Five Star Stories is a manga/comic series written/drawn by the mangaka Mamoru Nagano. It is a still on-going work by Mamoru, who serializes it in the anime magazine, Newtype Japan (not to be confused with Newtype USA).
There are several interesting things about this particular series. One of the major things is that it is being published in English; however, it is not published in the United States by the standard manga publishers (i.e., Tokyopop, Viz, Dark Horse, etc.). No, this series is currently published in English through Mamoru's private publishing company, Toyspress, and printed in Japan. Through a special deal with Kinokuniya bookstores, one can buy this series through them in the US for $8.98-9.98, but only through said bookstore. This makes for tough buying if you don't live near one of these, but I've helpfully provided ISBN numbers below for those in need.
(Note: I'm not sure, but perhaps Mamoru Nagano brokered a deal with some of the US companies or something, because from time to time I will see one or two issues at a regular bookstore like Borders and Barnes & Noble. Old issues are bound in the new format, so I'm led to think that either it is an updated import or there is some deal with a US company, not sure which. Please do tell if you know.)
This series stands apart from most manga, or most literature in general, really. The style is done as a series of short stories, in no particular order, chronological or alphabetical or otherwise; a jamboree, if you will. However, there is a catch to this:
"There is only one, rather forceful, catch to our "anything goes" jamboree format, and that is the Chronology, which lets the reader know the final outcome, no matter what may happen in between and whether or not I'm still around to draw it. Check it out. Colus III dies; Clotho is hidden under seal; Kallamity explodes, Lachesis flies off into the hereafter; Amaterasu turns over the Galaxy to Colus VI and departs for outer space; Lachesis observes the final destruction of the Galaxy; and our story ends in the timeless year 7777."
With each issue, Nagano simply presents a situation for you to digest, without warning, explanation, or reference. Perhaps an issue later, or several issues later, you'll be presented with another situation, and then another, and then suddenly, like a puzzle, you'll see how all of them connect in relation to each other. One issue may deal with a certain character; an issue later, you'll be reading about the certain character's descendant, and how choices made a thousand years ago affect the present.
There is a central plot to this series, but Nagano often diverges from this. The ingredients are pretty basic:
Mortar Headds: These are essentially mechas. Big giant hulking robot transformer-type machines. Preeminent among them is Amaterasu's Knight of Gold. These require a headliner and a type of fatima to operate. They are the standard war machine in the "backwards" Joker Galaxy.
Headliners: Pilots of mortar headds. These people are considered "knights". Aside from living longer than average, they have extremely fast reaction rates and basically superhuman abilities (jumping extremely high, running really fast, etc). The drawback is that they have lower than normal IQ (the standard in the Joker world is 180, and headliners average at 120). They are usually accompanied by a fatima. Those headliners that are preeminent among this minority are usually given the title of "sage" (i.e., Dimos Hiraki, Douglas Kaien).
Fatima: These are basically human computers, usually in the form of attractive women. They can be mass produced or individually crafted, and the more work put into them, the better quality they turn out (they have greater control of mortar headds, better reaction times, etc). Those fatima created by Chrome Ballanche are considered the ultimate masterpiece, and he created only 45 in his lifetime. Fatima are typically loyal to their headliners, but in some cases are loyal to the mortar headd itself (i.e., the fatima Est will only choose headliners who are best suited for her mortar headd, the MH Vashtu)
Fatima are the co-pilots to mortar headds, doing all the technical work of keeping the damn hunk of metal upright while the headliners fight. Though they appear, on the surface, to be women, they are physiologically similar to men; they do not menstruate, have a body structure similar to men (flat chest, narrow hips), and emit very little in the way of bodily odors/fluids. Their reaction times and skills are second only to headliners. They also do not age as normal women/men do.
Because of their above-average intelligence and value, the creation of fatima is heavily regulated by the government: they are to wear dark contact lenses the entire time (to be instantly identifiable) and are subjected to extreme mind control. They "imprint" to a single headliner at a time, and cannot disobey them. When their headliner dies, most fatima are driven under compulsion to look to imprint to another headliner. This, combined with their attractive appearance, can lead to some pretty ugly situations.
Fatima are the greatest tragedy in the world of Five Star Stories: they look, act, and think as humans do; are treated like objects; have no connection with the past and the future because of how they were built; and ultimately have not even the privilege of having a choice.
