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by Christopher Farris,

Stella of the Theater: World Dai Star

Episodes 1-12 Streaming Review

Stella of the Theater: World Dai Star Episodes 1-12
Kokona Otori has already suffered numerous audition rejections but is determined to be accepted as an actor in the prestigious Sirius troupe. With the help of her friend Shizuka, she makes it in and begins acting alongside other established members and fresh-faced hopefuls. But it takes more than a positive attitude and hard work to make it in this new era of theater. Specialized abilities known as 'Sense' have manifested in the new generation of actors, and their use gives performers the edge over each other in defining their roles. Kokona will have to understand her unique Sense and how she can use it to fulfill her dream of becoming a World Dai Star!

Stella of the Theater: World Dai Star courts curiosity before its first episode is even up. It's not just the attention it draws to the clear incorporeality of Kokona's pal Shizuka, though that's undoubtedly the main feature. But also the entire interactive network of stage-acting superpowers called 'Sense,' alongside the anime's appreciable attention to detail and action when the characters are acting on stage, all add up to an intriguing initial impression. That is the job of a premiere, of course, and the question becomes what World Dai Star will do with all these elements across its run.

The case of Shizuka is the most apparent point to follow through on first, given the sarcasm-inducing lack of subtlety. At times across the first three episodes, it feels like World Dai Star is acting like it's more clever than it is. Other characters will remark on Kokona's habit of "talking to herself," or Shizuka will disappear and reappear from Kokona's side in-between cuts as other characters float discussions of the true self, finding out who you are, etc. It is heavy-handed but in a way that allows us to more charitably guess that we're witnessing a red herring for some double bluff of a swerve. And indeed, right on the schedule of the rigidly applied third episode twist, Shizuka fully manifests, confirming she is an apparition powered by Kokona's particular Sense ability.

While it does streamline things a bit once World Dai Star stops skirting around the situation and effectively treats Shizuka as just another cast member after this point, it is not the end of the show's gimmickry. It only seems to step up after this point, as Sense (better summarized as theater-manifested Stand powers) awakens in a new era of Acting Newtypes and becomes the focal feature of the show. These abilities range from Kathrina's slowed-down perception of time that seemed reasonably portrayed in the first episode to things like actual telepathy shown a little later. Kokona and Shizuka's connection, in particular, comes off especially esoteric, Shizuka seeming to be some idealized self that Kokona can reference or channel in significant moments but who also functions as her extra-convenient acting coach or personal Great Gazoo to bounce off of.

Gimmickry is necessary to stand out in the crowded anime field, particularly in the performance-based mixed-media arena. Still, its deployment can often crowd out its core appeal. The nature of the Sense powers is a dicey proposition since its existence on a conceptual level undercuts the insight the series could have into actual acting techniques. This is apart from when the writing conflates these stage-based superpowers with arising issues inherent to the craft, like Kathrina's concentration-based ability faltering as a critical component of her backstory. Similarly, there are Yae's ill-defined emotion-communicating powers, which explain her unintentionally stealing Kokona's spotlight during the Arabian Nights arc. It's a magically-defined excuse that actively undercuts any potential for personal drama in this show about drama kids.

At other times, like the eighth episode, which features an ability that automatically covers for all on-stage mistakes and includes the troupe rewriting Romeo and Juliet to have a happy ending, World Dai Star can arguably come off as disrespectful to theater and the craft of acting. It manifests in other allusions throughout the show, like cast and crew acknowledging that concepts like method acting or experimental rewrites during running shows are unprofessional or troublesome before the characters can forge ahead with those efforts anyway. It gets to the point that the main focus of the final storyline about the characters auditioning for The Phantom of the Opera mainly revolves around the deployment of their Sense powers, standing in for the ideas brushed up against earlier in the series about watching different actors' approaches to reading and performing the same roles. This also leads to pontifications and arguments on the integration of Shizuka, an element written in the first place as a magical in-series mechanic. Now, they have to roll with it because, hey, the show must go on. There are ways to communicate the efforts and effects of acting via esoteric anime-magic bullshit, but in so many of World Dai Star's cases, it feels more like its gimmicks superseding that presentation instead.

When the anime does turn its attention to real-world acting approaches, it still feels gimmicky. Another selling point seen early in the series is a visual trick wherein the character animation becomes noticeably smoother and more naturalistic when the characters perform on stage. It almost looks rotoscoped in places, but either way at least stands out as a feature. Whether these smooth moves communicate fundamentally strong acting in situations remains debatable, as little insight into the characters' choices of blocking, movement, etc, is offered. It stands out as one more element of World Dai Star's pretty face, and its rendering of the stage elements is robust, even if the acting feels shallow. Meticulous attention is paid to how lights are used on stage and how characters position themselves, with beams and shadows streaming through in lovingly-rendered intensity when we're watching that final arc. That presentation angle is more carefully considered than the character animation show-offs or haphazardly placed musical numbers.

Like a well-known role you've seen played by other performers, it's hard not to compare World Dai Star to its contemporaries, which also ends up holding it back from whatever niche it might be trying to fill. Kageki Shoujo!! is more focused on granularly portraying the technical craft of acting. If you're looking for a more magically esoteric approach, there's Revue Starlight, which truly revels in the stylistic opportunities that afford it. World Dai Star feels caught trying to encompass all points on that spectrum and winds up only shallowly applying them. There are some interesting allusions in its portrayal of theatrical acting, but they never really cross over into proper insights when they can just be explained as magical plot-device powers instead. It leaves World Dai Star overall as precisely what it began as; A curiosity, perhaps successful at piquing your interest, but too uneven to hold it all the way through.

Overall (sub) : C
Story : C
Animation : A-
Art : B+
Music : B-

+ Curious ideas, Strong visual presentation of its various gimmicks
Over-reliant on those gimmicks to the detriment of any insight into its subject matter, Musical numbers are haphazardly integrated

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Production Info:
Director: Yū Kinome
Series Composition: Yasuhiro Nakanishi
Kenichi Kuroda
Ryō Takahashi
Tatsuya Yano
Original story: Takahiro
Original Character Design: Mika Pikazo
Character Design: Majiro
Art Director: Hiroko Tanabe
Chief Animation Director:
Kouji Yamagata
Sound Director: Satoki Iida
Director of Photography: Sena Nakagawa

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Stella of the Theater: World Dai Star (TV)

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