Shelf Life
SOS Brigade

by Bamboo Dong, Apr 27th 2009

The hardest part about going to amusement parks or fairs is resisting all the food temptations. I don't know how it's possible, but when I go to these places, I can walk away with $40 worth of food in my belly, and not even feel the slightest bit full. Turkey legs? Of course! Corn? Yes! Deep-fried insert-something-here? Bring it on! And yet, after consuming four times the daily recommended amount of calories for a woman my age, I am still craving yet something else deep-fried in a cone or on a stick. Damn you, fairs!

Welcome to Shelf Life.

There is good news on the anime front—Gankutsuou is now available as a four-disc, two-thinpak boxset. If you missed the Geneon release the first time around, here is your chance to buy this gorgeous series. For anyone who has yet to experience Gankutsuou, you need to get on that, pronto. It's easily one of the best series I've seen in recent years, and it's one title that I recommend to almost everyone who asks.

Loosely based on Alexander Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo, the series is set far into the future, where space travel is not only possible, but common. Our teenaged hero Albert is celebrating Carnival on Luna with his friend Franz, when he is introduced to the Count. Albert promises to introduce the Count to high society should he visit Paris, a chance he gets shortly thereafter. Unbeknownst to him, the Count has spent the past couple of decades in prison, incarcerated for a crime he had no knowledge of. Now, armed with newfound wealth, he wants revenge. We're eventually introduced to other characters, which readers of the novel will remember—Albert's parents, Mercedes and Fernand de Morcerf; a rich banker named Danglars; the Count's slave Haydee; and various other notable characters. Then, just as everyone (including the viewers) is being won over by the Count, his plans for revenge slowly unfold.

The Count of Monte Cristo is one of the best revenge tales ever written, and it makes a gripping basis for this series. The first half builds you up to be sympathetic toward the Count, only to have that feeling be taken away as you learn that he's kind of a dick. His manipulative ways make him one of the best characters in the show, and even though you can't really like him, it's impossible to hate him. The lines between right and wrong are so vague—one example is at the beginning of the series, when the Count reveals that he has the power to pardon one of three men sentenced to be executed. He asks Albert to pick a name, ultimately freeing the man most boastful of his murders. While it sets the tone for the series perfectly, it's also a preview for the rest of the series and the way it examines good and evil.

Of course, it's impossible to talk about Gankutsuou without talking about the animation. Simply put, it's beautiful—and very unique. Rather than the standard cel animation one typically sees in cartoons, each fill area is placed over a static pattern. For instance, someone's coat might use a brocade-type pattern, while his or her hair might be a pattern made up of horizontal brush-strokes. Then, even while their limbs may move, the pattern stays the same. It gives the characters a ghost-like quality, like they're gliding through a scene, rather than being in it, and it adds greatly to the dark atmosphere of the series.

Of all the hundreds of shows that have been released in the past several years, I would recommend Gankutsuou to new viewers above anything else. Or it'd at least be in my top 10. The animation will blow your mind away, and the story will have you fastened to your chair. It's definitely a must-have.[TOP]

Another show on my list was the complete Project Blue Earth SOS, which is being released in two-disc clamshell. To get an idea of what the show is like, you need to look no further than the cover: A large saucer with hovering over a fleet of mini-saucers, all shooting ring beams at a fighter jet. A serious-looking woman glares at us from the background, while giant font above her head spells out, “ALIENS ATTACK!” (Note, the DVD cover on my copy is somehow different than the ones shown by online retailers.) So clearly, there is an alien invasion of some sort, and it's of the grand old variety that used to populate science fiction from the 50s and 60s. It's pretty sweet.

The story starts with a flashback, where we learn that a pilot named James has vanished after a test flight in a plane using G-Reactor technology. His last words imply that he was attacked by saucers. Jump ahead five years, and some child entrepreneur is about to embark on the maiden voyage of a G-Reactor-fueled train. Just then, another kid runs up and warns him about the safety of the train, seconds before the whole locomotive rises from the tracks, gets bathed in a rainbow light, then disappears. We eventually learn that aliens are attacking Earth in flying saucers, and they're using ring beam rays to incinerate things. Luckily, one man can stop them—a mysterious pilot in a top-secret grey fighter jet, who uses some secret laser weapon to destroy the aliens.

Project Blue Earth SOS has the great feeling of an old sci-fi flick. There are aliens that are threatening to destroy Earth, and people need a hero. He's not just up against some mean saucers—the aliens have lots of tricks up their sleeve, like bodysnatching and suitcase bombs. It's a new spin on an old school story, and it's a lot more fun than it appears. Even the first few episodes don't really allude to how fun this show gets, but eventually, as the plot with the aliens is unveiled, things really pick up. Plus, it's about time we got us some alien shows. I'm so used to anime with cute, friendly aliens, or civilized powers of negotiation, that it's kind of nice to be able to go back to the old “funny green men in saucers” trope.

What works in the series' favor and prevents it from becoming campy is that it looks pretty good, too. The character designs are crisp and modern, and the backgrounds don't try too hard to be futuristic. It lets the show feel current, all while embracing classic sci-fi elements that have been around for decades. It's getting increasingly harder to find more old-fashioned stories that still take themselves seriously (and get away with it), but I think Project Blue Earth SOS works. For fans of classic science fiction authors like Heinlein and Campbell, I think this series gives a fair shout-out.[TOP]

Last week, I reviewed the complete collection of the original Negima! anime series. This week, we jump into Negima!?, an alternate retelling of the story. Comprised of 26 episodes, the show is being released in two boxsets, the first of which I watched with some trepidation. I've heard mixed reviews from fans of the show—some prefer it over Negima! because of its lack of fanservice and because the first series deviated from the manga for its ending, while other dislike it more for its heavier focus on comedy and action.

