by Michelle Villanueva
Far into the future, human beings occupy star systems named after the four cardinal directions: Northern, Southern, Eastern and Western. Within these systems are a plethora of planets, each which their own autonomous rulers, but all loyal to Emperor Amaterasu. This is the setting for Five Star Stories, a movie based on the very popular and very long-running manga by Mamoru Nagano. It is a subtitled-only release; no English dub track will be found. It has mecha, romance, political intrigue, and perhaps the prettiest "pretty boy" in recent anime history. But do all of these add up to a good anime?
Perhaps the most difficult thing about watching Five Star Stories (or FSS) is the sheer scope of the plot. We're talking worlds here, entire planetary civilizations where one could easily get lost in, where a single individual's choice can influence the future of a galaxy. It can be immensely overwhelming, and since the original source material is so rich, the makers of FSS can be forgiven for putting out a slightly confusing though still intriguing product.
The opening narration gives the viewer a bare-bones introduction to the universe. The mecha here are called mortar headds, and they look more like heavily-protected fighting machines rather than the slick and sleek appearance of humans dressed up in fancy armor. Those who can pilot these mecha are called headdliners, but they also need more aid to control these complex machines. Specialized female androids called fatimas were created to help guide the pilots to operate the mortar headds.
Apparently, fatimas are a hot commodity among the planets, and those whom the fatima chooses to be her master will be in possession of immense power. Three of the newest fatimas to be created by Duke Ballanche are named after the Fates: Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos. A fascinating metaphor comes into play when the fatimas named Clotho and Lachesis are somehow able to choose their own masters, one not among leaders of the known planets.
Laidos Sopp, a headdliner of great merit who is actively working on a mortar headd design which doesn't require the use of a fatima. Sopp was Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos' guardian while they were still little girls, and therefore has an emotional attatchment to these artificial lifeforms created to be nothing but accessories to war. He, of course, sees much potential within the fatimas. Sopp is ultra-feminine in style and body, wearing loose-fitting, flowing clothes which hang loosely off his slim form. In fact, the only characters willowier than Sopp are the fatimas themselves. The reason for his delicate appearance is explained later on in the anime, but as its a bit of a spoiler, it won't be revealed here. Suffice to say that it may cause the viewer to pause and skip back a few scenes just to soak up every tiny detail of the story.
What makes FSS so unique is the visual look of the universe. Not just the design of the Mortar Headds, but the characters aren't cookie-cuttered either. You'd be able to pick any individual out from just a vague sillouette of their bodies, and you won't mistake the waif-like Fatimas for anyone else in the series. There is something distinctly other-worldly about these androids, with their elongated limbs, impossibly long eyelashes, and their pointed faces which brings to mind the classic female characters of Leiji Matsumoto, and yet, Mamoru Nagano has created a universe utterly unique in scale, maybe even surpassing Matsumoto's in its complexity.
And that is what intrigues most about FSS: the magnitude of the story. Viewers may find themselves drawn to the culture of the planets and how politics and bedroom drama may affect the future. There are some intense action sequences. Limbs and heads are hacked off and blood is spilled, but the action really doesn't overwhelm the primary focus of the plot. In the end, it is the characters who drive FSS, and the anime leaves the viewer wanting more. As this was the only attempt to adapt the manga to anime, curious fans will have to turn to the manga to get the full impact of Mamoru Nagano's masterful and wide-reaching space opera.