Shelf Life
Chop Squadron

by Bamboo Dong, Feb 4th 2008

Earlier this week, someone linked me to a Gizmodo article on a cheeseburger in a can, marketed by Treking Mahlzeiten of Germany. It's quite literally a cheeseburger in a can. It may look a little awful, but if my local REI sold them, I'd totally sample one. After all, I've had canned ramen before, and I'm still alive, so...

If you could put any kind of food in a can, what would you choose? I kind of dig the idea of a pizza in a can, or maybe spaghetti. Chili cheese fries? That's an idea.

Welcome to Shelf Life.

When I bought my PS3 last year, I thought to myself, "Boy, I can't wait to watch some awesome drift movies in high def!" And while I only have The Fast and The Furious 3: Tokyo Drift on standard definition, I was thrilled when Taiseng decided to re-release the 2005 Initial D live-action film on Blu Ray.

Under the direction of Andrew Lau, the movie stars pop star Jay Chou as the shy Takumi, and a handful of other great actors. In fact, the cast is probably the best part of the film. They're spot on with their anime/manga counterparts, especially Anthony Wong, who's easily the most amazing Bunta Fujiwara anyone could have possibly selected. The film is available in three language tracks: the original Cantonese, a Mandarin dub, and an awkward English dub.

As someone who really enjoyed the TV series way more than is natural, I really, really dug this movie. It does a really good job of summarizing the feeling of the series, which is an impressive feat considering the show spans several seasons. Just like the show, Takumi is a regular high school student who works at a gas station in his free time. In the mornings, he helps his dad deliver tofu, something that's helped him hone incredible driving skills while winding around the hairpins of Mt. Akina. Even though his best friend is a total street racing nut (who sadly, can't drive worth a damn), Takumi couldn't care less about racing. When a bunch of guys come around and start challenging the “God of the Mountain,” he accidentally finds himself pulled into a few races, but over the course of the movie, his apathy slowly gives way to interest, and even fascination, with his newfound livelihood.

The soundtrack is killer, too. With fast hip-hop tracks and some deep bass beats, the music sounds more like Tokyopop's “tricked out” version of the anime than the original boppy Eurobeat that filled the original, but it works so well. The music is hot, and if you didn't think drifting was kind of cool before, the soundtrack alone could convert you. After all, how can you not enjoy an ending theme that consist of Jay Chou whispering fiercely, “Jay Chou, Jay Chou!”?

I've been wanting to see the Initial D movie for a while now, so I'm glad my first chance was with the Blu Ray. It looks great, it sounds great, and if anyone ever had an issue with the heinous character designs of the anime, that's not a problem here. Everything is eye candy, and if you enjoyed the series, then this movie is 100% certifiably bad-ass. Check it out.[TOP]

While I was watching the movie, I kept thinking how much better then stunts looked than the out-of-place CGI that was in the anime series. So, it was with somewhat of a CGI-filled mind that I popped in the first disc of Gundam MS Igloo, and I was jarred indeed.

A long time ago, I watched a movie called G-Saviour, a Gundam movie that would have been tolerable had it not been for the completely awful contrast between real actors and plastic-looking CG robots. Luckily, Gundam MS Igloo isn't that bad, but it's just as visually distracting, with everything rendered in CG. This makes the various mecha look pretty sweet and detailed, but it's hell on the human characters. Their movements are awkward, their eyes are vacant, their faces are pore-less, and their lip flaps are completely off. Their mouth movements don't even do the right things sometimes, and it took me a while before I could stop focusing on their uncanny faces and their stilted movements.

In terms of the story, though, MS Igloo is fairly interesting. Unlike previous Gundam series which focused more on politics or personal relationships, this series is a lot more like a ballad for the fallen soldier. Taking place during the One Year War, it primarily follows the events that transpire on a civilian cargo transport ship, which has been assigned to test a variety of prototype weapons, ranging from an anti-ship laser cannon, to an agile new land-based tank. While they're testing these new devices, it gives them a personal look at how awful war can be, and how many soldiers are sacrificed in the process.

It's a fairly unique series, especially within the Gundam franchise. It's a lot more technical than previous shows, so mech buffs can get their fill of new robots and weapons. The only downside is that audiences don't really get the chance to know the characters that well. Most of the focus is on each individual weapons testing scenario, and although you see the same few (still living) characters each time, they're not the focus of the episodes. Not that it's easy to follow what their saying, what with their gaping lips and their gaunt, frightening eyes that give them the appearance of hollow husks of former humans.

Gah.

Seriously creepy. Big time creepy. This would be such an awesome addition to the Gundam line of shows if it weren't so darned unsettling to watch these plasticky puppets gliding through the frames.

