Shelf Life
Ninja Nonsense

by Erin Finnegan, Nov 7th 2011

As you may recall, last week I wrote about the freak October snow storm hitting the East Coast. It canceled Halloween in some places! They had to reschedule! I liked my boss's reaction to this kid-Halloween-crisis; she's taking her family trick-or-treating again this weekend on re-scheduled Halloween in nearby towns. Sweet!

If you're interested in seeing some old-timey Halloween costumes, I recommend checking out this awesome tumblr site. And if you're interested in old timey stuff in general, I cannot recommend Emma: A Victorian Romance enough.

I never finished watching Emma when it first came out, and I've always meant to get back to it. If I've been slow to do so, it's because Emma isn't exactly the kind of show where every episode ends on an exciting cliffhanger (at least not in season one). We, the audience, know that upper class bachelor William Jones' romance with Emma, a lowly maid in London, is going to be excruciatingly difficult from episode one.

That's part of the brilliance of Emma; as Robert McKee writes in Story, it's hard to find a reason why two lovers shouldn't be together in this day and age. Kaoru Mori reaches back in time to when there were real and very serious consequences for hooking up (at least publicly) with the wrong person.

Emma is so unlike most series that it is practically not “anime” in any popular stereotype that comes to mind (it's not hyper-violent tentacle porn, Pokémon, ninjas, or even a love comedy). Emma is more like the Upstairs, Downstairs of anime. I tried to watch that BBC miniseries with my parents in the 1980s on PBS, but I was way too young to follow the plot. I had to be in college before I could comprehend/appreciate costume dramas like Sense and Sensibility (1995) or A Room with a View (1985). If you like Emma, you might want to check those out. (Speaking of the BBC, Emma is so British it seems it ought to air on the BBC.)

Season two is even better than season one, with 100% more hot Victorian sideburns. To keep things interesting in this realistic maid portraiture, the action moves from a townhouse in London to a large country estate. (I just read House of Mirth so I feel like an expert on rich people and country estates.) Season two even includes a “beach episode” which is particularly well-researched. Victorian swimsuits are about as revealing as modern-day winter clothing.

Bamboo has reviewed Emma a few times, and even mentioned it in a holiday gift guide. I'll add that the books that come with these DVD sets are very much the icing on the teatime cakes of Right Stuf releases. There are interviews, character designs, and real Victorian facts. The only thing this series is missing is a dub. If it had one, I would totally watch Emma with my mother.

And don't get me wrong, when I say “I'd watch this with my mother,” I don't mean it's boring. I mean Emma ought to have an appeal far outside the usual audience for anime. Watching other anime series, I get bored when characters start to make tea… but I know Kaoru Mori has really done his homework, and the characters in Emma are all making tea exactly as Victorians would on extremely authentic crockery.

I am not kidding when I say the pillows and wall papers are well-researched. The high production values shine through in every shot, and it's not just that, the character designs are great, too (they have the most expressive eyes!). Even the writing is excellent, without the usual anime nonsense of characters explaining things over and over again. In short, Emma displays exemplary television direction. That is to say, every shot has a purpose, and it compels you to watch the next scene.

You need Emma to both re-watch and loan to friends. The great extras make it a triple threat on my shelf. [TOP]

Of course, not every show can be Emma

I never thought Loveless would be popular enough to get a dub, and yet here it is, staring me in the face: The Loveless Vocal Collection. Was Loveless really that popular? It's even been re-released a couple times.

Loveless is one of the first manga volumes I ever reviewed, way back in 2006. The internet has since swallowed up the text, but the review still exists in audio form.

I seem to remember from my high school days a lot teenagers moping around saying that things had gotten “messed up” (or f---ed up, if you prefer) with their lover. Loveless spells out what exactly what “messed up” means by presenting an adequately angst-y relationship.

Ritsuka transfers to a new school shortly after the (violent and horrible) death of his older brother Seimei. Poor 6th grade Ritsuka is seeing a psychologist, not just because of Seimei's death, but also because he's suffering from memory loss. Soon, Ritsuka is approached by one of Seimei's friends from college, a blonde bishie named Soubi who was apparently Seimei's partner in a weird system of magic duels.

The “messed up” part of the show is threefold: First, everyone in the Loveless universe has cat ears till they lose their virginity. Second, Soubi says he loves Ritsuka many times over and treats him more or less like one might treat a girlfriend, despite the age gap. Third, the magic duels are thinly veiled excuses for explicit sadomasochism. Indeed, we learn early on that Soubi is totally a masochist.

I think Loveless does a good job of giving a visual representation of the emotional lives of teenagers. That's something that's hard to get across on screen, and I think the symbolic cat ears and dialog work surprisingly well to paint it out. That said, the pace of the show is infuriatingly slow. You could easily watch this at 2x speed and not miss anything.

Although I like the character designs, the backgrounds and settings are sparse. This may be a faithful adaptation of the manga, but the animators certainly could've added more spice. The world of Loveless ends up seeming vacant in more episodes than not due to the lack of detail. Even the duels take place over a black background. Maybe the vacancy is intentional, but if I can't tell if it's intentional or not, the director has probably done something wrong.

