Very few mythical creatures have dominated our imaginations the way dragons have. They’ve existed in our culture farther back than vampires, werewolves, and zombies combined. They’re practically an ancient idea at this point, having been an important element of both western and eastern folklore, and while there may be significant differences… One side of the pond sees them as four legged, giant beasts guarding hordes of gold and battling silver-clad knights over the rights to their most recently stolen princess, while the other side sees them as more serpent-like with sweet facial hair… The general idea has always been that they’re giant scaly beasts who may or may not be able to breathe fire. But what if our folk lore is wrong? What if dragons look nothing like what popular fiction such as Skyrim, fantasy novels and Disney have told us? What if that festive five man dragon costume you saw in that Chinese festival was based on lies? What if dragons are real, and looked nothing like what we’ve been told?
True dragons… The ones that really exist in our world… Actually look like starfish after several generations of sucking down experimental radiation, to the point that they look more like Star Trek spaceships than bottom-dwelling sea creatures. Their purpose may be unclear, but their children, however, are a bit easier to understand. While they look like Patrick Star has sex with a bunch of different Kirby villains and aborted each resulting baby, they’re a much more common presence than their giant parents. They like to pair themselves with troubled human youths for unclear purposes and to unclear ends, but there’s one thing that is clear… Whether you’re a cheerful Daddy’s girl, a terminally depressed beauty queen, a bullied genius, a sociopathic misanthrope or an emotionally stunted playboy, having one of these ‘Dragon’s children’ attach themselves to you is more of a curse than a blessing, and your life is about to get a lot more complicated.
Shadow Star Narutaru was produced by Planet, an animation studio with so few credits to their name that wikipedia doesn’t even have a page for them. Anime News Network does, however, which is how I was able to find out that the biggest credit to their name is The Galaxy Railways, and the worst credit to their name… According to people I’ve spoken to… Is Moe-Tan, which I’ve heard nothing but glowering reviews for. They also did an obscure children’s Panda show and the lesser of the two Mermaid Forest adaptations. That’s not what I’d call a promising resume, but leaving all that behind, how does Narutaru look? Like ass. It looks like ass. I’ve heard people call it ‘passable,’ which may have been true in the eighties, but this is a 2003 release, and the animation just barely more competent than 1960’s Spiderman. They do their best to cover for this with their editing and framing work, but it’s a futile effort at best.
When a character is moving, the minimum amount of movement is used. If they’re moving their arm, then that’s the only part that moves. If their movement is finished, their faces freeze in whatever expression they were using at the time. Items moving across the screen like dragon’s children and airplanes move about as naturally as if someone was clicking on them and dragging them from one point to another. There are far too many close-ups during action scenes to keep up with what’s going on, and whenever the series amps up it’s violence, the visual direction seems less interested in making the show look good and more concerned with being as safe for a wide TV broadcast as it possibly can be through any means necessary. Hell, when a person’s being forced to drink a glass filled with water and worms(it happens), we’re not even allowed to see the worms in the glass. We see her drink it, then later she pukes(offscreen, of course,) and we finally get to see the worms wriggling on a pile of puke that looks exactly like plain old water. Considering how dark and disturbing this show gets, the fact that they were able to edit and frame everything safely enough to air on a channel called “Kids Station” is perhaps the most fucked up thing about it.
The music… Honestly? It’s pretty good. The sound design in general is very impressive, as sounds that would be commonplace in the show’s suburban setting are used in just the right ways to add tension and suspense to the story. The soundtrack is perhaps the best thing about the series, as it blends the menial tone of children living their day-to-day lives with the far harsher tone of supernatural horror even better than Higurashi ever did. The ending theme is somewhat generic, but what I’d like to draw specific attention to is the opening, Nichiyoubi No Taiyou by The Neutral. The song itself is upbeat and catchy with an addictive vocal style, the kind of song I could easily find myself listening to standalone, regardless of whether or not I understood the lyrics. The video that accompanies it is another highlight of how well the music combines it’s genres, with pretty much the entire video being dominated by childish crayon drawings that simplify and sometimes even straight up misrepresent not only some of the more horrific events in the story, but the implications made by it’s premise. It’s a pretty great soundtrack, to say the least.
