Written by Jonathan Wojcik
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Narutaru ("Shadow Star") was a 1998 manga and 2003 anime that kind of sought to do for the "battle monster" genre what Neon Genesis Evangelion attempted to do for the giant mecha genre decades prior and Madoka Magica would attempt years later with Magical Girl anime, deconstructing something typically lighthearted and fun into something bleak and brutal. The manga unfortunately descends into some horrifically disturbing sexual violence towards its climax that I couldn't personally stomach, having only seen the much shorter and significantly less brutal anime adaptation. This still includes one partiularly grotesque story point that isn't for the squeamish, even kept as "off-screen" as it is, so it's not a series I can rightfully recommend to anybody else. When I first watched the series in 2003 however, not knowing where on Earth it was headed, the story definitely reeled me in, and I can still certainly appreciate the creature designs.
The series deals with "dragon children" from space, which can take almost any conceivable form - seldom anything at all like a "dragon" to most sensibilities - and bond to random human children as their protectors. Today, we'll just look at five of the most interesting of the central critters:
This is the main character's "dragon," resembling a star with a shelled head. It's a design that's quite cute and innocent at the surface, but the being's dead silence and blank stare become intentionally unsettling, even as it proves itself to be fairly innocent and genuinely loyal to the main protagonist, a little girl who takes this entire situation with the kind of plucky stride as Ash Ketchum...or tries to, anyway.
Back when I watched the series in 2003, knowing nothing about it, I was impressed by how unsettling they managed to make this creature without it ever actually turning out to be malevolent. It's neither the child nor the monster's fault, but it's still not at all right for this responsibility and danger to be thrust upon a child.
Speaking of "not right," this one latches on to a young boy who has an obsession with guns and military power. He's not a bad kid, but he's definitely all too eager to get into all this combat, and that's fully indulged by a "dragon" resembling an armless, plastic doll with a stiff, lifeless anime face. I don't know what determines the forms of these creatures, but this feels like a messed up attempt to bring a geeky kid's fantasies to life, resembling a mockery of an "angel" that also happens to be fond of wielding heavy artillery with its claw-tipped wings.
This one is an almost mollusk-like living, flying sword, capable of forming either tentacles or a winged body where a hilt would go. A very neat looking, unique design, but unfortunately bonds with an incredibly heartless and sadistic child who shows the heroine for the first time just how serious and how ugly a monster adventure can get.
Yes, that is the name of this creature, a roughly humanoid entity with a remarkably interesting face and mouth structure; love that tiny skull face where upper teeth would be! It certainly does not resemble its namesake, and there's not much we can say here about its human partner, except that what happens to him makes me glad that something else made me put the manga down much sooner. Still, amazing monster, which only fails to save its human because he sends it to aid his friends at all costs.
The last we're reviewing was my favorite design when I saw the anime, the dragon of a snobbish upper-class girl with a secretly murderous streak. It superficially resembles a flower, but its stem is more like a spinal column, with a spherical head and four ribbon-like "petals" that can form into curiously humanlike hands. The fact that this surreal alien organism simply arms itself with man-made guns is pretty jarring, much like Hainuwele, and I think this contrast does a good job of emphasizing the series central thrust that putting destructive power in the hands of children would actually only ever have horrifying results.
Still, as interesting a thrusst as that is, the monster genre is all about escapism for children. Did it truly "need" a grimdark deconstruction? Not really, which in turn didn't need to get nearly as cruel, grisly and perverse as this manga to sell that idea. Someday, I think I'd like to see something like this handled with a little bit more tact, and perhaps not as entirely pessimistic.