Shelf Life
Blass Radius

by Erin Finnegan, Feb 15th 2010

When I was a kid, I hated Valentine's Day. I mean, I loved candy (and still do), and I liked making things out of construction paper, but I disliked the awkward feeling of addressing a drugstore Valentine to the class bully. My teachers always insisted that I give cards to every kid in the class. Inevitably, I'd save the worst characters in the assorted box for my enemies. They'd receive my least favorite Wuzzle character (Rhinokey). If you got Moosel, I thought you were a cool dude.

Starting February 11th, 1993, my attitude towards Valentine's Day changed, when the "I Love Lisa" episode of The Simpsons aired. It's one of the finest episodes of the Simpsons ever written, and definitely in my top ten list of all time favorites. If you've never seen that episode, look it up. I know the Simpsons has sucked for a solid decade, but the jokes from "I Love Lisa" got me through high school. They are infinitely quotable.

Here are some series that you should not waste your time with watching this President's Day.

Here's my review of Season two part one.

After this weak box set, I have a lot of questions about D. Gray Man. How popular is this show in Japan, really? Is anyone in the U.S. a huge fan of this show? I can't see how anyone would like this material as a stand-alone anime series. Maybe it's possible to love a D. Gray Man fighting game. Or maybe it's a good series to write "slash" fan fiction about. In that case, you'd need to keep watching the show to gather more material for your hobby. As for me, I can think of hundreds of things I'd rather do than watch D. Gray Man, and that list includes going outside. I hate the sun, but I'd rather put up with its harmful rays than be bored another minute by this show.

In this box set Allen, Lavi, Lenalee, Bookman and Arystar travel through Istanbul and China on a quest to find General Cross Marian, Allen's ex-coach. The Millennium Earl sends his cat after them. The cat, threateningly named Lulu Bell, takes on the form of a human with a powerful Akuma henchmen who is half princess and half maid.

I really hate "side quests". I can't stand mini-games in videogames and I can't stand filler arcs. I eventually gave up Dungeons and Dragons because our campaign seemed to consist entirely of side quests. On one such side quest, our D. Gray Man heroes help out a village with a drought problem. They very nearly recruit a little girl with powers into the Black Order. The whole arc smells like filler. They don't defeat Lulu Bell. They don't find Cross Marian. Nothing gets accomplished. It drove me crazy and it was boring to watch.

In the first half of the box, every incidental character our heroes meet is a villain in disguise. The innkeeper, the sherpa, and anyone else who is nice to them turns out to be either an Akuma or a Noah Clan member. Our heroes are total naive suckers.

The bad guys expend most of their energy on splitting up the good guys, and they are successful over and over again. In my Dungeons and Dragons game, we tried to avoid splitting the party whenever possible, but the Black Order never learns!

The show boils down to two large and incompetent organizations battling against each other. Neither the Noah Clan nor the Black Order accomplish any long-term goals.

I want to watch the inverse of D. Gray Man. I want to see the show from the point of the view of the only interesting character, the Millennium Earl.[TOP]

Meanwhile, there are no interesting characters at all in Blassreiter. Suicidal teen Malek is halfway interesting, but he's unconscious for most of the second half of the series.

Here's my review of Blassreiter Part 1.

I once saw Lawrence Kasdan (writer of Raiders of the Lost Arc and The Empire Strikes Back) give a speech at a college screenplay award ceremony. Kasdan drove home the point that it's really hard to make a good film. Film is a collaborative art, and it's easy for anything to go very wrong at any point. A lot went wrong with Blassreiter, and on a grand scale. It looks like it went wrong in an expensive way, like Waterworld. (CG always looks expensive to me.)

There are tons of people on a given television production crew, and all of them are working on only a tiny piece of a jigsaw puzzle. Only the director has it in his or her head what the completed puzzle is going to look like. Each department has to have faith that the director will guide the pieces into place. Blassreiter is the puzzle gone wrong. The end product is a mismatch of three different puzzles pounded together and made to fit in a way that just doesn't make sense.

Director Ichiro Itano (famous for animating the gyroscopically acrobatic missiles in Macross) describes his contribution to the CG/2D blend in a sizeable DVD extra. That extra is 10,000 times more interesting than actually watching Blassreiter. Note that Blassreiter is one case where an unusually good director interview, a solid dub, and extra commentaries are not enough to save this burning pile from the garbage can.

What's really weird is that Itano was the Special Effects Director on Linebarrels of Iron (here's my review), which blended CG and 2D much more successfully than Blassreiter. Itano might be a great effects man, but giving him full reign as the Director was a mistake.

At least Linebarrels has a consistent design sense! In Blassreiter the CG Amalgams look like they were pulled from a videogame, the XAT/Zwolf characters wear inappropriately sexy Gravion Zwei-looking uniforms, and flashbacks are drawn by some third, more sane team of animators.

