Shelf Life
The Best of the Rescues

by Bamboo Dong, Jul 7th 2008

Anime Expo was a doozy this year, and not just because it was held in the ridiculously huge Los Angeles Convention Center. It also brought some of the biggest positive news this industry has seen in a long time. Y'all can read our front page and our convention reports for the sordid details, but one of the things I'm the most pumped about is Funimation's planned distribution of several Geneon titles. To get everyone as excited about this as I am, I decided to pull up old volume one reviews from Shelf Life for some of the titles I'm the most excited about. Also, thanks to everyone who came out to check out our panel! You totally rock.

Welcome to Shelf Life.

Of all the shows I'm the most excited for, Saiunkoku is on the top of my list. I absolutely fell in love with this show when it came out, and my heart soared when I saw that Funimation would be continuing it. It's simply something special, and as an added bonus, the opening theme is amazing.

Packaged with an embarrassingly pink cover, Saiunkoku is an adorable and uplifting show, and if you don't fall in love with the characters by the end of the first disc, then you really need a hug or something. The heroine of this tale is an energetic girl name Shurei, a princess who is no stranger to hard work and determination, and dreams of becoming a government official. Desperate for more money to help support her family, she agrees to become the emperor's consort. Although he's incredibly bright, he has zero desire to be an effective ruler; her job is to transform him into a confident, hard-working emperor—one who will prevent the country from once again slipping into ruin and civil war. Helping her with this daunting task is a small handful of bodyguards and military officials, one of whom has deep ties with both Shurei and the emperor. But, even though things are cherry blossoms and sunshine now, it doesn't appear as though things will stay this way; someone is out to kill Shurei, and trouble is looming on the horizon.

As in love with this series as I already am, I have to admit that it's probably not for everyone. For starters, it's pretty girly. With its abundance of beautiful men and its strong female protagonist, this is definitely something that is aimed squarely at a female audience. In fact, this is a title that I would strongly recommend to all the female viewers out there. Shurei is nothing short of amazing, and unlike all the hoe-y “role models” that are poisoning the girls' market today like those damnable Bratz, she's someone that I would want girls to look up to. She's kind, she's elegant, she's incredibly smart, she's hardworking, and she isn't afraid to reach for impossible dreams in a man's world.

I'm very much looking forward to the rest of this series. The first five episodes were paced very well, setting things up without being boring, and hinting at just enough turmoil (both past and present) to keep things interesting. With its gorgeous character designs, its tranquil music, and its likeable characters, this is a series that unfolds more like a fairy tale than anything else. I'm definitely sold.[TOP]

I'm also incredibly psyched for Higurashi: When They Cry. It is deliciously screwed up, and something about seeing little kids bludgeoning each other with household tools just makes me want more. When I first watched it, I didn't know what I was getting myself into. Within the first 8 seconds, though, I knew it was going to be a bloody good time. When They Cry is structured like a series of crescendos, with each arc starting as little more than cutesy dialogue and giggly girls. Over the span of four episodes, it culminates into a frightening bloodbath of nerves and paranoia. It's been a while since I've seen a horror series with such a carefully constructed atmosphere of fear. Then, once it ends, it resets itself, and tells a parallel story of death and destruction.

This show is really amazing.

What makes it work so well is that every arc is preceded by a scene that shows you exactly how the final death will play out. It balances out the slow build-up of tension perfectly, and frankly, who doesn't want to stick around to see why a girl would bash her head into a butcher knife?

The series has a core cast of five characters—Keiichi, a new transfer student to a small village school, and four other girls, who have been living there for a while. And, like all small villages, there's something vaguely unsettling about it—in the case of Hinamizawa, deaths occur every year during the Cotton Drifting Festival. Rumor has it, it's all the work of the demon that watches over the townsfolk, but then again, demons don't generally take the shape of little schoolgirls…

When They Cry is very unique, both in the way that the characters “reset” after every arc, and in the way that it blends in the supernatural so seamlessly with hints of paranoia and psychosis. Once you start watching, it's hard to rip yourself away, and the actors do such an amazing job of transitioning between Cute and Crazy that everything is completely believable. Plus, aren't you curious why girls are getting clubbed to death by a baseball bat?[TOP]

Then there's Paradise Kiss, a series that I fell in love with within minutes. From its snazzy use of Franz Ferdinand, to its stylish artwork, to the rose-scented art card inside that makes your anime shelf smell like a JC Penny restroom, I love everything about this series. Spun from the genius mind of manga creator Ai Yazawa, this series brings her magnificent creation to life and does a damn fine job of it. Between the subtle character designs and soft-spoken dialogue, to the random screen wipes of multi-legged creatures jabbering across, it captures the intensity of a story that uses passionate characters to fire up a decidedly low-conflict setting.

Yukari is a hardworking high school student just like any other—she goes to school every day and works her butt off, but there's something about her humdrum life that just keeps her restless. Between her mother's pressuring and the crunch to get into a good college, life is nothing but studying, cramming, and doing homework. Everything is changed when she gets scouted on the street to become a model for a motley group of design students who need someone to strut their dress on the runway. There she meets four of the most delightful characters ever created—a cold (but handsome) designer with a penchant for pinstripe suits, a bubbly girl who lives for her emotions, a loud-talking punk rocker, and an elegant transvestite who plays the role of the default mother.

There really isn't anything that makes it “Scandalous!!” or “WOW!”—it's the characters and their emotions that transforms this series into something powerful. For a story about love and teenage rebellion, Paradise Kiss is one of the best series of its kind ever created, and you want that special gift to give a lucky lady in your life, this is it. [TOP]

Another fun title soon to be resurrected includes Fate/stay night, a series made from a TYPE-MOON visual novel. Although the story isn't an entirely original concept, the first volume gets the job done in terms of hooking in new viewers and keeping them interested enough to keep going.

