Shelf Life Big Trouble in Little Tokyo
by Bamboo Dong, Mar 9th 2009
Welcome to the NHK Box 1, 2
Samurai 7 Blu-ray boxset
Tokyo Majin Part 1
Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple
Oh, before we start the column, I wanted to let you know that Shelf Life will be taking a short one-week break. Unfortunately, I've got a big final coming up that I'm feeling pretty queasy about, so I'll need the cram time. Thanks for reading though, and I hope you enjoy (some) of this week's releases!
Welcome to Shelf Life.
Conclusion: Is this show for serious?
I hate to say it, but I can't tell if this show is supposed to be a parody of the entire shonen action genre or not. I mean, it has to be… right? You cannot possibly get a more Shonen Sunday show than this. Hell, it has “The Mightiest Disciple” in the title. But it takes itself so seriously at times. So if it's not a parody… then wow. This show (and manga, I suppose) has set a new bar for ludicrous shonen series about boys who only dream of becoming stronger. And he's incredibly gifted, too—with just one week of grueling training, he was able to defeat a giant thug who's been practicing karate all his life!
But to backtrack a little bit, Kenichi is a high school freshman who is incredibly cowardly and cries more than most toddlers. He really wants to be strong, though, so he joins the karate club, but they don't want anything to do with him. Luckily, he meets a girl named Miu, who's not only a really skilled (and beautiful) fighter, but also lives in a dojo occupied by a variety of martial arts masters. There's a sexy sword master lady, a chill jujutsu guy, a fiery passion(!) karate master, a childish Muay Thai champion, and an old guy who looks like Lo Pan. They end up taking Kenichi on as their mightiest disciple, and put him through his paces. Meanwhile, Kenichi ends up getting into a lot of fights with thugs who can't believe that this weakling has such hidden talent and immense skill. And, he's being watched by an organization of fighters called Ragnarok, whom he'll eventually square off against, where he'll be able to show his true strength.
What a tiresome show. I was exhausted after consuming a mere two episodes, so finishing the rest of “part one” was a tedious exercise. Every episode is exactly the same. Kenichi cries. Then he trains some more. Then he learns a new move. Then he defeats some guy. Then someone else flies into a rage and swears to beat up Kenichi. Then he cries some more, and it all starts over again. He makes a lot of progress, though, because he's spunky. That's the tried and true shonen formula, though, so in some respects, it makes sense that this show exists.
What's more baffling is the way that this show is presented. It seems torn between being a pointless brawl show with fights every episode, and being a semi-legitimate martial arts show—the kind that appeal to martial arts enthusiasts and kids because they can learn a few moves and be entertained at the same time. However, Kenichi stops just short of that. It tries to teach some techniques, but stops just short of explaining them. For example, in one of the earlier episodes, it tries to demonstrate the basic concept behind a shoulder throw. However, it doesn't actually follow through and show how to do it—it mentions that you have to catch the opponent when he's off balance, without saying anything about how to force the opponent into that position, or the best stance you should take to get the best leverage. Hell, the characters don't even tell Kenichi how to throw a proper jab. So why even bother going into explanations if they're just going to be half-assed? Even shows like Naruto explain how their moves work, and those aren't even real.
Also, this show wins a prize for basically the worst breasts ever. The breasts in this show are absolutely absurd, and not just because they're bulbous sacs of air that rest in perfect suspension. Somehow, their clothes are able to wrap perfectly around each individual breast, like some kind of sock. Or a glove, for breasts. Look at this. Does this look right to you?
I really hope there's tons of kids out there right now who are loving this show. Maybe tons of crybabies who need that extra nudge to learn how to get some self-confidence, because then I'd feel like this show did some good. It's also because I can't imagine any grown man or woman enjoying this show, because it's a big ol' dud.[TOP]
Welcome to the NHK is a somewhat tragic, but beautiful, and sometimes whimsical account of a hikikomori—someone who has completely withdrawn from society. They're a societal phenomenon in Japan, and although there aren't really any American equivalents that are as heavily publicized, the struggles that the main character goes through still resonate. His name is Sato, and just going to the convenience store is an ordeal. He's not without hope, though—there's a girl who's willing to help him break out of his hikikomori ways, giving him “counseling sessions” as a way to try to improve his life. Without getting into the story too much, he also ends up helping his otaku neighbor script a dating sim, but that doesn't really come to immediate fruition. Over the course of the series, Sato gets involved with a few people, including a friend who's convinced the NHK broadcasting network is part of a giant conspiracy, but it's the way that these interactions play out that provide the meat behind the story.
Many stories have been described as “rollercoasters” before, but with Welcome to the NHK, that feeling is almost tangible. The series rides in waves of comedy and tragedy—you get caught up in what seems to be a high point in Sato's life, laughing along with scenarios you might even relate to. Inevitably, the high crashes and there's always a sick feeling in your stomach when you realize that Sato isn't getting better. These highs and lows are hard to watch, but it makes the story compelling. This really reaches a pitch near the last several episodes, where you start to see just how much of Sato's life is entangled with those who care about him.
Somewhat tangentially, it's worth talking about the animation in the series. It's actually a bit inconsistent, to the point that sometimes there's a visible change in characters' facial features. It does get distracting at times, but luckily, it didn't detract from the series. Most of the time, you're so engrossed in the story anyway, that it's easy to forgive a few shortcomings. It wouldn't have even been worth mentioning in the review were it not so jarring at times, but don't let that detract you from watching the series.
