Shelf Life
Squash Knives

by Bamboo Dong, Dec 8th 2008

Before I get started, I want to give a shout out to all my Asian peeps in Southern California who make my culinary life that much better. When I got back from China this summer, I was really sad for a few months because I couldn't find any good Chinese food anywhere in Orange County. I mean, there were a couple good places here and there, but they didn't quite have the variety that I found in China. Then I finally made my pilgrimage to San Gabriel/Arcadia, and my God, the whole area is brilliant. How did I not know this area of California existed? It's like suddenly remembering Delaware still exists. It's probably the first time I've had real Chinese food outside my parents' house in years. I am going to eat my freaking face off.

Welcome to Shelf Life.

Of all the new series that I've seen over the past year or so, one of my favorites is still Emma: A Victorian Romance, which is one of the most down-to-earth and heartbreaking romances I've ever seen. It's being released by Right Stuf in two season boxes, and each one is worth watching over and over again. Having loved the first one, I was beyond excited to finally watch the second season. With its honest and open characters, and its quiet and beautiful settings, it was every ounce as entertaining as the first season. For anyone who enjoys Victorian romance novels, Emma will definitely please. With its tale of inevitably and unanswered love, class and obligation, it could fit alongside anyone's mental repertoire of favorite works, between Mansfield Park and Jane Eyre.

For those who missed the first season, Emma is a maid who falls in love with William, the son of a wealthy merchant. They both love each other dearly, but his father disapproves of his son's love interest, preferring him to wed the daughter (Eleanor) of a viscount, who has a title, but no longer has the finances. In the end, due to many unfortunate circumstances, Emma ends up moving to Germany, leaving both herself and William heartbroken.

With the second season, we find the two still grieving over their separation. However, at his father's wish, William ends up proposing to Eleanor, whose unrequited love for William is as heartbreaking as Emma's inability to be with him. By coincidence, Emma ends up at the engagement party as William's mother's attendant, where she learns of his pending marriage for the first time.

The show derives much of its strength from the character of Emma. She is easily likeable, with her soft nature and her hardworking attitude. She's strong, she's smart, and she accepts her fate with a quiet resignation that makes her respectable. Just showing her in her vulnerable moments is enough to soften even the most cynical of viewers. Seriously, Emma is what makes the show amazing, with the gentle and well-intentioned Eleanor a close second. Both women are easy to sympathize with, and you can't help but want to give both of them big hugs.

I really wish people would make more romances like this. I'm tired of the anime tropes with their crazy women and their moe girls, and I'm tired of the Hollywood cookie-cutters with their Patrick Dempseys. I like how simplistic Emma is, and I like the inevitably of all the actions. There's something poetic about stories in which the characters can't choose their fate. If you want a good, solid romance, Emma is the one to choose.[TOP]

Also in the romance section, albeit completely different, I checked out the remaining two volumes of Otoboku - Maidens Are Falling for Me!. It's distributed under Media Blaster's “Yuri Fan” label, even though I really wouldn't classify it as yuri—which seems to be the case for a lot of their “Yuri Fan” titles. It's cute and it's fun, and even though the original shtick doesn't seem to serve a purpose… well, it's charming anyway.

So what's the shtick? Well, let's go back and explore the setting first. The series takes place in a charming all-girls high school, where everyone is perpetually happy, and no one ever has to do homework. They all live in big cushy dorms where they never have to make their beds, or ever do laundry. Only the main character… is a dude. He's going to the school to fulfill his dead mother's wish that he go there. Only a couple girls know he's got boy bits, including a childhood friend who's secretly crushing on him. To everyone else, he's a sweet, gorgeous girl named Mizuho who's graceful and perfect in every way.

At the beginning of the show, the whole bit about him being a man seemed to be going somewhere. There was some reason as to why he was at the school, but eventually, I think they either stopped caring, or they realized that story angle was getting nowhere. So instead, he just ends up playing the cool awesome role model girl that all the other girls have a crush on. S/he helps them to negotiate being able to wear giant ribbons in their hair, s/he helps them run faster in track, and in the end, s/he has to kiss another girl in a rendition of Romeo & Juliet.

