Shelf Life
Club Magic

by Bamboo Dong, Aug 4th 2008

About three months ago, I signed up for a triathlon relay, thinking that the prospect of having to swim a mile in the ocean would force me to go to the gym in the mornings. Since then, I've maybe touched the pool… ten times? The race is in three weeks. Clearly my motivational tactic completely and utterly failed. If I don't drown in the middle of the ocean, I will be eaten by a shark. If you stop seeing columns three weeks from now, that is exactly what happened to me.

Welcome to Shelf Life.

It's been so long since I've seen Tenchi Muyo! that it's delightfully shocking to see some of the characters again. Watching Sasami: Magical Girl Club was like going to the Journey revival tour, only with the new singer. The only difference is that the Journey concert was really good, and this magical girls club show is a piece of crap. It's fun at times, but it's crap nevertheless, and I wouldn't have been able to sit through all 13 episodes without a visit from my friend Johnny Walker.

Not to be confused with an older show called Magical Girl Pretty Sammy, this incarnation of Sasami was made in 2005 and bolsters itself with some new characters and some new designs. This new Sasami is actually a bubbly student who has to hide the fact that she's able to perform magic. She bears no relation to Sasami Masaki Jurai, but has the same trademark blue-tinted hair and dual ponytails. Her powers are ushered along by the school's new nurse, a woman named Washu who looks and acts remarkably similarly to the old Washu of the original Tenchi Universe. Turns out, she's a human from the witch world who's trying to gather all the magical girls at Sasami's school. Providing them with cute outfits and colorful batons, she helps them control and use their powers. Tenchi fans will recognize other shout-outs too, with facsimiles of Mihoshi and the ever-cute Ryo-Ohki, whom the dub actors tend to call “Ruyo.”

It's an interesting concept, and the alternate universe is neat for Tenchi fans, but ultimately, it falls short by not really having a point. The series cobbles together a motley crew of five magical girls and just expects them to entertain the audience. Sometimes this comes in the form of one of the girls obsessing over one of the other girls, and sometimes it's just watching them baking cakes. They occasionally fight, too, but because the storyline is almost inconsequential, it doesn't really make an impact. Basically, it's an excuse to have cute girls run around doing cute things, and unless that's really your shtick, it won't easily entertain.

To emphasize part of that last point, the girls are insanely cute. Sasami's eyelashes (one per eye, apparently) are as long as her face is wide, and whenever she looks around with her big doe-y eyes, it's hard not to want to throw her a graham cracker. Weirdly enough, the dub seems to de-emphasize the inherent innocence of the show. There's a scene in one of the episodes where the one of the girls is eating a talking vegetable. The original dialogue reads something like, “This is actually really good,” and the vegetable responds, “Ah, thanks!” In the dub, the vegetable shoots back with, “Your mom's really good!” Thanks, I guess.

Sadly, Sasami: Magical Girl Club has also been cursed with some of the worst intro and ending themes in recent history, especially after they've been re-recorded in English. The intro sounds like the old school Sailor Moon theme, and the outro sounds like a bad 80s pop riff. Thankfully, DVD players let you skip such things, but they didn't do the show any favors.

As it is, this series is strictly for those who indulge in uselessly cute things. There's really no other reason why someone would like this, unless they absolutely need to devour every last Tenchi spin-off in existence. Don't get me wrong—I love cute things as much as the next girl, but I also desire a storyline to go with my pink palettes. Perhaps my cynicism is making me the wrong demographic, but this show just wasn't for me. I do really love Ryo-Ohki though. That critter will always be the best thing in the world.[TOP]

Next up, to cleanse the sugar from between my teeth, I popped in another one of Viz's weird live-action releases. This week, I ended up watching Maiko Haaaan!!!, which was just as weird and amazing as some of their previous film titles. The storyline wasn't incredibly deep, but the characters made it totally worth it.

Hold your breath for the premise: the movie is about a guy who is obsessed with geisha. Ever since he was a teen, he's wanted to be a customer in a geisha house, so when he's transferred to Kyoto, he's filled with bliss at the opportunity to finally play strip baseball with some of his favorite women. In order to facilitate his lifestyle, though, he ends up cutting a variety of business deals and heading each one, like playing in his company's pro baseball team, or starring in his company's samurai film. All of this is done just to rival the actions of another geisha house visitor, whose suave good lucks and raw talent continually spark the jealousy of our dopey hero. And all this, just for some strip baseball.

Now that I've described the storyline, I've come to realize what a terrible plot the movie follows, but it doesn't really diminish my feelings about its frenetic, bizarre atmosphere. The main character is twitchy, weird, and impossible to like, but he's such a caricature of the rabid fanboy that he's kind of fun to watch. There's also singing and dancing, and who doesn't like that? Especially when it's about a topic as random as wanting to go to a geisha house.

