Shadow Star Narutaru Vol. #1 (also w/box & t-shirt) (of 4) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Monday, April 18, 2005
Release Date: Tuesday, April 12, 2005



What They Say
First impressions can be misleading! Shiina nearly died when the current swept her out to sea. Instead, she was rescued by a mysterious star-shaped creature and plunged into a strange adventure! Her new friend Hoshimaru leads her into a maelstrom of alien attacks and to a secret society of psychic children. Is Shiina destined to become one of them? And is her new pet truly a friend, or a threat to all humanity? Contains episodes 1-4.

LIMITED EDITION BOX SET comes with the Shadow Star Narutaru 1 (Episodes 1-4) DVD and a collectible Shadow Star Narutaru T-shirt packed in a limited edition collector’s slipcase that will fit all four volumes of this series. Fans can fill the slipcase with new volumes as they are released.

The Review!
When a young girl discovers a cute alien like creature, it opens the doorway to a world where death is always around the corner and the beauty of life is a cover for many dark and twisted things.

Audio:
For our primary viewing session, we listened to this show in its original language of Japanese. The series has a fairly standard mix that does a decent job of using the forward soundstage at times for directional effects such as the swooping of the creatures and other incidental sounds. The music for the show is fairly soft inside the program so it doesn't stand out much but is well carried across both channels. Dialogue is clean and clear and we had no problems with dialogue or dropouts during regular playback.

Video:
Originally airing in 2003, the transfer for this show is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio. While it's a new series from just a couple of years ago, it's a show that's definitely done with a budget and numerous very visible short cuts in the animation which are only more pronounced in a digital format. The transfer itself is solid with bright clean colors with no noticeable blocking and only a bit of aliasing during some of the panning sequences. Cross coloration is a non-issue but there are some visible gradient issues in a couple of scenes but not consistently throughout the show. I

Packaging:
I haven't found the series online for comparison, but I'm guessing that this isn't the Japanese cover artwork with its collage of characters and the very small shot of Shiina, the shows lead, in the center doing a spring. The angled logo is up along the top with lightning crackling around it and taking up a good chunk of real estate. With its collage feel, this one isn't as bad as some other covers of a similar nature but to give the lead such a small piece and Hoshimaru limited to just the logo seems wrong for an opening volume. The back cover provides some bigger artwork for the leads along the side and the background is made up of a red stormy sky over which we have the brief summary and the discs features. The basic technical information is scattered around the bottom of the cover. The reverse side black and white cover has a shot of the big dragon and Shiina on one side along with the bilingual cast list while the other panel has the chapter stops and the mixed production information.

Menu:
The menu layout uses a lot of pieces from the show and combines them with different backgrounds and some created backgrounds, such as the opening menu which has an in-show shot of Shina and Hoshimiaru while the background is a new piece of the sea and the shrine piece out there against an equally blue sky while headshots of other characters float by. Set to a good chunk of music, it's a cute piece and looks good overall. Access times are nice and fast and the menu navigation is straightforward and easy to use. The disc unfortunately did not read our players' language presets and went with the sign and song subtitles only.

Extras:
A couple of extras are included here though it's not too much to write home about. In addition to the usual array of trailers, there's a section for character art, storyboards and a regular art gallery. Each have some good looking pieces in them but it's not all that much in general.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Shadowstar Narutaru is one of a few series where I've got the "problem" of having read a chunk of the manga before the anime so it colors my perceptions of it since I know where it's potentially going to go. I try to not color the volume by volume reviews with that though since the anime must stand alone but comparisons are inevitable to some degree, especially when it's a manga series that I enjoy a lot.

Shadowstar is a series that's very slow to build, enough so that the things you normally expect in a first episode simply don't happen here. There's no real climax at the end of it to keep you tied to your TV to watch the next one as it happens earlier in the show. The remainder of the episodes, even when moving into an action sequence, are fairly subdued and play out relatively slowly and with an almost relaxing choice of music to it. With the slower pace they're able to establish things without some of the usual frenetic nature of a lot of other new shows out there and that helps to separate it a bit but the pacing could certainly turn people away, particularly from a broadcast perspective.

