Shelf Life
Vex Machina

by Bamboo Dong, May 19th 2008

I ran into two dopplegangers last week. One was waiting outside of Starbucks, wearing the same pink-and-gray-starred hoodie as me, with the same hairstyle. Then the next day, I switched to a black track jacket with pink, white, and sky blue stripes. I saw a different girl wearing the exact same jacket, heading towards an eating establishment. Two days in a row? That's completely eerie.

I'm feeling a little under the weather from being outside all weekend in this awful 105 Fahrenheit heat wave we got in SoCal, so Shelf Life will be a little shorter. However, there's lots of pictures at the end, so you can writhe in jealousy.

Welcome to Shelf Life.

I'm a little late to the party with this review, but after finally getting my hands on a copy of Appleseed: Ex Machina, I couldn't help but want to spread the word. This movie was so much fun to watch, and even the slightly weird 3D animation couldn't turn me away from the explosive fight scenes.

First, a few tawdry details. Warner Brothers has done a very complete job with this DVD, providing it in several different languages, including English, Cantonese, French, Japanese, Portugese, and Spanish. You can turn on several languages worth of subtitles, too, with options that include English, close-captioned English, Chinese (traditional), Korean, Portugese, and Spanish. It's nice to see that they treated the product like a big movie release, even though it didn't generate nearly enough splash when it hit store shelves.

The story once again features Deunan and Briareos, two members of ESWAT who are tasked with keeping Olympus safe. Their latest problem is dealing with a terrorist force that is bent on taking over humanity via consumer electronics that can control people's movements. However, when Briareos is injured in a mission, he's replaced by a bioroid named Tereus, who was designed from Briareos' DNA. The spitting image of him, he even talks and thinks like him, which causes some friction with Deunan. Despite their differences, the three of them do their best to stop the terrorists.

Appleseed: Ex Machina is a lot of fun, and it looks great, too. The backgrounds are gorgeous and incredibly detailed, and I could probably stare at nothing but pans for four hours and still be entertained. The animation is smooth and natural, but it gets a little creepy at times. The simpleness and clean-cut look of the 3D animation almost makes it look like a video game; there were a few times where I instinctively looked for ledges on the sides of buildings where I might be able to jump.

Produced by John Woo, Appleseed excels in its fight sequences. Whether it's hand-to-hand combat or mecha battles, the sequences look amazing. Right from the first mission, I was totally hooked. Even if you have zero interest in the story line, there's enough to see to keep anyone entertained.

Truthfully, the story isn't jaw-droppingly mind-blowing, but it's exciting and it works well as a vehicle for the characters. While I thought the various twists were exciting, I was mainly interested in the interplay between Briareos and Tereus. Even the role of technology in the movie gives a lot to think about. Overall, this is just a really good time. For Appleseed fans, this movie is a must-see. For everyone else, it's highly recommended.[TOP]

Following up with a similarly styled movie, I decided to check out Funimation's upcoming release of Vexille. Written and directed by the Japanese Academy Award winning Fumihiko Sori, it's also touted as being "from the creators of Appleseed." Truthfully, all the ads for Vexille made it look kind of lame, but my (low) expectations were totally blown away. At the end of it all, the movie has a lot of unanswered questions and a few open ends, but the journey there is worth taking.

A bit about the story first, though. In the future, Japan is the same technological maniac that it is today, and is completely smoking the world in robotics and everything else. It's been making huge strides in android technology too, but advances are stalled by UN sanctions. Japan is a little butthurt by this, and in response, sets up a tech barrier to effectively isolate the country. They live in complete isolation for ten years until the UN tries to set up a meeting with the leader of Daiwa Heavy Industries, the engineering powerhouse that's now running Japan. On the US side is a US Navy special forces agency called SWORD, which is called in to try and figure out what's going on with Daiwa and the status of android development in Japan. They're also asked to infiltrate Japan so that the US can get some surveillance shots of the country, and what they end up finding is really shocking.

The film starts off that way, but by the time you get to the end, it ends up involving giant metal-eating vortex-worms, underground resistances, shady science, and a lot of post-apocalyptic vehicle riding. It's hard to see the connection, and the film tries to sneak around it by using the ol' explosion-followed-by-waking-up-in-a-strange-room trick, but it doesn't entirely fool audiences. We still remember what happened, even if the main character (Vexille) doesn't. As a result, the ending of the movie is completely different from the beginning, and it gives it a bit of a mangled feeling.

