Fall 2019’s sleeper hit, Hoshiai no Sora is a story about softball tennis. On the surface, it has all the bells and whistles needed for a sports/school slice of life. Bright pastel colours, a catchy ED dance and a cast of misfits that grow into a serious, competitive school team. That’s what you sign up for, and that’s what you get until the post credits sequence.
Each episode has a credits scene that ends darker and darker like a swerve you didn’t expect. By episode 12, Maki is drawing a knife out of his school bag with intent to murder, and yes it’s an anime about softball tennis, but it’s also a lot more.
Much like Kono Oto Tomare!, Hoshiai no Sora delves deep into relationships, asking the viewers what it means to be ‘family’. There’s a lot of terrible parenting that happens, notably Maki’s alcoholic stalker father, Nao’s possessive mother which contrasts against Rintaro who has loving parents, but is adopted and feels unworthy of his family’s love.
Most of all, there’s the family you find for yourself. There’s Shou, one of the best depicted trans characters in anime, who takes care of Maki. There’s Mitsue, his neighbour whom he strikes up a sibling-like friendship with. Even Asuka Oji, who starts off as a rival player, turns up at their summer BBQ, eats their noodles and cheers them on.
Though Maki is the protagonist, the friendships between the other characters are treated with equal importance. When Tsubasa’s arm is broken, he runs to Shingo, his best friend. It’s Shingo’s family that sends him to the hospital to get his arm treated, and Shingo whom he confides in.
And of course, the one who started it all – Toma. If Toma didn’t bribe Maki to join softball tennis in ep 1, then the team wouldn’t have existed at all. So it’s fitting that by episode 12, it’s Maki that turns to Toma with a smile and says: “Softball tennis is fun.” Family is more than just blood, it’s the friendships that you make along the way, the people who support and grow with you.
Episode 12 is technically the end of Hoshiai no Sora. It’s disappointing because there’s so many loose ends to the plot, and no closure. We don’t know what happens to Maki, or any of the characters we’ve grown to love. Toma’s story is left hanging. Nao’s mother and the ominous ringing never gets resolved.
After the finale, director Akane Kazuki stated in a series of tweets that the original story was written for 24 episodes. Since the series had already begun production, there was no way to wrap the story or rewrite it. I can’t help but feel disappointed at the injustice because Hoshiai no Sora had so much good potential. It’s even more painful because unlike other series, Hoshiai no Sora is an anime original and we’re just left… hanging.
Would I still recommend it? Yes! Even at its unfinished state, it’s still one of the best of its genre this season. Deeply heartfelt with realistic depictions of family and friendship and a progressive representation of LGBTQIA* issues in Japan, Hoshiai no Sora is a series that will stay with you, even as you hope for more.