Movie: I have long been a fan of science fiction in the movies and on television; owing as much to the fun factor as well as the way various themes are explored more openly than you'd otherwise see (censors tend to overlook science fiction more so than "true life" genres). Anime is one area where science fiction fuses nearly flawlessly when talented creators are involved and that is one of the more appealing aspects of my continuing fascination with the genre. Now, as a guy fairly well versed in entertainment media of all sorts (though not a slavering fanboy like so many others), I enjoy shows of all types but I came across a title I really thought had some potential, even though it was initially released so long ago. The title was The Five Star Stories from ADV Films; one of the most prominent production companies in North America.
The show centered on a Universe set in the future, about a thousand years from now, where four factions ruled on six planets, all vying for control of the known galaxy. Humanity is spread out on these planets, some of whom are near a dying sun. The various alliances and pacts the factions enter into are sometimes challenged by military might, most of which resides in the form of large mechanized robots, all looking between 50 and 100 feet tall, called Mortar Headd's. These robots are controlled by android females who serve what amounts to a knight that guide them through their battles. Such knights are viewed with awe and admiration (as well as a little bit of fear) by the general populace and the closest analogy I can make are the kingdoms of old day Europe.
The basic premise of the show centered around Emperor Amaterasu and his fatima (the female android he hooks up with) as he attempted to bring some sense of order to the galaxies when other rulers sought to take over. Much of the story focused on the fatima's and their relationship with the order of things but the entire show seemed almost anachronistic in how it dealt with everything. That freshness alone made me enjoy the show more than I would have in a genre so dominated by the liberal "borrowing" of concepts but there was more to it than that as well. The movie was shorter than I'd have liked but I think the whole movie's main objective was to serve as a launching point for the long running Manga more than anything else. Fans of the Manga could tell you far more about the twists and turns the various factions took over the years but suffice it to say, I wish that ADV (or someone else) would make a series based on the show since the appetizer that was The Five Star Stories seemed to have a lot going for it.
If you like seeing character development, an interesting set of concepts in play, and a unique version of the large scale robots fighting military drama that has been so popular over the years; you'll probably think of this old school drama as worthy of a rating of at least the Recommended I gave it, if not more. While the anime style itself was showing its age, it was well worth checking out and the rich tapestry of the Manga could easily be converted into a modern series if the right company would show some foresight and buy up the televised rights.
Picture: The Five Star Stories was presented in its original 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen color. The movie showed its age in many spots, with some grain and a limited animation style, but the colors were mostly accurate and considering the movie is nearly twenty years old, I thought it was pretty decent looking. I saw no compression artifacts and the amount of video noise was minimal but don't expect this one to look like a brand new series released in the last year or two either.
Sound: The audio was presented in the original 2.0 Dolby Digital Japanese with English subtitles as it was released in theatres back in 1988. The lack of an English dub surprised me a little since ADV Films spends a lot of effort on providing such dubs (of increasingly solid quality too) but I can't say that the original track was poorly done either. The separation between the channels and the dynamic range left much to be desired but the vocals were pretty clear. I did notice a bit of time delay in some of the subtitles (compared to the lips moving and/or the vocals) but I tend to watch very closely and few of you will probably see this when watching.
Extras: My favorite extra was the inclusion of a paper insert that outlined the Five Star Stories Universe and its characters. I only wish ADV Films provided this type of package with all of its releases since it went a long way to answering some questions I had after seeing the show the first time. I would recommend reading it after watching the show at least once but only because it contained so many spoilers. There was also the promotional trailer for the show and some staff profiles of the original Japanese crew that made the movie but the booklet was by far the best thing here.
Final Thoughts: The Five Star Stories was one of the most interesting shows I've watched in a long time, limited more by my desire to see cutting edge anime than the source material itself. The intricate story combined with some nice visuals made it a solid title to look for although individual tastes will vary as to how much they like it (and how well they receive this one). Five Star Stories is one of the few titles that actually has me considering looking for the Manga releases (I think they have a couple dozen volumes out IIRC) to see more of what this Universe has to offer.
If you enjoy anime, take a look at some of the recommendations by DVDTalk's twisted cast of reviewers in their Best Of Anime 2003 and Best Of Anime 2004 article!