What really attracts me to these movies that Viz keeps putting out is how utterly different they are from mainstream US films. These are all quirky films about weird nerdy people who do weird nerdy things. There are rarely heroes that are relatable, and there doesn't seem to be any desire to adhere to conventional storytelling techniques. As an anime fan, I've always been attracted to the offbeat and the unique, and maybe that's why Viz is still my hero when it comes to live-action releases. Maiko Haaaan!!! isn't the best live-action title they've released by any stretch of the imagination, but it's worth a rental just to see what some of the Japanese filmmakers have been up to.[TOP]

Now, for all the fans out there who are waiting for Funimation's release of the second season of School Rumble, here's something to tide you over—the Extra Class OVA. It's… well, it's something that only a School Rumble fan could possibly love. Since I was a little lukewarm about the series, I didn't enjoy the OVAs as much as I probably could have.

The OVAs are broken down into two episodes. The first one is a completely random mix of short scenes that fit amongst the regular season. They are completely unrelated to each other, and are just thrown in one big lump. They're not even funny or interesting, which really makes me wonder why they even bothered. For instance, one of them is about the classroom switching seating assignments, and Tenma's anxieties about being plopped next to her crush. Another one is about Harima chilling out in a hot tub, and being labeled as a pervert. Yet another one involves a girl scaring away a stray dog. The second OVA is just as random, though it has a pretty fun bit where the characters are dropped back into prehistoric times. Watching Karasuma invent anime from leaf drawings was almost worth the 25 minutes.

Still, this doesn't really do much for the series. These episodes work for people who are insanely obsessed with the show, but for casual fans, the episodes definitely hold limited appeal. What the heck am I going to do with an entire disc full of pointless vignettes? They barely advance the characters at all, and with the exception of a few seconds where you get a glimpse into a characters' personality, it's all empty filler.

So in the end, you have something that would've worked a lot better as a DVD extra than its own disc. Hurrah to Funimation for taking the time and effort to release these two episodes properly, but they border dangerously close to being a waste of time. All I can say is that if you're a fan of the series, you should at least rent it, because there's no sense in letting material go to waste. Just keep in mind that there's a reason why this thing was released straight to video.[TOP]

Before I head out for the week, I want to review Funimation's latest boxset release—the musical godliness that is Beck. It doesn't come with the cool amp box, but it does contain all the video extras that were on the original discs. Not to mention Beck is one of my favorite series that's come out in the past year.

To briefly recap the series for all those who haven't yet experienced the magic, Beck follows the story of a wimpy kid named Koyuki. He's as beta male as they come, and his days are filled with the loneliness and self-loathing that so many teenagers are wont to feeling at some point in their high school days. He gets beat up all the time, his best friend is a total tool shed, and he can barely talk to girls. All of this changes when he meets this rocker named Ryusuke, and his sweet dog Beck. Upon meeting him, Koyuki is inspired to learn to play the guitar, and before long, his determination places him in an up and coming band. His natural vocal talent even wins him some serious followers, and as he gains confidence and stage presence, his entire life changes. Instead of being the limp paper towel he once was, he becomes much more in tune with his life and what makes him happy, and he really starts acting like an adult.

More than anything music related, Beck is about growing up, and that's something that everyone can relate to. This series could've been about some kid learning to play baseball, or getting really good at Lincoln-Douglas debates, and it would be just as relevant. It's about respecting yourself enough to make others respect you, and that's something that everyone can dig. Koyuki's character won't please everyone at first, since he is particularly whiney, but he tries so darned hard that you just have to cheer for him.

And, let's face it, the music is amazing. There are some tracks that I could do without, but for the most part, Beck has a killer soundtrack. The production staff could have taken the lame road and just played the same two songs over and over again, but they filled the series with some great songs by really talented bands.

Also, I can't say enough nice things about the dub. It's amazing. The ADR directors and script writers who worked on this show did an impeccable job translating the songs and making them sound natural. On top of that, the actors really brought the songs to life. Greg Ayres has an incredible singing voice, and the duets he does with Brina Palencia are great. Since the first time I first saw the show, to earlier this morning, I've probably watched their battle of the bands duet 20 times or so, and it still rocks my boat.

There's been sufficient time for all the hype about Beck to die down, but now that the boxset is out, it may be a ripe time to start banging those drums again. Seriously, I have a Beck poster hanging above my keyboard, and there isn't a single instance where looking at it doesn't make me want to sit down and play. If you love music, you need to watch Beck. If you like stories about kids growing up, you need to watch Beck. You can find it online for less than $60, too, so whip out that plastic and rock out.[TOP]

That's it for this week; thanks for reading!

This week's shelves come courtesy of Chi-Linh, whose shelves are cute as well as alphabetized. She had this to say about her collection:

I guess in retrospect this could be called my fandom shelves, because although it has mostly anime/manga, it also has gaming and comic book stuff. And plus, I succeeded in making them look girly. So I guess you could call it my girly fandom shelves.

Is that a giant box of hair-color? Or just spray paint? Perhaps we'll never know.

Want to show off your shelves? Send your jpegs to shelflife at animenewsnetwork dot com. See you next time!


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