Shingu: Secret of the Stellar Wars Vol. #1 (also w/box & t-shirt) (of 5) (Mania.com)
Review Date: Thursday, February 24, 2005
Release Date: Tuesday, March 29, 2005
What They Say
Right Stuf International proudly presents SHINGU: SECRET OF THE STELLAR WARS! Created by acclaimed director Tatsuo Sato (NADESICO / STELLVIA / AZUMANGA DAIOH), with planning by Masao Maruyama (GUNGRAVE / CARDCAPTOR SAKURA MOVIES / CHOBITS), production by Masao Morosawa (GUNGRAVE / JUBEI-CHAN / NINJA SCROLL TV) and character designs by Yuuji Ikeda (SAIYUKI / GUNGRAVE / X TV)!
What if one day, you discovered that the world wasn’t quite what it seemed?
In the year 2070, life is rather quiet for Hajime Murata, a curious second-year student at Misumaru Middle School. Classes by day, fights with his little sister by night; nothing too exciting ever happens. Even when a strange alien ship appears over Tokyo, no one's really that shocked. After all, the government has been covering up aliens for years, right?
Then, a mysterious new transfer student arrives at Misumaru, wearing an ancient school uniform. Gentle and polite, everyone considers Muryou Subaru to be a pretty nice guy - everyone, that is, except for student council vice president Kyoichi Moriguchi. When Kyoichi challenges Muryou to a fight on the school roof, Hajime rushes over just in time to see the simple schoolyard brawl turn into a startling display of psychic powers!
With all these strange events unraveling around him, Hajime is determined to figure out the truth about the world he thought he already knew. This is his story; a tale of aliens and humans, starships and spies, and friends who are often more than they appear.
When transfer student Muryou arrives in Tenmo, everything that humanity knows starts to change.
For our primary viewing session, we listened to this show in its original language of Japanese. The stereo mix is of an action/adventure type and there are plenty of areas where there is some good directionality across the forward soundstage, generally in the action sequences, as well as a well placed dialogue track that is generally center channel bound but it gets around on occasion as well. It's not a giant stand-out mix but it's one that conveys the actions in the show properly. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally airing in 2001, the transfer for this series is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio. Being a Madhouse produced show, the animation in here is really quite attractive and smooth throughout though they do go something of a minimalist approach in some of the style and design, but it works well with the kind of story being told and the visuals are generally very clean and straightforward but with enough detail to keep it interesting. The transfer in general is solid here with no problems with aliasing or cross coloration. When played with the player set for upconversion, some of the large black sequences comes across as fairly blocky but this disappears almost completely when set back down to 480p that the show was authored for. The opening and closing sequences are done with alternate angles so that one of them has the original Japanese logo and credits while the other has fully translated credits and English language production information.
Packaged in a clear keepcase, the front cover is awash in a couple of my favorite shades of blue and goes with the standard character art shots of two of the lead characters in their usual outfits set against the visual of the big mysterious robot that shows up a couple of times early on here. While the poses are fairly standard, it's an eye-catching cover with the shading and colors used and it looks good. The back cover keeps a similar layout and provides a few shots from the show and a lengthy set of summary paragraphs that cover the basics. The discs features are clearly listed and a well laid out technical grid keeps everything very easy to find for the technical parts. The cover is reversible though the opposite side is identical to the front cover but it uses the original Japanese logo instead (as does the spine) so you don't need to refer to it as Shingu. One area that Right Stuf is continually getting better and better at is the booklets and this one is really good. It covers a variety of terms in the first few pages and then goes on to deal with some visual tricks in the show as well as the differences in 2070 to today. The back of the booklet even has a couple of panels from a strip written about the show.
The menu layout is designed the same as the front cover but it shifts Moriyama out of the picture and keeps just Muryou and Shingu there while displaying the selections along the right side, all set to some of the music of the show. The layout is simple and easy to use with no navigational quirks and features an easy way to move between episodes in the scene selection area. The menu listed our players' language presets properly but when played they went to a default of English language and sign/song only subtitles instead.
The opening volume here has a couple of extras but nothing too major. There's a section of character bios which I'll avoid since they may have spoilers, an art gallery and an on-disc version of much of the production notes found in the booklet.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
While more and more series are licensed every year, there are still those that continually fall through the cracks for whatever reason. Often when it's a series that nobody has seemingly never heard of, you never really know what you're going to get. Those familiar with the companies that tend to snag these kinds of shows know that sometimes you'll get something pretty mediocre or even awful but there are times when you'll find an unearthed gem in the mix, something that people missed or something that just really appeals to you in a way that few other shows do.
