Stella Women’s Academy subverts expectations and gets better by the week

Stella Women’s Academy (or Stella), on its most basic level, is a show about high school girls that are part of a club, but it has got one hell of a conceit.

It sounds like the description of every slice-of-life safe-bet anime that’s aired every season since K-On! took Japan by storm in 2009. Actually, I also just described the core of three other original series that started airing along side Stella. The proliferation of the setup is getting a little ridiculous.

But Stella is a lighthearted show all about airsoft, not traditional athletics, music or supernatural shenanigans. It’s about oddballs in a private girl’s boarding school shooting at each other with plastic pellets. If there was even the slightest hint of a joke in the show’s execution, I would have stopped watching it in an instant. But while Stella may be lighthearted, it’s lacing it’s combat boots as straight as a show about replica firearms possibly can.

In fact, there were moments while watching when I thought that the characters were taking themselves almost too seriously, but it mostly just teeters on the edge. In the initial obligatory recruiting episode that seems to surface in every club-related show in existence, our protagonist, Yura, unexpectedly finds herself in a airsoft match to determine whether or not she’ll be forced into the C3 club. (Spoilers: she wins, but joins up anyways, having enjoyed her experience.)

Mere days later, the club enters a high school tournament and makes it all the way to the finals where they face off against the club captain’s longtime rival, Rin. Rin’s team tears the veteran C3s to shreds before cornering Yura in search of ultimate annihilation, even though they’re competing in a capture the flag match.

But rather than face up to the brunt of the pellet doom that awaits her in a tense showdown that reminds me of the best action moments in anime from the likes Black Lagoon, or more recently Psycho Pass, Yura forfeits. Cue everybody in the show losing their shit.

Awesome, but inexplicable – a mediocre slice of life this is not

Rin starts spewing lines like, “you’re playing airsoft without any resolve … you have no right to play” and the captain herself practically condemns Yura’s actions as the ultimate sin against the church of airsoft. You would think these girls were fighting a real war when lines like “Yura ran away, putting her teams sacrifices to waste,or, “someone who can’t fight alone, can’t fight in a group either … what are you fighting for?” are being dropped all over the place.

They’ve got training regimens, smoke grenades, military hand signals – aside from the lack of blood and gore, the scientific feats of physics that they impose upon their pellets, and the Matrix-like acrobatics that the characters pull off during battle, you really would believe that they’re fighting for their country in a modern civil war.

It’s awesome, but inexplicable. The final barb that has me hooked on this beast of intersecting genres is it’s liberal use of abstraction. Yura often envisions her already awesome encounters in a haze as they’re happening. The saturation shifts. The character designs are given a little more edge. Even the historical period around her occasionally shifts to reflect her emotions. A mediocre slice of life this is not.

After all that’s said, you might be wondering why I’d even decide to give this show a shot even though I’d initially crossed it off as “red” on The Chart? Well, I still try to keep to up with the popular opinions and advertisements of currently airing shows, otherwise I might find myself failing to watch something spectacular.

I saw this 30 second trailer for Stella and its jazz music and imagery struck me as very reminiscent of the opening theme and character sketches from Cowboy Bebop (a show I hold in the highest regard – like, literally, it is the my measuring stick for all that is great.) It struck me so much that I caved and decided to watch the first episode. After all, I did seem to have a ton of time on my hands at the beginning of July.

And thank goodness for that time I had. It looks like I tuned-in to something that’s going to be pretty fantastic.

(Watch it on for free on Crunchyroll)

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