Shelf Life
My Neighbor Yamada

by Erin Finnegan, Mar 19th 2012

This week has seen a small run of demi- or semi-holidays; Pi Day (for math nerds), the Ides of March (for history nerds), Spring Break (for NYU students), and finally St. Patrick's Day (for Americans who celebrate being one eighth Irish by getting wasted on green beer). I spent the week seeing good friends, eating delicious pie, and preparing corned beef from my mother's recipe (she's not Irish at all).

I also watched some anime, starting with And Yet the Town Moves, which I blind-bought as an Amazon suggestion after Akikan!, which (in addition to reviewing here) I watched for my “Recent Trends in Moe Anthropomorphism” panel at Genericon. Based on the title, I mistakenly thought this was an anime adaptation of the game Like Life Every Hour.

Based on the maid and the DVD back cover text, I thought this was going to be a radically different show, perhaps a comedy like Wagnaria!! about maids. It turns out this is a comedy more along the lines of Girl's High or Azumanga Daioh with a pinch of Ping Pong Club.

The maid café in And Yet the Town Moves is about the other kind of maid… the stupid kind. Hotori is an idiot in the league of Ayumu "Osaka" Kasuga, and although she is clumsy, she's clumsy in a realistic way (like Eriko of Girl's High). Coffee and Lunch Seaside is a decidedly unsexy café, a run-down almost-dive restaurant near the train station, exactly like ones I've seen in Japan. Hotori has never even been to a real maid café. Her friend from school, Toshiko, fills her in on the details and eventually starts working at the same café. Somehow it manages to stay in business, even though there aren't any customers besides Hotori's childhood friend (and Toshiko's crush) Hiroyuki, the school math teacher, and the other store owners from the shopping district. The proprietress of Seaside looks like a grandma in a maid outfit. To top things off, they don't even serve tea; only coffee.

The maid gags drop off precipitously after the first episode, making the maid angle seem perfunctory, as if every manga series from 2006 was required to include maids. Unfortunately for marketing, maids pollute every single piece of promotional artwork for the title, guaranteeing people who might like this show will never see it if they aren't interested in maids. I mean, Hotori isn't even cute. I thought she was a cross-dressing guy on the DVD cover. (Ironically, Hotori mistakes a plain girl for a guy in the show as well.)

The first two episodes are loaded with rapid-fire gags and mixed-media animation in different styles to the point that the show is slightly dizzying to watch. These high budget shenanigans decrease as the series goes on, until the gags slow down to a much more reasonable pace. The contrast is a little disappointing after the non-stop crazy camera angles and fast cuts early on, but it's also much more digestible viewing. Between that and the shopping center setting, I was reminded of Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi (without magic).

This series has perhaps my second-favorite favorite beach episode ever (the first being in Genshiken). Hotori goes to the beach with a new bikini and inner tube, only to trip on the way to the water, popping the tube and face-planting painfully on the beach. She loses her bikini top in an almost tsunami-like wave caused by an incoming typhoon, and her beach trip is completely rained out. Most anime presents ideal beach trips with perfect weather and sexy girls, but here Soredemo portrays reality in a hilarious way; Hotori isn't sexy in her white bikini, and the weather totally thwarts her.

There are perhaps a thousand anime series starring high school girls, but Soredemo is worth your time for its excellent musings on the stupidity and absurdity of everyday life. The final episode is a profound tear-jerker, complete with some slightly deeper social commentary on Japan.

The show is so mired in Japanese culture and puns that there are quite a few on-screen cultural notes. Some of the jokes could've used a slicker translation or would've been aided by a clever dub, but I still got plenty of humor out of the show without it.[TOP]

And Yet the Town Moves was a huge surprise and unexpected delight. I hope more people check it out. I was also pleasantly surprised by B Gata H Kei - Yamada’s First Time.

Based on the Funimation trailer and Zac's dour review on a recent ANNCast, my expectations for B Gata H Kei were bargain basement low. As such, the series hit me out of left field.

A lot of anime series star demure, pure-hearted girls who worry they can never get married after a man sees them in their underwear. The protagonist of BGHK is the stark opposite. Yamada's dream is to sleep with one hundred guys, starting in high school. Unsurprisingly, she doesn't get very far towards achieving this goal, as simply losing her virginity proves to be more difficult than expected.

