Shelf Life
Dragon Age

by Erin Finnegan, Dec 7th 2009

I'm still a little freaked out by some participants the forums who want to interpret this column as a be-all and end-all rating system. In the old days, when people read newspapers, it was pretty common to compare newspapers as sources on any given topic, including movie reviews. My parents would compare a few star ratings in two or three local newspapers before they saw a movie. (Maybe they still do this, but newspapers are in severe decline.) Siskel and Ebert's TV shows and columns all had the same shtick of "Thumbs up" or "Thumbs down". If you knew your tastes were more like Ebert's, you might trust his "Thumbs up" more than Siskel's.

I think triangulating your opinion with the voice of multiple reviewers is a wise thing to do. I have one friend who always compares Rotten Tomatoes movie ratings to The Onion. I reviewed Blassreiter in the last column, and it was also reviewed more formally elsewhere on this site by Theron Martin, and it was reviewed in the Spring anime guide by several reviewers. You don't even need to leave this site to compare sources, but if you did, there are thousands of anime review blogs and even podcasts. Although in a perfect world, you could find a reviewer whose tastes exactly matched yours, most people end up comparing a few different opinions.

Above all, reviews are opinion pieces. This isn't a science. There is no one definitive correct grade for anime. You may complain all you like that I had the audacity to give something a "Perishable" rating, but that hardly makes me wrong.

This week I watched one series for kids and two series about boobs. I think I've graded them appropriately.

Sure, I'd sporadically watched Dragonball on Cartoon Network back in the day, but for some reason, I rarely caught the episodes in sequential order. I often enjoyed the original series more than Dragonball Z. Even after I started to become a much more serious anime fan, I never watched Dragonball subbed… until last weekend.

This box set picks up with an obvious season finale from the previous set. The first few episodes have the feel of a much older series for young boys. Every few minutes, something happens that would amuse a gradeschooler. Helpfully, the wonderful book Even a Monkey Can Draw Manga enumerates exactly what kids want to see in comics aimed at them: "Bugs, crap, fire, butts, weenies, animals, cars, boobies, monsters, gum, gummy bears, and trucks." Here's my list of kid-appeal things in Dragonball: Ninjas, guns, animals, monkeys, baby monkeys, a giant snow cone, dragons, robots, a Terminator, tanks, peeing, fights, butt jokes, mazes, Frankenstein, pirate treasure, volcanoes, and submarines.

Not only are there weenies (well, just Goku's), there is a lot of monster fighting. It's no wonder Shonen Jump had a circulation of 6.53 million in 1995. My dream is to go back in time to 1987 and transfer my 2nd grade childhood self to Japan, where I could learn fluent Japanese, read Weekly Shonen Jump in its heyday, and then return to the U.S. before the economic bubble bursts.

Episodes 32-35 are a freewheeling good time, but the Muscle Tower arc (36-41) was really boring. An "invincible" pink gooey monster in episode 40 gave me flashbacks (flashforwards?) to Majin Boo. Episodes 42-49 are amusing enough, but the search for pirate treasure in episodes 50-54 was horribly dull. I had seen 55-57 on Cartoon Network before I had heard of Dr. Slump, and if you don't know it's a crossover, it's pretty trippy.

I had never seen episodes 58-61 before, but those episodes were really played to the strength of the series. Tao Pai Pai is an amusing badass, and in case you forget, "Kill You" is written on the back of his outfit. Korin, the ancient monk-cat, is now my favorite Dragonball character. I'm asking for some Korin plushies for Christmas.

I suspect Tao Pai Pai and Korin are great because Toriyama has gone to such great lengths to show us how the limits of Goku's invincibility. Bullets just bounce off his chest! After 58 episodes, it seems like it'd be difficult to invent ever-tougher characters, but Toriyama pulls it off with comic genius. Tao Pai Pai kills a man using only a strike from his tongue, and, in another awesome sequence, he stops a would-be assassin's bullet with his shoe without breaking his stride. It's a brilliant mix of comedy and martial arts.

