Hello everyone, and welcome back to Wrong Every Time. Today I thought we’d take a trip back to Southern Cross Isle, where the heroes of Star Driver most recently faced off with their predatory school nurse. Last episode basically felt like a classic Igarashi comedy episode, with a single ridiculous concept leading a parade of goofy expression work and improbable punchlines. He’s directed more than his share of such episodes over the course of Sailor Moon and Ojamajo Doremi, but of course, given Star Driver’s unique preoccupations, the tone here was just a smidgen different. Igarashi has been involved in some of the most poignant and thematically rich anime in history, but he still finds time for goofiness in all of them, and for that I am thankful.
Given the proud irreverence of the entire previous episode, I’m expecting this one will steer us back into murkier waters, perhaps elaborating on the odd bond between Wako and her “fiancé” Sugata. We know troublingly little about Sugata considering his centrality to the narrative, but to be honest, we know troublingly little about basically everything at this point. More data is clearly required, so let’s break out our thematic notepads and settle in for another episode of Star Driver!
“The King’s Pillar.” A promising episode title! If we’re about to be introduced to the king, perhaps we’ll be granted a fuller perspective on the overall hierarchy of this secret society
In the opening, Takuto actually begins his route from behind that chain fence, before running out into the town and eventually greeting his Cybody. If we accept that to be a metaphor for his childhood progression, it seems likely he was born or “created” in the secret facilities of Southern Cross. Could be nothing, though – thematic clues in both Enokido and Igarashi shows are often fragmentary, deliberately avoiding one-to-one “this means this” mapping in order to create a more ambiguous, felt experience, as opposed to a didactic and solvable puzzle. It took me a long while to appreciate how thematic loose ends are not a failure of a work, but actually necessary to maintain a variable and personal experience between art and audience
Takuto has an ornate pocket watch, which appears to have stopped. On the opposite side of the clock face, we see an inset picture of a woman – the same woman from the image in his home, presumably his mother. Like in that picture, the woman is looking away, staring out beyond the shoreline
That particular pose maps perfectly to Wako’s situation – staring out across the sea, longing for a wider world that she’s not allowed to reach. Perhaps Takuto’s mother was a previous shrine maiden, and the breaking of her “seal” resulted in the birth of Takuto
The fact that the watch has stopped also seems significant, given the developmental stasis this island demands of its maidens
Takuto states this is “a special day, so I decided to break it out”
Wako offers to take Takuto into town in order to get his watch repaired, and Sugata declines to join them. Wako seems hurt by this – it seems Takuto’s arrival has prompted a drifting apart between the two of them
Sugata evades Wako’s questions about his watch on their trip, while in the distance, various other students seem to be resentfully spying on their date
The two of them have developed a very easy rapport at this point, exemplified through their willingness to crack little jokes at each other’s expense
Out on the docks, the girl that was staring at our couple on the bus is now busy getting pissed off by some catcallers. “Damn outsiders. I won’t let anyone disrupt the order of the island.” So she’s clearly our next opponent, but more interestingly, it appears she defines Takuto replacing Sugata at Wako’s side as another form of “disrupting the order of the island”
Wako reveals that today is Sugata’s birthday, but he actually hates this day. Alright, we’re getting the Sugata exposé I was hoping for!
