Shelf Life
Phoenix Down

by Bamboo Dong, Apr 21st 2008

While my cold is largely over, I've still got a lingering cough that rears its atrocious head every few minutes. Sucking on cough drops occasionally seems to alleviate the coughing, but really, I just want a miracle lozenge that will make it go away entirely. I used to have a friend in college whose father was a great believer in Halls. Regardless of his children's symptoms or ailings, his response was always, “Pop a Halls!” They were never sure if their dad really liked Halls that much, or if it was just his way of telling them to shut up and get over it. “But dad, I skinned my knee and it really hurts!” “Pop a Halls, son.”

Welcome to Shelf Life.

I was delighted to check out the second volume of Simoun, a still relatively unknown series that's quite the hidden gem. On the surface, it may seem like another show where cute little girls are used to sell a robot anime, but it's a lot smarter than it looks. Through all the dialogue and the girls' interactions, it becomes apparent that this series has a lot to say about religion, politics, and gender inequality. It may be that I'm overanalyzing things, but even in that case, kudos to the show for giving me so much to think about.

The girls' choir-turned-squadron, Chor Tempest, is still having unity problems, what with Neviril's continued disenchantment with the increasingly violent duties of the Sibyllae, and with the addition of two new girls, one of whom has a bone to pick with a current priestess. The choir is even on the verge of being disbanded until an unexpected person steps in and tries to smooth things over. Things get even stickier when heated tensions between their country and its neighbor escalate to deadlier levels, prompting the girls to have to step in to back up their ground troops.

Many of the Simoun's themes seem to wrap around conflicting ideals and social issues. It touches upon class politics and the bitterness that can exist between commoners and the elite, and also the inherent gap between men and women in society. Even though the "girls" can choose to become either men or women, there's a lot of pressure that goes into that decision-- more jobs are available for men, but this also means going against what they've grown up knowing.

The story also looks at religious fanaticism and its ties with war. As one character observes, "What is it about this 'love of God'? How could it make someone do something such as this?" Simoun is definitely a show that has several layers to it, and it really makes it something that's very much worth watching. You can read as much or as little as you want into it, and it's still entertaining.

One thing to note, though-- the story is a little choppy at times. It seems to have a problem with evenly spreading out its conflicts, and many times, once it solves a conflict, it immediately jumps to a different one. The transition between these issues makes it a little jarring to watch at times. Overall, it's a really enjoyable series for those who want a little more substance with their anime. You have to wonder, though-- with a country that has such great technology, you'd think they'd have invented a decent radar system by now. I guess that would take the fun out of their recon missions.[TOP]

Wanting to contrast Simoun with a girl-laden series of a different slant, I ended up watching the second volume of Kanon. I have the third volume on-hand, too, but I wanted to give the story a good week to sink in before I kept going with it. It's probably for the best, because after the huge plot twist revealed at the end of the disc, I don't know that I could immediately rush into the next disc.

The first few episodes on this disc are actually dreadfully mundane. They just roll through the cast of women, pausing every now and then to allow one of the girls to do something cute. One moment, a girl is chasing after a cat, the next, another one is “uguu”ing over a scary movie. It's almost maddening in a way, because no matter how intriguing the characters may be (Who's the demon hunter and what's her role? Who is the sickly girl and why/when is she dying?), the show refuses to reveal any answers. The scenes are so similar and repetitive that careening through this disc almost has a Groundhog Day effect.

This all changes in the last episode, though, which is just flat-out bizarre—not only for viewers, but probably for the main character, too. It definitely takes on a very fantastical twist, and requires viewers to place a lot of faith in the inherent magic of the story. Much like Air and its winged girl, Kanon has its own brand of mysticism.

While it's hard for me to wholeheartedly endorse the entire disc (because seriously, the first three episodes were incredibly boring), I do think the last episode makes it worth watching. It's a little offbeat, and it's a hell of a cliffhanger. At the very least, it's made me promise myself that I'll definitely watch the next volume this week. This volume of Kanon isn't as charming as the first, but with an ending like that, I'm looking forward to what'll happen next.[TOP]

Next up on my review pile was the second volume of Phoenix, based off the Osamu Tezuka manga of the same name. Having been through several story arcs now, I still don't really know how I feel about this series. On the one hand, I think its reoccurring themes of death and destiny are fascinating, but not all the vignettes are equally spread in terms of viewing enjoyment—at least for me. Some of the stories had me glued to the screen, while others managed to escape my interest completely.

