Shelf Life
The Magic Begins Again

by Bamboo Dong, Nov 19th 2007

It's almost Thanksgiving, and there's only one thing that means—Black Friday. The problem is, my hometown is a bustling college town, so whenever I go home for the holiday, going to Best Buy means having to line up at 7PM on Thanksgiving. I haven't done it yet, but I'm tempted to every single year. Maybe this time.

Welcome to Shelf Life.

After really enjoying the first volume of Red Garden, I was excited to watch the second disc. Luckily, it lived up to all my expectations. It was eerie and tense, and it would have been the perfect late-night thriller if it weren't for one thing—its propensity to break out into song every single episode.

Why must the characters feel the need to sing? It's not natural. If my friends started singing random, creepy songs every time we hung out, I'd report them to the authorities for substance abuse. It also greatly breaks up the flow of the series. Every bit of scariness that's built up during the episode is thrown out the window when people start singing in unison.

Aside from that, though, Red Garden is still a pretty enjoyable show. With the second volume, it tantalizes viewers a bit more with information on what's going on—namely, what happened to the girls' real bodies, and what the organization in charge really has at stake. It doesn't reveal all its cards, but it shows just enough to keep you wanting to know more.

One of the best things about the series is definitely the cast of main girls, whose relationships with each other grow stronger in these episodes. What makes them so great is that they're all very different from each other and have their own very individual personalities and aspirations; at the same time, they don't resemble any of the stock stereotypes that you so often see in other shows. Yeah, one of them's more popular, one of them's more independent, and so on, but the experiences that they share are so unique that they're less archetypes than they are real people. Watching them worry about the burden that's been placed on them, or watching them as they start questioning their lives lends them an aspect of reality that's unlike your typical anime hero, that just jumps right into being a superhero or action star. If you're in the mood for something dark and stylish, Red Garden is a great catch. I really, really wish they'd stop singing, but aside from that, it's a fantastic show well worth watching.[TOP]

Speaking of heroes that just dive into their newfound roles, there's another robot show out on the market. This time it's Zegapain, Bandai's latest offering. And, while the action sequences prove to be a good time for all mecha enthusiasts, the story is more confusing and muddled than anything else. The story starts out with a high school student whose only passion in life is swimming. It's revealed later on that a scandal in a previous swim meet made him an outcast and doomed him to be the only member left in the swim club, but although they make a huge deal out of this throughout the entire disc, it's really kind of a trivial issue.

The main story is why he is the pilot of a mecha called the Zegapain. Actually, this isn't really revealed in the first volume at all, although the dialogue does hint that somehow he's done this all before. Here's what we know. Fact: bad guys in mecha are trying to destroy the earth. Fact: The only people who can fight these bad guys are pilots of these Zega-machines, who can fly, shoot things, punch things, and stab things, provided they have enough battery life. Fact: The bad guys are totally wiping out the world. Here's what we don't know: it's possible that the world as we know it doesn't actually exist, and that in a Harsh Realm twist of fate (minus the cool government conspiracy), it's just an illusion—the “real” world is the world that's already in ruin, and being destroyed by all the bad guys.

At least, that's what I was able to milk from it. From the looks of it, the main character doesn't really know what's going on, either. Until almost the fifth episode, he was convinced that every time he fought, he was just getting mysteriously pulled into a virtual reality game. But, to be fair, the strength and weakness of the series is that for the most part, viewers don't really know what's going on for the first volume. New hints are dropped every episode, which is enough to have you cursing at every cliffhanger, but at the same time, everything is a blurry mess right now. You don't really know what's going on, you don't even know who half the characters are, because they either haven't been fully introduced, or they look the same as someone else, and you don't even really know why you should care about the good guys. What are they fighting for? Why are they fighting?

Zegapain is something that I'm cautious to really support right now. The first five episodes are really scant in terms of details and exposition, but every time it does reveal something, it has me interested again. It's kind of a dirty trick to play, but I do want to know what happens next. I do want to know what's going on. If you're a mecha enthusiast, and you also happen to have Netflix or RentAnime or one of those services, it might be worth putting this on your queue. This is one of those series that I could see having the infamous caveat, “well, it does get better,” but unfortunately, with my measly income and rising gas prices, I don't have the money to gamble on that empty hope. I haven't seen the rest of the series yet, but the first disc isn't really worth my money.[TOP]

Then there are series that don't really get better or worse—they just stay the same throughout the entire show and instead, just get more irritating over time. Shows like Suzuka.

