Shelf Life
Spring Cleaning

by Bamboo Dong, Apr 13th 2009

Recently, I've become hopelessly addicted to a website called Sporcle, which is essentially a giant collection of quizzes that test your knowledge of history, geography, movies, music, and all sorts of things. You're basically asked to fill in the items of a list within a given time frame (all the countries in the world, all the suffixes used by the USPS, etc). It doesn't sound like it'd be that fun, but I have literally sunk hours into that stupid website all week.

When I wasn't trying to list all of Will Smith's movies, I was doing some good old spring cleaning. I ransacked my dresser for clothes I would never wear again, and got rid of some of the junk that's been accumulating in my bedroom, like the Optimus Prime voice-changing helmet I bought last year. In that same tradition of spring cleaning, I decided I'd root up some smaller anime releases of the past several months that have gotten lost in the piles of other, more A-list titles. Maybe we'll find a chocolate egg amongst them.

Welcome to Shelf Life.

The first title I wanted to check out was Rocket Girls, a twelve-episode TV anime based on a light novel series of the same name. It was released as a subtitled-only complete collection by Bandai last year, and as far as I can tell, it flew off the shelves only in places that experienced earthquakes or tornados. Its utter lack of popularity is a bit of a shame, because although I wouldn't necessarily call it fantastic, it was a surprisingly entertaining show.

As school lets out for the summer, the teacher calls out, “remember, no summer jobs allowed!” This, of course, sets the scene for the ultimate summer job—serving as an astronaut for the wildly unsuccessful Solomon Islands Space Association (SSA). Why the author chose the Solomon Islands, of all places, to set a show about aeronautics is a little puzzling, but that's the place where a group of Japanese scientists have set up shop, and are harboring dreams of launching their own manned shuttle. Their biggest problem? Utter failure to launch anything that doesn't explode in the first 15 seconds. Their solution is to use an older model of rocket booster, which means that they need to find the lightest astronauts possible. High school girls seem to be the likely candidate.

Their main pilot is a young high school student, who's in the Solomon Islands on a mission to find her dad, who wandered away from her mother 17 years ago during the couple's honeymoon to the islands. She gets roped into joining the space crew, in exchange for help finding her dad, whom she eventually finds in the unlikeliest of places. Eventually, she's joined by a couple of other girls.

In order to enjoy this show to the fullest, it's best to not think about the storyline too hard. Instead of focusing on why the Japanese have a space operation in the Solomon Islands, or why their engineers are so terrible, just think about the most superficial layer possible—the fact that you have cute girls going through weird capers, dealing with an utterly incompetent aeronautics facility that has no qualms about sending high school girls up into space on unsafe rockets. It's… about as thrilling as it sounds, I guess, but there's a simplicity to this show that pulls me in. It doesn't try too hard to please, and it seems perfectly content just spinning this ridiculous story.

There are downsides, of course. Aside from the mediocrity that trickles through this show, the writers don't seem to care that the characters don't behave like normal humans. They make impulsive decisions that rational humans wouldn't, and they don't respond to emotional stimuli in a realistic manner. That the mother responds to news of her husband's whereabouts with a cheery, “Oh, well, he's always been like that!” raises an eyebrow. The show is also weirdly racist in the way all the Melanesians wear grass skirts and use songs to catch fish, but that's another issue.

Basically, if you want to shut off your mind and watch a vapidly entertaining, unrealistic show about girls who get to be astronauts, then Rocket Girls might appeal to you. Everything kind of falls apart if you start to think about it, so just don't. Don't even try to look at the equations on the white boards, because they won't even make sense.[TOP]

If that doesn't satiate your hunger for frilly entertainment, consider the weird, nonsensical magic that is Bludgeoning Angel Dokuro-chan, which had a huge amount of fan enthusiasm back when it was being fansubbed, but disappeared into a whisper by the time the DVDs were actually released. So, for everyone who doesn't faithfully follow fansubs, and who needs a forgotten comedy that revels in absurdity, this review's for you.

The title character is an angel named Dokuro, who's arrived from the future to kill the good-natured Sakura. His day-to-day life is marred by the fact that he gets bludgeoned to death by Dokuro on a daily basis. She always resurrects him, but he's not too pleased by having to die all the time. His life is only made worse when another angel from the future comes to kill him too. Now, if that sounds like it's already too random for words, then the actual show may just short one of your brain circuits—in a really good way. One of the best things about this series is how freely it jumps from one joke to another. The characters will be studying in the library, only to have the scene interrupted by a sexualized, drawn rendition of Kafka's The Metamorphosis. Or, Sakura will be resurrected after a death, but comes back instead as a black and white drawing of Commodore Perry. There's also snippets of a movie called Sensitive Salaryman, a movie that reminds me of The Lonely Island's hit, “Jizz In My Pants.” Oh, and the class representative was turned into an angry monkey.

