Anime Programming in the US
Making a Living in Manga in Japan with Felipe Smith
Lost in Translation
The holidays are here, which means a ridiculous amount of food, long lines at airport security checkpoints, and dramatic readings of Glenn Beck's Christmas Sweater. But, it also means presents! Which is both good and bad. Good, because who doesn't love giving and receiving presents? Bad, because sometimes, you can slave away looking for the perfect gift for someone, and then they end up dashing your dreams with the dreaded, “Oh… uh… thanks, I guess.” Then they get up, walk away, and pour themselves a tall eggnog.
Not this year. For a lucky subset of us, we have people in our lives who would rather get anime for Christmas. It makes it much easier to shop for them… unless you choose the wrong title, and thereby ruin the spirit of the holidays. Fortunately, this past year has yielded plenty of great boxsets, so let's take a look at our options from the best to the worst.
Welcome to Shelf Life. It's a long one, so get ready.
Le Chevalier D'Eon Boxset
If you want to give someone a present that says, “Hey, I care about you, and I think maybe you'd be okay with this sweet show about the undead,” then Le Chevalier D'Eon is the way to go. It's visually slick, and filled with action. Loosely based on historical events (in the same way that Disney's Pocahontas is a historical reenactment), it also contains zombies and zombie-like creatures.
The story begins when a woman's body is found in a casket on the Seine. The curious thing—the word “PSALMS” is scrawled on the lid in blood. As it turns out the woman is Lia de Beaumont, the elder sister of D'Eon de Beaumont. With the number of vanishing women on the rise, aside from Lia, D'Eon decides to investigate the situation, a task that ends up unearthing scores of political dealings and conspiracies. Along the way, he and his comrades encounter a variety of sorcerer-type folk, who can control the dead. It's good stuff.
The series is relatively underrated, but so, so good. It's fast-paced and exciting, and the characters are all incredibly badass. This is totally the gift to give this season.
Sant-o-meter: Your friend will love you forever. If they didn't believe in Santa, they believe now, because they'll be wondering how anyone else could be so awesome.
Emma Seasons 1 & 2
For the woman who can't stop watching romantic films starring Richard Gere and those cursed Robbins Brothers commercials, give her the gift of Emma. It's like burying yourself in a good Jane Austen novel, and buying yourself a box of chocolates.
Emma tells a simple story about a maid and the son of a wealthy merchant who fall in love, kept apart only by social pressures, but the characters are so well written that you'll be rooting for them from episode one. As each new person is introduced, the story gets more and more complicated, and by the time anything bad happens, you're so emotionally invested in everyone that it's hard not to let your feelings get wrenched around. A lot must be said for the main character, too. Emma is so sweet and hardworking that it's impossible to wish any ill on her. Seeing her face light up with the smallest of luxuries is heartwarming, and it's no surprise that so many men end up falling for her. She may be just a lowly servant, but she's incredibly smart, and her dedication to her duties makes her a strong woman worth looking up to.
Of all the romantic anime out there, Emma is truly one of the greatest. It's beautiful, both visually and story-wise, and it tells a timeless tale of love and desire that's incredibly touching.
Sant-o-meter: You're the very embodiment of the Christmas spirit. You're delivering the magic of Love(!) and Hope(!), and your recipient will love you for it.
Ouran Host Club Season 1 Part 1
For the girl who has everything, you might as well give her some doe-eyed boys to gush over. At the very least, she'll have eye candy to stare at, and when she goes to an anime convention, she won't feel left out when everyone else is running around with powder blue jackets and cheap wigs.
The show starts out when a nerdy kid named Haruhi accidentally wanders into the host club and breaks an expensive vase. To make up for it, the host club members force him to be their errand boy. They eventually realize that he's surprisingly good looking, and transform him into a host, only to realize later that he is a she. There're some love triangles along the way, as most anime tend to have, but it doesn't take over the show and becoming overbearing. And really, the characters are simply fun to watch.
