Shelf Life
Band of Brothers

by Bamboo Dong, Aug 3rd 2009

July is over. Three conventions in four weeks. It was a lot of fun, and I had a great time meeting everyone (Thanks to everyone who came up and said hi! Also, apologies to those whom I didn't get to talk to while we were chasing down cosplayers in the hallways.), even if I got next to no sleep. On the plus side, I can try to go back to a normal column schedule again, because all those DVDs are starting to pile up in my apartment. Oh, and for all you kids out there with your fancy technology, I've jumped on the Twitter bandwagon as @ANN_Bamboo, so now we can be together all the time.

Welcome to Shelf Life.

For whatever reason, anime studios have long felt the need to make movie versions (or “two-hour specials, as they like to call them) of TV series. They cut and they chop, slowly condensing a 26+ episode series into a montage of rushed plot devices and flashes of action. Sometimes it works out okay. Sometimes you get Death Note: Relight, a “remixed” version of the popular Death Note series. It's made up almost entirely of clips from the TV show, with the exception of an intro and ending where Ryuk is chilling out in his Shinigami world, eating his crummy Shinigami apple and talking to his Shinigami buddy about the hilarious time he dropped a Death Note on Earth.

In order to understand this movie, prior knowledge of the anime or manga is a necessity. Without having at least seen the anime first, the events will make no sense. Heck, even after watching the series, the movie barely makes sense. Whoever cut this slop together has made minimal effort to retain any kind of exposition, so in the first two seconds, we see a bunch of people falling over dead, and Light cackling in the background. It's not until after this that we learn that a Shinigami has dropped a Death Note on Earth, only to be picked up by a kid named Light. Of course, we never learn who Light is, his motivations for using the book, and what he's trying to accomplish. We also never really learn who L is, and we certainly don't get any explanations for the interaction between the two, like their cat-and-mouse games, or all the different ways L tries to monitor Light's activities.

Basically, Death Note: Relight has no reason for existing. It's taken everything interesting about the show and thrown it out the window, and left viewers with a bunch of pretty images that neither fit together, nor form a coherent story. One of the best parts about the TV series is the moral ambiguity that surrounds Light and his earlier actions. Without any of that, this story becomes empty, which is exactly what this movie bastardization is.

There were certainly parts of the Death Note anime that I didn't particularly care for, but overall, it was an interesting character study and it was suspenseful and exciting. Most of all, it was a good piece of entertainment. This “remix” is not only a poor companion to the franchise, but it's also useless as a standalone work. That it even has “masterpiece” and “very good” ratings in the Encyclopedia makes me question whether those viewers even watched it. If you're looking for other Death Note things to watch, there's a handful of movies to choose from. But for your sake, stay away from this.[TOP]

Luckily, there are better things out there to watch. Especially if you're a shoujo fan. I was absolutely heartbroken when I learned that Viz was going to be delaying their DVD release of NANA. When I found out a couple weeks later that Viz had put the first part of the series on Hulu, I was so elated, I even did a fist pump. Without a doubt, NANA is one of the most entertaining shoujo manga series to be published in recent history. Written by Ai Yazawa, the brilliant mind behind other favorites like Paradise Kiss, the series takes drama and romance and the bonds of female friendship and mixes it into something that will wring emotions out of you that you didn't even know you had.

Adapted faithfully from the manga, the anime series does a wonderful job of bringing both Nanas to life (more so than the live action movies, which were great in their own way). To briefly introduce the series, it follows two girls named NANA who meet by chance on a train to Tokyo. Coincidentally, they end up being roommates and develop a strong friendship, even though they have completely different personalities: NANA (“NANA”) is a headstrong, independent singer who dreams of making it big with her rock band, while NANA (“Hachi”) is a naïve and dependent, but absolutely sweet girl who moved to Tokyo to be closer to her boyfriend. As their friendship unfolds, we really get a sense of who the girls really are, how they handle hardships, and just how much they rely on each other.

It's a heartwarming story, filled with perfect amounts of drama and angst, and as far as character dramas go, NANA is one of the best. The relationship between the girls is riveting to watch, and it reminds me of just how important it is for me to have close female friends in my life. There's something intangibly irreplaceable about having best friends you can count on, and this series nails that feeling perfectly. There've been tons of shows about females who happen to be friends, but few have really tested the strength of that bond like NANA. Yazawa has always been great at writing believable human drama, and it's translated perfectly into the anime.

Notably, the music in NANA is awesome, too. With one of the lead characters in a band, you're bound to be in for some good music, and NANA doesn't disappoint. The themes are provided by Ana Tsuchiya and Olivia, who represent The Black Stones and Trapnest respectively, and it adds to the atmosphere nicely. It'll be nice to see how the dub voices fare, but for those who don't mind their anime subtitled, the streaming version is plenty good enough.

