Shelf Life
Witch Hunts

by Bamboo Dong, Nov 17th 2008

There's something wrong with this state. Seriously, I'm pretty sure California is on fire maybe 20% of the year. All that means is that by the time I've finally cleared all the ash from my lungs, something else bursts into flames. Thanks, Santa Ana winds. And thanks for the nonexistent rainfall which allows such things to happen.

Welcome to Shelf Life.

I'm a giant sissy when it comes to scary stories. Even in college, I'd be frightened when I had to walk back to my dorm late at night, not because I was afraid of being shot in our sketchy neighborhood, but because I thought it was entirely possible for a liver-eating X-Files monster to come out of the steam vents and kill me. Yet for some unknown reason, I continue to watch scary movies and supernatural shows, because I can't tear myself away from them.

It's for that same reason that I truly enjoy Ghost Hunt, which continues to entertain in the second part of the show. The multi-episodic stories appeal to me, because they allow adequate amounts of tension to build up, and some of them are pretty scary. Watching someone rip open the shower curtains only to see a bloodied corpse—that's one of my biggest fears, and Ghost Hunt played on that fear well. Plus it doesn't really try to focus on outside distractions, like the characters' lives and their hobbies and who wants to make out with whom. They each have their own specific role—exorcisms, visions, blessings, what have you, and that's that.

To catch up anyone who's unaware of this show, Ghost Hunt is basically what the title says it is. Ghost hunts. The main characters are a collection of spirit mediums and holy personages whose jobs are to identify spirits and get rid of them. They go around the country helping people rid their homes/schools/workplaces/shrines of spirits. In the meantime, we get to see goops of blood and scary giggling children. The characters were a little annoying at first, with their constant bickering, but much of that has dissipated over the course of the series. Now they just perform their assigned duties, and it's a convenient way to get the story moving along.

It's usually difficult to justify putting a horror series as a Shelf Worthy product, because they have a stigma of being cheap thrills, but I really enjoy this show. It really does give me the willies, and I admire the way they've chosen to tell these stories. They could've taken the easy way out and used the ghost-of-the-week formula, but they chose to take their time with each case. Spreading it out over multiple episodes really gives viewers to chance to absorb the atmosphere of each incident, and by the time you've started watching one episode, you can't stop until you've seen the conclusion. Yes, the good guys always win, but the path to victory is different each time, and that's what keeps me watching. If you like scary stories, this is definitely worth checking out.[TOP]

This happened to be a pretty good week for intriguing stories. Also on my Shelf Worthy list was the fourth through sixth volumes of Haruka (with discs seven and eight pending for next week). I admit, I wasn't too fond of this show when I first started watching it, but it's really grown on me with its deliberate pacing and its wide cast of characters. Disclosure—some viewers may find this show a little dull at times, but if you drum up the patience to watch it, you'll find it hard not to get sucked in.

Haruka is one of those fantasy stories where an ordinary, everyday person gets whisked away from their normal life, and end up in an alternate world. In this case, high school student Akane, along with two of her male buddies, get sucked into some place that vaguely resembles some ancient Asian nation. She gets crowned as the Priestess of the Dragon God, and she gets eight Guardians who are sworn to protect her. The only problem with such scenarios is that inevitably, there's always a bad guy who wants to use her powers for eeeevil. The bad guy in this story is this goofy-looking masked blonde guy who keeps cursing people, and usually they end up killing people or threatening Akane's life.

In these volumes, the bad guy is still trying to wrestle power for himself, and he uses some gnarly means to get it, like introducing a cursed harp that instantly kills whomever tries to play it. Things get more interesting when he brings out another girl who's professing to be the real Priestess, but who's actually one of the guardian's sisters from the “real” world.

What makes Haruka fun to watch is its storytelling chops. Watching the show is like reading a fantasy book—it's a little slow at times, but it's well thought out, and it doesn't rush itself. The characters don't try to fight to be in the spotlight—they come out when they're needed, and this helps establish a balance. It's a story about good vs. evil, and the shades of grey and doubt that always cloud such struggles.

