I must say, ladies and gentlemen, I’m feeling a bit peeved right now. No one thought to notify me that Studio Bones produced a half magical boy, half mech show in 2010, bringing together an all-star staff list to produce one of the most flamboyant, bizarre and visually enticing works that almost none of my friends know about. A delightful gem by the name of Star Driver.
This staff list alone should garner attention from any Anime fan. The director is Takuya Igarashi, director of Soul Eater, Ouran Highschool Host Club, and Bungou Stray Dogs. The script was penned by Youji Enokido, who wrote FLCL, Redline and (again) Bungou Stray Dogs. Hell, sound director Kazuhiro Wakabayashi has so many credits worth mentioning that I’ll just direct you to his MyAnimeList page.
Impressive staff aside though, how do all the pieces fit together? And considering the pedigree of Bones and the other artists working on it, how has this show not been talked about more in the years since it’s release?
The answer to that question may lie in the story this show tells and the manner in which it chooses to tell it. Star Driver is not a simple story by any means and the complexities of the show’s mechanics took a while to grasp fully on my first viewing. The show begins with Takuto Tsunashi washing up on the beach of Southern Cross Isle, where he is saved by Wako Agemaki and Sugata Shindou. He comes to the island as a new transfer student, but there is more to it than that.
On the island where the show takes place, there are stone giants called Cybodies that can turn into fighting robots, but only in a pocket dimension called Zero Time. Preventing these machines from being active in the real world are four maidens whose emblems seal them away. Wako is one of these maidens and Sugata is her protector. As it turns out, a secret organization called the Kiraboshi Order of Cross* wants to nullify the seals of all four maidens so that Cybodies will be free, altering the military and economic landscape of the world.
(*the organization is also referred to in other translations as the Glittering Crux Brigade, but I’m sticking with the version used in Crunchyroll’s subs)
They break the Northern Shrine Maiden’s seal right in the first episode and gain access to Zero Time. They are about to do the same to Wako when Takuto comes to the rescue, revealing that he possesses the ability to summon a Cybody of his own, called Tauburn. Takuto makes it his mission to prevent the Kiraboshi Order from getting what they want. There are plenty of small details that make up the rules behind this series, but these are the most important details to grasp when watching.
It’s easy to criticize a show like Star Driver for having poor storytelling when the traditional definitions of good narrative or good writing hinge on a particular formula. If your show starts in media res, you typically explain the rules after the first episode. But this can lead to the episodes following the premiere to be incredibly boring and filled with exposition. Star Driver begins showing the audience a lot of information with no explanation and then explains rules slowly throughout the series.
If you have seen Darker Than Black, or read my review of it, this might sound familiar. Darker Than Black’s narrative was similarly cryptic regarding the rules and narrative of its universe. Despite my confusion watching Star Driver the first time, I think the confusion may not only be by design but necessary as well. In rewatching the first two episodes to prepare for this review, it’s astounding how much more I’ve picked up on from rewatching it.
Whether it was foreshadowing revelations from much later in the series, to events that have profound meaning and impact when rewatching them, Star Driver’s narrative is, if anything, meticulously thought out. However, to get someone to become invested enough in your show to watch it all the way through and then rewatch it with a newfound appreciation, you need to get them to actually watch once, and Star Driver almost lost me.
If I were to strictly follow the three episode rule so commonly employed by members of the Anime community, I’m unsure I would have continued Star Driver. It is fairly episodic, each episode pitting Takuto against another member of the Order of Cross and their Cybody in Zero Time. This isn’t an issue, as I love episodic series’. The problem is that while the first episode drew me in with its presentation and a badass fight scene by Yutaka Nakamura, the next two episodes didn’t really thrill me.
It felt repetitive. Episodes two and three would spend time introducing the cast and admittedly offering more world building then end with a fight in Zero Time that Takuto would win. I had not yet gotten attached to any of the characters that early on. By episode four this thankfully changed as the types of stories being told get more interesting and the cast began to develop, while still maintaining the episodic format which grew on me.
