Shelf Life
Bridge Over Troubled Arakawa

by Erin Finnegan, Jul 25th 2011

As of Thursday, July 21, I am totally jealous of Bamboo and Zac waiting through panel after panel at San Diego Comic Con waiting for the Game of Thrones panel! I just finished watching season one, and I am totally a fan.

You'll hear from Bamboo next week, she's covering Shelf Life while I'm away at Otakon. Be sure to check out my Unusual Manga Genres panel on Saturday at 9am in Panel 2. Maybe I will bring donuts for the brave souls who manage to show up so early. (I work in the evening, so I've rarely seen that hour in the past few years.)

If you can't go to my panel at Otakon, one of the manga titles I discuss is Disappearance Diary, an autobiographical one-shot about a sci-fi manga artist who spends some time being homeless. Manga about the homeless may not be a large genre, but I just watched an anime series (based on manga) about eccentric homeless people last weekend.

Arakawa Under the Bridge is another pricey release from NIS America with a large book included (I reviewed Wagnaria!! a couple weeks ago). Blind-buying NIS releases puts me worrisomely close to a speculator; I suspected this limited edition box would be easy to re-sell if I didn't like the show. Fortunately, I liked Arakawa a lot. I might not re-watch it, but it seems like a great candidate to loan to friends.

Ko is a twenty-something rich kid from a family with a strict motto about always paying off their debts (like the Lannisters… or not). One day, Ko's life is saved by Nino, a homeless girl living under a bridge. Ko is determined to pay her back immediately… but her condition is that they become lovers. Fortunately for the inexperienced Ko, the beyond-socially-inept Nino doesn't quite know what dating means.

In fact, Nino just might be schizophrenic, considering she sincerely believes she is literally from Venus. Nino's not alone in her madness; living along the riverbank she calls home is a thriving community of eccentric homeless people, each with their own quirks. There's a guy who is permanently dressed as a kappa, a guy who wears a star mask 24/7, and a violent cross-dressing nun who runs a chapel for these loonies. Hoshi (the star-headed guy) is murderously jealous of Ko's relationship with the beautiful Nino, and sets about trying to sabotage their relationship. Further complicating matters, Ko's father's company tries to get him to stop living under the bridge just as he settles in.

A lot of Japanese comedy seems to be based on a premise where someone is doing something crazy or weird, while a "normal" straight-man bystander freaks out and yells at them. Although Arakawa certainly fits into this frame of humor, Ko is not entirely normal, despite being the voice of reason in many situations. This saves the show from feeling tired. Particularly, Ko's flashbacks to his traumatic upbringing are both disturbing and memorable.

The humor works well and I laughed a lot. In one of my favorite scenes, Ko presents an ideal date to Nino in a series of storyboard panels (almost kamishibai style). After a helicopter tour of Tokyo, he says, they will dine with the prime minister until such a time that the first lady feels like singing karaoke, backed by a full orchestra in the restaurant. Nino doesn't really get it, but enjoys Ko's picture show.

Although the riverbank setting is a little limited (most action takes place on a grassy field), the show makes a lot of effort to stay visually interesting. Different painting styles are employed to depict the foliage, characters wear patterned clothing, and the commercial eye-catches parody a variety of manga styles. Arakawa is one of the more artistically experimental anime series I've seen in recent memory. Even the previews are all unsettling yet hilarious live action footage of the kappa character.

The set comes with both Blu-rays and DVDs. The book contains a lot of nice staff and cast interviews, along with oddly lengthy and extraneous character descriptions and plot summaries. There isn't a dub, but the subtitle translation is particularly adept and charming (even going so far as to use slang like "sheeple" to convey meaning).

Episode 12 has some closure, but there is another season yet to come. It's too bad this is so crazy expensive, I'd like more people to watch Arakawa. Perhaps the best thing to do would be to marathon it with friends?[TOP]

This was a good week; I also watched the high budget and extremely artistic Adieu Galaxy Express 999.

I try to use the word "breathtaking" sparingly in reviews. I'm not sure if there was restoration work done for the DVD release, but watching this on my HDTV at 16:9 almost brought tears to my eyes as I contemplated several decades of international anime fans passing this film along on tattered VHS tapes well after the 1981 theatrical run.

