Thanasis is a writer, professional geek, and assistant editor at MANGA.TOKYO. He started watching anime with the mecha shows of the 70s and hasn't stopped since. He loves JRPGs.
Stella no Mahou is a ‘workplace’ anime produced by Silver Link for the Fall 2016 anime season. They are known for producing high-quality slice-of-life moe works like Non Non Biyori and Girl Friend Beta. My anti-moe radar failed to pick the overly cute signals this title was broadcasting from the first PV, and the initial hype made me assume that I was going to watch a combination of Shirobako and New Game! with the only difference being that this time I would watch a school club making a doujin game. I was so wrong.
Tamaki Honda is the typical first year high-schooler. She has no particular ambitions in life except for the one thing she has in common with her best friend Yumine: drawing. Stumbling upon a weirdly named doujin game school club, Tamaki is reminded of the joy she derived from designing simple board games to play with her friends. She decides to join the club to improve her drawing skills and create a video game that everyone can enjoy.
Did you read the synopsis? Good. That’s all. Really.
The main goal of the anime can be perfectly summed up in those earlier synopsis lines as the premise of Stella no Mahou is both generic and frivolous. Nothing really extraordinary happens in the anime, to the point that I prayed for a twist or an insurmountable hurdle that would make the girls go the extra mile. Slice-of-life moe-moe ‘cute girls doing cute things’ series all share the ’empty plot’ characteristic, but they usually make up for it with their comedy sketches and moe scenes. While Stella no Mahou could also be summed up as a collection of moe scenes, the comedy was mediocre and most of the times felt compulsory. It runs longer that it is needed, and more frequent than not is unconnected to the main plot, if there ever was one to begin with.
The story goes through a few technical details about game-making, but they are so scarce that they play no role in the development of the plot. There is no serious melodrama (which is actually a good thing) and the girls go through a few inconsequential trials and obstacles on their journey to make a couple of games and improve their individual skills.
This is your typical ‘cute girls do cute things’ moe SOL anime toned down a bit, but with the necessary sexual innuendo present in every single episode. It tried to balance its trifold of comedy, character development, and game making, and that gave the anime a refreshing first couple of episodes. The anime was then drowned in inertia. Nevertheless, it was a nice break from the heavier anime of this season. Ultimately, Stella no Mahou is the kind of anime that helps you relax after a very depressing or action-heavy episode, but certainly not the title that will make any must-see lists.
The characters are not bad. They have that cute color-coded appearance and their interactions show their camaraderie and determination to create games. The problem is that they are generic and forgettable. Three of the main characters (Honda, Seki, and Yumine) are developed more that the rest of the characters combined. Teru, the senpai that was supposed to have the big-sister role, feels more like a deus ex machina that helps the plot move forward than a reliable and important character.
Tamaki Honda: The protagonist and wannabe illustrator that wants to improve her drawing skills and create games that people can enjoy.
Shiina Murakami: The introverted programmer and leader of the SNS club. Her programming skills are mentioned much less than her skills as a club manager and game producer.
Ayame Seki: My favorite character. A writer who is passionate about her work and who, unlike many writers I know, has enough social confidence to act the SNS’s club PR.
Kayo Fujikawa: The girl responsible for the sound effects and music. The least developed character from the main group.
Yumine Fuda: Takami’s best friend, fellow illustrator and a passionate fujoshi. She took part in almost every BL and sexual innuendo joke that happened in the series.
Minaha Iino: The sixth ranger of the show, she joins the club after half-season. She considers Takami her rival. She is responsible for the comedy bits that actually made me crack a smile.
Stella no Mahou’s art had everything you’d expect from a moe anime handled by Silver Link: bright colors and water-colored pastel backgrounds. The moe-ness could be felt from the color-coded characters (sometimes you just need to say ‘the purple-haired one, can’t remember the name’) and the overly cute animation that didn’t skimp on the details. The animation of the opening was pixelized in a nostalgic 8-bit style that kept each episode connected to the main theme of game making, even though neither of the games was done with pixel art. The only contrast to the moe-ness was Tamaki’s love for drawing older shounen style male characters.
The music, on the other hand, was ‘good enough.’ The SFX and background music contributed to the scenes and felt perfectly integrated. The opening theme God Save the Girls, was interesting but forgettable, and the ending theme, Yonaka Jikaru, was coupled with a very generic animation that didn’t help. If not for my conviction to see every after-credits scene and preview, I would have probably skipped the entire credits sequence. Which we shouldn’t do because credits are important. Repeat after me:
CREDITS ARE IMPORTANT
The voice acting was one of the shining lights of the anime. Maria Naganawa had that necessary squeaky voice that every female SOL protagonist must have. Rie Murakawa was a perfect match for the almost robotic Shiina, since she had previously played Ram in RE:Zero. My favorite VA of Stella no Mahou was Ari Ozawa who played Seki Ayame. Ayame was my favorite character, a passionate and caring author whose love for her art and her friends is evident in every word she says.
All for the Art: The anime may be focusing more on the moe factor than on the game creation, but art and the love for it still plays a major role. Honda is one of the strongest Slice of Life protagonists I have seen in that area since her main focus in every episode is to improve herself as an artist. She believes that art is essential to her own development as a person and her skills crucial to the completion of the project. She wants to make both herself and her friends proud. Of course, low self-esteem is one of the obstacles she will have to cross throughout the series. If you have an artistic side you will find Tamaki a very relatable character.
High Profile: The author of the original work, Kuroba U, is probably one of the highest-educated manga authors: he graduated from Tokyo University.
Contrast Role: The VA of Ayame, Ari Ozawa, is used to playing cute and moe characters like Chiyo from Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun. Ayame though is the closest this series has to a tomboy.
Beach Episode: Can you have a moe anime without a beach episode? Of course not. In the final episode (12) the girls go to a beach to celebrate.
Bland-name Products: Of the commonest tropes in anime and manga, Stella no Mahou has a lot of examples:
SNS Club: The name of the club is the same as the Japanese acronym for Social Media, Social Networking Service. I think that it sounds too similar to Haruhi Suzumiya’s SOS Brigade. Maybe a tribute?
I am a fan of Shirobako and New Game! When Stella no Mahou was announced I was excited that Fall 2016 would have a workplace anime about doujin games. Since I’m not a fan of overly moe titles, Stella no Mahou gave me fewer moments of joy than I expected. It was cute and sometimes funny, but the characters and their artistic struggles were kept on a superficial level that wasn’t enough, at least for my particular taste in anime.
I won’t be surprised if in a few years from now, no one remember Stella no Mahou. That doesn’t mean that it is a bad ride. If you want a lighthearted anime full of cute girls doing cute things, then this anime is for you. It’s not Non Non Biyori, and it’s certainly not New Game! but if you have a slight artistic side in you, then Honda and the SNS club will probably manage to touch your heart a few times.