Why You Should Watch: Star Driver

(Way back when it ended, I did a review on Star Driver. I don’t really like it, so I decided to use at as the first show for this new series of posts I’ll occasionally write. It’ll essentially function as a replacement review.)

When I do reviews, I typically don’t care much about spoilers. I’ll avoid events that alter your thoughts towards events or characters, but if it’s just something “surprising” that happens, I don’t refrain from talking about it all. While I consider this fair game, I’m well aware most people don’t, which is why you could say my reviews are aimed more towards people who’ve already seen the show, rather than people wondering if they should watch the show or not.

However, there are shows out there that I want people to watch, and they won’t know which ones those are unless I at least meet them halfway. So that’s exactly what this new series is for.

As the name says, it’ll be for shows that I think should be watched. That means I could even end up covering shows that I don’t personally like, but have something worthwhile enough to offer that I think they should still be seen. It also means that I’ll avoid mentioning spoilers at all, or will at least do it in a roundabout or out of context way so that I don’t ruin anything.

I won’t be doing these types of posts for every show I like or anything, as I mentioned, this is just for shows that I think have something interesting or special enough to offer that they should be seen regardless of even my own opinion on the show overall. I guess one way to put it would be that I’ll do these for shows that I find more fascinating rather than good or bad, and so I want people to experience them, no matter whether that experience ends up being positive or negative.

Basically, shows have to be pretty special to end up in this series, so it’s only natural that the first one I cover is one that I pretty much adore.

Where do I even start with a show like Star Driver? It’s… weird. Very weird. To this day people still argue over what the hell the show is supposed to be about. The theme seems to sway from puberty and growing up, to letting go of the past and embracing the future, to temptation and desire. Honestly, at times it seems to be trying to address all of those things.

On the one hand it’s annoying that you can’t tell if the show is trying to talk about one specific topic or multiple ones (or even what they are half the time), but on the other hand it almost helps to add to the sense of wonder that the show has.

You see, the show goes back and forth between a “high school hijinks” setting and a “giant robots beating each other up in an isolated dimension of frozen time” setting. Like I said, the show is weird, but the contrast between the two makes the robot sections seem more… fantastical than they would in a normal mecha show.

This strong sense of tone doesn’t come across just in the setting and multiple themes though; the biggest aspect that does it is the music. It has the lighthearted tracks for the school setting and such, but the serious tracks that play when things are going down just have this amazing sense of atmosphere to them. Sort of like this sense of the vast infiniteness of space and all the fantastical wonders that it entails.

There are lighter tracks that get that sense across too, but in those it’s an adventurous, exciting kind of feeling in regards to it while the serious tracks are almost overwhelming and feel like they have serious weight to them. That’s probably part of the reason it might just be my favorite soundtrack ever, they just have this power behind them. Not all of the tracks, sure, but ones like “Unmei” and the maiden songs (especially “Monochrome”)? Just too good.

Speaking of the music, the sound direction in Star Driver is pretty amazing. Sound effects and all that jazz are fine, but I’m talking about how often the music is timed to whatever is going on in a scene. It feels like the director purposely tweaked with the pacing in the script just so that certain scenes would match up better to the music, like for when the sweeping orchestra parts of tracks would kick in or when the tone of a scene would slightly switch and the music would change to reflect it. I don’t mean he moved whole scenes around or anything, but he probably extended some a bit or cut others slightly shorter than they originally were, tweaks like that.

It’s not just the audio either, the directing in general is also great, especially episodes fourteen and twenty-two. I can’t really go into specific details on why exactly because of spoilers, obviously, but they’re perfect examples on how minor details can add just as much if not more tension and atmosphere to a scene than big dramatic events.

There are also some general touches done that animators don’t usually think about, like lighting in scenes. Very often you just get two heads talking to each other for a conversation with no heed for the setting and how it can help tone-wise. It’s something more often paid attention to in live-action movies since they have to film at various parts of the day so questions about lighting just sort of come up naturally. But Star Driver knows how a nicely placed sunset and the colors that come about from it can help the feel of a scene and conversation.

