“I want to be normal. I wish I was normal.” We’ve all heard of those words before, haven’t we? We’ve all said them at least once in our lives. For Yamato Yura, those words have always been a constant gloom over her head, even as she attends the bright and sparkling Stella Women’s Academy. Little does she – and the rest of us – know that her definition of ‘normality’ will be changed forever.
Let’s start with the first fairytale. At first glance, Stella Jogakuin Kotouka C3-bu seems like it has big shoes to fill, and looks like it almost fails. For starters, the show is created by the famous GAINAX studio – the same heralded studio that brought you shows like FLCL, Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, Diebuster, and Neon Genesis Evangelion. Unfortunately, GAINAX no longer has the brilliant writers it once had, and thus, the animation studio felt like it was time to try to take a step in a new direction. GAINAX searched far and wide for something that would molt their old and rebellious skin, and in the end, chose a show about girls and airsoft guns. They chose C3-bu.
There is nothing really explosive and dramatic about C3-bu. The animation is decent, but not fantastic. The show itself is a reflection of the previously aired and big hit show, Garupan. There are cute girls who play a game. These games do not include dolls or cake. They include guns. The characters in both series have an enthusiastic passion for these games and engage in battle against other teams. Seems like a complete gimmick, right? However, it’s at this point that C3-bu diverges completely and becomes something a little different. A little personal, and a little refreshing. A little daring. And it is in this way that is is the perfect choice for GAINAX as they try and venture out of their boundaries, without really being rebellious. This is about the fairytale of normality itself.
Yura is a girl who desperately wants to be normal. She desires it so much that she often fantasizes about being accepted by society on a fairytale level. For Yura, the perfect life is one of a princess; a girl who attends school in an expensive ball cart, who wears pink frilly dresses, and eats cake. A girl who can socialize with other girls and be accepted for who she is. Unfortunately, Stella Academy is not that, on both an aesthetic and background level.
At Stella Academy, being the normal girl means knowing your way around the school and making friends on the first day. Yura isn’t exactly the biggest social butterfly, and it shows through her closet hobbies – her love for Rambo or her interest in her roomate’s fake gun (whereas most people would just stuff it away and not bother to ask). As such, classmates ignore Yura and she is left right where she started: a lowly servant; someone of lower rank. If normality is based on social class, then Yura is ‘below’ average – she is a Cinderella who can never bloom. It’s a dismal way of looking at how friendships and being the ‘correct’ kind of girl work.
But then, Yura meets Kirishima Rento and the C3 club – the exact opposite of what she wanted. The C3 Club is full of eccentric girls who share a love for airsoft and being weird. They have no need for being ‘normal’ as they accept themselves as ‘freaks’. On a surface level, you could argue that they take pride in being who they are but that’s not exactly it, is it? These four girls are just as normal as everyone else. They aren’t heavily masculinized as the girls of Garupan are. They aren’t forced to choosing their hobby or live in a world where airsoft is a natural sport. These girls love airsoft just as they love doing everything else – eating cake, having tea, and socializing with their own group.
As the episode progresses, the mystery is revealed. It’s not that these girls are normal. It’s just that Yura doesn’t see herself as normal – she is constantly called out by Kirishima Rento as a weirdo when she roleplays some Rambo in her room. She tries to open up to people who have no interest in her. Yura judges herself by how her peers react to her; and yet, it is only after Yura decides to take a stab at airsoft gaming that she realizes that normal doesn’t really exist. Whether you’re a girl who loves tea or guns, you’re in love with something. The lines between being a weirdo and being normal are blurred because there’s no difference between the two. What matters is you taking pride in what you love. Fairytales don’t exist; they are reality if you work hard enough.
The premise isn’t really original, but what makes C3-bu count is the execution. The anime tells us what other anime have said over and over again – being normal isn’t fun, being special is cool, etc. But C3–bu is a little different in that it tells us that being normal is cool too. Being special is being normal. We are all special in our own ways, and that’s not just normal. It’s perfectly okay. It’s the best message GAINAX can set for itself in a time when new identities must be made and older ones must be shed.