If that sampling doesn't have you chomping at the bit to see this show, then maybe this style of comedy isn't for you. It's driven entirely by chaos, much like Excel Saga was. There's also a lot of visual humor—the artwork makes up a large portion of the laughs, with characters' faces readily morphing into all sorts of ghastly expressions. I am all about nonsensical things, and Dokuro-chan is about as nonsensical as anime goes.

In some respects, it's really a conglomeration of everyone's favorite genres! There's romance, comedy, slapstick, extreme violence, gore, supernaturalism, and probably a lot more. It's just not what you'd really expect, because the creators have seemingly just thrown a lot of bizarre things into a bag, and shaken it until a hole ripped in one of the corners, thus vomiting out what would eventually become Dokuro-chan. It's good stuff, I'm telling you.[TOP]

Not suited to your comedy tastes? Try Nerima Daikon Brothers, a goofy musical that has as much energy as it does puns. Both are abundant, so if you're having a terrible day and you want some good laughs, then this show will cheer you up. It follows three wannabe rockers who harbor big dreams of becoming superstars. Until then, they're just three money-grubbing daikon farmers who seize every opportunity possible to get more cash.

Nerima Daikon Brothers gets most of its laughs from its musical numbers, of which there are plenty. Ranging from bluesy little numbers to cheesy lounge rock, they're chock full of puns, dirty jokes, and fabulous dance routines. The songs cease to be good after maybe 6 episodes or so, but until then, they're pretty fantastic stuff. When's the last time you saw dancing chorus girls in the middle of an anime? What about a dancing panda bear, who also happens to be one of the cutest things ever drawn onto celluloid? The visual gags are enough to draw some hearty laughs, too. One of my favorite scenes happens in the first episode, when one of the band members recounts his experience tricking in a nightclub the previous night, in order to get an audition with an agent. As the man gets up in his hizzy, all we see is a frankfurter on a plate, glistening at the tip. It's a juvenile joke, but it elicited some hale laughs from everyone I showed it to.

For the most part, the series stays pretty consistent throughout its whole run. As I wrote earlier, there does come a point where the songs lose some of their humor, but the key is to watch the show in moderation. One episode a week is probably a safe bet, because as funny as the show is, the jokes do get a little stale.

Of course, for a show like this, it's almost not worth talking about the animation. I will, however, give accolades to the simplistic character designs and artwork. The series uses minimal details, which helps in giving the show a vibrant, cartoony feel. Even the characters' faces are limited to a few scant features, and shading is a commodity. It works, though, and it makes the show stand out visually.

After watching this show twice, I can safely say that it has a certain amount of rewatch value. The jokes are still amusing the second time around, though the novelty wears off considerably after the first viewing. Still, it's one of those shows that might be worth having around just to lend to friends, because seriously, who's ever heard of an anime musical? That in itself seems to be reason enough to check this out, at least once.[TOP]

On a slightly more serious tone, we venture back to the Demon Kingdom for the unshocking conclusion of Kyo kara Maoh!. The last we saw of our demon friends, characterized by their amazing translucent hair, showed them struggling vainly to defeat The Great One. At that point, we learned that The Great One wasn't really a good guy at all, and actually came back so that he could wreak all sorts of havoc everywhere. To insert as mild of a spoiler as possible, he ends up possessing Yuri, who has to reach within himself to combat his personal demon (pun!).

Let's just say that nothing I could possibly type right now could possibly be seen as a further spoiler. These types of shows always end a certain way. I mean, a guy gets possessed by a hateful, angry spirit—how do you think he'll end up conquering it? It's definitely not going to be via any violent means. But, as unsurprising as the conclusion is, I imagine fans will be fairly satisfied by it. The show was never really this epic battle-laden testo fest anyway, so what they end up with is good enough.

Having seen all 78 episodes of this show now, though, I can say that this show has exceeded my expectations. Not by a lot, I have to admit, because I was never “into” the series, but it's been fairly entertaining throughout its long run. My biggest reasons for not going wild over this show were that I never really cared enough about the characters to want to watch the next volume. Sure, the men were pretty, but they're not much more interesting than your typical adventure series cast. There'd be the spell casters and the swordsmen, but at the end of the day, it was just a bunch of dudes rallying around their young king. Nothing about the characters really stood out to me, and even after 78 episodes, I never really felt that I had a reason to be alarmed for their well-being.

So in the end, I don't know that Kyo kara Maoh! would be at the top of my recommendation list. It's a fairly well-written show with a decent-sized (mostly female) fanbase, but it's not one of the best fantasy or adventure series out there. It's also one of those shows where things “get better” a handful of volumes in, so it may not be the best blind purchase you could possibly make. If your well of adventure anime has dried up, I'd say you should put it on your rental queue, but I wouldn't make any hasty purchases just yet.[TOP]

Alright, that's it for this week. See you next time!

This week's shelf is from Erin. No description was given for the shelves, but here they are, in all their low light glory.


Good stuff.

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