Originally called The Record of School Wars: Muryou, the twenty-six episode series has Tatsuo Sato as the series director and scriptwriter. I've had a bumpy relationship with his works in the past, from enjoying a show like Stellvia but having problems with his style in the Nadesico franchise. But I know he has en eye for something slightly different and offbeat since he was a big force behind the Figure 17 series and anyone involved in that project has to be on my good side. But does that make up for the time of my life I lost for watching Cat Soup? Well…
Renamed to Shingu, this series is one that reminds me of a lot of other shows over the first five episodes but really starts to break out into its own as it gets towards the end of those episodes. The show is focused around the town of Tenmo where a transfer student named Muryou Subaru has just arrived as he's now living with a family named Sanemori as part of a deal his grandfather made with the matriarch of that clan some years ago. Once he turns fourteen he must come live with them and deal with his responsibilities in the family as well as school work. But before we even get to his actual arrival in school, the city of Tokyo is given a big shake-up.
A massive spinning object had appeared overhead and landed in the Shinjuku area and began to do some kind of data gathering mission which resulted in anything electronic being scrambled, but most people didn't notice as the power went out right afterwards. The sight of the alien ship there was enough to surprise people but they got even more when a very strange looking humanoid robot for the lack of a better word shows up and engages the spinning top in a fight and completely destroys it, returning power to the city as it disappears itself. The world is given the announcement via TV that in the year 2070, we've now made contact with aliens and they are real. Amusingly, people are blasť about this as they both don't really believe everything they see on TV and most people believe the government has been hiding their arrival for years so it's not really new in a sense. It's an interesting method of forcing acceptance over the long time.
While this big news plays out in the background, the focus shifts to the school level where Muryou starts off his first day and we're introduced to the rest of the cast, which the lead character seems more to be Hajime Murata, the class rep who befriends Muryou quickly. Muryou's arrival has triggered something though and several of the student government members are out to get him from the start, such as Kyoichi who challenges him to a fight on the roof that Murata tries to stop. What's interesting is that when the two start to fight, they use some of the same powers we saw in the aliens fighting the day prior and Murata catches sight of it, something that he shouldn't. But his easy acceptance of such a thing, though filled with questions, allows him to get closer to Muryou.
It all starts to spiral from here as others of the student government try to deal with not only Muryou in their own way but with Murata as well since he shouldn't have seen things. Throughout their conversations and arguments as well as one or two more alien arrivals, things are slowly pieced together that there are those in the school who know far more about what's going on than they're letting on about and that it's not restricted to just the students, but many more people throughout the town. In the midst of all this there's a spy that's trying to get information on the kids so he can report back to his government but we learn so much more from it when he's confronted by a very laid back gentleman who reveals himself to be an official diplomat of the Galactic Federation and tries treating the spy as much the same so he can get more information out of him. This is a very strange but highly amusing subplot as it reveals so many little things about the larger picture in such a creative way as the spy himself is out of the loop about galactic affairs.
Though it takes most of the five episodes before things really hit a stride where you think you might get a handle on the plot, it's done very well and it allows for the student characters to be able to show their quirks without being forced into episode after episode of fighting against aliens or revealing deep dark secrets. Muryou is such a laid back and happy character that it's a great change of pace from the usual group of angst-ridden and whiny kids that we get. Having Murata play off of him with his natural curiosity works well as do most of the other student government kids who provide some interesting challenges. The potential mixed love-interest of Moriyama is amusing since she starts off such a tomboy but still knows when she's been put in her place and realizes it. It's hard to say where you want her to go since Muryou only reveals so much about himself but Murata is such a instantly likeable character, though Moriyama's attempts on his life may keep him from feeling too much for her.
Visually, this is a show that really reminded me of a lot of other shows but still manages to carve out its own way. The Shingu robot was almost strikingly like the god in Neoranga that I was sure that there was some crossover in production designs. The design and feel of Shingu mirrors some parts of that beast but is obviously different enough but the visuals were strong at first. The way the show is animated with its style sense reminded me of the non-dark areas of Betterman with its smooth character designs and non-vibrant backgrounds; it's almost film/grainy look. The cast in this is massive and it seems like every character is holding a secret or knows more than what they let on about so it's hard to discern who is really a secondary character by their design since one that you write off early on becomes much more of a key character as it progresses.
Shingu was a complete unknown before I put this disc in and the first five episodes here are the kind of science fiction that I really like in novel form and don't see often in anime form. Secret societies from ages ago protecting the Earth, a Galactic Federation that's examining whether the planet is ready for membership and alien races with their own plans and needs for the planet figuring into a mix where at the core is a group of kids with some amazing powers who are trying to deal with all of it has a lot of the things that I enjoy. Add in the fact that nobody other than Muryou wears a school uniform since they fell out of favor years ago and you avoid even more of the typical elements and I think that director Sato has managed to come up with something that's borrowing from elsewhere in a lot of ways but has put it together in a unique and creative way. This show has definitely got me interested based on what's here and I'm looking forward to seeing how epic it can get.
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English Subtitles, Reversible Cover, Character Bios, Line Art Gallery, Special 12-page Booklet, Original Production Notes, English Production Notes
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Zenith DVB-318 82 Progressive Scan codefree DVD player via DVI with upconversion set to 720p, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.
Mania Grade: B+
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: B+
Packaging Rating: B+
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: B
Age Rating: 3 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Nozomi Entertainment
Running time: 125
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Shingu: Secret of the Stellar Wars