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