Shingu: The Secret of the Stellar Wars – Bigger, Better, Bolder, More Boring than Anything!

Or commonly known as Gakuen Senki Muryou.


Ever encounter a situation when you find yourself totally appreciating something that is well-constructed, beautiful, meaningful, and unique, but totally unable to enjoy it? I think in a situation like that I would wonder why that’s the case, and probably subconsciously try to see if there’s something, a missing link in the impeccable construction of a masterpiece, that I’m missing. As if putting together a jigsaw puzzle without a reference picture, that the empty spot you can’t find the right piece for obscures the picture in its entirety. I am left to search for the missing piece until it exhaust my drive to care.

Thinking back to my earlier days, this was a frequent event–basically all of my high school English classes ended up that way. We’d read some classic literary work, but most wouldn’t click for me. The few that did ended up to be my favorites, but so few they were that on the whole I was sort of bored because “I didn’t get it.”

But maybe there wasn’t anything special to get. Understanding Shingu is no more complex than trying to understand Stellvia, or so I guess. What is great about Shingu, though, is its ensemble cast. In fact this might be the best example of an ensemble cast that’s totally “a part of the story” in all of anime that I’ve seen. There are somea lot of things left out in that Jeff Lawson blog post (go read it) linked above, but he’s got the bulk of why Shingu is actually a very well put together piece (even if he doesn’t say it. And he lied–he enjoys Stellvia more!)

But maybe it’s like eating chocolate–do you eat it for the substance or for the flavor? Is it like how Cowboy Bebop tests your tolerance for spicy foods and make personality judgment based on that? (No.)

Or more simply put, what am I missing from Shingu? My understanding of it is that the show itself tries to mimic a sense of realism by giving us a slice-of-life perspective. Hajime Murata acted much like a Kyon, except he is unusually good at communicating and understanding. He’s not just an 8th grader who can understand alien techno-babble because he likes science fiction (although you can see him talk about Star Trek or whatever that takes its place in 2070), but also one to understand people’s feelings. What’s probably most interesting is that Ha-chan’s “power” is not uncanny at all, yet supremely rare by all means.

My favorite part of that is probably how the show does end up demoing its ensemble cast. The dinner-time talk between the characters. The well use of silence. The choice of dialog topics. The interaction between the Murata family. Futaba. Seeing what’s happening when a typical family struggle with making ends meet and addressing each others’ emotional needs. And this happens even with minor characters like Hikaru Inagaki, Isozaki-sensei and the tea-drinking visitor Wennul, let alone less-minor characters like Harumi Mineo. It paints a picture of the ordinary in both ordinary circumstances and in distress. It’s 26 episodes very well spent and paced.

The show spends a lot of resources to give us the contrast between the ordinary and the extraordinary; and it’s not just Muryou (who is, well, Superman as a Japanese 8th grader), but also how all these extraordinary people (people who can destroy the galaxy, people who command clans of secret Japanese alien fighters, people who lived for thousands of years) praise Murata (which, in our eyes, a normal human being). And not patronizingly so. Across the show this contrast appears again and again.

Well, that’s just one thread I can go on. Shingu is filled with great stuff like that. Just with Muryou, I can spin long and windy paragraphs about how this Superman character fills out as an alternative societal norm in a satirical sense. Or how the ordinary mixed with the extraordinary makes boring o’ Earth itself a choice for conflict between intergalactic space alliances? Or just what does the sage-like sentences Muryou uttered in his debut mean, even after seeing the whole series?

But with all that maybe it’s good to remember the purpose, the main struggle of Shingu’s overall plot?

Shingu is a show about people’s hearts–just like Nadesico and Stellvia. And maybe unlike those two shows Shingu plays it on the surface. It’s a different treat–after having to beat around the bush in the meta so long, it’s throwing me off.

World Peace Banzai? Maybe Princess DNAra can learn a lesson here. MASUGU GO!

Masugu GO!!

Perhaps it all will make sense after I give it some more thought. Tatsuo Sato‘s work tends to be densely multi-layered and yet ordinary on first glance. Here goes.


3 Responses to “Shingu: The Secret of the Stellar Wars – Bigger, Better, Bolder, More Boring than Anything!”

  • refugee

    “Ever encounter a situation when you find yourself totally appreciating something that is well-constructed, beautiful, meaningful, and unique, but totally unable to enjoy it?”

    Why, yes. Yes I have.

    *Bangs head on desk*

    Dammit, I cannot remember ever wanting to like a show as much as this one.

    *bonk* *bonk* *bonk*

    What is wrong with me?

  • dm

    I suppose I have this problem with Aria and Mushishi. Beautiful series, both. A pleasure to watch, but… for some reason, always at the bottom of my queue.

    Shingu, though, worked for me. I owe it a rewatch, but I wonder how much knowing the answer to the “mystery” will change the experience.

  • digitalboy

    Dm, i agree with you about feeling that way about Aria. I could tell it should’ve been a show I’d like, but I just couldn’t be brought to keep watching. I don’t feel that way so much about Mushishi, since I was drawn in by the art and the frequently-awesome plot twists.

    I think I should probably watch Shingu, though. Just seems like my kinda show…

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