Too much of anime these days are "cute girls doing cute things". I'm sorry, but don't get me started on the "moe" trend, or fanservice. I take refuge in the wierd, the strange...the psychological and the melodramatic. That's where I met Stellvia. It's a wonderful place, atypical of anime trends.
Background of the Show
Stellvia takes place after a "big impact" basically levels much of earth. Since the catalysmic events, humanity has to protect itself from the remnants of the shockwave. To do this, they train and raise school aged kids to pilot spacecraft for them. The story follows Shima Katase, a meek girl, and her adventures...and subsequent transformation into an adult.
There's not much to it in this regard. Though I will identify that this is directed by a personal favourite of mine, who also directed Martian Successor Nadesico.
Story - 6.0/10
Expect this show to get slow very fast. The spacing is very odd. You'll spend many, many epsiodes on seemingly nothing. Of course, you can chalk this up to the fact that it's intended to simulate much of a school year, but still...you'll probably want to marathon the show to get a real sense of adventure.
The story itself is nothing mindblowing. It's actually quick black and white...or grey and white morality, I guess it should be. There are no antagonists or bad guys...just a bunch of good guys doing what they think is right in a fairly reasonable manner. And this creates an interesting dynamic that I think works - it's not so much a space opera...it's a space drama. The adventure is thrown to the side in an afterthought and something to do. The real story is the interactions between characters and how they change over time. For example about 6-7 episodes total are spent in actual conflict, on the survival on the entire human race. About that much time is spent having the characters throw fits at each other. That should tell you what the real story is.
Giving this a score for its story is so hard. On one hand, what it attempts to draw you in with is so horrible and flawed in its approach that you'll probably turn off the TV/computer before you reach the first climax. On the other hand, that's not what it's trying to make the story. And that story that it's hiding is so much better.
Animation - 5.5/10
The animation is nothing special, nothing bad. Characters are very unique and distinguishable. There's never going to be a "who's that?" moment that some anime have. It grabs from all aspects of anime, the funny hair colours, the wierd hair styles, and the general acceptable escapes from reality you love you have and puts them in an inoffensive standard.
One thing that can and will grate you, if you're a fan of new shows, is the combat and flight scenes. If you're ever thought "well, that CGI is out of place", you'll get thrown up the wall with Stellvia's space animation. They're fairly rare, but the CGI is stilted as is expected of anime of the era.
That being said, the rest of the show is acceptable. Looping or digital copying of animation is fairly obvious when it occurs and details are cut as needed. None of these take away from the whole experience. If you don't mind the phrase, it gets from A to B in an efficient, non-extravagent manner.
Sound - 5.0/10
This ranking incorporates many sections. Brief, quick overviews are provided:
- Songs: The songs aren't anything special, but do the job. The opening by Angelica is one of my favourites of the time period (I do have a bit of a soft spot for her, I admit), and the ending does its job. Don't expect anything high level or exceptional in this regard. One note, if you're familiar with translations and dialogue, is that the opening brings the tone into play quite a bit.
- Sound Effects: The sound effects don't stand out. A laser shot sounds like a laser shot, and a pile of stuff in a closet falls out like, guess what? A pile of stuff.
- Original Sound Track: Not outstanding or worth note really. So much of the show is dialogue based that if an OST was made prevalent, it'd probably detract. Actually, let me revise my thoughts: this show is a great example of how less can be more. Not everything needs to have something playing in the background.
- Voice Acting: Nothing stands out really in either version. You'll have a nice smattering of common English voice actors, but they don't stand out much. I'll hold exception for a single actress...Laura Hudson (well, her official name anyways. I think we all know it's Kari Wahlgren), who plase Arisa Glennorth. The raw energy drips off from her performance. Yet, one drop of exceptional play doesn't take down a group's worth of middling acting. In either language. It's another case of "getting the job done, but not standing out".
Characters - 9.0/10
This is where, as the phrase goes, the rubber hits the road. Stellvia lives off characters. It thrives off characters. It's the only reason you SHOULD watch Stellvia. I can't emphasize this enough. If you're going to watch the show for cuteness, for action, or for moments of heart stopping action, stop now. It's not going to happen in enough quantity to matter. The show's primary, and only, stock is in how the characters interact.