To be perfectly fair, the film may be breathtaking, but the ending is nonsensical. The plot starts off strong enough. Two years after the end of Galaxy Express 999, humans and machines are embroiled in life-or-death warfare. The film's opening is reminiscent of Space Battleship Yamato, with a devastated Earth rocked by series of explosions. Tetsuro, now a young fighter in the human resistance, receives a mysterious message from Maetel telling him to board the 999 once more. More of a man than a boy, Tetsuro leaves behind his small band of gray-haired rebels and boards the train, whose route is now significantly altered because of similarly devastating human-machine battles on other planets.

That is an awesome plot (in a literal way rather than colloquially; it filled me with awe), but things slowly start to go wrong. We're introduced to Faust, a cool-looking, but evil machine-knight with strange powers (wearing a helm strikingly reminiscent of the playbill cover for Amadeus), who throws off the storyline. The plot seriously runs off the rails when the 999 is diverted to Andromeda. There are three major plot twists in Andromeda; one is believable, one is shamelessly derivative of another contemporary movie, and the third I didn't understand at all. I'm willing to look past these flaws and still love and shelve this movie, but I'm not going to rationalize it. 90% of Adieu makes sense, but that last 10% is serious nonsense.

Animators, filmmakers, and studios use "reels" as their resumes, collections of gorgeous shots and scenes from the work they've done over the years. Adieu is filled with one reel-worthy scene after another. The animators and everyone involved have taken great care to show the beautiful train chugging through ever more spectacular nebulas, then one-upping themselves with incredibly well-realized luminescent cityscapes of the future.

This movie (along with the previous film) is science fiction that I can safely pass along to my brother (a non-anime fan), who insisted on re-watching Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) far too many times during our childhood. You might not remember the original Star Trek movie, but it suffers from some seriously long beauty pans over the Enterprise. Adieu is filled with similar pans (and often with similar late-70's synth music), but where Star Trek: The Motion Picture I is incredibly boring, Adieu manages to stay exciting throughout. It is surely a mark in Rintaro's favor that his long, contemplative shots on characters' eyes or experimental visual effects never stray into the doldrums.

I'm all in favor of judging movies and television based on the strength of the narrative first and spectacle like visual effects second (or sixth, like Aristotle). Special effects films with crappy stories (perhaps The Cell?) tend not to be lasting, memorable works of art. Adieu is now 30 years old, but, as far as I'm concerned, it has stood the test of time. The effects and art designs don't look dated in a bad way (if anything, they look dated in a good way).

Adieu is an epic summer blockbuster made for the ages, with a palpable reverence for the original source material. It belongs on your shelf in a place of honor, next to other anime feature classics like The Dagger of Kamui, Nausicaä, and Paprika.

The image gallery extra is disappointingly short. I'm not convinced of Scott McNeil as Harlock in the dub; he just doesn't sound like he's taking Harlock seriously enough. Sometimes the rest of the cast has the same mood/tone problem, so I found myself switching back to the Japanese for very dramatic scenes.[TOP]

I didn't want to have an all-Shelf-Worthy week, so when it looked like I might, I decided to throw in the most mediocre show I've seen lately, Nyan Koi!.

I rented the first disc of Nyan Koi!, and I was… not underwhelmed... is there an adjective like that for the word 'average?' Average-whelmed?

From the half-assed Sentai Filmworks not-trailers on previous DVDs, I thought this was going to be a sex romp like Omamori Himari, but instead Nyan Koi! proves to be a mild comedy along the lines of All Purpose Cultural Cat Girl Nuku Nuku. (Did that stand the test of time? Do people remember Nuku Nuku?)

Junpei was an average high school boy with a cat allergy until he accidentally destroyed a cat shrine (d'oh!). Now he has to pay off his debt to the cat god by granting wishes to 100 cats. Failure means his death, as he will become a cat and his allergy will kill him. He finds that he can suddenly speak to and understand cats, and the neighborhood cats discover they can manipulate Junpei into doing their bidding. Soon Junpei's life is a (predictable) comedy of errors as he tries to hide his bizarre curse from his crush, Kaede. The stories are relatively episodic as Junpei solves the problems of different cats who often have difficulties that happen to involve human girls at Junpei's school. Frankly, this show is a test of how many times I can use the word “cats” in one review.