Fatima Meights: These are the scientists that create fatimas for war use. While there are mass-produced versions of fatimas, the ones best suited for battle, the ones that lasted the longest are created by the meights. Preeminent among them are Chrome Ballanche and Dr. Morard Carbyte.
Divers: They are the psychics of the Joker Galaxy world; their power is all that of the mind. Some can see into the future, some are attack only... you get the picture. In some very rare cases, there are headliners with diver powers; Amaterasu is one of them.
It's marvelous, really, how the things link up; at the same time, it's sad, sometimes even grotesque in nature. The first scene you are confronted with in the series is a duel between two headliners and their accompanying fatimas; you do not know why they are fighting, nor even if they know each other. The headliners fight, and a loser is declared. In the way of war, the winner departs as the loser draws his last breath in the arms of his beloved fatima. A simple scene, but not out of ordinary.
A few issues later, in a period a few thousand years before the first event, there is a small, almost trivial scene where the two fatimas first meet each other; they speak to each other politely, courteously, in a girlish, simple way, in the way many a friendship start. And they do become friends, very good friends. It takes up all of two or three drawn panels. But the tragedy of the first scene hits you right then and there. The fight was so much more than just a duel; it was a situation that neither fatima had a choice or say in, a situation that inevitably had to happen because of things like loyalty, history, ideals, politics; of things bigger than simply the individual.
As the series is very old - dating sometime in the 1980s, the art is not slickly or cleanly drawn or shaded; however, it is beautifully detailed. Nagano was a fashion designer before drawing manga, and it shows in the beautifully colored and designed characters and portraits of both the men and women of the Five Star Stories world. The English editions do not disappoint; aside from reprinting the entire manga series in large, high quality paper, they include color images, character portraits, and little additional illustrations/designer notes in the back. Standard format is the same as in Japan - reading from right to left.
(It is amusing to note that Nagano makes it very clear he dislikes the pandering to fanboys with gratuitous amount of flesh; he clearly states that his favorite fashions are winter clothing types. This is not to say that he doesn't pander to fanboyism; he just does it in a different way. Rather than showing breasts, bare legs, or panties, the reader is more apt to see garter belts, stockings, and beautiful, almost fetishy high heels.)
There are far too many to list - to date there are a couple of hundred characters in this series, so I'll simply highlight the more important ones.
Named after the Japanese sun goddess, he/she is the emperor/empress of Delta Belun. He is a being of a higher plane, one who you might as well call a god, but really isn't. Nagano describes it very nicely, in my opinion:
"Trying to put it simply as possible, imagine trading places with a mannequin or a model robot and getting broken, like losing your head. There would be no way of repairing it yourself. However, humans can paste you back together and fill in and paint your cracks. This is the level of Amaterasu's capabilities compared to us."
My personal interpretation would be a bit more mathematical: think of it in Flatland style. Try explaining to a square of the second dimension what the third dimension is like, and you'll go nowhere. Suffice to say that you're pretty much a god in every respect to the lowly square, just as a square is a god to a being of the first dimension, the line.
Amaterasu would be considered the main character of this series. He is a very whimsical and seemingly contradictory character; his actions, from an outside perspective (especially when you read the timeline), don't ever seem to logically make sense.
Throughout the series, Amaterasu assumes different personas. Sometimes you'll see him as a woman, sometimes a man, sometimes a headliner, sometimes a meister, sometimes an emperor. Each one of these personas is a complete and separate identity, different from each other; the only thing linking them between each other is that ultimately, in the end, they are only bits and pieces - illusionary aspects, even - of his true form. Even the role of "Amaterasu, Delta Belun Emperor" is exactly that: a role. This, I feel, is the best explanation for his actions.
He may be all powerful, but if you really think about it, he must be very lonely, being the only thing of his kind.
Named after one of the Three Fates, Lachesis is a Ballanche fatima, numbered 44. She would be considered the other main character to this series. She is the Amaterasu's fatima, but, as with all Ballanche fatimas, she has many secrets buried in her. She is built without mind control, a secret that many (but not all) Ballanche fatimas have.
To avoid spoilers, I will say very little about her. Suffice to say that she is ultimately the savior and hope of all fatimas.
She is the one that asks Amaterasu to build the Knight of Gold.
Lachesis' sister and final Ballanche masterpiece, fatima number 45. Also named after one of the Three Fates. She is the youngest Ballanche fatima, and will spend most of her time asleep throughout the series. Like Lachesis, she is built without mind control. She was gifted to Colus III of the Colus Dynasty, and her true master will eventually be Colus VI.
