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This Week in Anime
Could Stars Align Be This Season's Ace Anime Series?
by Michelle Liu & Andy Pfeiffer,
The original anime series Stars Align has all the makings of a season highlight, thanks to stellar character writing and intense family drama. Micchy and Andy take the series to the court to find out what makes this series a grand slam!
Disclaimer:The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network. Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead.
Micchy Y'know, Andy, the fall anime season is upon us with a whole new batch of Content that'll largely be forgotten in a few months. And while my gut feeling is that it's an even lighter season than usual, I can't dismiss it entirely, for there is a good supply of the best thing known to man: the Good Boys.
I gotta say I kinda love all the pathetic losers in this show and lets be clear, that is totally what they are as of now.
The boys' soft tennis team in Stars Align is nowhere near a competent team, that's for sure. Not even their coach has much more to say of them than "an attempt was made" in the verbal equivalent of comic sans.
Hey, this is what happens when you put the art teacher in charge of a sports club. I do have a lot of respect for the girls coach for keeping her team in very good order, though. Can't say I've seen too many series that start with girls straight up dunking on dudes and you've gotta appreciate that.
The team has a long way to go before they're anywhere close to, uh, not doing this.
I am extremely upset that someone found footage of me when I first joined my high school tennis team.
The show itself, on the other hand, comes out of the gate swinging with a polish that I can't imagine it can possibly sustain for a full season. Like, in the show's very first minute we've already sketched out one of our main characters' personality, interests, and an outline of his circumstances, just with a quick sequence of him running up the stairs over taking the elevator. I honestly don't think I've seen a TV anime script this tight since, I dunno, Gargantia back in 2013.
I'm so glad they have a character give my exact thoughts on that later on.
Boy, do I hope this one doesn't go full Gargantia on us because it's so damn tight and good so far.
After a slew of premieres that barely pretend to be more than glorified advertisements, it's so dang refreshing to see something that makes full use of the medium to be, like, cinema. The direction has verve, and the character animation has, well, character. It's almost unfair how much Stars Align blows everything else this season out of the water, and by golly I hope it can keep it up.
I probably would've latched onto this show based on the character writing alone, but the fact it actually has real direction hit me so hard that I felt bad for how used I've gotten to the many static shots of talking heads there's been among the other premieres. Hell, the ED alone has more characterization than most shows. Check out how each character moves! Their moods and exhaustion levels as it comes back to them! And the whole show has been that on point so far.
It's pretty remarkable how well the characters' personalities come across in their mannerisms, like how the boys are dumbasses who think it's fun to whack themselves in the head.
That level of detail in the character acting is fairly rare in TV anime, and even then it's usually reserved for emotional beats rather than mundane, offhand gestures. So it's quite something to see such commitment to conveying, "Yes, these boys absolutely suck in that way all teenage boys suck."
The boys are a wonderful mix of laziness and irony poisoning. They suck ass and have decided owning that they suck is better than trying to not suck. It's great that after watching them get trounced we hit the expected cliche outburst to start turning the team around.
But actually, no, he's just upset that being a lazy suck ass doesn't make you popular.
So he's off to the next thing he can slack off at with a higher success rate.
I love how that guy promptly falls flat on his face because he's no exception to the team's suckitude.
It's beautiful, and fits right into the idea that the reason they've chosen to suck is to fuel their fragile teenage egos in a very honest and relatable way, as it protects them from ever feeling like they've actually failed. It's totally OK to lose when you joined a team that is meant to! Collect enough self worth to feel above it and you're golden... at least until someone who actually gives a damn challenges that.
It's really interesting how quickly Maki comes around on Toma's request for him to join the club. He initially plays it up as a money thing, but his sudden conviction to succeed seems to contradict his stated motivation. Maki's an earnest kid whose life has been in flux, who takes things in stride and makes the best of his situation because he doesn't really have much else to hope for. When he decides the elevator is too slow, no problem, he'll just take the stairs, he's used to it anyway. Similarly, even though he's essentially bribed into joining the team, he doesn't take that invitation for granted.
Visual language does a lot of work on that motivation change and leaves a lot of blanks to be filled in. The mere mention of Toma's brother and then this.
Lets have some fun and dissect this scene a bit. Toma's brother is facing away and looking back, meaning his attention was elsewhere. He turns back and brandishes the racket with a confident look of it being helpful in that situation, and child Maki looks upon him as a hero, then cuts back to being kind of speechless to be given one of his own in the present day.
If the bruises are anything to go by, Maki's dad has just beaten the shit out of him. Seeing someone—an older mentor figure, no less—excited about something so mundane as tennis gives him hope that despite the trash fire that is his home situation, he can find joy and live as the kid he deserves to be. Soft tennis offers a haven away from his trauma and baggage, Toma's gift of a racket his invitation.
Yuuup, and the way we learn about that was both dirty and highly effective. We have this happy moment of Maki joining the team, credits being overlaid on shots of his new school uniform and happily cooking up a meal for his mom in what we are about to learn was their new safe haven.
You think the episode is closing out on this really nice moment and leading into the future plot of the tennis club and his relationship with Toma...and then the bad dad tricks his way into the plot.
And boy, does that flashback scene make horrifying sense all of a sudden. And to clarify that earlier scene, I don't think it's about seeing an older figure being excited about tennis btw, cause that's not a court they're at. I'm pretty sure Toma's brother just chased off an abusive parent with that racket. The fact it was for tennis doesn't really even seem to click until Toma brings it back up, and Maki seems to grasp at the idea that he could be more like Toma's brother if he does join.
