Content Warning: Potential sanism, potential plurality narrative
What’s it about: Small town girl Otori Kokona is an aspiring actor trying to get into the training school for the world class theatre Sirius. Her best friend Shizuka has taken it on herself to coach her and prepare her for the big day of her audition, and the day has arrived. Will she be able to get in? And if she does, will she succeed?
There was a moment about fifteen minutes into World Dai Star where I knew for sure that this show had sold me. It was when Kathrina, one of Kokona’s rivals, is preparing mentally to audition, doing a scene from The Little Mermaid. Time stops around her. She notices how her scene partner is using the lighting of the scene to convey the grotesque cruelty of Ursula by staying out of the spotlight until the height of her fury is unleashed, and how that is throwing off the other actors. When she then gave a performance that purposefully used the lighting of the scene to convey the transformation of her character, positioning herself on the ground in a heap to create the pathetic resolve of Ariel, I nearly cheered.
To understand my reaction, it’s worth noting that before becoming an Editor at Anime Feminist, I taught theatre in NYC for four years. I spent many years before that in the theatre myself. I have never seen before an anime that actually accurately represents the thoughts that go through actors’ minds when they’re onstage. For all the history of Acting School anime, starting with Glass Mask through Revue Starlight and Kageki Shoujo!!, I never quite felt like any of them got it right. More often they were centered on the psychology of actors–how they deal with the stress of overexposure, of the exploitation of actors who are pitted against each other, or of the sexism of the industry. Those are useful things to talk about! But not once did I ever fully understand why these girls love acting so much, what it is about acting that is so enjoyable to the mind and body.
World Dai Star, by contrast, is interested in the actual process of acting, of how actors inhabit the minds of their characters and use all the tools of physicality and stagecraft to create the artifice of inner life. And it is a joy to watch in this way.
This is partly because of how the characters actually talk resesmbles how teenagers think about acting. So often, teenagers will assume that good acting is about affect–capturing the emotions of a character in a given moment. This is wildly incorrect, and leads to unambiguously bad acting–the correct move is to focus on the action of a moment, what a character is doing to another character and to what end. We see Kokona falling directly into this trap in some of the opening scenes, where she is rehearsing the Ethiope’s Ear soliloquy from Romeo and Juliet, and her friend Shizuka immediately calls out her shrill gesticulations for overacting. Shizuka then gives her coaching on the emotional state of Romeo during the soliloquy–and it does not help her acting.
It also helps that the character animation budget has so far gone into the moments where the acting needs to be good to sell the idea that these are good actors. The facial expressions, use of different levels (e.g. crumpled on the ground, towering above a person, etc) are all conveyed beautifully. When their auditioner plays the villain from the Little Mermaid, it is legitimately scary.
I only have a few caveats to this show. The characters often speak in the kind of world-building info dumps that feel unnatural. The idea of “Sense,” the attribute that all Dai Star actors have, is clearly ripped off of the idea of “Shine” from Revue Starlight. The adults’ character designs feel very little different from those of the children. The biggest red flag is the fairly big twist towards the end of the episode that I was actually too distracted by the Conversations About Acting to notice on first viewing, but arguably might create serious problems as the show goes on. Depending on how it goes, it could create issues with saneism, become a plurality metaphor, or make the show a surprise ghost story? My hope is that it becomes a positive plurality metaphor or an effective ghost story, but I’m not sure the show is equipped to handle the former and is not giving the atmosphere of the latter.
Other than these caveats, this show is quite a pleasure. I would recommend it to anybody who enjoyed the various Acting School shows that have come out recently.