At least the dub starts off strong on the first disc. Ashley Thrill begins as a very convincing Ritsuka, and Anthony Lawson sounds hot as Soubi, (even if he's not quite as hot as Katsuyuki Konishi). By the end of disc two I was tired of Thrill's performance; she just sounds pouty with every line, which may be in character, but she could've hit more flavors of "pouty" with a little more vocal variation. Ritsuka's teacher, played by Jaymie Krasinski, hearkens back to the bad old days of the Utena dub. She's just annoying.

Come to think of it, there are a lot of annoying characters in this show. Ristsuka's classmate yuiko is only slight less insufferable than Yayoi, her pint-sized stalker (picture a 6th grade equivalent of Shampoo from Ranma ½).[TOP]

I could see where other people could like Loveless, but it's just not my thing. Unfortunately, I don't think anyone could like Naruto Shippuden the Movie: Bonds.

Just cracking open the case, this Blu-ray has some of the worst cover art and menu graphics in recent memory. The drawing isn't dynamic, there's just a gradient gray background, so it's boring to look at. That was the best art Japan had to offer for the latest in a multi-million dollar property?

The movie opens with ridiculous CG ships churning across an ugly ocean towards Konoha. I'm sure someone conceptualized this as a breathtakingly awesome shot, and it certainly looks like a lot of work went into the 3D warships, but they blend so badly with the water it instantly sets the film off on the wrong foot. Maybe the shot looks less terrible on standard definition DVD.

Don't get me wrong, I'm a fan of Naruto (at least, episodes 30-101, most of which I marathoned in one glorious 4th of July weekend when my roommates were away in 2004). I haven't been able to keep up with Shippuden (Shelf Life is a great excuse), and I stopped caring about 100 episodes ago (I'm starting to think Naruto can be measured in tectonic time).

My expectations for any Shonen Jump film were lowered – no – bottomed out by Bleach the Movie: Memories of Nobody and Naruto the Movie: Ninja Clash in the Land of Snow. I found the latter skin-crawlingly awful from the ground up, as I took severe offense to adding random, movie-only ninja clans that don't fit in with the Naruto-universe continuity. I also hate the movie-only characters. Part of the fun of Shonen Jump titles is getting attached to characters over a long period of time, which just can't happen in the movies.

So after Land of Snow I knew what I was in for with this Naruto film: another movie-only clan (from Sky Country this time) and a movie only character (a tomboy named Amaru who is training to be a doctor under her sensei, Shinnou) that despite having profound importance in the story we'll never see again. They get mixed up with some bad elements and soon enough everyone is fighting on a lost floating city called Ancor Vantian that doubles as an "ultimate weapon". Is this ripping off Laputa? Believe it!

Nothing interesting happens in this film. Unlikely things happen; Sakura leaves the main action to run back to Konoha, Hinata disappears because whatever, (disappointing 100% of Hinata fans in my household) and Sasuke is still kickin' it with Orochimaru. Somehow, Sasuke even manages to fight on the same side as Naruto when the chips are down.

The character animation isn't great, which is to say sometimes Naruto has a "derp" expression. I think that's endemic of the problem with Bonds. This is a movie, so I would expect that the animators and writers would go the extra mile to make this better than a two-part (or four-part) filler episode of the TV series. Instead it's obvious the budget was blown on those CG warships at the beginning of the film and some yawn-inducing explosions at the end. The plot also seems rather nonsensical. After the credits rolled I could not explain to you why the Sky Country bombed Konoha.

I hadn't watched much of the Naruto dub before, but I really like Maile Flanagan as Naruto. I liked the dub in general, save for Tom Gibis as Shikamaru (who is barely in the film).

The only thing that can make this film more bearable is if you replace every utterance of the phrase "Dark Chakra" with "Dark Chocolate". In this way, you can get a laugh from lines like, "My veins are flowing with dark chocolate!"[TOP]

That's all for this week! Next week I'm taking a look at the Eastern Star re-release of Demon City Shinjuku. It's been twelve years since I've seen it, so I wonder what I'll remember…!

Folks, we've got an old-fashioned New England challenge. A while back, we posted the MIT Anime Club's collection, and well... them upstate New Yorkers want to warn them of a possible future title usurping.

"Dear MIT Anime Club, (and Shelf Life),

A few weeks ago you, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Anime Club sent in some pictures of your club's library. Well, as the current librarian of the Rochester Institute of Technology's Anime Club (more commonly know as the RIT Anime Club), I feel that I must respond. From what I can tell, we have about half of the amount as your club so though we can't claim we have the largest collection, we can be in second place until some other club claims it. We have 977 volumes of manga and 892 DVDs of anime, I made these counts by hand so the could be off by a handful or I could be forgetting ones that have been checked out and are currently not on our shelves. Behind the DVDs and manga we have our VHS tapes, 609 in total, so that is the one thing we are beating you in. We do have any music CDs, or laser discs but I'll work on that. Our full library is located at http://ritanime.rit.edu/library/opac/ for anyone who is interested in seeing what we have. From the pictures that you provided, MIT Anime club, it looks like you have more space to work with, where as we are more compact and dense in our area. Anyways, congratulations to you, MIT Anime Club, for having the larger collection...for now.

Sincerely, RIT Anime Club"

A word of warning to readers, these photos are pretty huge, so you might want to right-click Save As if you don't want it taking over your browser.

This is a good looking library! Thanks for sending it in! Best of luck to eventually becoming #1.

Any other college clubs want to show off their libraries? Send your jpgs to [email protected] Thanks!


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