Standing at a sharp, almost diametric, contrast to yesterday’s anime selection is Stellvia. Where To Heart was involved with a single genre which it handled poorly, Stellvia is a bit harder to pin down. The series revolves around young Shima Katase (it should be noted that I managed to remember names for this one), who is beginning her attendance at the space station high school aboard Foundation II, the titular Stellvia.
It has a strong similarity to something like Harry Potter, in that it’s about an unusual school, but the similarities end there. Where Harry is unsure of himself because he’s thrust into a world he knows nothing about, Shima’s insecurity stems from her lack of understanding about herself. Fortunately, she has an excellent cast of classmates and teachers to help her along, including the extremely boisterous Arisa and the enigmatically wise Kouta. She’s learnign her trade and her self quite well, but there’s a deadline– the second wave of a collapsing star, which devastated Earth two hundred years ago, is but two months from reaching the edge of the Sol system, and the Foundations are humanity’s only lines of defense.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. Quite the contrary, the series is upbeat and cheerful, even when Shima is beating herself up for not being perfect (about the one flaw I can think of off the top of my head, because it would kind of veer her off into Mary Sue territory if she wasn’t genuinely trying to improve). In fact, the sense of impending disaster is shuffled to the background; it’s certainly a concern, but everyone seems just so confident that things will work out. Such optimism is kind of refreshing, in its own way. I’m sure that once I get more than about a quarter of the way through the series, it’ll start to be a bigger issue, but for now the series seems content to develop its characters more– and who am I to argue with that?
That’s probably what I like most. Rather than the flat, cardboard cutouts of To Heart, the cast of Stellvia takes those basic concepts– the energetic girl, the ingenue, the mysterious boy, the tragic accident girl– not as absolutes, but rather as starting points. Each character seems to have some room for growth, and in these early episodes they’re all showing it– not just the potential, but the growth as well. Haughty girl Akira has been taken down a peg or two but is softening up, learning to relax; Yayoi is letting go of the accident that set her so far back. If To Heart had managed to give everyone a little time in the spotlight, and give everyone a little room to breathe within the corsets of their archetypes, it would have been leaps and bounds better than it was. But still nowhere near as well-managed as Stellvia, honestly.
The fact that it’s at times laugh-out-loud hilarious does help, too. In the first two episodes alone, some of the most funny moments I’ve seen in a long time came about. Shima’s space suit seemed to be a little… tight on her, and she was less than confident about her figure; while it didn’t show any skin, it certainly left no curves to the imagination on the rest of her class, either. Her solution was to, obviously, wrap a bath sheet around her to hide her figure. That certainly got a chuckle out of me, but what crossed it into hilarity was that she was not the only one who did this. Even Kouta, a boy, did so (though around his waist).
Overall, though, it manages to understand something that I wish a lot more science fiction would get right, and portrays it well: life is not going to radically change in a mere three hundred years. There’s never going to be a point where people don’t wear slacker-type clothes, there’s never going to be food pellets replacing a full, sit-down meal with friends, and there’s never going to be a lack of need for shopkeepers and the basics of life. If you think about it, the world may have taken some pretty interesting and sweeping changes in the last two hundred years here on our Earth, but there are many things that we still do today that won’t ever change. When science fiction starts handwaving away the toilets, you lose my willing suspension of disbelief. (I was about to say that Stellvia doesn’t actually show a toilet on-screen, but then I remembered that it did, during a cleaning montage, which itself was greatly funny.)
I topped the night off by watching the first episode of Gurren Lagann again, though, and sadly it was still a little hard to get through. I’m more receptive to it now than when I watched it at Otakon ’08, of course, but after the subtlety and charm of Stellvia, GL wound up being like a screaming maniac getting up in my face. That’s kind of a bad simile, because Kamina is a screaming maniac who does invade the personal space of the cameraman. And he’s pretty much the main character. So yeah.
Anyway, it’s the last week before NaNo starts, and I’m more or less completely prepared for the thing. I’ve managed to get most of my outlining done, but there’s definitely some tweaking I’d like to do; I’ve also tinkered a bit more with a couple more Wii games, so I may do some writing on those later on.
Catch you tomorrow.