Shelf Life
The Fifth Element

by Erin Finnegan, Nov 28th 2011

Hello internet, how was your Thanksgiving? I committed a party foul by bringing elk sticks to a dinner party attended by 90% vegetarians. Fortunately no one seemed to mind, and I spent the afternoon with a delightful French bulldog named Mister Pants (he looks like nature crossed a bat with a pig, but in a cute way).

Afterward I returned home for my traditional (perhaps compulsory) anime marathon in the name of Shelf Life. I kicked off the evening with the delightful Crayon Shin-chan dub.

Bamboo has reviewed Shin-chan many, many times over several years, and given it a Rental Shelf each time until Season 3 Part 1. I'd side with her on this one, Shin-chan sits on the very edge of the Rental Shelf towards being Shelf Worthy. I love the mix of crude and sophisticated humor with spit-fire-paced pop culture references, and I think if you have large shelves your collection you could stand some Shin-chan. My anime shelf is woefully small, and I can't see re-watching this. It's solidly entertaining but also slightly ephemeral, so I'm Rental Shelving it.

I'd certainly give this Shelf Worthy if the Japanese tracks had been included on the discs. I'm not exactly a purist about re-cutting and re-writing, but there are several episodes that were so bizarre that I really wanted to watch the original material. At the very least, I wish the discs had closed captioning, as I've become accustomed to watching dubs with the subs on.

Several years ago I caught episodes of the Shin-chan dub on TV and thought the first ten in particular were hilarious, in part because I'm a fan of comic writer Evan Dorkin (Welcome to Eltingville, Milk & Cheese). I could tell which dark jokes were Dorkin-influenced and they cracked me up. Dorkin was unceremoniously dumped from the writing staff, and I soured a bit on the show. This is the first time I've picked it up on DVD, (although I did read the first volume of the manga).

Maybe I wasn't being fair, dismissing the show post-Dorkin. It is still quite funny. I laughed especially hard at Aunt Mitsy, who appears in this set living at Shin's house. I don't know what Mitsy's problem was in the original series, but in the dub she's a recovering drug addict. The continual references to rehab and smuggling "brown-brown" made me laugh out loud.

I'm surprised I could still laugh so much at a sitcom about a family. I was sure I burned out on all nuclear-family-based sitcoms after I finished memorizing season six of The Simpsons. I think the "edgier" jokes in Shin-chan, like a very current reference to "zombie Michael Jackson," sugar-coat the everyday life mundane humor pill with a layer of Adult Swim-flavored irreverence. An episode where Shin is lost in an amusement park turns into a plot about child trafficking in this writing team's hands.

Bamboo is right, you shouldn't marathon it. The recommended rate of consumption for Shin-chan is definitely one half hour episode per day for all adults. She's also correct in saying that the show makes a good Christmas gift.

After laughing at jokes like, "I got a back alley abortion, and I wasn't even pregnant; I just wanted to feel in control of my life!", I watched a much darker show specifically about back alley doctors.[TOP]

I was totally blindsided by this awesomeness! Why didn't I watch Mardock Scramble: The First Compression at New York Anime Festival in 2010? I am totally kicking myself for not seeing it on a larger screen.

I could've sworn this 60 minute OVA was a 120 minute film, and not because I was bored, rather, so much stuff happens in Mardock Scramble that it easily feels like a feature length film (and a good one).

I love love love science fiction. I like cyberpunk, and I like those sci-fi OVAs from the early 90's with dark, line-heavy art, like Battle Angel, Black Magic M-66, or the Appleseed OAV from 1988. Mardock Scramble offers up a super-dark tale of a cyberpunk future drawn with a lot of lines. You could swear it was an OVA from 1992 if it weren't for all the nice CG effects and the more up-to-date version of the future.

Balot is a 15-year-old murder victim who wakes up to find that she's been resurrected by a more-or-less mad scientist working for the police. She's been given a new kind of crazy skin that's experimental and undoubtedly illegal; it lets her interact with electronics in a technomancy sort of way. Apparently before being resurrected, her subconscious mind agreed to help solve a murder case.

Balot is given a military-developed super-weapon experiment to help her, in the form of a super-intelligent shape-shifting talking mouse. If that sounds too magical girl, rest assured it is not; Mardock Scramble exists in a world that falls tonally somewhere between Kite and the movie Se7en. This murky future is filled with black clinics (a la Minority Report) and particularly horrible serial killers (think MPD Pscyho).

Perhaps to add light-heartedness to this relentlessly dark world, the characters have ridiculous names, which sound even more ridiculous on the Japanese track (the names are all pronounced in English). The mouse's name is Œufcoque, which sounds plausible, but other characters have sillier names, like the troglyditic hitman Mincemeat the Wink.

