Star Driver

In the lead up to this year's Spring Anime Season, one of the shows I was very much looking forward to was studio Bones' mecha anime Captain Earth. Pretty much any time a show from Bones comes around it has my attention, as the studio has become one of the most constantly impressive, creating great shows such as Wolf's Rain, Soul Eater, and Eureka Seven, among many others. One of the things I heard the most prior to the season starting was that the key staff behind it were the same ones behind another mecha anime Bones had released not too long ago called Star Driver. The show looked intriguing to me, so I decided to give it a shot, wondering if it could bring the same quality to the table that Bones shows so often do.

One day on Southern Cross Isle, Takuto, a high school age boy with seemingly endless youthful energy, washed up on the shore (supposedly he swam to the island after missing his boat) near the house of two other high schoolers, Wako and Sugata. Takuto befriends them, and also learns that Wako and Sugata are actually engaged. He also learns that Wako is one of four "Shrine Maidens", who through their seals, are keeping dangerous, mechanized weapons called "Cybodies", from being freed from an alternate dimension known as "Zero Time". As if that wasn't enough crazy terms being thrown around, as it turns out Takuto himself is actually the "Ginga Bishonen" (which basically translates to "Galactic Pretty Boy"), who pilots the Cybody known as "Talburn". With it, he battles the other Cybodies in Zero Time to protect Wako from the organization that wishes to free the Cybodies and use them for dastardly purposes, the "Glittering Crux Brigade".

Overall, Star Driver certainly has quite a bit to take in when it comes to exposition, a lot of terms are introduced, and sometimes it can be a bit hard to follow. Don't get me wrong, I'm against exposition dumps, but for the first for a good half dozen episodes of Star Driver I still didn't really understand stuff about what the Shrine Maidens did, or what Zero Time was, or what exactly being the Ginga Bishonen meant. Though that's not even the biggest problem I had with Star Driver's story. In a way, Star Driver is essentially a magical girl show. No really- well, besides the obvious difference (it's a magical guy). Each episode, a different member of the Glittering Crux is focused on more in detail, usually goes on about how "THEY'LL BE THE ONE TO DEFEAT THE GINGA BISHONEN", and then towards comes the fight between the two, after Takuto's fancy transformation  sequence, of course.

It's a neat idea, taking an old formula and putting a new spin on it, and for a while it works decently, but it comes with a drawback. It gets old pretty fast. For the most part every episode goes through the same motions, comes to the same conclusion, and after a while it just starts to get repetitive. The first time you see the great transformation sequence, and the Talburn bursting into Zero Time, while an epic vocal track plays in the background, it's really cool. The eighth time? Not so much. For the most part the show just feels so uneventful, as I dragged through the 25 episode series begging for SOMETHING to to mix up the literally formulaic plot, and but nothing ever really came. One interesting twist does come up in the last few episodes, but even it's later followed by another twist that retroactively takes away anything interesting about said twist.

So with a story where there isn't much going on, it's up to the characters to pick up the slack. And they ...almost do. The cast is likable, I'll give them that. Even though most of the characters are villains, I enjoyed seeing each and every one of them on a regular basis. In addition, their likability is also helped a lot by the show having a great sense of humor. There's some solid jokes and funny dialogue between characters in here. Despite their likability, however, the cast aren't really all that interesting. Just about every side character ranges from being completely flat to being wasted potential, requiring more attention and development than they got. For example, Kanako Watanabe often almost seemed like an interesting character, with implications of her being more than it seemed on the surface, but she's rarely ever given any real development. On the other side, there are characters like Shinada, who have no discernible traits other than having a crush on another character. The main cast suffers just as much, and Takuto is especially boring. He's simply a bland protagonist, who often seems to be void of both interesting motivations and conflicts. Later on in the show we get a bit more insight into his past that make him a tad more interesting, but it still felt like too little too late. Wako and Sugata are better, but still not terribly interesting. Even the character I found most interesting, Mizuno, isn't around for a large portion of the show, plus is slightly ruined by a bizarre and confusing twist surrounding her later on.

If there is one place where Star Driver really shines, it's the animation. Well, sometimes. Most of the time the animation isn't all that special, it gets the job done, and has some style, but nothing really stands out. Then the action scenes come around. The reason I managed to make it through all of Star Driver, despite not really caring much about the story or characters, is mostly a thanks to the action, which is straight up spectacular. Even though there really isn't much in the form of stakes (people don't really ever seem to die in Zero Time, and this is the kind of show where you know the good guy is going to win or at the least be saved by a deus ex machina) every fight feels grand. From the epic score, to the incredible transformation sequence, to the over the top performances by all the voice cast, the fights are just a blast to watch. If all that wasn't enough, it's during the action scenes that Bones really pulls out all of the stops in their animation. Some top notch work by some skilled key animators and an awesome studio make the action exciting, interesting to watch, and often ridiculous. The big final battle especially nearly felt like something out Gurren Lagann.

Star Driver feels like a lot of hits and a lot of misses. The plot, while unique, is repetitive and sort of bland. The characters, while likable, aren't very interesting. It has fantastic animation in the action sequences, but the rest of the time it just looks alright. So unless you're really interested in action animation or just sold by the concept of a "Magical Boy" anime, I can't really wholeheartedly recommend Star Driver. It's one of a kind, and often fun, but ultimately lacked anything to keep me particularly invested in it.


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