- Titles: Star-Crossing Skies, Hoshiai no Sora
- Genre: Sports!, school, drama
- Episodes: 12
- Studio: 8-bit
The soft tennis team is in real danger. If they don’t win a match soon, the club might get shut down. I guess it’s not that big a deal. After all the members don’t seem to care all that much. But captain Touma isn’t about to let it go down without a fight. After all, this tennis club is the one where his big brother made a name for himself, and Touma can’t just let it disappear. The thing is though, they haven’t ever won a match so why would they start now? Maybe the surprisingly athletic new transfer student Maki Katsuragi could be the key? He even knows Touma’s brother. This could actually work! It’s a one in a million shot but with a lot of practice and determination, they might just make the tournament. If stars align.
Have you ever heard of the sport of soft tennis? It’s basically tennis but with softer balls from what I could gather. Is it just me? I had no idea this existed at all until I started watching Stars Align. For some reason, I figure this would make it harder. Not to play but to score. Like that ball would be going out of bounds 90% of the time. I figure you probably get used to it but still. I looked it up by the way. It really does exist and it looks like all sorts of fun. Unless they quadruple the size of regulation courts, I would be terrible at it though.
Like most Sports! anime, Stars Align went on my to-watch list as soon as I found out it existed. And I gotta say the first thing that hit me is that it’s a pretty show. Of course, art style is a matter of personal preference. I happen to like these character designs but there’s more to it.
For one, the colours are really good. They are saturated but soft. They play with temperature a lot (i.e. they shift to hot or cool tones regularly to go with the mood of a scene or reflect the time of day). The angle of light is really good. In a variety of subtle ways, I found Stars Align to be visually impressive. It’s not in your face about it but there’s a richness to the images.
The backgrounds are often interesting and varied. The characters have a lot of different outfits, all with details and personal touches. Even the animation is great. Considering this is a tennis anime, there isn’t all that much of it, but what’s there is very good. I noticed no real loss of detail or art consistency in the action scenes at all. And that’s rare.
Also, Stars Align has some really great sound design. Not so much the soundtrack but the environmental noises and the super dramatic use of silence. It’s very good! Even I noticed and that’s rare.
All in all, it’s a solid production. Not a flashy or unique one by any means but very good in all the fundamentals.
Story & Characters
At first glance Stars Align follows a pretty standard Sports roadmap. Underestimated and underdog school sports club is at risk. Amazingly talented rookie steps in to save the day and the members rediscover their love of the sport along the way. It’s not the only formula out here, but it’s one of the basic ones.
So what makes Stars Align different. And it is different.
For one, main character Touma starts off having to pay prodigy Maki to get him on the team. Maki is hardly the enthusiastic wide-eyed ingenue. In the beginning, he is completely pragmatic and selfish, having zero interest in the sport. And I liked that. As a twist on a classic, I thought it was a good one. But wait…we are not done.
See Maki needs money because his mother is a single mother and they are constantly broke which is of course hard on them. They also move around a lot so he has no friends and no roots. But wait… they move around a lot because Maki’s father was abusive and they are escaping him. Think we’re good, not yet! Maki’s father does know where they are and he robs and beats his kid from time to time.
Yeah…that’s a lot. Except, that’s just ONE character. Stars Align tackles insecurity due to gender issues with not one but two trans characters. Bullying and depression due to homophobia against a gay character. Severe trauma further to absolutely horrific parental neglect. This is a show where several parents physically abuse their children and yet I got most mad at the mom who said mean things. That’s how incredibly mean those things were.
I’m getting sidetracked, I’m not even halfway done. Severe postpartum depression causing a mother to almost kill her baby, brutal overprotective parenting leading to a breakdown. An adopted child suffering from imposter syndrome then being thrown into crisis when their birth mother makes contact. Apparently random bullying in female circles. Parental infighting and so on. Ok, now I might be done.
We meet like 8 families or so and every one of them is severely damaged. It’s a lot.
It’s a tribute to all the things that worked in the series that I not only generally enjoyed it, but I’m actually bummed out that there isn’t more. We’ll get back to that last point in a bit.
So Stars Align is a drama that takes on way too many issues. And because it’s trying to cram so much in so few episodes, I started to get tragedy whiplash. Oddly though, it never felt melodramatic. It felt a little exploitative as if it was throwing in all the issues it could think off without too much thought. And it did feel a bit shallow at times. But it was paced well and brought the boy’s growing friendship to the foreground which oddly made everything just kind of fit together. Not in a perfect way by any means, but it worked.
And the characters are all caricatures of their trauma, however, the series was careful to make sure they also got actual personalities and traits along the way. So they did feel like people and I did end up caring about them. Not too much because I can’t handle that much tragedy but still, I wanted them to win and I was really happy when they did.
This next point is the one that turned me off though, and I have a feeling it’s what is going to annoy most viewers. Stars Align isn’t finished. Like not at all. The very last episode takes a very dark turn for a lot of the characters and then just stops. It was so abrupt in fact that I actually checked that there wasn’t another episode, that I hadn’t been at episode 11 in fact or that maybe there were 10 minutes still left or something. Nope, it just stops. Almost in the middle of a sentence.
Under normal circumstances, I would have gotten the manga. Like I said, despite the fact that I should more or less hate this show, I enjoyed it quite a bit. But from what I can tell, it’s an original anime and there is no source material to go back to. I heard that it was indeed meant as a 2 season or split cour season but the second part got cancelled so now we only have half a story. And it is frustrating!
I’m still glad I watched Stars Align. For all its many faults, there was something charming about it that I happy I didn’t miss.
You might like this anime if:
Broken boys and sun visors
My favourite character:
- Every time anyone is late – take a sip
- Every time Maki and Touma bicker – take a sip
- Every time Maki takes the stairs instead of the elevator – think about your workout program
- Every time we see the little black cat – cuuute!
- Every time Maki cooks – get a snack
- Every time Touma loses his temper – take a sip
- Every time anyone gets into a fight – gasp!
- Every time Kanako watches the team play or practice – nod knowingly
- Every time we see Mr. Sakurai – get a candy
- Every time we see Kanako’s art – take a sip
- Every time there’s an abusive/neglectful parent – sigh
- Every time the sound cuts out – take a sip
- Every time Kanako is being negative – take a very small sip
- Every time the camera spins – take a sip
- Every time Touma is a stickler for rules – take a sip
- Every time it comes down to teamwork – raise your glass
I save all my screencaps on my Pinterest and you can find more there if you are interested. But I still like to show you a few in the post. If you’re like me, screencaps are something that really helps you decide to watch an anime or not.