The dub is stellar. Andy McAvin makes for a very sympathetic Œufcoque. Hilary Haag's voice is heavily altered to be Balot; she uses electronics to communicate because her vocal cords haven't healed yet. (Perhaps I should praise the sound mixers more than Haag?) This means Balot's mouth rarely moves, which reminded me of Ghost in the Shell, where the characters communicate mostly by means of brain-to-brain SMS (or the future equivalent thereof).

My only hesitation in recommending Mardock Scramble is that it goes into dark, dark territory thematically. It's no RIN - Daughters of Mnemosyne in the bedroom, but I wasn't kidding with my Kite comparison. This is TV-MA for a reason. (A reason very different from Shin-chan's!)

This ought to be on Blu-ray instead of standard DVD, or at least in a dual pack. There are a lot of sweet future cityscapes and I want to see the detail! The DVD doesn't look terrible by any means, it just seems weird this isn't on BD, but something like this Coicent / Five Numbers! double feature is. I popped in the latter to round out the Thanksgiving marathon.[TOP]

This double feature of two short films sits squarely on the Rental Shelf. Both Coicent and Five Numbers! (30 minutes apiece) are competently animated and some thought went into the writing, but neither is terribly memorable or re-watchable. They were probably much better seen in the context of a larger animation festival, and are not really worth owning. I might change my tune if they were part of a larger collection of twelve or so short films (including the Coffee Samurai / Hoshizora Kiseki pack).

Both films are 3D animation with a 2D cell-shaded look about them. Clearly 3D-that-looks-2D technology has advanced a lot from the days of Appleseed (2004, which I thought was ugly), but the technology still needs some growth. Some of the character animation in Coicent is particularly awkward, and the sketchy line-style of the character designs in Five Numbers! never looks quite right. By the way, I appreciated seeing the finer detail of Coicent on Blu-ray, but Five Numbers! wouldn't suffer in standard definition.

Set 700 years in the future, Coicent is the story of a high school boy, Shinichi, who visits Nara (Japan's ancient capitol), on a school trip. His arrival happens to coincide with the city's 1700th anniversary, and a festival is in full swing . Meanwhile, a legendary princess is being revived via cloning technology, and she escapes the lab in time for a short adventure with our protagonist.

In this (unintentionally) terrifying future-Nara, animatronic Buddhist statues march in a city parade strikingly similar to the one in Paprika (only slightly less surreal) and/or that scene from Gantz where the god statues come alive (only they're slightly less sinister). Nara is famous for it's near-domestic herd of city deer, and, as you might expect, the deer play a huge part in the film.

Coicent is so heavy-handed with it's "Go Nara!" theme that I suspect that it was funded by the city tourism board. As such, it's hard to take the film seriously. Shinichi seems like a riff on the kid from Summer Wars (in design and character) and the villain is a dead ringer for Edna "E" Mode from The Incredibles. (Geez, come up with some original designs…) The princess never gets much of a personality, but at least she has slightly more personality than Shinichi.

Five Numbers! comes off as a blend of They Were Eleven (worth your time) and King of Thorn (an elegant disaster of a film). In the distant-ish future, six people with sketchy pasts awaken from cryogenic sleep in a seemingly abandoned prison. The cast has almost no time to get to know each other as the climate control problems in the vicinity worsen and it's a race against the clock for survival (sort of).

I appreciated the sci-fi aspects of Five Numbers!, but the dramatic twist was a little too easy to guess. There isn't enough time to get attached to any of the characters, and they just wind up seeming like types.

Both films have perfectly adequate dubs. I didn't buy Vic Mignogna as Shinichi, but all of the other performances were fine. Hilary Haag was exceptionally believable as the hacker in Five Numbers! (this week turns me into a fan of Hilary Haag, apparently), and Tiffany Grant was convincing as the other female prisoner, a gambling addict. None of the characters in Five Numbers! have names, as part of the gimmick.

That gimmick is explained in a surprisingly good interview with the writer of Five Numbers! conducted by a hip looking Japanese gentleman, in one of two extras. Japanese interviews often feel scripted and perfunctory, but the interviews here are far more thoughtful than the usual "Please enjoy this anime" claptrap.

I picture you, the reader, finding this BD in a bargain bin for about $3 several years from now. It's worth about that much if you buy it.[TOP]

I hope you all had a great Thanksgiving and are enjoying a deal-filled Cyber Monday. Next week I'm going to take a look at Fairy Tail part one.

This week's shelves are from Melanie from California:

"Hello! My name is Melanie and I'm from California. I have been an anime fan for about a year and a half and I don't have a lot in my collection yet, but I wanted to share my shelves with you. I also love reading Shelf Life every Monday!"

I love seeing new collections! Every collection has to start somewhere!

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


discuss this in the forum (27 posts) |
bookmark/share with:

Shelf Life homepage / archives

Around The Web