As for the English dub, it could easily pass for an alternative method of prisoner of war torture. That may be a bit hyperbolic, I admit, but there’s very little defense you can make for this dubbing effort. Yeah, it’s kind of expected coming from Central Park Media, a dubbing company who uses the critically reviled MD Geist as it’s proud mascot. But even they can be said to have outdone themselves on this project, which features about 90 percent no-name talent. I never thought I’d say this about ANY dub, but has anyone shared with you that Youtube video called “THE GREATEST GREATEST GREATEST ANIME DUB EVER? The one that’s full of relatively safe clips taken from a hentai called Sextra Credit? The acting in Narutaru is about on par with THAT. And that’s NOT hyperbole. The main actor Kelly Ray has been in a handful of low-rent early 2000’s titles, most notably Alien Nine, and while she’s more or less listenable when she’s speaking in a low register, whenever she raises her voice for any reason, it becomes the most ear-stabbingly ugly vocal performance I’ve ever heard.
About seven of the confirmed cast members have only ever appeared in this particular title, which is either a testament to how few actors had any interest in the material, or some pretty suggestive circumstantial evidence that a lot of the bigger names used aliases in order to keep the series off of their resumes. These one-miss-wonders aren’t limited to just side characters, either… The second biggest character in the series, Akira Sakura, is a ridiculously introverted girl who hates herself and shakes more than Plue from Rave Master. She’s played by one time actress Renee Gloger, and while I can say this pretty much across the board, one time was enough. At least two of the show’s villains, Akinori and Sudo, are supposed to be played as dangerous sociopaths, but they’re played with all the charisma and personality of a bread sandwich. They each spout their own brand of nihilistic babbling which, without the bulk of the manga’s material to back them up, just comes off as pretentious slosh. The other main character, Hiroko, is played by Flora Stanburg, who mumbles most of her lines and seems to have left the proper emotions at the door outside the booth.
Continuing the trend of fuck-ups I’ve never encountered before, there are several moments where the dialogue between two characters just doesn’t add up… Like one was blissfully unaware of the fact that the other was going to adlib. I can think of three or four examples off the top of my head, but the one that jumps most clearly to mind is when Shiina enters Akira’s house for the first time. Akira’s father asks her if she knows his daughter, and Shiina responds by saying “I haven’t just met her, she’s my friend!” There are other examples, but let’s instead look at a possible positive. At one point, the dub managed to get it’s hands on two of the voice acting giants of the late nineties and early aughts… Veronica Taylor, who’s better known as Ash Ketchum, and Lisa Ortiz, who’s best known as Lina Inverse. They were among the best of their time, they put on genuinely good performances, and with their talents, they actually manage to make the formerly terrible dub… Worse.
Let me explain. While they may have done a few uncredited stock roles, and there’s a decent chance Lisa Ortiz plays two roles, one of which is under the pseudonym Renee Goldstein, they only feature in credited roles for ONE EPISODE. Episode ten. Instead of lifting the over-all dub to a better place, it makes it even more painful when you realize that Central Park Media had access to these celebrated actors, but only used them for one episode, giving their main roles to people who are to acting what virgins are to sex. They COULD have had Lisa Ortiz play Shiina while Veronica Taylor played Akira, and the over-all product would have been so, so much easier to sit through. For an entirely accurate comparison, imagine you’ve gone to hell and are doomed to eat nothing but dog shit for the rest of your life. you’d eventually get used to your new culinary situation, right? Now imagine that after about fifty years, they start giving you chicken parmesan. A week later, it’s back to dog shit, only now it tastes just as bad as it did at the start, because you now know what you COULD have been eating all along. That’s what Taylor and Ortiz do to this dub. I haven’t seen this show in Japanese, but do yourself a favor and don’t go anywhere near the dub.
