|Overall||Art||Animation||Character Design||Music||Series Story||Episode Story||Reviewer|
Hoshiai no Sora
Stars Align focuses on the male members of a junior high soft tennis club who discover they will be disbanded unless they seriously improve in their performances within the sport. The team's captain, Toma Shinjo, recruits a new student named Maki Katsuragi to join the club under condition of paying him. As all the members of the soft tennis club improve their skills and learn more about each other, all of them have their own family problems that affect them in various ways.|
Stars Align is a bit of a mixed bag in trying to be both a sports anime and family drama that delves into a variety of issues that effects the boys of the soft tennis club. But before dabbling into the rather divisive latter element of the series, let's get into the sports element of the series as that is actually pretty straightforward to dabble into. Like many sports anime of its ilk, Stars Align is focused on the improvements of the performance of the soft tennis team. At the start of the series, the majority of the team doesn't take participating in the sport seriously and this negatively affects their reputation among the school. This greatly frustrates Toma, who is determined to do his best in playing the sport and recruits Maki to help him get the rest of the team to take practicing more seriously and develop the confidence to improve themselves. The improvements of the other team members are gradual throughout the anime's run and Stars Align does a solid job at showing off the soft tennis team's efforts start to pay off by later in the series.
Now onto the family drama element. To attempt sticking out from other sports anime, Stars Align explores the family lives of each of the members of the soft tennis club and all of them have their personal issues with family affecting them in some form. Attempting to mix this focus in with a sports anime is a bit of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, the series believably explores a variety of issues that affect teens in some form within Japanese culture. Issues such as family abuse, adoption, divorce, parental pressure, and gender identity are explored within the series and each member is affected by one of these issues in some form when the series explores their family lives.
On the other hand, the family drama has a bad habit of getting in the way of the developments of the soft tennis team, as it often felt added in just for the sake of drama. It seems a bit too convenient that all the team members happen to have their own family issues affecting them. The attempt at trying to blend Stars Align's focus on both slice-of-life sports and family drama causes the story direction to get quite muddled at points, most notably in the show's second half when more of the soft tennis club member's family lives get explored within the series. For a 12-episode TV anime, trying to focus on so many characters within such a short episode length doesn't work too well within this series and it especially doesn't help that the series doesn't have the time to resolve the personal family issues that it chose to focus on.
The final episode of Stars Align features a rather dark twist in its ending that leaves things inconclusive following the light-hearted mood shown with the soft tennis team participating in a tournament. This sudden twist feels quite anti-climactic and clashes badly with the more somber and dramatic moods depicted from earlier episodes. To my understanding from some recent news I've heard, Stars Align was originally planned to be a 24-episode series, but the production committee of the series chose to cut the series length in half. Because this news got to animation studio 8 Bit well into their production of the series, they didn't have the time to restructure the anime's plot into a 12-episode format thus having to leave the series as it was up to that point. What makes this behind-the-scenes issue especially bad is that Stars Align is an original series and not based on any ongoing source material thus there's no way for fans of it to be able to see what happens with it beyond the anime, regardless of their thoughts on its premise. Whether or not a second season comes along to continue Stars Align's plot will likely come down to the show's popularity with fans and developments in the production of a possible follow-up.
Overall, I suppose my thoughts of Stars Align is quite mixed. The developments of the soft tennis club are solid to see unfold. But while the attempt to explore personal issues with the family lives of th the club members is an admirable one, it often gets in the way of the team's developments feeling added on just for the sake of drama and the show's 12-episode length was just not enough to devote focus on the personal issues of so many characters, even with the recent news that came out with the anime's production issues. Setting aside the messy behind-the-scenes situation and the inconclusive ending, your mileage will likely vary with how well you warm up to the mix of slice-of-life sports and family drama offered with Stars Align.
Last updated Thursday, December 26 2019. Created Thursday, December 26 2019.
