Shadow Star Narutaru Vol. 3

As we get into the third review of Shadow Star Narutaru, I have to make a few judgment calls. First, I have to assume that you've either watched the first couple of volumes of the show or at least read my reviews. If you have, you A) won't be worried about spoilers from the last two reviews and B) know that this show is just strange. Good, but strange. It's becoming apparent to me that this show is going to have nowhere near the time it would take to flesh out all the ideas it has. Frankly, I'm getting impatient, since the third volume of Shadow Star Narutaru gets us tantalizingly close to a thematic plotline only to drop it almost completely for two episodes. Adapting a manga into thirteen episodes probably isn't a great idea, and it shows here. However, I'm willing to let it slide with the lowest of recommendations because, dangit, I'm still hooked.

As the third volume begins, we see that though the psychopathic kids have taken injuries and losses, the military is no match for them. Although a skirmish between the two starts as a near-even match, it degrades into a miniature holocaust. In the second episode, we switch gears as Akira and Shiina run into Sudo, yet another kid with a dragon. They go fishing, which seems innocent enough. Yet Sudo likes it because, as the fish are thrown back into their stream, "playing with lives is fun." As Shiina sleeps in the car, Sudo asks Akira to join his group. Akira doesn't reply -- she's still an emotional basket case, and I can't help but think things will end badly for her, but who knows? In the third and final episode, we take a radical turn with a virtual stand-alone episode when Shiina meets Ezumi, a new character to the series. As her story unfolds, we learn the twisted tale of her friendships gone awry and the bizarre ways in which Ezumi can use her dragon Nendo.

If you've watched this far, you know what to expect from the animation. Although I will say that nothing in episodes 8-10 is as painful as some of the shoddy work we've seen, it's still not a show for art snobs. But let's go past this, shall we? You're here to find out if this show is worth continuing or not. And this time, it's a tough question.

Why? Shadow Star Narutaru started as a freaky, caustic look at teenagers who have powers greater than they can handle. That's fine, but when do you develop depth? Although the storytelling has taken a gradual trajectory that doesn't follow my expectations, that's OK. But what's up with introducing characters 75% of the way through the series? Though the story in episode 10 is in and of itself one of the best ones told so far, it really doesn't follow at all into the general story arc of the show. There are enough villains in this piece that I couldn't keep them all straight as it was; now with the arrival of Ezumi, my mind's blown. I don't know if I understand if there are multiple factions of kids or if they all have met yet, and I don't quite care. I'm just to my breaking point.

Yet something within Shadow Star Narutaru will bring me back for the final episodes. First, I want to see whether they can pull some sort of ending off. If they do, I will frankly be amazed. Second, I want to know what's going to happen with Akira. As fragile and unstable as she is, Akira is the heart of the show, not Shiina. Shiina's the heroine, yes I know, but a one-dimensional heroine at that. You could make the same claim on Akira, but there is baggage riding on her shoulders. She can't handle the responsibility of the dragon, yet she is far more linked to hers than Shiina is with Hoshimaru. Of all things, it is Akira's story that makes me want to see how this ends. Finally, I'm still attached to the brutal but unique style we've seen in Shadow Star Narutaru. Its subtle way of disturbing me is frankly more effective than the shock-filler anime that is rampant on the market.

What to do with volume three? If you've enjoyed the first two, pick it up; you'll probably need it to make sense of whatever happens when this show winds down. But will you be frustrated by it? I was. In some ways it's a bad kind of frustrated -- the show should be further along by now -- but in other ways it's a good frustrated -- I really want to see the conclusion. Where will you fare? Frankly, it all depends on your take on the first two volumes, because if you haven't liked what you've seen so far, this isn't going to change your mind...we went a bit downhill this time.

Shadow Star Narutaru Vol. 3 -- violence, perilous situations and mental issues involving teens -- B-