Shadow Star Narutaru Vol. 2
I've been following the Shadow Star manga ever since Dark Horse started releasing it domestically. When I picked up the first volume, I was just beginning to become seriously addicted to manga in general. It was released not long after TOKYOPOP started their influential 100% Authentic format of manga releases, and everything changed after that. Years later, however, I still find myself looking forward to the next installment of Shadow Star. The seventh volume is due out in December.
It's funny to think that the anime will be completely released before the manga series wraps up, but here we are. Not that I'm complaining; it's worth waiting for a series this good. From the start, Shadow Star struck me as a very different kind of science fiction story with a unique visual style and well-written characters. When I heard the anime version was finally coming stateside, I was excited enough to pre-order the entire series.
The story follows the strange events that surround Shiina Tamai, a skinny sixth grade tomboy of a girl. Her father is a professional pilot who once flew for the Air Self Defense Force, and now he flies civilian crafts for a local business. He's a very easygoing fellow, relying upon Shiina for the completion of regular household chores, such as cooking and cleaning. Shiina's mother doesn't live with them, although it's hard to tell at first whether her parents are divorced or if they're merely separated.
In fact, the relationship between Shiina's parents isn't the only mystery in the series. At first, her mom's job is a bit unfathomable. She seems to be some sort of government advisor, but her specialty appears to be unidentified flying objects. If only she knew what her daughter had gotten into...
While visiting her grandparents, Shiina discovers a strange star-shaped life form that appears to be able to read her thoughts. She names him Hoshimaru, and quickly she bonds with the little creature. He has the ability to change shape, which is nifty enough, but more astonishing than that is his ability to fly. Shiina, being the adventurous girl that she is, wastes no time in hopping on Hoshimaru and taking him for a flight.
Eventually, we learn that another girl also possesses a "Dragon Child," as the creatures are called. Her name is Akira, an unusual name for a girl, but where Shiina is the embodiment of spunk, Akira is a self-pitying young woman. She's a third year middle school student, but she defers to Shiina in almost every matter. While Shiina was excited to find Hoshimaru, the situation for Akira has actually forced her to consider suicide multiple times. When the two are involved in the self-defense killing of a boy who is also bonded to a Child of the Dragon, Akira almost loses her mind entirely over the guilt.
In this volume, we learn that there is far more at stake than Shiina and Akira's happiness. A number of children who are also bonded to their own Dragon's Child have banded together under the command of a boy who seems almost entirely devoid of human emotions. They're convinced that humanity is flawed, and that they're the only ones who can fix it. They hope to purge the world of all modern civilization to bring life back to a more pure state. Only Shiina and Akira stand between them and the end of human culture on earth, and in the beginning, only Shiina is up to the challenge.
The show's opening theme is much more upbeat than what I would've expected of the series, but then, Shiina is a very optimistic character. Still, don't let that fool you into thinking that important characters can't die, that this isn't as dramatic as it is humorous. The dichotomy of Shiina's innocent optimism and the impending doom of the human race at the hands of children makes for interesting storytelling, and it's one of the reasons that I like the series so much.
Music in general is pretty good throughout the show. Even if the opening theme isn't quite "appropriate," it is catchy and fun to listen to. The Japanese voice cast matches the sound of the characters that I had in my head, which was actually quite surprising. I was impressed by their overall work.
The animation, however, is not the best that I've seen. It's clear that this series had a smaller budget than, say, Hanaukyo Maid Team, which is a shame. It merely represents a fact of life: fanservice vehicles are more popular (and thus more easily funded) than angsty apocalyptic sci-fi stories. It's sad, but true. The show's animation isn't horrible, but it's just not as smooth as any newer title out there.
However, character design makes up for the lack of animation fluidity. Matching the manga closely in style, the kids in Shadow Star are attractively designed, yet they have a distinct look that is uniquely their own.
On the subject of packaging, I do appreciate CPM's clear cases, although the flipside of the jacket insert is black and white. The cover art isn't nearly as beautiful as the artwork featured on the graphic novels of the series, which is a shame, because Mohiro Kitoh's illustrations are lovely. I'm not a big fan of the logo, either. In general, the packaging just isn't as pretty as it should be for this series, although I understand that companies only have so much to work with.
As far as extras go, CPM delivers a good deal of bonus material to pour over while waiting for the next release. There are storyboards, an art gallery, biographies of the Japanese voice actors, and a collection of character artwork. With only three episodes on the disc, it's nice to see some omake.
While I feel that Shadow Star deserved a higher production budget than what it apparently received, it's still an excellent story. Anime doesn't have to be filled with CG-enhanced shots or top-notch animation to be good, and the plot and characters of this series would do well in almost any setting. It's hard to go wrong with aliens, an apocalyptic threat, an atypical heroine, and more teenage angst than you can drive to the mall in a school bus. I wish that the animation was better, but this is still one of my favorite stories, and it deserves watching if you're into this sort of thing. It has a wide-ranging appeal, thanks to accessible characters and an engaging mysterious storyline. If you don't feel up to buying the anime, check out the books at the very least. They may be slow in publishing, but as I mentioned above, it's completely worth the wait.