The happy end to a long and tumultuous journey.
I bet you didn’t expect such a dramatic title for the cute-girls-doing-airsoft show, eh? Funny thing is, it deserves it. This is one of those rare shows that risks making us hate its protagonist in order to give us a better, more rich story full of real drama, genuine character development, and at the end of the day, an uplifting tale made all the better for the darkness through which it descended. This may be the best show you’re not watching this season.
Character development is a tricky thing. Take it from a storyteller – it’s much easier to deal with static characters (see: Hajime of GATCHAMAN Crowds) than to work with dynamic, flawed individuals that do stupid, mean-spirited, and/or wrong things when you know exactly what’s right. A truly flawed character evokes the old trainwreck analogy, but when you’re writing them, it’s not just that you can see the train coming – you’re at the wheel, and you’re purposefully steering it off the tracks. It’s hard to do, and even harder to do well…but when you manage it, something magical happens.
This show started out as an above average cute-girls-doing-[blank] show, which was a pleasant enough surprise given Gainax’s reputation as of late. The characters were well-differentiated and lively, the action was good, and the humor was pretty funny. But something darker lurked. From the very first episode strong moments of silence spoke to the alienation in Yura’s spirit, and the change she desired in herself. She was lonely, a single soul crying out for a place to belong, and she didn’t know how to find it. And then the C3-bu found her…
But Yura took hold of airsoft too tightly. She made the same mistake many people have made – she put her self worth in other’s hands rather than focusing on loving herself. As long as she was useful to her team, as long as she won, as long as she got results, then that proved she was worth something – it wasn’t the journey that mattered, as Sono-chan so clearly believes, but the results. She drove herself into a corner, lashing out and obsessing and losing sight of what she really wanted…warmth, good friends, and a place to belong.
Watching Yura fall was painful, if admittedly a little overwrought. It’s just airsoft, she shouldn’t take it so seriously – but it’s not about that, is it? Let me tell you about a younger Stilts. As a young lad I was a serious gamer. At the time I thought it was important – not the game necessarily, but the people, and the sense of achievement, and having a community I belonged to. Oh, I didn’t think any of this consciously, but it’s easy to see in hindsight. The game didn’t matter, I needn’t have taken it seriously at all – but I did, because kids are stupid like that, and because when you don’t have any responsibilities or work you truly care about, you’re liable to latch onto whatever you can. It was never about airsoft to Yura, not really. It was about her.
Yura fell, and she fell hard – and watching her climb back up was the trickiest part. I honestly feel like it was resolved a bit too quickly – and yet they laid the groundwork for it well. The spiritual aspect they introduced early on with Choujirou (both the spirit and the gun) laid the foundation for her return, and even that was foreshadowed with Yura’s vivid delusions during the very first episode. I’m still not sure whether we’re supposed to take any that as real or not, but the time that Rento stepped in as Yura saved Choujirou, and the triumphant final battle of the C3-bu against all 1800 students of Stella Jogakuin…whether you buy Yura’s delusions as real is up to you. I just know they laid the foundation well.
In the end, Stella Jogakuin Koukouka C3-bu was a pleasant surprise. It was not perfect, I won’t be nominating it for AOTY, but it was both thoroughly entertaining and showed depth that most stories don’t attempt. The battles, the trials, Yura’s important haircut (trope!) that stuck – I’ll remember it all fondly whenever I listen to the OP play, with chills rippling down my spine as I recall the story of Yura, Sonora, Karila, Honoka, Yachiyo, and Rento. It was fun, and in the end, I think they won.
Well done, Gainax. If you can keep doing this, maybe you’ll reclaim your throne one day. Though I guess you’d need to make original series for that, so nevermind. Just bringing us good stories will be enough for me.