I didn't connect the dots there, but I can see where you got that. I interpreted Maki's "So, that was for soft tennis" line as "So, that was a soft tennis racket, not a regular one," and I figure more people would be aware of how dangerous Maki's dad is if Ryoma witnessed it.
Either way it's a very strong hook. Especially as we learn how much Maki is trying to be a protector in his own way.
Either way, yeah, the reveal contextualizes why Maki and his mom move so often, why Maki seems to shrug off problems that bother other kids his age, why he's so reluctant to accept help even for minor things like getting around a new school. He's sharply aware of his crappy situation and almost seems fed up with the naive way Toma tries to help. Toma offers to cover his costs, and Maki responds by sarcastically demanding more, as if saying, "You, a privileged rich boy, have no idea what it's like to be poor, no idea how our financial situation impacts every aspect of our lives."
That backfires spectacularly and I can't wait for that bomb to go off when the rest of the team finds out Toma literally hired a ringer. How much of Maki's mind has been hardened by his situation and/or the views of his abusive father remains to be seen, but there's also an antagonistic "you get what you deserve" slant to him. Which isn't exactly making him many friends.
Though the confrontation quickly goes from "dude you're kind of a dick" to "oh no my baby"
Maki's such a caustic little shit, but every so often he lets something slip that clues you into how much he's had to take.
Part of me was screaming STOP OFFERING HIM CANDY AND START NOTICING THE SIGNS! And another part is really hoping he, or at least the girl's coach at the desk right next to them, is good at their job and decided to wait until he left the room to discuss what just happened and what to do rather than put him directly on the spot. But hey, there's a lot of small slips for more than just Maki. We've also got to talk about Toma, and whatever is going on here.
Like, why his own mom is afraid of him, complete with horror fish eye lens and dutch angle.
It's one thing to be frustrated about your club being disbanded, but it's another when your mom is this upset to be alone with you.
And the earlier scene with his brother also establishes a certain lack of empathy that was a little shocking.
Which man that facial expression of pleasant shock that Toma might have concern to sad resignation that he doesn't is something.
So Toma's bad at empathy and possibly violent, that'll sure go well for his burgeoning friendship with a kid who reacts to violence like this.
By which I mean oh no, hashing it out is gonna be a tire fire whenever they do get around to addressing that elephant in the room! Let the good boys hold hands!!
They had a nice run that culminated in acknowledging each other! It's a step!
Now whether that means as actual humans with feelings or rather as acceptable tools to achieve their goals has yet to be seen. All I know is that in this situation I wouldn't have a clue, because this would be me.
I sure hope they learn to acknowledge us lesser beings who die running.
There are some that will never be acknowledged.
Ah yes, the you-insert of the show. Pictured: Micchy currently hard at work for this session of TWIA.
Excuse me, I'm too busy yelling about how panty shots are passé to have much to say about knee socks; all my opinions are on the appropriate tightness of thigh highs anyway.
There's also a lack of Heybots on that desk but some liberties have to be taken in order to not inflict too much upon viewers.
But yeah, for a show ostensibly about the tennis team, there's quite a few characters outside of it who get a decent amount of screen time and I'm very thankful for that. Even if (read: especially if) they're a bit of a gremlin.
Mitsue's an adorable little misanthrope, I love her. In her head she condescends to everyone, but put her on the spot and she devolves into a nervous mess. I'd be lying if I said I didn't see a 13-year-old version of myself in her. It's still not clear how she's going to be integrated into bigger picture (her stuff is a little bit of a cul-de-sac right now), but I suspect that'll come with time. Right now, though, she's a Greek chorus that insults everyone.
I feel like it's probably not far off the bullying we're shown. The new kid speaks to her like she exists and she's kinda into that! It's nice to have someone notice you!
Which, being bullied over boys/girls/etc is relatable and shitty. Even if it's not necessarily romantic, other kids being this obnoxious about it is enough to ruin some self-esteem and completely ruin chances at friendship. So yeah, she's a bit misanthropic but it's understandable.
It should also be noted that she spends a lot of time on the RELATION-STEPS
Say what you want about what kind of relationship, but this has become a very clearly defined zone.
I like how she starts halfway up the stairs but moves closer as she's pulled into these two boneheads' energy. Speaking of the piners, I'm very amused by how quickly Maki catches onto Yuta's crush and just rolls with it.
Maki Katsuragi says: Gay Rights
I'm so happy with how Mitsue's fellow step dweller has been treated so far. The show gets right to the point and shows us that he has to deal with homophobic bullies, but Toma is quick to stick up for him and Maki is downright supportive of his crush. That the rest of the team immediately welcomes him also gives hope that they're more plain lazy than actively shitty. Also note: Maki says fuck gender roles.
I live for this shit-eating grin.
He doesn't care that sports club managers (especially in anime) are usually girls or that Yuta isn't an aggro dunderhead like the rest of the boys. Maki's just here to have a good time and support his social outcast friends and I respect that.
It's such a nice thing to see! I'm also slightly convinced there's a whole Kase-san level side-story going on somewhere on the girls team whether the story gets around to it or not.
Oh the girls' captain absolutely has a whole brigade of other girls swooning for her, I'm sure of it. In any case, whether Stars Align broadens its focus or not, whether it maintains its absolutely stellar production or not, I'm still thoroughly fascinated by where it's going. It's at least interesting in a season of paste.
It's got my attention the same way Run with the Wind did back when it was airing. Though the subject matter and characters are vastly different, it hits that sweet spot of compelling characters doing a thing together as they work out their emotional problems and that's totally my jam. So as long as that keeps up, and the majority of the rest of the season refuses to, this'll be me waiting for it every week.
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