Studio Gainax month: C3, Stella Women’s Academy

Hello, and welcome to the second annual Studio Gainax Month!  Things didn’t go too well last year, with the three shows I reviewed ranging from mediocre to just plain terrible, but it’s a new April, and that means I have three new Studio Gainax anime go review!  And hey, who knows, maybe there’ll be at least one good one!  Let’s kick this month off with one of the studio’s most recent projects, Stella Womens Academy!

Yura Yamato is on cloud nine, seeing the campus of her high school for the first time. She’s been admitted into Stella Women’s Academy, a prestigious all girls school populated by students with families far more affluent than hers. When she checks into her dorm, she finds out that her roommate is away, visiting some of her family in America… But that doesn’t stop her from rolling around in her dorm mate’s bed, where she happens upon a curious item hidden under her pillow. It’s not a diary… It’s not a photo of a boy… It’s a very realistic looking hand gun. And not only that, this girl has enough firearm paraphernalia in her dresser, closet, and God knows where else to make even Charlton Heston feel a little nervous.

Assuming it’s a bunch of theater props… Because Japan doesn’t have gun safety PSAs like we do… Yura decides to start playing with the guns, acting out scenes from one of her dorm mate’s Rambo DVDs, when a friend of that girl walks in on her, calls her a freak, and immediately recruits her into her odd school club… Command, Control, and Communications, or just C3 for short. And what does this club do, you may ask? Why, they play survival games where they run around the nearby abandoned school house, shooting each other with BB guns! As the newest member of this eclectic little group, will Yura finally be able to overcome her crippling social ineptitude?

While the slice of life genre has been around for decades, the new millennium has seen it become fused with the moe genre, giving birth to a sub-genre that has been a dominant force in the industry… School clubs. And they’re never big successful school clubs, either. They’re always offbeat, struggling school clubs with very small membership counts and an entire student body that really doesn’t want to get involved with them. Since this sub-genre is clearly not going anywhere anytime soon, it’s little wonder that Studio Gainax would eventually try to throw their hat into the ring. But where other anime have featured such simple club concepts as music, amusement, love advice, and hunting down/researching paranormal entities, Gainax has decided to take it a step farther with a air-soft gun-worship club. How did they fair?

Well, first things first, you can tell immediately that this isn’t the work of somebody like Kyoto Animation, the kings of that sub-genre. While Gainax is well-renowned for it’s art style and visual direction, their animation itself would best be described as ‘inconsistent at best,’ and C3 is the perfect example of that. The first episode, on it’s own, looks fantastic, with great CG effects on the school’s waterfall(Hey, I said it was a rich school, didn’t I?), and fluid movements from all the characters. There are some key frames, but they’re mostly used comedically. But including this episode, only about forty percent of the series looks this good. This is especially true during the gritty, decently executed battle scenes, as well as during the main character’s… um… Fantasies. But as for the other sixty percent, this is some stiff, cheap looking crap.

C3 looks great when it really needs to, but when it doesn’t, the on-screen movement is minimal, and the talking heads tend to drag on far longer than they should. It’s passable, overall, but when a running character looks like an animated icon being dragged across the screen, you tend to notice it. As far as the artwork goes, I said earlier that Gainax had a flair for art design, and I meant it, but C3 must be the exception that proves the rule, because this is one generic looking puppy. The characters look like they could have been copied and pasted from ANY other School Club show, with little change in design whatsoever. The backgrounds look impressive during fight scenes, but outside of them… Yeah, generic is definitely the word of the day.

The characters looking generic wouldn’t be such a bad thing, if they had personalities to help them stand out from the archetypes they’ve been drawn as, but sadly, that doesn’t seem to be the case. The girl who looks like a hyper legal-loli is exactly that, and nothing more. The pig tailed glasses-wearing girl manages the finances of the club, and… That’s it, nothing more. The only thing she really does for the story is exploit the bodies of her club-mates at the culture festival for cash, which results in some very awkward fanservice. The blonde girl is… I’ll be honest, I don’t know. I know so little about her that I can’t even tell what archetype she represents. She’s initially the second best player in the group, and she has a twin brother who dresses like a girl, because of course he does… But that’s it. And the soft-spoken girl who discovers Yura playing around does nothing else of any note for the rest of the series. Keep in mind, all four of them are at least SLIGHTLY more characterized in the manga.

