Originally airing in 2001, Shingu: Secret of the Stellar Wars was a 26 episode series produced by Madhouse and directed by Tatsuo Sato. The show developed a cult following and has seen release here in America thanks to the procurement of the license by The Right Stuf International. With all five volumes having been released in 2005 there are many of you that may not have had the opportunity to see it (or maybe even heard about it), but now that a collection has hit the market there's no reason that this fantastic series should live in obscurity.
On the surface Shingu may appear to be your standard entry into the science fiction genre. There are mysterious aliens living on Earth, giant monsters fighting high in the sky, and kids with superpowers that defy explanation. If you're anything like me when you hear all of that you probably think to yourself; "Hasn't this all been done countless times before?"
Quite honestly, the answer to that question is "yes it has" but Shingu handles everything in such a way that it trumps most other shows. It becomes something special very quickly and in many ways it stands as one of the best science fiction series released in the past decade.
The year is 2070 and life in Tenmo has been quite normal and, dare I say, downright boring for Hajime Murata. Ever since his family moved to the quant town there haven't been any major events to his recollection. However one day when aliens attack, his life is turned upside down and things will never be the same.
In the distance a top-like thing hovers in the sky and cuts power throughout the entire town. It appears to be scanning rather than attacking but it looks menacing just the same. Just as suddenly, out of thin air, a white and black golem shows up and destroys the alien craft. Needless to say it left Hajime and many of the residents of Tenmo stunned but it was quite obvious that something else was going on under the surface here.
Around the same time that the alien ship appeared in the sky a student named Muryou Subaru transferred to Hajime's school. It would seem that in the year 2070 Japan no longer requires students to wear uniforms but Subaru wears his quite proudly. This instantly separates him from the crowd and in quick form he becomes one of the most popular guys in school. He and Hajime become good friends but it's hard to gauge what Subaru is thinking thanks to his never changing expression and calm demeanor. One thing is for sure though; he is connected to the strange events befalling Tenmo.
In no time Subaru becomes rivals with Kyoichi, who is a member of the student council. Early on in the series the two have a duel of sorts on the school's roof but it's not an ordinary fight. Hajime witnesses the two using telekinetic powers, which naturally adds to the odd atmosphere surrounding Tenmo.
The progression of the story continues from this point through the view of events from Hajime's perspective. His take on what is happening around him becomes pivotal to the flow of Shingu's story. As it turns out Subaru, the Student Council, and most everyone born native to Tenmo have special powers that have been gifted by a group of aliens from the Galactic Federation. These entities serve as protectors of humanity though they haven't made their presence known to the world.
Hajime's close involvement with Subaru and eye-witness account of telekinetic abilities has also put him in an interesting spot. He's an outsider from Tokyo and thus has no right to know the secret of Tenmo. However, an elder sees the potential of understanding within him and notes Hajime as a special person. He is thus gifted with knowledge of the galaxy and joins the ranks of most people who live around him.
From this point the show provides quite a bit of character exposition. The development of everyone from the aliens to humans, and those empowered with special abilities is handled in such a way that you'll fall in love. Everything feels like it's on the cusp of being realistic and yet a parody of other science fiction at the same time. This gives the series the personality and tone that was necessary to create a living, breathing world. It also gives the show a surreal undertone that adds to the air of mystery. I found myself appreciating the characters in Shingu more than the story but I'm pleased to report that the plot here is rock-solid as well.
I don't want to give too much away but let's just say once Hajime learns about Tenmo, things turn around. More aliens appear and the involvement of a group of guardians is revealed. The Earth is dragged into an intergalactic conflict and many lives hang in the balance. There is also some mystery surrounding Hajime's father and the work that he does. Everything ties together in some way and over the course of these 26 episodes the story unfolds marvelously.
If you have never heard of Shingu you are indeed a poor soul. From beginning to end the set up and development of the plot kept things moving at a decent clip. I was enthralled for all 26 episodes and was drawn in deeply from the very first episode. The mystery surrounding things keeps the show moving for quite some time and as answers begin to surface the way characters deal with the revelations keeps things grounded in reality. I can't recommend this show enough for lovers of well written and finely executed anime!
Presented with a 1.33:1 full frame aspect ratio Shingu: Secret of the Stellar Wars features video quality on par with a show produced in 2001. The transfer on these DVDs is very fine with a relatively clear picture that is free of artifacts and digital defects. There was no compression anywhere to be found on the five discs here and my only real complaint was some grain found here and there. I found the art style to be very unique and the animation of the show followed suit. It results in an attractive looking series that is both vibrant and subtle at the same time. If Shingu received some anamorphic treatment I would have been happier but as it stands this is still a solid looking series.
The dubbing quality in Shingu is very good no matter which language you listen to. This is a series that received a well performed English translation to accompany the original Japanese. In my opinion that's something of a rarity since few shows compel me to watch them with the English dubbing opposed to the Japanese. As far as the technical presence of these language tracks, they are both presented with 2.0 stereo and offer quality like you'd expect. The sound stays on the front channel with very little separation between speakers. Like the video there were no glaring flaws but without the 5.1 treatment it's safe to say that Shingu doesn't go above and beyond with its aesthetic presentation.
Unlike thinpak collections released by other publishers The Right Stuf International has included a bevy of special features that make an impression. For starters there is a 43 page booklet with production notes, sketches, and information about the series and characters. It's an interesting read especially once you're finished watching all 26 episodes.
As far as the content on the five discs is concerned there is still quite a bit to take a gander at. For the most part you can expect some light special features such as a cluster of trailers, character bios, line art galleries, and textless animation. On the meatier side of things are some original and English production notes which are essentially what you'll find printed in the booklet. Ok, so the special features aren't that enticing but given the fact that companies like ADV tend to remove them prior to repackaging it makes Shingu's collection feel somehow more complete.
I have seen many science fiction shows in my days but Shingu stands as one of the best in recent memory. The mysterious plot is handled delicately and masterfully but it's the character development and watching their relationships grow that really drew me in. This is a series with a lot of personality and it offers plenty of reasons to fall in love. Do yourself and Right Stuf a favor and pick it up. You won't be disappointed. Highly Recommended