There was one particular line that was uttered near the end that stuck with me. One of the characters said that society liked hikikomori, because people liked knowing that there was always someone worse than them. It occurred to me that that was almost the reason I really got into the show. It's really easy to get sucked into the first few episodes with all the chuckles and otaku references, and “haha, look at him!” But that attitude really does change rapidly as you get to know Sato, and I think that's something this show accomplishes beautifully.[TOP]
Let's start with the visuals. This show was meant to be seen in HD—Gonzo dropped $300,000 per episode, for this very reason. But weirdly, the quality isn't consistent at all for the first episode. I'm not sure if that was before Gonzo decided to film everything in HD, or if there was something strange with my TV settings, but there was a noticeable contrast between some of the scenes. The key sequences are really vibrant, as are close-ups of major characters' faces. The lines are crisp, and it looks like you'd expect a high-definition animation to look. Some of the scenes in the between, though, border on dreary. This disparity lessened in later episodes, which were all pretty crisp, but that first episode was worrisome. On the plus side, all the action sequences and the special effects were incredible. The prologue itself is worthy of being drooled over a few times.
Also, one minor gripe about the DVD menu. On my 50” widescreen, it barely managed to take up a square foot of space in the upper left corner. I had to squint at the words and click around a bit before I could even tell which option I was choosing, since the only indicator was font that changed from white to a light yellow.
But, onto the story. If you haven't seen Samurai 7 yet, you really ought to. Based on Kurosawa's Seven Samurai, the series takes place in a feudalistic future. A rice-producing village is tired of having all of their crops taken by bandits, so they decide to hire samurai to help them fight, using rice as payment. Eventually, the samurai decide to launch an attack on the capital to defeat the power-hungry ruler.
It's a really well-paced story, and the characters are incredibly vivacious. The samurai are a varied bunch, and it gives the show a lot of pep the entire series. Every time the narrative is in danger of slowing down, they throw in an action sequence, so it's pretty hard to get bored. It's the kind of story that would blow away a lot of the live-action crap that's on primetime network TV right now—and maybe the kind of show that could get someone into anime. Even with the futuristic setting, this is the kind of story that will continue to be relevant for years to come (obviously so, as Kurosawa's film remains a classic), and is worth seeing at least once.
Is it worth buying on HD? I'd say so. I was pretty bummed after the first episode, but those staggering dips in clarity didn't really pop up again too much in the rest of the show. Considering all the good stuff is at the end of the show anyway, I'd say it's a good trade off.[TOP]
In fact, the series is so certain that you'll already know these character upon seeing them that it doesn't even put that much effort into explaining who they are, why they have powers, or why we should care about them. The first series just throws us into the middle of a fight, and expects us to figure out what's going on. Eventually the story is released in minor trickles—there's some imbalance between our world and the demon world, which is unleashing all these monsters onto the streets of Tokyo. Oh, that story. There are also some bad guys, too—notably, there's this guy who plays the guitar that slices through people with its powerful notes, and some girl who can control fire. There are some others, too, but honestly, it doesn't really matter.
This show exists for the sole purpose of pumping out crazy action sequences—which it does really well. I wasn't bored for a single minute. Every time I opened my eyes, someone was being arrowed in the face, or being sliced open by an errant riff. But alas, that does get monotonous after awhile, especially if the series is being stingy on the details of what's going on. The characters aren't terribly well developed, either, beyond some basic backstory of how they came to work together. After all, it's more important to fight now, and explain things later.
It's not a terrible show by any means, but it's not good, either. It's just filled with explosions. After watching all these episodes, I went to go take a hot shower, and by the time I came back, I'd just about forgotten everything I'd seen. I could still remember some of the blood baths I had seen, but the story? The intricacies have already lost me.
It's with good fortune that this series has some decent animation. Nothing goes better with pointless action sequences than reasonably high frame counts, so when these teenagers start kicking ass, you can tell. It doesn't make the story any better, but these kinds of shows don't really need a story. You just need an excuse for Party A to beat up Party B and all is good. I imagine this show will eventually unleash some crazy conflict that leads up to one of those trippy endings, but for right now, it's comfortable in its action groove.
If you like seeing teenagers with super powers killing monsters, you will like this show. That's pretty much the bottom line.[TOP]
That's it for me. Thanks for reading!
This week's Shelfee is Marcos, from Venezuela:
After months of following this column and finally getting enough stuff to justify the purchase, I bought this shelf in November. It became like this instantly.
Compared to recent entries, this might look like your average shelf, and actually, it is. Sure, the series are organized according to the date I started collecting them, but that might be quite common.
In fact, the only remarkable thing about it is its location. Maracaibo, Venezuela, a country where piracy runs rampant and non-music DVDs are really expensive and really hard to find. Of course, anime DVDs are entirely out of the question. So, I'm forced to import everything: music, games, books and manga too. However, it all pays off when one of my classmates, almost the crazy fangirl type, comes over, sees the shelf and mutters a clearly audible "I hate you". The "I hate you"s received throughout the following weeks make up for the ridiculous shipping costs.
Sort of notable is that every DVD, except for Interstella 5555 and the first Death Note volume, was bought this year. It's amazing how much I got hooked on to the medium in such a short time. And how much my parents must hate my new hobby.
Also included is a picture of the top of my desk. An extension of my shelf, even before there was a shelf. Post-apocalyptical Big Ben courtesy of my infinitely annoying 14 year old little brother.
Now that I think about it, I still have about seven Viz/Pioneer Pokemon VHS tapes somewhere in my closet.
Well done, sir. And if it makes a difference, I don't hate you at all. I really like you. And your shelf. And the fact that you own Interstella 5555 which is basically one of the best products to ever be produced in this world.
Want to show off your shelves? Send your jpgs to shelflife at animenewsnetwork dot com. Thanks for reading, and get those cameras clicking!
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