Her secret and the reason why she is asleep is very simple: she is the only fatima who can defeat the Amaterasu/Lachesis/Knight of Gold combination. She was essentially built to check their power, and because of this, she chooses to sleep, rather than being forced to harm her sister when the winds of politics blows...
The last of the Three Fates, and Ballanche fatima 43. Like Lachesis and Clotho, built without mind control. Unlike those two, she is masterless. She hates Ballanche for making her a fatima, to bear all that they must bear; she hates humans for being so prejudiced, fearful, and weak-minded; and ultimately, she hates herself because she feels weak and lost.
It might be best said that Ballanche's true gift to her was the gift of choice, and like many with this gift, she doesn't know what to do with it. In some ways, she is very envious of her sisters for lacking that choice.
In some odd way, she has a love/hate relationship towards Amaterasu, and acts as "fatima" (and I believe wife, as well) to Uplanda, Amaterasu's cat's paw and a fatima created by Dr. Ballanche who looks exactly like Amaterasu. It is clear that her support is ultimately with the fatima, rather than the human race.
Considered the greatest of fatima meights, his fatimas are haute couture pieces, individually crafted and designed to exact specifications. He created 45 fatimas, and just about each and every one of his creations harbors a special secret of some sort. He is a perfectionist with an obsessive drive and a desire make the world, somehow, a little bit better. Rather like Albert Einstein, his brilliance, despite his motives, does not make for a better world, per se.
Ballanche was interested in Amaterasu at first because of what he is (and later applies whatever he learns to his fatima creations), but over time, becomes a true friend. He is the first person that Amaterasu has feelings for (not in a romantic sense, but rather, in the humanistic sense; Amaterasu, you must remember, is not entirely human and therefore not subject to human things like emotion).
His interest in fatimas, aside from the fact that he has the technical skill to be able to make exquisite creations, stems from pity. Queen, the first fatima he gifts with the Ballanche numbering system (she is Ballanche creation #1, though she is not his first fatima creation), represents everything that fatima are capable of without all the inhibitions built into them: without mind control, with the powers nearly that of a sage headliner, with pride and ultimately, with a connection to the future. Because of law, her talents and gifts are something she, and all other Ballanche creations, must hide. Unfortunately for both Queen and Ballanche, Queen is something of a tragedy because of what she is and because of her need to hide.
Despite the gifts he gives to his fatimas, Ballanche is dissatisfied in one form or another with each and every one of his creations; instead of producing individuals, he finds each one of his creations are nothing more than very special fatima. It is not until perhaps Lachesis that he achieves what he wants.
His last four fatimas are ultimately, in one form or another, gifts and lessons to Amaterasu and to all fatima in general.
Timeline (not a spoiler, since you're supposed to know about this before you even start reading)
The Joker Millennia (Joker and Earth light years are not synchrnonized because time progresses faster in the Joker Galaxy)
JC 0001: Stabilization is achieved on the planets of the Galaxy's four solar systems, as interplanetary diplomatic agreements are negotiated and enacted, marking the beginning of the Joker Era. At this point in time, however, human civilization reaches its pinnacle and begins its descent. The Joker Galaxy enters an era of senescence and decline. A civilization that once advanced into the outer reaches of the universe, experimented with speeds exceeding light, and sought existence beyond the three dimensions is slowing down. The human race is now in a process of reverse evolution. From this point on, there will be no sign of significant historical change, even in millennial terms.
JC 0980: Birth of the mortar headd, a battle machine modeled after the human anatomy and designed in the artistic style of science and engineering.
JC 2000: In the Kingdom of Grees on eastern Delta Belun, the second planet in the Eastern Solar System, the albino Amaterasu Dis Grand Grees Eydas IV is born and destined to become the kingdom's 84th monarch.
JC 2310: A data processor greatly improving the control of mortar headds is developed by the mad scientist Lithium Balance. It is called the "fatima," an artificial life-form physiologically identical to human beings.
JC 2324: Amaterasu is enthroned as the ruler of Grees at the age of 304. Over a thirty-year period he has contributed much to the cause of international peace among the countries of Delta Belun.
JC 2400-: Amaterasu's Eastern Solar System and the Northern Solar System, which is ruled by large and powerful countries, attain a state of relatively peaceful coexistence, while the smaller countries scattered throughout the Southern and Western Solar Systems remain in political turmoil. It is a time of mass production of both mortar headds and fatimas.
JC 2629: Amaterasu makes the acquaintance of the scientific genius Chrome Ballanche.
