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Underrated Manga: "Five Star Stories" by Nagano Ma

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Underrated Manga: "Five Star Stories" by Nagano Ma

Postby Angelcake the Fox » Thu Dec 07, 2006 21:30 +0000

The giant robot genre of manga/anime is very unique. It can be co-opted, twisted, modified, or even downright morphed into something either very derivative, or totally original. This particular manga, although it doesn't create any gigantic new leaps in progress of the genre, is so well drawn and well written that it might as well be a genre it itself.


Now, as always, some back info.

This comic's creator, Nagano Mamoru, is a man with many faces. As well as a mangaka, he is also: A screenwriter, a musician, a professional artist, a character and mechanical designer, an anime creator, and a fashion designer. He first came to prominence in the early 80s when, for the landmark mecha anime Heavy Metal L-Gaim, he was paired with Gundam creator and the godfather of the "Real Robot" mecha sub-genre, Yoshiyuki Tomino. In this anime, he contributed a ground-breaking and innovative design style, featuring mecha that, although obviously metallic, seemed to also have a rather definite internal skeleton, making their design more realistic in their construction. He also contributed mecha designs to the anime Zeta Gundam. He began publishing Five Star Stories in 1986 and it is still ongoing. Nagano's art style for his characters is very elegant and dream-like, almost like shojo manga. However, this is pure seinen manga in its highest form.

The story of Five Star Stories is sweeping and complex. As Wikipedia states......

Five Star Stories takes its name from the Joker Star Cluster where the stories take place. The star cluster is made up of four stars: Eastern, Western, Southern and Northern. The "fifth star" is a large comet named Stant that passes through that sector of space every 1,500 years pulling with it its own collection of orbiting planets.

In the distant past the Farus Di Kanon Empire, now commonly known as the "Super Empire", controlled all 4 solar systems of the Joker Cluster. They enjoyed a level of technology much higher than is currently known and sent explorers to the far reaches of the Joker Galaxy. Around the year 9000 AD (Ammon Duul) the empire collapsed due to internal strife. The explorers were called home and what remained of civilization focused mainly on survival. Much technology and knowledge was lost by the time the imperial families of Amaterasu, Fillmore and Hathuha gathered and established the JC era. JC stands for "Joker Calendar" and was meant to give a common frame of reference to all nations to help foster a lasting peace. The JC calendar was adopted but the dream of peace was never realized.

The first story of the Five Star Stories begins in JC 2988. At this time interstellar travel is common and genetically engineered "fatimas" are well established as necessary co-pilots of the fearsome mortar headds that dominate the battlefields. Warfare between nations is commonplace and few still hope for peace.


The mecha in this series are called "Mortar Headds". Unlike mecha in other manga and anime where most mecha are disposable, Mortar Headds are expensive and unique to each design. They are considered not just weapons of war, but also triumphant works of art and are symbols of pride for their pilots, resident families, and nations. Their creators and designers, called "meights", are highly prized in the world of Five Star Stories, and skilled meights are sought out by militaries and royal families, therefore giving them a noble status.

Obviously, being mecha-based, this particular series is beloved by mecha model kit lovers, who are fascinated by Nagano-san's unique designs.

There should also be special mention of the individual books themselves. Each volume is on average about 90 pages in length, which is considerably less than most average tankobon in Japan. However, since it was serialized in Newtype magazine, the pages themselves are slightly larger than Newtype's pages, allowing for more content per page. Furthermore, each volume contains a golossary of terms, an in-depth timeline of events, and a mini artbook section featuring color drawnins, illustrations and sketches of various characters, locations and mecha.

All and all, this series is a cult hit and a grossly underrated piece of work.

The manga is available in English from Toy Press Co., the same people who do the Japanese editions. Although quite a few are apparently sporadic in their English printing (I myself can only get ahold of volumes 4,5, and 9), each volume is a world unto itself.

Please, give this one a try. If you love mecha, elaborate plots, fully developed worlds, and elegant character designs, you just cannot afford to pass this one up.

Buy it, read it, love it, WORSHIP IT!
"But you should know this by now, Anjin-san. In this land of tears, death is our heritage."

-JamesClavelall, 'Shogun'
Angelcake the Fox
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