My only gripe with the show, and it's a personal one, is the artwork. I don't know who all was involved in every animation step, but the characters morph over scenes. Sometimes their eyes are bigger, sometimes they're smaller. Sometimes the only thing that lets me know they're who I think they are is because everyone has a different hairstyle. I realize that some series, and those which are possibly underfunded, can run into these problems, but when I'm staring at pretty boys, I expect them not to change from scene to scene. It's the one attribute of this series that makes it seem cheaper than it is, but at least the story isn't a waste. This series definitely isn't for everyone, but if you're looking for a slow-paced fantasy show to spirit you away for a few hours, give Haruka a try.[TOP]

The next title is yet another one of those live-action movies that anime companies tend to flock to. I'm not sure why Funimation has such a hard on for esoteric samurai movies, but it's good news for everyone else, since we get to watch them. Their latest offering is Love and Honor, which surely flies off store shelves with its Japanese-only title on the spine and front cover. It boasts 13 Japanese Academy Award Nominations, and it's good stuff, albeit a bit generic.

Much like many other samurai stories, this one weaves a tale about honor and dignity, and everything a man will do to keep those things. The main character is a samurai whose job is to be one of the several food tasters in the lordship's castle. He hates the job, and dreams of one day opening a dojo for children. Unfortunately, misfortune lands upon him one fateful taste, and he loses his eyesight. Through a series of events, he learns how to cope with losing his “usefulness,” and ends up having to strike someone down for revenge.

The thing about samurai movies that I've always found particularly pleasant is how overwhelmingly calming they are. Whether dramas or comedies, there's always a serenity to them, and this movie does not lack that. Even when the main character is angry and in turmoil, there's a peaceful air to this movie, and I like that. The acting is spot on for this film as well, which makes it a truly pleasurable experience.

What really spoke to me about this film was something said within the first five minutes of the film. The male lead spoke to his wife, saying that he was tired of being a taster, because he felt like he wasn't living up to his potential. Even though he'd make less money as a fencing instructor, he'd be happier with himself and with his life. To have all of that taken away is truly heartbreaking, but seeing him recover from everything and manage to regain his life is inspirational in a way. It's never really resolved in the end whether or not he ends up living a happy life, but to know that he has accomplished a few small goals and has resigned himself to his fate is, once again, calming.

Films like this are always kind of a tough sell to an anime crowd, but I think Love and Honor is at least worth putting on the ol' Netflix queue. The story it tells is beautiful, and it makes for an enjoyable viewing experience.[TOP]

Lastly in this week's pile is the boxset release for Coyote Ragtime Show, a colorful explosion of activity that's much more fun to look at than it is to think about. And it's very fun to look at. Seriously, there are explosions everywhere, as evidenced just by the cover. There are also a plethora of maid girls, which is both ridiculous and fun.

Why do all these things exist? Eh... that's not really that important. The storyline is terrible, which is why they're even able to cobble together maids, old men, and gun fights. So there's a hidden treasure somewhere that's worth lots and lots. One rugged criminal has decided he needs to get his hands on it, so he busts out of prison and embarks on a wacky and bloody adventure to track it down. Where's this treasure? Luckily, some girl has some mystical pendant that will somehow lead them there.

That's all inconsequential, and I'm pretty sure the people who made this show felt the same way. That's why they spent so much time on the action (explosive!) and the animation (gorgeous!), and making sure the two maximized the hell out of each other. It's not hard to get to action scenes, either. There are weapons galore, with every girl in the show weilding something ridiculous, from shotguns and grenades to the trusty katana. They just shoot and slice through things! What a novelty!

You don't even really need to worry about the different characters, either, because they're more or less carbon copies from other shows. Androids, crazy spunky bitchy girls, quiet shy ones... you get the point. But there are explosions! Yay!! And breasts! And explosions! And guns! WOW!

And that's all you need to know. If you're looking for some well intentioned space epic with deep characters and a story that'll melt your heart, you've clearly come to the wrong place. If all you want is some wow factor... you win.[TOP]

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

This week's shelf is from George, who included this charming note with his pictures:

"Was gonna buy a bigger shelf, but couldn't be assed, so I decided to get a library thing goin' on. Har har har."

Har har indeed.

Want to show off your shelves? Send your jpgs to shelflife at animenewsnetwork dot com. Thanks!


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