3 Episode Taste Test: Star Driver

This is what happens when you cross effeminate young men with Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann. A frenzy of colour and Studio Bones' deft creative hand is juxtaposed against incongruously suggestive female outfits and canned animation sequences. This is not the same studio that brought out Eureka 7 and Sword of the Stranger, but one leaving the afterglow of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood and on the downspin after the disappointing Darker than Black sequel and the no doubt expensive risk of Heroman. This is Five Star Story style robots, fighting in Gurren Lagann's alternate space with Code Geass's chutzpah. This is Star Driver.

Opening episodes are always a gamble: bedazzle now and risk a depleted budget later or hold back and aim for long-term, unwrinkled quality. The first three episodes here try and do both with a swift and incomprehensible collection of enigmatic snippets of dialogue followed by a kaleidoscopic mecha battle. The latter is then repeated, down to the vocal song and preceding animation snippet, for every subsequent episode. It's sloppy and lacks the finesse expected of a Studio Bones production.

Derivative though it may be, the brief scuffles only bookend the extended high-school lifestyle. All the staples are there: classroom assignments, lunch box sharing, the quiet girl, the rich girl, the transfer student, the list goes on. Protagonist Takuto washes up on the beach, is saved by local girl, but by some oversight of the plot is in possession of all his memories; even his induction into school is without incident. Then there are the clandestine meetings of the absurdly named Order of the Glittering Star who look like the cast of Eyes Wide Shut were thrown through a sex shop - so obvious are the participant's identities it's a small favour the show doesn't bludgeon that bit of exposition.

Confusion is nothing new though, the opening episodes of Xam'd weren't straightforward. Here though there is no sense of a grander narrative, only arbitrary divisions of consequential objects: twelve swords, four maidens, twenty-something cybodies, three stages, etc. Answers are obviously forthcoming but the episode structure combined with the wrong side of outlandish designs pitches the series to a more doltish audience than expected. Bones bank a lot of goodwill and with a few exceptions, their series are never less than exemplary; for now though Star Driver is propelled by the promise of improvement rather than what has already been delivered.

Responses to “3 Episode Taste Test: Star Driver”

Unlike Xam'd, or even Eureka 7 (to a ssmmmaaaalll extent), I don't really care about all the strange in-universe plot mechanics. This show is pretty faaaaaaaaaaaaabulous, so yeah.

@lelangir: I'm not sure I care about the Star Driver mechanics either, but the "sing, launch casket, FIGHT, 'oh no I suck'" rinse-repeat formula the antagonists are following is old already. Expected a little more from Bones, but guess when you've got so many Sailor Moon graduates on board it's not entirely unexpected.

@Aroduc: Both I think, not racing around the country and getting back into the habit have played a big part. This season isn't looking much better with dross like MM! kicking about; haven't even started on My Little Sister or Squid Girl yet...
I think agree the formula has gotten old quickly as well but there is some insight from other bloggers and from the shows creators that this isn't totally unexpected.

I don't know if you've read this: http://www.ggkthx.org/2010/10/04/the-world-of-star-driver-interview/ but it details a lot of the ideas going through the creators heads. The important things to note being that Igarashi has never directed a mecha anime and the writer is the same writer of Revolutionary Girl Utena.

A lot of bloggers have been pointing out similarities between Utena and Star Driver. The formula, the evil school council, the fabulous, etc. I personally haven't seen Utena so I can't make the same call but I think it is an interesting insight into the show.
@Taka: That's a superb link, thanks for highlighting that. I see what you mean about insight, getting behind some of the ideas of the writer and director does elaborate on certain ideas. They're not necessarily ideas I agree with (the "no death" restriction would seem to entirely strip any drama from the fights) but it brings the series into context.

As for the Utena similarities, I've only seen a handful of episodes so I can't comment authoritatively but it definitely seems like a thematic link rather than individual similarities e.g. the school council in Utena is more overt, whereas in Star Driver the Order of Glittering Star are entirely removed from school.

Thanks again for sending that through and for reading!