Shelf Life
Chasing Trains

by Bamboo Dong, Jan 29th 2007

Shelf Worthy
Rumbling Hearts v.2
Train Man (Live-Action)
Rental
Comic Party Revolution v.2
Tactics v.3
Perishable
Beet the Vandal Buster v.1
The propensity that the Japanese have for cute things is mind-staggering. We all know about their ability to create sickeningly adorable mascots and creatures, and their talent for mass-producing spunky pop idols, but this time, it's gone too far. This time, you can produce pop idols. I'm talking, of course, about the new Xbox 360 game they released in Japan—Idolm@ster.

It's a standard career sim like any other—you are the manage of a troupe of pop stars, and through your careful handling and people-manipulating skills, you get to mold them into the Morning Musume's of tomorrow. The second my friend linked me to the trailer though, I desperately wanted to play the game. I consume bubbly pop music like I consume air. Boppy music, cheap synth beats, and synchronized dancing? I'm so there. Now why can't they make a game like that for the US? Oh, wait, that's right; no one would buy it.

Such is life. Welcome to Shelf Life.

I've never really minded kids' shows. I was a big fan of Pokémon when it started airing in the US, and even today, those scampy little critters still elicit squeals from me. Sometimes, though, even I have to roll my eyes a little bit. Sometimes things are a little too cheesy, and that's pretty hard to do.

Enter Beet the Vandal Buster, a story about a scrappy Buster who beats Vandals into submission in this video-game-come-to-life series. There's something odd about the way the DVD was produced, though. It's a DVD worthy of a show that's been translated and edited for broadcast—only in this case, the whole TV side of things doesn't exist.

There are two language tracks on the disc—English and Japanese. However, the English version has completely been changed. The original music has been removed, from the opening theme to all the instrumentals. In its place is generic electronica, hard rock, and sweeping melodies worthy of a Jeep commercial. (Though, to be fair, the original Japanese soundtrack is bland, tinkly, and somewhat reminiscent of an old video game.) Why they would make those changes is a little uncertain. If a parent was going to buy their kid a DVD, wouldn't they rather reach for one of the discs that already have mass market appeal, like Naruto? Why would they take their chances on a show that has received almost no marketing whatsoever?

Luckily, there's the Japanese track, right? Not so much. All the music and dialogue is intact, but everything's been dubtitled. So there you have it. A disc that's designed to appeal to kids, that no parent would buy—that has features for sub enthusiasts that no purist would buy.

The story's not even that great, either. It certainly is nothing terrible—but it is standard. A world is being ravaged by monsters, and the only people who can defeat them are Busters, fighters who get to level up every time they slay something. Beet, our pint-sized hero, is determined to save the world and gets some help early on when local warriors make the ultimate sacrifice for him. As the years wear on, he kills bigger things, hoping to someday waste off every last monster. A notable goal. Would it be fun as a kids' show? Yeah, it kind of is, but who's going to buy this DVD, huh?[TOP]

Luckily, the faster I got through Beet the Vandal Buster, the faster I could reach for the next volume of Rumbling Hearts. I had my doubts about this series last time (if you recall, I wanted to slap a few of the characters every time they appeared on screen), but I'm now completely in love with this show.

Rumbling Hearts is an amazing achievement of human heartbreak and angst. There are a lot of show out there that try to tug at your heart, but few can paralyze you with worry and sympathy as much as this one. Now that Haruka is getting better and Takayuki is spending more time with her, things have grown increasingly strained between him and Mitsuki. Torn between his love for his former and current girlfriends, he's retreated back into his shell, opening up only for his daily hospital visits. In the meantime, Mitsuki's life is slowly falling apart, as she watches her boyfriend drift further and further away.

Although there's aspects of the show that still grind at me a bit, like the sometimes inappropriate comic relief that the two waitress girls offer, Rumbling Hearts is turning out to be a solid series that has well lived up to its hype. The pain and confusion that the characters go through will have you reeling in heartache, and if you find yourself being driven by the ups and downs of human social interaction, you'll definitely find yourself embracing every minute of this show. It's definitely one for the shelves.[TOP]

It's angsty shows like Rumbling Hearts that really maintain my interest over a long period of time. In my earlier days, I loved shows that were all about random spurts of activity and crazy character hijinks, which is why I loved Love Hina so much the first time I saw it. As I watched more and more anime though, my tastes slowly changed. I can still enjoy “wacky hijinks!! Wooah!,” but unless I have a vested interested in the characters, I often find it hard to really care.

I think that's what makes shows like Comic Party: Revolution so hit or miss. To be sure, it's almost impossible to dislike that show, with its bubbly characters, nods towards fandom, and its happy atmosphere, but whether you love it, or just like it, rests solely on how much you liked the original series.

The last volume of CPR is very similar to the first two—heavy on the character side stories, light on the doujinshi-making aspect. Unfortunately, that's what drew me so much to the first series. I loved watching the process unfold in front of my eyes, and the lovable characters just made it better. With Revolution, though, while the folks are just are entertaining as ever, I find myself thinking a lot, “Who cares?”