The main trio was a delight to watch. Takuto’s sheer passion for protecting the weak alone would win me over, but it’s the childlike energy about him and how serious he can get that makes him so cool. Sugata is more serious, burdened by his duties, but his personality bounces off of Takuto’s well, leading to some great chemistry. I adore Wako because she doesn’t let herself be phased by the unfortunate position she is in, nor does she like letting her friends get hurt over protecting her.
Star Driver’s supporting cast doesn’t disappoint either. The other maidens have very interesting stories. The best of them being Mizuno You, whose introduction and farewell from the show not only change the landscape of the series going forward but also offer one of the best side stories. Even the members of the Kiraboshi Order of Cross get more sympathetic as the series goes on and their motives become clearer. The weakest links are Madoka Kei and Kou Atari. They were one-dimensional who robbed more deserving characters of screen time.
It’s a shame since, with a bit more time to fully flesh out the characters (particularly the main villain), Star Driver could have been a masterpiece. It’s not all a loss though. There is also the matter of the season finale, which impressed me so much because of how much I doubted it going in. I didn’t think it would be possible for the show to conclusively end in 24 short minutes but by god, they proved me dead wrong in the best way. It’s a finale that flies just short of great conclusions like Gurren Lagann or Die Buster.
Star Driver is a show about desire, so much so that one’s ability to pilot a Cybody is determined by their libido. Their desire quite literally drives them. Every character fights because of a desire for something or someone. Sometimes they fail or sometimes they find something else that gives them purpose. And for some, their journey is about learning that their quest might bring more pain than joy.
Heartfelt analysis of the themes aside, I think Star Driver’s story is pretty phenomenal. Not just for the characters or action, but for all the little things it does. For instance, the northern shrine maiden telling the main antagonist a story during the first few episodes, each part mirroring the events happening that episode. Alternatively, a play the characters perform later in the series foreshadowing the end of the series and hinting at major pieces of lore. Star Driver reminds me a bit of NieR: Automata in that what the viewer takes away from the experience depends on how far they look. All you have to do is pay attention.
I mentioned earlier how the first couple of episodes lost me and if there was one thing that helped me to give the show a chance and push on past three episodes, it was certainly the animation. Star Driver’s episodic format means that you can expect a lavishly animated fight at the end of about every episode and Bones went all out, consistently creating beautiful action shows that don’t sacrifice technical quality or fidelity.
There are reused animations such as the transformation sequence- which admittedly does get a bit old- or Takuto summoning his swords, but for every reused cut there are five more original ones that look as fabulous as everything else in this show. Just as impressive as the fight animation has to be the music, which similarly brings back memories of Diebuster or Gurren Lagann.
A bombastic soundtrack that can at once evoke a sense of epic despair and also makes me feel a childlike whimsey. Songs that make me feel like the world is at stake or like the heroes are gonna come out on top no matter what. Like any of my favorite soundtracks, it experiments around with how the music can reflect on the story and vice versa. Each of the four maidens in the show has their own song that they sing and that operates as the theme for the shift between the real world and zero time when they are relevant to the plot.
There is also a movie, but apart from the incredible opening scene and some redone shots, it’s just one big recap movie and I’m not quite sure why they marketed it as the next chapter of the franchise. Based on the opening scene readily available on YouTube, there were clearly ideas on how to continue the series beyond the conclusion of the first season, but it’s unlikely to ever get a continuation when there hasn’t been any word of a continuation since the movie released in early 2013.
Maybe one day we will get a continuation, but it’s unlikely to ever happen without a lot of demand. The ending of the series implies some big changes to the world that would surely make for a great story and even help give more closure. Regardless of whether we ever get a continuation, I’m satisfied with the Star Driver we have now. It’s a hidden gem that gets more pretty the more you look at it.
Star Driver is available for legal streaming on Crunchyroll. Bizarrely, only the second half of the series is available on Blu-ray and DVD, while the first half is out of print and will run you over $800… so I’d stick to Crunchyroll.
Hope you enjoyed this look at Star Driver! Leave a comment below and tell me what you think of my review and let me know what else I should watch. Thanks for reading and as always I’ll see you next time!