Shelf Life
Step Up 2 Da Shelf

by Bamboo Dong, Jan 28th 2008

My bed is now a small nest of awesome. I have conquered my bland IKEA mattress by topping it with not only a layer of memory foam—but also a ridiculously plush hypoallergenic mattress topper. Sleeping is now more akin to falling into a cavern of cotton and never surfacing ever again.

I highly recommend it. Visit your local Target to make sure waking up for work every morning is now like facing a firing squad.

Welcome to Shelf Life.

Studies in recent years have shown that the Japanese simply don't have sex. More than a third of married couples don't have sex, and it's been estimated that on any given night, only 1% of the country's population is getting freaky. There have been several explanations for why this is the case, but even a look at the decline in pre-marital sex rates shows that there are a lot of couples out there who don't have any notches on the bedpost.

That's where shows like Step Up Love Story come in. It's made for those couples who just don't know how to have exciting sex. Or… any kind of sex, really. I imagine it's meant to be funny in a, “Look, she doesn't know what fellatio is!” kind of way, but there's probably an awkward truth to it. For American audiences, it's probably a bit more on the funny side than it is on the tutorial side, because even if for those who don't indulge in frequent sexapades, our culture is open enough that if we're not hearing about sex from media and our peers, we can definitely figure out how the puzzles pieces work, thanks to the internet.

Things are a little more embarrassing for Makoto and Yura, two newlyweds whose first time results in the exultant cry of, “It's inside!,” followed by, “Oh… I just climaxed.” Luckily, their friends are willing to help them spice up their sex lives. Over the course of this 50-minute disc, I learned how to fellate a banana, how to lick someone behind someone's front teeth, and how to thank God that I don't have to learn how to have sex from an anime series. For those who are just viewing this for entertainment purposes only, though, it is pretty cute. The characters are pretty darned likable, and some of the dialogue is priceless.

While it doesn't affect one's enjoyment of the series, it's worth mentioning that this is a fairly Japanese show. There's not too many American shows nowadays where the wife would immediately quit her job and chirp to her sister about how doing laundry and being a housewife is hard work (except the rich trophy wives, but come on, they're not going to do their own laundry), but hey, to each his own.

The age rating's a little odd, too. It's rated as 16+, and is released under Media Blasters' general AnimeWorks label, but it's heavily laden with boobies and sexual innuendo. Even if the screen only shows a man's finger radiating with concentric circles, you can probably figure out where he's touching. Also, for the record, overhearing your brother having sex, and then masturbating—kind of gross. That's a mental image I would never want to have.

Overall, it's a cute show. Two episodes a disc is a little irritating, and I can't really imagine why someone would want to own this, but uh… I guess if your RentAnime queue is completely empty and you're craving some softcore, then this might suit you.[TOP]

The strangely cute Step Up Love Story aside, Media Blasters has kind of been hit or miss with me lately, with their servings of relatively unknown series and their oftentimes frilly releases. However, I definitely give them props for releasing Simoun, an underrated show that deserves more attention than it's been getting. Although it's part of their “Yuri Fan” collection, that really shouldn't factor into anyone's purchasing decision at all—simply put, it's a great show. The first episode was a little confusing, especially with the large cast of characters, but once you get into it, you'll be really glad they stuck six episodes on the first disc.

Visually, the series is quite nice. The character designs are gorgeous, and I could see the girls' outfits being prime cosplay targets. The mecha designs are really inventive, too, and if the designer was trying to go for something ethereal and mysterious, he totally landed the bull's eye.

To understand Simoun, the world in which it takes place needs to be explained briefly. Everyone in the nation is initially born as a female; once she turns 17, she makes a pilgrimage to the “Spring” where she is then permanently assigned a gender of her choosing. Their country had the good fortune of discovering an ancient technology that they believe was bestowed upon them by the heavens—helical engines that can be controlled and piloted in pairs. Representing “time” and “space,” these “Simouns” can only be piloted by those who have yet to be assigned a gender. By tracing intricate patterns of light in the sky, these machines can cause immense damage. Typically used to become closer to their faith, these Simouns now have to be used in battle against a neighboring country, which keeps launching daily attacks in an attempt to uncover the secret behind these contraptions.

Although the Simouns play a big part, the show is far from being a typical mecha show. Most of the focus is on the characters, most of whom don't even want to be in battle. Their worries lie in other things, like their impending gender assignments, and their relationships with one another.

What makes this series really fascinating is the contrast between the protagonists and the enemies, and the subtleties within their cultures. The enemies rely on science and technology to survive (in contrast, they are assigned their genders at birth via medical treatments and drugs), and as a result, the pollution is eating away at their bodies. Whether this is a commentary on science/man-made technology versus faith/nature is unknown, but it's interesting to think about. There's also the implication that only pure children can pilot the Simouns, before they are given the burden of gender—though one observes that becoming a man can be beneficial because most of the job opportunities are for men.

