Shelf Life
Wag the Dog

by Erin Finnegan, Jul 4th 2011

Welcome back from Anime Expo, if you're reading this on July 5th. How was the Hatsune Miku concert? Sadly, the cross country airfare is a real killer for those of us on the East Coast.

If I was like Allison of Allison & Lillia, I could just fly myself out there. In a plane ‘borrowed’ from the military. With no real consequences.

I probably won't re-watch Allison & Lillia, but it is a solid anime to loan out to friends. In fact, Allison & Lillia represents a sort of baseline of goodness that I wish all anime achieved. That is to say, I wish Allison & Lillia was only average for anime, and that all above-average titles were better than this one. Unfortunately, two years of writing Shelf Life have opened my eyes to the amount of “average” anime released in North America. Despite my hesitations, this is a fine show. It ought to be called Will and Allison, though. Will doesn't make it onto the DVD art, but the story is told from his point of view.

Will is a bookish high school senior who is dragged off on adventures during his school breaks by Allison, a childhood friend. Allison is an air force pilot and kicks things off by making an unscheduled landing at Will's school to pick him up.

Although the story is set on some other planet (or in an alternate universe), it's actually a thinly-veiled World War II pulp adventure with a very Indiana Jones feel (archeology even comes into play in the first arc). The action takes place on an Earth-like world with one big continent separated geographically into two countries which are just coming out of the end of a generations-long war. Smushing a lot of European nations together in style and substance leads to interesting treks into a thinly-veiled sort-of Germany, and later, thinly-veiled sort-of Russia. Everyone gets to wear fun bomber jackets without too much cultural and historical baggage. Remember The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles? It's like that, but without real history crammed down your throat.

I didn't pick up Allison & Lillia sooner because the trailer from Sentai Filmworks is just the opening sequence with credits removed, and the theme song is rather sedate. The title and cover art of the DVD led me to believe this was about lesbian pilots (perhaps Last Exile meets Simoun?). I even assumed Will was a short-haired chick named Lillia. How wrong I was!

Like other light novel-based anime, this series unfolds over several short arcs. Allison and Will help a kooky old man and end up on a treasure hunt in not-Germany. Skip forward in time and they have an adventure with an Anastasia-like figure. Later they go on a rollicking peace-time train adventure murder mystery. The show chugs right along through the action at a nice pace and only slows noticeably a few times.

Some of the coincidences, especially in the first two episodes, are a little hard to swallow. Allison does a lot of things that should get her court martialed. Will and Allison's dashing hero-pilot friend Carr Benedict makes increasingly unlikely excuses for tagging along on their excursions. But as the old MST3K theme song goes, “If you're wondering how [they] eat and breathe and other science facts . . . repeat to yourself, 'it's just a show, I should really just relax.'"

Allison and Will are well-written characters. They even seem to exemplify the current Japanese trend of women as carnivores and men as herbivores; Will seems oblivious to Allison's affections as she romantically pursues him. It's charming, yet frustrating (no wonder the Japanese population growth is negative…).

I was particularly flummoxed by the ending, which seemed needlessly tacked on. I'll explain further in the forum under spoiler tags, but basically this series has an ending that Japanese people may consider very romantic, but unfortunately it's a trope that's gotten under my skin. Maybe I'm just uncomfortable with it because of cultural bias…

I've just realized I used the word “romantic” twice in this review, but rest assured there are also rail guns in this show. There is no dub, which is too bad. There aren't any extras, either.[TOP]

From no extras to all extras, I also checked out Wagnaria!!.

I have said in the past that great packaging could make a show Shelf Worthy. Wagnaria!! has awesome packaging, but I couldn't give it Shelf Worthy in good conscience. It's just not funny enough. But I'll get back to that.

First, how great is this box? At 10 7/8" by 7 7/8", you can cram it into your DVD shelf sideways and it will still be the right height, assuming your shelves are deep enough and you haven't taken to double-stacking (like I have). The box is massive in order to fit in a hardcover book of the same dimensions with all the supplemental material about the show you could want: character designs, a love triangle chart, 4-koma strips, and background paintings. The only things missing from this release are voice commentary tracks and a toy. Too bad the show itself just isn't that good.

Popura is a high school senior, but she's so short that she's often mistaken for an elementary school student. Sota makes exactly that mistake when Popura randomly asks him if he'd like to work at the restaurant where she's a waitress. Sota agrees to the part-time job because he likes tiny things, like puppies, the noble water flea, and Popura – but not in a romantic or sexual way, mind you – he wants to help them. This comes up when Sota's coworkers inevitably accuse him of being a “Lolicon” (which is translated as “pedophile” in the subtitles).

Popura and Sota's fellow wait staff are a motley crew of dysfunctional personalities: Kyouko, the lackadaisical manager, eats parfaits constantly and occasionally threatens the customers; Yachiyo carries a sword at all times; chef Hiroomi has the dirt on everyone and blackmails his coworkers; and poor Inami's severe androphobia prevents her from serving male customers, and worse, causes her to punch Sota whenever he's within two meter's of her fist.