Personally, so far, I kind of like Negima!? better. Without the fanservice, I feel like I'm able to enjoy the characters' stories more—I also feel like I get to know the girls better in this version, because they each get a very distinct turn in the spotlight. Granted, within the first five minutes, we can already tell which girl represents each stereotype; even in the two seconds that each girl appears on screen as the camera pans across the classroom, we can tell that there's a techie girl, a quirky foodie, and even one who somehow gets away with polishing her guns in class, which I'm sure isn't allowed. In the episodes that follow, though, each girl eventually gets her own episode or two, which lay out her feelings for Negi and any notable backstories they might have. Meanwhile, Negi needs to deal with the disappearance of a powerful magical artifact called the Star Crystal, which his students help him handle.

This series is vastly more comedy-oriented than the first, which allows for some pretty good scenes. It keeps the show much lighter, even when it's dealing with darker themes, and it keeps the series from focusing too much on all the fighting. My personal favorites are the two representatives from the Magic Academy, a frog-ish blob named Motsu, and a woolly cat blob named Shichimi, both borne from a student's doodles. There's a precious scene in one of the earlier episodes where Motsu is desperately resisting the temptation to pop bubble wrap. These bits of comic relief might turn off some fans, but I find that it injects the right amount of humor into a show that shouldn't be taken too seriously. They already have a show about a kid wizard who's surrounded by junior high school girls who help him fight bad guys—they might as well milk the cuteness factor as much as possible.

One thing I want to complain about, though—in the first five seconds of the series, a prologue is written out on the screen. Too bad there's no way to read it because it goes by way too fast. The first screen has a sentence, the second screen has two, and then the third has this whopping paragraph that's on the screen for two seconds or so. Thanks, Funimation. Way to spread those words out. I'm a really fast reader, but even that was a little ridiculous for me, so it put me in a sour mood right at the get go. Luckily, it segued right into a rather stylishly drawn flashback, inked in heavy brushstrokes and bold colors, so my anger quickly abated.

In short, I think Negima!? is a lot of fun. It's a lot cuter and more innocent than Negima!, and I feel like it's more accessible. The pace is faster, and I don't have to deal with Asuna getting angry at Negi all the time. There's just more camaraderie amongst the girls, and it makes the story more enjoyable to watch.[TOP]

Now, for a quick Blu-Ray rundown. For more in-depth reviews, you can either check the Shelf Life archives, or you can check out our full-length reviews, but here's a quick look at what you can expect to be watching in high-def.

Funimation released a live-action film called Genghis Khan which, obviously, follows the life of Genghis Khan. According to the DVD insert, this film apparently took 27 years of planning to make. I don't know that the end product may have been worth their 27 years, but it's pretty enjoyable nevertheless. The movie follows the life of the man who eventually becomes known as Genghis Khan, all the way from his bastard roots, to his first victories as a clan leader, to eventually commanding a vast army. It covers a lot more of his life and early military exploits than one would normally get from a high school history class in the United States (which might mention two paragraphs about him), and it's a good way to get people more interested in his story.

It's worth mentioning, though, that the film is largely sympathetic to its title character. Even though it portrays him at times as a harsh, strict father and leader, it prefers to focus more on his good side. If that's something that may offend you, or anger you, then maybe this isn't for you. For everyone else, this is a well-made film about a subject that isn't very well-known in America. It looks gorgeous in high-def, too, especially those expansive battles. I personally wouldn't pay to get this on Blu-Ray, but if you're paying for BD rentals from Netflix, I think it'd be worth it.[TOP]

If Genghis Khan's exploits are making you want to tear off your shirt and run around the garage, thumping your chest, then you can satisfy your bro-rage with Shigurui. Not only is it really gorgeous in high-definition, but it's also pretty gross. This show is grotesque enough, what with all the beheadings, and people ripping their guts out, without seeing someone's skull get hacked up in all its crisp, 1080p detail. But it does look nice, so… you know, enjoy your bloodlust however you want to, I guess.

Shigurui is a story about two warriors who are destined to meet each other in a battle to the death. It starts off when they first meet, and through a series of events, chronicles their hard lives, eventually leading to their final battle. The ending kind of falls apart, but the journey there is breathtaking. It's also really macabre, so be forewarned, you will see a lot of blood. Lots and lots of blood, all of which gushes from injuries that are really hard to look at. You really have to be in the right mood to watch a show as dark as this, so it doesn't have a lot of replay value, but it's worth renting at least once, especially if you can watch it in high-def.[TOP]

Alright, that's it for this week. Thanks for reading!

This week's shelves are from Tristan, of Iowa.

"This is the collection i've amassed over my 15+ years of being an otaku. I have around 1,200+ dvds and 350+ manga. I converted that room into my "anime lounge", hopefully i'll get a lcd tv in there and a small home theater to complete it in the not-too-distant future. ^^"



I want an anime lounge, too!

Alright, want to show off your shelves? Send your jpgs to shelflife at animenewsnetwork dot com. Thanks!


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