For the hardcore Gundam collector, though, this is totally worth owning. Yeah, it's $45 for three episodes, but this was only ever screened at the Bandai Museum. For everyone else—well, the price point's steep, and the animation is a raging eyesore, but if you like robots, you'll want to at least give this a rental.[TOP]

Moving onto other war-related series, I decided to pull out the second volume of Glass Fleet. Yet another entry in the typical Rebel Group vs. Government war genre, the series is nothing earth-shattering, but it passes muster. It's exciting enough to keep viewers' interests after every episode, and it leaves just enough unanswered questions to make watching it worthwhile.

When it comes down to it, though, it's really not the story that makes the show entertaining—in fact, the story is kind of convoluted. Everyone is fighting everyone else and it's incredibly hard to keep everyone's agendas straight. There's also way too many villains and independent factions with their own political plans. It makes for exciting viewing, but when you take a step back and try to explain what just happened, it gets a little sticky. Plus, the battles aren't exactly that nerve-wracking, what with the deus ex machina that is the glass ship. A ship that can dodge anything, withstand almost any blow, and hits every single target it fires at? There's a reason why Superman is one of the most boring superheroes out there.

The series really has one major going for it: a handful of very strong characters. Just within two discs, the show has established a couple heroes and villains who are genuinely interesting. Cleo is the ultimate Mysterious Rogue, whose motivations and history are almost entirely unknown. Then there's Michel, whose big secret about his identity is revealed in this disc, giving him an added layer of complexity. Add in the ailing Vetti and the enigmatic masked woman, and you've got some characters who could milk a story out of a wet paper sack.

As far as the supporting characters go, there's simply too many of them, but if I have to tolerate them just to get to the meat of the story, then it's a sacrifice that has to be made. On its own, Glass Fleet is interesting enough for those who love their anime to be saturated with politics and economics, but I probably wouldn't like it so much if it didn't remind me of other great shows. When I watch this series, I can't help but feel a yearning to watch Le Chevalier D'Eon, and that loose association is enough to fill me with a woozy warmth.

Overall, Glass Fleet is definitely an entertaining show. It comes with plenty of flaws, like a messy storyline saturated with extraneous characters, but its fast pacing is enough to keep people glued to the screen. It's not a series I'd recommend out of the blue, but if you find yourself watching it, it's hard to put down.[TOP]

Luckily, this week, I was able to finally catch up on some volumes of Beck, which is still one of the best shows out there. After popping in volumes four and five, this fact was definitely cemented in my mind. Plus, it always gives me this great motivation to go practice the piano or the guitar, so I wouldn't be surprised if it was raising a legion of fans who desperately craved music.

In fact, that's one of the nicest parts about the show. It embodies the very spirit of rock. The characters talk about a dream that they've all shared, where people are cleaning up after the spirits of legendary rockers. If that's the dream that all blessed rockers have, then maybe Beck is the anime version. Every step forward the band takes, you can't help but cheer for them. The characters are all easy to root for (except for Maho's lame friends, who are all kind of assholes), and because you've been watching Koyuki's progress for so long, he's like a good friend that you've watched slowly approach stardom.

Simply put, Beck is inspirational. It's like those movies about the inner city group that ends up excelling at cheerleading/gymnastics/football/debating/dancing—you cheer for them because they're great people, and because they're living the ultimate dream. Koyuki started out as this sad little nerd, and he's become this kind of cool guy with cool dreams and cool friends—all because he stuck with his guns and kept chasing his goals. That's the kind of anime that could have staying power.

Beginning in the fourth volume, audiences get to watch as Beck morphs from a small club band, to one that is eventually rumored to have the potential to be Japan's next big thing. They're able to release an album in the US under the name Mongolian Chop Squad, and before they know it, they're playing in major venues and garnering some pretty impressive fans. If I could be a groupie for any band, it might have to be this one.

As far as slice-of-life shows go, Beck is one of the best. The characters are incredibly real and easy to empathize with, and the dreams that they have are ones that are easy to identify with. I'm sad that the series is drawing to a close, but it's been an incredibly journey. If you haven't started watching this show yet, you're totally missing out.[TOP]

That's it for this week—see you next time!

Originally, I had two Shelf Obsessed entries here, but due to my flawed organization system, accidentally duplicated Dom's shelf from the Dec. 10 issue. That's been snipped away, but check out that column for what used to be!

These next set of beauties are from Rachelle, who hails from BC, Canada. And yes, she has Slayers Next on both VHS and DVD. Also, some wicked cute plushies.

Got a collection you want to show off? Send your jpgs to shelflife at animenewsnetwork dot com! Thanks for reading!


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