If you’re anything like me, you abhor the idea of talking to people you don’t like. Rather than ask them how the kids are doing, you would rather stab them in the eye with a tuning fork. Or stab yourself in the eye because in that case, at least, you won’t have to deal with lawyer fees and convincing the jury that your mortal enemy deserved receiving an acoustic resonator to their eye socket. The great thing about games like Stella Glow is that not only are you allowed to get all stabby with your enemies, you’re actively encouraged to. But there’s this thing about people, which is that they’re more often than not more valuable alive than dead, especially when they know something important, e.g., the end of the world.
Stella Glow is a tactical JRPG, in the same vein as Final Fantasy Tactics, except half the cast is cute anime girls, and the other half is that other gender that’s technically important to the continuation of the species but that nobody gives two flips about. The protagonist we follow in this action-adventure epic is—
Stop right there. Hold on a second. Before we go any further, you should probably be aware that this post is gonna contain some heavy spoilers of the game, and I mean super heavy spoilers. So super and so heavy that the earth itself would crack under the weight, so further reading is encouraged only as a means to an end of days. (The banner also gives away the biggest spoiler, rendering this disclaimer moot, so…sorry ’bout that.)
As I was saying, Stella Glow’s protagonist is an amnesiac not-girl named Alto who lives with his hotter adoptive sister, who is a girl, and her milf of a mother, who is better than a girl—a woman. Together, they live a peaceful, rural village life, until one day when Alto meets a lingerie model who turns his entire village and all its inhabitants to
stone crystal. As it turns out, the lingerie model is the founding member of Hilda’s Heavy Metalists, who tour the countryside, rocking so hard that they turn all their fans to rock crystal. But through the sheer power of coincidence-that-starts-act-II, Alto finds out that he’s this story’s Chosen One, known in this title by the moniker of the Conductor, and that his hot adoptive sister is a waterbender. Then a royal band shows up and recruits the pair to officially found Alto’s Adagios.
The bulk of the second act is Alto and his crew hopping around the country, looking for new members to recruit and occasionally having a battle of the bands with Hilda’s gang, for their ultimate goal of combining earth, fire, wind, water, and heart to summon Captain Planet to save the world. It’s fairly formulaic by this point, being a “bad guys wanna blow up the world because they’re dicks” plot. What else could a bad guy be when you kindly ask him to stop stoning people and his only retort is that he’ll take great pleasure in beating you over the head with a boulder-sized stone? But the midway point of the game is when this facade completely crumbles.
Once Alto has recruited the largest rock group since Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, he puts on a concert in the capital so rocking that everybody previously turned to not-stone will destone themselves so that they can rock to Alto’s Andantes. This is wonderful, except their playing was so loud it summoned angry grandmas from the moon who hate anything that isn’t Bach’s Cello Suite in C Minor with a fiery passion and are willing to destroy the entire world just to make doubly sure they never hear another rock concert again.
Not so wonderful, after all. Probably should’ve foreseen this given how the song they play goes. Know what also should’ve tipped them off? The heavy metalists who knew their singing would summon hell’s angels and were trying to prevent it the entire time.
This is the Good All Along trope played straight, and while I like how shows like Kill la Kill and Gurren Lagann handled it, Stella Glow doesn’t have the same knack for it. To explain in the most spoiler-free fashion I’m physically capable of managing, while also mostly ignoring the message those combined words would communicate, both those anime succeed with the trope because it’s not necessary for the protagonist and his/her lackies to be in on the scoop of who’s the real big bad.
Once upon a time, I was a teenager, so I know first-hand that the two things teenagers love most are gossip and rumors, and if there’s no gossip or rumors to go around, they’ll brew some up. If the student counsel in Kill la Kill let even one of the students know what they were really scheming, that one student would have taken their gossip-loving lips and blabbed about it to the rest of the student body. Kinda hard to take the big baddie by surprise with an entire school’s worth of kids chattering about how the student counsel is secretly the Green Berets.
But as far as Hilda’s rabble hiding their touring schedule, there’s no reason for them to. It’s not like Alto and his bunch finding out will tear open a black hole that swallows up the solar system. If just one of them said, “Hey! If you sing that song, angels will fall from the sky and kill us all! Just wanted ta let ya know,” the good guys would know not to do the thing that would make them the not-so-good guys. Of course, when your rivals spout such obvious nonsense, you’re justifiably obliged to take it as obvious nonsense, but that’s where we can play some dissonance between his party members.