The writing is just really, really bad. It's like a road in such bad shape that you can see the iron grid beneath where the pavement has worn away (like in Detroit). You can see the bones in the writing. Characters meet and talk and move from one location to the next in series of inexpertly connected scenes. Half the time I couldn't follow what was going on. If this review lacks a plot summary, it is because I couldn't understand the plot.

There are at least two grotesque suicide scenes in this set (OK, one is attempted suicide). These scenes were clearly thrown in to add drama, but it's badly done. Real drama grows organically from the plot and the characters. These scenes are artificial drama signifiers. Likewise, a clumsy anti-nuclear war message tacked-on at the end. I'm anti-nuclear, but if Germany was really plagued that badly by horrible nanotech monsters, I'm kind of in favor of nuking it.

It's nearly impossible to care about any of the characters. The large ensemble cast is hard to keep track of. This box focused more on Amanda, Malek's adoptive sister and Hermann's partner (I had to read wikipedia to be clear on this). Amanda's voice actor, Jamie Marchi, puts in a strong performance in the profanity-strewn dub. All the dub actors try their darndest, but it's impossible to spin straw into gold.

Hilariously, the Knights Templar are in Blassreiter. Author Umberto Eco puts it best in his Foucault's Pendulum when he says:

"There are four kinds of people in this world: cretins, fools, morons, and lunatics. The lunatic is all idée fixe, and whatever he comes across confirms his lunacy. You can tell him by the liberties he takes with common sense, by his flashes of inspiration, and by the fact that sooner or later he brings up the Templars."

Blassreiter has a pegasus, a rainbow, a nanotech apocalypse, and a robot lion riding an airplane holding a gun, and I still didn't like it.[TOP]

After Blassreiter, Captured in Her Eyes is some kind of cinematic masterpiece, despite only being Rental Shelf.

Rental Shelf: Case Closed: Captured in Her Eyes (movie)

This was definitely not the strongest of the three Case Closed movies I watched last month.

It starts off with a strong premise. Someone is murdering detectives, one after another. Police Inspector Joseph Meguire suspects it's an inside job. During a wedding reception with a lot of police in attendance, a detective is murdered right in front of Conan's girlfriend Rachel. Rachel screams, looking at her blood-soaked hands as she realizes the murder victim died trying to protect her. It's pretty gruesome, and genuinely dramatic, (unlike Blassreiter).

Then Rachel gets amnesia. I have a problem with amnesiac characters in general. Amnesia is a soap opera cliché and it's rarely handled well outside of the amnesia-thriller Memento. I rolled my eyes at Rachel's amnesia at first, but the film carried it off convincingly. Rachel's friends and family are devastated when she can't remember them, and she has a great reason to have amnesia. Because Rachel saw the killer's face, the stakes are raised as she becomes the next target.

Early in the film it's established that Rachel recently won a city karate championship. Her amnesia causes her to forget karate, turning her into a damsel in distress for much of the film. I hate damsels in distress. I like Rachel because she's tough, so I was annoyed.

About half of the film takes place in a thinly-veiled Tokyo Disneyland. I mean, this amusement park has an Electrical Parade and a ride that looks like the Matterhorn Bobsleds. The end chase scene through the after-hours park is excessively long and terribly unbelievable. The park is totally barren of employees immediately after closing time? Conan and Rachel are chased and gunned down across the park and not even a janitor is around to help? I didn't buy it.

There were a handful of boneheaded dubbed line, many of them delivered by Rachel's mother (played by Julie Mayfield). Although I usually enjoy the Conan dub, I switched back over to the Japanese track for the second half.

The end credits roll over an oddball freeze frame. It's well drawn, but it makes for a '70's sitcom ending to an otherwise well-made feature film. I didn't mention it last time, but the end credits of Countdown to Heaven rolled over stock live-action footage of city skylines, akin to the weird videos that play behind karaoke songs if you go to a cheap (possibly Korean) karaoke bar. These are weirdly low-budget end credits for relatively high-budget feature films.

The movie opens with a really great animation of a roller coaster from the rider's point of view. It's an outstanding example of an animated background. If you're an animation student, you should check out the first minute of the film. Birth (an OAV from 1984) also has a lot of animated backgrounds (and not much else of interest).

If anything, this movie explored Conan and Rachel's relationships more than the other films I've watched. I am interested in their relationship problems, so I was drawn in, even if I found the amnesia and the amusement park uninteresting.

This isn't the best Conan film, but I wouldn't kick it out of bed for eating crackers.[TOP]

That's all for this week!

Tonight I'm going to see the POLYSICS play at the Gramercy Theatre. I wouldn't be a fan of the POLYSICS if it weren't for Zac Bentz playing them in every freaking episode of the Japanator Radio podcast. This is all your fault, Zac Bentz!

Because of a strange uploading glitch, no shelf obsessed this week! But check back next week for more phenomenal collections!

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


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