This manga was first released in, and I collected it in, the dark horse manga anthology called "Super Manga Blast". The translators described it as, "Narutaru is the popular Japanese title for Shadow Star, a fun science fiction title featuring super-cute amphibious creatures and lots high-flying adventure". Which is clear proof that not only do their proof-readers err occasionally, but that they had no idea of what they were actually dealing with.
The setting is modern day Japan. In particular a young girl named Shiina Tamai. She's a wonderful character, energetic and direct, yet still with a wonderful sense of complexity to her. She lives with her Dad who runs an aviation company and also trains JSDF pilots in Jet Fighter Dog-fighting. Their normal lives are somewhat upset when Shiina happens upon, while in the process of drowning, a strange alien star-shaped creature. After surviving her misadventure she meets it again, names it Hoshimaru, and discovers that it wants to stay with her. And since it's cute, and can do cool things like fly, Shiina's not at all against the idea.
However at this point the story diverges from what Dark Horse suspected. While to Shiina Hoshimaru is simply a strange friend it becomes obvious he does have powers, and even more obvious that he is not the only one. And while Shiina is balanced and good natured, putting power into the hands of young children does not always have such positive results. Meanwhile it also appears their are factions and hostilities between people and groups aware of the existence of these `powerful pets'. And above it all there are the forces of normality, who aren't stupid and who are definitely interested to find out what is going on. It looks like shiina got a little bit more than a mascot, it seems she got dragged into something pretty serious.
In other words the dark horse quote is miles off the reality. But even my review doesn't really give a feel for how intense, serious and deadly this manga can be. It's very skillful and it plays with your mind from the first handful of episodes. You quickly become attached to the characters, Shiina does find some allies, and horrified by some of the others involved in the story. One kid, using a more mature form of the `shadow dragon' plans to kill 5 billion people to produce a simpler world more to his liking. He's not joking and he may just about have the power to pull it off.
Indeed some people on the manga newsgroups, who have access to the Japanese version, have predicted that dark horse might not even be able to print some later stories, and certainly not in a general anthology like SMB. And even in the episodes I have there's depression, insecurity, hostility and people with both the power and lack of morals that enables them to act on their feelings. There's action, there's blood and there's even fatalities...it's intense stuff.
But it's also good intense stuff. The sense of character, both in dialogue and in the subtle sense of how people look, act and non-verbally express themselves is great. The staging of the scenes, the sense of action and danger and the way the story flows in a solid, convincing and steadily escalating way is fantastic. Yet at the same time there's a certain balance to it. The scenes are as intense for the psychology and meaning of what is occurring as the actual depiction itself. The events that happen also make sense as parts of the story, this is not a `gross out' experience, this is far more controlled and restrained than that.
The story simply abounds with unrevealed mysteries. The origin and intent of the various creatures, the nature of the people and groups and the way in which the story will develop has a nice complexity. Things grow at their own pace, all the players act as intelligently as they can with the information they have, and the scenes all grow both the immediate and the wider story. It gives a strong sense of slowly revealing parts and fragments of a great and complex plot. And it is willing to take time to develop the players. Thus we get to sit in on the briefing meeting of the Japanese government response group. It's boring from an `action' point of view, and at this point in the story we know more than them, but it sets their position and attitude beautifully. And, above all, there's a strong sense of `reality' about the whole thing.
The actual style of the manga is somewhat unusual and might at first look quite unappealing. The linework is a bit weak, very open, and the character look a touch strange and elongated. However the style does have strengths as well...characters have a strong sense of personality and the ability to catch `expressions' is quite good. It's also nice to see kids who more or less look like, and act, like kids. The artist is good with action, scene, and the backdrops and design give a strong sense of `place' to what is happening. It's different, it's not `wow' art, but it works well with the story, and occasionally produces a frame which is both unusual and powerful. It also has a wonderful sense of `ordinary' Japan which is interesting for the western reader. I'm less supportive of the translation, it's probably technically adept, but it's been couched in a `southern american' voice. Lots of "y'all" and such, which is actually annoying (and alien to an australian). Fortunately this `color' seems to reduce as the manga continues.
In essence I really hope this one makes it to graphic novels. I hate buying anthologies because they're hard to collect and store, but when this thing comes out in Graphic novels I will buy every volume...including re-buying the episodes I have, it's just that good.