That Fine Line Betwixt Genius and Insanity
Nagano Mamoru has often been described as a walking paradox; cranky to the point of positive misandrism, whilst capable of the most open warmth, and though a genius in the worlds of both mechanical and character design, so seemingly inflexible that he has talked himself out of dozens of projects simply because of ego.
Indeed, one common rumor born about the time Volume 13 of Five Star Stories had been overdue for a year, was that he spent all day sat in his pajamas playing Monster Hunter…
Still, as they say, that which can be stated without evidence can be dismissed without consideration, and I see no credence in this tale at all.
However, it cannot be denied that this idiosyncratic genius has taken some very bold and often seemingly implausible steps in his career, which began so promisingly with some highly original mecha design works for the 1984 sleeper hit, Heavy Metal L Gaim.
This series put him on the map with Mech Maestros Tomino Yoshiyuki and Okawara Kunio assisting him in not only getting a leg up into his first manga project, Fool for the City, but also helping him find backing for what would become his true breakout hit (and still ongoing – if erratically published) Five Star Stories, in 1986.
The Gods of Light and Darkness and the Grand Jest
The Five Star Stories (FSS) began life as an experiment in stylising mechanical and character design on the part of Master Nagano, who partly owing to the fondness for the Super Robots of his youth, and partly his own interests (professionally) in fashion design, wanted to seek an aesthetic which could be rooted more in beauty than in practicality.
Rejecting the admittedly fine work he had done on L Gaim as being ‘too plausible to be beautiful’ his goal in the FSS universe was the creation a form of Neo Olympian splendor about which the reader might speculate, as would those who considered the stories of the gods/demigods of old…
For it is clear that the narrative was being ‘told’ to the reader from a past tense perspective (at least initially), and could be digested as a form of lyric poetry… With BFGRs all over the place.
A cult favorite since 1986, in which time it began running in Newtype Magazine, it is often compared, in both character and scope, to the dreamike works of Matsumoto Leiji. This is a fair comparison, as Nagano based his waif-like Fatima characters on the already elfin females of the Leijiverse (though it could be argued that every manga-ka who drew pen in anger after 1964 did so with an eye to the way Master Matsumoto redefined anime characters as a whole).
In short FSS is, on one level, a basic space opera in the literal sense: Five Star Systems, Norther, Souther, Easter, Wester, and Stanza all compete for control of the limited resources present in the few habitable planets which orbit the system stars.
This being a mecha show, some conceit was required to explain these devices to the readership, and here Nagano borrowed from his mentor, Tomino. When making Gundam, Tomino had recognized that nuclear and massively destructive weapons had to be written out of the narrative from the outset so that they would A: have real impact if/when used but, and more importantly, B: allow for mechs to wander about unimpeded without 50 megatons of BOOM reducing them to so much vapor.
Nagano’s solution was, in keeping with this operatic ideals, to reach back to the reasoning and methodologies behind very early conflicts in human history, which were more about conquest and control (at least from his understanding) then extermination.
He once commented on the very notion of the English term ‘battlefield’, which is perhaps in turn taken from an older Nordic, even Celtic concept in which (when an issue needed deciding) champions from quarreling factions would gather in a prepared place and fight – in duel, or en masse – until the matter was settled – limiting collateral damage and preserving that over which the parties fought.
In FSS, the main four systems each outlaw the use of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons as barbaric, assigning greater and greater weight to the personal effort of individual specilists and their ‘one man armies’ – the Mortar Headds.
Again, mining the European and Japanese chivalric ideals, Nagano’s mecha are layered with a sense of eternal nobility and heroic endeavor. Each (important) one is a hand-crafted work of art, valuable beyond comprehension and some as old as records can attest. These suits may pass down from knight to knight over the decades along with their near immortal muses, the Fatima, who provide not only an interface for the mech and the pilot, but also represent something of a conscience for the machine, as well as a symbol of that for which the Headdliners (Mortar Headd pilots) fight.
The narrative is as simple as that on the surface – life is rare and precious, but so are resources and so is humility.
Into this mix steps the interesting figure of Amaterasu (named after the Japanese Sun God) who is destined to both unify and shatter the five star systems (known collectively as the Joker Cluster – though, technically Stanza does not belong properly as it drifts by only once in 1500 years) and be the master of the Fatima Lachesis, who will, in due time become the very God of Fate herself, whose weaving may actually, and paradoxically, bring the whole story into being in the first place…
We are not sure.
We are only on volume 13, after nigh on to 30 years…
The Shades of Delta Belune
Leading Amaterasu’s war of conquest… I mean peace across the Joker Cluster are his hand-selected Mirage Knights, who each pilot one of a series of ancient and extremely potent Mortar Heads from what is called the Mirage Series. Though, as mentioned before, each Mortar Headd is a unique work of art, in the case of the forces of Delta Belune, the unity of the Mirage Knights is expressed in the general similarity of their mecha – declaring to the universe that there is unity among the stars where the Knights of Amaterasu tread.
There are several varients of Mirage Mortar Headd, such as the Horned, Hydra, Rouge, Terror, Jagd, and Cross, each with its own battlefield role. However, these specialist Mortar Headds are massively outnumbered by the classic Delta Belune design, the LED Mirage.
Though there have been and still are a number of different versions of the LED Mirage on the market, I’ve always had a soft spot for the the WAVE kits, as the older Volks, pre-IMS kits are all too often poorly molded (for example, the current Volks Mk III with Napalm cannon clearly uses some older mold shots which do not mesh very well with the newer elements).
Moreover, as much as as I like the augmented kits (with napalm launcher or flame cannon) there is nothing purer than the simple LED Mirage as a design… Even makes the Knight of Gold seem drab in my opinion… 😉
The Ghost Knight vs. The Black
This build is being made at the behest of an old friend who has requested Mirage Knight XII, Karer Chrysalis – he who mortally wounded the 5th Black knight, crippled the Vatshu Mortar Headd and finally put down the Juno uprisings, forcing Fatima Est and the damaged Vatshu into an eons long slumber until… Well, that is another story…
This will not just be an enjoyable build, but a blast from the past, and with all my respects to Cacophanus who has trusted me with this treasure of his.