Shelf Life
Chocolate Bund Cake

by Erin Finnegan, Jul 18th 2011

In 1995, when I was a sophomore in high school, I took our school's required computer class, which was clearly a slight modification of a typing class from some previous decade. We used Windows 3.1 (the other day a college student laughed at me and said there was no such thing) and were not allowed to use mice, and when we were done with the typing exercise (or later, Lotus 1-2-3 data entry) we were allowed to play the two games loaded on the machines. One was Solitaire, and the other was Hugo's House of Horrors.

You're probably wondering where I'm going with this. In Hugo's House of Horrors, you had to use a "bung" to beat the game. Every time I hear the title Dance in the Vampire Bund, I first think of the word bung, and then of delicious bundt cake. Surely someone has made a vampire themed bundt cake by now, with raspberry syrup on top or inside…

“Your Honor, it's not my fault. She told me she was eighteen thousand years old!” Now that I've got that joke out of the way… Dance in the Vampire Bund was simultaneously just as gross as I thought it would be, and not nearly as bad as I had anticipated.

The first episode is kind of neat, and may be worth checking out even if you're not on board for the nude prepubescent vampire escapades later on. Vampires suddenly reveal themselves to all of humanity on a cheesy Japanese talk/game show. There is no protagonist in episode one, just straight on television parody footage.

Mina Tepes, the vampire princess, buys an island in Tokyo Bay to establish a vampire-only “bund” (like in Shanghai, she says). She has also secretly established a nearby high school with polarized glass that vampires can attend.

Things go downhill starting with episode two. I hate amnesiac protagonists and sexualized minors, and I'm getting sick of high school shows. I'm neutral towards vampires and werewolves.

Lest my entire review turn into a checklist of offenses, I'll try to get my complaints out in one paragraph. When our amnesiac protagonists smears sun-proof gel all over our child-like vampire princess's nearly-naked body, the scene didn't blindside me, though I'd heard about the censorship controversy, but I was still skeeved out. Unfortunately, my version was uncensored. Funimation's dub sticks close to the subtitle script for most of the series, but the dialog has been changed a lot for that scene where Akira (the amnesiac) expresses that he, too, is creeped out (in the dub, anyway). Throughout the show, Mina disturbingly gets naked at the drop of a hat, usually while preparing for battle (like Kekko Kamen, perhaps?). Mina does a bizarre scantily clad dance in the opening, and the ending credits are set against a zoom out on Mina wearing only lingerie (I gagged every time). It turns out Bund is also an equal opportunity offender, as there is also a high school girl in love with a little boy later in the show.

I think it's best to judge Bund on an episode-by-episode basis. Some of the episodes present some interesting ideas and/or cool fight scenes, while others are basically garbage. The conflict between vampires and humans at the school makes for good drama, and granted, Bund is more interesting and action-packed than either Vampire Knight or Black Blood Brothers, insomuch as it's much more interesting to see the conflicts surrounding establishing a new country (and school) than to start with vampire institutions already in place.

That said, I am totally against Mina attending Akira's school. She's already plenty educated, and just wants to go to the school because, as we've learned from watching anime, that's the most romantic thing you can do with your crush, whether you're an alien or a robot or a vampire princess. The cooking episode was just unbearable. We've seen the “girl who can't cook” jokes a thousand times in other series.

Mina is established as a two-faced character. Although she's kind to Akira and the “Fangless” vampires, she just may have murdered a student who got too close to her secrets. Akira struggles with whether or not he should serve a princess who is clearly an evil monster. That's a good internal struggle.

Bund has a remarkably strange editing style. Numerous fast cuts to still frames occasionally give way to solid color cards (usually red or yellow). The extreme close-ups on characters' eyes can be a little dizzying at times. In episodes 1-5, the fast-cuts look like money savers, but in the second half, the editing starts to feel like a sleek and interesting choice rather than a budget necessity.

Episode seven feels very final, but somehow the show continues, and the remaining five episodes have an oddly “second season” feel.

I particularly enjoyed Cherami Leigh as Mei Ren in the dub, who does a sexy job as a candy-spitting Chinese fighter and romantic rival. The extras include some motion-manga scenes containing vaguely important plot material.

Dance in the Vampire Bund looks great on Blu-ray. Regardless of anything else, Mina's red eyes have creepy other-wordly depth that comes across strikingly well in HD. Too bad I can't say the same for K-ON! Volume 2 on Blu-ray.[TOP]

I don't think K-ON! was meant to be on Blu-Ray. I watched volume one on regular DVD in standard definition, and I praised the animation quality, but I think seeing it in HDTV on Blu-ray doesn't do the line quality any favors. It starts to look funny in some scenes, as if K-ON! were cel painted and the paint didn't land neatly between the lines.

I'm on the fence as to whether or not this volume of K-ON! is worth owning. If so, it's probably the last part that's worthwhile. I haven't watched to the end of the series yet, but I have heard it takes a turn for the worse in the next volume. This will probably be in a series box eventually… perhaps if the price is right, K-ON! is cute enough to be on one's shelf. I can only vouch for the first half, though.

It is a bit ludicrous that there are only four episodes on this Blu-ray, especially for the SRP (which readers have said in the past is something I should ignore, but I think it's important to consider). I mean, K-ON! is no Gundam Unicorn in terms of story; you're certainly not getting a summer blockbuster of adventure, if the thrust of the action is girls drinking tea and playing guitar (is it really $34.98 worth of tea?).

Of the four episodes on this release, two are essential; first, there's the school festival episode where the band finally plays a show. Instead of seeing the entire performance, there's a (decent) music video thrown in. If this episode were included on the previous disc, I would've stopped buying with volume one. That is to say if it weren't for the second worthwhile episode, wherein the Light Music Club needs to find an adviser and discovers a photo album with blackmail-worthy pictures of the club's previous members. That episode is hilarious.

