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Star Driver – Episode 21

Hello folks, and welcome back to Wrong Every Time. Today I’m eager to return to Star Driver, after an episode that graciously drew back the veil obscuring the prior generation of would-be Cybody pilots, revealing some clear parallels with our current group in the process. Ryosuke and Tokio make for an odd contrast with Takuto and Sugata; though both pairs are defined by their competition regarding a shrine maiden, Tokio’s Takuto-reminiscent role as societal outsider stands in contrast with his obsession with mastering the Cybody system. In that, he is more like Sugata, while the insider Ryosuke’s antipathy towards this whole order makes him more like Takuto. And that’s before you get to the question of Takuto’s parentage, and the pocket watch connecting all six key players.

It’s been nice to have so much of this island’s history clarified, but to be honest, episode twenty’s revelations didn’t actually change our understanding of the ongoing conflict. Star Driver has been focused on clear personal dramas and equally clear thematic concerns from the outset, the strictures of tradition and call for personal agency set in conflict through both the love triangle at its center and hormonally charged scaffolding of its science fiction inventions. Rather than obscuring the truth, its metaphors have emphasized the clarity of its philosophy, painting adolescent identity-forming as the crux of apocalypse or revolution in the manner of many anime classics, including a number penned by Enokido himself. Let’s see how our young lovers fare in a fresh episode of Star Driver!

Episode 21

“The Libidinal Age.” As I said, much of Enokido’s best work has framed adolescence and the accompanying awakening to sexual desire as apocalyptic theater, echoing the internal sense of dislocation and apparent finality of discovering your “adult self” through the story’s external drama. Evangelion, Utena, FLCL, RahXephon, Captain Earth – when you’re writing for an audience of adolescents, one of the best ways to connect is to consider their emotions from that audience’s own perspective, as the world-shaking events that first love, first rejection, first consummation feel like in the moment. And considering how impactful our first brushes with sexuality are in consolidating our mature identities, framing these events as the end or beginning of the world isn’t too far off from how they’re actually experienced

Additionally, if you’re writing melodramatic fantasy, teenagers and their larger-than-life emotions often make for a natural tonal fit with your overall storytelling. You can have adult characters express these feelings, but they’ll likely come across more as devices than people, exaggerated figures like Conan the Barbarian or whatnot. There’s a reason Shakespeare’s most grandiose speeches emerged from the mouths of his teenage characters

We begin with an unexpected cold open, as Takuto once again defeats Ko in battle

And then we cut to Ko and Madoka demanding they speed up the Cybody regeneration process. So that was just a flashback to Takuto’s previous victory, reorienting us on the timeline after last episode’s time-hopping shenanigans

“Tauburn always considers his opponent’s safety.” “It’s insulting.” The introduction of Ko and Madoka remains an extremely strange choice to me. You could say they represent “mature sexuality,” or possibly a kind of rebellion against the heteronormative paradigm embodied by Southern Cross’s philosophy, but we simply haven’t learned enough about them as people to classify them as anything more than “antagonists.” In a show that’s all about the human emotions underlying our often contradictory public actions, they feel like an oddly mechanical inclusion, acting according to their narrative purpose more than their personal feelings

Kanako arrives, mentioning a “new toy” they’re developing. Whether because he’s ashamed or afraid he’ll give up the game, Takashi cannot meet her eyes

The “Overphase System” is apparently their new weapon

Kanako digs in the knife a little further with Simone, who bites back with a reminder that it was Kanako’s own actions that drove them apart. Kanako’s in a uniquely tight position, in that her surface life is also bound up in the necessities of the Kiraboshi order. Though her defeat by Takuto seemed to promise the opportunity to actually live out her adolescence as she wanted, she’s still defined by her relationship to her husband and his resources

Later, Kanako confides in Simone that she indeed had a prior relationship with Madoka, but that “Madoka only ever saw me as a shiny new toy.” She characterizes Madoka as possessing “a single-minded, endless lust for something more stimulating,” a libido so strong it could destroy the world. So rather than a distinct perspective, Madoka is being characterized more like one end of the libidinal scale

And of course, Simone worries for Takashi, planted as he is within this horny-ass group

Kanako responds by revealing that Takashi still hasn’t told his father he’s left Kanako’s side, a fact that offers some assurance regarding where his loyalties truly lie

Playful twisting of a motif over at the Kiraboshi lounge, as Ko throws darts poorly while remarking that this “is harder than it looks.” Seemingly a beat referring to her overall adoption of masculine signifiers, considering this dart board is so closely associated with the men of Kiraboshi – in fact, it featured prominently in the very sequence where they dismissed Kanako due to her gender

Takashi asks if they’re scared of the regeneration process, to which Madoka replies “we’re members of the reckless Vanishing Age, aren’t we?” That title seems particularly appropriate for them – they embody an oversized embracing of this libidinal age, seemingly possessing little identity beyond their sexual desires. They are not people, they are a moment in time, and thus they do not fear for future consequences

