Shelf Life
Sound and the Fury

by Erin Finnegan, Aug 15th 2011

I have this problem where I keep buying more manga than I can read. Once you're locked into a series, it's hard to stop… I haven't read Yakitate!! Japan!! in ten volumes, but I keep buying it. I assume I'll catch up eventually, but reading it makes me want to eat artisanal bread, so it's a dangerous series.

Allison and Lillia Part 1 was so good that I went ahead and bought part 2. I mean, it's not like I was going to stop watching it; I was locked in.

I discussed in my review of Allison and Lillia part 1, that in an ideal world, Allison would be an average Rental Shelf title. At first I wrote this review of part two with a Rental rating, but in the end I couldn't justify it. I can't remember a single redeeming thing about part two, so I'm rating it Perishable.

In part two, we follow the second generation of heroes from the first season. Lillia pals around with new potential-love-interest/partner-in-crime Trieze just like her parents palled around with Carr Benedict growing up. Unfortunately, Lillia gets a short shrift in the character department. Allison was (and still is) a dashing pilot and otherwise gender-stereotype-bending hero, but Lillia is kept from her buddy Trieze's secret past while he plays the dashing hero, driving cars and flying planes (even though Lillia is a competent pilot! It's alright dear, let the man drive). In part one, Allison and Will were independent teen sleuth orphan heroes, but in part two parents periodically step in to help. This has a neutering effect on the adventure plot; “Mom, we crash landed a plane on a dessert island. Can you come pick us up?” Even Carr Benedict himself gets downgraded; once the dashing pulp hero, he's now a laid back hippie-looking dad.

There are three arcs, as in the last series, but where I was able to suspend disbelief during part one (sure, that old man helped you break into a not-German prison camp) I constantly questioned villain motivations in part two (killing orphans is going to further your cause? Really?). One red herring plot thread about Big Foot seems particularly Scooby Doo-like.

Part two is like soda that's gone flat, and worse, it's caffeine free. The simplistic character designs I praised in part one seem lame when there's less action going down. The anime prerequisite CPR scene further spoils the mood. Sure, the CPR is slightly more realistic here than in most anime series, but that just means that every minute Trieze is unconscious, his brain is dying while Lillia chastely worries about locking lips.

It was all so forgettable that after a week I couldn't even remember what my third title was for this week. Maybe a really great dub would've helped. Maybe if this were a NIS America or Right Stuf release it would come with some sweet extras. Even if part two were packaged with part one, it would still be worth buying the whole thing.

Without spoiling anything, I'd like to add that Allison and Will's relationship in part two basically invalidates the tacked-on ending of part one. (Read my spoileriffic critique of what happened in the forums here.)[TOP]

After forgetting I watched Allison and Lillia, I reached into the review pile and compared Dragon Ball Z Kai Part Five on Blu-ray to the DVD release.

This is not my favorite Dragon Ball Z arc, although to say that begs the question, what is my favorite DBZ arc? I like the original Dragon Ball more than Z. I liked the Frieza fight when I first saw it, but re-watching it on the Dragon Box and then as Kai has been a chore. I find the android arc frustrating for reasons I outlined in my review of volume four of the Dragon Box. (Rereading that review makes me want to mention that there is a fanservice-y Vegeta shower scene in this volume of Kai.)

As an experiment, I picked an episode (episode 59) of DBZ Kai and watched it on the Blu-ray release, on the regular DBZ Kai DVD release. There is not that much difference between the DBZ Kai DVD and Blu-ray releases in terms of picture quality. The image is certainly sharper on the BD, and I found I had to adjust the picture size on my PS3 for the DVD as it toggled between different aspect ratios for the menu and the show (whereas this switching was automatic on BD). But beyond sharpness, it wasn't as drastic a difference as expected. Next I went back to the Dragon Box volume 4 and watched two equivalent episodes (127 and 128 if you're keeping score at home). There is a HUGE difference between the Dragon Box picture quality and DBZ Kai. The Dragon Box has a lot of grainy, pixel stuff that was lovingly cleaned up for Kai.

I like episode 59 because it has more plot than an all-fighting episode, and there are some nicely animated scenes that made for a good visual comparison. Androids 19 and 20 emerge just as per future-boy Trunks predicted (by the way, this send-up of Trunks' appearance is hysterical but NSFW), and the Androids start tearing up a city. The Z fighters fly to the island over a spiffy animated background. There's great laser firing effects animation as Android 20 depopulates the city. Nearly the only thing episode 59 is missing from the original series is a scene where Trunks' grandpa tries out a toy he just invented for the lad. The cliffhanger in Kai is more memorable than the break between episode 127 and 128 of the original.

