Appellate Judge Mac McEntire can't be bothered to fight off alien invaders when he's got a three-legged race to win.
Appearances can be deceiving.
After I reviewed the first volume of Shingu: Secret of the Stellar Wars several months ago, I wondered if I was too hard on it. This series is, after all, created by a "who's who" of high-profile anime creators with mecha-sized resumes. The first volume featured some nice animation and a few hints of a vast conspiracy driving the plot. On the other hand, it also featured middle school students who found their student council meetings more interesting than the giant robots and spaceships battling in the skies over their cities. Having now seen the second volume, I'm sad to say that the criticisms I had the first time are still valid.
Hajime is an eighth grade class rep, who gradually learns that several of his classmates and other folks in his home city are not what they seem. One of his friends dresses in an outdated school uniform and has amazing telekinetic powers. The aloof, snarky new girl in class holds the power of the Shingu, which protects the Earth from evil outsiders. Other folks living in town are either members of a galactic federation with an interest in Earth's future, or enemies bent on the destruction of humanity.
The fight to protect the Earth will have to wait, though, because the middle school is holding its annual sports festival. The entire student body has gathered for a day full of various track and field events, and the all-important cheerleading competition. Once all that excitement ends, the student council turns its attention to the upcoming cultural festival, and deciding which groups are and aren't allowed to participate. Also, with the school year winding down, Hajime and his friends find themselves dreading their upcoming final exams.
As you might be able to tell from the above two paragraphs, the balance in Shingu is way off. Here's a series about aliens, spaceships, and giant robots secretly living among humans, and instead the creators spend more than half the time with the kids in their student council meetings as they plan upcoming school events. Two of the five episodes on this disc deal with the much-talked-about sports festival. Even here, we see very little of the sporting events themselves, but the kids hanging out behind the scenes, and then talking about what happened afterward. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, we get some brief glimpses of some adults, including a few of the middle school teachers, hunting down an alien spy. But we're not told who this spy is, and whether he (it?) is a good guy or bad guy. We have to wait for answers because it's back to more running around at the sports festival.
When we finally do get a look inside the aliens and their inner workings, it turns out that there's a long and complicated back story to it all, one about various warring planets, giant living weapons, a mysterious alien god, and this newly-formed federation trying to keep everyone in check. It's all so long and dense that it makes Babylon 5's intricately-plotted history look like an episode of Everybody Loves Raymond.
Meanwhile, there's the other half of the series to be dealt with—the inner workings of the eighth grade student council. Now, if this element was amusing or captivating in the slightest, I might be more forgiving. Instead, it's as if someone put the C-SPAN cameras on eighth graders instead of the big boys in Washington D.C. The student council scenes are very simplistic, with little drama or characterization moving the story forward. Even outside of school, we spend generous amounts of time with the characters at home, just hanging out. These scenes are sure to frustrate viewers, who will hope for something, anything to happen.
What's good here? Although this volume doesn't have quite as many robots or aliens, the ones that do show up have some very clever and ingenious designs. Not all of the humor works, but at least Shingu avoids the "everyone yelling at the camera" approach that passes for humor in other anime series. And, like before, the picture and audio quality is top notch, and the extras include character bios and production notes to help explain cultural differences to anime newcomers.
The director, producers, and designers behind Shingu: Secret of the Stellar Wars have previously worked on series such as Stellvia, Nadesico, Trigun, Ninja Scroll, Chobits, and Gunslinger Girl. You might want to give some of those a try before sitting down to struggle through Shingu.
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