"This is a tale of Amaterasu, the god of light; of that one's mate, Lachesis; as well as of the many glorious Headliners and the battles they all fought in times of war, wars which raged through four solar systems...."
Five Star Stories is the stunning lifework of critically-acclaimed artist Mamoru Nagano. The multitalented Nagano, who also is a musician and graphic designer, first made his mark in the 1984 animated series Heavy Metal L-Gaim as a character designer. A self-professed Gundam fanboy, Nagano's first effort at manga with Fool for the City saw publication in the magazine Newtype throughout 1985. Five Star Stories was begun as a manga in 1986 and continues to be serialized in Newtype; the title saw release of the ninth compiled volume by Kadokawa Shoten just last month. Unlike most manga artists, Nagano draws and renders every frame of his work. Nagano's method of working means only a few pages of new material appear every month, but the results are breathtaking. Few artists can create the intricately-drawn people and worlds that are the trademarks of Five Star Stories, let alone pull off a sweeping epic with its measured power and grace.
Five Star Stories is informed by an intriguing mix of hardcore SF and elements of fantasy, apparent in the striking balance of the hyper-technology and the medieval social structure of its world. Five Star Stories is set throughout the Joker System -- a cross formation of four stars (Easter, Wester, Northe, Southerned) -- in a far future. Humans in this age can expect to live around 250 to 320 years and have an average IQ of 180. Among these people are a select few who exhibit the traits of a special human breed raised for war and space colonization in the distant past. Those who manifest this rare strain are called "headliners"; they have reaction times ten times faster than those of an ordinary human being, and they exhibit similarly exceptional physical skills.
Headliners, by virtue of their abilities, may become the exclusive pilots of machines called machine messiahs. Battles are always determined at the level of these massive creations, which are also called mortar heads. Despite their rare skills, headliners could not adequately communicate and manage the complex operation of the mortar head; in response to this situation, the fatima was developed to interface between a mortar head and its pilot. Fatimas are the computer androids of the Joker System and often are created in a humanoid form; most are female, but there also are male, juvenile, and formless types. Bio-engineered from artificial DNA through a process taking more than ten years, the fatima can be called a new kind of lifeform. Except for their unnatural reaction speeds, their inability to reproduce, and their immortality, these fatimas are identical to their human counterparts. Because of their great beauty and valued skills, fatimas are prized by headliners and are eventually associated with the elite society of the Joker System.
The main focus of the story centers on Amaterasu IV, the emperor of Amaterasu Kingdoms Demesnes (A.K.D.) of Delta Belune, one of the two habitable planets from the solar system of Easter. The manga traces Amaterasu's quest to unite and bring to peace the constantly warring nation-states of the Joker System under a single authority, in the process becoming the God of Light. It also follows his love for Lachesis. Lachesis is the 44th fatima to come from the hands of Chrome Ballanche, whose creations are famed for their quality and are much sought after. Also known as the "Fatima Fortune", Lachesis holds a great secret within herself; this secret is an ongoing theme of the manga and has yet to be made clear. Lachesis, Clotho, and Atropos slowly emerge as the three goddesses who weave the strands of Fate that hold the story together. While the tale of Amaterasu and Lachesis provides the larger framework of the story, Nagano zooms in on different characters in different places at different times. The interplay of flashbacks, fast-forwards, and the fleshing out of the characters and the story results in a deep, multifaceted work tied together by the interconnecting paths of Lachesis, Clotho, and Atropos.
The anime is a retelling of the first chapter of the manga, which narrates the events surrounding the unveiling of Ballanche's last two fatimas in Bustogne on Addler, the twin planet of Delta Belune in the Easter solar system. The anime was made in 1988, back in the heydays of producer Haruki Kadokawa and his domination of Japanese mass-media. With high production values and one of the premier symphonic anime soundtracks, the movie provides a good, if somewhat flawed, introduction to the world of Five Star Stories -- not unlike how the Nausicaš movie provided a sampling of Miyazaki's classic manga.
