president, Teru Hyakutake, who graduated from school but was originally the artist on the game that first attracts Tamaki to the club. She appears almost like a mythical figure, wandering into Tamaki's life on occasion (often, strangely, with a cat nestled into her hair) and offering advice without even explaining who she is at first. The show focuses mostly on these characters (plus Yumine) until about the halfway point, when Illustrating Club member Minaha Iino joins their orbit. Never fully leaving the Illustrating Club to join the SNS Club, she still acts as an integral member and a secondary artist to help get the club's latest game finished. Abrasive and obsessed with “Iris-sensei” (the pen name Ayame uses to independently publish her stories), she convinces the SNS Club to base their next game on one of Iris-sensei's previous works. Unfortunately, she finds Ayame distasteful (due to how Ayame accidentally treated her at their first meeting), not realizing she's the scenario writer and her beloved Iris-sensei in the flesh. To keep the somewhat tsundere Minaha from balking and refusing to help the club entirely, the club members never reveal Ayame's identity to her, instead orchestrating a Clark Kent/Superman façade by having Ayame remove her glasses and wear makeup to interact with Minaha as “Iris” whenever it's necessary to get the job done.
Minaha's presence is a mixed bag. It brings some conflict to a virtually conflict-free show, but the gag about her not knowing that Ayame is Iris gets old fast. There's also some drama because her rich family (particularly her sister and maid) don't approve of her “wasting” time with the club, but since the club managed just fine without her beforehand, and she's rather rude to half of the members, this conflict doesn't seem like the big deal the show makes it out to be.
Another drawback is that despite how harried the club members get in the wake of their deadlines, the series never fully conveys how much work goes into a game created by just four to five people. Although they're perpetually in a rush, less time is spent on explaining the intricacies of their tasks. The characters also rarely fail at their jobs, although Tamaki shows the most growth as she learns to draw in different styles (and draw more than just middle-aged men). The show cares more about funny character interactions, which isn't a bad thing, just something to be aware of going in.
Cheerful and bright, the color palette suits the series' laidback attitude, as do the cute round-faced character designs. There isn't an abundance of movement, but the animation takes very few shortcuts. The series' music is minimal and non-obtrusive, often lending a cheerful mood to the proceedings or accentuating a comic point with a cartoonish melody. As the club composer Fujikawa says, the best soundtrack blends into the background, and this show is an example of that mantra done right.
While the stakes never rise higher than the girls meeting a deadline to sell their games, the interactions between these characters makes Magic of Stella worth watching for anyone who enjoys lighthearted anime. There's just enough comedy to keep the proceedings from growing boring, and while only some of the characters are developed, the friendship between the girls is palatable as the main attraction of the series. It's a show that works both as a binge and an occasional watch to cheer you up on days when you just need something light and cheery.
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B
Animation : B+
Art : A-
Music : B
+ Pleasant character interactions, beautiful art, touch of comedy
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