Star Driver

Star Driver

Dazzling The Stage! Galactic Pretty Blogger Zaku! It’s time to talk about Star Driver!

One starry night, as Shindou Sugata and Agemaki Wako are out for a walk on their island’s local beach, they discover a stranded teenager, Tsunashi Takuto. As they apply first aid and save his life, he joins their school, with Takuto now becoming an irreplaceable friend in their newly formed trio.
Beneath the surface of the idyllic island however, a harsher truth is soon to conflict with their peaceful everyday; the Glittering Crux Brigade, a secret organization, is set to conquer the world by destroying the island’s four mikos’ seals through empowering their own mechas, the so-called Cybuddies in an alternate universe, frozen in time and space, dubbed “Zero Time”.
As Wako and Sugata, their fates deeply intertwined with this attempted coup d’etat, are about to fall victim to destiny being set in motion, Takuto turns out to be the one fated to protect the island’s seals, promising to return the favor Wako and Sugata have given him and to protect the world from the Glittering Crux Brigade as the Galactic Pretty Boy alongside his own Cybuddy Tauburn.

Star Driver Main Characters Takuto Wako Sugata

Well, what do you want me to say, that is a lot to unpack there in the premise for sure. It’s not really that complicated of an affair though: Star Driver is, essentially, an enemy of the week mecha anime following the lives of three teenagers and the various residents of the island. Also, contrary to what terms like “Galactic Pretty Boy” might have you expect, it’s not a comedic anime of sorts but serious enough to get you engaged while also light-hearted enough to not go for the darkest of tones.

Which is to say, there is reason for people to misunderstand the intent of Star Driver but once you’ve actually given the anime its fair chance, that notion should be dispelled.

Emphasis on ‘should’.

Star Driver Glittering Crux Brigade

Sadly, that’s not really the way it is. Star Driver is the exact opposite of being critically acclaimed in the West (despite selling truckloads in Japan) for a couple of reasons. For one, it’s a great pleb filter that’s a lot smarter than anime fans who see people posing in opera masks and express their disdain for those give it credit for. The other aspect is that it was aired at a different time back when anime originals were a rarity to the point that your show stood out if it wasn’t based on a light novel or a manga, making people come down all the harder on them when they didn’t meet their criteria. Oh, and every dipshit under the sun compared it to Code Geass because of the similar title formatting and FABULOUSNESS. Why yes, anime fans have always been stupid, who knew?

The part about Star Driver being fabulous isn’t even wrong though. I just don’t see how that leads to people assuming it’s trashy or anything of the sorts in its nature. Simply put, Star Driver’s writing is poignant and its animation flamboyant. It’s grandiose and stylish and also gets your blood pumped. Star Driver is a high energy anime and colorful to boot. And that is a good thing that doesn’t contradict it in any of its lofty ambitions or more serious moments.

Star Driver Cyber Casket

Star Driver tells a very episodic story in the enemy of the week format but experiments all the more with it. The basic structure of most episodes is as simple as it is effective: we follow Takuto, Wako and Sugata on their daily endeavors as in the meantime, we got a look at how things are going on at the Glittering Crux Brigade, especially regarding the weekly antagonist’s motives and personality. Like this, the Glittering Crux Brigade’s members receive enough screentime with their own perspectives as well so while they always feel like invaders into Takuto’s everyday life, you at least know why they invade, which makes things a lot more compelling.

As the episodic plots work push forwards, their climax usually results in a mecha encounter in the Zero Time universe, where both contestants push their all against each other in a high-stakes battle with explosions and punches and sword contests and whatnot. Rinse and repeat.

Star Driver Zero Jikan

This might not sound too exciting on paper but in execution, works exceedingly well. A lot of Star Driver focuses on Takuto’s school life and the various encounters he unknowingly makes with the antagonists of the week who also board his school. The pool of characters is rich, vast and diverse enough to always keep things fresh and the character conflicts are engaging enough. This also creates a two layers system for the episodic writing. Events unfold, Takuto and his crew are always up to something but so is the character of the week whom we get to know more about until both are lifted to the stage of Zero Time where they get to duke it out through their personal traits and experiences, oftentimes relating to events of the episode. This duality creates for more organic writing that gives weight to both the character drama and action side of things.

