Shingu: Secret of the Stellar Wars (Volume 1) (DVD)

What if one day you discovered that the world wasn’t quite what it seemed?

On an average morning in Tokyo, a giant red spaceship appears in the sky, possibly threatening the lives of everyone there. Fortunately for humanity, a massive robot appears, and drives back the attackers in a spectacular airborne battle. All this is witnessed by middle school student Hajime Murata, but he and the rest of the city decide not to let it bother them. Instead, Hajime goes to class, hangs out with friends, and attends school council meetings.

Hajime later meets the new student in class, Misamaru, who dresses and acts differently from everyone else. It’s not long before Misamaru’s strangeness rubs the student council president the wrong way, and the two of them head up to the roof for a fight. When Hajime runs up there to stop them, he doesn’t see any fists flying. Instead, the two rivals are battling by unleashing amazing psychic powers against each other. Hajime wonders about this, but instead hangs out with his family, and then has a friendly dinner with Misamaru and his sister.

Meanwhile, more giant robots battles are raging above the city, a masked stranger has started following Hajime, and there are more student council meetings that must be attended.

Right from the start, a viewer can pick out a significant flaw in the first few episodes of Shingu. There’s just no balance here. It’s as if the creators are only throwing in robot and alien fight scenes because they have to, when all they really want to do is make a teen comedy/drama about the inner workings of student government. The fantasy parts of the story are introduced, and then hurriedly rushed into the background in favor of more middle school sitcom plots. It is possible to strike that delicate balance between sci-fi and teen melodrama, as seen in Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Lee and Ditko’s early work on The Amazing Spider-Man. But in this case, the balance is way off.

That being said, it might be too early to dismiss Shingu as a series from this start. As the five episodes on this disc progress, more and more is revealed, showing a bigger picture at work. Even more telling are several hints dropped throughout the early episodes that not all is what it appears. Strangers seem to watch Hajime wherever he goes. One invading alien disappears into a hole in the sky, with an odd red background on the other side. Are all these hints to a larger mythology, which will be paid off in later episodes, or is it just random weirdness? Considering that the writers and directors here consist of several anime veterans, we can speculate that this volume is mostly setting up more exciting adventures to follow. In that sense, this disc comes across as little more than a tease.

Again, with several pedigreed talents at the drawing board, the animation is sharp and fluid, and the disc’s picture quality shows no flaws. The 2.0 audio is adequate, but not as bombastic as it could be during the action scenes. Extras here include character bios, a line art gallery featuring black-and-white drawings of the main characters, and production notes in both English and Japanese. The 12-page booklet is better than most, with explanations of Japanese cultural references seen in the series, a few comic strips, and, somewhat strangely, the complete floor plan to Hajime’s school.

This opening volume of Shingu is an intriguing but unfulfilling first chapter to a larger story. As a stand-alone work, it is a disappointment. The question now is: Will future volumes help to improve the series or further imbalance it?

The Verdict

Mostly not guilty.

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