“Magic! More Magic! Magic with a Kick! Mag…”
–Peter Parker vs. Thanos, Avengers: Infinity War
Tamaki Honda is a first-year high school student who longs to join a club and make the most of her time as a high school student. Her best friend, Yumine, joins the illustration club, and Tamaki chooses to join the unusually-named SNS (“Some dead fish eyes Not enough sun Shuttle run”) Club, which makes indie games and becomes its illustrator. Although she initially struggles to fit her art into the game that her club’s members seek, support and encouragement from programmer Shiina Murakami, writer Ayame Seki and composer Kayo Fujikawa, Tamaki acclimatises into life with the SNS Club and their eccentricities, eventually helping them release a game in time for an event, having missed the Summer Comiket. Later, Minaha Iino challenges Tamaki to a face off and reluctantly spends more time with the SNS Club. Tamaki struggles from a slump, and the girls work hard to keep Minaha in the club; they publish another title for the next Summer Comiket, and Tamaki reflects on why she’d joined the SNS Club. This is the gist of Stella no Mahou (The Magic of Stella), a series that ran during the autumn 2016 season and deals with game creation and self-discovery in a slower-paced environment than the likes of New Game!, which followed game development as a career in an industry setting. On a cursory glance, Stella no Mahou is the cross between New Game! and Comic Girls, although the differences are quite apparent. While Stella no Mahou seemed to be something that is consistent with the type of series I could get behind, the end result is rather disappointing – this is a series where my own opinion is opposite to that of the community’s, and while reception to Stella no Mahou elsewhere is warm, I do not find the series to be quite as enjoyable.
The main reason why Stella no Mahou did not have a strong positive impact in my case is because of a lack of an end-goal for Tamaki’s investment in the SNS Club. Tamaki is motivated by her friendship with Yumine: having created a game that precipitate a lifelong friend, Tamaki feels that games can be instrumental in bringing people together and so, chooses to contribute to this goal with her existing skill set. However, Tamaki ultimately does not see the results of her efforts. She participates in two sales events and the impact of the games that she’s helped make is left ambiguous: the first summer sale saw a rather small sale, and while Comiket was more successful, Tamaki’s beliefs in bringing people together through games is never vindicated. By comparison, New Game! sees Aoba gradually take on increasing responsibilities at Eagle Jump as her experiences accumulate, and Comic Girls has Kaoruku draw on the sum of her experiences with her friends to create a relatable manga that is accepted for publication. Comic Girls has a colourful, eccentric cast of static, but consistent support characters similar to Stella no Mahou that contribute to their respective protagonists’ developments. However, Stella no Mahou sees Tamaki struggle more on her own as everyone is engrossed in their own goals and assignments, in comparison with Comic Girls, where the others go out of their way to help Kaoruko even when they themselves have impending deadlines. The more distant support characters and inconsistent teamwork amongst the SNS Club, coupled the fact that Tamaki’s never able to see for herself that the games she’s creating is having the impact she’s longed to achieve through creation, means that Stella no Mahou is ultimately unsatisfactory, leaving Tamaki with the short end of the stick.
Screenshots and Commentary
- The short of it is that I did not feel that Stella no Mahou lived up to the expectations that other viewers have established because the journey that Tamaki goes on through the series does not result in a satisfying endpoint for her given her motivations. Instead, the series’ outcome would have been more satisfying had she been motivated by working together with others to make something memorable, having befriended Yumine by making a game together or similar.
- While superficial and rudimentary in themes, Stella no Mahou does not fully strike out – its strengths lie in its strong voice acting and good animation quality. While perhaps uninspired from a narrative perspective, this series is visually appealing, and the artwork is appropriate for the atmosphere that Stella no Mahou aimed to convey.
- Tamaki’s skill in drawing mature male characters and a particular fondness for her father are suggested to be significant to the story, but beyond acting as a source of comedy in affecting her ability to create more kawaii characters suited for their game, there seems little to suggest that the notion of Stella no Mahou being a case study for Sigmund Freud’s theories as some have posited.
- Stella no Mahou is at its strongest when the characters are either working on their game or else hanging out together, and at its weakest when conflicts are introduced that seem to leave the characters in an undue amount of trouble. Early in Stella no Mahou, episodes remained quite focused and enjoyable as Tamaki strove to create something workable for their first project. Their time spent in the club room working on their game is both rewarding and amusing to watch.
- Outside of the clubroom, the SNS Club do occasionally have excursions, such as when they visit Tamaki’s home in the countryside. When Stella no Mahou was airing, there apparently was a bit of a commotion over translations that were said to have taken away from the inherent meaning of the characters’ dialogue.