So… This is going to be a different kind of review. I was nice about the sound and music, because I do believe they were both nice, but aside from the sound design, I don’t foresee myself having anything nice to say about this title. For this reason, and also because I didn’t want to accidentily lead someone to watch the series by telling them it exists, this is not a title that I ever wanted to return to. But in order to grow as a reviewer, I have to talk about the best and the worst that anime has to offer… Even if that means turning around and standing face to face with an anime that traumatized me from watching anime for the entire month following my completion of it. I will have a lot to talk about with this title, and I’m sorry, but there’s going to be spoilers from here on out. I would normally never try to spoil your viewing experience of any anime by telling you how it ends, but most of the important talking points with this anime are spoilers, and it’s also okay because I don’t want you to watch this title anyway, so a spoiler here and there can only serve my purposes in the long run.
For starters, one of the worst things an anime can do, in my opinion, is to have a ‘read the manga’ type ending. I can’t stand any anime that forgoes the basic convention of having a conclusion in order to force you to migrate over to the written format just to find out what happens. There are very few anime I ever forgive for this, Berserk being one of the rare exceptions, but it is generally a very fast way to earn my ire. Well, Shadow Star Narutaru might as well be called ‘Read the Manga; the Anime.’ A twelve volume manga was compressed into a 13 episode series, and to say it shows would be putting it nicely. The first story arc takes place between episodes 1-9, and it focuses on the two main characters obtaining their Dragon’s Children, exploring their nature, and facing off against enemies around their age who have their own Draconic companions, one of which is an angelic looking being who goes unnamed in the anime… Although in the manga, it’s named Vagina Dentata. I’m not kidding. You’re welcome for that.
Anyway, they battle the first member of this gang, and he dies at the hands of Shiina’s dragon Hoshimaru, upon which the other villains come to town looking for him… And also looking for Akira, to get her to join them. I think. I’m not sure if anyone’s motivation is made clear. They fight out in a field, as the Japanese military gets involved, and while the multi-episode scuffle is probably the best material in the story, they all go their separate ways once the military is defeated. Then we have an episode where the main villain takes Shiina and Akira fishing, spouts some more nihilistic BS relating fishing to the manipulation of people, and there’s some relationship stuff that goes nowhere, and then… They’re gone. That’s it for them. The villains are written out of the series even more abruptly than they appeared in it, leaving a ton of questions unanswered. Who were they? What drove them to take such actions? Why was one of them naked? Why do Dragon’s children only pair up with preteens? What would happen if they found out their friend was dead? The storyline is dropped cold, and from what I’ve heard from people who’ve read the manga, this arc could have been told much more coherently if it had all 13 episodes to itself, but no, it just gets cut off and dropped unceremoniously so we can jump to the next story arc, which lasts only one episode and features a twist conclusion that even M Knight Shyamalan would find laughable.
Now, up until this point, this anime has been really, really bad. The writing has been choppy, character motivations are still up in the air, it’s been a constant assault on our eyes and ears, and we’re no closer to knowing anything about the Dragon’s Children and why they… Literally anything. But it’s not unwatchable. It’s not repulsive. Not yet. You can still get engaged with all the intrigue and mysterious characters, and it’s not hard to turn off your brain and enjoy the action scenes. But then something happens that takes what should have been yet another awful anime and turns it into something special. Something I’ve had difficulty talking about publicly until a few weeks ago. It’s like if you were feeling excited that you were about to watch a brand new episode of My Little Pony; Friendship is magic, only to see the episode title come up and read as “Cupcakes.” Yeah, you can tell yourself that it’s just a coincidence, and that it’s probably just going to be an innocent episode, but a part of you knows that they’ve taken their mining of the Brony community for ideas a little too far, and they’re about to do something so Grimdark that they never should have even considered it. We’re talking about THAT kind of bad.