JC 2875: Amaterasu unifies the ten eastern countries surrounding the Kingdom of Grees. Similarly, in the Southern Solar System, Colus II, ruler of the super power on the planet Juno, forms the kingdoms on his borders into the Colus Dynasty. Colus III is born.
JC 2899: Amaterasu unifies Delta Belun into an organization called Amaterasu Kingdom Demesnes (hereafter AKD). The report of this action of this action is greeted with surprise and apprehension throughout the Galaxy.
JC 2988: Dr. Ballanche's final two fatimas, Lachesis and Clotho, come of age. Amaterasu acquires Lachesis, while Clotho is taken into the care of Juno's King Colus III.
JC 2992: Atropos begins 350 years of seclusion with an infant LED dragon.
JC 3199: Amaterasu launches an invasion of Both in the Western Solar System. Many of the planet's residents welcome the invasion as the arrival of political stability to a chaotic situation that has continued since the beginning of the Majestic Stand, so Both is quickly incorporated into the AKD. However, the region of Kastenpo on the continent of Gnann for some reason is able to retain its former status as a free and autonomous district, and only the Holy LED A-Toll Empire is granted sovereignty.
JC 3239: Slant approaches Kallamity, which experiences violent upheavals in the planet's crust and chaotic magnetic fluctuations. Rescue and emigration from Kallamity is stepped up. Amaterasu boards the Knight of Gold and leads the entire Mirage Knight Corps in an all out attack on the Fillmore Empire. It is the last action anyone will take on this planet doomed to destruction by the approach of Slant. During the attack, KOG stalls on a shoal while crossing Lake Nnbidoug, and just before Kallamity explodes, Amaterasu is ejected to safety, leaving the MH and Lachesis stranded on the Lake. In order to lessen the shock from the impending volcanic explosion, KOG uses the buster launcher to dig a 5000 kilometer crater in the planet's crush and drops a shock resistant gelatin bomb into the Lake. However, nothing can save Lachesis from the explosion, as she and KOG are blown somewhere out on the dimensional edge.
JC 3333: Amaterasu, upon consent from the only non-AKD planet, Juno, is enthroned as emperor of the Joker Galaxy.
JC 3967: Amaterasu entrusts all his authority to his cat's paw, Upandla Raymu, a fatima created by Dr. Ballanche, and retires into seclusion. At the same time, F.U. Rogner and the other Mirage Knights are cloistered and sealed.
JC 4090: Colus liberates Both. After the devestation of AKD forces invading Kastenpo by an LED Dragon inferno, the Upandla regime gradually loses control of the situation, initiating the decline and fall of the AKD, but Amaterasu refuses to step in.
JC 4100: The Floating Temple, the symbol of the AKD, is destroyed. Colus' Juchoon and Upandla's Knight of Gold engage on the battlefield. Two fates hurry to the fray... Amaterasu returns to Colus VI the sword he received from Colus III, signifying Colus VI as the true heir to the Colus dynasty. The citizens of Delta Belun leave the planet along with the Mirange Knights in The Will, in search of Lachesis. The "god of light" has failed them.
JC 4101: Colus VI liberates the Galaxy.
The Era of the Will Galaxy
JC 5899: On an unknown planet, the Knight of Gold is transformed into a meteorite and crashes.
JC 6850: Amaterasu and Lachesis, each on their own, travel from planet to universe encountering new human species and lifeforms.
JC 7343: Lachesis suddenly finds herself on Earth, in Poland during January 1945. She hides the Knight of Gold in the Baltic Sea and goes to fight in the Battle of Berlin. On 7 May she leaves the Division Nordlantic for France, then returns to the Baltic Sea and falls asleep.
JC 7563: Lachesis transcends time to appear in the JOker Galaxy in JC 2043. She meets the 23 year old prince of Grees, Amaterasu. After planting a memory of their encounter, she leaves the Galaxy.
JC 7777: Lachesis and Amaterasu are reunited on the emerald planet of Fortune and are married. They bear a daughter, Kallen, and the human species begins a new phase in its evolution.
Abbreviated Five Star Stories timeline by Mamoru Nagano
Edited by me in order to follow the standards of Fair Use copyright
All mispellings in this timeline are not because of me, honest. Engrish is a terrible thing to behold.
How to Get It
As of January 2005, 26 volumes has been published in English, covering tankoubons 1-10, the first issue published in 1999. The publishing schedule is rough and irregular; on average, one issue is produced every two months.
