Shelf Life
Rumble Pak

by Bamboo Dong, Jan 21st 2008

It's amazing how the more work you have to do, the more time you spend obsessing over the most trivial stuff. For a while now, I've had a cel from the original He-Man series, depicting our sturdy hero riding the neck of some bird-beast. It's maybe the most flamboyant thing in the entire world. I framed it a while ago, but I've been putting off hanging it, because I didn't know where to put it. I also have a Tek Jansen poster on my wall. So, instead of doing work, I just spent half an hour staring at my wall, trying to figure out where to put the He-Man cel, and another 10 minutes debating whether I should move it from the location I finally chose. If I didn't have work to do, I bet I wouldn't even notice it.

Welcome to Shelf Life.

Since its opening episode, School Rumble has really changed for the better. When it first started, it was a little repetitive. Every episode involved the same shtick—clumsy Tenma tried her hardest to win the affections of drab Kurasuma, while the affable delinquent Harima tried his best to win hers. There were only so many iterations they could do of the same thing, and it got dull fast.

Flash forward to the third and fourth volume, and things are so much better. The rote cat-and-mouse chase is gone, and in its place is something a lot more fun to watch. All of Tenma's schoolmates now make regular appearances, and get a lot more screen-time. And, as it turns out, the web of crushes is a lot more complicated than originally thought. Dozens of love triangles are in play, and things finally start to feel more like a real high school. The one downside to all this is that it's hard to keep all of the characters separate. A few of them look similar, and it's hard to keep straight which boy is after which girl, or vice versa.

Still, the characters (as confusing as they may be at times) are definitely the main draw of the show, especially Tenma and Harima. Although Tenma is far from being the brightest object in any kind of box, her naïveté and friendliness are easy to warm up to. True, she's dumber than a brick foundation, but she's super cute and her innocence creates a nice contrast to Harima's equally dumb, but more forceful character. One of the running jokes is his knack for accidentally disrobing, and while he never means any harm, his rippling muscles cause a lot of mental duress for one of the girls. Between his uncharacteristically sweet nature and his gruff exterior, he's a source of a lot of the laughs in the show. Plus, there are so many outright bizarre shots (zoo animals crowded in Harima's house? Kids dressed in giant animal suits?) that it's pretty hard to keep a straight face.

With these volumes, the writers also make sure the students have plenty of chances to interact. They go to the beach, they go to the water park, they go camping, and they even concoct a situation where fixing air conditioners and moving boxes is the set-up for scenes. It's definitely a lot more interesting than the beginning of the show, so it's turning out to be a pretty fun show.[TOP]

Now, while everyone's familiar with schoolyard romances and teenage love, here's a subject you may not be so familiar with—delivering ramen. The tomboy tales of Ramen Fighter Miki continue in the second volume, where we get to see more of the same things we saw in the first disc. She still fights with the bakery girl all day, she still gets challenged by her childhood (one-sided) nemesis, and she's still perpetually ready to fight Toshiyuki the Pit Bull. While this does get a little dull after awhile, it's fun in small doses. The novelty of seeing girls tearing at each other all day is kind of entertaining, as long as you're not expecting any kind of life-changing messages or complex character development.

The best way to explain the fascination with this show is best described in one of the episodes, when Miki's rival decides to have lunch at the ramen shop. She can't figure out why the restaurant is so popular, especially given Miki's buffoonery and her lack of hesitation to poison customers when warranted. Then, as she watches the crowd, she realizes that everyone's just there to see what kind of spectacle will happen next. Will she pound some guy's head into the ground? Or will she get the wind knocked out of her by the mom before that can happen?

It's a totally goofy show, and it takes a special kind of viewer to really get into it. It's completely pointless and silly, but it's weird and different, and that alone makes it worth renting once in a blue moon. The show is so obscure that you probably won't get too many recommendations for it either, but on those days when the only thing you want is to watch people idly beating each other up for no reason, Ramen Fighter Miki is the show to reach for. The storyline is thinner than tap water, and the characters are pretty static, but people get punched all the time. That should be a good of a reason as any to watch something.[TOP]

Now, suppose you just want to go to the store, plunk down a spare $40-$50, and be able to take home a series that day. In the past, your easiest option would be to pick a random ADV thinpak, and that would be that. Recently, Funimation has started offering cheap collections as well. Previously, their boxsets largely consisted of repackaging all the regular releases inside the artbox, but now, they also give fans the option of collecting their favorite series in thinpak boxes (like Fruits Basket) and DVD booklets.