- To give an idea of how backwater Tamaki is, Stella no Mahou depicts Tamaki as using an older computer running Windows XP, an OS that was released in October 2001. To help her with digital art, Shiina installs PaintTool SAI, an ultralight Japanese painting software that is compatible with everything from Windows 98 to Windows 10. One individual with a chip on their shoulder, and the persistent belief that “unless otherwise stated, everything is realistic” in fiction, asked if it were possible for a Windows XP computer to run SAI. SAI’s requirements are at least a 450 MHz processor, 256 MB of RAM and 512 MB of disk space, can run SAI.
- Another individual erroneously stated that any Windows XP-configured machine would need a serious upgrade to run SAI, but the reality is that the average PC from 2003-2004 would have had a 2.0-2.4 GHz single-core processor, 1-2 GB of RAM and 50 GB of disk space, meaning that while outdated, Tamaki’s computer should not have any issues running SAI. This is why I advise readers to take caution when reading from Tango-Victor-Tango, where folks often make like they are more knowledgable than they are. Here, Tamaki runs into Teru, a graduate who was once the illustrator for the SNS Club. An unusual character, she shows up from time to time to encourage and motivate Tamaki, although her transience means that her presence was not strictly necessary in Stella no Mahou, much less with her cat-like getup.
- For the summer fair, Tamaki spends time with Ayame to sell their title, and while their sales are low, it’s a good experience for Tamaki, who gets her first request to do some artwork. The same folks attempting to boost their stock with the query about SAI turn their talents for questioning to asking whether or not high school students are permitted to participate, and get the response that it should be fine provided all of the proper documentation is provided. One wonders, then, why people spend so much time on the internet to learn these things, if they themselves are not directly involved in doujin publishing or similar.
- Shiina’s pessimistic outlook on the world apparently stems from her mother, who works in software and mentions PHP and Objective-C by name in Stella no Mahou. Folks from Victor-Tango-Victor immediately claim that they know the horrors of commercial software development (where their actual experience is limited to a handful of scripts they wrote in their undergrad), and wonder if it’s possible to put an entire game together over two weeks as the girls have done. The answer is yes: there’s an event called the Seven-Day FPS challenge (7DFPS) where developers are asked to make a fully-functional shooter in one week, and some of the most innovative shooters out there on the market were made for this event, including SUPERHOT and Wolfire’s Receiver.
- Minaha Iino’s precise role in Stella no Mahou is not well-defined, and I found her presence to detract from the experience. From being fiercely competitive against Tamaki, and collapsing like a house of cards when bested, to treating Tamaki with hostility in one moment and concern the next, she’s the fifth character who, while certainly mixing up the dynamics among the SNS Club, also plays the most minimal of roles in helping Tamaki mature as an illustrator.
- Minaha later storms the SNS Club’s room, with fire in her heart after playing through their game and watching as it crashes. She meets the remainder of the SNS Club here, and complains to Shiina, who makes to fix the game. Tango-Victor-Tango’s discussions continue to impress with the breadth and depth of their knowledge – here, our questioner wonders what the point of hotfixes are if games are packaged on CDs. However, it is common knowledge that CD-ROMs are merely installation media, and once the executables are loaded onto a computer, they can be patched. Maxis’ 2003 title, Sim City 4, for instance, was offered as a CD and saw several patches over its lifetime.
- While one could argue that I’m no different than the folks at Tango-Victor-Tango with my approaches, this is a difficult case to uphold, since I typically address interesting bits of trivia by directly answering them, rather than placing the burden on others to address. My goal in writing about anime, especially for series where it might be difficult for me to say something meaningful, is to leave readers somewhat entertained. Even if it is for a post like this one, where I say that I did not enjoy something, I am going to nonetheless try and keep things fresh by drawing on assorted details in the show (or existing conversations that can be fun to disprove) to drive the discussions.
- Moving into the second half of Stella no Mahou, focus turns towards Minaha’s attempts to constantly outdo Tamaki and inability to recognise Ayame as the author whose works moved her greatly. Minaha’s addition to the SNS club provides another illustrator, and while her conflicts with Tamaki may have been used to help bolster Tamaki’s confidence, Stella no Mahou ends up showing that the conflict only throws Tamaki into disarray. Similarly, resistance from Minaha’s sister to her participation in the SNS Club was illogical and seemed present only to introduce urgency into a series where urgency is very much a foreign concept.