In the final story arc, one of Shiina’s friends is going through a tough dilemma. She’s being bullied by four girls in her class who want her to lower her grades… The reason is never mentioned, so I’m just going to fill in the blanks and say they want to lower the class average so they can look better without having to do any extra studying… And the whole worm thing happens. Her grades drop to a 97, and her father starts bullying her about not hanging out with Shiina anymore. But the peak of the whole damn series comes when the four girls corner her, pin her down, and rape her with a test tube. Please read that sentence a few times, because it needs to be emphasized, and I only feel like saying it once. A boy shows up to interrupt them, so they leave, and since the foreign object is hollow and made of glass, I’m going to give this boy some credit for helping the girl to not become One Guy One Jar’s big sister. She goes home and catches her father burning her bridges with Shiina, and the straws break the camel’s back. Turns out she has a Dragon’s Child that kills her parents and brutally murders three of the girls, just barely sparing the only repentant one and, by the way, raping the ring leader to death.
Now, let’s talk about child psychology for a bit. I’ve never studied it, but according to the people I’ve spoken to who had any knowledge whatsoever to offer, 11 year old girls do not rape each other. I know, big shock, right? Even the few people who called it plausible did so by comparing rape to confirmed cases of murder and slut shaming… NOT THE SAME AS RAPE. Kids can do some nasty things, but the idea of them sexually torturing each other… Especially when it’s four like-minded girls going after another… It’s incredibly freaking unlikely. What’s far more likely is that the person writing of this scenario is a repressed pedophile with an imagination sadistic enough that not even Freddy Krueger would touch his dreams. I’ve looked into some of the manga that Mohiro Kitoh has written, and I can say with some confidence that he hates children even more than the creator of Bioshock must have. At least three of them heavily feature children in adult situations and a bunch of horrific deaths. It’s not hard to watch that final story arc and think that the whole test tube scene was concocted just so the artist could justify tearing apart four middle school aged girls with a self-insert demon monster.
And as I alluded before, the people adapting this lovely manga did the best they could to keep the horrific, deplorable acts just off screen and out of frame, but still making damn sure the audience knows what’s going on, so they could honor the artist’s vision without having to sacrifice a younger audience. Christ, even if it was deemed safe enough to air on “Kids Station,” the final three episodes of this show are pure nightmare fuel. I’m thirty, and even I had bad dreams after watching it… Both times! How sleazy can you get? Never mind how this must have effected die-hard fans of the manga, who probably WANTED to see the sick, bloody content materialized on screen. It was probably for their sake that the first story arc was rushed and cut off so abruptly, with entire scenes and arcs from the manga cut out. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t WANT to see an eleven year old girl get force-fed worms and raped with a monster’s talon while her half-decapitated brother/lover lies behind the bed, until finally she’s torn apart from the inside, I would NEVER want to see that, but if you’re not going to show it on screen, what’s the point of having it happen at all? People who came for the shocking content are going to be disappointed either way, so focus instead on the impressionable little minds tuning into Kids’ Station! You’re clearly not comfortable with your own material, so find a new ending(might as well at this point).
Shadow Star Narutaru was available stateside from Central Park Media, but has yet to be rescued, and is currently out of print. The DVDs are available relatively cheaply online, or you can buy the four disks together as a set. The original manga is available stateside from Dark Horse, and while I’d normally be apprehensive to recommend something that’s been heavily censored, it was probably for the best with this series. The story is apparently a lot longer and more complete, although there’s allegedly a lot more rape in it. Enter at your own risk.
When I got into reviewing anime, I figured I’d have people knocking down my door with requests. And I wanted it to happen. Requests keep you on your toes, so you don’t have to choose every single anime you review for yourself. If I had a lot of requests, then I wouldn’t have exhausted my personal reserves to the point that Shadow Star Naturaru would become a viable option for the November lineup. I’ve received a grand total of five requests in the past three years, and four of them were from people I know in real life. If I had more requests, then I might never have had any reason to go back into the trenches to rewatch this piece of shit. But since it’s number DID come up, I might as well say that Shadow Star Narutaru is the worst anime I’ve ever seen. The story is badly executed and incomplete, the plot and premise are nonsensical, there are several questions unanswered and loose ends untied, and even when it does manage to tell a complete story arc from beginning to end(or close to it), the material is deplorably tasteless. It sounds nice as long as nobody’s talking, but it still looks like ass from every angle. I can’t, in good conscience, recommend this to anyone. I give Shadow Star Narutaru a -10/10.