Reviewby Stewart Tame
There haven't been any trade paperbacks released yet (according to Diamond Previews, the first one will be available in August), but Mohiro Kitoh's series "Shadow Star" is already one of my favorites. Translated by Studio Proteus, it's been appearing in monthly installments in Dark Horse's Super Manga Blast anthology. To date, there's not been much discussion of this series, and this review was written with an eye toward sparking some.
Two jet fighters encounter a mysterious insect-like flying creature. They pursue it only to see it crash into the ocean. No wreckage is found. After this brief prologue, we meet twelve-year old Shiina Tamai, visiting her grandparents who live on an island. While swimming with friends she encounters a bizarre starfish-shaped creature, which seems to be able to communicate with her telepathically. She names it "Hoshimaru" (literally "round star"), and it seems inclined to follow her home. On the way home, her flight is attacked by a creature that seems to be part dagger and part squid, and which we learn is called a shadow dragon. Two mysterious passengers seem to know quite a lot about both the dagger/squid and Hoshimaru, but when the attack is over they are nowhere to be found. In the course of the next several episodes Shiina makes a new friend: a shy fourteen-year old girl (Akira Sakura) who has her own creature similar to Hoshimaru. And we begin to get hints of a larger story involving the Star Chamber Club (a group of teenagers with shadow dragons of their own, and seemingly genocidal ambitions), a shady government organization, and Shiina's own father.
The art is lovely. Kitoh has a clean, open drawing style that makes effective use of negative space. The facial expressions of his characters are marvelously subtle. And he draws a great gangly adolescent--Shiina and Akira in particular are reminiscent of Leiji Matsumoto's women, only not nearly as stylized. The cleanliness and openness of his pages may suffer if reduced down to the size that Dark Horse seem to favor for their trade paperbacks. Kitoh also occasionally makes use of some gorgeous double page spreads--the one of a jet fighter encountering a shadow dragon is particularly striking--and some of the detail might get buried in the binding of a collected volume. It's worth buying the comic book run of this instead, even if it does mean hunting through each issue to find the Shadow Star chapters. Since DH has been known to use different sizes for their reprints though, we should probably wait and see what happens.
The story is engaging, rife with interesting characters and tantalizing mystery. What's the connection between Shiina's father and the dragons? Why are her parents seemingly separated? Why does Akira's mental link with her dragonchild seem to be so much stronger than Shiina and Hoshimaru's? Just what are the shadow dragons anyway? Why does Akira have such a pathological fear of conflict? When is Dark Horse going to start releasing trade paperback collections of the series? If the writing so far is any indication, the resolution of these questions should be quite satisfying. This reviewer is already hooked enough to the point where the wait between installments seems nearly unbearable.
This series clearly deserves an A. The only flaw to be found is that the monthly installments are much too short. I want a translation of the entire series right now, darn it! And as long as I'm dreaming I'd like a Perfect-Grade Wing Zero Gundam model kit too.
+ Great art, intriguing story, engaging characters.
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