Judge Joel Pearce takes ten hit points away from Shadow Star Narutaru's final score. Will it live long enough to produce its final volume?
Trust can be dangerous…
When the first volume of Shadow Star Narutaru took a sharp left turn into murderous territory, I was excited to see where the series would head next. This second volume has been something of a disappointment.
In my last review, I mentioned that war was imminent. Battle lines were drawn, and the psychic teenagers were making plans to use the dragon's children to attack the national army. The first few minutes of the first episode on the second volume pick up that thread, but it doesn't last long. Shiina's father is attacked in the air by a strange angelic creature with a Vulcan cannon, and he is barely able to eject in time.
Which everyone takes pretty casually.
Shadow Star Narutaru has a lot more questions than answers. If the army is battling these creepy aliens on a regular basis, why isn't the public aware of what's going on? After all, it's not like Shiina's dad isn't forthcoming with the press about the bizarre creature that attacked him. And yet, Shiina is able to carry Hoshimaru around like a knapsack without anyone noticing the bright yellow and orange alien creature in their midst. The dragon's children that are attacking the army all look unique, but Hoshimaru still looks like a cute little star. Do the aliens change depending on the psychic bond with their human companion? Do they develop over time? What's up with the unexplained naked girl that hangs out with the psychics?
I was really hoping that the forward trajectory that kicked in halfway through the first volume would continue. The series has a unique tone, and the fight in the forest was memorable and dark. Nothing in the second volume lives up to that promise. The action scenes are very cheaply produced. This lack of budget becomes really apparent when it comes to fighter plane battles and chase sequences through city streets. The sequence with Shiina's father in the plane is startlingly inept, with lengthy internal narration and a cut away from the action itself. Later, when Akira and Shiina start to investigate the other psychic teens, they have several chases with bikes and cars. This proves to be just as disappointing, with the cheaply drawn vehicles sliding across the frame one at a time.
As it turns out, Shadow Star Narutaruis better when it sticks to the coming of age story. The second half of the first episode is far more interesting than the plane battle, as Shiina tries to work through the possibility of her father's death and struggles with her inability to do anything about it. As she gains more power with Hoshimaru, she may be in the position to rescue him in the future, but it's still unclear which side we should be cheering for. The way that the older boys flirt with Shiina and Akira, who are still in their early teen years, is creepy. Perhaps the voice actors make them sound older than they are meant to be, but the sexual tension among the psychics is difficult to get past. There's not enough clarity to claim some sort of sexual metaphor for the whole series, but I can't help thinking that the creators must be trying to make a statement about it. The psychics are ruthless warriors in training, but they are all confused, unsure of themselves, and awkward in dealing with the opposite sex. We are constantly reminded that these are just children, but that starts to raise even more questions that haven't been answered.
The final episode in Volume Two has more action, but the last few minutes once again create more questions than answers. If the creators of the series don't start making sense soon, Shadow Star Narutaruis going to have to rush to explain everything in the last few episodes of the series.
The video transfer is just as good this time around, although I am less impressed with the animation. As the series opens in scope, the limitations of the budget are starting to show more, and it looks to become a more serious problem as Shadow Star Narutaruprogresses. The animators will need to ramp things up considerably if they want to do the large scale conflict justice, assuming that one is actually coming. The transfer is acceptable but not up to par with what other studios are doing. This time around, I found the English voice actors a lot more grating, especially the team of psychics. The girls on the team have shrill voices and the boys sound like they are 35, made worse by dialogue mixed too loud. The Japanese track avoids these problems, and is clearly superior.
There are similar extras on the second volume, with a photo gallery of stills from the three episodes and a particularly jagged character art collection. In addition, there is a storyboard comparison using the fighter plane battle. It reveals just how static the animation is, as the finished product is oddly similar to the rough drawings at times. There is also a series of clips and some information about the original Japanese voice cast. This is rare in anime titles, and it's a welcome addition.
I obviously have to do some back pedaling after my positive review of the first volume. The series showed a lot of promise, and it still does, but the creators haven't done much with this installment. Hopefully, they will be able to overcome the limitations of a small budget and find inventive ways to tell the story of Shiina and the dragon's children.
I will withhold my judgment for the time being.
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