But if you don't own the Dragon Box (volume 3), you would totally miss the preceding filler episode (126) where Goku takes a driving test, and Piccolo wears a hilarious early 90s hip-hop inspired outfit. You are not missing Vegeta's popped-collar pink shirt in Kai during all the time travel explanation, because that is totally canon.

Sorry, but if you're a DBZ fan you probably have to own both releases. Kai is more efficient and prettier to watch, but if you're going for complete nostalgia, you're not going to want to miss Goku getting his driver's license. Frankly, I suspect if you are a DBZ fan you don't need me to tell you that, and you've already bought both versions (thank you on behalf of all anime fans, since you're keeping Funimation in business). For the rest of us who might be up for a nostalgic re-watch but not a committed DBZ shelf in our apartments, Kai is only worth a rental.

Once or twice during this volume I was distracted to hear that Bulma (Monica Rial) was not the dubbed Bulma I remembered. Again, true believers will need to own multiple versions to check out the various dubs and translations. In for a penny, in for a pound, I guess.[TOP]

Why not make Kai DVD/BD dual packs? I'm sure it's because DBZ is a cash cow. It's too bad Sound of the Sky isn't in a dual pack.

I expected to hate So-Ra-No-Wo-To. I mean, the DVD cover features cute teenage girls wearing army uniforms, so for all I knew this would be another military fetish show like Strike Witches. Upon closer inspection, Sound of the Sky proves to be a worthwhile, if slightly too-cute post apocalypse story with (gasp!) good writing.

Kanata wants to be a bugler in the army, which ought to be easy since she has perfect pitch. She's assigned to a tank company in a rural Italian mountain town with some interesting local folklore about shrine maidens who once fought off a dragon. The tank company consists exclusively of cute women age 18 and younger. Although the town has almost no electricity and only two telephones, the girls' tank is a high tech affair with spider-like legs and lasers.

After a few episodes, it becomes clear why there's such a mix of high tech and low tech; the series takes place after the collapse of civilization as we know it. Cheerful, slice-of-life stories about the girls gardening and getting by in their crumbling re-purposed fortress on the cliff are interspersed with horrible PTSD flashbacks to a terrifying war fought by gender segregated battalions.

The flashbacks to the apocalyptic war are so traumatizing you need the cuteness of the rest of the show for Sound of the Sky to be bearable. It's like how the famously depressing movie The Deer Hunter includes a 51 minute wedding scene to balance out the film. I'm willing to put up with all the hijinks because it seems like two or three years prior the little girls in the show would've died in brutal warfare.

Interestingly, this show is the inverse of most anime, where we can't wait for characters to fight. In Sound of the Sky, I found myself desperately hoping the characters would never have to fight. Sound of the Sky has a strong anti-war message, but it's more easily digestible than, say, Grave of the Fireflies because unlike the latter, it's not literally about Japan at the end of World War II. Also, this is a hopeful tale about redemption ("Amazing Grace" is a reoccurring theme). Civilization may have collapsed, and humanity killed all ocean life, but hey, there are still beautiful places to live (mostly)! People still have festivals and life goes on.

Almost every freaking episode brought a tear to my eye. I'm not made of stone. If you add deep, meaningful themes and reflections on the human condition to stories about cute girls living daily life, I can get behind it. The quality writing even helped me overlook scenes where panties land on a vicar's face (it was laundry day), a girl has to wear an embarrassing outfit (there was a lot of good setup for it) and the fact that one of the characters is a narcoleptic stereotype (there's a plot-related reason why she's essentially Snoozer from Hamtaro).

The animation is high quality, too, with gorgeous landscapes. The quality nosedives at episode 10, and the writing suffers, but I'm recommending the show despite the handful of episodes that fall short of the mark.

There is no dub, but the Right Stuf includes a lot of character profiles and production notes on the discs, as well as a lovely booklet filled with watercolor artwork.[TOP]

I'm glad not every show is a deep emotional roller coaster like Sound of the Sky, my heart couldn't take it. Next week I'm going to check out some hopefully more fluffy, whimsical streaming titles from this season and last.

This week's shelves are from John:

"Hello! I saw this weeks Shelf life article on ANN for the first time and thought I should send my own shelves in. I grew up with anime, I would get anime figures and gifts here and there. I never thought it would become this big but now its turned into a collection! Clearly Naruto is my favorite haha. I'm sorry for sending so many pics, its fine if you don't display all of them. I just wanted to try to show everything."




Cute plushes!

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


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