However, with all that said, I do get why people didn’t like Star Driver when they watched it. Pretty much the entire first half of the show is spent on introducing the massive cast. It’s not like nothing happens during this time: the three main characters get constantly developed in regards to their relationship to each other, and as mentioned you get to know the supporting cast. It’s just that the plot which only gets hinted at in the first episode is pretty much ignored until the second half of the show.

That and people got annoyed at a certain sequence that uses the same animation and is in pretty much every episode. It never really bothered me since it’s less than a minute (that’s shorter than a fair chunk of the Attack on Titan recaps) and at least looked nice. Maybe I’m just a sucker for sparkles. I’m like a fucking magpie or something, shiny things are fascinating to me.

Speaking of which, fun fact about the show. Said scene basically consists of a fuckton of sparkles on a quickly scrolling background, among others, and they added even more in the disc release. I can just imagine the director looking over scenes to fix up for the physical release and upon reaching that scene just going, “You know what? There aren’t enough goddamn sparkles in this scene. Add more.” That’s my kind of director.

Though the biggest problem with Star Driver that I’ll agree with is the general ambiguity of it. I know back at the start I was praising it, so let me explain what I mean.

This is the same writer that did the script composition for Revolutionary Girl Utena, which is something that adored the use of metaphorical and symbolic scenes. Most people would say you can’t even take a single scene in that show at face value, that’s how thick it is. The thing with Star Driver is that it has plenty of scenes you can take at face value.

Now, that sounds like a good thing, but the problem is that when you have a fair chunk of scenes that can be taken at face value, it then becomes hard to tell which you’re supposed to view as natural scenes, and which you’re supposed to view as metaphors or symbolism.

It’s definitely a case of the writer being too vague for his own good, because as the later episodes show, there was definitely a clear vision here. The vagueness was also clearly intentional, but it was just a bit too much so, that’s all.

Sorry if that makes pretty much no sense. Again, trying to be vague here.

But despite the faults and getting why people didn’t care for the show as much as I did, there’s just one thing that can’t stop me from praising the show to people, which is going back to how well directed it is.

Obviously how well directed something is is up for debate, but I’d like to think that everything is just so finely tuned and deliberate that regardless of whether you like the actual decisions or not, you can see the passion that went into the production. It’s easy to compare it to the many lifeless manga and light novel adaptations out there. It’s why people get excited for original works, not because they’re going to be “new” or “unique”, but because there’s just a much higher chance that there’s an actual passion put into it.

Not that all manga and light novel adaptations are passionless, it’s just more likely for the staff to not care about the show when some producer just hands them something and says “here, adapt this”.

Typically a sign of good directing is when a scene just kind of… sticks with you, mainly visually. And maybe it’s just me, but Star Driver is full of these scenes. So many scenes that are just utterly mesmerizing  in their imagery that I can’t forget them. To this day when I have free time I’ll often choose to rewatch some of those scenes from the show.

On a side note, a couple years ago, I actually went to a panel at FanimeCon that was being done by the mecha designer for Star Driver, Shigeto Koyama. I learned a lot of interesting stuff about character design that I might one day be able to use when reviewing a show, but in regards to Star Driver, he showed his process of making multiple sketches of possible designs while the director would circle parts in each one that he liked and he would keep making new sketches with those aspects the director liked until it finally all came together in a design that was approved.

Just the fact that the director was going over multiple stages of design until getting the one he wanted shows how he cared about the show. I’d imagine a lot of directors would just take whatever design they were given whether it be for a character, mecha, or whatever.

Oh, another fun fact – though it’s pretty easy to notice – it was also neat to learn that all of the mecha in the show were designed to reflect their pilot’s personalities. Again, it’s nice that they weren’t just random designs that were approved just because they “looked cool” or something.

Some people won’t ever be on board for Star Driver just because of it’s naturally flamboyant style, but it’s something I really do wish everyone would watch, whether they end up liking it overall or not. I just want people to see what it’s like when a director who knows what the hell they’re doing has their hands in a show.

Again, I’m not saying that every other director ever sucks or anything, I just… I don’t know, Star Driver is just so goddamn fascinating to me. It’s totally my thing. I don’t even know what my thing is. I didn’t even know I had a thing until Star Driver came out.

So again, I don’t make promises about everyone loving the hell out of the show when watching it, but I hope it’s at least found to be even just a fraction as fascinating as I find it to be.


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