I'm a sucker for shows about normal people with normal problems, and NANA finds a way to be both exciting, yet relatable. Watching these two girls go about their daily lives, and try to start new lives in a big city is an adventure that shouldn't be missed. If you like shoujo at all, then you should really be watching NANA.[TOP]

Of course, if you're looking for something that's a little more on the cute side, you can check out Kannagi, which you might've heard about if you've been anywhere near ANN's front page lately. At the moment, there are two ways to watch the series—the first six episodes are being streamed on ANN, while the first seven episodes are available on DVD from Bandai Entertainment. However, the DVD release is subtitled-only, so for all you fans who stubbornly refuse to watch anything that isn't dubbed, you're out of luck. On the upside, while you're missing out on some cute girls and some cute dances, you're ultimately not missing out on that much.

What's so instantaneously charming about Kannagi is its premise—a goddess has sprung from a figure carved from a sacred tree, but she's lost much of her powers. In order to regain her strength, she needs the adoration of followers, so she becomes a teen pop idol. She's not without rivals, though—there are two other girls who end up competing with her in various ways, one of whom is her busty sister, who wants to usurp her fanbase. In the center of it all is a high school student named Jin, who ends up as the lone male amidst a small throng of women.

As one might expect, a premise like that can only lead to plenty of cuteness and oh-so-wacky hijinks. Refreshingly, though, the fanservice is minimal. Instead, the creators opted to play up the silliness of the show, showcasing the girls' bubbly personalities rather than their varying breast sizes. It pays homage to plenty of anime genres, too, so for fans who love pointing out anime references, this one has quite a few to choose from.

What does make the series a bit more interesting to think about, though, is how religion plays into the show. It's not a major component, since the creators have downplayed it in favor of cuteness, but it is interesting to think about, especially when you consider that these goddesses get their power from the fervor of their worshippers. In interviews, too, both the director and producer have talked extensively about Shintoism and the contrast of having a goddess character decorated in Christian symbology, so for those who want to muse about it…well, it's there. That's not to say that Kannagi is secretly some deep thesis about religion, but it does add another layer to the collective cute-girls-singing-cute-songs onion.

Artistically, there is nothing that particularly stands out about Kannagi, but it gets the job done. Notably, the opening theme, which stemmed from the same minds who brought fans the “Hare Hare Yukai” dance and the Lucky Star dance—also features another dance. It's surprisingly well-animated, though, so as trite as this whole dance craze is getting, it's hard to find too much fault with it. In fact, it may be one of the artistic highlights of the show, aside from the blisteringly cute character designs.

Kannagi is far from genius, but it's a lot of fun. And luckily for me, it manages to sidestep a lot of the traps that I was expecting it to fall into, like harems and gratuitous amounts of cooking contests (there is only one). I don't know that I'd ever feel the need to watch it again, but it's a good way to pass an afternoon.[TOP]

With so much streaming anime now available to watch, I had a hard time picking a last title. In the end, I settled on Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, mostly because I was a huge fan of the first series. Somewhat disappointingly, after watching 15 episodes of the new, re-imagined series, based faithfully on Hiromo Arakawa's manga… I realized that I actually really do prefer the first series. Even though some fans like to raise a big stink about how anime series shouldn't deviate from the source material, I think in this case, that really worked to the first series' favor. It was dark, suspenseful, intriguing—by comparison, Brotherhood is like watching someone's YouTube reenactment.

Okay, that's a little harsh. But it is does lack some of that raw suspense that made the first series so great. For starters, Brotherhood is a lot more comical. It has a really high ratio of “Look, Ed is short!” jokes, and the characters switch to SD much more readily. The major events move at a brisker pace, too, like the confrontation at Lior, or the big plot reveal that takes place at the laboratory. As a result, the weight of each scene doesn't really get the chance to sink in. While there are upsides to following a faster pace, certain things are lost in the process. Because there's no suspense, there's no resolution of that suspense. Because there's no build-up, there's no climax.

If there is one big improvement, though, it's that the series really looks great. Having a few extra years' worth of technology (and probably more cashflow) really helped, and the animation looks terrific. The backgrounds look fabulous and even in the first few episodes, it's noticeable how much nicer the fights look.

Even so, I can't help but feel a little nostalgic for the first series as I watch Brotherhood. I know I shouldn't compare the two, because they're essentially two completely different works, but it's hard. I will say that I'm just as happy for the opportunity to experience the story again. Even though it's not what I was hoping for, I'm glad Brotherhood exists, and I'm curious to see how it'll turn out in the end.[TOP]

That's it for this week. Thanks for reading!

This week's shelves belong to Erin Stretch, who didn't provide us with much information about her collection, but we'll make do without it.


They're probably awesome, but I can't really see.

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


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