Shelf Life
Nabari no Go

by Bamboo Dong, Sep 21st 2009

In a few short days, I'll be heading to New York for New York Anime Fest. We'll be having a panel there, so please stop by and say hi! It's always nice meeting readers and friends of the site, so don't be shy. Unfortunately, this also means that there won't be a Shelf Life next week, but we can all party at Javitz, so no tears have to be shed.

Welcome to Shelf Life.

When you ask people why they don't like baseball, you'll inevitably always get the same answer—because it's too slow. But for baseball aficionados, that couldn't be further from the truth. Baseball is a strategy game. Every pitch counts, every play matters, and every last thing has been scrutinized and planned out, down to the batting order. That's why it's so exhilarating to watch, but not until now have the minute details of the game been so easily accessible, thanks to Big Windup!.

While there have been many great baseball anime in the past, Big Windup! is the only one that focuses on the strategy of baseball. Sure, it also emphasizes other elements like teamwork and friendship, but it takes its suspense from the game itself. Every single pitch is narrated and explained, every stolen base is carefully analyzed, and by the end of the series, if you don't have a greater appreciation for the sport, then at least you'll have a deeper understanding. The constant communication between the players makes you feel like you're part of the team, too. Heck, I have so much more respect for whiney little Mihashi that I no longer feel like punching him in the face. Despite his crooked little frog mouth. And his constant need to be babysat. And his irritatingly endless search for validation. But you have to give him props, because no matter how annoying of a human he may be, it's hard being the player that's either the hero or the villain in any given game.

It's obvious, though, that Big Windup! was created by people who love and respect baseball. Even the commentary from the cheering squad reflects a strong love of the sport, and it makes every episode really exciting. I never really thought that a show could drag out one game into multiple episodes and still be interesting, but Big Windup! has permanently changed my mind. One thing that really helps the pacing is that the show is never one-sided. It doesn't just focus on Abe and Mihashi—it also gives you insight into the minds of the other players, the other team, their coaching staff, and all the insecurities that they have about the game.

One thing did bring down my nerd high, though. The series spent so much time, money, and effort on making the game play look amazing that they really didn't care about anything else. They re-use the same shot of the band a billion times, and there couldn't have been more than two different shots of the crowd. I don't need them to animate every clarinetist's finger movements from a dozen angles, but I would like enough variation to not make it so blindingly obvious that they did not care.

Minor griping aside, I'm completely in love with this show. They could do this type of play-by-play narration for every single baseball game in the history of baseball, and it would still be interesting. The characters are easy to root for, the games are suspenseful, and most of all, this is a show that seriously loves its baseball. I've never seen anything like this, and if there could be more sports anime like this, I would happily resign myself to being a couch potato. Even if you don't like baseball, you owe it to yourself to check out this show.[TOP]

Baseball may not be everyone's cup of tea, but there is one thing that everyone universally loves—ninjas. It's true, everyone loves the idea of ninjas, because they're stealthy and they can run faster than Usain Bolt. That's the highlight of Nabari. And…sadly, one of the only highlights of Nabari, a show about ninjas that manages to be uninteresting despite its action-packed story.

The hero of the series is an aloof teenager who can't be bothered to care about anything. His apathy continues even after he discovers that he has a secret ninja power within him—basically, he can acquire anything he wants, and can also summon fat, writhing vines to do his bidding. Of course, such a power doesn't go unwanted, so plenty of other ninjas are now hankering for whatever secret is inside him. Aided by his English teacher and a few buddies (also ninjas), he reluctantly embraces his newfound lifestyle and fights off bad guys along the way.

All in all, it's not a bad premise for a show, and although it never becomes exciting to the point where you're glued to the edge of your seat, it's good enough to whittle a few hours off your weekend. The only problem is that the series doesn't seem to have confidence in its own storytelling abilities. It throws in tired jokes at crucial moments and goes for cheap gags instead of maintaining serious dialogue. By the end of the first half of the first episode, we can already tell the writers' favorite joke—the aloof teenager cares so little about the events around him that he constantly disappears while people are talking to him. Every time someone tries to have a heartfelt conversation with him, or tries to tell him something important, he vanishes. Ha ha. So funny. Get it? He disappears because he's aloof and he doesn't care. Which begs the question—why should any of us care?

If there is one thing worth noting about the series, though, it's the backgrounds. All painted in soft-hued watercolors, the backgrounds look like they were taken from a quaint children's storybook, like Winnie the Pooh. Except in this version, instead of having cute woodland creatures, you have generic-looking anime ninjas leaping around foggy cities, throwing shuriken at each other. It's a little hard to get used to. At times, the palette seems so washed out that it's distracting. Also, it's not entirely clear what they were going for. The settings aren't particularly whimsical or magical, so the artistic reasoning behind the choice isn't entirely obvious.

Bad jokes and sketchy backgrounds aside, Nabari is a mediocre show. Nothing truly stands out about the series. A big, dark secret locked inside of a boy? Eh. Character designs like everyone just left an H&M photoshoot? Double eh. It's an amusing show, but until some serious drama goes down in the second part, I'm not getting my hopes up.[TOP]

Delightfully, I got the chance to check out the Dragon Ball season 1 boxset. Unedited and digitally remastered, it's a jackpot for fans who've been aching to own this show in this form for years. And, after spending so many years watching endless Dragon Ball Z releases, it's nice to get back to original and see how it all started.

Although I can appreciate the muscle-headed beat-fest that is Dragon Ball Z, I've always preferred Dragon Ball, for several reasons. It's funnier, it's faster, and it's not as ludicrous. Sure, it has giant dinosaurs and crazy bad guys, but compared to some of the shenanigans that happen in Z, it's downright sensible. And, because it's not so obsessed with one-upping itself with crazy powers and super dragon balls, it can spend more time telling a good, fun story. Goku is just some scrappy kid who really doesn't know much about life, and ends up learning about these dragon balls for the first time. He meets some lifelong friends (Bulma, Roshi, et al) along the way, and everyone has a genuinely good time.

Given the age of the series, the restoration looks pretty good, too. The colors are vibrant, and although you're not going to get the same crisp lines you'd see in a modern production, it's as good as you're going to get. My only regret is that they weren't able to do some magic with the Japanese audio, as it's still in its original mono. It's certainly great having the original language track with subtitles, though, even if it sounds a flat coming out of my speakers.

I've heard people say that they prefer Dragon Ball Z because it's more brutish and has more fighting, but I'm firmly convinced that it's just because they need to watch Dragon Ball again. Granted, it's silly and goofy, and Goku's 14-year-old self looks like a toddler, but it's a lot more interesting, and it's nice seeing where all the characters came from. Plus it's uncut now, so you can see Bulma lifting her skirt as much as you want.[TOP]

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

This week's shelves belong to Alia, who wrote this about her collection:

"I've been an anime fan for nearly 10 years and I've always loved decorating my room to look like an amateur anime art gallery of sorts. Unfortunately I've never had much money, so I don't have too many expensive things like DVDs and figures. But I love hanging up posters, print-outs, and other pictures on my walls. If you want to read a more detailed description of my stuff, I've posted about it on my blog here. I'm hoping to eventually get a larger collection of figures and DVDs, and find more space to display them."



Whew, looks good!

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


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