Here's where it all goes horribly wrong, in my not-so-humble opinion: Mio (the bassist) trips, revealing her panties right after the cultural festival show. Tastefully, we don't get to see Mio's panties, rather, we cut to a shot of a blue and white striped rice bowl. If only I didn't know shimapan and humiliation were fetishes, I could watch this show and still be innocent enough to ride Kinto-Un. What if this were a show actually meant for teenage girls? I'd bet Mio tripping in front of the entire school would be plenty embarrassing, whether or not anyone saw her underwear. If it were just about being a klutz, the audience could sympathize instead of fetish-ize.

Setting that aside, I could barely stomach the insufferably cute Christmas episode. There's a flashback to little Yui (lead guitar) and littler Ui (Yui's younger sister who acts like an older sister) decorating the Christmas tree. That flashback alone should come with cavity warnings and a fluoride rinse. I suspect this kind of fantasy of ideal sibling relationships could exclusively by penned by an only child (statistically likely in Japan). I'm not fond of Ui, she's just way too perfect, and I'm a little disappointed that she transfers in to Yui's school. Ui is an enabler. Yui will never be able to survive on her own, thanks to her sister's doting. She'll never learn to cook unless you stop feeding her, Ui!

It's starting to look more and more like Daryl Surat was right about K-ON!, and one should buy the soundtrack and skip the show.[TOP]

I got tired of cute little girls, so I decided to class up the week by watching the recent release of the Galaxy Express 999 movie from Discotek.

I've learned the hard way that one cannot prescribe classic anime in hopes that others will obediently follow my (unlicensed) doctor's orders. In another mixed metaphor, Leiji Matsumoto may occupy an important part of the anime food pyramid, but you're probably not going to eat this title just because it's good for you, so instead, let me assure you, dear reader, that Galaxy Express 999 is the molten chocolate cake of anime (with frosting).

I love space and science fiction and stuff like that, so I am all about this (1979) movie remake of a 1978 TV series about a boy who steals a ticket to get aboard a space train in order to replace his crappy (ok, average) human body with a metal body so he can kill a cyborg and avenge his mother's murder. Is that not bad ass? If that were the plot of a Hollywood live action movie coming out this summer, would you not see it? I totally would! (Unless it starred Nicolas Cage… that might be a rental.)

I love Galaxy Express for its mix of old and new technology. The titular train looks like an old steam engine, save for the control room, which is a glowing jumble of control panels. It's like the future version of an old submarine, with an infinite number of gauges and controls. Notice I said an old submarine (granted, I've never been inside a new submarine, I've only been in submarines that were museums). Somehow in this DVD version, the glowing windows and control panels don't look horribly dated. Only the robots look humorously old, as if they belong in Futurama or the original Battlestar Galactica TV series.

Tetsuro (the human boy) has a bizarre relationship with his traveling companion, Maetel. Tetsuro's real mother was gunned down by Count Mecha, and Maetel, a seemingly random stranger, teams up with Tetsuro, instantly becoming a mother figure. But what are her real motivations? Somehow, despite being so maternal, Maetel immediately gets a shower scene. Every time I see Maetel and Tetsuro's interactions, I just think that Matsumoto must have some serious mother issues. Fortunately, these Freudian issues seem to serve the show quite well. Maetel's character is deep, dark, and interesting.

Maetel and Tetsuro visit a number of planets, including Pluto (perhaps no longer a planet, but still my favorite), and Tetsuro learns there may be some dangerous downsides to the mechanization process.

Everyone in Galaxy Express 999 is sad in a romantic way: Tetsuro is sad about his mother, the cyborgs he meets yearn sadly for their human bodies, Captain Harlock and Queen Emeraldas are both melancholy figures who make cameos, and Maetel's mile-wide eyes are always sad for her own mysterious reasons. Even though there's a lot of sadness, it's never depressing, rather, the atmospheric nostalgia is like listening to enka, classic country music, or the blues; it's sad in a good way. The orchestral soundtrack drives home the mood exquisitely.

There's even a dub! Saffron Henderson (Gohan) does a fine job as Tetsuro, or at least an adequate job. At times she sounds a little Luffy-like. The script is close to the original, but far from slavishly similar. A single music number goes un-dubbed.

I have tried (unsuccessfully) to watch the TV series in the past, but admittedly it's hard to get excited about something that's kinda slow paced and episodic. The movie conveniently cuts some of the fat, trimming the story down to the good, essential bits. There are two movies (I'll get the second one next week), and this first one is a merciful 128 minutes, compared to the original 113 episode TV series. It's my understanding that this kind of TV series compilation movie was more important in the days before rampant reruns, syndication, and VCRs. I'm always happy to catch up on the cultural currency of the 1970's so long as I don't have to experience it in real time.[TOP]

Speaking of the future, I made a total ass of myself at work this week. I hadn't heard the term “future proofing” and totally laughed when one of the teaching assistants said it. It sounded cool, like William Gibson slang. “Ha ha ha ha!” I said loudly, right in front of a professor, “How could anything ever be totally future proof?” Two minutes later I read the Wikipedia entry, and turned a bit red.

Anyway, next week I'll check out Galaxy Express 999, Adieu.

This week's shelves are from Zach:

"I've been wanting to send in pictures of my collection for awhile now, and have finally remembered to. I got into anime about 7 years ago and manga about 1 year later. About 6 years ago I started my collection, which has expanded over the years to what it is now. Currently I have over 1,000 manga volumes and over 300 anime DVDs. I also have 3 other wall scrolls, and a few posters but I don't have them hanging up anymore. Sorry for all the pictures I have half my collection in my closet so there is no room to back up and take a larger picture."








Cool layout!

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