Let’s pretend for a moment that you’re a ham addict and you eat so much ham that you’ve single-handedly put pigs on the endangered species list. Congratulations. Someone comes up to you one day and tells you that eating that much pork per lifetime can lead to serious health hazards, namely the growing of a quartet of singing heads on your back. You being the obvious nonsense disbeliever you are dismiss their claims and wobble away while munching on some bacon you’ve been saving since six.
Now let’s say you have a spouse who’s also a pig for pigs, and you vent to them about what obvious nonsense some perfect stranger had the gall to say to you. You guffawfawfaw as you recount the encounter, but your spouse doesn’t think it’s so funny. In fact, it would explain why their singing in the shower has improved so exponentially these past few weeks. So, they drop pork from their diet and swears from now on to eat healthy, beginning by grilling up a nice, juicy sirloin steak.
All it takes for some people to start questioning their knowledge and beliefs is a seed being stuck in their noggin. They might dismiss it as a particularly itchy spot at first, but if they focus on it enough, it’ll sprout larger and greener, until it’s got its vines wrapped around their jaw, opening and closing their mouth to the chant of “World governments are hiding the fact that the Earth is flat because they just are!”
Not all of Alto’s bandmates need to agree with what Hilda’s college roomies are selling (they can dismiss it as counterfeit right off the bat), but just one or two guitarists can start mulling it over during their jamming sessions, and then they’ll start searching for evidence or the mental gymnastics required to back up the logic of that claim, and it’s after that when they convert to the ways of the heavy metalist. Then the plot’s just mayhem as bassists and drummers flock from one band to the next, just as they’ve always done throughout 20th century history. Of course, this would make the big reveal a little hard to pull off, and it wouldn’t be such a big reveal since everybody and their pet pig knows about it, but if the true baddies managed to scrape together the vocalists they needed or the angels hammered together a gangplank and lined up on it, it could be the good guys failing to prevent the end of the world, kinda like what the best Final Fantasy did. The plot possibilities are endless once someone learns how to open their bloody mouth and say something besides, “You wouldn’t understand.” Well, no shit, Sherlock, they wouldn’t understand. When you forego communication altogether, nobody’s going to understand anything!
All this rambling, however, is done with the Good All Along trope in mind, as I mentioned in passing, so bad guys who are bad don’t have as much of an obligation to revealing their haunted past to the protagonist over teatime. They do, however, have an obligation to let the audience know why they’re doing what they’re doing.
The Isolator’s baddies don’t have the most ideological motivations, committing acts of murder for their own twisted, personal goals, but they do have their reasons, and as far as the goodies are concerned, they’re just bad guys who need to be put down, which is fine. We the audience know why that one old guy wants to watch the world burn, and the only prerogative the goodies need for charging at him with fire extinguishers is because they believe it’s the moral high ground to save lives rather than hit up the local convenience store for their marshmallow stock.
A recurring antagonist of Bakuman—teeny-tiny spoilers, FYI—is a manga artist who has controversial methods for going about his manga creation process, and while he loves nothing more than opening up and dumping cans of beans in front of the protagonists, he has no reason to do so. Yet he does this because he represents what you could call a “new wave” of manga creation (and, yes, I am giving it that specific name because New Wave is a genre of music and I’m trying to maintain the musical theme), while the protagonists represent the “classical” style, and he’s deliberately challenging them and the accepted establishments of the industry. If he didn’t do this, their publication bouts wouldn’t hold the same weight that they did. It’s almost like watching an underground grudge band try and scramble onto the stage of a pop star’s concert and expound on how “pure and conformist” their songs are.
And if you want an example of the good guy turning the bad guy to his side before I close things off, take a gander at Dr. Stone. The big bad of the first major arc allies with the good guy but then turns on him due to an ideology difference. But after the corner we’re rooting for proves what their vision of the future can accomplish with the power of a functioning tank, he converts back, seeing his own beliefs as inferior. Also, spoilers.
After preaching all of this, the point I guess I’m getting at is that Stella Glow stuck too closely to a formula and as a result had this awkward relationship between Alto and Hilda’s ensembles. I understand why it did what it did, but if it was willing to take a risk with antagonists who knew more lines than “I’ll impale you on my spear which I just finished sharpening” or had a sharper pencil for writing dialogue, I wouldn’t be sitting here complaining about how the good guys and the bad guys talk. I would be raging about how all of the female characters knicked their outfits from that one Final Fantasy where the female cast half decided they would try out a gig as Victoria’s Secret models.