Stars Align is the indie darling of the most recent anime season: a slice-of-life sports drama about a middle school tennis club that quickly gained attention for focusing on issues rarely discussed in such a grounded setting — particularly its inclusion of two sensitively written trans characters (one nonbinary, one a trans man). Week after week, the show paired the team’s journey to win just one match and prevent their club from being disbanded with glimpses into the boys’ home lives, which often revealed the many faces of parental abuse, from neglect and physical abuse to controlling helicopter parenting.
That’s not to say the show is relentlessly bleak, as its sometimes painfully earnest monologues are balanced with keenly-written scenes of goofy adolescent awkwardness. But it is the kind of show that knows its own relevance and is willing to drag important topics into the light even if it means being as blunt as a two-by-four.
Stars Align just feels like something special. The series initially drew in viewers with its big-name director Kazuki Akane, best known in the US for 90s fantasy mecha series The Vision of Escaflowne. But it kept them hooked with its emotional rawness and beautiful tennis sequences. It’s the kind of show that might look a little dated in a decade, but it hardly matters because of the difference it can make for viewers and media right now. It’s also, unfortunately, literally only half of the story.
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Save the Tennis Boys
Allegedly, Stars Align was originally planned to run for 24 episodes. Mere months before it was meant to air, that number was cut in half, leaving the creative team with a choice: they could either severely hack down the story to fit it into 12 episodes, as there was no time to retool from the ground up, or they could go ahead with what they’d initially planned and end at the story’s midpoint. They chose the latter, ending with the team having technically accomplished its “win one game” goal but with many, many unresolved familiar subplots and a brutal cliffhanger in the last few minutes.
As it stands, that’s the end. Stars Align is an anime original, meaning there’s no novel or manga viewers can pick up to see how things turn out. But the creative team is currently fighting to get the story out in some form or other, with the official Twitter gathering reactions through the end of the year to try and gauge support for the series and hopefully get it the finale it so richly deserves. But even as it stands, I can’t say I regretted investing in it for a moment.