Narutaru (1998) Manga Review

When you think about Pokemon and Digimon, there are probably 2 things that come to your mind: the power of friendship and absolutely cute magical critters. It does not matter if they come from the digital world or an alternate version of our own, the “Mon genre” seems to remain intact to any attempt to deconstruct it.

While not as popular as Evangelion or any other more mainstream deconstructive piece of media, Mohiro Kitoh’s manga “Narutaru” (known also as Shadow Star) does an outstanding exploration on how a world similar to ours can turn pre-teens with unlimited power into a menace to the entire humankind. 

The Plot

Narutaru presents us to Shiina Tamai an apparently not so bright 12-year-old girl who lives with her loving father. The relationship with her estranged mother is tense after a family tragedy, and her grades are terrible, but Shiina always tries her best to stay cheerful and decided to give her best. During her summer vacation at her grandparent’s house by the beach, she discovers a weird starfish-like, shape-shifting creature that she ends up naming Hoshimaru. 

Up until now, it seems that Narutaru is following all the mon-genre tropes to a tee. He is cute, he has awesome powers, and he is her loyal companion. However, as Shiina soon discovers, not all “shadow dragons” like him are so nice or share a wholesome bond with their keeper. Some dragons physically and mentally tax their owners through the psychic link they share. In other cases, dragons go on murderous rampages under their kids’ commands, who are most of the time, mentally damaged individuals. Still, that’s not even the worst of Shiina’s problems. A group of misanthropic teens wants to end the world with the power that randomly has been invested in them.

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You might be thinking now how cliché it sounds all the “Woobie Destroyer of Worlds” trope is but after knowing these kids’ backgrounds and experiment with the bleakness of Narutaru’s world, you kind of wonder how no one thought about ending it all before. As you will see as you go through the story, not even precious little Shiina remains indifferent to all the cruelty and injustice she witnesses.

Positives

You can say whatever you want about this manga. The drawing is not exactly what I would call aesthetic and you can tell the author’s inexperience and lack of subtlety when introducing the most controversial topics. However, one thing you can’t ever say is that this story is not original. I cannot name any other manga from the late ’90s that explores the usually childish “Mon-genre” premise from an adult perspective, at least not with this level of cruelty.

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On the other hand, it is refreshing to see how the author never presents the characters as good by default because of their young age. Kitoh expresses that, under certain circumstances, even a lovely girl as Shiina can act recklessly and selfishly. There is horror in the shapes that shadow dragons take, after all, Kitoh designed Evangelion’s 3rd angel, Sachiel, but it is the things that said dragons do to others that make you shiver. Even without dragons, once the society’s structure starts to fall apart, awful acts of violence start to happen without the need of a supernatural creature.

Negatives

This is one of Mohiro Kitoh’s first serializations and you can tell. Narutaru is sometimes cruel for the sake of it, and some tragedies seem too random to make you feel bad. If anything, you feel kind of disgusted by the lack of tact and total pandering in some scenes. I’ve read other manga by this author and a bleak sense of edge is always there but he channeled better in later works like his mecha-deconstruction Magnus opus: Bokurano.

This inexperience also seems to play some part in the manga’s conclusion. I don’t know if a sudden cancellation made him wrap things up too quickly or that he just gave up, but everything felt rushed. It keeps the story’s tone but there is no sense of satisfaction. If anything, I’d say that Bokurano is Narutaru’s spiritual successor but also as a source of closure somehow.

Final Thoughts

As mentioned before, Narutaru is like anything you have seen before. It has its flaws and I am sure they might discourage horror readers looking for something lighter or more cohesive. Still, it is almost criminal how under the radar this manga is. In a world where shows like Evangelion, Puella Magi Madoka Magica, and even Elfen Lied are considered classics, Narutaru is barely known, even when it explores similar themes. Curiously, I discovered this manga only after stumbling upon the anime adaptation’s opening, which is deceitfully cute as stated in the comment section. Anyway, if you want to see why it is not a good idea to have Pokemon in the world we live on (and get Oyasumi PunPun depressed), I recommend you to check this manga. You won’t regret it.

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