Shelf Life
K-On Flux

by Erin Finnegan, May 30th 2011

I'm writing this week's Shelf Life out-of-doors, at a friend's parent's house on beautiful Cape Cod this holiday weekend.

The titles I'm reviewing this week have a lot of pun and parody potential, so just in case there isn't enough room to actually use it, I'd like to say that I wanted the title of this column to be, "How I learned to stop worrying and love K-ON!." (It's nice to reference the classics once in a while.)

Readers following me regularly might think I've lost it, giving K-ON! Shelf Worthy. It just barely scraped by my three criteria of being either re-watchable, something I might loan to a friend, or coming with worthwhile extras. In fact, I have watched K-ON! before, and I looked forward to re-watching it to check out the dub.

Admittedly, there are only two types of friends to whom I might loan K-ON!: hardcore fans or total newbies. The hardcore fans know the (how shall I say) Akihabara appeal of K-ON!, while newbies will think of it as nothing more than the simple story of some nice high school girls starting a band. N00bs don't know the horror, after all (and they're better off). When I went to Winter Comiket, I tried to buy doujinshi of my favorite characters, but the K-ON! section was far too scary for me to brave, even for Mio (the bassist) or Tsumugi (the keyboard player). Let's just say there are things in this world that you can't un-see.

Setting that aside…. flaky Yui's high school life was going nowhere until she joined her school's Light Music Club. The club is in danger of going extinct as all the previous members had graduated, and the two new members, the reserved Mio and energetic Ritsu (the drummer), are still two people short for meeting the minimum membership requirements set by the school. Fortunately, in wanders Tsumugi, a considerate rich girl, who was looking for Choir Club but happily joins the band as the keyboard player at their insistence. Yui is reluctant to complete their four-member quota, partly because she doesn't play an instrument (well, maybe the castanets), but plied by Tsumugi's free snacks, Yui is convinced to play guitar.

K-ON! takes a leisurely pace as Yui first purchases and then tries to learn to play her instrument. The first four episodes are devoted to the band working to keep the club alive, taking part time jobs to help buy Yui a guitar, and fooling around at the beach instead of practicing. Fortunately, my expectations of musical anime were lowered long ago by BECK: Mongolian Chop Squad, which is frustrating to watch early on because the show focuses on coming of age first and playing the guitar second.

It is a crying shame that there are only four episodes on this disc. I thought those days of packaging were long since over. The extra is a longish interview with Stephanie Sheh, the dub voice actor of Yui. The packaging indicates that the songs are dubbed, but there are no dubbed songs on volume one. The dub itself is adequate without being mind-blowing. Cristina Vee sounds a little breathless as Mio.

K-ON! cuts no corners on animation, especially when the girls are playing their instruments. If you liked the concert episode of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya (animated on ones and twos) you'll appreciate the detailed finger positions in K-ON!. The opening and closing credits are so gosh darn charming that I never wanted to skip them; they're essentially great stand-alone music videos.

But it's the interplay between the characters that makes K-ON! worthwhile. Yui is one of most loveable airheads in anime, almost as good as Osaka from Azumanga Daioh, and I was utterly charmed by Mio, who is serious-minded, yet scared of ghost stories in a childish way.

Plus, I can identify with K-ON!. When I was in high school, my friends wanted me to play bass if they started a band (I refused, in a scene akin to this Teen Girl Squad episode). K-ON! somehow makes me feel pleasantly nostalgic about high school, despite the fact that I actually hated high school.[TOP]

The rest of the titles this week were unfortunate. In my continued effort to catch up on Sentai Filmworks releases, I watched Needless.

Perhaps there has never been a show with more truth in advertising in the title than Needless (except Snakes on a Plane). Not only do you not need to buy this, it need not exist at all.

I had high hopes for Needless based on the cover art and the first two episodes. Adam Blade is a shirtless muscled-up priest fighting through a post-apocalyptic former-Tokyo wasteland. I like shirtless muscle dudes in the post-apocalypse. I was even on board with the silly shonen fighting plot; each of the "Needless" have one -- and only one -- super-human power, called a "Fragment." Effectively violating this rule immediately, our shirtless hero has the copycat power a la the Sharingan eye that allows him to learn the power of others by watching them once. Ditzy sidekick/team member Eve Neuschwanstein can mimic the power and appearance of others (as long as she keeps her energy up by drinking high calorie drinks). Our hapless protagonist, a young man named Cruz Schild, doesn't seem to have any powers, but is a fairly good strategist.

This motley team of heroes sets off to stop a super evil pharmaceutical company, but that's hardly the point of this show. Needless proves to be an over-the-top parody of all sorts of genres of anime, from shirtless fighting shows to the eroticized all-girl school genre. Unfortunately, the parodies stray into the realm of extremely poor taste around the third episode (and remember, I'm no prude; I liked Panty & Stocking).

An evil teen girl squad shows up, including Mio, who looks very young and carries a teddy bear (or bunny, whatever). It's revealed that Blade has a preference towards young girls, and he alternately dotes on Mio and lusts after her. I was grossed out by these jokes, and further annoyed that part of the gag is that Blade is, as you may recall, a priest.

