Dazzling the Stage: Star Driver Review


Dazzling the stage with its cast of larger-than-life characters.

Star Driver’s television run began in the 2010 fall season with much fanfare, boasting a pedigree of individuals who worked on titles such as Revolutionary Girl Utena, FLCL, Evangelion, as well as a cast of seiyuu whose main characters graced the likes of Death Note, Code Geass, Eden of the East, Escaflowne, and Ouran Host Club. For twenty-five episodes, the show gave off an exotic aura reflective of those who worked on it, resulting in a truly unique show that, despite its major faults, rode on its over-the-top nature all the way to a finale that rewarded those who remained faithful week in and week out.

Star Driver takes place on an island known as Southern Cross, where Tsunashi Takuto (Mamoru Miyano) mysteriously appears washed up at its shores. With the help of his friends Wako Agamaki (Saori Hayami) and Sugata Shindou (Jun Fukuyama), he takes on the Glittering Crux, a secret organization of high school students bent on using humongous cyber-mechanical robots known as cybodies to take over the world. Cybodies can only fight in an alternate dimensional plane known as Zero Time, where its pilots must power up through Apprivoise, a process of cybody summoning akin to magical girl shows and the like. The Crux aims to destroy the 4 seals that keep Cybodies in their dormant state, preventing them from entering the real world.

Takuto's Cybody, Tauburn, dazzles the stage with its star swords Emeraude and Saphyr.

Each week showcases episodic plot that centers around the Crux nominating one of its members to pilot a cybody and engage Takuto in Zero Time. The episode starts off showcasing some aspect of Takuto’s high school life, often in relation to the bad guy of the week, who also attends the same school. The events gradually reach the weekly climactic point where Zero Time is activated, and the Galactic Pretty boy dazzles the stage with his cybody Tauburn, transforming the show from a high school teen drama to hot-blooded mecha action, all within the span of a mere transformation sequence. The bad guy is gloriously defeated despite all odds, and the adventure continues on for the next week.

The formulaic approach to the weekly episodes is the biggest gripe from those who drop the show early on. Due to the extensive cast of characters from both opposing factions, the series takes a quite a few episodes to introduce everyone. The payoff requires patience, as the characters themselves are larger than life, yet don’t come into their own until the end of the show, especially those in the Glittering Crux. The Crux is even split up into its own subfactions, whose leaders get extra character development, if any.

That said, due to the huge glut of characters that need to be developed, there isn’t enough time available from the episodic format that the show allows, often highlighting only one subsection of the Crux at a time, usually at the cost of taking development away from the main trio of Takuto, Wako, and Sugata. The relationship between the three slowly builds up into a love triangle of sorts, becomes neglected at the peak of its tension, and resolves with a cop-out that doesn’t satisfy those who wish for any sort of drama or plot development.

Ultimately, the intent of Star Driver is to abandon any hint of serious storytelling, eschewing subtlety in favor of bashing in the audience’s skulls with an overwhelming amount of perverted sophistication in its presentation. The concept of a Galactic Pretty Boy is in itself a giant sign of utter camp that seeks to drive away those who wish to view the show in any sort of serious light, and welcoming those who want to escape their mundane lives and sail the galaxy every week, living vicariously through the glamour that the show provides.

Star Driver’s strength, therefore, is its ability to control itself with an abundant amount of shock value, without coming off as overly tacky. It takes its audacity seriously, requiring only the very best production value in establishing the feel-good mood that the show succeeds in delivering throughout. The show’s key animation boasts a staff responsible for such works as Cowboy Bebop, Gurren Lagann, FLCL, and both Fullmetal Alchemist series. The weekly cybody battles are fluid and dynamic, and fail to disappoint.

Relative newcomer Satoru Kousaki composes Star Driver’s instrumental background music, and has had recent success with shows such as Bakemonogatari, Fractale, The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya, and Lucky Star. He continues to build on his slowly emerging reputation as an orchestral powerhouse, providing an original score that is as majestic as the characters that grace the screen. Satoru paints a picture of the galaxy with triumphant strings and brass, and captures each required mood perfectly, contributing towards the amount of camp the show exudes. Star Driver’s insert songs, particularly Monochrome, are infectious in their respective melodies, their popularity often transcending the show itself.

The writing, though heavily juvenile, relies on its predictability to establish the maximum effect of its over-the-top style. In one glorious example episode, Takuto gets into a heated argument with his rival and friend Sugata for being aloof on his birthday. Predictably, the villain of the week captures Sugata and uses his powers to combat against Takuto in Zero Time, essentially pitting the two characters against each other in Cybody combat. In extreme fashion, Takuto and Sugata trade blows with each other, escalating towards a climactic final strike in which the two engage in a literal galactic brofist, overloading the villain’s hold on Sugata, destroying her cybody, thus saving the day once again.

Come at me, bro.

I cannot applaud Star Driver enough for its ability to keep developing its story in such a haphazard way that leaves the audience both brainless and breathless at the same time. Throughout its run, it throws more and more obstacles at Takuto for him to overcome, yet he manages to escape in the most valiant manner. The concluding episodes are the pinnacle of entertainment, throwing away any semblance of story and leaving the audience’s jaws agape with its final action sequences. It almost compares to Gurren Lagann, but sacrifices too much storytelling quality to be at an equal footing with the latter as a whole.

Regardless, the show is worth watching, if only for the sheer amount of mindless entertainment that had no parallel amongst its kin in the seasons that it aired. After finishing the series, one cannot help but feel a sort of emptiness, an emotional crash similar to that of a drug relapse. When watching Star Driver, it is advised that the show itself should be taken in with a mindset that anime isn’t always serious. It is a medium that can unlock an endless galaxy of emotions with a mere shout of Apprivoise. It is a medium can blur the lines that separate a grounded life and fabulous adventures into an adventure of life itself.

As such, the adventure of life continues.

Final score: 7/10 (Good)

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2 thoughts on “Dazzling the Stage: Star Driver Review”

  1. The formulaic approach… is the biggest gripe from those who drop the show early on…

    I admit that I was one such griper.

    …The payoff requires patience…

    Hrrmm.

    …eschewing subtlety in favor of bashing in the audience’s skulls with an overwhelming amount of perverted sophistication in its presentation…

    Haha!

    …developing its story in such a haphazard way that leaves the audience both brainless and breathless…

    Dammit, Krizzy, you’re making me want to un-drop this! (Dropped it at around epi 6 or 8.) What you say about the overall storytelling is interesting; those who I’ve caught raving about the series (finale) certainly seemed to be thoroughly entertained and thrilled throughout, and not necessarily in a ‘brainless’ way, I’d say. Anyway, this comment is already too long, especially for someone who hasn’t even been watching the series (lol), but I’ll certainly let you know what I think of if I do complete it! (Thanks.)

    1. Perhaps I should have reworded the “brainless” part in a way that expresses a feeling of entertainment, despite a clear acknowledgment of the low-brow nature of the entertainment perceived. Maybe “mindless” or “self-indulgent” would have been more appropriate. Either way, I do admit to bashing the story a little too hard; there are some plot elements that make sense, such as the maiden seal system and the Glittering Crux itself. The drama that unfolds within the Crux does get a bit convoluted, but I suppose that those feeling of aloofness towards such convolution makes for a sort of dissonance that amplifies the effect of the camp that ensues afterward. But that’s just me.

      That said, I very much appreciate the feedback, and look forward to hearing from you again!

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