Shadow Star Narutaru looks like it's going to be an innocent, kid-friendly show from the looks of the first episode. Similar to Puella Magi Madoka Magica, this series introduces an innocent girl protagonist into a monstrous world of horror she is not prepared to handle. And yet it's probably one of the darkest and meanest shows out there, making Madoka Magica look like Cardcaptor Sakura. While many viewers' issue with this anime was its Game of Thrones style of assaulting the viewer with shocking and depressing things happening, my main problems with the anime are the problems it has with the writing and animation.
Here's a basic plot summary (spoilers below):
- Shiina is a girl who isn't very good at schoolwork. She is swimming past a certain boundary she's not supposed to swim past, when she's rescued by a mysterious starfish... thing? she names Hoshimaru, which means "round star".
- Shiina befriends Akira, a girl who makes Rei Ayanami seem lively and Fluttershy seem confident. Akira is friends with a similar starfish-like creature, she calls a "dragon's child".
- A boy, confronted by the two girls, is in possession of his own Dragon's Child, resembling a giant sword with an eyeball on the side and a nautilus-like shell for a hilt. He wants to get rid of all educated people (in the manga he says like the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia) and start a socially Darwinist society where only the fittest people can live.
- Once they've defeated him, more trouble-makers appear. An intense battle unfolds between various evil children's powerful Dragon's Children and the military. Of course, like in Evangelion, the media tries to cover up the whole thing afterward.
- There's Jun's story, which is only one episode in the anime. Jun does some bad things to a classmate, but her motivation is not shown enough, and neither is her role in the greater picture fully explained by the anime episode. Also in Jun's story is the part where what is believed to be the originator of the Dragon's Children appears to Shiina a second time, but for unknown reasons, the woman Shiina saw riding it (with red markings on her body, like those of Shiro in Deadman Wonderland) is now in the form of a dolphin. Not at all explained, and a little weird.
- Then there's Hiroko's arc. The story gets even darker and more brutal in the ways in which Hiroko is being bullied, which are just heartbreaking. Then it's revealed that she possesses a Dragon's Child, which she uses to take revenge against her classmates and abusive jerk of a father.
So, a lot happens that doesn't really seem connected. The overall plot with the big Dragons is not resolved. There's a lot of detail that helps explain the story that did not transfer from the manga to the anime. It's intense, brutal, and shocking, but it builds up all this emotional intensity to a point where it cuts off rather than properly ends as a series. I liked it for sucking me in emotionally, but I dislike where it leads in the end. I'd definitely recommend the original Shadow Star manga, from Dark Horse, available either on Amazon or on Dark Horse's website. The anime is totally skip-able.
This is a DISTURBING anime!
The anime is a compelling story. Shiina, the main character, is a girl you want to see make it through all the crap she witnesses ok. You want to see some kind of happy ending in store for Akira, her friend, as well. It is a mature and interesting psychological horror story.
The anime though, suffers a lot from some poor execution issues. They left out some important details from the manga that make the story arcs flow better together. In the anime, they just feel sort of unrelated. In both the manga and the anime, story arcs tend to seem not fully resolved when they rush on to another one. But, this is better in the manga. In the anime, the art and animation are really nothing special, and there are parts where the lack of animation might bother some people, like long pauses, badly done lip movements, and a lack of blinking and facial movement making the characters look kind of dead. The voice acting in the dub is also sub-par.
Even the interesting appearance of the Dragon's Children, done by an artist who also worked on the designs of some of the angels in Neon Genesis Evangelion, isn't quite enough. Many things happen that are awkward, don't make sense, are not fully explained, or are unresolved, at least in the anime. It's one of those 13 episode anime series that cuts off, rather than ends. This might be good if it ever got a reboot, but as it stands, it's a pretty awkwardly put together anime that does not improve on the original source material.