Even though the episodes are all manic dips into your typical anime activities (dealing with curses, splashing around in water), the series keeps making an effort to retain its doujinshi-making roots. The characters are almost always working on a new manuscript, and are almost always rushing to hit a printing deadline. Since there's only two Comic Parties a year though, it makes me wonder-- just how is the timeline working? How is it that these characters are always coming to ComiPa every two episodes when it just doesn't come around that often? Once I realized that, it almost made me feel like I was reading the Boxcar Children again, where every book was another snapshot of the Aldens' endless summer vacations or multiple winter breaks. Surreal. Maybe if there was a more structured timeline in CPR, I'd be less confused by all the random activities that happen. It's fun to watch, but it doesn't really serve a purpose. Frankly, it's almost a let-down after the original series, which preserved a linear storyline much more readily than Revolution. Still, if you're a hardcore fan, you'll probably just get a kick out of seeing your favorite characters, even if they're stuck in an endless loop of hitting deadlines.[TOP]

Between that last paragraph and the next one, there's supposed to be a segue. Unfortunately, no good one is coming to mind. You know what else is no good? Monsters. Speaking of monsters, I also watched the third volume of Tactics.

As usual, Kantaro is up to his usual business of solving supernatural mysteries and exorcising ghosts. This usually involves standalone episodes where a case is brought to him, and eventually, someone waves their hands and a dark cloud is sucked out of a person, a mirror, or some other tangible object. With the third volume, this ranges from investigating deaths in a quiet village, to saving Kantaro's editor, who is sucked into an ancient book.

Somewhat tragically, the problems that faced the series earlier are still there. Tactics possesses a beautiful atmosphere, rich in its storytelling potential and serene graphics, but rather than just taking the morbidity and running with it, every serious scene is broken up by comic relief or girls “nyaa”ing at the camera. It's unfortunate, because almost every other part of the series is very well crafted. The animation is solid, the suspense is carefully timed, and even the imagery is meticulous and beautiful (the last few minutes of the first episode with the images of the butterfly and its subsequent end are almost chilling). It may not be a very deep series, but as far as entertainment goes, it definitely gets the job done. I just wish that the series could see its potential and plunge headlong into its dark, supernatural side, without being afraid to become too serious. If you like your shows to skew a bit on the sinister side, though, Tactics is an oft overlooked show that's well worth your time.[TOP]

As I dug through my anime stack to see who the next lucky disc was, my eye caught on something quite beautiful. A quiet, unassuming plastic case. What ever could this delectable treasure be? I reached out for it, trying to quell the beating of my anxious heart. There's much to be said about pretty packaging, but there's just as much allure to the regal simplicity of The Screener Disc. *gasp* Train Man. Yessssss!

I had been waiting for this release for quite some time, and it did not disappoint. Having heard the Densha hype for quite some time now, and even having written articles about the phenomenon for our sister magazine Protoculture Addicts, I was itching to watch it. I'd seen it once before, when the disc first came into my hands, but now, closer to the release date (NEXT WEEK, GO BUY IT), I couldn't wait to play it again.

By now, surely everyone's heard the story of the Train Man. The protagonist is an otaku who knows his way around every corner of Akihabara, knows where to buy the most out-of-print collectibles, and probably has an anime collection to smoke all of us out of the water. His life is turned around when he saves a beautiful woman from a drunken businessman on the train. She thanks him by sending him a gift of Hermès, and from that moment, our hapless hero is smitten. Having no idea how to progress with women, he hops onto 2ch and starts soliciting advice from his fellow otaku, such as how to dress, how to act, how to speak, and how to impress a woman.

Charming and romantic, Train Man is one of the best non-anime releases you'll see from an anime company this year. Easily. His trials and adventures are a snapshot of love and the brouhaha of dating. As his friends cheer him on, transforming him from a shy recluse to a confident young man, you can't help but feel uplifted, as though you're there with the rest of them. Dating is serious business, and if Train Man can overcome nerd stereotypes, anyone can. By the end of the movie, it's apparent that not only has he changed, but so has the rest of his friends. No longer is it just a tale of a man who fell in love with a girl, but a story of hope and determination, of supporting your fellow friends in the direst of romantic times.

It's no surprise that this story has raised the ruckus it has. With the original forum transcript published into a book, a TV drama, four manga series, and this film, it's easy to imagine how many lives have been cheered from this simple story. Even if you sneer at romantic films or think you're too macho for anything without guns, this is a movie well worth seeing. Whether for a quiet movie night alone, or a perfect date movie with a loved one, this movie will captivate you.[TOP]

Okay kids, apparently this “write you own review” thing is a little too much work. People seem much more keen to just take photos of their anime collections, so why not! If you have an anime shelf that you're proud of, email the photo(s) to shelflife at animenewsnetwork dot com. You're welcome to include a brief bio and/or a picture of yourself. I'll love it even more if you're in cosplay, as long as you're legally clothed.

This week's photo submission is from John C. Watson, whose collection makes me cry.

Anyone want to challenge him?


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