Wako notes Takuto’s increasing closeness with Kate, just before Ko and Madoka join their table

They of course immediately bring up the kiss in the drama club’s play. Jeez, been a while since that was an active concern

Oh my god. Madoka accompanies her acknowledgment that Takuto’s partner hasn’t been decided with a piercing of her meal’s egg yolk, about as aggressive a flourish of symbolism as you could imagine. Though again, a touch of gender ambiguity there, as she is the one invading the egg

Elsewhere, one of our scientists reveals to Tokio that his plans for a “3.5th phase activation” are almost complete

Tokio flashes back to a meeting with Sora, wherein he said he wanted “to paint her at her most beautiful.” Given what we know of Tokio, I assume that means “at this very moment of libidinal youth” – like his work with the Cybodies, his paintings are a method of grasping eternity, of sealing beauty forever in its moment of culmination. He feels more like Akio all the time, a perpetual jailer of adolescence

He then imagines a treasured memory with Matsuri, before she disappears as well. Because of his obsession with youth and Cybodies, everyone he loves eventually grows past him. But he is certain that with the power of the Cybodies, “I can regain all that I’ve lost”

Ooh, this is nice. Ko actually seems put off by Madoka’s fascination with the drama club, and her prior relationship with Kanako. Some friction between them would do wonders to establish their distinct personalities

Kate remains preoccupied with Takuto. The two of them represent an answer that’s clearly too easy for this drama-loving production: each of them overcoming their obsession with their childhood preoccupations, and finding new love in each other, outside the dictates of the Southern Cross system

And with a last taunt to Kate, Madoka begins the Overphase activation

Ko briefly questions the procedure, but Madoka gives the go-ahead. Penetration again, as the power is conferred via a needle

“The higher the phase, the more close the link with the Cybody” is proven true again, as Madoka’s body seems to itself morph into the Cybody shape

Though they’ve always referred to the Cybodies’ activation cage as an “electric bier,” the Overphase cage looks even more like a coffin than the original devices. Is it just their childhood selves that are passing away, or has Madoka gone too far this time?

As expected, the “Cybody” inside the coffin is far closer to Madoka herself, complete with long flowing hair and a human face. It’s an interesting choice – if the Cybodies represent our aspirational adult selves, the versions of ourselves we hope to become, then you could say the increasing phase activations are the wielders getting closer to bridging the gap between their aspirational and current selves, with their new forms taking on more aspects of their original identity. Of course, if you follow that line of thinking through to the end, then the ultimate Cybody would be the absence of a Cybody, a person who is entirely comfortable in their own skin – ie, an adult. Little wonder that Tokio’s scientist friend couldn’t see the appeal in running all these risks to command a Cybody

Takuto’s recent methods also might become an issue here – he’s recently been extracting the wielders from their Cybodies, but is Madoka too closely linked for that to be possible?

Yep, Sugata immediately notes that the Tau Missile would kill her

“If you don’t want to die, you have to kill me.” Madoka again demonstrating her fatalistic attitude, her willingness to discard all but this precise moment

And she of course immediately sexualizes this death drive, claiming that in this moment, “we can feel each other far more intimately than in any sexual encounter”

Her victory is explicitly framed as an act of sexual dominance, as she straddles him with sword raised while panting

And this time it’s Wako with the save! Glorious smoke animation as she unleashes a thunderbolt upon Madoka, returning her to her earlier phase form

While the other Kiraboshi members suspect some mechanical reason for Wako’s ability, Kanako suggests that “she couldn’t bear to see another woman flirting with the man she loves.” She believes Wako isn’t working within the Kiraboshi system, but surpassing it – that earnest love can restore Wako’s agency

And having expressed her desires on the battlefield, she now carries that confidence onward to her other battlefield, by agreeing to do the kissing scene in the play

With Madoka’s defeat, Vanishing Age goes up in smoke – Madoka and Ko return to the mainland, while Takashi returns to Kanako

And Done

And so our act three interlopers are defeated! Ko and Madoka exited much like they entered, existing more as metaphorically resonant ciphers than full human beings. Fortunately, their metaphorical resonance has never been more pointed or impactful than it was here, with Madoka essentially explicating the full nature of the Cybody system while simultaneously pushing Wako to embrace her own libidinous instincts. The reveal of this “3.5th stage” activation reaffirmed the Cybody’s nature as an articulation of the idealized self, complete with the attendant understanding that to truly master the Cybody system is to surpass the Cybody’s usefulness. Tokio believes that becoming the lord of this Cybody order is the only route to controlling his destiny – but in reality, the truest escape is simply boarding that ferry to the mainland, and finding out what the future holds.

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