- RECENT REVIEWS: SHAKUGAN NO SHANA *** FREEZING *** SHANGRI-LA *** ERGO PROXY
- STRIKE WITCHES *** KING OF THORN *** STEINS GATE *** GA-REI-ZERO *** DEADMAN WONDERLAND
- TENCHI UNIVERSE *** ONE PIECE *** WOLF CHILDREN *** RUROUNI KENSHIN *** [C]-CONTROL
- BLACK LAGOON *** SERIAL EXPERIMENT LAIN *** MASS EFFECT *** BOOGIEPOP PHANTOM
- A CERTAIN MAGICAL INDEX *** TORIKO *** RENTAL MAGICA *** BOOGIEPOP & OTHERS *** EMMA
- BLOOD C *** HEAVEN'S LOST PROPERTY *** SWEET BLUE FLOWERS
So many alien stories begin with mass panic, but in an age where the lines between truth and fiction are so blurred in the media, would anyone really be surprised if a UFO popped into the sky?
In the town of Tenmo, 2070, a mysterious floating object appears out of nowhere, only to be fought off by another mysterious white monster... which then vanishes. Instead of rioting in the streets or the usual apocalyptic fever, most people continue about their normal lives, settling into a calm acceptance that we are not, in fact, alone in the universe.
A government official sums it up nicely in a post-invasion-attempt PSA: “One thing is clear. Um, aliens exist.”
Thus begins SHINGU: SECRET OF THE STELLAR WARS, a surprisingly light-hearted sci-fi story that deftly develops its massive ensemble cast and multi-layered story through a satisfying mystery. Our hero is Hajime, a bespectacled goof with a curious mind. When Muryou, a strange new student with disarming eyes and an off-kilter style, shows up at his school the day after the UFO appearance, Hajimi knows something is amiss.
Hajimi often breaks the fourth wall, speaking directly to his audience with a knowing wink. His little sister, Futaba, a squirrely little girl with a penchant for crushes, explains Hajimi’s imaginary conversations as him “just being weird.” The result is a fun jaunt through Hajimi’s life and school, as he discovers that the town of Tenmo is not what it seems.
He catches his new friend Muryou on the roof with Kyouichi, the school’s Vice President, in a heated battle – demonstrating some sort of superpower. That thread of magic, of something otherworldly, slowly unravels throughout the course of the season to reveal a secret society in Tenmo, a Galactic Federation, telekinesis, and that strange white being known as Shingu.
SHINGU’s appeal lies not only in the slow-burning mystery surrounding Tenmo, but also the show's colorful cast of characters. Kyouichi’s companions in the student government each have their own hidden powers and motives, from Hachiyou, the barrel-chested, commanding President, to Shun, the charismatic Secretary. Hajimi develops a strong bond with Naiyuta, the other Vice President at school – a deeply-guarded and tough young girl with a heavy burden to bear.
That’s not to mention the adults of the series, who also have their own agenda.
The true story of SHINGU takes its time, while intercutting with slice of life stories from Hajimi’s school festivities. Despite the overarching sci-fi alien plot, the series doesn’t take itself too seriously. The humor in SHINGU isn’t quite as juvenile as other fantasies that take place in a school setting. It maintains a wry, playful tone – best demonstrated by Hajimi’s narration and the show’s musical score. Jazzy horn pieces and jaunty melodies permeate the show, reminiscent of 1960's BATMAN, even keeping the most white knuckle action sequences from seeming too dire.
With all that good-natured fun, a fairly complex storyline and a seemingly endless list of people in on the Galactic mystery, SHINGU could easily be a huge mess. Instead, it avoid the trap of overly convoluted twists and turns and focuses on fleshing out the characters and story. The result is a fun, breezy sci-fi romp, with enough jokes, battles and surprises to keep you guessing along with Hajimi ‘til the very end.
Rachel Heine is an anime novice, film buff and food blogger based in Los Angeles. She writes and edits for arts & culture online magazine, Buzzine, and runs her own personal blog at PopandSizzle. Follow her Twitter: @RachelHeine