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Five Star Stories Anime DVD Review

9 min read
Five Star Stories was long thought to be lost to the ages of rumors and never to seen a release

Five Star Stories tackles one of the more expansive works out there as best as it can in the time it has.

What They Say
Among the five star systems known as the Joker Systems, there are many kingdoms, each under the protection of valiant knights that control massive robots called Headliners. Bound to the knights are fatimas. Human in appearance and mind, the fatimas possess expanded physical capabilities and make it possible to control a Headliner.

Five Star Stories follows the ascension of two such fatimas – Clotho and Lachesis, the latest and greatest creations of famous fatima designer, Dr. Ballache – each on the verge of their ceremonial unveiling to the world of the God of Light, Amaterasu, and his Mirage Knights.

The Review:
The audio presentation for this release comes with just the original Japanese language only encoded at 256kbps. The show has, unfortunately, had its music and effects track lost some years ago which results in the release having only the Japanese soundtrack to it and no English dub being able to be created. We’ve heard some recreated soundtracks in the past from other sources such as CD and LD and have never liked how they feel so while I wish there was a dub I’m glad that this release simply exists at all considering what else could have been lost. The stereo mix for this feature is pretty good however and while it’s not a really wide mix it does uses both channels well and is fairly active across the entire soundstage at some points throughout its runtime. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

Originally released to theaters back in 1988, the transfer for Five Star Stories is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. With the Japanese DVD release coming just a few years ago after the movie had been virtually lost for some time for numerous rumored reasons, the materials we have here are quite fresh and probably the best the feature has looked since its original theatrical run. Though it is a great-looking transfer, it does have a few small quibbles to it. With it being as detailed as it is, and that’s one of the big draws for it, there’s a bit of cross coloration at various points throughout it, often in some of the really fine-lined hair areas. It’s not a huge distraction however but having gotten used to so many digital shows lately seeing any cross coloration is a surprise. The backgrounds and most of the solid color areas maintain a very solid feel though there is some light-blocking in some areas but never enough to really distract or last more than a few seconds.

Using the same kind of packaging as the Japanese release, it’s a digipak of sorts that a few US mainstream releases have done in the past. It uses the same kind of packaging as found in the Godfather box set which is a slipcase that goes over a two-page thin board spread where the disc is on one side and the other side is just a plain piece where the booklet resides – but there’s no flap for the booklet to be held, it’s simply just sitting there and falls out easily. The slipcover and the book itself is all jet black with one section carved out so you can see the mecha’s face through it while a wideband strip (obi) goes around the bottom that talks about the show and provides its details. The packaging for this release other than the problem of the booklet is really nice. The booklet itself is the real joy to this though as it translates the Japanese one and really helps flesh things out with a listing of the characters and a short bio for them, a timeline of the universe, and other useful bits and pieces about the Five Star Stories world. The booklet alone is honestly worth the price of admission for this show.

The main menu for this release is a static piece that shifts between images of the lead characters, the planet and the big golden mecha that’s at the center of everything. With a widescreen look and a lot of black to it, the menu looks really nice here along with the instrumental piece attached to it, though with its short run time it ends slightly awkwardly before starting again. The navigation is quick and easy and without a language setup menu it’s less than usual. And it also negates the need for a check on the disc reading our players language presets.

Only a couple of extras here, which I believe mirrors the Japanese release as well, as there’s a promotional video that looks more to be a trailer for the show as it lists the other movie that it doubled with, while also providing a few screens worth of translated profiles for some of the main staff of the film and their previous exploits up to a certain time.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Five Star Stories is a seventy-minute feature film that was released back in 1988, some two to three years after the manga first appeared in NewType to much acclaim. As the series is still running to this day, to say that the film only covers an incomplete story isn’t quite accurate but rather that the film was intended to provide something for the fans of the series to get into. In a way, it’s a bit of marketing really. The film, released by Kadokawa Pictures and with that grand old name of Haruki in the opening credits that tells me to expect something very 80’s but also something lavish, you can see this film as being a visual marvel that’s designed to sell more NewType issues where the manga itself runs. The film does tell its own tale and it completes it in its own way, but it succeeds in one other thing:

It makes you want the manga. As soon as it was over, I was skimming a couple of sites that carry the translated version and itching at that buy button for the twenty-six or so available volumes that are out so far.