I attribute this mainly to the characters. While the actual main characters aren't too fascinating as of yet (drab boy who wants to be a champion of justice, business-as-usual girl who has a surprising nurturing streak, etc), the Servants are pretty sweet. For whatever reason, every decade or so, seven Masters are chosen. With the ability to use magic, these folks can also summon a Servant, a historic hero who will fight on his or her behalf. Picking each other off one by one in a battle royale, the winner and his Servant can then obtain the Holy Grail, which will grant them their deepest desire. What's interesting about the Servants, though, is that their actual identities are rarely revealed, because that exposes their weaknesses to the enemies. Call me easily entertained, but I find that kind of silly hook just enough to keep me watching—that, and wanting to know what all of them look like.

Having never played the original game, I'm not certain at which point in the story you got to see breasts, but I've always been somewhat impressed by the ability of anime creators to take an erotic game and turn it into a respectable series. Fate/stay night doesn't have the immediate darkness and morbidity of Tsukihime, but it's interesting enough to keep watching, at least for now. Once the novelty of the premise wears off, it'll be neat to see just how far the series can carry itself.[TOP]

Of course, if you're looking for some good, solid action, there's always Black Lagoon. This show is made of badass. This show is like the summer blockbuster of anime. It's pretty much a universal rule that if you have girls with guns, rocket launchers, and torpedoes, no matter what happens, you have at least a 60% chance of having fun.

Rokuro (Rock) was an average businessman, toiling away under a jackass boss, until he was kidnapped by a crew of pirates who are after a disc that he has. A few explosions later, and he learns what the pirating life is really life; before he knows it, he's recruited to the crew. Calling themselves deliverymen, the members of Black Lagoon make their living retrieving and delivering objects for clients, even if it involves breaking into a submarine buried under the sea.

Much like every other anime show that involves either bounty hunters, mercenaries, or arms dealers, Black Lagoon is all about the style points. The characters are fun, but not groundbreaking; the “mysterious” nature of the crew is interesting to watch, but it's not entirely unique—in the end, it's all about having fun watching the firefights and feeling the blood coursing through your arteries. Most of the individual stories are spread out over two episodes, and follow a new mission, and for the most part, they're well-written and fairly engaging. It's easy to get a sense of déjà vu while watching the show, though; Black Lagoon is exciting, but the only thing that really sets it apart from all the other shows of its genre is the fact that it's set on a boat. Still, the decision of whether or not to watch this is simple: do you like guns? Do you like action? Do you like girls in short shorts shooting guns and promoting action? If so, then you'll probably have good time with this bullet-ridden adventure.[TOP]

For those who prefer their stuff a little more fantastical, there's also Shonen Onmyoji, a supernatural series about one boy's quest to live up to, and possibly exceed, his grandfather's reputation as a spiritbuster. Ever since childhood, people have always referred to him as “Semei's grandson,” and nothing would please him more than to be able to make his grandfather proud, and finally get a name for himself. Unfortunately, he can't seem to see the same spirits that his grandfather does. Luckily, he has help from a spirit creature who occasionally transforms into a dude with big muscles and sprouts magic spells. Together, they sharpen his onmyoji skills, all while destroying flaming skulls and gargantuan flesh-colored penis demons.

The first thing that anyone will note is that this is a very good-looking show. The colors are vibrant and sharp, and all of the frames are consistent and pleasant to look at. On the flipside, the bright colors and cute critters make it a little hard to take the series seriously as a supernatural show. Giant skulls just don't seem that harmful when you've got a furry sidekick curled around your neck. But, hey, no one ever said that all ghost-busting shows had to be scary.

Although the series has the potential to turn into a monster-of-the-week spectacle, the first volume does a good job of straying away from that. While new spirits do keep popping up, most of the focus is on the main character and his quest to become something great. The banter between him and his spirit guide keep the series lively and fun, and although the show has the potential to get old after awhile, right now it's something that would easily appeal to the Cartoon Network Naruto/Bleach crowd.[TOP]

Not everything that Funimation picked up was decent, though. For some godforsaken reason, they picked up a live-action travesty called Ninja Vixens. They lose so many brownie points for agreeing to pick up this piece of crap that it's not even funny. Released in Japan as some kind of softcore comedy, this series of mini-features does its best to create awkward chuckles in pseudo-titillating epics of ninja nature. There are a billion (okay, not that many) of these cursed things, but I chose just one of them: Ninja Vixens—Vixen Dropouts.

Oh my gosh.

I was speechless for a good two hours after watching it. This is either one of the worst things I've seen this year, or… vaguely brilliant in a disturbing way. These movies are essentially a ruse to introduce Japan's prettiest ladies by dropping them into ninja stories and (not so) subtly surrounding them with uglies, to hide the fact that you just bought a softcore porno.

This particular one follows a band of ninja trainees who are training to be the best warriors they can be. Unfortunately, they're some of the saddest fighters to live in Japan. One of them is a colossal mannish fatass, one of them swallows her own blowgun darts… one of them is constantly horny all the time and takes off her clothes whenever she can. Guess who's the star of this particular adventure? Hint: not the fat one. Together, the girls try to prove their worth, all while spending some quality TLC time in the river, rubbing each other's bosoms. Oh, and the horny one strips and licks her lips a few times. Altogether, not quality entertainment, but hey, what can you expect from something called Ninja Vixens? The point is, Geneon has some weird, weird stuff. You should really check out their catalogue sometime.[TOP]

So that's that. There are a few more titles up the ol' Geneon / Funimation fun sleeve, but these are the ones I'm most pumped about. Join me next week as we start kickin' in with new releases again! Thanks for reading!


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