At the end of the set, I was desperate to find out what happens next. I asked my husband, but he'd seen it raw at the Denver Anime International club in like 1992 (video evidence at 3:22 as we pan past his face) . "You have to remember what happened 17 years ago!" I said, too lazy to read Wikipedia. That's the magic of Dragonball; it creates a need in the viewer to find out what happens next.

Watching the dub with subs on reveals a lot of the too-racy-for-American-TV jokes about homosexuality, alcohol, and even the prospect of Bulma getting raped by soldiers. In English, there are a lot of additional jokes, as if the folks at CN were worried it wouldn't be funny enough for their network. The dub is OK, but then you're missing Shenron the dragon's cool theme song.

This set comes with a color booklet of character profiles and episode descriptions, but not much else in the way of extras. Also, Marathon Mode is great, but it should really skip the episode recaps and jump right to the title screen.

I'm glad to have seen this in Japanese, but I'll probably never watch it again. The whole time I felt like I ought to be reading the manga instead - that's why for me, this is a rental.[TOP]

If I only watch a title once, it's a rental, but if I find it morally repugnant, it's perishable. Like Popotan.

In the original Call of Cthulu tabletop RPG, after witnessing scenes of mind-bending horror, your character would slide towards madness by losing so-called "sanity points." I lost sanity points watching Popotan. The character designs are nice, the ending theme is mind-blowingly cute, but overall, it's a prurient work, with no social, educational, or societal value.

This is primarily a series about boobs. In the first five minutes, a boy who couldn't be older than a 6th grader dives face-first into Ai's ample bosom, by accident, and it happens that she is only wearing a towel. At least you know what you're in for.

Ai, Mai, and Mii live in a big house with a huge Japanese bathtub ofuro thingy, so you're guaranteed at least one naked bathing scene per episode.

There is a larger plot about talking to dandelions and moving the house and being on a journey or a quest, but it doesn't resolve in a satisfying way. Sometimes the girls sell Christmas ornaments out of a store in the house, but there is only one Christmas episode in the show (maybe 1.5).

One could say Popotan failed to amuse me because I have breasts. As a heterosexual female, breasts are just part of everyday life. To me, breasts are not a plot point, a punch line, or a character trait. The characters in Popotan are as much defined by their cup size as anything else. Ai is about a DD, Mai is maybe an A, and Mii is like an AA, although really she's too young to be wearing a bra in the first place.

In the scene that really broke my brain, Ai and Mii are in a department store trying on bras. Ai asks the store clerk if they have a larger size in stock, and the clerk profusely apologizes, Ai has just tried on the largest bra in the store. Meanwhile, in the adjacent fitting room Mii asks if they have a smaller bra size. They don't - she has just tried on the store's smallest bra. Admittedly, this is a funny scene, but it's really disturbing. Here's why:

I don't remember Mii's age being stated explicitly, but she carries the square backpack of an elementary school student.

I'd like to state here that I'm not some kind of prude. I am against censorship. I don't think I'm taking an extremist viewpoint here when I say that I am anti-child pornography.

The truly disturbing thing about Popotan is not just that Mii exists, or that in the visual novel this series is based on, Mii gets more sex scenes than any other character. The really disturbing part is that young or young-looking characters appear in lots of shows (Kiddy Grade, Burst Angel, the Familiar of Zero, Indian Summer). Clearly there is a large demand for characters this young in sexy situations, and it's so pervasive in otaku pop culture that it's accepted in Japan. Popotan aired on TV in 2003.

The dub is disturbingly loyal to the Japanese. That is to say, the English actors do a great job equating their Japanese counterparts, but I feel bad that they had to watch Mii's panty-flashing antics.

