The Five Star Stories
In the distant Joker Galaxy, military power is projected through massive robots known as Mortar Headds, piloted by a human knight known as a Headdliner, and a computer known as a Fatima. Though Fatima are artificial beings, they have the blood and bodies of human women.
A select few have human emotions as well.
In the year 2988, on the planet Addler, the Fatima named Lachesis has come of age. The corrupt Grand Duke Juba has seized her, and while he prepares a debut in order for her to choose her master, he plots to sabotage the proceedings and keep her as his own slave. However, Lachesis has already promised her heart to another who is not even a Headdliner at all, but rather, a Meister, a mechanic of unnatural beauty named Ladios Sopp.
On the day of the debut, many Headdliners have come to claim their prize, including lords, kings, and even the ethereal and otherworly Emperor Amaterasu himself. Will Lachesis decide on one of them ... and will she follow her own path?
Just as Lachesis is not a mere doll, Ladios is more than just a beautiful boy with a talent for machinery, and the two of them are engulfed in events that will create a new history for the Joker Galaxy.
A long time ago, in a galaxy not so far away, Jamie Wilde reviewed this title. Back then, there weren't so many releases out Stateside, and this was seen on an old VHS digital source. Frankly, the rest of us despaired of ever seeing this movie, and pretty much expected never to hear of it again.
Time, however, brought a much-expanded library of titles to the United States. Not long ago, the licensing of a title of this would have been unheard of, but here we are, years later, holding the ADV screener copy in our hands, and thinking how it would be a travesty not to take another look at this movie. My verdict: I'm happy it's here.
While confusing and often very disjointed, Five Star Stories is an intriguing peek at an expansive, creative manga world that is worthwhile largely because of spectacular art and animation. It's a bit of a hard sell, because it was intended as a treat for fans of the manga rather than as a replacement or retelling -- many details are filed into the category of assumed knowledge. Thankfully, ADV has seen fit to include a detailed description of the universe and characters (which, unfortunately, includes spoilers), so viewers aren't apt to be as lost this time around. However, it does count as a strike against this work because I would prefer to see a story that truly stands alone, rather than relying on my notes to tell me who a character is supposed to be.
Fortunately, that's almost the only strike this work gets.
Despite being older than at least two of our reviewers, Five Star Stories still looks awesome, largely thanks to the character design work of Yuuki Nobuteru, and the very high movie budget placed on it by Sunrise. One of the most interesting things is the choice of appearance for Ladios Sopp himself: many fans have made the understandable mistake of labeling him as a girl, but he is in fact the prettiest male protagonist I've seen to date. "Dude Looks Like a Lady" was written for this guy. And yet the character designs are also very unique to each character -- the Fatimas are dainty and delicate (and thankfully toned down from the rather scary proportions of the manga), whereas strong-featured Voards Viewlard exudes testosterone, and the repulsive Grand Duke Juba oozes something much less savory. If I have one complaint, it's in the Fatima's costumes, which are way, way over the top - the fault here lies with Nagano, not with Yuuki.
Of course, Nagano is better known as a mechanical designer than as a character artist. His mechanical design work is of a scale far grander than most, and the images left behind are very memorable, especially the scene in which the Emperor Amaterasu's flagship, the Bell Creal, casts its immense shadow on Addler for the first time. There are several well-executed, and surprisingly violent action sequences, especially involving the Mirage Knights, and the Mortar Headd battle at the end. Part of the fun of Five Star Stories is watching those amazing machines come to life ... it's visually quite impressive, especially given the age of the film. One wonders what the even more glorious battleships of the later manga chapters would've looked like, given treatment like this.
However, while there are many science-fiction themes, and couple of comedic scenes (including a hilarious scene in which drunken manly-man Voards starts flirting with Ladios), this actually comes off as more of a love story than anything else, which is a bit of a surprise. Unfortunately, this is truncated a bit due to the relative lack of character development. We get to see a lot of Ladios, enough to sympathize with him, and occasionally get annoyed at his indecision, though you only really know *why* he's angsting when we read the notes. (GRR.) What we don't get to see is much of Lachesis - through most of the film, she's simply "the lady to be won", and other than her emotions, we are never told why Lachesis is so crucial to the plot, and indeed, the future of this Galaxy. There's lots of heavy talk about the "destiny" of Ladios and Lachesis, and very little explanation as to what it is, even in the end, which is frustrating and disappointing. Obviously any amount of knowledge of Greek mythology tells us she is one of the Fates, spinning the threads of humankind, but how and why? The movie never tells you - you simply have to read the manga ... or the notes, anyway. (GRR.)
On top of that, there are a couple of puzzling errors that stick out. One scene has the Fatima Clotho escaping from Grand Duke Juba's army of guards and outrunning landspeeders, only to be caught in the clutches of a bunch of common street thugs -- a very poor setup for her meeting with a "major player" in the universe. *sigh* Scenes arise with characters barely mentioned in previous scenes angsting about relationships that are evident only through reading the notes. (GRR.) One of the most confusing aspects of this movie is the recurring appearance of a character's ghost, whose identity is only revealed at the very end of the movie (using one of the most awkward bits of "exposition" I've seen in a long time). Again, there are plenty of places where the manga's storyline has been glossed over, which is doubly irritating when one considers that this movie barely constitutes but a single chapter out of the long history of the Joker Galaxy.
The voice-acting in this film appears to be Japanese-only - no dub. I'm not surprised by this, to be honest, as the audience for this film is rather limited. The androgynous Ladios is played extremely well by Horikawa Ryo -- it's hard to believe this is the same guy who originally gave us Dragon Ball Z's Vegeta! Tough-guy Voards is voiced by Wakamoto Norio, who would also give us the equally manly Coach from Gunbuster within the year. Fatima Lachesis was portrayed by Kawamura Maria (Gunbuster, Jung Freud). (Obviously Nagano Mamoru approved of this casting - she is incidentally now his wife.) Nagai Ichirou is decidedly slimy as Juba - he's much more innocuous as the perverted Happousai in Ranma 1/2. Just about the only weak link here is narrator Nakanishi Taeko, who speaks largely through her nose.
The music is rather good, as it is contributed by veteran musician Asakawa Tomoyuki. His credits primarily consist of live-action movies and television series, but do include harp performances on shows such as Tenchi Forever and Wolf's Rain, and the whole film has a very clean, very appropriate score.
It is highly rumored that Nagano Mamoru was not happy with the final result, which is why no further Five Star Stories OAVs were made. That's a bit of a shame, because with a bit more attention to background explanation, this OAV could've been one of the best of the best. Even as it stands, it's visually impressive (a real feat nearly twenty years after its creation) and an intriguing look at a franchise that has been neglected for too long by American fandom. It may not be a perfect film, but I believe Five Star Stories is very deserving of a second look.
Even if you have to rely fairly heavily on your notes. (GRR.)
A bewildering story loaded with visual bliss, Five Star Stories will be thought of as a 'five star story' primarily by fans of the manga. Others may not be so impressed, but it is worth seeing largely for the enduring beauty of its art style and as a glimpse of an intriguing and expansive fictional universe. Drop the rating one star if you absolutely detest having to pause the show at odd intervals to figure out what's what and who's who. — Carlos/Giancarla Ross
Recommended Audience: This feature contains violence and adult situations, as mentioned in the review. Teens and up.
Version(s) Viewed: R1 DVD
Review Status: Full (1/1)
The Five Star Stories © 1989 Kadokawa Pictures / Mamoru Nagano
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