See, it's charming because she's the perfect supporting boyfriend! Only everyone thinks he's a girl, so they actually just have a really good friend. That whole twist is essential because… because, uh… um… Actually, I don't think it's important at all. Apparently in the first iterations of the H-game that the anime is based on, you (the man) had the option of sexing up a variety of women. I'm not entirely sure if you're a dude while you're having sex with them, or if you're still dressed like a girl, with long hair. Either way, there's a whole range of psychological issues that I'm sure accompany a game like that, but eventually they got rid of the sex.

As a result, you have an anime that's basically about a bunch of girls who go through high school together. They help each other get through the mundane activities of day-to-day life, and in exchange, they get to giggle together in their plush dorms. As a viewer, you don't really get anything deep out of it, but it's still fun to watch. The characters are charming and rather impossible to hate, so if you're just looking for some girly (…?) activities to kill some time, this might be a fun little shindig to check out. If you really want to analyze the hidden meanings of the show, go for it.[TOP]

Around this same time last year, I watched Pumpkin Scissors for the first time. That was back when it was being released by ADV. Now that Funimation's got it, they're releasing the series in 12-episode boxes, which makes things more convenient for buyers, though probably less so for reviewers. Still, it was nice to revisit the series again, starting with the part one of the first season.

Pumpkin Scissors takes its odd name from the military division that the characters are in. Apparently all the cool names were taken, so they got stuck playing the ol' "Name a vegetable, then a household object" game. Anyway, the division's main role is to provide war relief after a long and trying war. The Pumpkin Scissors play the good guys by helping out wherever some brute strength is needed, such as bringing an evil noble to justice, or helping out some town rebuild their busted railroad. The leader of the group is an unlikely soldier named Alice. Born a noble, she thinks her family should use their status to help others (her family thinks otherwise). One of the other primary character is this big lumbering ex-soldier, who unleashes his inner fight demon everytime he flicks on a blue lantern he carries by his side. There's also some lovable playboy character, and the quiet, studious one.

For the most part, the first several episodes in this box follow a mission-of-the-week pattern. This ranges from the perturbing, like preventing a guy from playing death games with his servants, to humorous/ridiculous, like watching a nurse chasing around a guy for a urine sample. I vastly prefer the serious episodes to the goofier ones. Not just because the serious ones seem to line up more with the sinister undertones of the show, but because the "funny" ones tend to really stink. As much of a gas as it is to watch people crack dick jokes and collect urine, it really detracts from the show, and it makes it obvious that the production staff was scrambling for quick filler.

The biggest downside is that the series, up until this point anyway, can't really make up its mind about what kind of show it wants to be. One moment, it'll tackle topics like class privilege, and whether people should use their resources to help others. Another moment, it'll descend into some bawdy goof fest, meant to invoke chuckles, but failing miserably. It's fine to want to be funny, but to expect viewers to then take it seriously is a bit of grandiose wish.

On the upside, the show looks really good. The artwork is clean and sharp, and makes really good use of a creative palette. There are some scenes in which the background is reduced to stark splashes of color, and it's pleasing on the eyes. So, at the very least, when you're getting bored of their unfunny antics, you can plug your ears and pretend you're watching a nice music video starring some up-and-coming hip hop sensation.

It's hard to recommend a show based on the qualification, "Well, some of the episodes are good!" but that's the best I can do. Rent it if the fancy strikes you, but it's not terribly high on my list of must-haves.[TOP]

Now that I'm used to watching season boxsets, it's really hard to get back into watching individual discs. If they're shows in which you don't need to remember the storyline, it's fine, but when there's some complicated story with a zillion characters… well, I feel like I'm getting old and my memory is failing. The latest story to slip my memory is the fourth volume of Shonen Onmyouji, which has two memory strikes against it. For starters, it's only being released a few episodes at a time, so if you're following a dozen shows like I am, it gets hard to keep things straight in your head. Secondly, it's one of those Geneon shows, so the last time I really watched the first couple of discs was sometime last year.

