The Five Star Stories takes its name from the Joker Star Cluster where the stories take place. The star cluster is made up of four stars: Eastern, Western, Southern and Northern. The "fifth star" is a large comet named Stant that passes through that sector of space every 1,500 years pulling with it its own collection of orbiting planets.
In the distant past the Farus Di Kanon Empire, now commonly known as the "Super Empire," controlled all 4 solar systems of the Joker Cluster. They enjoyed a level of technology much higher than is currently known and sent explorers to the far reaches of the Joker Galaxy. Around the year 9000 AD (Ammon Duul) the empire collapsed due to internal strife. The explorers were called home and what remained of civilization focused mainly on survival. Much technology and knowledge was lost by the time the imperial families of Amaterasu, Fillmore and Hathuha gathered and established the JC era. JC stands for "Joker Calendar" and was meant to give a common frame of reference to all nations to help foster a lasting peace. The JC calendar was adopted but the dream of peace was never realized.
The first story of The Five Star Stories begins in JC 2988. At this time interstellar travel is common and genetically engineered "fatimas" are well established as necessary co-pilots of the fearsome mortar headds that dominate the battlefields. Warfare between nations is commonplace and few still hope for peace.
How do you write a review for an on-gonig series? How do you write a review for a series admitted by the author to be his life's work (and evidently he took it literally - he's going to milk it for his whole life so what's a 10 year hiatus?)
Five Star Stories is as much an avenue expression for Nagano Mamoru as a work he produces. Imagine expand one's imagination as much as you can, settings with time lines in tens of thousands of years, beings akin to gods and you have the canvass that is the Five Star Stories. There's love, betrayals, tragedies and
comedy. Sweeping landscapes, Mortar Headds with graceful lines and elegant movements adorn the pages.
The Joker star cluster consists of 4 planetary systems with the fifth that orbit and intersect the others every many years. Remenants of an ancient inter-glactic empire, the many nations that exists now uses large bio-mechnical machines called Mortar Headds in war. These are in turn only pilotable by headliners, those who inherit a trace of the genes of the super soldiers of the long lost empire, and their fatima partners - humanoid androids that act as an interface between the headliners and the Motar Headds.
Each book consists of mini-stories of the inhabitants of the Joker Star Cluster. Wars, espisonage, rebellions abound. Five Star Stories, is simply stories of the headliners and their fatima partners, until the end of their age.
I cannot give anything but a 10, because there's no other way. At times parts can be inconsistent (the series has been running since the early 80's) as the vast collection of settings can be confusing even for the author. This is however not a plot driven work - instead, entrust with Nagano to reveal bits and pieces about the legends of fatimas and their masters.
I saw the movie for FSS a year ago and found it interesting but very rushed. So I thought the manga would be a more fulfilling experience. I expected it to expand on the story of the film and explain things more clearly.
How wrong I was. To put it bluntly, this is one of the ugliest, trashiest manga I have ever read. The movie was somehow able to polish up this turd of a series into something meaningful compared to what I had to go through. How should I go about explaining this?
Let's start with the one saving grace
of the entire work: the mecha designs. They are indeed beautiful, if a bit ostentatious. When they're standing still, it's a feast for the eyes.
Now as for the other aspects... oh boy.
The author, Mamoru Nagano, cannot draw people, backgrounds, and other aspects that are crucial to make a manga flow. He also does not understand story structure or tone. And from the content he presents in each volume, he is a depraved sexual deviant and probably has some form of Alzheimer's.
I wish I were joking.
To begin with, let's talk about the story- for something that rates itself "Five Stars", I wouldn't even give it such a rank on a ten-star scale. It is that bad.
Remember when I said the film was rushed, and I expected the manga to expand upon it? It doesn't, and it's just as rushed. Everything that takes place in the first film happens in the first volume. From then one, it jumps into this bizarre mess of short flashbacks and flash-forward sequences, some of which take place in alternate dimensions (no exaggeration), and none of which have any serious bearing or drive the story in any direction. They're all a series of meaningless vignettes filled with disjointed ideas that have nothing to do with one another. You will go from one scene involving a battalion of WWI soldiers fighting a trench battle with hovertanks, to another with some dumb cardboard cutout shounen brat and his mother fighting leotard+fishnet stocking and stiletto wearing Ninjas, to another with half-naked gods and goddesses speculating about the fate of mankind... you get the idea. Random characters pop up only to disappear and be forgotten, until they come back as completely different characters with the same name. The main character himself, Ladios Sopp has around 5 different names and bodies. There is even a pathetic attempt by the author to one-up Tolkien when it comes to making up meaningless dictionaries of terminology that do more to confuse rather than worldbuild. Maybe some people like this kind of "storytelling", but from what I see there's little originality to be had when all these short vignettes are just bland copies of vastly superior works that already exist out there. The funniest aspect of this is that there is even a timeline in the back of each volume that spans THOUSANDS of years, filled with important historic events in the story, none of which we actually get to fully see in the manga. So why was it even included? It doesn't help that most of the setting is just Star Wars with super fetishistic elements added in (which we will get to later, because it is the truly worst aspect of this dung pile).
