Shelf Life
Moe Monday

by Bamboo Dong, Apr 20th 2009

I have a pile of moe anime sitting in my apartment. And basically, it's all Funimation's fault. Back in the day, all this moe used to be spread across a few companies, but now it's all coming out of one shipping center, in tidy little thinpaks. Good news for moe fans, bad news for reviewers who have to explain to their friends why they have a bunch of anime lying around that has giggly little girls on the cover. But these discs are burning a whole through my floor, so let's have at it, shall we?

Welcome to Shelf Life.

In Magical Lyrical Nanoha, and now in Magical Lyrical Nanoha A's, we learned that magic doesn't always have to come from magic school or natural born talent. Apparently all you need is a magical computer in the shape of a magical ball or some kind of magical jewel. The computer is so good at doing magical math formulas, that anything you could possibly want to happen, happens. Want to create an unbreakable shield? Just say, “Magic shield!” or whatever, and it'll happen. Want to shoot energy beams at people? Just say it, and it will be so!

And that's what makes Nanoha a magical girl. She's in possession of a magical orb, which is magically linked to a magical supercomputer, and does magical things. It can even heal the magic wand that it's attached to, which is super convenient, because it means that the creators had to expend zero effort trying to figure out a way to make Nanoha learn any spells or be useful at all. She just has to wish really hard. I bet if she wished for a sandwich, her magical orb would find a way to make that happen, too. I'd wish for air conditioning.

The upside and downside with A's being a sequel is that presumably, everyone has already seen the original series, so there's no need for any setup. That's great for people who don't want to sit through any additional exposition, but I think it also gives the writers an excuse to be lazy. The basic premise is that Fate, Nanoha's friend, is coming to visit. But unexpectedly, a team of magic knights is also visiting. Commanded by some sickly girl in a wheelchair, they are absorbing people's magic powers and storing them in some old magic book. Of course, Nanoha and her compatriots are a target. Now, because virtually all of the main characters and concepts have already been set up in the first series, the writers don't have to worry about it. They can just have episode after episode of non-stop fighting in the sky—which they do. The first few episodes are one big montage of girls floating around, talking to the magical orbs, and blasting people with things that glow.

Although the story isn't as involving as the original, it's actually more entertaining to watch. The Good vs. Bad conflict is straight forward, and allows the episodes to blast through the action at a really fast clip. I found this ideal, compared to the first season, which spent too much time showing that Nanoha's magic ball could basically do everything in the world.

Even though A's was more fun to watch, I still haven't been converted to the Nanoha side, yet. I honestly feel like this franchise doesn't have anything new to bring to the magical girl table. The artwork and animation are standard, so that gets shelved. The characters are just your typical magical girl tropes, so that cancels out. All that's left is the magic itself, which is lame-o. So why watch this show? I guess if you're really hungering for some magic girls, maybe this would be worth watching, but after two seasons of this stuff, I'm left feeling a little empty.[TOP]

A couple weeks ago, when I popped some now-forgotten DVD into my player, I saw an ad that mentioned something about a winged girl in the sky. My first reaction was, “Hey, wasn't Air all about winged girls in the skies?” I then realized that Funimation had the license for Air now, and that made me happy for maybe five minutes, because it meant that they'd be releasing it in a thinpak box set.

This week, I was thrilled to find a box sitting on my doorstep. Opening it, I found not only the entire Air boxset, but also the movie. Ultra win! Now, rumors abound that at ANN, we all indiscriminately hate moe shows. There's some conspiracy afoot that causes us to scream and kick puppies when we see big-eyed, cute little girls sitting in the snow. Disappointingly, I suppose, I was a big fan of Air when it came out from ADV, and I was more than pleased to watch it again in its new packaging.

Air is one of the most relaxing shows you could possibly watch. There isn't a single ounce of stress in the whole show, and even when bad things happen to the characters, they take them in stride and simply resolve to move on with their lives. In that sense, there's something admirable about this series, in the way that it's able to take terrible situations and make them okay. Maybe not “okay,” but definitely just another fact of life.

We start out with an introduction to Yukito, a traveling entertainer who performs tricks with his puppet for money. He's on the lookout for a winged girl, who appears to him in his dreams. What he finds is a handful of sweet, charming girls (and a very cute puff of a dog named Potato) who befriend him instantly, and who all have dreams of flying. Over the course of the series, we get to know each girl better, until the ending rips your freaking heart out. And then steps on it, spits on it, and throws it in a fire. The ending makes people cry, just like Marley & Me makes people cry, except the dog doesn't die.

Visually, Air is incredibly pleasing on the eyes. The artwork is luscious and the girls beam with cuteness. Kyoto Animation is able to pull off a world that's looks as good as it feels. The character designs are a little generic, but they'll please fans of the original Key games. And, the details in the characters are covered in enough fine highlights that they just about shimmer in their dewy-ness, which is presumably good for the moe factor.

Honestly, this show is not for everybody. There are simply people out there who won't find the appeal in a show as laid-back and as slow as Air. It's largely character-driven, and sometimes, the pacing slows down to a crawl. There's only so long you can watch a girl stare wistfully at the ocean, so it's understandable that some viewers might get a little bored. Still, as far as the Key game-inspired shows go, Air is my favorite, and if you're looking to introduce yourself to the genre (and/or fan pandemonium), this is a good starting point.[TOP]

Funimation also re-released the Air movie, an alternate re-telling of the story. Produced by Toei Animation, it's stylistically and visually different from the series, and, in my opinion, it's not as good. It tries to be light-hearted, but considering the ending, this doesn't really work. Every time one of the characters does something funny, it kills the mood, and it makes it really hard to get back into the movie again.

