Shelf Life
Blade Runners

by Bamboo Dong, Mar 3rd 2008

I went to the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium yesterday, located in San Pedro, CA. Of all the cool things I learned, the best was the feeding habits of the rainbow starfish (Orthasterias koehleri). They use their tube-like feet to pry apart a small opening in a clam. They then insert their stomach into the opening, and digest it inside the clam shell. How amazing/sick is that?

To further the randomness of it all, here's an awesome picture I drew in class the other day. Okay, it's not that awesome. Welcome to Shelf Life.

First up, the valley of the dolls. Once you get past the total creepiness of Gundam MS Igloo, it's actually one of the best Gundam shows out there. It took me a while to come to this conclusion, because I was so frightened by their vacant eyes, their poreless faces, and their twitchy Xenosaga-like movements, but this series is definitely awesome.

Past Gundam shows have largely been based on the same theme—intragalactic warfare brought on by some kind of political dispute. Sometimes the rebels were the heroes, sometimes the status quo was the way to go. But what of the little guy? MS Igloo is a salute to the soldier, the technician, and the recruit who survived hell, but ended up dying because of a system malfunction. It focuses on everyday people, and that makes it one of the more accessible Gundam shows. It's short and episodic, too, so you don't have to sit through a million episodes to get the point.

The second volume (technically a standalone OVA that chronologically follows the first) is very similar in structure to the first—the ship is tagged with the responsibility of trying out some new government weapon, and the Lieutenant Colonel has to write about it. This time, it involves a rocket meant for fighting in planetary atmospheres, a junky mobile armor pieced together from leftover parts, and a fueling center that allows all the fighters to refuel and restock ammo in battle. Like the preceding volume, it also chronicles the many men who lose their lives, but this time, it also strives to be a little more dramatic. One of the test pilots ends up being a commander's brother, and in the last episode, the Lt. Colonel himself.

These episodes are so vastly different from everything in the Gundam franchise that it makes them worth sampling. It may help to have a slight background knowledge of the Gundam universe, but it doesn't really matter. At the end of the episode, regardless of who's fighting whom, the deaths are the same and the tragedies of battle are the same. This OVA is more about war than it is about anything Gundam, and it's a nice change of pace. I don't know that I'd ever pay $50 for three episodes, but it's definitely worth renting.[TOP]

There's always been something fascinating to me about stories that involve shady corporations or government-sponsored projects. It's fine and well to have a standard “bad guy,” but it's brought to a whole new level when the enemy is capable of a dark evil so immense that regular citizens don't even know about it. Secret testing facilities? Sinister medical research labs? It's stuff like that which makes shows like Witchblade cooler than they ought to be. It may not be the best show in the world, but as long as there are creepy men in white lab coats, I'll keep watching it.

Up until now, the series has established two main points—the Witchblade wielder is useful for getting rid of monsters, and there are many people who would love to get their hands on that power. With the third volume, the latter part of that comes into better focus as more time is spent on just how far NSWF will go to recreate a superior Witchblade. Between expending numerous humans as test subjects and living targets, and creating a small army of genetically modified soldiers, they're definitely unscrupulous, and prove to be adequate foes.

Villains aside, it's pretty clear that the “good” guys aren't that great, either. They've got their own bevy of sketchy experiments going on, and it's well known that their goals are just as morally impure as those of the bad guys. That's why Witchblade is fun to watch. It's not because the cast of characters is particularly fascinating, because most of them don't even matter, and a lot of the ones that do aren't even properly introduced, so you have no clue who they are. It's not even because the story is that interesting—because really, it's kind of a mess, and there aren't enough adequate explanations for everything to fall properly into place. Witchblade is fun because you have two giant corporations that can do anything they want to, and at the heart of it, you have this sweet mom and her super sweet daughter, who just want to stay together. It's like a super soldier spy movie, only without Matt Damon, and with a lot more breasts.

Also, let it be known that a crucial plot point in this volume is a drinking contest. I didn't think drinking contests were cool past freshmen year of college, but apparently it's today's modern duel. Apparently, some of these corporation heads can take down 20-some shots of vodka without dying, too, which is a feat in itself.

So between evil conglomerates, breasts, and binge drinking, we have the recipe for a show that's kind of mediocre, but has enough pizzazz to keep viewers watching. Deep down inside, everyone likes shows about taking down “the man.” That's why Witchblade is worth watching, but probably just as a rental. I love seeing some butt-kicking action, but once is enough for me.[TOP]

Next up on the review pile is Funimation's next addition to the Viridian Collection—The Galaxy Railways. When I was younger, I remember reading the Galaxy Express 999 manga that was serialized in Animerica. At the time, I was more into shoujo stuff like Fushigi Yuugi and Marmalade Boy, but I always found myself interested in whichever new world the train would reach next. Some of them were exciting, while some were kind of creepy, but it was always different and captivating.

That's the same kind of adventure that pervades The Galaxy Railways, only the characterization has been much improved. Basically, the entirety of the galaxy is open for travel via an extensive network of intergalactic railways. Space isn't without its dangers, though, and with all the terrorists, aliens, natural phenomena, and supernatural oddities that can create havoc, there needs to be a police force, like the SDF. The main character, Manabu, has always wanted to follow in his father and brother's footsteps and join the SDF, but his mother, fearful of losing the only family she has left, is unwilling to let him go. Regardless, he goes anyway, and ends up embarking on a journey of 999 proportions.

