Reviewby Nick Creamer,
Sub.Blu-Ray + DVD - Season One
Two years ago, Yuuta Hoshitani was inspired by an Ayanagi Academy student he saw dancing in the rain. Graceful and free in motion, his idol seemed like some kind of angel… and as a student newly enrolled at Ayanagi himself, Hoshitani is determined to follow in that student's footsteps. But joining Ayanagi's vaunted musical department isn't easy, and for someone with very little background in dance, singing, or theater, the odds of being accepted are long indeed. But it's the Ayanagi Academy's Kao Council who choose the stars here, and council member Itsuki Otori has a very unique eye for talent.
Starmyu offers a fairly unusual premise among musical anime. In a sea of shows focused specifically on idols, Starmyu instead presents a high school and special division focused on musical theater, where a student's ability to dance, sing, and also present a character on stage are all critical to their success. That alone would give Starmyu a distinctive edge within a crowded genre, but the show isn't content to simply follow a default genre formula from there. From its character writing to its visual execution, Starmyu is an exemplary show, demonstrating the creativity that can be expressed within the genre's bounds.
Starmyu first introduces us to Yuuta Hoshitani, a new high school student at the prestigious Ayanagi Academy. Though Ayanagi's music programs are renowned across the board, it's the musical department that is most celebrated, and entry into the musical department requires passing a strenuous exam. On top of that, twenty-five of the students who pass the exam will get the chance to join one of five Star Teams, each of which are led by one of the school's leading Kao Council members. But even getting into a Star Team won't secure your future, as all musical department freshmen must survive two competitions that each cut the department's enrollment in half.
The premise of the Star Teams and competitions give Starmyu a clear dramatic platform, but the actual drama of the show is much more nuanced than that. Hoshitani only makes it onto a Star Team because he catches the eye of Itsuki Otori, the Kao Council rebel, who seems intent on creating a team of irregulars to shake the very principals of Ayanagi Academy. And so Hoshitani must learn to get along with the kabuki star Tengenji, child actor Tsukigami, and rebellious Kuga, with only his first friend Nayuki actually in his corner.
Starmyu's early episodes focus on the group coming together as friends, while the second half dives into both the two main competitions and Otori's disagreements with the academy. It's eventually revealed that Otori is actually a son of the academy's reigning family, and his clashes with Kao Council leader Hiragi lend the show a great sense of overarching dramatic weight. Unusually for an idol show, Starmyu emphasizes the importance and complexity of teaching through Otori's trials, and offers a compelling contrast between loyalty to academic institutions and a pursuit of freedom that could easily be considered selfishness. In contrast, the trials of Hoshitani and his teammates play out on a more intimate and episodic scale, making Starmyu work both as a melodramatic clash of ideals and a charming character story.
Starmyu's secret weapon is that along with being a show about musical theater stars, it's also something of a musical itself. New characters introduce their personal conflicts through rousing song and dance numbers, complete with an astonishing array of distinct visual accompaniments. Brash kabuki artist Tengenji is accompanied by a song that mixes traditional instrumentation with rock melodies, set against a series of ornate screens and dramatic backdrops that directly evoke his background and personality. A later duet between Otori and Hiragi paint their personal drama in somber blues, use screen-in-screen cuts to visually convey their inability to cross paths. Starmyu's musical numbers are a vivid calling card, letting the show express its human conflicts in beautiful larger-than-life terms.
The show's everyday art design is less compelling than its musical segments, with both Ayanagi's backdrops and the character designs staying pretty flat and basic. But the show also earns points for never relying on CG animation - not only is the general character acting reasonably solid, but all of the performance segments are handled with nicely choreographed and beautifully directed traditional animation. The show's animation is only slightly above-average, but the combination of reasonable animation and smart use of still frames makes all of its performances feel lively and rewarding.
Starmyu's music is also quite strong. The backing soundtrack is a fairly routine mix of mood-lead, piano-based arrangements, but the actual musical numbers are a catchy and diverse spread, matching the shifting moods of Starmyu's leads with great aplomb. I was actually a little disappointed once the distinctive single-character songs started shifting to more formulaic group arrangements, but it's certainly one of the better mix of musical numbers I've seen in an anime, and the fact that the lyrics are more story-relevant than general “do your best!” idol songs was a real plus.
Funimation's Starmyu release is as basic as they come. The show comes in a standard slipcase and bluray case, with the show contained on two DVD and two bluray discs. Those discs really just contain the show itself, as the “extras” here are limited to trailers and the clean opening/ending, with no dub. I'd have really liked to get a separate collection of all the show's musical numbers by themselves, but it's understandable that this was considered a fairly niche release. That niche status belies its quality, though - Starmyu is a top-notch musical anime in terms of both music and storytelling, and any fans of the genre should give it a look.
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : A-
Animation : B
Art : B+
Music : A-
+ Multi-level story with solid characters and a welcome focus on the perils of teaching, dedicated musical segments are excellent
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