Hoshiai no Sora
(All episodes watched):|
The first thing that struck me about episode one of this show was that the animation seemed to be relatively fancy, with numerous people and objects moving simultaneously and a good deal of detail, rather than the usually bare bones approach which includes nothing more than what is absolutely needed. Maybe that's because there will be scenes on the tennis court where some fluid movement will be needed. This show did a good job of striking up some interest within me; we get to know a number of people fairly well, including Maki and Shinjo. The premise was amusing even if not all that original: the boy's soft tennis club is pathetic and will be disbanded if it doesn't win a match sometime soon. This causes team leader Shinjo to try to recruit his old acquaintance Maki, who knows nothing about the game but at least has good coordination and reflexes. Maki is being raised by a single mother and will only agree if he is paid a bribe to play. At this point I had decided to watch, but the story takes a dark turn after the credits when Maki's worthless father turns up and beats him. This will obviously not be just a lightweight story about taking a club from rags to riches. Nevertheless, despite my misgivings I decided to watch. This show has a sort of 'authenticity' to it, by which (if I understand myself) I mean it seems like it will try to be above average. It seems to be more than the generic 'prodigy turns pathetic team around and they win a championship' sort of anime.
Shinjo definitely has an eye for talent, as it becomes clear that Maki is a prodigy who can be a star at soft tennis (or probably any sport for that matter). Maki has little patience for the lazy and unambitious players who make up the bulk of the team, however, and doesn't immediately make himself any new friends. After three episodes I found myself intrigued by this story and genuinely curious where about it would go. Before long this was my favorite or at least second-favorite show of the season. The technique Maki uses to retrain the players in episode four was understandable, interesting, and made a good deal of sense. His techniques soon yield positive results, and the other players come to accept him. Most of the characters are interesting and likeable. And of course there's the secondary plotline of Maki having to deal with his abusive father. For all his talent and confidence in soft tennis, he's surprisingly reluctant to stand up to his worthless father (though it's hard to blame him). As he makes himself more and more useful, Touma is inclined to help him stand up to his father. It's perfectly believable and highly dramatic. Not just Maki, but a number of other characters have problems at home that affect their performance on the soft tennis court. One is sort of gay, another has a domineering mother, a third wants to be an manga artist but is being discouraged. In fact, it starts to seem that everyone who has a life off of the court has some sort of nagging problem, and I started to wonder if that was a good idea. One member, who had seemed pretty normal previously, has a strange, almost inexplicable problem with telling lies which seems to come out of nowhere (and, in the next episode, it seems to have disappeared just as quickly as it appeared). This was discordant considering how skillfully the show had been handled previously. I got the feeling that the writer of this story was getting careless at this point rather than carrying out carefully planned plot turns.
The team takes on a high ranking school in a practice match, and makes a credible showing. The games are depicted in an exciting and realistic manner, which couldn't have been easy. We are reminded that the team will be disbanded if it doesn't win at least one game in a competition; that is an important factor which I had forgotten about amid all the personal problems the characters were dealing with. Still, as we neared the end of the Fall 2019 season, I couldn't help feeling that surely this would need to be a two-season series. So many personal problems among the cast members had been revealed, and so few resolved, that I couldn't see how one or two more episodes could possibly wrap things up. Even the progress of the team as a whole didn't feel like it was approaching a climax. Which was supposed to have priority, what happens to the team or what happens to its troubled members (and others)? It didn't seem clear. Sure enough, the story is far from finished at the end of the final episode; indeed it ends with a sort of cliffhanger. Again, I was uncomfortable with how rapidly Maki goes from being a cheerful and confident soft tennis star to being disturbed, even delusional after something bad happens at home. He does--or, more accurately, seems about to do--something which nobody could have expected given what we have learned about him. It just doesn't make sense that the bulk of the show is so good yet this 'crisis' is handled in such a ham-fisted manner. As a result my opinion of this anime as a whole was knocked down a bit, but it remains a fun show and I want to see how things work out for everyone.
Last updated Monday, December 30 2019. Created Friday, October 18 2019.
|Official Japanese Series Web Site||http://www.tbs.co.jp/anime/hoshiai/|