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Monday, 23 January 2012 00:00

Star Driver

You can forgive a great many things in a series that doesn't take itself too seriously. You could sit and poke holes in Star Driver and the story of Galactic Pretty-Boy Takuto Tsunashi all day, but it's clearly having so much fun doing what it does that that would just be rude...

One night, Takuto Tsunashi washes up on the shore of Southern Cross Isle after swimming from the mainland. He later enrolls in Southern Cross High School as a first-year and begins settling in. However, beneath the school is a group of mysterious giants called Cybodies, that can be controlled by humans in an alternate dimension known as Zero Time. Takuto, The Ginga Bishounen, finds himself dragged into opposition with the Kiraboshi Order of Cross, a mysterious group that intends to take possession of the island's Cybodies for their own purposes as well as break the seals of the island's four Shrine Maidens, whose powers prevent the Cybodies from functioning outside of Zero Time...

Let's get one thing out of the way before we start: Star Driver is daft, shallow and predictable. Across its 25 episodes, there's barely a scene that won't come as a surprise to anyone who's watched a few other old-style mecha shows over the years - I'm thinking things like Mazinkaiser or Gravion here, and similar shows that, like Star Driver, didn't take themselves too seriously on the story front. This is all about the fanservice, in the wider sense - the Cybots (robots with a frankly silly design sense), the shouted-out attack names, the visually-impressive battles, and a massive cast whose main aim, beyond awakening the Cybodies, just seems to be to have damn good fun while they can. If you're looking for a more serious or believable mecha tale in the mould of, say, Evangelion or RahXephon, then up-front: you're probably going to want to look elsewhere.

[...]

Still here? Excellent. After being abandoned by his father and raised by his grandfather, Takuto has been brought up with a strong sense of justice, and of right and wrong - and after meeting Wako (one of the island's Shrine Maidens and the first person he mets when washed up on the island), he instinctively knows that her side is "right" and that the Kiraboshi are "wrong". Although the old principal of not trusting anyone whose face you can't see was probably another clue. The Cybodies are alien artefacts of tremendous power; while the power of the four shrine maidens remains intact, they're restricted to operating in "Zero Time", a zone that's exactly what it says it is - things that happen in there are outside the timeline of the "real" world, and can't affect it. But if the seals on the four maidens can be broken, then the Cybodies will be able to operate in the real world - where their owners would then have immense power at their disposal. Naturally, then, the Kiraboshi want to identify the four maidens and break their seals - and Takuto's going to stop them.

This plays out using A Formula that will probably be familiar to anyone who's ever seen a magical girl show. Each episode plays out in two parts, the first focussing heavily on a slice of life of someone that Takuto comes to know - someone who inevitably turns out to be a member of the Kiraboshi, who he then has to fight in the second half - he is, after all, the Ginga Bishounen, the Galactic Pretty-Boy, destined to save the world from the Cybodies and those who would misuse them.

All of this is as predictable as it sounds, but the series has several things going for it that keep it from becoming dull. First, it's visually gorgeous, even as an online stream - there's so much detail in the animation that you're always looking around to see what you can see. Secondly, the cast are, almost without exception, great fun to watch. Takuto is full of the joys of life; Wako revels in the attention that she gets from him and her promised fiancée, Sugata; other characters come and go, but they all have their own little quirks or subtle senses of humour that make them interesting. Take most villain-of-the-week shows, and the villain never really has much of a personality behind them other than "Hey! I'm evil!!" - but in Star Driver, the Kiraboshi members are shown having normal school lives along with - alongside, even - the people they're fighting against, and you come to see them as more than cookie-cutter villains, with the most interesting ones getting several outings across the series. It's an unusual touch - I'd probably have to go back to some Sailor Moon villains to find ones so likeable - and it adds a lot to the appeal of the show. It even manages to throw in a few more serious, quite emotional scenes, without them feeling forced or unnatural.

The end result is one of those shows where you put each episode on, then sit back with a stupid grin on your face until the episode ends. Brain power? Not required. Reliance on fanservice of the scantily-clad-females type? Not necessary, and not indulged in - the series teases, but that's about it (and hell, I find that more appealing most of the time anyway). But the people who made this clearly had fun doing it, and the show's sense of fun is highly infectious - enough so that it compensates for the flaws that the show admittedly has. As light entertainment, it's hard to beat, and an easy recommendation.

Rating - ****