Tsunashi Takuto transfers to a high school on a small island in southern Japan in order to sing out the joys of youth and find his father. But the island holds a host of secrets: ancient traditions and inhereted super powers, a mysterious society, and marionette-like robots that could change the world if the four seals restricting them were broken. Embroiled in these conflicts, will Takuto find his father, find the strength to protect his new and important friends, and still find a way to live out a joyous school life?
Though I had seen a couple of preview images beforehand, my real introduction to Star Driver: Kagayaki no Takuto came from a friend after the first episode had aired. "Have you checked out Star Driver yet?" he said. "It's so fabulous!" He was, of course, not just using fabulous as a synonym for good, but rather as a way of describing the show's aesthetic. Bright, rainbow colors. Outrageous costumes featuring epaulets. Conditioned hand signals and long transformation sequences. Star Driver is a show that is defined by this aesthetic. It has catchphrases like, "Your galaxy, too, will surely sparkle!" But even so, to judge Star Driver by this aesthetic alone would be shortsighted.
Studio BONES has a history of creating original anime with fascinating settings and deep character development, and despite its seemingly shallow exterior, Star Driver continues this trend in full force. BONES also has a bad habit of abruptly ending its series before satisfyingly exploring and explicating those settings; and though Star Driver continues that trend as well, the tone and pacing it lives by make the suffering rather mild. Perhaps more interestingly, another thing that BONES tends to do is to make series that interact, reinterpret, and otherwise builds upon well-known anime by other studios. Consciously or not, that's exactly what they're doing here.
The most obvious and direct influence is Code Geass, which manifests in a number of ways. Visually, Star Driver takes a similar, bright color palette and advances it a step farther, making it positively radiate with every color of the rainbow. Code Geass caught the attention of both sexes, playing to fanboys with its of sexily attired (or under-attired) heroines while attracting a fan-girl audience with confident pretty boys of ambiguous sexuality. That, too, Star Driver takes to a new level, attiring much of its well-proportioned female cast in costumes that are just as likely to cross over into being a parody of sexy than to be actually attractive; meanwhile, it inverts the standard love triangle such that the main heroine is at the center and she has two too-cool ambiguously heterosexual boys to choose from. Some shows try to appeal across multiple genders by avoiding fanservice whatsoever; Star Driver goes the opposite direction, providing or at least implying a little something for just about everyone. That might be too much, but Star Driver somehow makes it work. While talking to two (completely straight) friends of mine, we came to the surprising realization that each of us might enjoy cosplaying Takuto. After all, he's so cool, he's got a distinctive and great-looking costume, and he's just gay enough to stimulate fangirls' imaginations without being so gay that it would be awkward for a straight male to dress up as him.
But Code Geass is not the only recent success from which Star Driver draws. The occasional influence from GAINAX's Tengen Toppa Gurren-Lagann is unmistakable in the mech design and, from time to time, the way action scenes get animated. But perhaps the most interesting way the series plays on shows before it is explained with Mahou Shoujo Lyrical Nanoha. That series is praised with having taken the magical girl genre as a frame, and treated it like a mecha series. That's a story for a different post, but what's remarkable about Star Driver is that, to some extent, it acts like the counterpart to Nanoha: it takes what is ostensibly a mecha series and brings it closer to the magical girl genre. To start with, Star Driver's director, Igarashi Takuya, has a lot of experience in magical girl series dating back to Sailor Moon, and it shows. Each episode of Star Driver tends to closely follow genre-conventional structure: pick a character to feature, explore that character's relationship to other characters around them (both in school events and the conspiracy), and ultimately end in a short battle. The mech battles are really only a couple minutes long, with the transformation sequence leading into the battle often taking up a comparable amount of time. And unlike mech shows (or Nanoha) where tactics and advanced technology tend to be the biggest factor in battles, Star Driver's battles feel like they're powered by love and determination. On the other hand, that concept found its way into the mech genre long ago, most recently and notably demonstrated in the aforementioned Gurren-Lagann.
As such, Star Driver is a show that bends expectations and genre conventions while also sticking to them. It doesn't take itself seriously, but it provides enough depth to be taken seriously if you want to. It's visually stimulating (bordering on overstimulating) with a high budget and good production values all around. It has quality music, an all-star voice cast, and a plot that provides suspense, action, twists, and resolution in good measure. It's not perfect, but it's one of the better series in recent memory, with relatively broad appeal, and likely to be a cosplay standby for a while to come, too.