Soft Tennis and Family Drama
What’s a boy to do when he’s just started a new school where a childhood friend has asked him to join a failing club to help reinvigorate it and prevent it from being shut down? Ask to get paid for his services, naturally. That’s the opening act of Stars Align or Hoshiai no Sora and it is an interesting start. It would have been nice to see this transactional nature of their relationship expanded on but after a couple of episodes it is more or less forgotten in amongst a host of other dramatic happenings. And by and large that is the problem with Stars Align. There’s great ideas and lots of potential and some scenes that just really hit the right mark, but nothing ever gets the time it needs to be developed or have impact. The story introduces one idea and then jumps just as quickly to the next.
Now, it has been widely said, and criticised that the series got cut short and was supposed to have 24 episodes. The thing is, the content we got here needed at least that many episodes and it was apparently only half the content. There’s just so much going on and I often felt like I just wanted this story to hit the brake on adding new content and actually just let us absorb the current situation.
Likewise the other boys in the soft tennis club who are super jaded and unmotivated take very little time to get on board with the idea of actually trying. While the anime does an excellent job after that point of making the group fairly charming and fun to hang around, there’s a real whip lash effect as you remember just how lazy and apathetic the crew were when you first met them and there seems little motive for them to turn around given the majority didn’t seem to care if the club closed and Maki’s not exactly the most motivational new comer ever as his observations on the team are cutting and quite barbed (accurate though).
Despite the short comings of this anime though it was still an interesting watch. While the pacing and the sheer number of dramas it wanted to force into 12 episodes didn’t do it any favours and its penchant for tonal shifts between the happy rising school club and the disastrous home-lives of the characters made for slightly uncomfortable viewing, Stars Align still manages to have some impact. And that’s largely because while the big picture is a mess of someone throwing paint balls at the screen for too long, those individual scenes and sequences are pretty effective as long as they remain self-contained. It’s only when you try and thread it all together that you end up with a bit of an issue.
If we look at only the tennis parts of the anime we have a fairly mediocre sports anime. New kid comes to the school and is enlisted into a club no one has any expectations for. There’s lots of training sequences, some practice matches and then a tournament where the penalty for not winning a match at the tournament will be the closure of the club. It’s as stock standard as it comes and there’s not a lot here in terms of the tennis itself to really draw the audience in as the animation is pretty ordinary, the matches are skipped through pretty fast and the conclusions are more or less inevitable.
That isn’t to say it isn’t kind of fun, but if they’d relied on the sports aspect to be the draw they would definitely have missed the mark as it can’t possibly compare to the big-hitters in the sports anime genre. Part of it might be that tennis is less team based, though they are playing partners. It means that relationships grow between pairs within the game but the team itself is largely sidelined. The other part is probably that the matches just really lacked any wow factor.
That lack of wow factor isn’t helped by the teams facing opponents who are all more or less the same in how they react. The opponents throughout the whole season get little characterisation other than getting to look down on our team of wonder-boys before they get shocked when the underdogs actually put up a fight and then they either lose because of shock or temper or they pull themselves together to fight back. If they’d spent more time on the matches possibly they could have done more with the rival players but by and large they are all pretty forgettable, including the guy who ends up hanging around for the rest of the season.
The family drama aspect on the other hand goes for the shock factor approach to drama though after the fourth kid’s home life is revealed it is really hard to really emotionally invest. This kid has an estranged father who is violent and steals money, this one’s mother hates him, this one is adopted and has issues, this one’s parents look down on him, this one’s father broke his arm, and so on and so forth. Each one of these reveals is done well but doesn’t have anything before or after it to really build on the moment. We cut to the scene, see something horrible, and then we move on to another tennis game or another character’s drama.
Stars Align seems to want to reveal the unhappy home lives so many live and in small moments it succeeds at pulling back the veil on the happy normal life of kids to see what they are dealing with when they return home. However, in the short space of time it had with the amount of characters and drama it introduced, it meant that none of these characters ever got the chance to work through anything and it is more an info-dump of their home life then a part of the story. The two main characters, Maki and Toma might be the exceptions as we have returned to their home dramas on multiple occasions but even then the season ends with a cliffhanger on both their lives and there’s no certainty we’ll ever see any kind of conclusion.
Ultimately, I liked Stars Align but as a narrative it is incredibly flawed. The great moments scattered throughout it make it watchable but not recommendable given overall it remains unsatisfying and inconclusive. If it does by some miracle get an ending (it was meant to be 24 episodes but was cut short) then maybe that will change my opinion but I’m not unhappy with having watched it during the Fall 2019 season. While it didn’t live up to its potential it had its moments.
Thanks for reading
100 Word Anime.
Reviewing all the drama in Stars Align.
Images from: Hoshiai no Sora. Dir. K Akane. 8Bit. 2019.