Shelf Life
Lil Romeo

by Bamboo Dong, Jun 29th 2009

It's summer convention season again. It also means it's time to battle it out with other fans in those one-hour Starbucks lines, and listen to arguments about who's a better trap. I can't wait to spend $10 on a convention cafeteria pizza, and I'm thrilled about getting to stand behind sweaty guys in utili-kilts on the up escalator. But, pissing and moaning aside, it'll be a good time. It always is. If you see me at AX, say hi.

Welcome to Shelf Life. Oh, and no column next week either, as I'll be battling my way through the LA Convention Center, one cosplayer at a time.

The more I watch Clannad, the more compelling I find it to be. I'm still not ready to call it the greatest thing that's ever happened to me (and I hear rumors that it's actually Clannad: After Stories that's supposed to be the Second Coming), but as I watched the second part of the series, I found myself sucked in a little bit. I even eventually managed to stop snorting whenever Fuko flitted into the scenes, although I wish they'd resolved her storyline, instead of turning her into a recurring gag. But, I suppose that's what After Stories is for. And hopefully, if this series does well enough, maybe ADV/Sentai will consider licensing its successor, as there are quite a few loose ends that remain untied.

Much like the first part of the series, Tomoya continues to work his way through the myriad of girls, learning the importance of family along the way (even if he can't manage to reconcile with his own father). Even though he's a self-labeled delinquent, it's obvious his forte is supporting the people around him, whether it's helping them keep a school club open, or helping them through hard times, or slogging through the multiple bento feasts that the various girls keep pushing upon him. It follows the well-defined path of moe harem anime, but the characters are interesting and weird enough that once you start an arc, you'll want to finish it. Plus the girls are cute, which is a given—even if their aesthetic isn't my cup of tea.

Even though I've slowly warmed up to Clannad over time, I still couldn't contain my skepticism in some parts. As much as I tried to immerse myself in the hazy little dream world the show has created, I still found myself rolling my eyes at parts—including the first few times Fuko magical girl'd her way into random situations. Because, you know… she's not physically there. I mean, if you can buy it and believe it, then by all means do so. Truthfully, maybe I'm just too hard-hearted for an innocent show like this. When the girls were explaining that Kotomi's violin was destroyed while they were taking it to the music store to be tuned, my first thought was, “…why would you take a violin to the store to be tuned?” When Tomoya was slaving away in her lawn, digging out grass with a little hand shovel, I was thinking, “Why aren't you using a real shovel? Or chemical grass killer?”

Obviously, I'm too much of a cynic to embrace some of the heart-warming gestures in this show. But really, innocent moaning aside, Clannad is a charming show. I also really dig the way these moe shows are structured, because I like the short two or three episode mini-arcs. It keeps things interesting, and it keeps the viewer curious, even if they've never played the game before. I imagine even someone who doesn't like moe shows would be able to appreciate the efficient way these stories are paced. It makes them easily digestible, and that goes a long way when it comes to entertainment.

So far, Clannad still isn't my favorite moe series, but I could see the appeal it holds for fans of the genre. The girls are cute, their lives are interesting, and Tomoya is actually someone I could support, even if I wouldn't wake up at 5AM to make him lunch like these girls do. And okay, maybe I leaked a couple tears at some point, but that's a secret between you and me, and I won't tell you which scene it was.[TOP]

While Clannad may have captured my attention for a few hours, I was absolutely entranced with Romeo X Juliet. Without a doubt, it is the best new series being released on DVD right now. It is absolutely wonderful, both aesthetically and also narratively, and I didn't sleep until I had finished the first twelve episodes. There are so many things to gush about, I don't even know where to begin—and this is coming from someone who, honestly, doesn't like the play that much.

Set in a fantastical floating city named Neo Verona, the series is an innovative spin on Shakespeare's original work. Juliet has been living the life of a boy for 14 years, occasionally masquerading as a masked vigilante known as the Red Whirlwind. On her sixteenth birthday, she learns that she's the last surviving Capulet, the family that ruled Neo Verona before they were decimated by the Montagues. The main gist of the story, we all already know, but never before did I think anyone would be able to stretch such a well-known story into such a lush, imaginative series that's an entity unto itself. One of the story elements that makes this rendition so fascinating is the inclusion of the Red Whirlwind, who not only adds an extra layer of complexity to Juliet's character, but also provides a catalyst for discussion on class warfare. Juliet is so much stronger for having that addition, and because of it, proves to be one of the most interesting anime heroines in recent memory.

Notably, the series isn't without its nods to Shakespeare. Aside from all the lines that are borrowed from his plays, there's also a character named Willy, a flamboyant playwright who allowed Juliet and her protectors to seek refuge in his home. It's more than a little amusing to watch him twirl his moustache as he references works like Othello and As You Like It.

Another thing worth noting is the stunning atmosphere the series has created for itself. The animation is gorgeous, save for the few shots of Montague flags flapping in the wind, which stick out like a sore thumb. There's something about the way that everything is draped that gives the series a very soft appearance. From Juliet's flowing hair, to Red Whirlwind's billowing cape, everything is filled with movement, and it keeps the series feeling very dreamlike and airy. Equally delightful are the scenes in which characters race through the city. Rather than just panning into an alley, or switching between backgrounds, the viewer is taken around corners and through alleys, adding again to that constant feeling of movement.