Without Mii, this would just be some dumb sex comedy. There are at least two other reviews of the show on this site if you disagree with mine.[TOP]

Maybe because I watched Dragonaut the same week as Popotan, Dragonaut seemed like innocent fun.

Perhaps Dragonaut is best explained by Strong Bad's lyrics to his song, Trogdor:

"Trogdor was a man!
I mean, he was a dragon man.
Or maybe he was just a dragon.
But he was still Trogdor!"

In the relatively near future, some aliens have destroyed Pluto (jerks!) and are threatening the Earth. Our best hope for protection comes from a government agency developing things called dragons, who are more or less hot-bodied young people who turn into mech-like dragons. Jin, our protagonist (with a most unfortunate haircut), gets involved with the dragon-developing scientists after he loses his family in a shuttlecraft explosion.

Here are some things I liked about Dragonaut:

  • There are no elementary school student panty flashes. (Wait, how old is Sieglinde?)
  • Dragonaut is an equal opportunity fan service provider, with both very large breasted women and hot shirtless guys. Even the crusty old butler is surprisingly built.
  • There are dragons in it. I like dragons.
  • The production values are surprisingly high for such a crappy show.
  • This set ends with a line similar to Hauser's from Total Recall: "Get your ass to Mars!"

Here are some things I didn't like:

  • Characters have laughably bad titles/names, like "The Album" and "Howling Star". What is this, Soul Eater?
  • There isn't enough dragon action. The dragons spend way too much time in human form.
  • The dragons are more or less mechs, and the mechs are not as cool as Seto Kaiba's dragon jet in the first Yu-Gi-Oh! movie. (If I were the richest kid on Earth, I might also commission a dragon jet.)

Episode four in particular ends on a high note, as Jin rides a dragon into space towards the moon. That's really cool! I like the moon. Too bad it's just covered with boring suburbs. The hot springs episode on the moon is hard to believe, but surprisingly amusing as far as hot springs episodes go. It's a nice mix of action and comedy.

After the hot springs episode, the series utterly failed to hold my attention. I couldn't care less for large breasted evil sergeants and some weird government conspiracy and a generic-sounding plot about capturing "The Album" who happens to be Jin's mate-for-life dragon girlfriend Toa.

Jin and Toa are separated, and spend several episodes trying to reunite. It gave me some flashbacks to Fushigi Yûgi: "Tamahome!!" "Miaka!!"

It's hard to take Toa's role as the extremely powerful "Album" seriously, in part because she wears hot pants, and her butt is drawn with different levels of shiny highlights. As someone who owns Plastic Little, I don't have much room to complain, but at least Plastic Little kept things short (it's a 45 minute OVA). Dragonaut is 25 episodes. I can't imagine anyone so compelled by the first half that they'd also watch the second half. Maybe you'd buy it just to be a completist, but are you really going to watch the second half? Shouldn't you spend that money on something more important, like paying off that credit card?

Sometimes the dub is a bit tongue-in-cheek, which is totally appropriate for this series. There are no stand-out performances, but this is a high quality dub.

Funimation played a humorous trailer for this series at anime conventions over the past year. I don't think that particular cut of the trailer is included on any actual DVDs. It cross-cut between Machina and her enormous breasts jumping rope with dragons fighting, and then back to jumping rope, with some captions advertising fan service, fighting, and more fan service. This trailer was much better than the show itself. That said, I was lead to believe there would be more fighting.

Dragonaut gets a rental because it's not nearly as bad as I was expecting in terms of quality or misogyny, and the dub is quite good. [TOP]

From dragons to frogs; next week I'll take a look at Sgt. Frog.

This week's shelves are from Jen:

"Here you go! I am most pleased with my "Higurashi Shrine" :)

My collection has grown A TON since I started really getting into anime about 3 or so years ago. Not sure how much more I can fit into my studio apartment, but ~ I'm getting married next year! My fiance is NOT an anime fan. He sure puts up with a lot XD"

Strange, yet amazing.

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

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