Five Star Stories -

Anime/Manga Reviews

Mania Grade: B

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  • Audio Rating: B+
  • Video Rating: A-
  • Packaging Rating: A
  • Menus Rating: B+
  • Extras Rating: B
  • Age Rating: All
  • Region: 2 - Japan
  • Released By: Other
  • MSRP: ¥3800
  • Running time: 66 minutes
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: Five Star Stories

Five Star Stories

By Paul Grisham     June 29, 2003
Release Date: April 17, 2003

What They Say
Animated movie based on the enormously popular comic serial that debuted in Monthly New Type magazine in 1986 and still running. The epic sci-fi manga is illustrated by Mamoru Nagano of "Heavy Metal L-Gaim" fame.

The Review!
Note, this DVD is coded for all regions and will play in any NTSC compatible DVD player.

Five Star Stories is one of those legendary manga stories that seems to have been around forever and remains as popular today is it was when it first appeared. In 1988, Kazuo Yamazaki (A Wind Named Amnesia, Please Save My Earth) was given the daunting task of animating a complicated, ongoing manga series that had yet to fully reveal itself to readers by the time production began. The result is narratively flawed, but simply gorgeous to behold and sometimes quite engaging.

The show is presented in its original stereo presentation. The mix is clear and solid, with good directionality during the action scenes. There?s absolutely nothing to complain about here.

If it weren?t for the somewhat dated character designs, I?d have a hard time believing that this was a 15-year-old anime. The video is crisp and vibrant and presented here in a progressive encode. I did notice a small amount of cross-coloration during the first 5 minutes or so, but nothing distracting. This DVD release presents the show in anamorphic widescreen. Having never seen any other presentation of this program, I cannot tell if it is merely a full screen presentation that has been matted to 16:9 (there are a handful of awkward close-ups that support this theory), but what is left looks great.

The packaging is a digipack in cardboard slipcase. The slipcase is done in gorgeous black and gold, with a cutout to tease the lovely artwork inside. The set includes an extensive booklet (in Japanese) that describes the characters and milieu of the story. There?s even an embarrassingly thorough timeline of the galactic history of the Five Star Story universe.

Japanese DVD menus are usually nothing to get excited about, but Five Star Stories?s menus are very nice. First, they?re completely in English, so navigation is a breeze. They?re organized very cleanly, with submenus for subtitle settings, chapter navigation, and special features. There is very effective use of introductory animation on the main menu.

The extras presented here are definitely minimal, a trailer and some staff bios, but the biographies are presented in both English and Japanese, an inclusion that should make the disc even more attractive to those interested in importing anime DVDs. The trailer is presented untranslated, and is quite a bit worse for the wear, but is definitely fun viewing after watching the show itself.

(please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)

Five Star Stories is a complex and sprawling space opera about interstellar war. The OAV production of Five Star Stories takes a very narrow view into this larger story, and delivers a mostly-standalone tale of courtly intrigue delivered with the accoutrements of giant mecha, beautiful androids, and other typical anime mainstays.

In the Five Star Constellation, military (and consequently political) power is directly associated with the giant combat mecha known as Mortar Headds. Mortar Headds are notoriously difficult to control in combat, so pilots, also known as Headd Liners, require the assistance of Fatimas, bioengineered creations that resemble attractive human women. Perhaps because the Fatimas are essential to maintaining power, they are created with built-in mind control, to make them more docile to their Headd Liner masters. As the story begins, the scientist, Dr. Chrome Ballanche, has completed work on a set of Fatimas that he has created without mind control. One Fatima is missing, and the two remaining Fatimas are to be presented and auctioned off to the most powerful people in the universe.

If enough powerful people gather in the same place, intrigue follows, and that?s exactly what happens here. In addition to the various kings and rulers and power-hungry tycoons, two luckless adventurers, the delightfully androgynous Ladios Sopp, and scruffy Voards Viewlard, find themselves at the center of the turmoil surrounding the presentation. The story follows Sopp and Voards as they help the two remaining Fatimas, Lachesis and Clotho, turn the political machine upside down by exercise their free will and choosing their own masters.

The story presented here is much less ambitious than the larger story hinted at in the supplemental materials. Rather than a sprawling space epic, we get a personal tale about five or six characters trying to follow their own desires. The entire OAV essentially takes place in a single Imperial City on a single planet, though there are plenty of hints and references to the larger milieu of the Five Star Stories.

And in a way, that?s part of where the story goes wrong. Throughout its relatively short running time, there are several seemingly important characters who show up for one or two scenes, do something seemingly important, and then vanish without explanation. Sometimes important things appear to be happening, though the significance of the events is difficult to grasp. Someone more familiar with the manga would probably get more out of a first viewing, although, to its credit, Five Star Stories proves itself to be more self-contained and thematically whole on a second viewing than at first appears.

While the narrative may be a bit confusing, there is absolutely nothing amiss with the art design. From the baroque palaces and costuming, to the awe-inspiring mechanical designs, Five Star Strories is a visual masterpiece. Imagine the stately grandeur of the Vision of Escaflowne TV series in greater detail with more fluid animation. Watching the Five Star Stories I couldn?t help but be impressed at how marvelous and vibrant it all looked, with every scene carefully hand-drawn back before computer assisted animation was feasible. Although a part of me wishes that more of the story would be animated, it is unlikely that it would ever look this good again. They just don?t make them like this anymore.

But the true star of the Five Star Stories anime, is the delightful score from Tomoyuki Asakawa, a legendary screen composer in his own right, as well as a celebrated harpist and collaborator with such popular musicians as Ayumi Hamasaki. The score here is light, whimsical and deeply classical in nature, more evocative of a chamber orchestra than the overblown Wagnerian opuses we have become used to. The less is more approach, even during the tense action scenes supplements the mood beautifully, rather than guiding it.

The Five Star Stories DVD delivers a gorgeous, near-classic with an excellent transfer, presented in progressive, anamorphic widescreen, with English subtitles and English-language menus and extras, and no region coding all in a reasonably-priced package. How could I not recommend it?

Japanese Language 2.0 Stereo,Japanese Subtitles,English Subtitles,Trailer,Cast and Crew Biographies

Review Equipment
Panasonic Panablack TV, Codefree Panasonic RP56 DVD player, Sony ProLogic receiver, Yamaha and Pioneer speakers, Monster cable. (Secondary equipment, Pioneer 105s DVD-ROM, ATi Rage Fury Pro, ViewSonic A90f, PowerDVD 3.0)


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