by Rebecca Silverman,
How would you rate episode 11 of
Stars Align ?
Just because this is one of the most soft tennis-heavy episodes of Stars Align doesn't mean that there isn't still room for the series' real focus, the kids on the team and their various emotional triumphs and woes. It's a shame that one of those triumphs is almost certain to turn into a woe before too much longer – Nao not only ignoring his mother's phone call but going so far as to dump his phone in his bag and zip it shut is a major victory for him because it marks one of the first times he's actively taking possession of his own life. We've certainly seen him be upset with his monster mom before and register mildly-spoken objections to her plans for his life (along with a few stronger instances), but this is the moment when he does more than just pick at a dinner he doesn't want to eat because it's the only real way he has to show her how unhappy he is. The moment he doesn't let her rain on his parade and actively decides to put her out of his mind and his life, albeit temporarily, is the moment he really starts to grow up.
What's so frightening about it is that she's in no way going to let this slide. The image of her sitting at the table possessively covering the picture of baby Nao on her phone with her hands, as if to hold him trapped in her idea of love, and says that he belongs to her is every bit as scary as Maki's dad slapping him or Tsubasa falling down the stairs. This isn't a mother who just loves her son, she's obsessed with him, and that's not healthy for either of them. And right now, while he's still only fourteen, there's a very real risk that it could leave him feeling trapped once this small moment of defiance is over and he's back in her house – and if he feels that he has no real way out, there's a risk he'll do something that can't be undone.
The idea of what can and can't be taken back feels like a theme that the series may be gearing up to take on in the finale. Certainly a couple of mothers who aren't Nao's seem to be rethinking things, although there's some question as to whether this will be too little too late or even something that should have been left alone. Rintaro's birth mother texting him and calling herself “mom” in the message feels like it could upend his life in ways that didn't need to happen, and may in fact be the series pointing out some of the issues with the Japanese adoption system, which, as we learned in a previous episode, says that Rintaro must be told of his adoption and that his biological mother can contact him at any time. It's a form of turmoil that Rintaro is only partly equipped to deal with, and the hurt it could cause all people concerned may be more than they're ready to handle.
It goes back to the idea of “selfishness” that Nao's mother brings up in her creepy monologue about her son – in many cases in this series, parents could be termed as selfish for the way they seem to try to claim ownership of their children, whether it's in determining what activities they can do, how welcome they're allowed to feel in their own homes, or even whether or not to be a part of their lives and in what way. Nao's mom accuses him of selfishness, but from where I'm sitting, it's the parents who are far more guilty of that motivation and are by and large incapable of seeing their children as their own separate people with their own thoughts, feelings, and motivations. Just because you gave birth does not give you right of ownership.
That's really why the soft tennis club is so important. It gives the kids relationships they can count on, and even as flaky as he is, their advisor really does try to be there for them when the other adults at school can't or won't be. Maki and Toma's relationship is one of the best examples of this: what began as an attempt to use each other for their own goals as morphed into a close friendship where they mutually support each other. Their tennis game is just a metaphor for their relationship – the two boys work together to help each other, whether that's in ill-considered confrontations with abusive dads or just making sure that a long-standing goal can be met. When Toma hugs Maki this week, it's an expression of all of that, and no matter what their relationship turns out to be in the future, that they found each other and derive strength from each other will always be one of the nicest parts of this series.
Stars Align is currently streaming on FUNimation Entertainment.
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