Can’t wait for this year’s eighth grade cultural festival.

Hajime is an ordinary eighth grader, who loves serving on his school’s student council. Over time, he’s discovered that several of his classmates and numerous adults in his hometown are actually aliens in disguise. Each of Hajime’s friends has amazing supernatural powers, most notably the aloof and snarky Nayuta, who wields the power of the Shingu, the secret to protecting the Earth from the forces of evil.

We’re now four volumes into this series, and what a disappointment it’s turned out to be. The combination of adolescent comedy high jinks and sci-fi action has great potential. It could feel like the better episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or even some classic Marvel comics. Unfortunately, as I’ve pointed out in previous Shingu reviews of volumes one through three, the balance is way off. The lighthearted bits of the story, featuring the kids in their student council meetings, lack any laughs. They also don’t appear to move the story forward, and yet these scenes tend to dominate the series. When the “world in peril” half of the plot shows up, it’s almost a relief that something exciting is happening. It’s at this point that viewers should be sweating it out, for fear of the characters’ lives. Instead, it’s just, “Oh, good, a giant robot battle to break up the monotony.”

Volume four starts out promisingly enough. We learn about Hajime’s father, and his connection to the aliens. This revelation is followed by one of the most elaborate and well-staged Shingu battles in the series so far. This had me convinced that the overall story arc of the series was about to move forward. But then, the rest of the disc, four episodes’ worth, is all about the kids planning their school’s upcoming cultural festival. It’s an onslaught of lines like, “What are we going to do about the festival?” and “I’ve got another idea for the festival,” and “We’ve got to spread the word about the festival.” If any of this were funny or provided tension or were interesting in any way, I’d be a lot more forgiving, but instead it’s just, “Time for another meeting about the festival.”

Throughout this series, there’s been a minor subplot that has its moment on center stage in these episodes. Kyoichi, the local tough guy at school, and Harumi, a quiet, studious girl, have been watching most of the proceedings from the sidelines, while slowly developing their own romantic feelings for each other. Their big moment in this volume isn’t entirely uninteresting, but I still wonder how this “c-plot” fits into the overall story of Shingu.

Shingu at least remains nice to look at, and the transfer here highlights the detailed, fluid animation and the many bright and vivid colors on display. The audio continues to be excellent, making the most of 2.0 stereo. The extras are par for the course, with production notes, character bios, and, best of all, a well-written 12-page booklet with a look at all the design work that went into the series, as well as explanations of Japanese customs to anime newcomers. Despite a nice presentation on DVD, this series still suffers from dreadfully clunky storytelling.

If I watch one more volume of Shingu, I’ll lose my mind. No, really.

The Verdict

Guilty

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