Stella Women’s Academy Review
I first saw the first few episodes of Stella Women’s Academy (Full English Title: Stella Women’s Academy, High School Division Class C3) at an anime convention a few years ago. I’d always meant to finish it because I liked what I saw, but I just never got around to it. Now I have, and I thought I would share my thoughts.
At first glance, SWA appears to be your standard moe/girls-with-guns genre mix, more fanservice than substance. Sometimes it is just that, but for the most part of the series, it is much more. It was produced by Pony Canyon, TBS, and Ray, and the studio responsible for it is Gainax. It was first broadcast in mid to late 2013.
The basic premise is that there is a new girl in school, the super shy Yura Yamato. She ends up rooming with the leader of the Survival Game Club, Sonora Kashima. By playing with Sonora’s gear, she finds that she has an interest in guns and combat, and joins the Survival Game Club. The other members are friendly and somewhat airheaded Rento, intense and combative Karila, geeky tactician Honoka, and kawaii sniper Yachiyo. They practice and go through tournaments together. Yura ends up getting way more into airsoft than the rest of the team, to the point of obsessing over it and becoming more of a drill sergeant obsessed with winning than a friend. She must decide what is most important: her friends, or her singleminded obsession with winning. It starts off kind of cute, then sort of veers off in a sort of unexpected direction and mindfucks you like Magica Madoka (but no one dies).
I really did overall like this show, but it has some glaring flaws, the most glaring of which is that shit show is confused. It doesn’t know what it wants to be. Is it a slice of life about cute high school girls? Is it a sports action anime? Is it a dramatic teen angst anime? Is it a paranormal anime? I don’t know and clearly the show doesn’t either. Is seems very disconnected and at times seems like a completely different show than it was the previous episode. There is no cohesiveness to be seen and it detracts from the overall viewing experience.
A second critical point is the characters. They seem like tropes or caricatures with very little development except for Yura, and even then she is still a very unlikeable character. The other characters are just around to fill in the background. Yura herself is an annoying little shit. She starts off so cripplingly shy that she can barely form a coherent sentence when speaking to another person and knows nothing about airsoft, and a few episodes into the show does a complete 180 and is somehow now a bold tactician who will do anything to win? It’s just ridiculous, and both sides are annoying, unlikeable, and unrealistic. I think this much character progression would fit better into a much longer anime, but who would want to suffer through that? Don’t get me wrong, I like this show for what it is, but the flaws would make a longer series painful to watch. Though I can totally relate to wanting to recreate yourself for high school, this is just extreme. Yura is taking this game way too seriously. She seriously ends up losing her shit.
The airsoft play itself is highly inconsistent. I don’t know much about airsoft myself so I’m unsure if it’s realistic at all. One episode they’re sharpshooting coins on a string from 20 feet away, and the next episode they can shoot someone right in front of them and bullets are flying everywhere. I know it’s for comedy purposes, but that’s another symptom of this show just not knowing what it wants to be. It has very odd tonal shift from scene to scene, to a happy scene, to a very serious scene, to a sad scene, to a pure slapstick comedy scene. This show is so unsure of itself. On a better note, at least the show is showing proper gun safety. The club members wear safety gear like goggles, though in one episode they’re playing airsoft in bikinis (the obligatory beach excursion episode). I also like the scenes where the show is a bit more serious and showcase the tactical and strategic aspects of airsoft.
Let’s talk a little bit about the supernatural aspect of the show. It was not touched upon very much or explained at all, but basically Yura has some odd connection with the spirit of a soldier who died many hundreds of years ago, and is now considered a sort of god. She has scenes where she zones out and the world around her completely changes. For example, during an airsoft match, the scene totally changes and she has visions of herself in the trenches of a World War II-style battlefield. It’s never explained if this is all in her head or if it’s actually happening. Furthermore, a couple of times other characters get sucked into her visions as well. If it’s her ability, how are others experiencing it, and if it’s all in her head, HOW ARE OTHERS EXPERIENCING IT? Mass hysteria, or supernatural phenomena? You decide. That being said, the vision scenes are gorgeously animated, and remind me somehwat of the imagination scenes in the movie Sucker Punch. Go watch the one in episode 4. Go do it.
One thing the series tries to be in funny. It’s not funny. They make weird gags. It’s a lot of typical gags. Boobs, butts, girls getting embarassed, idiotic slapstick comedy, fanservice, the beach episode, the last episode, the school festival episode. It’s just not that funny. It just further showcases how non-cohesive the show really is. Another weird gag is Karila’s brother who dresses like a girl and can even pass for her? Why though? Are crossdressers somehow funny now? (Speaking of Karila, why does she wear a different uniform than everyone else even they go to the same school?)
The show has one opening song (Shape My Story by Anna Yano), but the opening sequence changes a bit a few episodes in, reflecting Yura’s sudden personality shift. Just like the series, the opening doesn’t want to know what it is either. It goes from reflecting Yura’s lonely emotional state, to slapstick comedy, to all airsoft action. In that way, I suppose it’s a good reflection of the series. The sequence itself is cute and well-animated, and the song is catchy. The ending song is Hajikero! Shikyubu!, which all the main character actresses perform. It’s an upbeat comedy pop song and the sequence features the girls as chibis dancing around. Another example of the show not knowing what it wants to be.
Overall, this show had a lot of potential and I wanted to like it. It had good animation, catchy music, and interesting plot elements. The problem was that it was poorly written and incredibly contrived. If the show could have stuck to one or two genres it would have flowed better and made it much easier to follow. It’s hard to get into a plot and connect with characters when the whole series keeps changing.
- It’s a huge, gorgeous school. Tuition must be crazy.
- Dorms are huge.
- They just let students keep guns in their rooms and on their persons? They don’t have some sort of mandatory storage anywhere? I mean I know they’re airsoft guns but still.
- The club girls try to come up with weird ways to attract members, inadvertently just driving them away. What happened to good old-fashioned posters or flyers or something? Why are they trying such weird ways to recruit Yura? What happened to no means no?
- Do they need a license for all these Rambo references?
- I like the first opening better. People don’t have 360 degree personality changes like that.
- If all the students are manning their stations at the festival, exactly who is actually going to them?
- Rin has her own office?
- Each club gets its own full-time club room?
Watch Stella Women’s Academy here on Crunchyroll.