The movie follows a similar storyline, but rather than following each character for a few episodes, the movie mostly focuses on the relationship between Misuzu and Yukito, and it presents it as more of a romance. In the movie, Misuzu is also rather sickly, but in order to make up some credit in school, she decides to do a summer research project. For her topic, she chooses a local legend about a winged princess (the same story that appears in the game and the series).

My main problem with the movie is that it really doesn't give viewers any time to develop any rapport with the characters. Part of the reason why the Air series pulls so heavily at the heartstrings is that by the end of the show, you feel like you know these girls, and you want to know what's going to happen to them. Like a lot of these moe shows, a lot of these girls are horribly broken, and you want to know what will become of them. That feeling is never really cultivated in the movie, and it almost seems a waste for the other female characters to make a cameo appearance at all, because they don't seem to really serve a purpose, other than to please fans. So by the time the movie is over, there's just a big feeling of “meh.” Unless you're a big fan of Air, I wouldn't even bother watching this movie. I think you'll get a much better viewing experience from the series.[TOP]

The other Key show that Funimation is releasing is Kanon, the series famous mainly for having sad girls in the snow. Also, if you thought that the girls' stories in Air were heartbreaking and a little cruel, that's just amplified in Kanon.

As with Air, the main character is a guy who has a very high capacity to deal with these females, who all want to be his friend. Our hero has decided to go to high school in a town up north, a place where he used to visit frequently as a child. He ends up befriending a variety of cute, moe-ful girls, including one who carries a winged backpack with her and is constantly looking for a lost item, and one who has a bad case of amnesia. There is also a sickly girl, his spunky cousin, and a girl who can sense supernatural beings.

Although many Air fans tend to also like Kanon, I never had the same affinity for this series. After rewatching it, I think I've figured out why—while Air was more of a standard slice of life show, I found Kanon to be a little too fantastical for my tastes. In the past, I've joked a lot about how moe shows are full of broken girls, but upon doing some heavy marathoning this week, I've realized that it's really just Kanon that cemented that opinion into my mind. All of this simply boils down to personal tastes, though. I simply don't like the supernatural aspects of these moe slice-of-life shows. I don't like that a girl may not really be a girl, and one might not be there at all. To me, this smacks of ridiculousness, and it takes me out of the show. I find it hard to take these girls seriously after I learn their supernatural secret, and that really kills the mood for me.

Like the Kyoto Animation Air, though, the visuals in Kanon are just as wonderful. True, they all look pretty generic, but it's the kind of generic that makes this kind of show work. Meaning, of course, all the girls are blindingly cute, and every time they bat their big shiny eyes at the camera, you just kind of want to say “Awwwwww.” Because really, who wants to watch a moe show with ugly girls? That would make it pretty hard to sell body pillows, and the whole industry would collapse.

Despite what some people will tell you, I do find Kanon and Air to be pretty different, the more I watch them. Air had supernatural elements too, but somehow, I was able to believe them. So it boils down to this—I think Kanon is more interesting, because each scenario with each girl is a lot more… unique and weird, so if you fully embrace these supernatural twists, and you aren't a grumpy fart like me who rages against magical situations, then you might like this show more.[TOP]

And last but not least, there's the Negima! season one boxset, which Funimation released a few months ago. I've kind of been avoiding watching the second one, so I think if I finally get the first Negima! set off my review pile, the second one will come to me. This is one of those shows that “gets better,” as the fans promise, but the journey there is so ludicrous that it's almost not worth it.

Ken Akamatsu has a boatload of fans all around the world, many of whom will get really angry and defensive if you say anything bad about any of them. This goes for his anime adaptations, too, which are never, ever as good as his original manga. In fact, a lot of the adaptations downright stink, and Negima! is right up there with them. The main character is a 10-year-old wunderkind wizard who, through various circumstances, ends up teaching a class full of middle-school girls. Because these anime adaptations are all about fan service, you basically just get a series full of boobs and panty shots, except for the last few episodes, which are really serious, in relation to the rest of the show.

There is a lot of fanservice in this show. More than any show with 14-year-old girls should have. One of the oh-so-hilarious running jokes in this series is that Negi will accidentally blast the clothes off of one of the ladies. Understandably, she gets upset. The question should really be, why are we watching this? I can't imagine it eliciting chuckles more than twice, but this joke goes on forever. If you can't quite imagine what this show is like, just take any given episode of Love Hina, multiple it by a few women, and you have Negima!. I hear the second version is better, though!! So maybe it will live up to the fans' claims.[TOP]

That's the moe rundown. Now go forth and consume.

This week's shelf is from David Gibbons:

"Hello, Shelf-Lifers!

My name is David Gibbons, hailing from Santa Rosa, California. Here's some text about my shelf:

I've been collecting for a while... The early imported Japanese VCR tapes are gone, along with the laserdisks that followed. My current collection of 482 disks and 64 VCR tapes all fit onto this tall 4' wide shelf with the help of Case Logic cases, thin CD jewel boxes, and a labelmaker.

Total capacity is probably close to 1000 disks, particularly when I can get DVD replacements for some of the remaining VCR tapes, so I can make room for more CD cases. The tradeoff in this way of maximizing storage is losing the jacket art from the original cases. (Which are all in the attic.)

It's interesting seeing various folk's collections, and I finally decided to come out of the closet about my little anime habit!

Well hey now, those are some pretty handsome looking collections! Thanks for sending those in!

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


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