Shelf Life
Bloody Monday

by Bamboo Dong, Jan 4th 2011

It's a brand new year, and that means a crop of brand new anime to look forward to! And, of course, brand new re-packagings of all the old anime you've grown accustomed to, and a bagful of licensing rescues… Okay, so maybe this year won't be any different from last year after all. But I hear the world is going to end in less than two years, so this might be your fifth and last chance to watch Chance Pop Session or your final boarding call for Kyo kara Maoh!. Better jump on that bandwagon, because that train ain't coming back for at least another six months.

I kid, of course. I can't wait to watch Love Hina Again.

Erin's back next week, so sit tight for now, and welcome to Shelf Life.

Dragonball has always been my favorite iteration of all the Dragonballs. It's whimsical and charming, and for whatever reason, the constant search for more and more magic balls never seemed as tiresome as some of the later franchises. Maybe it was because the characters were more entertaining to watch and the episodes had greater levity. Of course, with every long-running series, inevitably there will be movie adaptations, in which entire arcs are crammed into a feature-length film. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.

As a standalone product for non-fans, the first Dragonball movie, Curse of the Blood Rubies, works. It even works as an introduction to the franchise, for those who are eager to jump into the series mid-season, but who aren't willing to sit through hours of character introductions. However, as a proper condensation of the first arc, it lacks on several levels. For starters, instead of using Emperor Pilaf as the villain, it introduces a brand new, movie-only bad guy—the greedy King Gurumes. He started out as the affable ruler of an agricultural kingdom, only to morph into a gluttonous monster once he discovers the presence of valuable Blood Rubies buried in the ground. For a variety of reasons, he wants all of the dragon balls in his possession, one being to find a means to end his insatiable hunger, which he laments is expanding his waistline.

Therein lies why the movie is good for those who have never seen the series before. It's a great way to meet Goku, and see how he meets Bulma, Yamcha, and the rest of the gang. It's even fun to follow the characters as they embark in a typical bad-guy-wants-dragon-balls-but-is-foiled-by-the-Dragonball-gang adventure. But for fans of the series, it's just tiresome. I imagine by introducing a new villain, the producers thought that this would entice fans to see the movie, because it's a brand new storyline. But the vast majority of the movie—the introduction of Goku and his pals, meeting Master Roshi, and popping out a few Kamehamehas—is a hastily cobbled together rehash of scenes that every fan is familiar with. So really, what's the point? It's not worth sitting through all those scenes again just to see whether or not King Gurumes will ever stop mining Blood Rubies.

But really, it's the same situation with every long anime series in the history of anime, that's ever had an entire season reduced to a movie, presumably to lure in fresh viewers, or make a few box office bucks. So the caveat must be applied—if you tend to like such things, or if you're such a big Dragonball fan that you absolutely must own every shred of officially-released video footage in existence, then there's no reason you wouldn't similarly like Curse of the Blood Rubies.

Viewing it as a separate fictional work, intended for newcomers, though, the movie is fine. It's not great, but it's fine. The pacing is rushed and the characters aren't done justice, but it's a perfectly adequate way to chisel away an hour and a half of your time.

It's worth pointing out that the original Japanese version of the opening theme song is vastly superior to the English version. They're both cheesy, and both sing enthusiastically about the magical quest that is hunting dragon balls, but the Japanese version is cheesy in a good way. It's cheesy in a way that reminds you of waking up Saturday morning with a bowl of Kix and watching Ducktales. The English version is just awful. It's torturous listening to what sounds like a failed boy band crooning lines like, “Radiant and shining, hidden somewhere in a field! Gotta heed the calls of magic dragon balls!” Yikes.

It's hard to honestly say, “You should watch the original series instead!” knowing that it'll carve away days of someone's life, but it really is a lot more rewarding and satisfying than this movie. If you want to see what all the Dragonball fuss is about, check out this movie. But don't expect to remember it a few days later.

Are you too cool for dragons? No worries, the next big fad is here—hot, white glove-wearing, demonic English butlers. An ever-faithful servant that can serve up a killer torte and gobble up my soul once I die? Yes, please! [TOP]

Ladies, your calls have been heard and answered. Black Butler is available, and it will take care of your fanservice needs for the next year, guaranteed. Being a lady myself, I definitely understand the appeal of hot butlers who will feed you, clothe you, clean your house, and protect you with their lives, all while smoldering at you from underneath a wild mop of carefully disheveled hair. I know I'm not alone—there's an entire mega-dollar industry of butler cafes in Japan, and even a handful that specialize in having western butlers. If my Black Butler boxset would listen to my problems at the end of the day, I might just be set for life.