Two of the characters have backstories, but since they share the same backstory and it’s only told from one of their perspectives, it’s arguable that only one character actually has a backstory. These two are Yura’s room mate, Sonora, an older girl big-sister type who becomes a mentor for her, and the “antagonist,” Rin, her old friend from America. The only one who has any sort of arc or development is the main character, Yura, who takes on the role of untrained savant, who joins the club as a novice only to quickly become it’s strongest member. She becomes an expert marksmen after hearing a few pretentious phrases like “Squeeze without really squeezing” and “Fire without really firing,” and it isn’t long before she’s able to pull off difficult acrobatic maneuvers and take out entire enemy teams by herself. Her rise to the top makes little to no sense, even compared to Yui’s mastery of the guitar in K-On.

Having said that, there WAS an element to her development that I thought was written really well. In the latter half of the series, she has to learn some very hard lessons about arrogance, ego, and team work, and I have to say, the way this was all executed was surprisingly relatable and compelling. The circumstances that lead to this development were full of a ridiculous number of plot holes, but all the same, I’m glad they happened, because they made up some of the only scenes in the entire series that didn’t bore me half to sleep. I honestly do wish that the rest of the series could have had that much effort put into it.

I’ve seen Gainax be pretentious. I’ve seen Gainax be offensive. I’ve seen Gainax be balls-to-the-wall stupid. I’ve seen all of this, but until watching C3, I have never seen Gainax put this little effort into a product they were making. This anime is thoroughly a paycheck series for them, and they clearly chose to adapt the manga based on the strength of it’s ‘girls with guns’ gimmick, and because they thought a show about visually appealing teenage girls wielding firearms would push a lot of merchandise, ala Strike Witches and Gunslinger Girl. Oh, and if you don’t believe me, check out the ending theme, where all the characters are portrayed as the kind of chibis that you could easily see being turned into cell phone straps, so thank God those don’t exist. As a matter of fact, this is probably why they expanded two events from the manga… A squirt gun beach battle, and the culture festival story… To maximize the fanservice content in both stories. Yeah, surprise surprise, the leaf and shell bikinis were a Gainax invention.

From what I understand after reading 26 manga chapters that I was able to find, Gainax did take steps to improve the material by fleshing out the main character and the circumstances surrounding her entrance to the club. They gave it a new and much more interesting ending, involving the very lessons I was raving about earlier. Unfortunately, to make room for this ending, they had to condense the story down to 12 episodes by omitting any sort of personality or backstory from the other girls, then slashed the story to pieces and fit it back together with the events out of their original order. And here’s where my ‘little effort’ complaint comes in… They didn’t seem to put any thought into whether or not the changes they were making fit the story.

To examine the plot holes that these changes create, I’m going to have to go into some light spoilers, so don’t read this paragraph… Or the next one… unless you’ve already seen the series, or are just reading this review for entertainment’s sake, and have no intention of seeing the show at all. Ahem. In the manga, Sonora has to stay home from an important event because she was injured protecting Yura from a sniper. The sniper turns out to be a participant from the event, and after being defeated and confronted, she apologizes. Gainax sought to expand this concept, so the sniper was changed to a random pervert targeting teenage girls, despite having no connection to the story in any other way. Rin is revealed to have apprehended this villain while unarmed, and no, we never find out how. Because of her ability to do this, and the news that her team defeated a team of marines, she is simply not the same character as the Rin we meet later, who is not only defeated by another team of students during a casual match, but that’s WITH Yura’s help. And at that point in the series, she doesn’t seem nearly as cut-throat or intimidating, actually valuing teamwork and fun over victory for the sake of Yura’s development.

And this change is started because Yura cheats to beat her at the aforementioned event. When Yura brings up this fact to her team mates, NONE OF THEM care, and are more concerned with whether or not their victory will be revoked, and they consider her a traitor for calling the contest officials and reporting it herself. That’s already bad enough, as it paints nearly the entire main cast in a negative light, but what makes even less sense is that when she reports it, the event committee don’t listen, because Rin said it didn’t happen. How the hell does that matter? If you have one person confessing that they cheated, who’s to say the cheated party would even be aware of it? If you have the confession, what more would you need? Also, I get that Yura has a vivid imagination… Hell, some might even call them troublingly lucid hallucinations… But what really confuses me is the fact that her friends can apparently get sucked into these fantasies and see them with her.

