Shelf Life
Band of Heroes

by Bamboo Dong, May 11th 2009

It is not okay for people to take 45 minute showers. It's not. Unless you have just spent the entire day rescuing seagulls from an oil slick, and every pore in your body is oozing with industrial refuse, there is no reason for a shower to last longer than 15 minutes. My male roommate, somehow, did not get this memo. It's fine when we can stick to our shower schedules, but when he feels the need to take a shower right before I have to go to lab or class, then it becomes a problem. His hair, by the way, is maybe two inches long. The other day, I had to use that trick where you rub baby powder in your hair to cheat not taking a shower, and then I just smelled like a Kmart restroom all day. I was not pleased. Boys, don't take 45 minute showers.

Welcome to Shelf Life.

While Baccano! started off as a dark action piece, with touches of comedy and class, the darkness has now almost completely taken over. It's always been violent, but now it's reached new levels of gruesome, with killers happily splashing around in blood pools like kids after a rain shower, or the Rail Tracer grinding someone's face into the railroad track with the train running at full speed. And even though it's happened a few times already, it's still pretty gross to see someone's body get vacuumed up into someone's palm. Cringe-worthy as those scenes are, all of it just makes this series even cooler.

From the start, one of the greatest things about Baccano! has been its patchwork storytelling. Not only is it constantly jumping from one focal point to another, but it's also jumping forwards and backwards in time, letting things be shown from different angles and from different points of view. While that was a neat novelty before, now it's really starting to pay off, as we finally get an idea of just how complicated the situation aboard the Flying Pussyfoot is. There are several sets of villains and heroes aboard, all with their own agendas. Some of them tie into the greater storyline of immortals and immortality-seekers, while some of them are just trying to protect their loved ones, or steal things. The more you watch, though, the more you realize that you don't really know the full scope of what's going on, and just how much each seemingly individual group knows about the others.

Stylistically, the series really excels. The soundtrack is really vivacious, and uses a lot of smooth jazz runs and big band pieces. Combined with all the guys in suits running around, it makes for a pretty flashy display. As long as you don't mind seeing some guy get a hot poker stuck through his eyes, you'll totally be digging the sleek character designs and the dingy (but dangerously sexy), well-researched backgrounds. After a few episodes, you'll be wishing you could drink alcohol from a mason jar. In a good way. Seriously, if you haven't watched Baccano! yet, it's time to jump on the bandwagon.[TOP]

If you don't like shows set in the past, then maybe you'd rather watch a series about the far, far, far distant future. The title is Heroic Age, and we'll see in a moment where they got that name, which is less grand than one would think, because it's also supposed to be a pun. For all those literature geeks out there, you'll recall that the “Heroic Age” was one of the five Ages of Man, according to the Classics. The other ones were the Golden Age, the Silver Age, the Bronze Age, and the Iron Age. Yes, Hero is not an element, we all know.

Despite the names, the anime series is only very, very loosely influenced by Greek mythology. One could argue that each Tribe of [Element] somewhat resembles the themes inherent in each Age, and that there are characters who are named after mythological figures, but the comparisons are something that's more interesting to think about than really focus on. See, in the extreme future, there was some almighty Tribe of Gold who could create planets and stuff. They beckoned to all the races to fan out into the universe and explore it, only oops, one of them tried to conquer everybody. The stragglers to the space race were the Tribe of Iron, the humans. Their mission is to ensure humankind's survival, so they're looking for a human that was raised by the Tribe of Gold. That human ends up being a Mowgli-looking kid named Age, who has a magical crystal in his eye that allows him to turn into an Eva and destroy things. Also, he can breathe in space, penetrate force fields, and shoot missiles. He is basically Jesus, if Jesus were a giant biorobot with gnashing teeth.

The story sounds kind of hokey, especially since it seems particularly unfair that the underdogs suddenly have this indestructible secret weapon, but things get a little murky a ways in. There's a different race trying to take over the world, and there are actually other people with powers. People give you weird looks when you try to explain the story to them, but it's surprisingly involving. I was planning on just watching a couple episodes before bed, but I was up until the birds started chirping, because I had to know what was going to happen next. The series gets a little too ambitious in the middle, though; it adds so many major characters, each belonging to different races with their own agendas, that it doesn't really get a chance to flesh out each player. With 13 more episodes to go, though, maybe this is just a temporary setback that will get cleared up in the second half.

One thing worth noting is that for a mech show, the machinery looks pretty good. Not just the Eva-thing—the spaceships are nicely rendered, the interiors of the space colonies look nice, and even all the instrument panels look pretty sharp. Anything that could've been rendered by a computer looks really good… which only serves to contrast with the characters, who look especially flat in comparison. Their movements are a little clunky, and they're almost too simple for the lush landscapes that fill the backgrounds. Also, some of the characters are seriously ugly.

Audiowise, I have one beef with the original sound mixing. It doesn't make sense why, when Age leaps onto a space car, he doesn't make any noise. Everybody is going to make some kind of noise when they jump onto a car, so the silence is unsettling. Maybe they were playing up the Space Jesus thing a lot, but I was bothered for about ten minutes by the lack of a clank or thud. To make up for it, the creators showered us with the gift of a theme song that rivals “Gimme Shelter” in the screaming of atrocities. Specifically, the chorus has a powerful voice chanting, “Dark!!!” and “Blight!!” It's truly spectacular.

