Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Reviews like this tend to get me a bit crazed. The reviewer is supposed to be reviewing Stellvia, a pretty if somewhat flawed boarding-school SF/fantasy anime from a year or two back. Fair enough. The problem comes when he confuses Stellvia's boarding-school structure for a variant on one of the sports-anime subgenres, and proceeds to simultaneously complain that the show was derivative of the sci-fi sports anime Battle Athletes Victory, and bewail its failure to be like Battle Athletes Victory. Where to start?

Stellvia is a story about a gifted young teen who ships out to a space academy training a cadre of children and teenagers who will save the battered Earth from the second bow-wave of the catastrophic supernova whose first impact smashed civilization and brought humanity to the brink of extinction. The first part of the series is quite solidly a boarding-school story, full of young people stretching their gifts out into talents in the midst of class rivalries, sempai/kouhei relationships, and constant competition. You've seen this sort of thing before, if you've read either the Harry Potter novels, or Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game. As an example of the genre, Stellvia is OK. The first half of the series is lacking in serious conflict, tends to make mountains out of molehills, and requires a massive suspension of disbelief in the risks and demands placed on the children, but overall, the show doesn't suck. It sort of feels a little like where the students in Ryvius were going before the writers of that particular series flung them off into Giant Robot of the Space Flies.

Battle Athletes Victory
, for those of you reading at home, was a TV remake of OAV series which, rarely enough, improved on the original. It featured a large cast of implausible, genetically engineered female athletes, competing furiously on an orbital space station for the title of "Cosmo Beauty", a planetary queen-of-the-athletic-heap sort of deal. Stick the word "hyper" in front of most of the minor sports featured in the Olympics, throw in preposterously over-powered versions of the athletic events featured in Japanese school sports festivals, and garnish heavily with microgravity or weight boots, and you've got some sort of idea what goes on in your average BAV episode. It's loads of fun, but despite the Skiffy trappings, it's a sports anime.

Sports stories and boarding school stories share a number of characteristics - Harry Potter has Quiddich, and many sports anime have the living-in-close-quarters-with-your-peers elements central to boarding-school stories - but they're not really the same thing at all. BAV has only the slightest of interest in the hard-science details of orbital mechanics or hard-science-fiction rigor; Stellvia, while not perfectly hard science-fictional, wants very much to hold itself up as hard science fiction for the kids - in the Robert A. Heinlein tradition.

It's bad enough when otaku-come-lately stomp about and rant that a slightly-younger derivative anime is a ripoff of a slightly-older derivative anime, while displaying woeful ignorance of the actual traditions and original works which both are drawing upon; to indulge in such histrionics while mistaking the genres involved takes a special kind of negative genius.

Oh, well. It takes all kinds to make a fandom.

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