Spoilers over. Well, there are other plot holes, but with a show this stupid, it would just be nitpicking if I took it any further. Those were the three most destructive ones, so for now, let’s move on to the two biggest problems that this series has… The ones even it’s fans have admitted to.

The first problem is the uneven tone and confusing story structure of the series. C3 doesn’t seem to know whether it wants to be a raunchy moe comedy or a gritty character drama, and it doesn’t blend the two ideas well. Ideally, if you were to run these two tones at the same time while keeping them a safe but respectable distance from each other, they could actually complement each other well, like in Fullmetal Alchemist. C3 instead changes tone seemingly from episode to episode, jumping into each one with reckless abandon as if the other tone didn’t even exist. It’s hard to take the tension between Yura, Rin and Sonora seriously when you just saw a modified wet t-shirt contest in the middle of a crowded classroom. The resolution of it’s main plot isn’t even the focus of the final episode, which turned out to be a truly awful piece of filler filth.

And the other problem is really the show’s biggest base breaker. There are several people out there who can’t get past the first episode of C3 because of it’s loose, casual trivialization of gun violence. They see high school kids enthusiastically playing around with a bunch of realistic looking toy guns, and it turns their stomach. Speaking as somebody who was head over heels in love with gun and sword battles from movies when he was a kid, and would act them out with just as much vigor, I don’t really feel that revulsion… But I would not for one solitary second blame anyone for feeling that way.

See, Japan doesn’t have the same relationship with guns that we do. Unless you have a job the requires you to carry a firearm… Such as a cop, for example… It is illegal to own one. As a result, they don’t have a lot of gun violence over there. They don’t have school shootings, they don’t have remotely as many accidental discharges, and because of this, they’re not as sensitive about the issue as we are. Now, I don’t feel offended by the fact that the girls are running around playing games with BB guns… I’ve done it myself, even though I’m absolute rubbish at it… But we’re talking about a show where right in the first episode, the club’s recruitment plan is to map out the school yard and ambush their fellow students with a mock shooting. They don’t carry through with this plan, but the very mention of it should be enough to get a respectable viewer to imagine tragedies like those at Columbine and Virginia Tech. Also, it really wouldn’t hurt if the guns were orange, or something. Some people will be offended by things like this, some people won’t… And based on that tidbit alone, you should know right off the bat whether or not this title is right for you.

Stella Women’s Academy, High School Division Class C3 is available from Sentai Filmworks in both Blu-ray and DVD formats. You could find either format last year as part of Rightstuf.com’s year end sale for about twenty dollars each, but even with that sale over, you can find them on Amazon for just under thirty. You can also watch it on Crunchyroll, and whether or not you have a subscription will determine whether or not you’ll have to sit through a wall of commercials to view it. The manga entries have not been released stateside, but it’s pretty easy to find translated scans of it online. There’s no english dub, and it doesn’t look like there’s going to be one in the future, but hey, I could be wrong.

Going into this show, I was warned by a few people that I was going to hate it. As it turns out, well, they were kind of wrong. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a good anime, but I’ve seen worse from Gainax, and I’m sure I’ll see worse from them in the future. It’s biggest problem isn’t the uneven tone, or even the potentially controversial subject matter… It’s biggest problem is the lack of characterization, which is a thing that would normally be the saving grace for a lot of similar plotless, melodramatic slice of life shows. Without good characters, I can’t really enjoy the humor or get invested in situations they find themselves in, and unfortunately, that lead to me getting bored a lot as I tried to get through it. That’s just my reaction to it, however, and I can see why other people would enjoy it more than I did. All the same, I would strongly prefer if Gainax kept it’s ambition up in the sky where it belongs, and left the plotless slice-of-life material to KyoAni. I give Stella Women’s Academy a 4/10.

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2 comments
  1. I agree that the show is lacking in stand out characters. Like you, I think the show was strongest during its darker second half.

    • Yeah, pretty much. If they’d toned down their lame attempts at comedy and fan-service and focused more on that drama, it could have been a better show… ‘Could’ have been, not ‘would’ have been. At least it wouldn’t have felt so disjointed.

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