- One curiosity about Stella no Mahou discussion at Tango-Victor-Tango is that, in spite of all the questions surrounding trivialities unrelated to the narrative, no one there was able to reach a verdict on whether this series was enjoyable or not. By comparison, folks who’ve focussed on the series’ story and characters from a higher-level perspective ended up with the conclusion that Stella no Mahou was worth watching, which is what ended up leading me to give this a go, to see if the series met expectations and also, if it warranted the serious discussion some evidently felt it necessary to give the series.
- Sentiment surrounding Stella no Mahou is positive, and more reasonable folks than myself hold that Tamaki’s growth, however minute, is present – she comes some distance from being a novice, to having helped to work on a title that sold at Comiket. This is counted a strength of the series, and while quite different than my own assessment, is a fair assessment nonetheless. However, I would not agree to claims that Stella no Mahou is superior to New Game!, which tried something different and managed to rivet me with a compelling tale of growth. By comparison, Stella no Mahou pales.
- Teru is considered to be the keystone that gave the SNS Club the motivation and energy to out something memorable together when she was still a high school student. Coming and going as she pleases throughout Stella no Mahou, Teru feels more of a guardian spirit than a standard character, showing up to look out for the girls whenever they need the assistance. Beyond having a major impact on the SNS Club, Teru remains a bit of an enigma to both Tamaki and the viewers.
- When it comes to slice-of-life anime, especially Manga Time Kirara adaptations, I am of the mind that one should approach these shows with a relaxed mindset, entering with the goal of enjoying what the characters do, taking in their interactions and ultimately, seeing what they get out of their experiences, rather than picking apart minute details pertaining to realism or working out thematic elements that are broader in nature (for instance, relating to social issues or human nature). Such series rarely disappoint – it is only the case when the character interactions and growth fall short that Manga Time Kirara series are unsuccessful.
- The end of the Comiket marks a bit of a milestone for Tamaki, although it was not quite able to leave an impact on me. I’ve heard that there are a pair of OVAs that are set before Stella no Mahou proper, following life in the SNS Club while Teru was still a high school student, and these OVAs would minimally lessen the sense of mystery surrounding her, as well as providing insight into what the SNS Club was like prior to Tamaki’s arrival in Stella no Mahou.
- The page quote is sourced from Infinity War, when Spiderman makes use of Dr. Strange’s portals to land hits on Thanos before Thanos swats him from the air, hilariously dubbing him an insect for being an irritation. It is strangely suitable for describing my reaction to Stella no Mahou, which strives to present to viewers its magic, and in my case, coming up short. The magic in Stella no Mahou was not there for me, and while I take no particular pleasure in writing about shows I do not fully appreciate, one plus about the Terrible Anime Challenge is that for some series, I am able to take titles for series and then make puns with them that are bad enough so that existing readers consider unfollowing my blog for all eternity.
- On the whole, Stella no Mahou scores a C-, (5.5 of 10, or 1.7 on a 4-point scale), which is the lowest score that a show can score if I am to watch it all the way through (a show scoring a D or lower would be dropped). With a story that rapidly unravelled once Minaha shows up and ultimately costing Tamaki the journey to discover that her wish about game-making was true, I am not particularly pleased with how things wrapped up for Stella no Mahou. I normally don’t do negative reviews, but the Terrible Anime Challenge series has occasionally required that I step out of my comfort zone to figure out why something did not work for me. I reiterate that these are purely my opinions, and that other viewers who’ve enjoyed Stella no Mahou will certainly have their reasons for enjoying it.
The strength of Manga Time Kirara series lie in seeing the journey characters take towards a heartwarming outcome, but in the case of Stella no Mahou, the ending that Tamaki deserves is lost. Moreover, the journey feels to be a half-hearted one – depictions of Tamaki’s time in the SNS Club are interrupted by external events that seem to offer little towards her experiences, and the impediments that she faces are implausible, holding Tamaki back without providing her with a take-away message. Consequently, I found that Stella no Mahou did not meet the expectations set by existing reception. Others remark that the series is warm and relaxing, and while this alone can be reason alone to watch a series, I’ve now seen enough Manga Time Kirara series to note that every series does something slightly differently, sufficiently such that there’s a reason to keep watching it for all of the nuances (especially with respect to the characters), Stella no Mahou is missing the same magic that makes the other so interesting: it feels that the series is going through the motions of presenting the SNS Club’s journey towards making a pair of video games, and relies more so on eccentric characters than strong character development and growth, especially in its second half, which is to the series’ detriment. This is a series that I would not recommend for general viewers, although Manga Time Kirara fans and folks looking for slower-paced series featuring familiar elements will likely think better of Stella no Mahou than I did. The manga for Stella no Mahou is ongoing, but in the event that there is a continuation, I will not be continuing with this series.