In a show that revolves around indulgences and trivialities, much of the characters' actions succeed in pampering the females who are watching it. Whether it's the twins dressing up as basketball superstars, or pretending to lovesick over one another, it's probably eliciting a billion fangirl squeals a second. Overall, it's a delightful show, and it's easy to see why so many girls like it.
Sant-o-meter: Legit Santa. Nobody's crying this year.
Gunslinger Girl – Veridian Collection
For the fan in your life who loves girls with guns, there's nothing more perfect than Gunslinger Girl, a series that's both badass and bittersweet. It's a show that will make you cheer at the action sequences, yet stop and think about the girls involved, and question the morals of everyone else.
Gunslinger Girl revolves around the actions of the Social Welfare Agency, a secret organization that adopts children on the verge of death, implants them with cybernetic technology, and trains them as assassins and super soldiers. Each child is put under the care of an older male brother figure, who's responsible for training them, brainwashing them when necessary, and leading them on government missions. Of course, each brother is vastly different. Some treat their wards with kindness, others with anger and disdain.
Although Gunslinger Girl is heavy with action elements and cool fight scenes, that's ultimately just a backdrop for the real story, which is the lives of these girls as they struggle to cope with their new roles. All of the girls are incredibly sweet, and the show does a good job of humanizing them, despite their superhuman abilities. It's a very heartfelt show, and it's very easy to care deeply for all the girls.
Sant-o-meter: You're a jolly good fellow. Your ability to recognize someone's desire for an action-packed show, but also their inner, passionate side, will make you the King of the Elvin Workshop. Yeah!
Blood+ Season 1 Boxset
At a loss for what to give that pre-teen in your life who can't stop spending your money at Hot Topic? Give them the gift of vampires, who are eternally cool, and make them feel better about being ostracized at school.
Blood+ story centers around a girl named Saya, who can't remember her past at all, but she enjoys being with her friends and her adoptive family. One night, when she goes back to her school to retrieve her running shoes, she encounters a beast and a mysterious man who claims to be her servant. After obtaining a sword from him, she unknowingly transforms into a killer, and takes out the monster with one swing. This quickly evolves into a fast-paced supernatural story about monsters and shadowy organizations. Mysteriously, there's an organization that's turning innocent citizens into monsters called Chiropterans (bats, incidentally). The only thing that can stop them is Saya, but she has no idea why she's fighting them, or who she is. On her side is another organization dedicated to eradicating Chiropterans, a quest that leads them into several fights and through many countries.
The story is surprisingly complex (and for history buffs, it's fun pointing out the various character cameos based on real people). It's beyond just your typical see-it-shoot-it blood bath; it's also a carefully scripted tale of fighting for your loved ones, and doing what you think is right. There was hardly a slow moment, and although the myriad of characters sometimes got a bit confusing, I could never wait to see what happened next.
Sant-o-meter: If you give this to the right person, you could be the hero of the day, but if you give it someone even slightly unenthused by vampires, you could be demoted all the way down to Santa's apprentice. They might make a disparaging comment about your facial hair, too.
Peach Girl Boxset
Has your little girl outgrown Libby Lu? Is she on to more scandalous things, like puberty and the Jonas Brothers? If she's at the stage of her life where she's finding out that boys can be mean, maybe all she needs is some shoujo fluff.
The title character of Peach Girl is Momo, an athletic girl who has her eyes set on a boy she's about to finally confess to. Happiness is hard to come by, though, when your best friend is a backstabbing, grating, highly irritating witch who wants everything you have. Sae is used to being the center of attention all the time, and she'll stoop to ridiculous lows just to steal Momo's crush, like spreading rumors, or even donning a wig to try and get him into the sack. She's a villainess to end all villainesses, and it's easy to develop a healthy case of hatred against her.
Drama doesn't just start and end with a crush, though. Before the series is over, the characters will have been to hell and back—the kind of hell that can only be exacerbated by the horrors of high school. Between love triangles and pregnancy scares, Peach Girl rivals some of the chick dramas on TV. Don't expect to keep your composure, though. With all of Sae's antics, I ended up spending a good four hours of my life yelling at the TV, something I haven't done since the third season of The Hills. There's a happy ending, though, so that makes up for it.
