This is one of the first anime I entered on the list when I started preparing for this writing project. So, why did I wait so long? It’s… complicated.
What is it?
Stellvia is a 26-episode anime series directed by Tetsuo Sato, who also helmed the much more recent Mourestu Pirates series. It, too, takes place in space and centers on a group of schoolkids. The similarities… kind of stop there, I think. Well, there is a lot of CGI for the space ships themselves. Fair enough.
What kind of story is it?
Years ago, something huge and terrible happened in the space around our solar system. Now, schoolkids must save the planet!
These schoolkids are taking classes on a space station, and it’s all as part of preparation for defending the Earth from an oncoming catastrophe. That’s right, there’s another something huge and terrible on its way, and this time it’ll utterly destroy our home planet… unless humanity can stop it. And we have a plan!
You start out with interpersonal drama played out while that grand scheme is in the background as the overall goal, then you move that grand scheme into the foreground as the kids find themselves closer to the front lines than they might originally have expected. And while this is mostly a fluffy and upbeat show, sometimes it goes all-out on some of the darker aspects of what living in a “do or die” situation with fierce competition for key roles in the plan can do to people.
Mostly the show is about hope and unity. Think of the kind of unrelentingly upbeat mentality it would take in order to organize all of humanity to prevent a global catastrophe. What kind of people would that produce? What does it do to the younger generations? What does that do to the way humanity organizes itself, and how it shapes the training?
Why do you like it?
This is a big-idea, big-cast, Sci-Fi adventure drama. There’s a lot going on, from the fun interpersonal shenanigans to the bigger picture world-building concepts. The stakes are high and instead of doing the “a small rag-tag team of misfits saves the world” routine, they give the entire human race a role to play.
I mean, of course our rag-tag team of misfits take some of the most crucial bits of the plan to fruition, don’t get me wrong. But it’s only accomplished with the support of all of planet Earth and its space stations.
That’s kind of a neat angle, don’t you think?
What might one not like about it?
There are various things that one could find mildly off-putting, but let’s address the biggest, loudest elephant in the room: Our primary point-of-view character, Shima, is prone to whining, moping, and generally being a wet blanket. This is especially true as the pressures of the plot intensify. She’s not always terrible! She lapses into being a whiny lump quite a few times, though. The show succeeds in spite of her, in some ways, rather than because of her.
Oh, and there’s a giant robot. Well. Not really. It’s a humanoid-shaped vehicle, but it’s not really a robot. Really. Kind of. Look, just deal with it, whatever it is.
Other thoughts about it?
This show’s kind of weird in that it’s intensely optimistic yet simultaneously very realistic about how humanity kind of goes to pieces under certain circumstances. There’s some interesting writing and world-building here.
One of the dramatic arcs in the show is a weird kind of romance/rivalry. Shima is (on a good day) one of the best (of the best of the best, sir!) but then there’s Kouta. He’s just kind of quietly competent… supremely competent. The relationship between the two, especially toward the end, gets very interesting (even though it fuels a lot of Shima’s whiny fits).
On a musical note (ha ha): We can kind of thank Stellvia for greatly boosting the career of the band Angela, who are responsible for opening, closing, and insert songs over the course of the series.
Where can I watch it?
This is the bad news, and why I kind of dreaded the write-up for this: Basically, hunt down the DVDs if you can. The company which held the licensing, Geneon, folded not long after Stellvia came out and the state of licensing for a lot of shows went into limbo. No Blu-Ray, no streaming, no nothin’. Sorry!