Although Needless has a rocking guitar riff soundtrack and an excessive number of hilarious named fighting moves that I enjoyed, all the good stuff was canceled out by the end credits, where three underage girls lick each other salaciously like the animated version of doujinshi cover art. Truly, Needless is a show about excess of every variety.

In the extras, Cruz cross-dresses as a girl attending the same all-girl academy the antagonists attend. All of the gags in the extra shorts are cringe-worthy sex jokes.

The dub is quite good, with the only the occasional joke re-written to be funny for English speakers. The Japanese puns are explained in the extras as well. Andrew Love sounds great as Blade, mixing the right amount of machismo and humor to match the series.[TOP]

Unfortunately the good dub couldn't distract me from the overall sleaziness of Needless. Sadly, the icky titles didn't end there last weekend.

I know a lot of people like Chobits. Back in the day, every convention was filled with people wearing Chobits ears. If that was you, I suspect you already own Chobits in a much nicer box than this single DVD-width re-release.

Chobits is Perishable for me on two counts. First, I'm disturbed by the sexual politics. Second, it's boring and unfunny. Watching Chobits is like being stuck in a traffic jam; it's simultaneously mind-numbing and infuriating. For example, some of the technological references have dated so poorly that we're subjected to long, slow speeches on the concept of message boards and ISPs as they are explained to the protagonist.

Set in the near future, Persocoms are all the rage in Tokyo. They are the ultimate walking, talking, humanoid computers. Hideki is a student studying for college entrance exams who has recently moved to the city from the sticks of Hokkaido. He can't afford a Persocom (though he'd really like one) but, no matter, because he happens to find one shaped like a naked girl in the garbage.

He names her Chi, as that's the only word she can say after apparently having her memory wiped completely. And therein lies my problem with this show. I could probably tolerate it if Chi wasn't such a blank slate. As it is, Hideki must teach Chi everything from scratch, from vocabulary words to basic social norms like wearing underwear.

Hideki raises Chi as one might raise a child. It's obvious from the opening credits that the this is a romantic comedy, and the two are bound to fall in love. The idea that Hideki is both Chi's parent and her future lover grosses me out. It makes me think of Woody Allen (who famously married his own adopted daughter). Maybe this notion of incest doesn't occur to most Chobits fans, but later in the series the theme gets strongly reinforced (it would be a spoiler to say how).

If Hideki were a less pure and virginal man, he might've trained Chi to be his cheerful and willing sex slave. He doesn't, because he's a nice guy, but I think the show wants us to consider that possibility. Either that or I'm just a pervert with no sense of humor.

A lot of the show's comedy hinges on Hideki's embarrassment of Chi's innocent reactions. Chi doesn't know why hugging Hideki in the nude makes him blush. Chi's interactions with Hideki's pornography collection are a seemingly endless source of humor for the writers.

If and when I laughed, it was thanks to Sumomo's antics. Sumomo is Hideki's friend Hiromu's Persocom, a six-inch-tall portable model with an I Dream of Jeannie outfit. Sandy Fox's performance as Sumomo hits all the right energetic notes without getting annoying.

I suspect that Chobits was popular almost solely based on CLAMP's character designs. After all, Chi is very cute, and often wears entirely unpractical, nearly Gothic Lolita dresses donated to her by the landlady. I could see where dressing up like the characters might be fun.

But in the end, Chobits is incredibly boring. One particular snoozer of a filler episode early on features the characters playing a poorly designed video game for the duration of the episode. The plot falters horribly in the final episodes, as bad guys who have been waiting patiently on the sidelines suddenly rush in to explain their motives and fulfill their incomprehensible mission.

Chobits ought to be better science fiction. The story could've stopped to really consider the social and economic impact of everyone having a life-sized personal electronic slave. Are Persocoms taking jobs away from humans? When Chi gets a job at a bakery, she hands almost all of her wages over to Hideki. Does Chi legally have a right to keep her wages?

CLAMP only cared about making Chi as cute as possible, and in that they have succeeded. I have no idea why they put Chi's off switch in her vagina (is that cute?!). Won't Hideki be a virgin forever if she keeps turning on and off in the middle of the act? The show ends without answering that sort of vital question.[TOP]

Speaking of cute things, we watched baby chipmunks playing in the backyard this morning and in the afternoon we watched tiny adorable fiddler crabs dodge our steps on the beach. The lawns here in Cape Cod are inexplicably perfect, like the village in The Prisoner. Next week I will return to my cramped New York City apartment to write about the new Utena DVDs.

This week's shelves hail all the way from France, thanks to GroManu!

"Hi, Here's something you don't get so often: French shelves. This collection was started about three years ago and keeps growing at a steady pace. Although since I just recently finished my studies, started working full-time and finally rented a flat with enough space to match my collecting frenzy, I expect it to grow rather exponentially from now on. Stuff I'm the proudest of: mainly everything that stands on the upper shelves and particularly my "Kyoto Haru" doujinshi by Takashi Takeuchi and Jin Kobayashi that I'm bought at Winter Comiket when I when to Japan a few months ago. (Yeah, I just HAD to boast that I went there. After all, showing off is what this collumn is all about ^^)

Keep up the fantastic work at ANN.

GroManu from Grenoble (France)"



Nice digs!

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


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