In some era of England somewhere, young Ciel Phantomhive lives a charmed, but tortured life. He's the owner of a successful candy and toy factory (favored by the Queen herself!), has a beautiful mansion, and employs—wait for it—“one hell of a butler.” Because while he everything material one could desire, he hasn't smiled since his parents were brutally murdered. Vowing vengeance on those responsible, and promising to clean up the dirty streets of scoundrel-ridden London, he makes a contract with a demon. In exchange for the demon's loyal protection and hospitality know-how, Ciel has agreed to be killed and let his soul be taken.

It's a grim fate, but it makes for great TV. England is riddled with errant mobsters and shady businessmen, and of course, Jack the Ripper, so Ciel and his butler Sebastian are kept busy. Let it be known that Sebastian is one of the greatest butler characters ever created. His knowledge of international teas is second to none, and he's a fantastic bodyguard. He knocks out thugs by throwing fine china at them, and he throws silverware like a ninja throws shuriken. All without breaking a sweat or messing up his hair.

Although I've heard Black Butler takes a turn for the serious in the second season, and there are intermittent scenes of violence and psychological trauma in this boxset, it's fairly light-hearted. There are only a couple extended story arcs, and these are masterfully handled by the writers. The Jack the Ripper arc is perhaps the best in this set, especially for its grand reveal as to who the killer is, and the motive behind that person's actions. Normally I roll my eyes anytime anyone tries to write Jack the Ripper into anything, but the payoff in Black Butler was actually worth it.

Most of the humor is brought in through a great lineup of supporting characters, namely the serving staff in the Phantomhive household. The various servants and cooks are a mostly incompetent bunch, but the slapstick is never overdone and the goofiness plays well with the characters. Kudos, too, to most of the English actors, who do an admirable job of maintaining believable Cockney accents—or at least for giving it the old college try. Out of the lot, Ian Sinclair's is probably the best, and he uses it to great effect. Sadly, not all of the accents in the series are as convincing, among those the talented Brina Palencia who plays the lead character, Ciel. Her skill as an actress shines through in her other roles, but as Ciel, she falls short. Or maybe it was just an accent from a sequestered region I'm not familiar with. At times, I really wished the directors hadn't bothered with the accents, because while the sometimes forced accents work great for a comedy like Hetalia, they often do Black Butler a disservice.

Despite some of the flaws in the English dub, Black Butler is a solid piece of entertainment. It has a good balance of both comedy and drama, and let's face it—plenty of fanservice for female viewers. It's a great way to start out the new year.[TOP]

I also had the distinct pleasure of watching the third part of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood over the weekend. Before I get into it, I want to disclose something. I was not taken by the first several episodes of Brotherhood. I thought it felt rushed and it didn't have the gravitas that I was used to from the first series, and because of that, my opinion on Brotherhood was always slightly soured. I'm beyond glad that I've stuck with the series, because by the time the third part gets afoot, it is first-rate drama.

With this chunk of episodes, the Elric brothers are meeting Father for the first time, while unrest in Ishval is still very prevalent, and occupying most of the other State Alchemists. The subject matter is very dark, and it's remarkably presented. One of the greatest things about the Fullmetal Alchemist storyline has always been its treatment of the Ishvalian genocide, and the social issues that are raised from it. Both as a tie-in to issues in the real world, and as a sociological case study, it's one of the best and most engaging conflicts in contemporary anime. That the series chooses to maintain the Ishval storyline throughout the entire series parallel to the Philosopher's Stone really drives up the intensity of the episodes.

One of the nice things about Brotherhood, too, is the heavier emphasis on the backstories of the State Alchemists. Although viewers got to know characters like Roy and Riza well enough to appreciate them on a superficial level in the first series, Brotherhood really provides an in-depth look at their childhoods and upbringings. The complex relationship between Roy and Riza, for instance, really enhances both of those fan favorites, and raises them to a new level.

For those who are squeamish about blood and gore, though, be warned that this series is not afraid to make viewers uncomfortable. There's a great scene where Envy becomes a writhing green blob of screaming souls, each clambering to break free, but falling just short. It's terrifying and disturbing, and I'm sure it has graced more than a handful of nightmares around the world. Many of the episodes are flat-out gruesome, although it's a toss-up what's more frightening—seeing the various forms that the Homunculi become, and the plights of the very human Ishvalians.

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is a worthy addition to the pantheon of great anime series, and I highly recommend it to anyone who's been feeling a distinct lack of substance in recent offerings. Even though I myself wasn't immediately sold on the series, I've rapidly changed my mind, and I cannot wait to rewatch some of these episodes. [TOP]

Alright kids, my time is up. It's been fun, as always, and I look forward to your thoughts in the forums!

This week's shelves are from Justin:

"My fiance and I recently moved in together and decided to create an Anime room. These pictures aren't exactly just shelves, but everything is anime/manga related and it is interesting to see the whole room's contents. It was difficult to try and fit everything, as I've been collecting for years, and a few items had to be left out for aesthetic reasons. The last photo is a picture we had commissioned for our wedding using an Utena theme :)"



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