Star Driver Theatre Play

What helps is that Star Driver is clever in what it wants to do and how it wants to portray things. It’s an anime where the episodic format feels inherently fun even when it doesn’t drive the plot forward. The dialogues are surprisingly smart, witty and nuanced without ever being drowned in intellectualism. It’s not like fundamental or philosophical debates exist in this but that the average, the daily and the mundane have a lot of charm to them and pay attention to the details. I could watch these characters go to the beach, buy ice cream, celebrate the end of Summer, no matter what, it would be entertaining because that is what these characters provide.

This is not entirely surprising as these are active characters with their own ambitions, conflicts and goals, seeking to drive things forward, people who actually want to be part of their show… you know, I ask for so little from anime and usually get nothing in return yet Star Driver gave me so much more.

Star Driver Takuto And Sugata Fight

What elevates things the most is that all characters in Star Driver are likable. By which I actually do mean every single one of them in very much a literal sense.

From the Glittering Crux Brigade to Takuto’s school life, heck, even the most minor of side characters, there is not a single bad or annoying character. Not once did I think “ugh, this one really brings the show down”. No matter how minor or inconsequential, I have absolutely no antipathy towards anyone here. I tried to think of just a single one I could dislike and despite the absolutely massive cast, I just couldn’t. When does that ever happen? It reminds me a bit of Kyoukai Senjou no Horizon in a way or two. These people are fun and likable, good or bad. They have their own motivations and actively drive things forward as a result.

Star Driver Love Triangle

The ‘repetition’ of the episodic format is kept fresh through stylization. Entering Zero Time becomes something to look forward to because these are essentially transformation sequences akin to magical girl transformations except they’re the coolest transformations I’ve seen in anime. Meanwhile, the character songs of the respective story arc’s miko played when the battlefield is readied add so much to the experience in a medium where selling CDs as the ultimate goal feels like inserting such has turned into the unsightly CG vehicles of the auditory department. Occasionally, the anime also plays a bit with the formula but overall, I really like the reuse of content here much in like, say, Sekien no Inganock. Well, Star Driver is written by Enokido of Utena fame so there is that.

Star Driver does throw some curveballs at you however and some twists do hit you right in the gut so it does experiment with its established basics every now and then. I especially like the rare case of the OP starting midway to underline the narrative climax of a longer build-up segment. This is such a clever anime.

Star Driver Mizuno

Speaking of aforementioned stylization and flamboyancy, Star Driver does deliver in spades. The Glittering Crux Brigade with its opera masks, daring fashion statements, in-gang code word and posing are one hell of a memorable villain gallery and their KIRABOSHI! moments are, like, the coolest thing ever.

Almost everything in Star Driver is stylistically coded to leave behind as much of an impact as possible. Things are symmetrical, use stark colors, are just downright cool to look at, there is such a huge focus on aesthetics that absolutely works out in its favor.

Star Driver’s directing is also more on the conservative than experimental side but oftentimes understands how to best present things; from small things about characters and nuanced key moments to bombastic, holistic depictions of the grande. I wish more anime did this right.

To keep things brief, Star Driver is designed excellently. From its poses to opera masks to attire to the Zero Time battle arena, it’s so visually striking and operates on the concepts of having impact, leaving behind a lasting impression and understanding the rule of the cool. As such, Star Driver hits that sweet OOMPH spot that not many other anime hit (Hellsing Ultimate, C and Yu-Gi-Oh! come to mind). It’s probably just a Zaku thing you don’t understand but I must collect these like a squirrel gathers its hazelnuts for the long, cruel and enduring Winter sleep that is the rest of anime. Also, I guess if you liked Granbelm, this is not quite unlike it.

Long story short, I’m not sure if Star Driver is among the best anime out there but it certainly ranks highly among the coolest for sure.

Star Driver Kiraboshi

Which isn’t to say that it’s all flash and no flesh. The island setting, for one, is as appreciated as always. Soukyuu no Fafner already went to prove that mechas on idyllic island go together really well but it also functions as a cage of sorts for characters who feel like they can’t escape their pre-determined destinies. Star Driver is, in its lighter and heavier moments, a rather atmospheric adventure that has a few things to say. It’s rare to have an anime like this, that, on paper, is easy to describe but in its nuanced complexities very hard to sell.

At the end of the day, just because something is loud and garish doesn’t mean it can’t have substance but I guess that is lost on most people.