Suzuka and I have an abusive relationship. It makes me feel bad about myself for watching it, and it makes me angry and upset, but every time I get a new volume, it's the first thing I reach for. I watch Suzuka for the same reason that I always walk down the Bratz toy aisle at Target—to get angry, so I can rant about society.

After three volumes, I thought that maybe the series would get better after the whiny lead male abandoned his moping and got a girlfriend. Alas. The series should have ended after that. It should have been his minor victory, and also the death knoll that would deliver viewers from his emo rage. Instead, it continued to barrel ahead into teen-dramatics territory, where everyone is even more unhappy. Now that Yamato and Honoka are dating, Suzuka is intensely jealous. However, she's still a bitch. Only now, she's trying to win Yamato back, which makes Honoka unhappy, because it's clear that her new boyfriend still has feelings for the other girl. This leads to catfights, tears, and basically a story that can't possibly end well.

Now, I can't speak for anyone else, but personally, it's very hard for me to care about the characters' well being. I equally hate all of the characters. They're all awful in some way or other, and the way that the series has progressed has made it such that I will be unhappy with any possible outcome. No matter which couple forms in the end, I will be an unhappy viewer.

Quality-wise, the series hasn't changed at all. The animation is the same as it's always been (mediocre, but nothing to complain about), the soundtrack is as boring as it's always been, and the dubbing is just as professional as it's always been. In fact, nothing's changed. Even though the characters now have new problems to deal with, they're still responding to things the same way they would have responded in the first episode. Yamato hasn't matured, Suzuka hasn't learned to not be a raging bitch, and had it not been for the fact that I had to check the DVD spine to make sure it was the fourth disc, I wouldn't have known that any progress had been made.

Up until now, I've kept my spirits high about this show, but it's finally gotten to the point where enough is enough. If you want good (albeit slightly melodramatic) teen drama, check out some of Funimation's other releases like Peach Girl or Rumbling Hearts. Suzuka is just running in circles at this point.[TOP]

Now I'd like to drop things a few notches, sit back, and revisit something a lot more old school, that's finally been re-mastered and bestowed again to society. It is the infamous Dragon Ball: The Magic Begins – Ultimate Edition, and it is simultaneously the best and worst movie that I've ever seen.

For anyone who's had the misfortunate of missing this gem, you're in luck. In October, it was re-released by Tai Seng, this time with better special effects (a claim that is akin to cleaning up a pile of feces by spritzing it with Febreze), sharper picture, and new sound. You can even choose to listen to it in the original Cantonese, which only proves that the movie sucked just as bad in the original format.

This movie is a must-see. It is the kind of movie that potlucks should be thrown in honor of. It was meant to be seen by a large group of friends, preferably in English. And, if one of your friends doesn't laugh, you can de-friend that person on every social networking site you frequent, because it's obvious they don't have a sense of humor.

Dragon Ball: The Magic Begins was an unlicensed live-action Chinese movie based on the first Dragonball film. As such, all of the character names had to be replaced. Goku is Monkey Boy, Bulma (still a slut!) is Seto, Yamcha is Westwood, and so on, so forth. The world is torn asunder when the evil Master Horn starts invading South Asia with his hordes of dark-skinned villains and an 80s dance instructor, in search of the seven “Dragon Pearls.” It now falls upon our rag-tag team of heroes to protect the Dragon Pearls, as well as rescue Monkey Boy's grandfather, who's been kidnapped by the “baddies.” The special effects include flying harnesses, magic staffs that only grow about 6 inches, and planes that seem to have drawn in post-production by an underpaid intern. The characters also dance a lot.

If you need me to go any further than this, you probably aren't the right fit for the movie. Especially in light of the plans for the new Dragon Ball Z movie, this is a chance to experience something that should rightfully be a legend. In this column, I've often praised movies like Linda, Linda, Linda and The Train Man… well, now, I'm praising this crappy C-movie like it's the next Big Thing. I'd seen it years ago, but completely forgotten about it—now that Tai Seng has resurrected it from the dead, I'm glad it's back in my life. And yes, I totally bought a copy.[TOP]

And that's that. See you next time, and enjoy your turkey.

This week's rad shelf is presented by Robert George. He dares us to guess what his favorite series might be. I have no idea.


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