Romeo X Juliet has given me renewed faith in anime. Despite the good buzz, I was skeptical of the series' ability to retell a classic in a manner that was both entertaining and engaging. But it's more than just a retelling—it's a total reimagining of the story, and it works so well. I can count on one hand the other series I've felt this way about in the past few years, and I'm excited that I can add to that list.[TOP]

My excitement waned when I saw another one of those I-know-you-got-the-license-from-somebody-else-but-maybe-you-could've-just-“forgotten”-about-it re-releases. Gad Guard. It's been a few years since I first saw Gad Guard, when it was released for the first time under the watchful eye of Geneon. Four years later, it's still a piece of crap.

Look, Gad Guard. I see what you're trying to do. I see your shtick. In some distant future, there's this spunky delivery boy. His family is poor, but he's got lots of guts and determination or something. I'm supposed to root for him because he's poor, but he's got a dream. And of course, he stumbles upon an ancient, forbidden technology. And of course, because he's so special, he accidentally activates it, thus releasing a giant robot. But he's not the only person who can call forth such things, is he? No, there are other people who have the same abilities as him—although some are far more nefarious than our gold-hearted child. I see what you did there.

But you're not fooling me, Gad Guard. I know you're trying to woo me with your gorgeous artwork and your fun fights, but that doesn't make the story any less hackneyed and trite. There's nothing about this series that's refreshing in the least. A boy finds a robot, a few secrets are revealed along the way, and eventually a great evil is thwarted. Except usually, there's some big important reason why everything happens, but not here. Apparently everyone and their relatives just stumble across these Gads, which kind of makes me feel like you're just looking for excuses to force the story splurt out faster. That's just not fair. The story should take the time it needs to piece together all the parts, and craft something complex that I want to see. Instead, it just throws things together, skipping explanations whenever necessary, just to get to the next conflict. If I was watching this just to get my fill of robots punching each other, then I'd be in Heaven. But, I'm not. I am sulking in my chair, angry that I have to watch this show.

The disappointing thing, Gad Guard, is that you're so beautiful, but it's just wasted on you. I know Gonzo is the big man in the house, and they're known for their visual flare, but it doesn't stop the story from stinking. The usage of dramatic lighting looks really great, and it really breathes life into the city that the series takes place in. It really does. Every scene pops, and even the robots, which have a tendency to stick out in some cases, blend in flawlessly with the surrounding 2D objects. Heck, if I had the volume (and subtitles) turned off, I might even see this and think, “My gosh, what an intriguing show! I bet this is fantastic!” I'd be wrong, wouldn't I?

I am a huge fan of mech anime. Huge fan. I love the mechanical designs, the whiny pilots, the punching, and the swooooshing. But it makes me feel so betrayed when I feel like someone is abusing my love of robots, and is attempting to sneak a pretty, shiny show in front of my eyes. I feel used. Just because I like robots doesn't mean I will watch anything with robots in it. I know you think that maybe anime fans are all about the “forbidden technology” and the kid pilots, but come on. A little respect is deserved. Don't mock us, Gad Guard.[TOP]

Now, with that bitter taste of resentment in my mouth, I moved on to something I hoped would make me feel a little better. I've been wanting to check out Kaasan – Mom's Life for a while now, because it looks so loveably weird and quirky. Available on ANN and Crunchyroll, it tells of the daily struggles of a beleaguered mother who has to take care of her rambunctious kids and her oafish husband. I imagine this series would do the best amongst those who have children of their own, or who have spent extensive time around children, but it's still funny regardless of your history. I laughed merrily at every gag, and I've yet to spend more than five minutes with a kid, so that's got to be a testament to the joke-writing ability of the original creator.

All of the characters are fairly amusing (the impossibly cute kids who are troublemakers but who obviously don't know it, the bewildered dad who occasionally drinks too much), but the highlight is the mother, a hen-ish woman whose face permanently wears a look of anguish. She's hard-working and under-appreciated, a good mother who spends too much time out of her day having to deal with crises like messy kids and bedwetting. By trade, she's a comic artist, but most of the scenarios shown in the series (adapted from the author's award-winning comic strip) are the familial issues she has to deal with. They're sometimes tragic, but at the end of the day, it's always rewarding for her.

Kaasan – Mom's Life is a really cute show. It's absolutely hilarious, if just for the mom's reactions, or her perpetual overwhelmed expression, but it's really fun. The episodes are great for when you just want a 25-minute bite every now and again, and a hearty chuckle. Drawn in the style of a kids' cartoon, it's simplistic and delightful, and definitely worth streaming.[TOP]

That's it for this week. See you soon!

This week's shelves are from Joshua:

"Here are a few pics of my current setup. Still need to organize it a bit more. This is most of the newer stuff and the manga I'm following. Have the rest of the dvds and complete manga series in another room. Left some space for my ever growing collection."

Now those are slick.

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


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