Everything about Nyan Koi! is run-of-the-mill (leading me to look up that phrase). Junpei is hardly a memorable protagonist; he has a healthy interest in girls, he's a bit of jerk but has a heart of gold, he comically freaks out as the situation requires. Even the production quality of the series itself cries out “television standard”. It is not anything special to look at, and the designs and backgrounds are nearly interchangeable with other high school series. The comedy occasionally had me chuckling, but not nearly often enough.

I would only venture to recommend Nyan Koi! to people who really, really love cats, which statistically may be most of the internet. And I don't mean cat-girls like Felicia, I mean you like actual cats and think they are hilarious. Nyan Koi!'s saving grace is the cat characters, who act like real-life cats (sleeping in warm places, behaving like jerks, etc.), or who occasionally talk like real-life old ladies (gossiping, etc.). For the record, I like cats and prefer them to dogs, but I do not love cats like some people do.

Perhaps because of the slightly low budget, the cats have no mouth movement and seem to talk telepathically, although they do occasionally meow. This stopped bothering me after an episode or two. I mean, who am I to judge? I loved Garfield and Friends when I was a kid, and Garfield's mouth didn't move much either.

I was mildly amused by a manba character in the second episode. Save for the ganguro girls in SuperGALS!, I haven't seen any manba characters in anime. Unfortunately (for me), Junpei solves her problems and she no longer feels the need to wear crazy make-up after a single episode. I don't think that's the way subcultures work, but it is the way trite television writing works.

There is no dub, and if there are extras, they're probably on disc two. Unfortunately Nyan Koi! isn't compelling enough for me to keep renting it.[TOP]

On August 8th I'll return with a review of the Rideback Blu-ray/DVD dual pack, among other things. See you at Otakon!

This week's shelves are from James:

"I have been wanting to send in my pictures of my shelf for a while now, but each time I going to send them in, more things would arrive and I would have to do it all over again. Well I decided that if I was ever going to do it, it should be done now. Mostly because my shelves have run out of space, and wanted to preserve the look before I had to do any more weird stacking and rearranging (because there's still more coming this year, and my shelf looks like it's going to fall apart and I need a new one).

I started my collection in 2003 or 2004 (can't remember). The first item was a DVD of Akira bought from FYE. I remember this because it was rated R and the clerk asked if it was okay for me to buy this and my parents knew about the movie (I was either 12 or 13). Since then I would get a box set every once in a while, usually because of gift cards. My collection really exploded when I got promoted (and a raise ^_^). Since then I have been picking up shows that I have had an interest in, shows I rented/streamed and like, and also a lot of nostalgia purchases (this is why a lot of stuff is still in the wrapping).

The weirdest thing in my collection is that I own both versions of Odin. This due to me forgetting I already owned it. Since then, I have created a spreadsheet documenting all my purchases, what I paid for, and where I bought it I also have the four Twelve Kingdom novels and a few manga but they are mixed in with my books and those aren't in their own collection, so no pictures.

It's probably obvious from looking at my collection, but I tend to prefer science fiction/action shows. While I do enjoy a comedy/drama every once in a while, I don't tend to revisit them often enough to buy them. I do have to give a shout out to both this column (both Erin's and Bamboo's) and also to the folks at AWO. Both of these tend to follow my likes and without them, this collection wouldn't have been nearly as great.

Also, I thought that Shelf Life has been a little bare in the cute animal department lately, so here is my lovely kitty. She has no name as we couldn't decide on one in time and after we found one, “kitty” or “baby” sounded more natural, so it stuck. The first two, she wanted to look outside when it was sunny, third is when she decided she wanted to take a nap on my bed while I was making it, and last she was sleeping on my sister's bed (the first two pictures of her were actually the reason I wanted to send in my pictures of my shelfs just to show off my kitty)."



Aww, kitty!

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


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