The series kicks off as it introduces eleven year old Shiina Tamai just a few weeks before she's to turn twelve. She's heading out to the island where her grandparents live to spend a week with them and meet up with old friends, work on some school art projects and to basically enjoy time with everyone. Her father's a pilot for the local air industry back home since he lost his commission in the military flying service some years ago and her mother moved away a number of years ago and has very limited contact with everyone, though she still does play the role well enough when she comes into contact with Shiina.

Shiina herself seems like a relatively well adjusted girl as she takes good care of her father, does the chores around the house and is pretty self sufficient. She's got a couple of friends but she's also go a real sense of adventure to her at times, a sense of doing what she thinks needs to be done at the moment and simply doing it instead of calculating the risks. It's the kind of idea that she'd pick up from romanticizing her fathers life without realizing just how he comes to the risks he has to take and keeping to just the element of danger itself and passing through it flawlessly. As well adjusted as she is, she's got some problems and some definite views on her life. Other than gym and home economics, she's pretty much failing every class in school.

When visiting her friends at her grandparents, she takes on a personal challenge to swim far out into the bay where part of a shrine stands. Nobody makes it out there for the most part because the currents are too strong but Shiina wants to accomplish this since it's her last summer to come here due to going into Junior High next year. When she does eventually reach it, she celebrates by exploring deep below a bit only to find out just how exhausted she is. Before anything happens though, she finds a small starfish shaped creature with big eyes laying on the ground before her. Her exhaustion leads her to falling unconscious and having a lot of the men in the bay coming to help search for her when the kids report her missing. But she simply turns up elsewhere and is eventually returned home. But at night, she hears the call of the thing she's seen on the ocean's floor and when she reaches the bay again, it's hovering above the water waiting for her so they can be friends.

Her friendship with what she names Hoshimaru sets the stage for all her future troubles. Though it doesn't talk, she's able to get basic communication across with it through motions and other methods. Not long after Hoshimaru becomes a part of her life (and travels around with her like a backpack>, she meets a young shy girl named Akira who turns out to have a similar looking creature of her own. Unlike Shiina though, Akira has linked with her creature and can view its thoughts and experiences. These things have caused Akira to not like it since one of the first things she experienced was her creature, Enof, flying around the sky and then crashing hard into the ground, something that Akira never wants to repeat. And since she's already a suicidal tendencies type girl who wants to end it all because she doesn't believe she has a purpose in life. Shiina of course disagrees.

As the two start to get to know each other, more dangerous elements of these little creatures, the children of the dragon as they're called in the flashbacks Akira provides, start to search for them and what they have since there is a bigger agenda afoot from some of them about conquering the world and eliminating those dragon children who would get in the way. The first one they meet is a cocky and deadly kid who has certainly trained his dragon to be vicious and obey all of his commands. He also seeds doubt and more into the girls which lets him have more of an upper hand in his dealings with them.

While I don't mind the slow pace and I have the advantage of knowing what could come ahead, what disappoints the most with this show is its low budget animation. This is a show that would have really shined with a good budget but with what it has, it leaves so many corners cut and bad panning sequences that it's almost cringe inducing. When we first see the big dragon and it comes at Shiina only to turn away, it's laughably bad in how it turns when combined with the slow turning This is a show that really needed a higher budget and a great sense of wonder. Watching the girls fly on Hoshimaru as a surfboard of sorts completely misses any of the fascination of what this kind of scene is like.

In Summary:
Shadowstar Narutaru is a property that I've liked for a lot of years and am glad to see it make it into anime form but it's completely disarming me here with it's very childish opening sequence. It starts off slow and gets quickly violent and shows some of its cards early so that you can really get an idea of what it's going to be like. It's also really nice to finally have young characters who are not endowed at all and are like many pre-teens and early teens in that they're lanky, awkward and gangly in their look and movements. The opening episodes are a hard sell I think, particularly the first, but it is a show that is building up to something and has some real flashes of greatness here and there. I'm looking forward to seeing more to see how the adaptation is done and whether it keeps to its source material or decides to expand its own wings.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English Subtitles, Character Designs, Storyboards,Original Japanese Shadow Star: Narutaru Trailer, Art Gallery, Character Summaries

Review Equipment
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Zenith DVB-318 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: 16 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Central Park Media
MSRP: 29.98/34.98
Running time: 100
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Shadowstar Narutaru