Five Star Stories
Epic shoujo series are not hard to find, but a few of the best have so far been neglected in the West. Five Star Stories is one such story, running for years and years as the staple manga of Newtype Magazine. A huge, sprawling yarn that spans five star systems, several hundred characters, and mecha to die for, it's still a hard sell in the U.S. because its sci-fi trappings mask a tragic romantic saga. It's also far too long and complex a manga for the average company to pick up considering the risks. The anime of Five Star Stories wisely avoids trying to retell the gargantuan tale; instead, it serves as a grand prelude. Though it falters in expecting its audience to know a little too much about the manga, Five Star Stories is worth tracking down.
The time: Cluster Year 2988. The location: The Joker cluster, a set of five star systems that are indelibly linked by economics and war. Factions have fought for years for dominating control, leaving the worlds divided amongst various kingdoms, dictatorships, and oligarchies. However, the battles between them all are fought by headliners--men who fly detailed mecha known as mortar headds. Mortar headds require a second android operator, called fatimas, that mentally link with the headliner and make the piloting of the crafts even possible. The fatimas are rare and are made in the form of beautiful women, making them a valuable honor not only for headliners but also the ruling class. They are not just automatons for purchase, either; by Cluster law, fatimas must name their own masters, making them even more priceless.
As the show begins, Dr. Ballanche has finished his most prized fatimas yet: Clotho and Lachesis. By law, they must be presented at a special event by the ruler of the area, in this case a slimy, pudgy misanthrope called Yubar. Ballanche knows that Yubar has plans to keep the two fatimas for himself, if possible, so he enlists his good (and stunningly androgynous) friend Radios Soapp to protect them. But Radios has a secret himself...he is in love with Lachesis and wants to be with her, despite the fact that he is not yet a headliner. As Soapp works to make sure the two fatimas fill their proper destinies, we are introduced to a maze of characters, all with hidden agendas (and many with hidden identities) that will change the face of the Joker cluster permanently.
This OVA from 1989 is beautiful drawn if not always wonderfully animated. The movement is occasionally jumpy, to its detriment, but the actual artwork itself is amazing. The tall bishonen designs really look awesome in this show. Did I mention bishonen? Oh yeah...there's no way around it on this title. Radios Soapp looks like a girl in every sense (well, at least until a shower scene confirms he has no breasts). Not every hero and heroine is a hero and heroine, if you get my drift. This seems strange considering the science fiction themes going on, but this show is a shoujo romance to its core. That's part of the intrigue for its core audience.
And intriguing it is. Five Star Stories does a great job of capturing a huge story in such a way that we can follow along even without an extensive manga background. To be sure, there are elements of the show that manga enthusiasts will absolutely love that those of us watching with no background will miss entirely. However, it's told in such a way that you're enthused about reading more of the series and finding out the rest. What's also nice is that when we reach the big mecha fight at the end, we're not bored from seeing it throughout the show. Everything has led up to that moment, so we're excited rather than sitting back yawning. (For those that care, the brief violence in the show is graphic but realistic.)
Two minor points make this not a perfect show. Occasionally, the show slips in a little bit too much "cute" for a program of its type. Because the show is so straightforward, the bits that seem there to keep little girls interested are out of place. We also have too many characters introduced for little purpose. We get confused a bit too easily at what is (or is not) going on. Five Star Stories is still a little too busy, but not to the point of incomprehensibility.
I'd really love to see Five Star Stories introduced to the U.S. in some large manga format. Though it's doubtful we'll see it, there's obviously a great epic being told that we're missing. Though the OVA is only a teaser, it's one worth finding on a fansubber's list.
Five Star Stories -- brief but graphic violence, very brief nudity -- A-