They stop at Cafe EATER. I hope their food is as good as their name
“‘Sugata’ is a special name given to generations of Shindo men who were born bearing the emblem. The day that Sugata was told about what he’d been born into, and the secret of the Cybodies, was his birthday, exactly five years ago. Ever since then, he’s hated his own birthday.” Unsurprisingly, it appears that Sugata is just as trapped by this system as Wako, playing the part of unwilling priest to her shrine maiden
Apparently Taiburn is a “Warrior Cybody,” while Wako inherited a “Miko Cybody” (“Miko” just meaning “shrine maiden”). And Sugata inherited the “King Cybody,” which is allegedly strongest of all
His Cybody is broken in some way, though. Wako goes on to float the apparent significance of a “1st Phase Activation,” which empowers the user in a variety of ways
“By apprivoising, we can use the power of our Cybodies even outside of zero-time.” Right, these are the activations that give their human bodies new powers, like the nurse’s ability to reverse her age
“It doesn’t have to be supernatural. It’s entirely possible that those who’ve achieved success in life have simply used the power of their 1st phase for their own gain”
“It’s better to have the kind of power that’s socially acceptable. Having a strange kind of power might just make you miserable.” Kanako’s commentary seems pointedly aimed at Sugata’s unknown power
Sugata can physically leave the island, but because of the risk of his power being abused, he is forbidden from doing so. Ooh, that’s interesting – just as women are here framed as dependents who must be sheltered from the world, men are framed as inherently dangerous, with adolescence granting them powers that naturally turns them into predators. It’s the equally poisonous backside of this gender essentialist perspective, framing women as caged birds and men as ravenous wolves
And Sugata can’t even use his power. Everyone who’s apprivoised with the King Cybody has first unleashed the “King’s Pillar” 1st phase ability, after which they fell into a permanent sleep
Kate drops in on our angry spy, telling her that she shouldn’t do anything, as she has yet to master her 1st phase
I like the use of dutch angles throughout this episode to enhance the sense of surveillance, as well as the slight awkward imbalance of our main couple’s exchanges. This episode was apparently boarded and directed by Toshinori Narita, who also worked with Igarashi on Soul Reaper
Takuto asks if Wako likes Sugata, and Wako provides an answer to a very different question, reflecting on how she was likely only able to survive her imprisonment this far because Sugata was at her side
“Sugata always carries a knife with him. I’m too scared to ask him why he carries it”
Excellent use of low-angle shots and negative space throughout this confession sequence. Wako is consistently dwarfed by the sky, making it look like she’s carrying the weight of the universe on her back
“Why are the Cybodies on this island, anyway. Why were we born on this island?” The sad event of Sugata’s birthday, combined with her growing closeness with Takuto, is at last allowing Wako to discard her brave face, and fully acknowledge how much she hates her imprisonment
And as with so many other elements of these stifling traditions, Takuto is ready to break this cycle, and return Sugata’s birthdays to being joyful occasions
In Sam’s story, he has at last killed the squid, and is now presenting its blue blood to the King. A spell of immortality had apparently been cast on the King, and this blood was the only thing that allowed him to end his own life. The metaphor seems about as direct as can be this time – Sugata is another trapped king, longing for any escape, even if that escape means death
“Now I am free to go to sleep tonight, never to wake again.” A phrasing with charged resonance here, given the consequences of the King’s Pillar
Our spy transforms into a strange humanoid shape, looking much like an aqueous version of the ball-jointed dolls from the central chamber
Some wonderful cuts of fight choreography courtesy of Yoshimichi Kameda as this doll faces off with Sugata’s combat maids
And then fantastic use of impact frames in Jun Arai’s followup cuts. This is one of the best-looking finales of the show so far!
Their attacker’s name is Undine (a name traditionally associated with water spirits, fitting for these water-dolls), and exploiting this doll mode seems to take a serious toll on her actual body
“The mermaidoll’s acting on its own.” Interesting. So if she’s lost control of the doll, what consciousness is controlling it? Are they actually borrowing the powers of some great and unstoppable creature beneath the island? Perhaps that’s what the shrine maidens are designed to keep contained
“Is her subconscious on a rampage?” Ah, or their feelings can still propel these mechs even when they’re not in active control of them
With dozens of these dolls attacking them, Sugata at last arrives, and is forced to apprivoise
HOLY SHIT! Dear lord, that episode didn’t waste a minute, huh? Seemingly intent on making up for the goofiness of last episode, this one just dropped reveal after reveal from start to finish, offering far more truths about the island and Sugata than I could have possibly hoped for. The awkwardly strained relationship between Wako and Sugata now makes perfect sense, while the mechanics of the overall Cybody system are also coming into focus. And then that spectacular ending, rich in both animated glory and narrative consequence. Even if Sugata isn’t actually trapped in an endless sleep, all of this episode’s drama took place in real time, meaning the whole island just saw the King’s Pillar obliterate a mountainside. Things are clearly moving in Star Driver, and I’m eager to see what’s next!
This article was made possible by reader support. Thank you all for all that you do.