Social commentary or not, this show really provides fuel for thought. Even if you're just in it for the unique battle system, there's plenty here to entertain you. It's definitely one of the more interesting shows that Media Blasters has released of late. I wouldn't even really classify it as yuri—true, the girls kiss each other and fall in love, but that's really not the central focus of the show. The fact that they can opt to become male throws an interesting twist in that, too. Either way, this is a really creative series. There's a good chance you've never even heard of it before, but I highly recommend checking it out.[TOP]

If you're just looking for something relaxing, though, my vote goes towards the third and fourth volumes of Mushi-Shi. As is common with all the discs preceding it, the episodes follow Gingko as he wanders to different villages, noting all the phenomena that occur, and revealing the mushi inhabiting the area. There's also a particularly eye-opening episode on the third disc that talks about Gingko's childhood, and reveals why it is we only ever get to see his right eye.

As quaint as these episodes are, I sometimes wonder what would happen if he went to a bustling city either in Japan or overseas. Those tiny villages are ripe for life energy, but a stroll through East LA would probably be more ready for an episode of Moyashimon than anything spiritual.

If you have the patience for slow, idyllic shows, then Mushi-Shi will please you in a million different ways. The artwork is easy on the eyes, and the different mushi are fun to watch out for. They're sometimes beautiful, sometimes creepy, and sometimes both, but they always provide something to look forward to in each episode. I had a personal fondness for a certain glowing bamboo, though probably not to the same extent that the first female character did.

As much as I like this series, though, I'll be the first to admit that it's not for everyone. It doesn't have any intense action or any quippy dialogue, and there's not a lot of flesh to be seen everywhere, so if those are the kinds of traits you look for, I suggest going elsewhere. This is more like sitting down and watching a History channel special about the invention of the toothpick—a bit slow, but surprisingly fascinating in the breadth that it encompasses. I'm a big fan.[TOP]

But… still not a big fan of Ragnarök. When I opened the disc and realized that there were nine episodes on it, I actually almost cried. Luckily, for everyone who loves this piece of crap, opening this baby will be like celebrating Christmas and Flag Day all at once.

Even though I only watched the first volume a little over a month ago, I already don't remember what happened. The events that transpired were of so little consequence that I recall almost nothing. To my supreme joy, the episodes in this disc are so equally trivial that I had no problem getting back into the swing of things.

Hey, I wonder if Yuufa and Roan are a couple. I sure hope every character they meet answers that boggling question for me.

Anyway, in this volume, our valiant group fights monsters, even though nobody else thinks they can! Good thing they're able to prove them wrong! They get into a pretty bad pickle early on, but fortunately, Midgard has an emergency alert system that lets everyone on the server in the world rush to their help. Will the Dark Forces of Evil ever be stopped? Or will our brave warriors fight endlessly until they release a more evil expansion pack?

Gosh darnit, why won't anyone tell me if they're a couple or not?

As incredibly mundane as every adventure is, some part of me wonders if I wouldn't enjoy it more if the voicees weren't so brutally harsh on my ears. I admire these actresses for having the talent to reach those high-pitches, but if I had the ability to stab (English version) Maya in the throat without fear of legal repercussion, I'd jump at the opportunity. Her voice hits that special frequency that makes my body temperature drop a degree. Not even all the magic of Midgard could have made it better, though I did get a giant kick out of the sorceress screaming, “COLD BOLTS OF ICE! COLD BOLTS OF ICE!” over and over again.

Needless to say, I really don't think this show is worth the price tag. Heck, I don't think it's even worth the 207 minutes that it takes out of your life. I've heard that MMOs can be addictive to the point of danger, but I couldn't wait until this cursed volume was over.

Oh, and spoiler alert? They're not a couple. Whew! Good thing that was settled![TOP]

Now, last week, a lot of people asked me questions about the Veridian boxes. I promised pictures, so here they are. The first is a shot of the slipcover, followed by two shots of the interior. As said before, they're part of Funimation's green initiative, so there's no plastic. It's a shame that they didn't leave any room for inserts, but I actually like them quite a bit. Not only are they ecologically friendly, but they're very simple and elegant, and take up next to no space on my shelf.

Alright, that's it for this time. See you next week!

This week's Shelf Obsessed collection is courtesy of Rayna, who is offering up her DVD and figure collection. Her friends claim that Akihabara exploded all over her dorm room.

My dorm room never looked that nice. *cry* Also, some of those figures are way too cute.

Want to show off some of your stuff? Send your jpgs to shelflife at animenewsnetwork dot com!


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