As I mention in the story section, this is a story about characters and how they act with each other. They all come in children. Mere, innocent, wide-eyed children. We're greeted with a family establishing moment of Shima taunting her mother, then her mother falling apart as soon as she leaves. We're dealing with kids...people, as the psychological world might describe, as less mature and with their own mindframe. Over the course of the show, we see how these characters thrive and become one of their own. The "wimp" we see in Shima fades into a mature, calm, and fairly confident adult. We see this evolution through her trials and challenges. Higher ups go after her (though, this being a fairly optimistic anime, they're not considerably evil), rivals appear...and ultimately the question of perfection, and how we deal with our inability to reach it, is asked. And, again, we play witness to how the girl unceremoniously given the nickname "Shipon" deals and grapples with it...how she internalizes her story and makes it something more than just an event. We stand by as friends get jealous, Shima gets upset...then buries the hatchet. Yes, it get a little melodramatic at times, but it's still an experience and thrill to behold. It's a rarity and a treasure in this regard; Stellvia is a story that deals with realistic people and how they evolve in the presence of experience and of each other. Tough questions and human development play out, and pull you in through these mirrors. And, past a story, that's your take home message...what YOU get out of the adventure of a naive teenager in a coming of age story.
Long story short: Expect a mixed bag. On the front, it's a facade...an illusion. It pulls you in with a storyline about saving the world, of high school girls. But it transforms into an entirely different beast - one of deep, meaningful psychological questions. If you don't like the concept of characters and how they interact, I urge you to not watch. If you want to see characters evolve and develop in front of your very eyes though in a manner you can probably relate to, then this could easily be the show for you.
Overall - 7.5/10
Animated by Xebec, aka the studio which never made an above average show in their whole lives. It is directed by Satou Tatsuo, who has made lots of mecha shows, most of which are unorthodox but otherwise slow and usually anti-climactic (Martian Successor Nadesico, Gekiganger 3, Shingu, Lagrange). So you kinda know right away this is not going to be a masterpiece.
Stellvia is a show that doesn’t know what it wants to be. Although to its core it is the coming of age tale of a teenager girl, it throws that premise amongst a rather complicating and confusing sci-fi setting that expands to philosophy, humanitarianism, and the end of the world. It eventually loses itself amongst the weight of it themes and gets crushed by a lot of themes that were never developed as they could have.
The story is about Earth recovering from a devastating space phenomenon that caused tremendous damage on its surface. Since a second wave is expected to appear after a few years, mankind comes together to prepare for it and manage to survive. Thus the beginning of the show finds all people in peace for centuries, as they build shields in space and train their young to pilot robots that will take out any debris the space event will leave behind. One of those youngsters is Shima, who gets a big vase of rock candy and goes to space to train as well.
A big part of the plot is about her interacting with her fellow pilots and crying… a lot. The whole thing about saving humanity ends up being nothing but an excuse to have a plot somewhere in there and fancy robots doing stuff. Despite the serious premise both slice of life and sci-fi end up being too light for their own good, as the first is unremarkable in its presentation and the later is just a vague objective. Eventually the most memorable scenes of the show end up being her crying, eating rock candy and OWNING EVERYONE WITH HER MAD SKILLZ! You see she seems frail but eventually becomes a top pilot who blows meteorites with her eyes shut and her hands tied behind her back. How the hell she does that; I don’t know; it is supposed to be an inborn talent. She even gets herself a boyfriend, believe it or not!
All that happen in the middle of the story by the way and the rest appears to be what follows after the destruction is prevented. At this point the expectations are really high as the story left open several interesting windows for continuation and further analysis. Despite the average slice of life, we got to see how she slowly matured to a more secured person, she is now famous worldwide, she has a boyfriend, she has a jealous best friend, mankind no longer needs to be friendly and cooperative with each other and then hostile aliens appear… WOW there is something really good cooking here! The series can very easily turn to an amazing space opera full of betrayal, death, civil war, and pondering about the folly of mankind!
… And none of that happen. The rest of the show is almost like a rehash of the first part, where she again needs to train, her relationship is hardly looked into, the world has forgotten her, the jealousy part never occurs, the aliens never make sense or do anything major, humanity never tries to get violent again, and I wonder WHAT THE HELL WAS THE POINT OF ALL THAT??? Surely, all the good ideas in the show were not only presented light but also never developed further, ending up to a soup of a plot. The cast is also nothing remarkable past the main three teenagers, who are again nothing worth remembering because of the simplistic things they do.
The production values are nothing worth remembering either; the soundtrack has a good opening but dialogues and BGM are forgettable. The robots flying around in space (and not fighting because there is no fighting in this show) is cool all things considered. The characters are drawn too simple, with huge eyes that makes those crying scenes to feel ten times more overblown. They obviously went for semi-moe here but because they don’t blush or eat cake every ten seconds the result is plain passable.
In all, it is an average to boring series. It had potential to be great but gave up and just went for beers and more rock candy.
And now for some excused scorings.
