Shadow Star Narutaru Vol. #2 (of 4) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Friday, May 27, 2005
Release Date: Wednesday, June 15, 2005



What They Say
Shiina's dad is missing in action after his plane is attacked by an alien creature! Meanwhile, her best friend Akira has gotten mixed up with a vicious group of psychics.

Contains episodes 5-7.

The Review!
Shiina's life gets tossed upside down while Akira finds herself the target of those who want to control the dragons for their own agendas.

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:
The front cover feels a bit better with this volume and it almost feels like the size of the logo has gone down a bit as well which allows the character and dragon art to feel like it isn't being overwhelmed. This cover gives highlight mostly to what we're calling the bad guys and their dragons though Shiina and Hoshimaru do sneak into it as well. With the black background and the colors used in the foreground, it's almost a spooky looking cover. 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 some of the artwork from the cover 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 Hoshimaru with the blue sky/sea background floating 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. A new piece included here is a section for the Japanese voice actor biographies, something we don't see all that often.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
With the second volume of the series with some decidedly creepy looking characters and fascinatingly designed "dragons", Shadowstar Narataru plays with pacing by going along slowly, hitting a high mark and repeating it over a few times over the course of the three episodes here. The show moves forward nicely with the plot but I still find myself filling in parts of it from my experience with the manga which ends up coloring my view of it.

The main focus of this volume is to give the new kids that show up a chance to show just what they're capable of, though they do this without bringing any of their own dragons into play for it. A new player named Sudo looks to be the one that wants to use others in order to forward his agenda and he's got Satomi and Takano to do some of the work and to see if they're able to control their dragons well enough to do what needs to be done. Before they get their chance to shine though, they take on a different target to see how well they can handle air to air combat since they know the military is going to come after them in the end. This means sending an angelic-like dragon up into the air to take down a couple of fighter jets. The jets turn out to be the transport type ones that Shiina's father is flying doing special jobs for the JSDF and he and his partner end up dealing with it.

It's hard to describe, but it's a fascinating and tense battle between them when it plays out. The jets are unarmed so they can't exactly fight back, and the armless angel with its use of morse code to tell them that it wants to play with them is creepy. Even creepier is when it generates a huge Vulcan cannon out of its body in order to attack them. Shiina's father comes across really well here since he's the older and more experienced pilot and he doesn't freak out but rather just tries to understand it as well as he can and deal with it. But against something like this he's got little real chance and I loved the creative way the dragon came up with dealing with its targets.

Shiina herself gets some decent time as she deals initially with the potential loss of her father and trying to understand what's happening, but more of the time in this volume is given over to the furthering tests by Sudo of those he wants to do his bidding. Satomi becomes the one that takes the lead as have taken Akira hostage and intend to use her as a target to see how well Satomi can handle the situation. Her dragon is one of the more eerie looking ones of the series and her manipulation of it and the way its little poke-hole eyes work just adds to it. Watching the dragons fight, or how Shiina gets involved in trying to save her friend and attacks the dragons, is one of the aspects I love the most about this show. The way things are tied together by willpower brings an interesting angle to it and with someone as strong willed as Satomi being involved in it and her over the top confidence level it goes in unexpected directions.

The pacing of the show continues to be laid back for the most part which is then punctuated by a section that's very active and vibrant with action. The quiet scenes do much to add to the atmosphere of the show, though the animation itself doesn't help too much since it's still relying a lot on panning sequences and stills, but it's when things kick in that the show really shines. As mentioned earlier, I know that in watching this there's parts that my mind is filling in based on reading the manga. The character designs are something that I found attractive in the manga for their being different from your typical designs but they continue to almost look ugly when adapted and colored here.

In Summary:
There's some areas to this show that I just love but at the same time I'm wondering just how much of the story they're going to be able to tell since we're now halfway through it and it still seems like it's not dangled enough of what we need to know in front of us. This is a quirky show on a number of levels and it's one that I wish had warranted not only a bigger budget but more episodes so that they could tell more in more detail. This volumes does a good job of showcasing the dangerous nature of both the dragons and those that control them though and I'm looking forward to seeing how Shiina really deals with it with Hoshimaru.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English Subtitles,Storyboards, Art Gallery, Character Art, Japanese Voice Actor Biographies

Review Equipment
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Zenith DVB-318 Progressive Scan codefree DVD player via DVI, 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: 19.98
Running time: 75
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Shadowstar Narutaru