Sant-o-meter: Like, seriously, girls will totally dig you. You'll totally be a hot, buff, not-fat Santa. Like, the Colin Farrell of Santas, or maybe that dishy guy from that one episode of Gilmore Girls.
Shinchan Season 1 (and 2) Boxset
After listening to an aunt tell the same story about her trip to Albertson's for the fifth time in a row, it might be good to surround your friends with some laughs. For that, I'd highly recommend Shinchan, an irreverent comedy that throws out poop jokes like people breathe air.
Shin-chan is about a crude boy named Shin who's as disrespectful as he is dense. The people in his life include his overstressed mother, his infant sibling, his dopey dad, a handful of kids in his class, and plenty of adults whose lives are quagmires of anxiety and marital unhappiness. Together, they make up the cast of Shin-chan, and go through tasks as mundane as begging for allowance, or shooting paper darts at a scoreboard. Depending on your sense of humor, though, this could be funniest or the worst thing in the world. Funimation has taken quite a few liberties with the dub, modernizing the series by throwing in jokes that range from Jessica and Ashlee Simpson to cracks about crystal meth. The episode order has also been rearranged from its original lineup, but since there's no overarching storyline, this doesn't matter too much.
The series carries a TV-MA rating, and it's well-earned. If profanity makes you wince, then this won't appeal to you in the slightest. Likewise, if you hate shows seeped in modern pop culture references, you probably won't like this either. If you have a strong stomach for toilet humor, though, you'll probably dig this quite a bit. The writers are incredibly funny and witty, and provide a killer bag of laughs.
Sant-o-meter: How could anyone not love this gift? Well, except people who don't like dirty jokes, and probably those pious Rick Warren-types. Other than that, hey, people will love you.
Negima! - Veridian Collection
Look, just because someone wants to watch a show about 31 girls and a little boy doesn't mean it's okay to judge them. I mean, there's a lot of nostalgia involved with such things. Why, when I was a young girl, my classrooms were absolutely filled with panties. True, Negima! the anime isn't as rakishly charming Negima! the manga, but maybe your anime-loving friend won't notice. Or maybe his or her tastes just aren't as discerning.
Negima! is based off a manga by Ken Akamatsu, a creator known for his ability to generate female characters in his sleep. He's also the master of milquetoast men, so if domineering women are the stuff of your fantasies, you will be in heaven. Negi is a 10-year-old wizard who dreams of becoming a Magister Magi. In order to do so, he must first complete his task as an English teacher in Japan. Because all his female students (31 in all!) mostly regard him as a little brother, they're able to feel quite comfortable around him. This paves the way for plenty of fan service, but in that innocent way that tells you, "hey, it's okay to look."
While a large chunk of the story is fluff, the series eventually does get a bit serious. Battles are waged, tensions are tightened, and eventually tragedy even strikes. Luckily, there are plenty of chicks to choose from, should you need to seek comfort. They range between the bitchy one, the brash one, the brawny one, the brainy one, the robot one, the weird occult one, the ditzy one, the one who looks like she's four, and a bunch of others. It's like reaching into a bag of Jelly Belly beans. You'll probably even get the same sugar crash afterwards when you realize that you've just fizzled away a chunk of your life watching some kid waving around a magical stick.
Sant-o-meter: Hey, you're not the real Santa, but you sure tried. You're a lot like the mall Santa Claus. You look the part, but sometimes you make kids cry, and your breath smells like Jack Daniels.
Sasami: Magical Girl Club Season 1
Magical girl shows are always fun… until they're not. Then they're just tragic and sugary, like a fake breast with tinsel on it. Caution: just because your anime-loving friend likes magical girls, does not mean that he or she will love all magical girl shows. Some of them, like Sasami: Magical Girl Club, are poor imitations, and just happen to have little girls who wear shiny dresses.
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.
Sant-o-meter: Hey, congratulations on ruining Christmas, man. You have a heart of gold, but your day job is being the slightly deranged homeless guy I used to see lurking around South Station. Shave the neckbeard, dude.