After collecting dust for almost year, my long simmering desire to watch this science fiction series finally converted itself to actually watching Shingu. I'm only a little ways into the series. So it's a little early to start recommending Shingu to people looking for smart science fiction anime; but, Shingu is definitely trending in that direction right now.
Normally, I would be writing up my conclusions 8 days after starting to watch an older anime series because, normally, I would marathon it in a couple of days. (For example, I had Ghost Hound completely watched within 48 hours of starting the first episode.) In light of my current experiment of watching Space Battleship Yamato 2199 at one episode a week - to mimic the TV broadcast that no one is subbing - I decided to severely limit the number of episodes I would watch of Shingu in a day. I want to see if the generated anticipation increases my enjoyment of Shingu, like I think it should.
Thus, while this isn't a review of Shingu, there have been several items I've already observed that I wanted to write about.
The first is how I needed to establish a comfort zone while watching Shingu. This step is needed by most people to watch any and every anime (or for that matter TV show, movie, or book) but it's often not a conscious process. The reason is because most viewers stick with anime that fits into what they're comfortable watching. It's not until an anime clearly falls outside of one's comfort zone that this process becomes a more conscious one. A recent example of what happens to an anime that falls outside of people's comfort zone and how it gets handled is Aku no Hana and the all the hubbub over it's animation style.
At one point in time I would not have had to work all that hard establishing a comfort zone for Shingu but the years that now separate when it first aired, Spring 2001, and when I'm watching it, Spring 2013, have seen a huge shift in what's normally seen in an anime's animation and animation style. I think it sounds a bit shallow to say that but it's the truth for me and probably for many anime fans out there.
Given Shingu time probably would have eventually worked - with Aku no Hana, I hardily notice the low-budget/low-quality rotoscope animation style after nine episodes - but that turned out not to be necessary. I found something that worked quicker at establishing my comfort zone with Shingu - the vocal cast.
Even a novice fan such as myself has noticed the short life span of a typical seiyuu in anime; so, I was pleasantly surprised, that after 12 years, I recognized not one, not two, but three vocal actors in Shingu. The first, , probably needs no introduction since she went on to practically claim an entire character type for her own (Shana, Louise from Zero's Familiar, Nagi from Hayate to name a few) as well as show some serious depth by also voicing Alphonse from FMA/:B. Here she voices the younger sister of the main character and is instantly recognizable. The second seiyuu, , is almost as recognizable even though this was only his second role (as far as I can tell) ever. The same talented strong, manly voice that would later bring him fame as Kyon in Haruhi, Gintoki Sakata in Gintama, Joseph Joestar in JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, and most recently as Chamber in Gargantia is on display here as well. It took me longer to figure out the third, , because she now frequently voices younger male characters, Edward from FMA/:B being the most famous, but here she voices the main female character and is doing a great job of it.
It's these three seiyuu that I was able to build my comfort zone around; the dated character designs and throwback animation didn't throw me nearly as badly when I focused on the vocal performances of seiyuu I knew. This left me better able to focus on the story - which did start a little slowly - until I grew comfortable with the entire show.
So, for those reading, if the age of Shingu is off-putting when considering to watch it or not then the take away here is that even the most modest anime fan will probably find the means to overlook it's age and better focus on the core.
The second item was a character design that I found interesting. I have not said what animation studio animated Shingu but look at the screenshot below. Can you guess which animation studio it was?
Did you guess Madhouse?
If so, was it because the character in the screenshot reminded you of this character who was recently in the Hunter x Hunter remake?
Probably not, but my brain linked the two together.
The third item I wanted to talk about was the role of Shingu's futurism, retro-futurism, and nostalgia that plays into watching it now.
Shingu takes place in the latter half of the 21st century in a small Japanese city where the power to control incredibly strong homunculus has been passed down for centuries amongst a handful of powerful families. It's this power that has attracted aliens from a Galactic Federation to observe and someday, when humanity is ready, offer Earth the chance to join said Federation. The Japanese residents of this city know about these aliens and are on cordial terms with them which is a good thing when rogue alien elements begin coveting the rumored powerful weapons that reside on Earth.
It goes practically without saying that a series set in the future should be futuristic (unless we're dealing with a post-apocalyptic story). This is the case with Shingu; however, the time that has passed from it's original creation and now has rendered a fair amount of the futurism in Shingu outdated. This now retro-futurism is not innately bad. In fact, I find these windows into how people once thought the future would turn out to be rather interesting and sometimes deeply amusing. In Shingu, for example, we see the students using small, portable computers in school but without anything like our internet and saturation of smartphones/mobile phones these computers feel weirdly wrong. Sometimes I find myself wanting to reach back in time and point out the obvious uses of these futuristic devices that now seem really obvious (though I realize it wasn't obvious back then).
Beyond the retro-futurism, Shingu also displays a nostalgic streak that seems out-of-place in a SF series set in the future. It was definitely a conscious choice on the part of the creators but I don't quite understand why. This nostalgic streak is blindly obvious to even someone like me with the choice of clothing the students wear. We learn in the future of Shingu that no one still wears school uniforms to school (which is a valid conjecture) but the school uniforms have been replaced by the fashions of the 1950's/60's. ?!? I couldn't think of a more unlikely fashion style for the latter part of the 21st century then this one.
There's more, like the interesting designs of the homunculus,but I'm already at 1200 words so I'll save it for later, including my impressions of the anime series itself.