Star Driver Mecha

As for the battles, the action is always and ever extremely well-animated and receives all of the sakuga focus of the show. Character acting animation practically doesn’t exist, there are even several episodes in the mid section where character art looks rather poor. But man, the action. Such a sight to behold! The Kanada school of animation flourishes most beautifully in Star Driver. It’s exactly the kind of project that it deserved. I could hardly think of a better fit for it. You even get more distinctive styles like Jun Arai’s controversial highly polished but lacking in animation cuts. Star Driver reminds me of a time when I was a lot more into sakuga discourse for all the right reasons. Which is very laudable since traditional hand-drawn mecha animation was already a dying specialized skill back when it aired and these mecha models are by all means very distinguished and complex ones. In terms of animation, Star Driver no doubt stands out as one of the most ambitious and profilic works of the 2010’s, boasting a super impressive gallery of high tier animators working on it.

Star Driver Jun Arai

With that said, the action writing is passable but pretty basic. It’s really the characters, conflicts and visuals carrying the fighting here. Oftentimes, you have the pattern of the enemy overwhelming Takuto through either power or a specific means/strategy so you can’t help but wonder how he’ll get out of his predicament and what kind of plan he’ll devise but then he beats his foe just like that with nothing really to it because the script said the battle needed to end. It’s fun to watch but don’t expect much complexity from the battles themselves.

And while we’re still at the topic of presentation, the music is utterly fantastic too. This otherworldly island feeling with its local mythos like there is always more going on than what meets the eye is enormously helped by the OST. There are just so many great tracks in here to set the mood and I’m not just talking about is adrenaline-injecting and iconic use of insert songs; from action setpieces to more somber tunes, Star Driver’s music is as rich as its content, just as charming and also unique and fresh. The sound directing and sound FX also very much work wonders, leaving no potential atom of impact unfulfilled.

Star Driver Zamekh

With that said, I don’t think Star Driver sticks the landing quite right. Admittedly, some cracks do show up towards the end when character retract on their motivations or are written out of the show. Some plot elements feel unexplored and the entire last episode seems more concerned with giving you a spectacular finisher rather than the proper closure these characters deserve. There’s also to consider that almost every girl in this show somehow falls in love with either Takuto or Sugata, which, miraculously, takes enough of a backseat to not become annoying but does make you scratch your head. Why implement this in the first place? I guess love is part of youth and youth is an unconcluded passage of life so there is that but it does feel somewhat unrewarding on a surface level.

Likewise, the central conflict between the protagonist and antagonist is resolved on an ideological plane but not on a personal level. So much of the human moments of Star Driver in retrospect feel a lot less significant because they lead to nothing. It really feels like there is an episode missing. Then again, as the show goes to point out, life going on and beyond what you’ve seen so far is very much the central theme.

Star Driver Takuto

Ultimately, consider me won over. Star Driver accomplishes almost everything it sets out to do and ranging from the music to the visuals to the writing, does a good job at all that matters. The character drama is engaging and grounded enough, thoroughly solid in its execution and occasionally deals with themes like the fate you’re given, especially Wako’s and Sugata’s as their lives appear like mere playthings on the field of the grand spectrum of things, something that seems inherently wrong to the free-spirited Takuto who has made it his principle in life to live it to its very fullest.

There is also some really neat pathos driving the main themes of the story forward: are you making the most of your life? Are you fulfilling your youth to the utmost? Can you achieve combining what you have to do with what you want to do? Are you and your life shining? None of these are written with the introspective power of a character study or anything but they drive this adolescent mecha battle tale that feels a bit like a coming of age story forward with its heart and vigor at the right place. Star Driver is an incredibly earnest anime.

Star Driver Final Scene

At the end of the day, even with its many intricate aspects, eccentrities and elements that are out there, Star Driver is, simply put, a very genuine, classic story about adolescence, love and friendship. It’s such a shame it took me a rewatch and to become an adult to realize as much.

So yeah, this really is one excellent mecha anime you should absolutely watch.

Final Verdict: Very Good.

2 thoughts on “Star Driver

  1. I watched half of it 6 years ago during a bad phase of depression. I don’t remember anything. I’m not sure if I found it boring and too flashy for my tastes or depression had sucked too much of my soul. Perhaps a rewatch will indeed change my mind.

    What was one theme or scene you absolutely loved? I have no issues with spoilers

    Like

    • Making the most out of your youth and believing that tomorrow will be glorious too.

      It’s essentially what the protagonist took from a friend who died at a young age and gave his best to live life his ideal way despite not having the chance to. It’s a small part of the show and the anime is relatively subtle about how that shaped Takuto’s beliefs but once you connect the dots, it all comes together at the end.

      Liked by 1 person

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