The layout of the Five Star Stories goes with four quadrants of space that are at times called solar systems, each of which houses various kingdoms and empires and all sorts of internal squabbles. The make-up of humanity has fallen into a few categories such as headdliners, mortar headds, fatimas, and then the general bulk of humanity. There’s an order to this though, as the headdliners are the ones considered to be in power and they utilize mortar headds to control these massive mecha that maintain the order and power within the kingdoms. The actual pilots of these beasts are called fatimas, android women that are subjected to mind control and are given only to certain masters that they will then obey for all time. Those that create these fatimas are much revered across the worlds and when they have new ones to debut into the world, it is much like an actual debutante ball where hundreds of the elite from across the four systems come to take the chance that the fatima will call him or her their master and thereby acquire their power.

The story for this adaptation revolves around the debut of two very special fatimas who have come of age. Before he’s able to do anything with them though, the local man in power has abducted them and has set for their debut. He knows their secret which is that they haven’t been subjected to the mind control aspect and therefore won’t claim anyone as master, which then means he gets to keep them. His only hope comes in the arrival of Lord Sopp, a man who had known the two fatimas when they were children along with their older sibling who has gone on some time before this. Sopp’s arrival has the creator of the fatimas hoping that his previous association with them as young girls will push him to try and help them now.

It doesn’t take long before Sopp actually comes into contact with the sister fatimas and everything from the past comes forward and he finds himself unable to resist helping them and the film moves through the motions, very large scale motions at times, and it plays out in a fairly predictable manner. This isn’t a bad thing because the plot has to be fairly straightforward to work considering how deeply woven the original story is and just how much is here, especially since this particular part of the story is considered the “End of the End but the Beginning of the Next Beginning.” There are so many characters that are crossing the screen at times that we know the names of but that you can just tell there is a much richer history to them and their relationships and we’re just getting the surface view of it. It’s engaging in its own right and the story is told quite well, though you have to make a few leaps along the way especially as the relationships between Sopp and the fatimas gets further explored and the true power of the fatimas is sort of explained.

One of the main draws to the Five Star Stories property is the beautiful designs by the original creator, which I think are very well translated here. A lot of this is likely owed to Nobuteru Yuki who as the animation director and character design had to deal with making sure it was all familiar but workable for an animation. Yuki has become one of my favorites of the years since I first learned of him in detail with Escaflowne and on through Heat Guy J. Seeing this work of his that’s nearly twenty years old shows just how much I really admire his stuff and how versatile he really is, but also just what kind of character designs seem to really suit his skills. I love the tall lanky characters, the incredibly detailed outfits, and the thinner heads that people here sport for the most part. The design of the show is just stunning and there is so much detail in the flowing of the character’s hair as well as the beautiful strange-looking spaceships that it just draws me in. Everything here looks unique and not like we’ve seen it in hundreds of other shows.

In Summary:
Five Star Stories was long thought to be lost to the ages of rumors and never to seen a release but then it surfaced in Japan after a number of years. Thankfully, this meant that it became accessible at long last to Western companies and it’s gotten a near-proper release here, only failing in providing an English language version due to the loss of the necessary elements. Though the story only adapts a small portion of a much larger work, there is something very visionary and epic in the film that engages and intrigues as it doesn’t play up to many of the norms and isn’t just a rehash of so many other things. I still think that the main intent was not only to bring in new fans to the property but to also sell magazines, but such is how art is often used in modern capitalistic society. Five Star Stories is one of those rare and quieter gems of the anime industry that doesn’t get talked about much but has influenced many over the years. Definitely worth checking out for a number of reasons, especially to see if you’re going to want to invest in the manga.

Japanese 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Japanese trailer, Staff profiles, Original Promotional Video

Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: B
Video Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B+
Extras Grade: B

Released By: ADV Films
Release Date: March 15th, 2005
MSRP: $29.98
Running Time: 70 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen

Review Equipment:
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

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