There is Something That Just Feels... Off, About Stars Align

Image: kokotsu.com

[This will contain spoilers for episodes 1 through 4 of Stars Align}

All shows elicit a range of emotion. Admiration, boredom, hate, love... but sometimes, they get something else out of you. Distrust; like a dog in a horror movie barking at a ghost, or when you meet someone who you can just feel in your gut isn’t being fully upfront with you. By episode 3, this was the thought that lodged itself in my head about Stars Align: “something isn’t right about this show.” At first I assumed it was because the creator of this show was taking his first swing at writing a series. Kazuki Akane has worked on several Gundam series, Escaflowne, Samurai Champloo; he’s been around. He knows how to work on and make anime. But Stars Align is the first time where he has the sole writing credit, and while he has worked on scripts in the past, it’s always been with other writers (especially Hiroshi Onogi, who has shown up a few times on other shows Akane has scripted on. But I digress). And like many first drafts encountered in fiction writing college classes, the first couple of episodes felt like a series that had good ideas of what it wanted to do, but marred by an execution that tripped it up.

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Unsurprisingly, this thought started in earnest at the domestic abuse scene from episode 1. Let me make it clear, this scene could’ve worked, and I have no qualms with the subject matter being handled (hell, one of my favorite shows of all time is Black Lagoon, which goes places this show probably won’t even dare touch). but like I said: good idea, bad execution. And for this scene, the execution is what made it stand out in a bad way. There’s very little build up to it, and sure, we do know that the protagonist’s mother is going through a divorce, but there’s very little indication of how messy it is. Is it just two people separating, is she the person at fault, is there an affair? It could’ve been a million different things… but It’s at the end where we realize all at once how bad it is. Instead of what could’ve been episodes worth of buildup, an underlying sense of tension and dread akin to Dunkirk, we get that scene, and... it just happens. Okay, the kid has an abusive dad, but that’s it. I’m sure it’ll come back up later (it/he has by episode 4), but it felt so out of place and so quickly done that it came off as tonal whiplash. So, episode 1; a well animated introduction that ended on a bad foot. Not a bad note, just composition that could’ve been handled better.

Then the later episodes came... and my fears didn’t go away. Episode two was alright; apart from a scene that really annoyed me due to its vastly overplayed choice in music for a training scene, nothing truly awful. But by episode 3, there were two moments that really rubbed me the wrong way: a club member making his racket acquainted with a bully’s head (and the seemingly mellow attitude everyone had with said act of violence afterwards), and that same club member being burned by boiling water in the past by his mother, while he was an infant. And episode four had a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it gory moment with a flipbook that feels really, really out of place with the show’s feel. For such a cute looking show, one that evokes Digimon Adventure Tri’s look, with its sickeningly uplifting music, the basic story of a down on its luck club that wants to get better in spite of everything, including story beats we’ve seen before about club members getting to know each other outside of school... for a show that does the root fundamentals alright, to get caught up again and again in manufactured edginess that comes along as quickly as it goes away, this weird execution creates an unavoidable feeling of tonal dissonance.

By now, I’ve come to the conclusion that this show could be one of two things: either, an ambitious but sophomoric attempt on a high school sports series that wants to add depth to what it thinks is a genre that’s become too light on actual material that makes characters “deep” or “understandable”... or a worse thought. A worse, horrible, awful thought: this show hates sports anime. It hates the cutesiness of the genre, it hates the bland characters, it hates how everything works out for everyone and the low stakes in it all. And it wants you, the audience, to feel its contempt. Not unlike Evangelion before it (yeah, I’m going there), Stars Align could be either of these. It could either be like the original series where the author behind it wants you to understand their pain through ambitious but imperfect storytelling, or like End of Eva, where the author has grown to hate their audience, and wishes to make them to feel as uncomfortable as possible before breaking itself. I don’t know which of these is true. I know what I feel now, but I’m not sure of which cause is the reason. Like Eva however, I am going to stick with this show, for the same reasons I like stories about disaster like HBO’s Chernobyl, or The Big Short. Stars Align has many faults. It will have many faults going forward, and god knows if the rot in the foundation will bring the building down. But like a demolition or a train-wreck, you can’t look away. You want to watch it, even if it’s in the base, primal enjoyment of seeing it all come crashing down. That is why I’m following Stars Align. For the worst/best possible reason. It’s either unintentionally bad, or intentionally bad. But either way it is, in a sickening way, entertaining.

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