In the vein of many worldly travel series, like Kino's Journey and Mushi-Shi (and Galaxy Express 999), The Galaxy Railways is less about story than it is about discovering something new. Through the 26 episodes of this series, viewers are taken on a journey through the treacheries of space. Sometimes the crew encounters hostile civilizations, sometimes asteroids, but sometimes they'll even run into the ghosts of the past, like the episode where Manabu is reunited with the spirit of his brother.

Overall, it's a fun series for those who enjoy experiencing the fruits of other people's imaginations. The worlds that Manabu and his crew experience are delightful and expansive, and it's shows like this that really bring back the old art of storytelling. At a scant $45, this is as cheap as you'll find this series.[TOP]

Last on this list is Hell Girl volume three, a series that I continue to be torn on. Since the introduction of the reporter, things have gotten a lot more interesting. Rather than just follow the same routine formula of watching people experience nightmares and get ferried to hell, there's finally an external force trying to convince people not to pull the Hell thread. The problem is, people keep doing it anyway, so his efforts are totally wasted.

This brings us to something interesting—in earlier volumes, I had thought that the reason Hell Girl spied on her clients was so that she could decide whether or not those they wanted to banish to hell were deserving of such. And, in fact, this was true for at least one episode. However, more recently, it's appeared as though this is not the case. Even if someone is innocent, they can still be sent to Hell, which gives the series new implications. It's also worth noting that apparently Ai's helpers are allowed to meddle in Hell's affairs, which may lead to interesting events further down the line. However, their existence still hasn't really been explained, which is disappointing.

It is nice to see the series pulling away from all those nightmare scenes, though. As interesting they were the first two times, they got dreadfully old really fast. Now things are changing up a bit, to the point that we don't even have to listen to the same old Ai monologues every time, which is a big improvement. For the first time, the series even showed the other end of the tables—that is, what happens to the people whom first pulled the thread.

All in all, the series is definitely looking up. I was worried that I would reach my saturation limit of Hell Girl, but it's been changing fast enough that my interest is still piqued. Subtle changes in Ai and the way that other people perceive her has made her a much more interesting character as well, so I look forward to seeing what will happen here.

Aside from that, it's still one of those shows that takes a fair amount of patience to sit through. It's still pretty repetitive, and nothing really stands out technically. It's not a series that I'd make a point to put at the top of my rental queue, but it'll keep someone entertained for a couple of hours.[TOP]

That's it for this week. Tune in next week for more anime adventures!

There are TWO awesome shelves this week. Partially because they're both cool, but also because I really need to catch up on these emails.

The first shelf obsessee today is Teri M. from Berea, OH. She claims that her collection is small, but it's all titles that she adores, so she's proud of the whole thing. Sadly, the picture is without her Fruits Basket series, and also a few other discs. She's kind of ashamed that those missing discs happened to be Gatekeepers, but since she was so embarrassed she owned them, I felt the need to mention that yes, at one point, Teri was a huge Gatekeepers fan. Huge. Loved it.

She also has a mad amount of Gundam Seed Destiny gashapon.

I'm glad to see that there are other people out there who are just as addicted to capsule figures as I am. I probably could've paid for part of college with the money I spent on those things.

The second shelf belongs to Jeff Burch. Back when the pictures were taken, he also submitted the following cautionary tale:

I decided one day that my collection needed to be displayed instead of residing in multiple boxes, stuffed in several closets. At the time it was assumed to be in the 500 disc range. Figuring that it would expand and not wanting to build another one I decided to go for a shelf able to contain around 700 discs. 3 hours of design and measuring, 2 hours of arguing with my master carpenter father, and a trip to Home Depot later I had the needed supplies. Carefully laying out everything in the order I would need it, cutting the wood, assembly, several make out sessions with the first aid kit and I had my shelf. Staining and varnishing took about a week due to the drying process.

After all the careful work, it was brought into my room and the process of putting my entire collection commenced. Thats when I learned a very valuable lesson. Math is very crucial to carpentry, especially geometry. Physics plays a significant role as well. On a lesser note, common sense and counting ( Yes, counting. 1. 2. 3. 4... ect) also should be applied.

The 4.5 foot tall and nearly 5 foot wide shelf holds exactly 714 discs. I know because thats how many I got onto it. I still had a box and a half of disks left. As well as a stock pile of set boxes that weren't in slim cases or thin packs. Yeah. It was too small. Plus, the weight of the collection was a tad too heavy so if you look carefully you can see some bowing in the shelves near the center. Since it wouldn't fit anyway, I weeded out what I wasn't going to watch/loan out in the near future. That was when I took the picture. I eventually will get around to making another shelf or two for the rest hopefully by Christmas. For now the rest sit in the same boxes in the same closets.

The pictures were taken a few months ago, so since then, he's probably gotten a lot more anime, though whether he's got some pretty new shelves, or just more boxes in the closet, will remain a mystery until he sends updates.

Want to show off your own collection? Send your jpgs to shelflife at animenewsnetwork dot com! Thanks!


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