So that we can all hold hands and get through this together, I'll try to give as pithy of a recap as I can. Apparently, there are dead people everywhere. Everywhere. One of these ghosts is a border guard, who manifests as some blobby demon thing with stripes. Luckily, it saves most of its trouble for the good guys, a collection of folk who can use their spiritual powers to fight these kinds of things. Fire balls, wind ropes, the whole thing. Our main character is a scrappy kid who can recite spells and banish the evil from things. Bad things happen, spirits get summoned, and people get possessed.

Of all of Geneon's resurrected titles, I'd wager that this was one of the least recognized ones. It was never that popular when it first came out, and it's not really that popular now. It's entertaining enough to watch, but it's easy to see why it's not that popular. Frankly, it's very bland. It's the same type of priest-type-people-prevent-bad-guys-from-opening-the-gate-to-the-underworld show that's existed since the beginning of anime. There are way too many characters, and they all just show up and fight. They're not really explained, and it just becomes Too Much.

If I woke up one day, and the disc happened to be in my DVD player, I'd watch it. I'd even be entertained. However, I don't think I'd ever put gas in my tank, just so I could drive to the store and buy this. It's an interesting show, but ultimately, I don't really care what happens. It's visually stunning, which is part of what drew me to the show to begin with, but at the end of the day, I just never really care if I get the next disc or not.[TOP]

Alright, my time is up. Thanks for reading!

This week's shelves are from Zenith27, who not only included a giant slew of pictures, but also some statistics about his collection.

Hi,

My collection has somewhat outgrown my shelves but all these pictures are of DVDs, on a shelf, one way or another. This is "Shelf Life" after all and not "All Over the Couch".

I keep a massive spreadsheet of info (over 10 years it's become more a sum of small parts) so here's the collection by the numbers:

Company Titles DVDs Minutes Min. Per DVD
ADV 599 631 61666 97.73
Alliance Atlantis 1 1 134 134
AN Entertainment 16 16 1365 85.31
Anime 18 18 18 1528 84.89
AnimEigo 108 112 10903 97.35
AnimeWorks 183 191 18385 96.26
Bandai 316 346 32886 95.05
Bandai Visual 10 12 474 39.5
Columbia Tristar 2 2 224 112
Critical Mass 7 7 525 75
d-rights 4 5 460 92
Disney 7 7 777 111
Dreamworks 1 1 87 87
Funimation 207 216 21112 97.74
Geneon 453 465 42830 92.11
Hirameki 6 6 130 21.67
Image 6 6 600 100
Kitty 13 13 857 65.92
Manga 24 25 2594 103.76
Nutech 66 66 1980 30
Pathfinder 1 1 60 60
Right Stuf 49 61 6976 114.36
Software Sculptures 34 34 4377 128.74
Sony Pictures 3 8 801 100.13
Sync-Point 9 9 685 76.11
Tokyopop 28 38 4795 126.18
US Manga 61 64 6362 99.41
Urban Vision 2 2 174 87
Viz 173 177 15266 86.25
Warner Bros. 1 1 89 89
2407 2541 239102 89.51
Titles Discs Minutes Minutes
Media Blasters 221 21439 97.01
US Manga 116 12267 105.75
Right Stuf 68 7501 110.31

(The bottom entries are sums of titles under different labels (eg. AnimeWorks + d-rights + Kitty))

I've watched pretty much all of it at least once. I reckon with having seen so many shows I'll give a top ten and bottom 5 (in no particular order) for you (and your readers if you care to post it).

Top 10
Haibane Renmei
Brigadoon
Cowboy Bebop
Planetes
Noein
Patlabor
Kimagure Orange Road
Urusei Yatsura
Orphen
Maison Ikkoku

Bottom 5
Shuten Doji
Sins of the Sisters
Sister Princess
Brain Powered
Magical Meow Meow Taruto

Whew! Well, here are his shelves:







Think that's something? He sent those pictures over the summer, so who knows how ridiculously huge his collection is now. Yikes.

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


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