As far as mecha adventure shows go, Heroic Age is a welcome addition to the genre. It has a fantasy feel to it, which gives it a unique edge amongst its competitors, and it's worth watching. It may not live to surpass some of the classics, but it diverges enough from the old formulas that anyone would have a good shot at being entertained.[TOP]

If Age and his loincloth aren't enough to stoke your fire, you can always sink yourself into Haruka, the one-priestess-many-bishonen series from Bandai that finished up its release not too long ago. For those who have been following the series up until this point, you'll recall that our amicable heroes are gearing up for their final showdowns. As far as endings go, this one gets the job done.

Demons are still rampaging through the lands, making the harvests bad, and wreaking all sorts of agro-havoc. The bad guys have the upper hand, and have already called forth three of the four gods. Luckily, the good guys have the fighting spirit required to go head to head with the bad guys, so in a series of image song-laden montages, the battle between good and evil takes place. And boy, are there a lot of image songs in the last episode. If you like the music in this series, you are in luck, because every time there is a major battle, there is a woman crooning in the background.

Haruka hasn't been one of my favorite series, but I have enjoyed watching the events play out… even if it took a while. There are some who would disagree with me, but I found the pacing in the show to be immensely slow. Even when action-packed things were happening, I found myself bored by the deliberate pace of the sequences. Watching someone pull out a talisman for the umpteenth time gets droll, and it would've been nice if they'd mixed things up a bit. I was also turned off by the lackluster character designs, which looked unsettlingly unhuman with their doe-y, alienesque eyes that melted off their faces.

There is a small, but sincere fanbase, though, who would claim that Haruka is the bee's knees, but it's something you'll have to check out for yourself. Just don't be turned off by the apparent reverse harem aspect of the show. It's somewhat misleading, as romance really isn't highlighted in the series, other than as a way for a few of the Earth-borne characters to get closer. Most of the series relies heavily on fantasy elements in its battle against demons (who are anything but two-dimensional villains), and if you like that sort of thing, you might want to check out the first couple of volumes.[TOP]

Now, onto this week's turd. When Ragnarok was being released in two-disc sets, I became so exasperated by the show that I eventually had to stop watching. Now, several months later, with the advent of the thinpak boxset, I have dragged myself back to my Waterloo. If you are already familiar with the Korean MMORPG, then you probably don't have a decent reason to watch this series. Chances are, you've already had a richer experience slaying things online, and watching this show will just be like eating El Pollo Loco after coming back from Mexico City.

The story follows two newbie explorer/adventurers named Roan and Yuufa. They buy things in town and level up by beating up on small-fry monsters, just like in a video game. Eventually, they flesh out their party with a bad-ass hottie mage, a rambunctious merchant, a taciturn but cool mercenary-type guy, and a loud hunter lady with sizable breasts. Word gets to Yuufa that her dead brother may still be alive, so off they go on their quest to find him.

Let's take a quick survey now. Have you ever played an RPG? Have you ever just wandered around a town, talking to all the NPCs and hoping to milk some information from them about your next quest? Have you spent hours just running around a field, hitting things so you could buy a sword from the swordsmith? Have you ever been so bored out of your mind from leveling that the very thought of casting Thunder on yet another goblin makes you weep? Then maybe you should just channel all of those memories, savor them, go drink a soda, and then just move on with your life. Maybe go play another game or something, because there is absolutely nothing that you could possibly gain from watching Ragnarok.

For starters, it makes zero effort to hide its RPG roots. The characters literally behave as if someone were controlling them from afar, commanding them to do every mundane activity written into the code. They don't seem to have any important goals, and are perfectly content to just wander around aimlessly, buying things and hitting things. Even when there is an inkling of storyline, the writers are too lazy to explain it. They're too lazy to explain anything that happens. When they're tired of having Yuufa wandering through the forest, they wave their magic wands and suddenly she's in the plains, rejoined by her group. When they have run out of possible things to say, someone does something "hilarious" by brandishing his/her giant sword, or saying something poetic. And by poetic, I mean the pearls of wisdom one might expect from a Pokémon game, complete with a fist-pump or two.

Even lazier is the animation, which should be given a medal for even having moving body parts. Think back to the old Final Fantasies where the only way you know that you've hit someone is because a giant SLAAAASH! graphic ripped through the screen. That's kind of what Ragnarok looks like. Oh, did someone cast a magic spell? Because the only thing I saw was someone shaking the camera and putting a dash of paint on a cel. If there is one consolation, it's that the artwork itself is kind of pretty, but it doesn't do any good if none of it ever moves.

Ragnarok makes me all sorts of angry. I thought that maybe the last time I saw it, I was just coincidentally having a really bad week whenever each volume happened to come out. But no, it's actually as bad as I thought it was the first time. This time, I even tried to convince some friends to watch it with me, so that we could lighten the atmosphere with some jokes and playful ribbing, but they slowly trickled out my door with pre-fabricated excuses, like having to go get their oil changed. When going to Jiffy Lube seems more exciting than watching some bland characters chopping at things with swords, then it's time to bury the thing and move on.[TOP]

That's it for this week. I'm going to go cry in the shower.

This week's collection is from Peter, who lives in the Netherlands.

"I've been collecting anime for about 8 years. My collection consists mostly of US DVD releases, though i've also been buying some series on Japanese DVD, which you might be able to spot"

Warning: the 4th photo has figures which are not safe for work. If you are going to click on it, don't zoom in if your boss is standing behind you, because it might be awkward.

Those Fate/Stay plush are just downright adorable.

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


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