Shelf Life
Quantum Leap

by Erin Finnegan, May 23rd 2011

This was a good week, if not unusual. I worked during the day. I went to pub trivia (which I've never done) at a Red Sox bar and the Red Sox won. I saw some old friends and ate some Turkish Delight. A bunch of seeds sprouted in my fire escape herb garden.

And the anime I watched wasn't half bad, either.

Seeing that it just came out, I randomly bought The Girl Who Leapt Through Space.

I half-heartedly hoped this had something to do with The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (a Shelf Worthy movie), but it did not. The Girl Who Leapt Through Space (Sora Kake Girl) gets an 'A' for effort, but volume one was so befuddling as to be inscrutable. The fast pace would be a lot more fun if it were possible to follow the action.

Set in a distant future complete with flying cars, we follow Akiha Shishido, one of several daughters in the powerful and rich Shishido family. Unlike her more talented sisters (one is a teen model), Akiha doesn't know what she wants to do with her life. Despite being in high school, one of Akiha's sisters arranges a marriage for her. Literally running from the idea, Akiha hops into a spaceship and flies away. Suddenly a rift in space opens, and disgorges (along with a tremendous amount of space junk) a battleship the size of a city. No coincidence there, as it is in fact an ancient colony, and no sooner has she boarded it than a sarcastic diamond-shaped robot A.I. named Leopard swoops into Akiha's life. Soon the Shishido sisters are roped into finding spare parts for Leopard, who is in need of repair.

It made sense when I summarized it just now, but in practice, this show was hard to follow. I wished I had a dramatis personæ in my lap, to remind me who the characters were. Akiha's five sisters are all introduced very quickly and don't stay on the screen individually for long. Two detectives named Bougainvillea and Mintao start following the Shishido sisters to investigate them in a somewhat antagonistic, Team Rocket type of way. Bougainvillea and Mintao have such similar costumes to everyone else that I had trouble distinguishing them at first. Plus, they're so young it took me several episodes to sort out that they were police and not students.

Even though there a lot of cliché elements to Sora Kake Girl, like mobile suits and space colonies and booblicious spacesuits, I never got bored or felt icky watching it. What saved this show for me were the robots. Leopard is hilarious, and has a lot of funny throw-away lines ("I am gracefully surfing the internet. Now then, let's see how famous I am.").

Then there's Imo-chan, who is somehow both a robot and a potato, which I found amusing. Imo-chan can plug into a cute girl human suit as needed (with better results than Sgt. Frog), but mostly she plugs into ships to help pilot them, like R2D2. Since Imo-chan is small and flies, she's essentially a magic girl mascot as well.

The production values are very high, and the high budget and overall look of the show reminded me of Code Geass and maybe even Gundam Unicorn. I'm having a hard time describing the Code Geass similarities. Do they look similar because the shows share a mech designer? Leopard is voiced by Jun Fukuyama (Lelouch). The slick space scenes are not quite up to Gundam Unicorn levels of looking cool, but sometimes it seems like the crew took unused props and backgrounds from UC and threw 'em into this show.

Hilariously, some of the battle music sounds like prog-rock, akin to classic Rush.

This isn't the sort of thing I'd spend time watching if it weren't for Shelf Life; maybe if Sora Kake Girl were on Cartoon Network after FMA Brotherhood I wouldn't change the channel, or if I was watching it with an anime club I'd tolerate it. I guess Imo-chan and Leopard aren't enough to carry the entire show. Maybe it'll get better in part two.[TOP]

Along the same lines of mediocrity, Steins;Gate is an okay show… so far.

Have you ever reached for your cell phone after hearing a phone vibrate on TV? It happens so often nowadays that it qualifies as a pet peeve for one of my friends. He'd freaking hate this show, where the protagonist's cell phone vibrates dozens of times per episode.

In theory, I love time travel stories, but practically speaking, not everything can have the amazing budget and loveable screenwriting of Back to the Future. Steins;Gate is a relatively low budget, late-night otaku show about time travel. When I say "otaku show" in this instance I mean the show is about otaku living in (or near) Akihabara. It's for an otaku audience, presumably written by otaku, about otaku. I'm just saying it has an insular feel.

Rintarō Okabe is working hard to be a real-life mad scientist. That's admirably quirky, but I hardly think he needs to constantly practice his maniacal laughter. Okabe approaches insufferable for the first two or three episodes; I kept thinking how annoying he'd be in real life.

Okabe is building a time machine with his roommate, Hashida Itaru, a more "traditional" overweight otaku hacker who tries to make girls repeat dirty sounding phrases whenever possible. The girls in question are Mayuri Shiina, a cosplayer who claims to be Okabe's willing "hostage," Kurisu Makise, a more realistic young scientist who gets sucked into the crazy experiments, and Moeka Kiryū, a mysterious girl akin to Meru-chan who communicates primarily by SMS message, even when she's in the same room as the person she's texting.

Okabe and Itaru begin to experience some success with their time machine, which consists of a souped-up microwave attached to a cell phone, which they call the "Phone Microwave (name subject to change)". They keep experimenting on Makise's bananas, which raises practical concerns (like who in their right mind microwaves a freaking banana), to say nothing of the etiquette problems (they're essentially doing one worse than eating a roommate's food, they are rendering a roommate's food inedible). I haven't even gotten into the physics or electrical considerations…

The strength of this show is that it strikes a chord of what it's like to be a young, unemployed (or underemployed) twenty-something nerd with nothing to do except eat at cheap diners and discuss time travel. Everyone's hobbies seem to just barely override the need to pay rent. I have certainly been there!

