The Five Star Stories
The Five Star Stories: Destiny Lachesis is only the prologue to a very large and infinitely complex manga series by Mamoru Nagano. The manga still makes the rounds in Newtype magazine. Toys Press puts out several good source books, as well as compilations of the magazine serials. This is a *big* story folks.
Unfortunately, this means that the viewer may not catch everything at once, or even twice around. This is a film you need to watch several times unless you have access to source material and a good plot synopsis or two. The beauty of Five Star Stories is that while you might miss a few of the deeper plot elements, it is still an enjoyable and often times moving story.
The film starts with the ruins of a battlefield as a female voice narrates the story of the Joker Systems (the five stars from the title - though one of them is actually a comet). We see a giant robot standing victorious over the field.
Despite this image of an anime staple, FSS is *not* a mecha story. They are prevalent in the feudal societies of the Joker Systems, but they are not central to the anime or the manga. Nagano uses them as backdrop more often then he puts them through their paces. The narration then explains the 'Fatima,' as an attractive young woman steps out of her cockpit to join her master in surveying the remains. Fatima are the artificially created female systems managers that make piloting the giant 'Mortar Headd' robots possible. It is the Fatima who are central to this story, and one Fatima in particular. She is the Lachesis from the title.
The animation is very good, of a quality found in theatrical releases. The characters themselves (particularly the Fatima) may seem a little disproportionate and angular, a carryover from Nagano's manga style. Nagano is also a fashion designer, and his ladies have impossibly long and slender legs. Clotho's escape scene brings to mind the image of a lovely and graceful doe's flight from danger. His Fatima are for the most part sharply dressed, my only problem was his propensity for ridiculously large and awkward shoulder pads. While Nagano's bio states that he is a fashion designer, it never says that he is a *successful* fashion designer.
The characters move smoothly and with a lifelike quality. Their faces can be expressive without resorting to the usual tricks of eye dewing and sparkle. Only the minute attention to detail of Akira surpasses FSS in this regard, but I find that I prefer the elfin beauty of Nagano's cast over Otomo's gritty and ugly (if more simplistically drawn) anti-heroes.
The fight scenes are very graphic. Dismemberment and decapitation are frequent when the 'spauds' are at play, and there is a lot of blood flying through the air. For those of you who aren't fond of such things, take comfort in that fact that the fights are brief and there are only a few of them.
The mecha are gorgeous. Nagano has a romantic style to his war machines that hasn't found an equal in either anime or manga. The Mortar Headds are in many ways works of art, especially the Knight of Gold. I find this helps to establish both the feudal and romantic elements central to the film's core.
The BGM and sound effects are good. The music tends towards a classical flavor, with the effective use of emotive strings to set the some times romantic, some times melancholy mood of the scenes. The opening score is very haunting and beautiful, letting the viewer know that while there may be bits of violence present, this is a love story. I did however note the use of 'Star Wars' sound effects for the lightsaber-like 'spauds' a few characters carry.
There are many plot twists in this story, and the least of the viewer's problems is figuring out whether or not members of the cast are who they claim to be. Several are not. Our hero's biggest problem is that he is so androgynous (and his voice so soft) that he is often mistaken for a woman. Maybe if he wore something less blousey and yellow he wouldn't have this problem. It took a shower scene (nothing below the waist mind you) to erase the last doubts from my mind that Sopp *was* a man.
The other problem is that there are several references to characters and events from the manga that have little import to the actual film. In Clotho's case there is a scene where she is looking at her rescuer and seeing the man's future grandson. If you don't know the background material, this can be a bit confusing for the first time viewer. The third sister of the 'Fatima Fates,' Atropos, only appears in flashback sequences, and it leaves you wondering when in the movie you'll see her all grown up.
While the characters are beautifully drawn, the characterizations of a few are not. The villain in particular is a bad cliche. He is fat, ugly, lecherous, and surrounded by incompetent henchmen. Voards Viewlard, friend to our hero, is a bit of a cliche himself. The only thing that I found interesting about him was that he never seemed to believe that Sopp (our hero) wasn't a woman. The scene where he makes a drunken pass at Sopp was entertaining filler, and sets us up for another important flashback.
Other characters are so deep and complex that while you are drawn into them, you have no idea what's going on in their heads. Part of this problem gets back to the film being just a tiny part of the much larger manga epic. Unlike movie adaptations of novels, FSS includes all of the extraneous plot elements of the manga and leaves the hapless (and often manga-deficient) Western viewer to figure it out.
The ending is something of an anti-climax. The reason for this is that the story is only just beginning, and those who don't have access to the manga can only pine and yearn for more. Sadly, Nagano wasn't happy with the anime, and decided that there wouldn't be any future animated projects. Money is a big motivator in the Japanese animation industry, but Nagano has proven to be too much of an *artiste* to 'compromise' his ideals for the sake of commercialism. If it wasn't for the fact that I would *love* to see more, I'd applaud him for it.
Despite the complexity and confusion of the plot, I was thrilled by Five Star Stories. It was one of the first digital sources I had ever seen (several years ago at a CopperCon) and I found myself drawn into the story. It is a beautiful film without trying to be overly 'arty.' If you appreciate good anime, I would recommend the Five Star Stories. Lots of luck finding a good copy!
— J Austin Wilde
Recommended Audience: This feature contains violence and adult situations, as mentioned in the review. Teens and up.
Version(s) Viewed: digital source
Review Status: Full (1/1)
The Five Star Stories © 1989 Kadokawa Pictures / Mamoru Nagano
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