Shelf Life
Magik the Gathering

by Bamboo Dong, Jun 30th 2008

Hello friends! I'm back from my trip to China, and it was truly amazing. I'd been back once 12 years ago to visit extended family, but I was finally able to do all the touristy stuff this time around. The Great Wall is just as amazing as I'd hoped it would be, and roasted scorpion tasted much better than I feared. I ate airplane food seven times, and watched Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix a mind-numbing five times. It's good to be back, though, and I can't wait to jump into some fun releases!

Welcome to Shelf Life.

Every time I watch XXXHOLiC, I think to myself that “this is the moment; finally, I'm bored of this show.” And frankly, there are a lot of dull moments in the series when I do start getting the nagging feeling that I'd be better off investing my time elsewhere, but there's always something about the storytelling that pulls me back. I always want to know whose life will be changed in the next episode.

Just like reading Aesop's Fables always taught people valuable lessons about life, or how thumbing through Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People imparts wisdom about how to act around others, XXXHOLiC has an air of wisdom about it. I wouldn't compare it to either of the two previous works, but on more than one occasion, I felt the same “hmm, indeed” epiphanies after one of the characters messed up. In the first episode, a woman says that her pinkie is feeling increasingly heavy; in the end, we find that it's because she's been carelessly pinkie-swearing her commitment to countless men, a bad habit that not only hurt her character, but many feelings. In a later episode, we see the negative effects of pride, as Watanuki suffers because he just won't admit that he needs help.

In earlier reviews, I kept comparing the show to Mushi-Shi, largely because of all the supernatural aspects of the show. Now that I've seen more of it, I'm more eager to tout its merits as a pack of cautionary tales. It still has plenty of supernatural, ghost story-esque qualities, to be sure, but more than that, it stands out as a small collection of fables that's intermittently fun to watch.

I'm still sitting on the fence as to whether I'd ever want to watch these episodes again, but I do think that they're worth watching. Even if you're not a CLAMP fan, or even if you can't stomach the characters' willowy frames, the stories themselves are well-written, and that should overcome all character designs and prejudices. The episodes could be replaced with an audio book of some old guy reading the lines, and I still think they could have entertainment value. These are interesting stories, and even though I confess to feeling a little bored at times, in the end, I'm still glad I keep watching them.[TOP]

Now here's a blast from the past for everyone. This next release isn't really new, per se, since it was released several months ago. Rather, it piqued my curiosity in one of those, “Hey, whatever happened to _____?” ways. I had just finished reading a chapter from Daniel Radosh's fabulous book, Rapture Ready!: Adventures in the Parallel Universe of Christian Pop Culture about sex manuals for Christian couples, and I remembered by old friend Step Up Love Story. At the time, I had sampled the first volume experimentally, then promptly forgot about it in lieu of more mainstream releases. It's such a bizarre gem, though, that I absolutely had to pick up the second and final volume, just to satisfy my curiosity.

Step Up Love Story is like a sex guide for married Japanese couples. It teaches lessons about foreplay and role playing, but also brings up tender subjects like jealousy. To the naked eye, it may just seem like two episodes of softcore porn (there are no shortages of breasts and non-penetration shots of sex), but buried deep inside all that flesh is something that's almost cute. It's a sometimes awkward tale of newlyweds who are discovering each other (again and again) for the first few times, and they're as new about it as anyone could be. The couple that lives next door has been married for a few years, but they haven't been intimate in quite some time, so even they learn something from the newlyweds' passions.

The second volume, unfortunately, doesn't add much to what's already been presented in the first volume. The first two episodes at least had the quasi-charming character of watching two people stumble their way around intimacy, but the second one is just plain raunchy. It even packs in three times as many fantasy scenes, even imagined scenes of cousin-incest. It does tout the virtues of cosplay and role-playing, and going on romantic vacations with your significant other, but it's hard not to sternly accuse it of just finding excuses for more softcore opportunities. Perhaps it's good that the show ends after this disc.