The flip side of twenty-somethings hanging around in one room talking about time travel is that it makes for an inexpensive animated series. Between that and a reliance on cell phones to move the plot, it's not surprising to find out this was based on a visual novel. The character design is realistic to the point of being a little dull, and the backgrounds come in drab browns and grays.

Absolutely nothing about this show is flashy or attention-grabbing, and despite a murder mystery early on, this is no suspense thriller. It seems like there ought to be more cliffhangers. There have been a lot of interesting set-ups (some involving the Large Hadron Collider) but I don't have confidence that we'll get adequate closure on all the plot threads.

Steins;Gate is doing just barely enough to keep me interested, like a B- or C+ student who's only doing enough work to pass and not giving it their full effort. But what if Naoki Urasawa designed the characters and added some suspense? That would be amazing![TOP]

Fortunately, I did get the chance to watch one amazing title I wasn't on the fence about this week.

Eastern Star just re-released this DVD of Project A-Ko, one of my favorite anime movies of all time. Previously, I've only watched A-Ko on a borrowed, well-loved VHS tape, so I have to say that watching it on DVD was great.

A choicely retro behind-the-scenes video introduces us to the crew, including director Katuhiko Nishijima, who is missing teeth. And did you know all the songs on the soundtrack were sung by American women? Specifically, this trio of ladies, one of whom went on to voice Jem of Jem and the Holograms. But never mind that, look at their huge hair !

In all seriousness, this DVD has one of the best commentary tracks I've ever watched. Yuji Moriyama, the character designer and animation director, recorded a track aimed at American audiences roughly around the time he was directing Geobreeders. He gives detailed descriptions of which scenes were animated by which famous animators before they were famous.

Moriyama openly admits there was never a script for Project A-Ko. The creative team were just storyboarding a bunch of gags for a softcore porn in the Cream Lemon series when they were suddenly given a huge budget and told to make it a feature film. They dropped the porn, threw in some crazily well animated space scenes (think Macross: Do You Remember Love?) and ran with it.

This is a film for people who love animation by people in love with animation. Moriyama says that a lot of the animators were accustomed to working in television, where they always had to cut corners. Suddenly given an enormous budget, they went all-out, using twice as many cels as usual.

Here's the plot, such as it is: A-Ko and C-Ko are best buddies attending the same high school. B-Ko, a super-rich girl, falls for C-Ko and vows to win her love and attention by defeating A-Ko. B-Ko winds up building robots and mobile suits to combat A-Ko every day before school. Did I mention the town was built in a lake formed by a crater created by an unknown object from space (depicted in the space-y opening of the film)? It's like a cool future-of-the-1980's city. Meanwhile, an alien ship is on its way to earth, piloted by a Captain Harlock parody, to find a missing princess.

By the way, A-Ko has super strength, super speed, and we see her panties when she does martial arts moves (which is often). It's a parody-romp through all things traditionally anime, from a girl straight out of Fist of the North Star, to Creamy Mami (their teacher, who was even animated by the original creator of Mami).

The "remastered" picture quality looks great. It's hard to believe this was cel animation! The Japanese audio track(s) sound good, but sadly the dub mix is pathetic. It's like the actors were talking into Styrofoam cups connected by string.

The translation is credited to Matt Thorn, of all people. The dub takes some liberties with the jokes while generally staying true to the spirit of the subtitle script. In general I think the dub jokes have been over-translated, as if the script adapter was worried A-Ko was too weird or not funny enough for an American audience. That said, it's not a completely unwatchable dub, and some of the English jokes are quite funny.

Moriyama went on to direct a lot of A-Ko spin offs and sequels, but Nishijima never returned to the franchise. It's my understanding this film is the best in the series and there's no need to watch the others.

If you've never seen this, it's a treat. The film stands the test of time far better than the hilarious DVD extras (zooming into a mailbox, really?!), but I recommend watching them anyway.[TOP]

Watching A-Ko was a nostalgia trip for my husband and a friend we invited over (incidentally the translator of the Spice and Wolf novels, who just finished up some Haruhi Suzumiya books). It wasn't as nostalgic for me, since I first saw it in 2002, but in the nine years since I've worked in television, I've learned the many ways 2D animation can get labor intensive and expensive. I got a lot more out of the film this time around. I even happened to catch a single frame where a missile was replaced by a Pepsi can. That's the level of detail in A-Ko.

Anyway, I just got a big box of brand spanking new anime in the mail, with some, uh, "classics" like Chobits. See you next week!

These shelves are from Akiko:

"Also known as Akiko or Ayame, here are my shelves! For around 5 years, I've been collecting manga. It was a stress reliever after Hurricane Katrina. Due to the hurricane, one of my manga volumes is missing, and another is just MIA because it felt like it (curses!) After counting all of my manga, I got this number.

477 Present Manga Volumes, 2 MIA manga volumes, 5 Japanese Language Manga Magazines, 23 Light Novels, 5 Art Books.

For a total amount of 512 books (150 or so are in Japanese). I also have a little anime collection on my shelf and lots of games. :3 Every year, we have a tradition of getting a few anime figures for my birthday, so my figure collection is also nice.

Well then, happy collecting!"

Happy collecting indeed!

Want to show off your stuff? Send your .jpgs to [email protected] Thanks!


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