The Nihon Review - Anime Reviews & Editorials

The Five Star Stories

Title: The Five Star Stories
Genre: Mecha
Company: Sunrise
Format: Movie; 66 minutes.
Dates: 11 March 1989

Synopsis: Mecha meister Ladios Sopp travels to the city of Bastogne to witness the unveiling of two new Fatimas: female androids designed to be co-pilots of the mechs known as Mortar Headds. The two Fatimas, Lachesis and Clotho, are childhood acquaintance of Sopp. He tries to set them free and rubs shoulders with the political and military figures in the Joker System, all the while hearing stories of the God of Light, Amaterasu, who is said to be destined to rule the star system.

The Highlights
Animation: Gorgeous despite its age.
Universe: Intricate but mostly unexplained.
Mech Design: Creative.

The Five Star Stories tells a very small tale in a very large universe. An adaptation of the first arc of the long-running manga series, the film is tasked with introducing the viewer to the world in as painless a manner as possible. The universe is intricate and original, no doubt: in exchange for a Legend of the Galactic Heroes-esque space opera, the movie ops for a futuristic medieval setting in which the mechs resemble a knight’s armour as much as they do robots. It’s set in its own epoch, uses its own mysterious mechs with no reference to earthly technology, and talks more of fate and determinism than of nanomachines and rips in spacetime. The film is better described as fantasy set in the future than as science fiction. For all its innovation, though, it falls flat because its running time isn’t comparable with its scale.

And let me stress the issue of scale because it’s larger than you’d think. The Five Star Stories doesn’t just introduce kings and knights and empires: it shows us floating ghosts and telepathic connections, tells us of mysterious prophesies and implies a rich mythology. As a fantasy story, it’s more interested in the mystical powers of the Fatima and their unexplained connection to the piloting of Mortar Headds than it is with how they were genetically modified—or if they were modified as we understand it at all. The icing on the cake is the character Amaterasu, named after the Shinto god, whose apparently supernatural powers are never questioned.

The movie handles the setting well. The exposition isn’t too clunky, and its short running time delivers a basic emotional story of a young man reconnecting with a childhood friend, which can be understood regardless of setting. Still, the sheer volume of content in the fictional universe makes an in medias res presentation difficult to digest. As a result, the connection with the characters is forced at best and it’s hard to view them as much more than names in a history book. The only coherent part of the narrative is the one that directly follows Sopp’s travels and plans to rescue the two Fatimas. The film ends without any good explanation as to who Amaterasu really is, what—in specific—makes the Fatimas special, who half of the characters are, and, ultimately, why any of the story happened to begin with. For all of its myth-invoking voiceovers of mysterious women superimposed on starry backgrounds, the movie does a poor job of making sense. My first impulse upon finishing it was to look up a plot summary and spoil a few of the later manga volumes to clarify what I just watched.

It’s an unfortunate flaw for the film to have when it seems to handle itself well in other regards. It’s technically pretty and its aesthetic sense is fascinating—the beam sword-wielding knights and mech designs are reminiscent of Escaflowne’s (1,2,3) pseudo-fantasy style. The entire appeal of the film seems to lie in the vastness of its universe and the surrounding mythology. It begs to be explored like a textbook or a Wikipedia article, not like a movie or comic. It’s a shame that you can only scratch the surface of a world this massive in an hour. The Five Star Stories receives points for not messing up the exposition and awkwardly throwing facts at the viewer, but the corollary is that you find yourself thrown into a foreign solar system, epoch, and culture with no way to understand it but to vaguely compare it to medieval Europe. The movie is a fantastic trailer for the tome that is the universe in Nagano Mamoru’s mind, but as a standalone work, its emotional impact and intellectual challenges are muted by the general confusion that results from spending an hour in a fantasy world with few signposts.

The Rating: 6

Reviewed by: Eternal

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