by Rebecca Silverman,
How would you rate episode 6 of
Stars Align ?
After the fraught emotions of last week, it's equally a relief and a disappointment that this episode of Stars Align is solely focused on the practice game. On the plus side, it's good that we get a break from the turmoil and torment of the kids' home lives, but on the other, it definitely feels like a let down that we go from an exploration of family and the Japanese childcare system to a pretty average sports anime episode. Although even here Stars Align tries to do something a little different: there's no intense tension to this game for anyone; it's just two very different teams playing against each other. Yes, it would be great for our guys to win, but they're clearly not staking their self esteem on it; it's just a chance for them to see how they can do in a competition situation.
In fact, the other school seems much more invested in the whole thing. In part this is probably because they're a top-ranked school and they're expecting to score an easy victory and call it a day, so when the first pair comes screaming out of the gate (although the actual screaming is a little later), they're shocked to find that they'll actually have to work for the win. They're competitive enough that there's no way they'll let a bottom-tier team beat them, but they're also learning a lesson about not underestimating an opponent.
What's more striking, however, is that our guys aren't all that bothered by the fact that although they win matches, they don't ultimately win full games. In almost any other sports show, the fact that they keep losing would be fodder for melodramatic angst and possibly speeches about determination, but in this show, the boys interpret their losses as ways to gauge what they need to work on. That's in terms of both their actual skills at the sport and their teamwork as well, because by this point everyone is comfortable in their new pairs and willing to put in the effort to make them even stronger.
Each pair has also developed its own particular style, too, which both makes sense and is nice to see, as it furthers the series' apparent goal of making sure that each of the characters is a developed individual, not just “the one with the shaggy hair” or something similar, as often happens in team-based stories. It's the same sort of thing we've been seeing in the ending theme with everyone's dance style/enthusiasm, and watching it come into play during an actual game is a highlight of the episode. That goes double for the two who incorporate attack names and shounen manga-style shouting into their gameplay – not only does it say a lot about who these guys are, but it also reminds us once again that these are kids, and they're going to act their actual ages, not the adult-like versions of them we more typically see. That goes for their special pre-game dance, which has all the boys hopping around in circles shouting in the sort of dorky power display that feels very true to middle schoolers – as does Mitsue's eye-rolling response to their antics, which practically screams, “Ugh, boys.”
By far the most heated of the matches is the final one we end the episode mid-way through, with Toma and Maki taking on the aces of the other team. Oji, who we've seen sitting on a folding chair as if it's a throne, is clearly the most competitive of the bunch, and he's bound and determined not to let these inferior players get the best of him. While this absolutely risks setting off Toma's temper – taunting does not seem like something he'd take well – it also is nowhere near as threatening to Maki as it's no doubt meant to be. Maki, after all, has faced down real monsters in adult form, so one obnoxious kid with a tennis racket isn't likely to seem like much of a danger. He's keeping possibly the only cool head on the court right now, which may not spell doom for Oji, but it almost certainly means that he's in for a surprise. How unpleasant that may be is all that remains to be seen.
Stars Align is currently streaming on FUNimation Entertainment.
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