The Sota-punching is so violent and so frequent that the show is reminiscent of Love Hina. Except, in this case, the love situation is reversed. Inami has a crush on Sota, who is indifferent to her affections and is determined only to cure her of her horrible antisocial psychological problem. Admittedly, I did laugh at Sota's interim solution of interacting with Inami by using a mechanical hand thing.

I haven't watched any releases from NIS America before, but I was impressed by this translation (unlike, say, Koihime Musō, where even I noticed typos in the subs). In one particularly well-translated scene, there's a joke about Sota getting “laid out” by Inami's and a pun about getting laid, and the translator manages to word it just right.

Like a lot of 4-koma-based anime, Wagnaria!! has quick scenes based on short format jokes. At first, I kept thinking it was based on a game because, were it a game, Sota could have a choice of dating Popura, Inami, Yachiyo, or (the hereto for un-introduced homeless liar) Aoi. If the game were ecchi, Sota also has four sisters to choose from (only one of whom openly hits on him). Sota's cute younger sister is the kind of responsibly younger sister who happens to look old for her age. Sota's youngest sister skeeves me out a little (how could she be so cute?!), but on the other hand, this show has the most chaste hot springs episode I've seen in recent memory.

I have to admit that the character design in this show is appealing, in part because of the slight gradient effect in the several characters' hairstyles (Popura and Yachiyo). Gradients look cool on well-made figurines. The character-driven humor of the show certainly picks up after a handful of episodes, but no joke, my early notes consists of, "cool if you like gradient hair."

For my money, none of the characters ever break out of their types and become likeable. Everyone seems wacky for wackiness' sake, so to speak. Eventually, Lucky Star won me over into thinking that Konata was more than just an otaku stereotype, and Ritsu from K-ON! reminds me of real girls, but I never found any of the Wagnaria!! characters distinct or memorable.[TOP]

Regardless, I'm looking forward to more over-the-top releases from NIS America. I wish Durarara!! came with such super-sweet material!

How excited am I that Durarara!! is on Adult Swim now? So excited! There hasn't been a more Adult Swim appropriate anime series in years. I hope to see some half-assed last minute Cartoon Network inspired Celty cosplay at Otakon this year, as I used to with shoddy cardboard Alphonse Elrics and newbie Inuyashas back in the day.

When asked by a coworker what Durarara!! is about, I fumbled on my response. "Uh… a bunch of weirdos… and street gangs… in this Tokyo neighborhood called Ikebukuro… and there's like, some supernatural stuff? Like a guy who throws vending machines…? I mean there's this headless chick who rides a motorcycle and fights with a scythe. It's really cool. Trust me." Good thing I already graduated film school, because that pitch would have been a total fail.

Re-watching this series has been a delight. Part Two contains my favorite episode of Durarara!!, episode 11, where crowd-sourcing saves the day. Earlier, I dissed some of the Slasher arc episodes but re-watching them made me appreciate Shizuo's great character moments in episode 17.

Celty, the masked rider, is easily my favorite character in the show, and this is a show with a lot of great characters to choose from. Episodes 11 and 12 drive home exactly how unusual the relationship is between Celty and her self-appointed protector, the renegade doctor Shinra. It comes to light that Shinra knows a few key details about Celty's past that he has kept secret, and when Celty finds out, the shit hits the fan. Fortunately, Shinra has planned for that moment. He comes clean to Celty in a great scene for both characters.

And their relationship truly is weird, especially Shinra's early interactions with Celty. She is a literal monster, but Shinra accepts her and loves her for who (and what) she is right now, and not who she'll be if she manages to retrieve her head. Celty starts to realize that she needs to learn to accept herself for who she is right now, as Shinra has. That is an awesome lesson. This is an awesome show. (And there are more layers of complexity their relationship than I'm not even getting into here…)

In fact, the theme of this set is love. We learn that even the Slasher is acting out of love, although it's an even more twisted sort of love.

Speaking of love, it turns out Kari Wahlgren (Celty) is rapidly becoming my favorite female dub voice actress of all time (she's also Haruka?! Great!). Unfortunately, I'm not convinced of Crispin Freeman as Shizuo; he just doesn't sound tough enough. I probably just like Daisuke Ono more since I heard him first when the show was streaming. Don't get me wrong, Freeman does a good job acting, I just think he's miscast in this series.

This set includes some color post cards and two live action music videos of "Trust Me" by Yūya Matsushita and "Uragiri no Yūyake (Betrayal of the Sunset)" by Theatre Brook. Yūya Matsushita looks like some pretty boy manufactured model-idol-singer, while Theatre Brook appear to be older musicians who actually know how to play their instruments.

So what are you waiting for? Are you waiting for a Durarara!! series box? Are you hoping for Blu-rays? I'd like to point out that I didn't wait for a screener; I'm spending my own hard-earned cash on this release.[TOP]

I'll see you next week, with some Ga-Rei: Zero.

This week's shelves are from Zoe:

"I have been collecting anime and manga for seven years and I have built up a nice little collection for myself. One of my favorite objects I own is My Nerima Daikon Brothers DVD set, because it got signed by Greg Ayres. I like pretty much every genre and I really hope one day Immortal Rain will be published again in the United States."


Nice shelves!

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


discuss this in the forum (31 posts) |
bookmark/share with:

Shelf Life homepage / archives

Around The Web