It's not really something I could ever imagine anyone owning, truthfully. If you're going to watch and rewatch people having sex, why wouldn't you just buy something a lot more pornographic? Step Up Love Story will probably scintillate many, but it works better as a Sex for Dummies than a pornography, and maybe even more as encouragement that yes, married people can have sex, too. Either way, it's one of the weirder titles out there, but something that the 18+ folk can stick on their RentAnime queues if ever there's a lonely night. I prefer the first volume to the second, but if you enjoyed the first one, then I suppose there's no reason not to watch the second.[TOP]

Following this up, I settled for something much more innocent, and with about 100% less fanservice, though 60% more beautiful men. This, of course, was Haruka volume two. When I watched the first disc a couple months ago, I was turned off by similarities that I spotted with Watase Yuu's famous Fushigi Yuugi. Upon watching the three episodes on this disc, though, those initial similarities quickly faded, and I was able to enjoy the series a lot more for its own merits.

With the second disc, Akane and her newfound guardians must continue the fight against evil, as the mask-wearing demon continues to wreak havoc upon the country. It's probably not the best way to lure Akane to his side, though, since all this does is attract more guardians to her flock, and unleash her dragon god powers. While she and her friends from back home are hesitant about staying in this world and fighting on behalf of their new comrades, they eventually come to realize that accomplishing their directive is the quickest way to get home.

I was a little hesitant to support Haruka at first, but the more I watch it, the more I want to know what happens next. I'm still not completely sold on its hectic and sometimes disjointed pace of storytelling, but that could probably just be chalked up to personal preference. In any case, once all the guardians are found and the main characters are more familiar with going on, the story will probably become more linear, which will help it a lot.

My only other beef with the show is the character designs. I'm just not a big fan of the gaping look that Akane perpetually has on her face, and I find that many of the characters look quite similar. When they have different colored hair, or different facial markings, it's easy to tell them apart, but this early in the game, some of the men aren't entirely distinguishable from one another.

With three episodes on a disc, at $29.99, the price is a little steep, but there are always sales to be found online. I'm not ready to get all gung-ho about the show yet, but my interest is definitely growing. With a few more episodes under my belt, I may eventually switch to the Pro side, but for right now, it's just another fantasy show worth keeping an eye on.[TOP]

Having only time for one more release this week, I decided to close the door on Magikano for once and for all by watching the third and final volume. I absolutely loathed the show when I watched the first episode, because I was absolutely appalled by how utterly unprogressive the series was. Towards the end, though, my anger subsided, and it ended up being much more palatable than the beginning. It was still a bad show, but it was less bad, which is a huge improvement.

Near the end, Mamiya is still trying desperately to make Haruo fall in love with her, so that she can lift the curse that's been placed on her. Unfortunately, her primary means of doing so still involves flashing her butt and trying to get him to ogle her panties. On the upside, she does often stop herself, and say that her moral dignity as a woman won't allow her to practice such behavior (thank goodness!), but the series doesn't really offer any other alternatives. Considering that her main barrier is his three brother-complex-indulging sisters, she probably doesn't have any other positive role models in her life, but at least she has some modicum of honor.

It's the ending, though, that really makes a mess of the series. Like many other comedy-driven series that suddenly plow into a deathly serious ending, the transition is very awkward. One second the characters are all laughing and having fun, and before the audience is aware, ten episodes of comedy have been replaced by two episodes of death and destruction. Hey, thanks for the warning. Plot twists are one thing, but completely changing the entire mood is jarring. It's as if the ending of the Care Bears show was replaced by Jurassic Park 3; it's just not done.

But… they did it anyway. What results is an ending that's as totally random as they get. As if the total tone shift isn't bad enough, the characters still try to inject in parcels of comic relief, which become completely out of place. It just can't win.

So in the end, Magikano's still a bust. It's better than it started out, and it could've been much better if they'd titrated in the seriousness at the end. I'm relieved the “please, please, please look at my body” sentiment was somewhat filtered out a bit, but it wasn't enough to save the series from the evils of bad storytelling. I'm not a fan of the show, but by all means, if you like girls with magic powers using their abilities to fawn over men, then pick it up.[TOP]

That's it for this week. It's good to be back!

This week's shelves are from Miguel, who has so much stuff, it's all spilling over! A lot of his manga are even double-stacked, or hiding somewhere else in his room.


Intense.

Got some shelves to show off? Send your jpgs to shelflife at animenewsnetwork dot com! Thanks for reading!


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