Since issue 13, the published format has changed slightly. Issue 13 onward appears slightly different when looking on the side; the binding is black and the number is clearly printed on the side. The quality of the format is slightly better, but aesthetically isn't as nice, in my opinion.
Here are the ISBN numbers for those interested in purchasing the English issues, as well as any additional notes:
Five Star Stories, Issue 1 (Tankoubon 1, part 1) ($8.98): ISBN 4-924930-39-3 C0079
Additional notes: if you bought this issue when it first came out, there was a special omake (gift usually given for pre-ordering an item, buying a first printing or for any special event, really) of a poster from Kinokuniya. The image can be seen in Issue 4, the background image to the text that starts with "I can see.../Yes, I can see/A young king/One more ray of light sent from the heavens to/Guide this pentagon of a constellation..."
Five Star Stories, Issue 2 (Tankoubon 1, part 2) ($8.98): ISBN 4-924930-40-7 C0079
Additional notes: if you bought this issue when it first came out, the special gift was a pack of postcard-sized stickers. Sadly, I think those were all the omake ever given out.
Five Star Stories, Issue 3 (Tankoubon 1, part 3) ($8.98): ISBN 4-924930-41-5 C0079
Five Star Stories, Issue 4 (Tankoubon 2, part 1) ($8.98): ISBN 4-924930-42-3 C0079
Five Star Stories, Issue 5 (Tankoubon 2, part 2) ($8.98): ISBN 4-924930-43-1 C0079
Five Star Stories, Issue 6 (Tankoubon 3, part 1) ($8.98): ISBN 4-924930-44-X C0079
Five Star Stories, Issue 7 (Tankoubon 3, part 2) ($8.98): ISBN 4-924930-45-8 C0079
Five Star Stories, Issue 8 (Tankoubon 3, part 3) ($8.98): ISBN 4-924930-46-6 C0079
Five Star Stories, Issue 9 (Tankoubon 4, part 1) ($9.98): ISBN 4-924930-47-4 C0079
Five Star Stories, Issue 10 (Tankoubon 4, part 2) ($9.98): ISBN 4-924930-48-2 C0079
Five Star Stories, Issue 11 (Tankoubon 5, part 1) ($9.98): ISBN 4-924930-49-0 C0079
Five Star Stories, Issue 12 (Tankoubon 5, part 2) ($9.98): ISBN 4-924930-29-6 C0079
Five Star Stories, Issue 13 (Tankoubon 6, part 1) ($9.98): ISBN 4-88775-513-9 CC079
New binding and layout starting with this issue. The back of the cover is no longer a duplicate of the front cover, and now shows how many issues will cover each tankoubon. Binding has changed slightly to a better quality glued binding, instead of using just staples.
Five Star Stories, Issue 14 (Tankoubon 6, part 2) ($9.98): ISBN 4-88775-514-7 C0079
Five Star Stories, Issue 15 (Tankoubon 7, part 1) ($9.98): ISBN 4-88775-515-5 C0079
Five Star Stories, Issue 16 (Tankoubon 7, part 2) ($9.98): ISBN 4-88775-516-3 C0079
Five Star Stories, Issue 17 (Tankoubon 7, part 3) ($9.98): ISBN 4-88775-517-1 C0079
Five Star Stories, Issue 18 (Tankoubon 8, part 1) ($9.98): ISBN 4-88775-518-X C0079
Five Star Stories, Issue 19 (Tankoubon 8, part 2) ($9.98): IBSN 4-88775-519-8 C0079
Five Star Stories, Issue 20 (Tankoubon 8, part 3) ($9.98): ISBN 4-88775-520-1 C0079
Five Star Stories, Issue 21 (Tankoubon 9, part 1) ($9.98): ISBN 4-88775-521-X C0079
Cover Illustration: Lachesis as the Statute of Liberty
Five Star Stories, Issue 22 (Tankoubon 9, part 2) ($9.98): ISBN 4-88775-522-8 C0079
Five Star Stories, Issue 23 (Tankoubon 9, part 3) ($9.98): ISBN 4-88775-523-6 C0079
Five Star Stories, Issue 24 (Tankoubon 10, part 1) ($9.98): ISBN 4-88775-524-4 C0079
Five Star Stories, Issue 25 (Tankoubon 10, part 2) ($9.98): ISBN 4-88775-525-2 C0079
Five Star Stories, Issue 26 (Tankoubon 10, part 3) ($9.98): ISBN 4-88775-526-0 C0079