On the upside, the fight sequences are really slick. The battles are really cinematic and graceful, and the amount of thought that went into each mech is really amazing. Seriously, there are a lot of cool robots in this flick. The animation is gorgeous, too, with stunning character visuals set against grandiose backgrounds. What the movie lacks storywise, it makes up visually, but if that's enough to push it over the edge into greatness is up to the individual viewer.

It's almost too bad that the art wasn't paired with a better story. There are a lot of loose ends that are never tied together, and viewers may find themselves wondering, "Hey, whatever happened to that one guy?" Story aside, though, if you really get to the core of it, the movie is about what it means to be human, and what it means to live. There are a lot of man vs. technology properties that explore these ideas (Appleseed, Ghost in the Shell, Chobits, to name a few), but everyone has their own take on it. The almost mechanical way that some of these characters process the idea of human sacrifice alone speaks volumes. Despite its best efforts, though, the latter fourth of the movie just doesn't get the entire job done.

While I really liked this movie, a lot more than I thought I ever would, I don't know that I could really give it a high rating. The storytelling was a little clumsy, and poorly paced, even though it packed a heavy visual punch. It's definitely worth a rental or two, and it's a good way to treat yourself to some eye candy at the end of the week. It just doesn't live up to its full potential.[TOP]

At this point, looking at my stack of anime, there were probably a few other titles that were ripe for immediate reviewing, but how could I resist the lure of the last volume of Hell Girl? I couldn't. I needed to know what would happen, and whether or not all my viewing would come to a satisfying conclusion.

I'm satisfied. I'm not thrilled that it took me 550 minutes of repetitive anime to get to the final four episodes of interesting content, but at least I finally got the conclusion I wanted. For those of you who have been following Ai, Hajime, and Tsugumi's adventures thus far, then huzzah for hitting the finishing line! Upon hearing their explanation of why so little was known about Ai's past (because she didn't even know about it until these episodes), it does make more sense why the first five discs were so standalone-centric, but it doesn't entirely excuse it for getting a little dull.

The first episode on this disc is particularly upsetting, as it shows an angel of a woman getting banished to Hell for almost no reason. With that kind of injustice, it sets up the viewer to really view Ai in a different light. Previously, it was a little ambiguous as to whether or not it was okay to get revenge for some grievances, but that episode really pushed things over the edge. Once viewers are primed, the series plunges into Ai's past, explaining her origins and how she got to be where and who she is. It's a little heartbreaking, but it's something that clears up so much about the series. There are still unanswered questions, but knowing who Ai really is makes this series so much better.

Obviously, I'm a little bummed that I had to wait so far to get here. It makes complete sense why they would wait so long, and it structures the overall series so much better, but it was a bit Too Much for me. If the series had been half as long, it would have been splendid, but with 20 episodes of what almost amounts to filler, it's a bit of a letdown. Each episode didn't even have much of a moral or message, either—it was just an endless stream of people getting angry at each other and not wanting to see a counselor about it.

But, all that is done and over with. What matters is that the final volume is worth seeing. Ai's story, having to be crammed into three episodes, isn't as fleshed out as it could be, but it's a welcome change of pace. There are some shaky plot connections, but overall, it provides a much needed breath of fresh air. If you want a quickie version of Hell Girl, though, I'd consider watching a few choice episodes—and then jumping straight to the last disc. Maybe just the first episode and then the last half of the show. Either way, if you're going to watch any Hell Girl, it might as well be this volume. Everything else is largely optional.[TOP]

That's it for this week. Thanks for reading!

This week's shelves is from Shinoga, who ran out of shelf space a long time ago. These snapshots were taken several months ago, so one can only imagine what kind of avalanche of merchandise now exists.


This second collection, from "blue8e," is just plain pretty. Not only am I in love with that giant plush dog (and that cuuute plush ram!), but seriously, that is a really good looking collection. I could probably spend so many hours there!

Lastly, this "bloated DVD, manga, VHS, videogame, and book collection" from Jonathan just needs to be shown. Not only did I appreciate his completely accurate usage of the word "bloated," but I'm always happy to see someone else besides me use the Oxford comma.


Woah!! I'm rolling around in jealousy. Seriously, my downstairs neighbors are banging on their ceiling because I'm raising such a jealous ruckus. Want to show off your collections? Send your jpgs to shelflife at animenewsnetwork dot com!


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