The first episode continues where the previous disc left off—the story takes place on a moon colony, where a young man is on the lam from his colleagues, who have replaced his brain with an artificial one. Because of that, he views all humans as mechanical beasts, and has placed all his trust in a discarded robot whom he sees as a beautiful girl. Angry at humans for abandoning Earth, he wants revenge against their actions. The story then shifts to another space and time, where the main character is a girl who finds herself trapped in a time loop, doomed to forever help people to atone for her sins. Finally, it launches into another arc, where a wolf-faced man (a condition thrust upon him artificially) must defend his village's ideologies against an unsympathetic government.

It sounds a bit messy, but the stories are easy enough to understand once you actually watch them. At first, I was put off by the style of storytelling, but it's something I got used to. More than anything, the arcs function more as a vehicle for certain themes and ideas, than for linear stories, and in that sense, it works. The episodes tend to drag a bit at times, but if you've got the patience to watch the series and are prepared to think about what each episode is trying to say, you can get a lot out of it. Phoenix isn't something that would appeal to the casual viewer looking for an action-packed romp, but for those who want something a little more mature and thought-provoking, this will get your synapses firing.[TOP]

For something a little more light-hearted, viewers should look to the boxset release of MoonPhase, which blends cute girls and vampires in a supernatural show that's…well, it's occasionally very interesting. Just be prepared to suffer through a lot of the typical cute girl antics that tend to pepper these kinds of shows. Nothing pleases certain fanboys like watching girls meow around and try on clothes, and there is plenty of that in the first half of this show.

The lead male is a freelance photographer who heads to the hills of Germany to take pictures of a castle rumored to have paranormal activity. When he gets there, he encounters Hazuki, a vampire who tries to make him her eternal servant by doing whatever blood-pacting vampires do. Unfortunately, it has no effect on the photographer, and cutesy scenes ensue. She moves in with him at his grandpa's house, cute things happen, and fanboys all over the world smile under their sheets.

It's not really until the latter half of the series that anything substantial happens. Viewers get the pay-off of seeing the two characters grow closer together, and eventually even the action ramps up, as vampires start attacking, and the girl stop being so prissy.

I almost wish they would can half of the first half of the show, just to get into the meat of it. I love cute things as much as the next girl/Asian/Asian girl, but in this case, it really breaks up the flow of the story. It's hard to take seriously a dark, gothic environment when the mood is continuously interrupted by something frilly.

In the end, MoonPhase is a fun enough show for people looking to kill some time over a weekend. It functions adequately as a vampire show, but more than anything, it's a good chance to see lots of cute girls who could also kill you if they felt like it. That's got to have some appeal.[TOP]

That's it for this week. See you next time!

This week's incredible collection comes from Scott Riley.

His description of his collection:

I like collecting autographed stuff.

Pic 1:
Top shelf: Autographed DVD cover of Halko Momoi's AX 2007 concert.
2nd from top: Autographed CD by Halko Momoi.
3rd from bottom: Autographed poster by Yuuno Inamura of her character from Galaxy Angel Rune.
Bottom: Autographed T-shirt by Halko Momoi of her character from Nurse Witch Komugi.
To the right on top of CDs: Autographed drawing by Reina Yoshimura and her character from Moegaku.
Bottom right: Autographed drawing by Natsuki Tanihara (original character designer of D.C. II: Da Capo II).

Pic 2:
Top: Autographed T-shirt by Koge-Donbo.
Bottom: Autographed poster by Takaaki Kidani (President/founder of Broccoli) and Sumire Nanohana (Author of the Galaxy Angel II novels).

I have about 350 DVDs, 80 manga, and 150 anime related CDs in my collection. CDs are mostly imports (about 90%). Of course, absolutely no bootlegs.


Wow! You live in Caifornia, right? Because I'm totally coming over.

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


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