Even before the premiere of its debut episode, Stella of the Theater: World Dai Star piques viewers’ interest. Though certainly the primary aspect, it’s not just that it highlights Kokona’s friend Shizuka’s obvious incorporeality. A fascinating first impression is also created by the anime’s remarkable attention to detail and movement when the actors are performing on stage, as well as the full interactive network of superpowers known as “Sense.” Naturally, a premiere is meant to accomplish that, so the question now becomes what World Dai Star will do with all of these components during its duration.
Because of the sarcastic lack of nuance, the situation of Shizuka is the most obvious to follow through on initially. Throughout the first three episodes, there are moments when it seems like World Dai Star is acting smarter than it actually is. While other characters float ideas about discovering one’s actual self, discovering one’s identity, etc., Shizuka will vanish and reappear from Kokona’s side intermittently, or other characters may comment on Kokona’s tendency of “talking to herself.” It’s harsh, but in a way that makes it easier for us to assume, more kindly, that we’re seeing a red herring for a double bluff of a swerve. Indeed, Shizuka fully manifests exactly on the scheduled third episode twist, proving that she is an apparition driven by Kokona’s unique Sense talent.
After World Dai Star stops evading the issue and practically treats Shizuka as simply another cast member, things do get a little more straightforward, but the show’s gimmicks still exist. It only seems to get stronger after this, as Sense (better described as theater-manifested Stand abilities) wakes and takes center stage in a new Acting Newtype period. These skills span from the first episode’s plausible depiction of Kathrina’s slowed-down sense of time to later demonstrations of real telepathy. In particular, the relationship between Kokona and Shizuka seems particularly esoteric; Shizuka seems to be an idealized version of herself that Kokona can call upon or channel at pivotal moments, but who also serves as her extra-convenient acting teacher or personal Great Gazoo to bounce off of.
To stand out in the crowded anime scene, especially in the performance-based mixed-media space, gimmickry is imperative. However, its use might frequently overshadow its main attraction. The premise of the Sense capabilities is problematic since it undermines any potential insights the show may have into practical acting methods. This is separate from instances where the script confuses these on-stage abilities with emerging problems specific to the genre, such as Kathrina’s concentration-based talent failing to function as a crucial part of her past. Likewise, Yae’s vague ability to convey emotions explains why she inadvertently stole Kokona’s thunder during the Arabian Nights storyline. In this dramatized show about drama kids, it’s a magically defined justification that deliberately undermines any room for human drama.
In other instances, such as the ninth episode, when the cast rewrites Romeo and Juliet to have a happy ending and has an ability that instantly corrects for any mistakes made on stage, World Dai Star may come across as demeaning to theater and acting. Other allusions in the show, such as the cast and crew admitting that ideas like method acting or experimental rewrites during running shows are unprofessional or problematic before the characters can proceed with those attempts nonetheless, are examples of how it appears. It gets to the point where the main plot point of the last storyline, which centers on the characters trying out for The Phantom of the Opera, is the use of their sense powers. This serves as a stand-in for the concepts that were briefly discussed earlier in the series regarding observing various actors’ methods for reading and acting out the same roles. This also results in rants and debates on how to incorporate Shizuka, an aspect that was first intended to be a magical in-series mechanism. Well, the show has to go on, so people have to accept it for what it is. It’s possible to convey the difficulties and results of acting using obscure anime-magic nonsense, but in a lot of World Dai Star’s situations, it seems like its gimmicks are more important than that presentation.
Even when the anime does focus on acting techniques found in real life, it still feels contrived. A visual gimmick that makes the character animation substantially smoother and more lifelike when the characters perform on stage is another selling element that can be seen early in the series. In several spots, it almost appears rotoscoped, but it still sticks out as a feature. It’s unclear if these fluid motions convey essentially powerful acting in these circumstances because there’s not much information provided about the characters’ blocking, movement, etc. decisions. Even if the performance seems cheesy, it is nevertheless noticeable as one more feature of World Dai Star’s attractive face, and its portrayal of the stage aspects is strong. The usage of lighting on stage and figure placement are carefully considered, and when we witness the last arc, beams and shadows rush through with intensely depicted loveliness. Compared to the carelessly arranged musical pieces or character animation show-offs, that presentation viewpoint is given greater thought.
It’s difficult to avoid comparing World Dai Star to its peers, just like you would with a well-known character you’ve seen performed by other actors. This ultimately prevents World Dai Star from occupying whatever niche it may be attempting to fill. Kageki Shoujo!! is more concerned with depicting acting as a technical craft in detail. For a more magically esoteric approach, Revue Starlight is a great choice as it completely embraces the stylistic potential it presents. World Dai Star finds it difficult to cover every angle on that spectrum, therefore in the end, they only apply them loosely. Its description of theatrical performing contains some intriguing allusions, but they never truly go beyond being mere magical plot-device powers. Instead, they remain purely symbolic. Overall, World Dai Star is left as exactly what it started out as: a novelty that may be successful in grabbing your attention but is too erratic to sustain it throughout.