The latter are usually part of their “Viridian Collection,” which offers single DVDs at an MSRP of $19.98, and full series that range from $39.98 to $49.98. Aside from the price, these sets are a nice move on Funimation's part, as all of these sets are plastic-free, and helps advance the “Funimation Green” initiative.

Anyway, one of the more recent Viridians they released is the Gunslinger Girl set, which retails for $39.98. Unfortunately, as with a lot of Funimation's discount box sets, it looks like a bootleg. Given the company's track record for gorgeous art boxes and clever cover art, I don't know why all their cheapo sets look like crappy knockoffs, but they do. I can't even read the credits on the back because the print quality looks like ass.

Regardless, it doesn't change the fact that Gunslinger Girl is an amazing series, and if you don't own it, you should really consider dropping the two Jacksons for this set. Part of the girls-with-guns genre, the series packs pure action with a lot of emotion, and raises a lot of moral questions regarding childhood and human life.

The series revolves around the actions of the Social Welfare Agency, a secret organization that adopts children on the verge of death, implants them with cybernetic technology, and trains them as assassins and super soldiers. Each child is put under the care of an older male brother figure, who's responsible for training them, brainwashing them when necessary, and leading them on government missions. Of course, each brother is vastly different. Some treat their wards with kindness, others with anger and disdain.

Although Gunslinger Girl is heavy with action elements and cool fight scenes, that's ultimately just a backdrop for the real story, which is the lives of these girls as they struggle to cope with their new roles. All of the girls are incredibly sweet, and the show does a good job of humanizing them, despite their superhuman abilities. It's a very heartfelt show, and it's very easy to care deeply for all the girls. This show is fantastic, and well worth the money and the crappy cover.

Also, the cover is kind of gross. Seriously, I'm an inch from seeing her butthole. But the show is great, so buy it regardless![TOP]

Another title to add to the Viridian pile is the complete Tenchi Muyo GXP series. Not only does it have an epic image of quasi-nude Seina on the back (what's that wash-bucket balancing on again?), but I can actually read everything on the box, so it's a step up from the Gunslinger Girl set. For fans of the old school Tenchi Muyo! OVAs, this is a fun little spin off reminiscent of the classic tale. Although it stars different characters and different scenarios, it's similar in style to the old OVAs, even carrying over the same female archetypes.

There are some subtle changes in the style, though. GXP relies more heavily on slapstick humor, and hardly an episode goes by without someone face-planting or getting hit with something. Some might not enjoy this kind of humor, but for fans of shows like Excel Saga (incidentally, Shinichi Watanabe acts as the chief director in GXP), it's good for some laughs. And, well, if you like harem shows, this one takes its roots from one of the best, so this won't disappoint at all.

Seina was a normal high school kid like any other, only he has some colossally terrible luck. He swears it isn't from his own doing, but everything he does always goes wrong, and everything he touches usually breaks. Perhaps as a result, he's accidentally recruited by the Galaxy Police and soon becomes the captain of his own ship. His bad luck doesn't end, though, and he ends up acting as the bait for pirates. To keep things interesting, he's got a small throng of women with him at all times, who run the gamut of harem stereotypes.

The show is entertaining enough, but I never really got into it as much as the OVAs. The slapstick is pretty hit or miss, and with me, it missed more times than it hit. I also never really felt a connection with any of the characters, and I found it hard to care what happened to anyone. Still, if you're a big fan of the franchise, it's worth checking this out just for the Tenchi name. As for new fans, it's not a bad show, but if you can, you should really get your hands on the older OVAs and movies, just to see what all the fuss was about.[TOP]

Alright, crew, that's it for this week. More fun to come next week!

WHAT? TWO Shelf Obsessees this week? That's unheard of!

But it's true. Because I care.

First up is Viet Vo's home-made shelves, all the way from Belgium. His shelves are adorned with French DVDs and manga, with a few boxes of US and UK stuff stashed in as well. He also has a special section reserved for merchandise procured at the Parisian anime convention, Japan Expo, and Japan-related items. There's also a picture of him. Can you spot it?


The second collection belongs to Kein from Florida. Games, anime, and figures? I dig it.

Whew. You know, I kind of like this two-at-a-time business. Maybe I'll start making that a habit.

Got any pictures of your awesome collections? Send your jpgs to shelflife at animenewsnetwork dot com! Thanks!


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