The events of the movie take place in the year S.C.2988. Further into the story (in the year S.C.3239), Amaterasu loses the Knight of Gold and Lachesis in a wild teleport jump during a tragic battle on the planet of Kalamity. Lachesis and the Knight of Gold drift through time and space in a deep sleep. Although he eventually consolidates his influence throughout the Joker System, Amaterasu -- forlorn from the loss of Lachesis -- secretly abdicates and retires from the public sphere. His successor, Uppandra, is in reality Ballanche Fatima No. 42; created in the image of the male Ladios Sopp, Uppandra becomes Amaterasu V in S.C.3967. Unfortunately, Uppandra proves himself to be an inept ruler, choosing instead to dictate a reign of terror. Amaterasu IV is forced to return, and he removes Uppandra from power in S.C.4090. Uppandra manages to escape in the midst of the confusion that arises from the collapse of the A.K.D.; he is eventually tracked down and defeated by the mortar head Junchoon, of Colus VI and Clotho. In the year S.C.4101, Colus VI succeeds the house of Amaterasu to become the Emperor of the Joker System.
Meanwhile, Amaterasu IV has gathered his followers from the remnants of Delta Belune, and together with his loyal Mirage Knights, he leaves the Joker System in the flagship Will (built on designs left behind by Ballanche) to search for Lachesis. Falling like a meteor through space, the Knight of Gold reappears from its teleport jump in S.C.5899; seven hundred years later, Lachesis awakens from her sleep. She wanders through space and begins jumping back and forth in time with the Knight of Gold. In the year S.C.7777, both Amaterasu and Lachesis arrive and are reunited at a green planet called Fortune. In S.C.7779, their child Kallen is born. Kallen is the first of a new human race, and perhaps the child of the true God of Light.
In several ways, Five Star Stories is Nagano's take on the classic theme of the Gundam universe -- the evolution of mankind. On another level, too, Nagano is essentially retelling the myth of Creation -- that is, how God created the world from chaos. However, Five Star Stories is ultimately an original epic, borne out by a deep undercurrent of romantic hurt and melancholy.
Notes for the anime of Five Star Stories:
- Some characters in the manga version of the movie's story arc do not appear in the anime. The most notable of these are Mirage Knight No. 1, Falk U. Rognar, and his fatima, Ieatta (Ballanche No. 7). Their roles were assumed by other Mirage Knights.
- Sopp is Emperor Amaterasu IV of the A.K.D. He uses the alias Ladios Sopp when he travels. Voards Viewlard is the name similarly used by Mission Routh of the Lent Federation.
- The person who played Amaterasu's double was Aisha Codante. Aisha is both the Queen of Delta Belune's House of Codante and Mirage Knight No. 2. She loves Amaterasu. Implicitly trusted by the latter, Aisha often acts as his kagemusha ("shadow warrior").
- The young prince who Clotho sees when she first regains consciousness at Betruka (where Colus III and Sopp come to her rescue) is Colus VI. One year after the events of the movie, Colus III loses his fatima Ulicul during the test run of his mortar head, the new Junon, when they were skirmished by mercenaries hired by the neighboring Duchy of Hagooda. Shattered by the loss of Ulicul and physically wounded, Colus slowly completes the Junon with the help of Sopp and Clotho. The Kingdom of Colus wins the war against Hagooda with help from the Mirage Knights, but Colus III dies in the final battle. That same day, Clotho falls into a deep sleep with the Junon. The one who wakes Clotho and the Junon, by then renamed the Junchoon, from their sleep is Colus VI. The scene under the tree with the purple blossoms is the vision Clotho foresees of her destined master, Colus VI.
- Amaterasu IV is not human. It was rumored that his mother bore him through a holy birth (similar in nature to that of the Virgin Mary and Jesus) and that the young prince was born an albino. He is an immortal being and possesses hidden powers. His great beauty belies a personality that can be ruthless at times.
- Atropos was completed one year before her sisters, Lachesis and Clotho, were. Ballanche had secretly allowed Atropos to escape with the mortar head Auge, a prototype for the Knight of Gold that Amaterasu had discarded and left behind with his friend. Atropos would continue to wander through the Joker System, her only constant companion being Suezo, a cute infant LED dragon. Atropos accidentally comes across a wounded Sopp in S.C.2992; she comes to his aid again later in the story, filling in the void left behind by her lost sister Lachesis.
Abbreviated timeline for Five Star Stories (leading up to the events of the anime):