Yamada sets her sights on the plain-looking Takashi to deflower her. Erocoms often star plain-looking every-boys who are not interested in the unrealistically hot girls who come to live in their homes, so I took at as refreshing that Takashi, although plain-looking, is very interested in sex with Yamada, who is herself perhaps more realistically sexy than most harem girls. Takashi probably loves Yamada, but Yamada, in turn, is too immature to know what love is just yet. In fact, it's clear that Yamada is confused about a lot of things. Fortunately, her naivete is charming (to me, anyway, as I don't buy in to “purity rings”).

After slogging through dozens of formulaic erotic comedy anime series, it's refreshing to watch a sex-positive show like BGHK. Yamada is outgoing, aggressive, and openly interested in sex. Takashi is also interested sex, and the couple tries their hardest to make it happen in the face of a numerous interruptions, as one might expect from a comedy series. Yamada quickly realizes that intimacy is scarier than she had anticipated, and runs away a few times, only to return with sexier bras to try, try again.

The brilliance of this series is its realistic portrayal of the sex lives of teenagers. Teenage intimacy is often more awkward than sexy (despite what pornography might lead you to believe). I got a lot of laughs out of the many true-to-life moments in the show. As a somewhat aggressive lady myself, I could also identify with Yamada. In the words of dub voice actress Brittney Karbowski in one of two commentary tracks, “I'm a lot like Yamada, except, you know, not a skank.”

Also like Karbowski, I really enjoyed Yamada's best friend at school, Miharu. Miharu is the level-headed friend who has already had sex and is in a steady relationship. From this position of experience, Miharu offers Yamada a lot of solid advice. Even though Miharu doesn't get much screen time, she's extremely likeable and reminded me of real-life high school friends. Miharu seems, again, refreshingly real compared to most anime characters.

The production values didn't exactly blow my mind, but BGHK was funny enough to compensate for anything lacking in the animation department. The dub was also hilarious, and made good use of a lot of current slang like the word “creeper”.

I struggled a bit with whether or not to make this Shelf Worthy, but in the end every episode made me laugh, and I'd watch it again or loan it to friends, which are two of my three criteria for Shelf Worthiness.[TOP]

I couldn't tell at all that BGHK was based on a four-panel comic (that's a good thing). Meanwhile, I was frustrated with the short-attention span theater that is Hetalia.

Hetalia: World Series Season Three is certainly more of the same, which is probably good if you like Hetalia. I found my Hetalia viewing experience to be increasingly frustrating. The micro-episode length had me reaching for the remote to skip the theme song every few minutes. To make matters worse, each episode is broken up into four mini-stories that have some hard-to-follow continuity across episodes. I'd have an easier time following it if the mini-stories were cut together to match continuity, with the repetitive teaser/trailer footage removed. I'm adding Hetalia to my growing list of anime series that I'd like to see re-cut by fans.

The gags also seem to be about increasingly esoteric and/or confusing historical events. I didn't know anything about the War of Austrian Succession until watching episodes 12 and 13 (64 and 65 in terms of the overall series). I wish I could say I learned something about it from watching Hetalia, but I don't think I learned much of anything, other than that the War of Austrian Succession happened, and apparently some Austrian officials had grown so complacent in peacetime that they'd rather listen to choirs and orchestras than fight a necessary war. If I only knew one thing about Austria before watching the show, it was that they like classical music, and Mozart is from there.

As a geek and someone who got good grades in school, I assure you that I like learning new things. I want to learn more history. It frustrated me that Hetalia: World Series is an incomplete learning tool. Even if I read the show notes included on the discs (which I did), I know I'm not getting all the jokes. Ideally, I suppose I ought to have read the manga first, then read about history the manga covered, perhaps read the manga again, and then watched the anime adaptation. Either that, or else I should only watch the show with Walter Amos so he can pause it and lecture me every few minutes on Austrian (and/or Prussian) history.

This set includes another handkerchief (purple this time) and a ton of Japanese extras of event footage from Tokyo Anime Fair and the Machi-Asobi Anime Festival in Tokushima City. I'm kind of impressed at the voice actors' ability to be entertaining at these live events, but maybe it comes with the territory of being talento on Japanese TV. Personally, I like the extras featuring director “Bob” Shirohata better than the seiyuu extras, since Bob is enigmatic and subtly funny. He's not featured in this set, though.[TOP]

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And with that, I leave you until next week. I've got to put soda bread in the oven, and gear up to watch Heaven's Lost Property.

This week's shelves are from Richard, in Charleston, SC:

"I wanted to show off my shelves. I have been collecting since 2004 when I got into Ranma ½. I really enjoy my manga and anime."

Thanks for sharing!

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


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