It's a "villains as heroes" superhero show. Zvezda is an organisation that wants to take over the world, opposed only by the heroic White Light and by the Japanese government's troops, tanks and decrees of martial law! Can they succeed? Are they silly? You bet!
I enjoyed this, but it makes some odd decisions. At its best, it's great. Most of the episodes are highly entertaining superhero subversion, with Zvezda going about megalomaniac goals in a lovable way. The protagonist is Asuta Jimon, a schoolboy who's landed up with these loons and plays along with them largely for lack of anything better to do, while thinking they're all crazy. (He doesn't have anywhere else to go, though. The alternative would be to go home and stop fighting with his father, which isn't going to happen.) Other Zvezda members are:
(a) Kate Hoshimiya, the group's leader. She's Ernst Stavro Blofeld in the body of a five-year-old girl, complete with a tendency to nap at inconvenient times and a soft toy as her superweapon. She's also quite a nice person. She's kind, underneath the "grovel before me, worms!" ranting, and she's not very good at thinking through her strategies.
(b) Itsuka Shikabane, a thug with a skull-and-crossbones eye patch. She's part of a light motif of wartime-reminiscent costume design choices. There's also some girliness in her, though, deep down.
(c) Natalia "Natasha" Vasylchenko, a blonde Ukranian scientist who talks in Hiroshima dialect. I have no explanation of this. Technically she's also Miss Fanservice, wearing the absolute minimum at all times, but this is subverted by her being the same age as most of the characters (14 or 15) and with almost no figure. (The other immodestly dressed character is Kate, who's of course even further away from the cheesecake stereotype.)
(d) Goro Shikabane, a big bloke who used to lead a criminal gang. His villain outfit looks like the German Kaiser.
(e) Yasubee "Yasu" Morozumi, not to be relied upon.
(f) Roboko, a robot girl.
These guys are goofballs, but they have an awesome secret base. (It also has a sign outside saying "Zvezda secret base".) Some of the show's best jokes are about Zvezda's domesticity, with indoor slippers by the front door and Itsuka trying to do the cooking. (Everyone's glad when Asuta takes over as mother.) I laughed at quirks like Zvezda's law-abiding villainy, so for instance when stealing clothes they'll then just as stealthily leave some money in its place. They're also pathetically poor, by the way. These episodes reminded me a bit of Dokkoida?!, another comedy anime about the mundane day-to-day life of superheroes and supervillains. Both shows have heroes and villains befriending each other in their secret identities, although Dokkoida?! didn't have this show's additional twist of being focused on the baddies.
As for the heroes, there's one called Robin. Hmmm. (White Light have bird-themed names, with Robin, Egret and Falcon.) Their costume design looks more like Gatchaman than Batman, though. Asuta and Robin are best friends at school and get even closer over the course of the series, although the characters' ages mean that nothing dubious happens. I liked Robin. She has some worthwhile material about deciding for herself what counts as good for herself instead of just trusting her superiors and the government.
I really liked much of this show, especially the middle episodes. There's lots of comedy in the hero-villain tension among characters who are all basically nice (if deeply eccentric and/or megalomaniac) and the unexpected ways in which masks get stripped away. Sometimes it's more than that, too.
Some of the episodes are more odd than funny, mind you. Ep.3 is doing deeply strange things with Zvedza's anti-smoking crusade, using cigarettes to represent something different every ten minutes. They're addressing its image of freedom and maturity. Zvedza starts a popular revolt against smokers' low-level oppression, as champions of the silent majority, only for the episode to turn around and become a parody of wartime resistance dramas as Zvezda closes in on the last few surviving nicotine defenders. Ep.4 has a backstory including fairies (!) and the reported ability to walk underground from Ukraine to Japan.
Then we have the last few episodes, bringing back the oppressive military government we'd forgotten about from ep.1. Things get bad for Zvezda. Their base gets destroyed, while the group is split up and goes on the run. This is a proper storyline. This is way beyond Dokkoida?!. I was confidently expecting a finale in which they stopped being pathetic and at last struck back... and it doesn't quite happen. They never stop being goofballs. They're in trouble all the way through ep.12 too, albeit in a more positive way with some of their powers back. Some of their most triumphant moments are things like drinking milk or doing a backflip on a horizontal bar. (Trust me. It makes sense in context.) Their final victory is anticlimactic and sequel-hunting, even though ep.1 had opened with a glimpse of a Zvezda-ruled future and so we know they're going to succeed eventually.
Mind you, I love all the ep.12 callbacks. Almost every previous episode contains set-up or foreshadowing for something in that final battle. People you'd completely forgotten about show up again, after having been conquered by Zvezda.
It's interesting to compare the show's two flavours of villain. We have the villainous heroes (i.e. Zvezda, trying to conquer the world) and the virtuous villains (i.e. the government, sending troops and tanks to crush all opposition). I don't think there's much difference between them. The Governor of Tokyo is no more of a megalomaniac than Kate, except for being a far more unpleasant person. It's just that he's the one in power, putting his money where his mouth is. He's not even that villainous, since I don't think he does anything that a real politician in his position wouldn't have done too. Admittedly he's imposed martial law and is ordering his soldiers to shoot to kill, but I think the military presence is meant to be because Japan had recently had a civil war. A lot of the country is now rubble.
We still want him to lose, of course. He's nasty. However I'd been expecting a more triumphant, cathartic ending as Zvezda overthrew a military dictator. That's doesn't happen. The show's more offbeat than that.
I've seen a theory that it's a satire of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government's 2011 attack on anime and manga with Bill 156. That seems possible. I think ep.9 is interesting in how it's tackling its themes of unmasking and people's real identities, in the context of a hot spring comedy. I like the Asuta-Renge relationship. I'm also keen to see the story continue, since the finale we got here feels a bit like a provisional halfway one and I can't help wondering if the producers had a continuation planned. I like the show. I want more of it. It's funny and I'm fond of the characters. However I think it's a little too eccentric in its storytelling choices to be a mainstream hit and I'd be pleasantly surprised if we got a second season.
"If you swear fealty to me, I will share with you these snacks and the world!"