By Volume 4 of Stellvia, the whole space opera plot seems to have disappeared completely, with only the vaguest twinges of something coming in the future. So the writers are at leisure to explore the relationships between people, rather than focusing on external (and, admittedly, somewhat silly and nonsensical) threats from space. As a result, this particular DVD feels much more like a shoujo series than the shounen one it is.
All of the cadets on Stellvia now have to switch to a completely new flight system. Shima, who, with a lot of time and practice, was a decent pilot with occasional flashes of real skill, now shoots to the top of her class as a prodigy. This causes Ayaka of the “Big 4” to peg her as a rival, and to try and stop her meteoric rise. In a pretty nastly little scene, Ayaka sets out to hurt Shima in a joust, and is only stopped because Kouta gets out into space in time to save Shima. We learn that this is not the first time Ayaka has done this – she was the reason Yayoi was injured and held back a year.
This “incident” is the major conflict that drives the entire volume. Shima stresses that Ayaka hates her, even as the episode brings her closer to Kouta. Yayoi is confronted by two wildly conflicting issues – one, she can’t ever forgive Ayaka for what she did to her – and worse, tried to do to Shima – but two, she wants desperately to be able to forgive Ayaka.
In the background of Shima and Kouta’s relationship (which is so utterly, completely NORMAL and not dysfunctional, that it’s a bit disturbing…) we see the development of something growing between taciturn Akira and goofy Jojo, a hint of the space station commander’s crush on the doctor and, of course, Ayaka and Yayoi.
All in all, a very satisfying volume, really.
But let me go back and obsess for a second on Kouta. When I watched this series originally, I really disliked him – and up until now, I have maintained that dislike, because I really find idiot savant characters distasteful. Well, on second viewing I now find that I have no characters in this show to dislike. They are all so damn normal. And real. And not at *all* stereotypical Japanese dysfunctional relationship dorky. I mean, sure the guys are dorky, but like real 16 year old guys – not like emotionally and sexually dysfunctional sociopaths, like so many male characters in anime. (If *I* were a guy, I’d really protest how utterly stupid and pathetic so many male characters are…but I’m not, so I don’t care. But I digress.)
In fact, when Kouta kissed Shima I was so relieved that I almost cried. It was just like real people who do actually touch their boy/girlfriends, hold hands and kiss them and stuff. Wow! Imagine that!
But that leaves me with no one to hate. How irritating. I’m really even having a hard time disliking Linna. Darn these incredibly likable and well-written characters!
Over on the Yuri side of things, Ayaka and Yayoi’s relationship begins here, in a sense. There’s always been *something* between them, but after we learn about the the “incident”, anyone with eyes can see that that’s not all. And the end of the volume is just the beginning for them, as well as everyone else in the series.
Even the art is, for this brief moment in time, very stable and decent…sometimes almost approaching *good.*
Art – 7
Story – 9
Character – 9
Yuri – 7
Overall – 8
So far, Volume 4 of Stellvia has been the best of the breed. I hope that it gets better from here!