Prolegomena to my Study of Five Star Stories
Five Star Stories, the manga masterwork from Mamoru Nagano, is the antithesis of the mystery story. The prologue is actually the end [or one end] of the tale, both the Japanese and American editions of the manga feature detailed descriptions of the world of the Joker Galaxy and even the character designs which grace the volumes come along with blurbs that pretty much tell you everything that has happened or will happen.
Evidently Nagano is not relying on clever gimmicks or unforeseen plot twists to lure you in: you are meant to enjoy the story for its aesthetic qualities (literary, visual) so that in fact knowledge of what is going to happen actually enhances your appreciation of the event.
This is similar to reading about great historical events. My favorite comic series growing up was Condorito (classic Chilean stuff, first issue ever is here). I remember a strip where the title character runs into his friend and excitedly tells him he’s just started reading a series on the Second World War. His friend says: “Oh, right. The one the Germans lost.” And Condorito retorts: “Gee, thanks. You just ruined the ending for me.”
I thought that was pretty funny, but the point is that most of us know what happened in World War II and we have a sense of how much it mattered, and it is this sense that is stimulated and fed when we read a well-crafted account on such and such campaign.
That Nagano can put out his universe like this, as if it were real, shows me he has an amazing amount of confidence. And reading FSS, I find that this confidence is fully warranted. So what are the themes that I’m going to be looking for in Nagano’s manga? Well, here are three of them. In no particular order:
Amaterasu and Lachesis. The first sentence of the first (U.S.) volume begins: “This is a tale of the god of light, Amaterasu, and his wife Lachesis…” We’re also immediately thrown into the mechanics of Mortar Headds (MH), which require a Headdliner and a Fatima to operate. Since most Headdliners are male, and the overwhelming majority of Fatimas are female, we already have an inkling of love affairs in a battle context.
Even Aisha, a female Headdliner, is said to be extremely close to her (female as well) Fatima Alecto.
Amaterasu is of course the type of this. In many ways, femininity seems to rule the world of FSS. Ghostlightning says in his post “Bishonen in the mecha genre did not begin with mobile suit gundam wing” that he finds Nagano’s style very feminine. Moreover, and this statement is more important as he is mechalogist by trade, he finds the mecha designs feminine as well. In my opinion as a layman I must say that I agree completely. That said, we learn very quickly that Amaterasu’s master mecha, the Knight of Gold, is at 144 tons of metal on the lighter end of the MH scale, as these monsters can climb up to 250 tons.
In terms that philosophy students everywhere know and love, it’s almost as if the FORM of an MH mecha is light and feminine while the CONTENT is heavy and masculine → androgynous. Seen another way, however, Not the insides of an MH are populated more often than not by a man and a woman so there’s an androgyny within the operational structure of the mortar headd.
And as soon as we stop looking at the images themselves and think about the plot itself we come upon one of the manliest (or GAR) themes of them all: reunification. The sentence from the manga I quoted earlier goes on like this: “who emerged victorious from an era of wars that raged throughout four solar systems.” An era of wars in which Amaterasu at least is involved for the sake of the reunification of the star system.
I don’t know why reunification is so GAR, but it is. I guess the fact that it is a Re-Unification simplifies matters a lot: strategists don’t need to worry so much about why they’re trying to unify an area once they know that it’s been done in the past. If so and so did it then, then I can know, so let’s get to it!!
In the case of FSS it is understood albeit very vaguely that a powerful Super-Empire ruled it all in the distant past. In the real world, and for a Japanese like Nagano, there are 3 great reunifications to draw on:
a) that of China by the Qin “First Emperor” after the Warring States Period of 476-221 BC. [Amaterasu will be hailed as a “First Emperor”, even though just as in the case of the Qin, there had been such monarchs before.]
b) that of China during the Three Kingdoms Period (184-280). This one was ultimately unsuccessful.
c) that of Japan by Nobunaga, Hideyoshi and Ieyasu after the Warring States Period of 1467-1603.
There’s a great story about these last three guys. Imagine you receive the gift of a bird with a wonderful song. For some reason the bird doesn’t want to sing. What do you do?
Said Nobunaga: if the bird won’t sing for me, I will kill it.
Said Hideyoshi: if the bird won’t sing for me, I’ll make it sing.
Said Ieyasu: if the bird won’t sing for me, I’ll wait for it to sing.
These answers illustrate the men’s characters. I wonder then what Amaterasu’s response would be and how it will be revealed in the manga. So far I’d be tempted to think he’d reply along the lines of “Nonsense, why would the bird not sing for me?”