Shelf Life
Everybody's Watching

by Bamboo Dong, Aug 25th 2008

I'm happy to report that the Santa Barbara Triathlon came and went with no major mishaps. I only did the swimming portion of a relay (with Sara Pocock doing the running portion), so I can't claim to be in the same level of athleticism as real triathletes, but I'm just glad I didn't drown in the ocean. Perhaps next year will yield a more complete triathlon.

Welcome to Shelf Life.

I got the chance to check out the first release of Maria Watches Over Us, a quaint slice-of-life series set in an all-girls Catholic school. It makes its splash using dramatic overtones and complex character relationships, but what you get out of the show… may entirely depend on whether you can swallow your sarcasm for a few hours. As an admittedly cynical person, it's sometimes hard for me to watch innocent shows and derive the pleasure that one's supposed to get from them, but I appreciate Maria for what it is, and I can understand how so many people like it.

The school where the series takes place has an interesting custom where an upperclassmen, the grande soeur, will present a younger student with a rosary, making her the "petite soeur." This relationship is a promise to take care of the younger girl and watch over her. This comes into play when the main character, a first-year named Yumi, is approached by a second-year named Sachiko, one of the members of the Yamayuri Council. There's some complexities involved, but ultimately, a friendship develops between the two that culminate in mixed emotions regarding Yumi's acceptance to be Sachiko's petite soeur.

I use the vague word, "complexities," because I feel like it would take too long to really describe the plot points that lead up to it, and I feel like I'd be shortchanging the reader. It's really something that involves so many emotions that it can't adequate be described.

Unfortunately, this is also where some of my misgivings about Maria Watches Over Us come into play. I may be in the minority here, but I guess I couldn't really wrap my head around all the soeur drama. I appreciate the different relationships between the girls, and the bonds and trust that bring them together, but I don't really see why there had to be such a fuss over being someone's petite soeur. Luckily, once that gets resolved, the series, at least for me, really springs to life. The viewers really get to fully understand the growing friendship between Yumi and Sachiko, and what they bring to each other's lives.

It's also worth mentioning that the series is quite aesthetically beautiful. The art has a very innocent feel to it, and imparts an almost calming effect. The orchestral soundtrack is relaxing, and overall, really helps lift viewers into the show to forget any real-life problems. It's easy to see how the show developed such a strong fan gathering. These types of slice-of-life shows are always calming and interesting to watch, and I recommend it to anyone who wants something to take their minds off the real world.[TOP]

Next up, a few boxset releases that came out recently. One of these is the Veridian collection of Rumbling Hearts (MSRP $29.98!), a tear-fraught series that exclusively peddles angst. The story takes place in the past, amongst a group of high school students. One of the girls has a crush on one of the guys, but knowing that her friend also likes the same guy, she suggests that they begin dating. They do so happily, until the girl is hit by a car and is lost in a coma. Flash forward several years, and that same girl is still in a coma. In the meantime, the anguish-stricken boyfriend has been dating the other girl, but neither of them are really happy, since he's still in love with his previous girlfriend. When she finally wakes up, only more grief ensues.

Rumbling Hearts is ridiculous and over-the-top, to be sure, but it's also strangely addictive. There are so many romances out there that are filled with so much giddiness and slapstick comedy, that it's almost nice to see one that's so heart-wrenchingly dramatic. Every possible bad thing that could happen to these characters happens, and yet they find ways to work through them. Like watching a soap opera in which everyone is dead or dying, it has that same kind of attraction. Only, it does so tactfully, and with regards to the characters' emotions (unlike some other romances [Shuffle, for instance] that use tragedy as nothing more than a plot device).

If you love to wallow in drama, then Rumbling Hearts is right up your alley. There were several times where I wanted to slap every character on the screen for emo-overload, but it's a nice change of pace from some of the more sugary series out there. Just prepare for an emotional rollercoaster of monster proportions.[TOP]

If crying over feeble girls isn't your cup of tea, consider the first three volumes of Black Lagoon, which were recently re-released. Black Lagoon is the summer blockbuster of anime, in that it's packed with guns, filled with women in short shorts, and it doesn't really have the most complex storyline in the world to stand in the way.

The story focuses on an impossibly cool trio: Revy, Dutch, and Benny. They do whatever jobs people hand to them, and more often than not, it involves plenty of violence. Their missions can range from anything like retrieving stolen goods, or cracking down on terrorists, but each one is executed in style. After one of their jobs, they meet a business man who eventually goes by Rock. He ends up being one of the more interesting characters, since he has a more openly sordid past, but he adds to the group dynamic very well.

Seriously, Black Lagoon isn't really for people who are expecting a masterpiece of storytelling and human triumph. It's just a show that's all about kicking ass, and looking good while doing it. The characters do have some interesting pasts that are revealed throughout the first few volumes, but for the most part, it just has a lot of fun. The series is packed with excitement from the very first scene, and I can't wait to see the second season. If guns and glory get you hot and bothered, then check out Black Lagoon, if you haven't already.[TOP]

Now, I don't want to spend too much time on the following releases, but if you happened to wake up this morning and think, “Gee, I really wish ADV would release some of their mediocre, older series in thinpak form”—congrats! Your dream came true! Just recently, ADV released gems like Rune Soldier Louie, and the almost unheard of Hakugei: Legend of the Moby Dick.

Of those, Rune Soldier Louie might net you the most bang for your buck, if you like comedy. The series is a spin off the fantasy genre, in which a team of females go around raiding ruins. Things get a little sticky when a magic spell gets in their way, but it's all solved when they hire an oafish magician named Louie. It's too bad he's not that great of a magician, but he is really good at causing collateral damage. Rune Soldier Louie is almost in the vein of other classics like Slayers, in which you have the proper dose of adventuring, but also plenty of slapstick comedy. It's not for everyone, especially those who like their series to be a bit more serious, but given its cheap retail price, it's not a bad pick-up for those who remember watching the series the first time around.[TOP]
If you're unsure whether you want to spend your money there, you can also consider Hakugei: The Legend of the Moby Dick; it's a little more offbeat. It's a sci-fi retelling of Melville's classic tale, though the similarities aren't too obvious. For starters, Hakugei is a very happy-go-lucky story, which is a stark contrast to Melville's downer. The main character is a peg-legged captain named Ahab, who's not too happy to talk about "Moby Dick," part of his past that he's tried to hide. He and his team of whale hunters (whales, of course, being old space ships that can be scrapped for parts) venture throughout space. However, as goofy as his crew may appear to be, their skills are needed by the citizens of a rebellious planet, who are trying to battle against Moby Dick, a powerful new warship. It's not one of the more exciting shows I've seen in my lifetime, and the series looks seriously ancient (though it was only made in the late 90s), but... you know, maybe someone out there really wants to watch a show about hunting for scrap metal. And now's your chance.[TOP]

That's it for this week. I'm still waiting for the onslaught of resurrected Geneon titles, so hopefully the next few weeks will be flush with excitement. Thanks for reading!

This week's collection is from Jason, a New Yorker trapped in Oklahoma. He was first lured into anime by Akira, but now enjoys good sci-fi anime; one of his favorite series is Planetes.

It's modest, but it's packed with love.

Want to share your collections? Send your jpgs to bamboo at animenewsnetwork dot com. Thanks!


discuss this in the forum (52 posts) |
bookmark/share with:

this article has been modified since it was originally posted; see change history

Shelf Life archives

Around The Web