Dec 25, 2015
Starmyu (Anime) add (All reviews)
somaisbatman (All reviews)
Ludonarrative dissonance is a pretentious term from 2006 game reviewers that refers to a game's narrative clashing with its gameplay. Having watched "Starmyu", formerly referred to as "High School Star Musical", I believe that this term should be co-opted for things outside of video games, such as animation.

There's a certain point in the final episode where the titular Stardust Team claims that they will host their final performance in an avant-garde way. You see, that's sort of the overarching story of this show. The musical team of our 5 main characters likes to perform in unconventional ways - challenging the standards of their school ensnared with tradition. So while this embracing of the new and unconventional ways totally makes sense within the show's story, it clashes with the anime as a whole.

I have not watched Prince-Sama, but I have been told by multiple trusted sources that High School Star Musical's format is a carbon-copy of it. And judging by descriptions alone that makes total sense. Both feature musical academies with teams of 5 bishonen boys color-coded by their hair, and are likely made to appeal to the exact same audience. While High School Star Musical's moral seems to be embracing quirky and new ideas, its execution is the exact opposite. It plays itself so safely that there's not a single moment of the show that stands out to me. Likewise, there's not a single moment that I really hated. High School Star Musical carefully constrains itself into as many classic tropes it can find, and by doing so, makes itself a bastion of average.

Although I didn't hate any of it, High School Star Musical definitely has some quirks. The character designs look like they were stolen from the vaults of the producers of Free!, and the character models seem are very samey. Episode 6 introduces two twin girl characters (the only girls in the whole show, literally), and they kind of look like the animators just took their standard boy designs and added some long pink hair. Also they reminded me of those twin girls from Johnny Test. God bless all of our souls.

High School Star Musical, like almost every bishonen show, suffers badly from queerbaiting. The target audience of this show was surely preteen and teenage girls, and to capitalize on that, the producers made sure to add plenty of romantic tension between the main characters. But never enough. You see, the producers want those teenage girls to take the cast of High School Star Musical as their husbandos. However, they also know that boy's love sells. In an attempt to appease both, the producers add all sorts of blushes, stuttering, and even misinterpreted declarations of love and dates, but never actually announce that their male characters are in gay relationships. This queerbaiting is present in western shows too (think Supernatural and Sherlock), and once you notice it, it's really hard to ignore that the producers are using marginalized sexual orientations as a footstool to make their show more popular, without even giving those orientations proper representation.

I've been giving High School Star Musical a lot of flak, but if its goal was to create an utterly average show like I outlined earlier, then it did it well. If you don't put a lot of critical thinking into it, the show isn't a slog to get through - under one condition. If you watch the show at 1.5 times speed, it becomes easy to get through and all the music goes nightcore mode. The lines are simplistic enough that you can keep up with reading too. Shortening episode duration to 15 minutes makes this show incredibly manageable, and if I hadn't discovered this I would probably have given it a lower rating.

In the end, High School Star Musical seems as average as can be, but there may be a lot of value in the discourse that results from it. Its ludonarrative dissonance is strongly resonating and each viewer may interpret said dissonance very differently.

Back in 2006, when the term "ludonarrative dissonance" was coined, game reviewers were so caught up in talking about how a game's mechanics worked alongside its story that they forgot to actually talk about things readers cared about, like whether the game was fun and worth buying. Sort of like how you can read a Pitchfork album review and have no idea what the music is supposed to sound like. So for the Starmyu Review, I tried to recreate that feeling of being so far up your own ass that you can't even write good reviews.