ART SECTION: 6/10
General Artwork 1/2 (generic)
Character Figures 1/2 (generic)
Backgrounds 2/2 (basic but fitting with the feeling of the series)
Animation 1/2 (basic)
Visual Effects 1/2 (basic)
SOUND SECTION: 7/10
Voice Acting 2/3 (corny but fitting with the feeling of the series)
Music Themes 3/4 (not great but fitting with the feeling of the series)
Sound Effects 2/3 (ok I guess)
STORY SECTION: 4/10
Premise 2/2 (interesting)
Pacing 0/2 (loose)
Complexity 2/2 (rich context)
Plausibility 0/2 (none)
Conclusion 0/2 (lame)
CHARACTER SECTION: 6/10
Presence 1/2 (generic)
Personality 2/2 (rather cheesy but well founded)
Backdrop 1/2 (generic and simplistic but it’s there)
Development 1/2 (overblown but it’s there)
Catharsis 1/2 (overblown but it’s there)
VALUE SECTION: 2/10
Historical Value 0/3 (none)
Rewatchability 0/3 (too disappointing to bother watching again)
Memorability 2/4 (the themes are interesting but everything else simply lacks)
ENJOYMENT SECTION: 2/10
Art 0/1 (looks typical)
Sound 0/2 (sounds meh)
Story 1/3 (interesting themes but lame presentation)
Characters 1/4 (they could be great if the story didn’t forget their development)
I didn't know quite what to think of Stellvia until the ending plot arc. This story is more or less a two part tale. The first part deals with schoolgirls on a space station. That concept by itself would have gotten boring by episode 12, except for the fact that the series transitioned to part 2: which was something much more interesting and used the material from part one quite well.
So thematically, this is a slice of life show about a teenage girl who wants to go to space and learn how to be a pilot of spaceships. Plot wise and character development wise, this is about a teenage love story in space juxtaposed against a... well, spoilers aside, it's an interesting problem they face up in space. I don't group the love story in the theme group because it isn't really used as a theme: it is more like a plot device to heighten people's tension as the characters deal with the problem: Heroic Age's Princess Yunos and Age, now there's an entire song and ED devoted to those two. People's performance tends to decrease if they have relationship problems: unlike in certain Hollywood movies, a romantic problem doesn't result in a job loss or loss of some insignificant social status. A disruption in a person's mental focus and concentration is lethal in space. In Stellvia, romance eventually becomes part of the plot development when it comes to operations in space.
Here is some explanation for why I promote things from 4/5 to higher ranks. I did not particularly like the main character nor the character designs. There was no beauty in them, compared to some other artwork I have seen in anime. Yet my standard for rating a series depends upon whether it had something innovative or demonstrated an ability to take on high risk challenges, without falling down too often. Stellvia, based upon the romance, the slice of life comedy, and the space station setting, was worthy of a 3.5/5 or 4/5. Above average or worth watching, respectively: both of these have flaws as well as points in their favor. But something has to do more than interest me or make me dislike it, for it to get a higher score than 4/5. Whether I liked the character or the artwork, didn't really matter in the objective sense. What mattered was whether the series could pull off their plot line without me detecting any inconsistencies or flaws once the last episode ended. If it had music, art, story line, epic plot, or great enough characters to overcome its weaknesses, it's almost guaranteed a promotion to 4.5/5 or 5/5. If my emotions were smooth and consistent with what the show tried to get across, it will get a promotion above 4/5, assuming no erroneous mistakes show up. This is independent of whether I like the ending or not, or some of the characters. So this is why irregardless of the artwork creating no draw in me, I gave this series 5/5. The story progression was that good and interesting: while there were some shaky parts where I wondered whether they could pull it off or whether they were being just a tad too melodramatic by intermingling someone's private life with their professional job, it was not enough to make me detect a critical error. This suspense ended up bolstering the great ending.
I greatly liked the ending and rewatched it a few times. The beginning and middle portions I avoided rewatching simply because the atmosphere is too much like high school. Immaturity and growing pains is only tolerable for so long for the sake of the plot and story development. There's no need to go over it when unneeded.
5/5 Excellent ending, interesting plot development, rich world building, and a novel coming of age story.
I found the story of Stellvia of the Universe to be very compelling, especially in the last few episodes. Before that however, I felt that the creators had trouble deciding on if the series was a slice of life type story in space or a hardcore science fiction, and it felt that the storylines for both aspects got in the way of each other and prevented either one from growing to a meaningful level. I feel that the hardcore science fiction aspect had the stronger story to it, and that the slice of life in space should have played more of a secondary role in the series. However, I was pleased when they left the slice of life styled story was abandoned during the most crucial parts of the hardcore science fiction story, with the slice of life story permiating at the most opportune times to give the overall story a nice flavor to it.
The animation was above average, but not the best that I've seen. The depictions of the technology were very good, but the characters needed to look a bit better to convey the emotions of the characters properly. There were times that I felt that the characters were robots and they didn't convey emotions in the best way.
The characters in Stellvia of the Universe were pretty much hit and miss. Some characters were ok, but others were not so good. Few if any characters left much of an impression on me. The female lead, Shipon, was a character that I could hardly stand, especially right before the climactic finish, and I especially found her annoying at that part of the series.
Not the best anime, but you can do worse.