I get excited whenever Gainax puts out a new anime. Whether it's a psychological exploration of humanity like Evangelion or a dirty, hilarious comedy like Panty & Stocking, Gainax's anime tend to play on your expectations to make something both surprising and magical. Their newest, however, is definitely an exception.
Note: This review contains spoilers.
Good -- You Might Learn Something
Like slice-of-life anime Silver Spoon, Stella Women's Academy, High School Division Class C3 is an anime that will gladly teach you about a world you may have never even heard of: in this case, the world of airsoft guns. (Airsoft, for those of you who don't know, is a lot like paintball -- only instead of firing paintballs the guns fire little plastic BBs and work like the real guns they are modelled after.)
Beyond the weapons of airsoft, Stella does a good job showcasing the many different types of games you can play in an airsoft club -- from "Rambo," where one person has a machine gun and is being hunted by a group with pistols, to a good old game of capture the flag. Each episode tends to have at least one new type of game per episode for the cast to play -- which really are the best parts of the series. And while the anime may portray airsoft in an over-the-top light from time to time, it still provides an entertaining introductory look at the hobby.
Mixed -- Trying to Find a Place
Dramatically, Stella is the story of Yura, a lonely outcast girl who wants to be popular and social just like everyone else. But more than that, she wants to be liked and accepted by people in general. While at first she worries that joining the airsoft club will just make her more of an outcast, she eventually comes to enjoy her identity within the group -- especially as she has a real talent for airsoft games.
But this is not the end of her journey. Soon she deals with finding that she has a real talent for airsoft and must sooner or later choose which is more important, the friends she has made or her drive to win.
Mixed -- Cute and Predictable
There are few surprises in Stella. It really is exactly what it appears to be on the surface: an anime about five cute girls in a high school airsoft club. In most ways, the plot could have been taken wholesale from an 80's sports movie (i.e. The Karate Kid, Part III): New girl joins a team, gets really good at the game, becomes too successful for her old team, and joins the "evil" winning team, only to come crawling back to her friends at the end.
Outside of that general plot and the entertaining airsoft matches, the rest of the anime is just cute girls doing cute (and often fan-servicey) things -- though that's not to say it didn't have the potential to become something far greater.
Bad -- A Wasted Gainax Twist
Despite ostensibly being grounded in reality, Yura has an amazing sci-fi ability.
To her, her daydreams become full-on hallucinations -- from being a cop hunting Rambo to being a soldier storming the beach in World War II. At first, this seems to be all in her head, her over-active imagination running away with her. But from time to time, the other characters seem to catch a glimpse of her hallucinations.
Then, about half way through the series, one of the other characters, Rento, stumbles head long into one of Yura's hallucinations -- Yura helping a Japanese archer from the Edo period face down an army. Rento sees it in the same way Yura does; yet after a short conversation at the end of the episode, it is never spoken of or addressed in any way again.
And moreover, it is implied that by helping the archer in her hallucination, she actually altered the past so that the archer lived a long life instead of dying in that battle. In other words, Yura has the power to literally alter reality through her daydreams.
This would make for an excellent twist -- like the ones Gainax is known for -- if it had been expanded upon. However, this amazing ability is left in the background for the remainder of the series, only to be used once so that the girls can have one last day of fun together in one of Yura's dream settings. In the end, this serves as a horribly wasted opportunity to make this series more than what it just appears to be on the surface.
Make no mistake, Stella Women's Academy, High School Division Class C3 is not a bad anime. However, it is a painfully average one -- especially given its pedigree. It really is unfortunate that the truly interesting aspects of the show -- namely the implications of Yura's reality-altering hallucinations -- were left by the wayside in order to follow a cliché sports movie plot with a confusing moral. On the other hand, the acting is decent and the lead characters are fleshed out enough that the anime is rarely boring. If you like school life anime or are a fan of airsoft, this one is probably worth a watch... just don't expect Gainax's next great genre-deconstructing classic.
Stella Women's Academy, High School Division Class C3 was broadcast on TBS in Japan. It can be watched with English subtitles on Crunchyroll.