The art? Like I said before, the standing robots are nice. Everything else? Not so nice.
Mamoru Nagano CANNOT draw people. Every single character is a stick figure a-la CLAMP, drawn in the same bizarre ostentatious style of the mecha design (works for robot but NOT people), made worse by the fact that they suffer from serious sameface and often go off-model, making them utterly indistinguishable from one another in certain scenes. Think of it like the worst parts of the early chapters of Jojo's Bizarre Adventure, only amplified by ten. They also all seem to change outfits every five panels, because Nagano is a fashion designer and he wants the audience to know it, so you can never tell if one character is the same character as the one on the previous page. And since none of the characters have any real depth or personality as mentioned before, you'll soon find yourself seeing nothing more than a handful of fetish fuel talking heads from panel to panel. Speaking of panels- the panelling is awful. Scrunched. No clear transitions. Backgrounds range from blank to ugly dusty wind for no reason, with little variation in between, and with nothing to really look at. And the mecha? Beautiful standing, but the moment they start "moving" it looks so utterly unconvincing. Mind you, there's only so many ways you can move a robot with stupidly high stilettos and an antenna longer than its own head height, but even in that regard Nagano still somehow disappoints. I guess that's why none of the model kits are poseable?
Now, bad story and bad art would constitute a merely bad manga. But what puts FSS into the very bottom of the barrel is the extreme, uncompromising fetishism of the author. Fanservice is one thing, but FSS can be classified as "masturbatory"- meaning it will please only the author to have these extreme elements in there. This is a rather depraved manga, filled with strange fetishes and sex and violence and drugs- which is to be expected from an 80s work like this. But Nagano takes it even further, and is somehow able to churn out 13 volumes of his personal masturbation material, and who knows for how much longer.
How bad is it you ask? Let's start with the obvious. The main character is a trap. Which itself is nothing radical or new, but Nagano takes it even further by violating him in the strangest ways. In one chapter, he's eaten alive by dinosaurs (don't worry, he's a god so he's immortal), and you are given the pleasure of seeing his half-eaten corpse and all the blood and guts to make even Kentauro Miura blush. Then there's the Fatimas, which as described in the movie, are literal sex slave robots with no free will. If such an idea already sounds bad on paper, wait until you get to see them get raped. In one of the chapters, a very feminine man (of the many feminine men in FSS) come in and gives a handjob to a shota Fatima in a brothel- right before he tears his head off. Even in comedic moments, the author can't resist putting in strange parts, such as when a mom kicks her 12-year-old son in the balls while showing off her VERY provocative underwear/garterbelt/stockings, and then steps on his testicles with her enormous six-inch stilettos, drawn in great detail. Oh yes, almost EVERY female character in this manga wears six-inch high heels, even some of the men! Nagano cares more about drawing high heels properly than he does his people. Halfway through the manga Nagano realized that this wasn't enough, so in addition to the six-inch high heels, he gives the Fatimas new shiny latex super skintight outfits in the vein of the Eva plugsuits, showing off their full anorexic glory so you can see their pelvic bones and ribcages and flat titties, all the while they strut around in those monster heels and get raped. All of this is done with zero sense of irony, and you can feel every ink stroke in the manga as a stroke the author does on his privates. It is the worst, most self-indulgent form of trash. It should be no surprise that this all literally came from the hand of a failed fashion designer.
When all is said and done, this is basically a doujinshi-level work made for people who have certain sexual tastes, just like the work of Raita and "oil n' horses" Masamune Shirow. I didn't find any of it particularly attractive, but since it's been going on for 30 years and continues to this day, with many artbooks released filled with anorexic Fatimas and other characters and their fetish outfits, I'm sure at least some of you may get something out of it.
Why did I not drop it earlier if I hated this so much you ask? Because I wanted to see how far this train of depravity would go. It did not disappoint. And it continues to this day, with no finish in sight.
And to think some had the audacity to compare this low-level smut to truly great manga works like Akira- what a laugh!
Then there is the recent retcon. As of volume 13 all the old designs and a good chunk of the story had been completely retconned. The new mecha designs a hilarious skeleton/Bayformer parody of the originals. The art remains as ugly as ever, and the characters are still personality-free walking fetish objects. If the author was so bored of his own work from the past 30 years that he would wipe it out of existence, why should you be interested in something that even the author doesn't care for?