07 Jun 2003 7:12 pm

Stellvia of the Universe (aka Uchuu no Stellvia — site in Japanese) is a cute coming-of-age story. Basically, it’s about Shima Katase’s experiences as she goes to study on board the Federation II station Stellvia. She hooks up with a bunch of other kids and has all kinds of adventures and learning experiences.

Shipon!

Shima Katase, aka Shipon

Certainly, it’s within the “schoolkids going through interesting times” genre, what with lessons going on, and the occasional school infraction being met with appropriate punitive discipline. Except that the lessons include flying a highly-maneouverable and easily-upgradable personal spacecraft, and the discipline meted out is polishing the station’s laser-communications array. There’s an overall adventure-ish story arc too, which involves saving the Earth and its colonies from the ruinous fallout from the explosion of a not-too-distant supernova, but where the show really shines is in the interactions between the characters.

You really get to care for Shima (or Shipon, as she’s dubbed by her friends); you feel her frustration when she can’t master a lesson, and rejoice at her victories. Her friends and support network are very personable and energetic (especially her best friend the hyper-genki Arisa, voiced by Yuki Matsuoka — the voice of Osaka from Azumanga Daoih, as well as that of Arumi Asahina from Abenobashi Magical Shopping District), and forms a large part of the appeal of this series.

The gang's (almost) all here

The gang from Stellvia

For most of the episodes so far, the writers have managed to pull off a respectable amount of tension, even when the stakes for success or failure are quite low (ie, Shipon may never learn to fly properly! or Shipon may not make the winning goal in Astroball!); this changes a lot around episode 9 or so, when the “Protect the Earth” back-story kicks into full gear.

Stellvia has been one of the few “feel-good” series I’ve seen from this season; while there’s some angst (teenage, and usually heartfelt), there tends to be a positive light on every event that occurs in the show. Plus, there’s something really catchy and hopeful about the opening theme; it’s been on my MP3 player for the last two months, and it’s quite likely one of the best themes this season of anime has produced.

Animenfo has no indication of how many episodes long the series runs, but a large chunk of the plot seems to have been resolved by about episode 10, so I’d hazard a guess and say that it’s probably 12 – 13 episodes in length. It’s currently being fansubbed and distributed by the ever-reputable Rice-Box, so fire up your ‘torrents and go and grab it.

UPDATE: 27/04/2004

Having seen all 26 episodes of Stellvia, it seems interesting to me how they framed the arcs; it seemed more like two seasons of 13 episodes each. It’s also weird how Shipon keeps regressing into her emotionally vulnerable “I’m worthless” stage, despite proving herself again and again. Whiny Shipon was kind of annoying; more “smart, talented, capable Shipon” please!

I’ve been hearing quite a few rumours of Stellvia, season 2 (tentatively scheduled for the fall). I hope they stick to the current gang; while it’s cool to see Shipon’s brother and Arisa’s younger sister, I’m more emotionally invested in Shipon, Arisa, Pierre, Yayoi and the rest of those wacky kids. Yes, that includes the Big 4, despite my original irritation with their characters.

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