Shelf Life
Salmon Fishing in the Milky Way

by Erin Finnegan, Jun 25th 2012

To my chagrin, Tim Maughan accused me publically of not letting a single month go by without mentioning my wedding. Maybe he's right, as this week marked my third year anniversary. As it happens, one of my bridesmaids is getting married this weekend (congratulations!). Without this specific couple, my wedding could not have gone down (or up, as the case may be). The bride has said that I make her seem like a pathological liar, what with her “space wedding friends,” and she makes me sound like a pathological liar for saying I know the person who sewed Spiderman's costume for the Broadway show.

A friend of my friend, who is also a Broadway costume maker, got her start cosplaying in high school. Last year she went as Madoka to Otakon, and said the petticoats were a bit much for Baltimore in July. I only just finished watching Madoka last week.

Without spoilers, I'm happy to say that Madoka Magica wrapped up with fairly reasonable explanations of everything that's happened so far (well, reasonable under the circumstances). We learn what Kyubey is, and why he (she? It?) makes girls magical, and we learn why Homura has been acting like a dangerous loner since episode one. In fact, much of the set covers Homura's mysterious past. Her arc is touching, and it's a refreshing departure from the focus on Madoka.

I'll try to discuss the ending in abstract terms. The complex finale involves several layers of science fiction, which appealed to me as a sci-fi fan. I thought the scale of the ending was on par with the ending of Gurren Lagann, although the two shows have such different themes that my comparison could be a little off. I mean “scale” in terms of literal size, as both series start off with the daily life of a weak-feeling adolescent and eventually expand outward into space.

The final handful of episodes also feature a good evacuation scene as the city prepares for a massive storm. Madoka and her family gather on green tarps in a public evacuation center. I can't remember why (only that it has something to do with seeing Roland Kelts on a panel) but I was once going to start a list of evacuation scenes in anime. One Piece has a good evacuation during the Skypiea Arc, and DBZ has some good evacuations sequences when Cell starts causing destruction. I suspect most Japanese people are drilled from a young age to evacuate in case of earthquakes and tsunamis, and the ensuing fires, floods, and mudslides. I think images of such large-scale city evacuation are much less common in American films and television (we usually cut straight to the destruction of the White House).

The dub actors finally grew on me during volume three. There are a lot of very weighty emotional scenes during the finale that gave Christine Marie Cabanos (as Madoka) a chance to shine.

There aren't extras, and sure, there are only four episodes on this DVD, but the story was so huge that I felt like I'd read a long-ish novel. Madoka is satisfying in scope and scale and narrative in a way that other anime series rarely even attempt nowadays. I've heard it said that Madoka Magica is the Neon Genesis Evangelion of magical girl shows, and now having completed it, I'm inclined to agree.[TOP]

Anything else this week was bound to fall into Madoka's shadow. In a more mediocre week, I might have enjoyed Broken Blade more.

In a far flung future, humans (people? Is it Earth? Does it matter?) have the ability to psychically manipulate quartz. They fight over kingdoms on a desert landscape using quartz-powered mechs called golems. Rygart was born without this ability, and as such he's called an “un-sorcerer,” (which is hilarious, and quartz just makes me think, ”You said you wanted to live in a world without zinc, Jimmy.“) It's Rygart's lucky day when an ancient non-magic golem is excavated… and it turns out only Rygart can pilot it. Oh, and did I mention it's somehow more powerful and advanced than current golems?

I was interested in a story about the only non-sorcerer in the world of sorcerers, but after Rygart gets his awesome mech, Broken Blade stops being about a man struggling with his disability. Instead, Rygart is a pacifist burdened with a powerful, potentially war-winning tool. Rygart blames himself for a comrade's death and begrudgingly joins the war.

Despite Rygart's disability, his friends from his military academy days were all princes and princesses and badass pilots who are now caught up in warring factions. (I'm still not clear on how Rygart got into that school.) If you throw a rock, you can hit a Gundam series starring two childhood friends caught up on opposite sides in a war. A handful of Gundam series also star pilots who don't want to hurt anyone.

I kept thinking of Gundam while watching this because I got more entertainment value out of Gundam Unicorn than Broken Blade. Unicorn, like Broken Blade, comes in episodes just under an hour long. Of course, you get more bang for your buck with all 300 minutes of Broken Blade, whereas Gundam Unicorn is prohibitively expensive on BD. Sure, Broken Blade has a higher budget than most anime TV series. The mech fights look good, and the score sounds more like a full orchestra than just synthesizers… but Gundam Unicorn has so much of a higher budget it makes Broken Blade look cheap.

I had a hard time getting into the characters. Certainly Greg Ayres makes for a memorable Rygart in the dub (Ayres sounds like such a nice guy!), but something about Rygart as a character is “blah” to me.

The female characters run the gamut, from the powerful and wise Queen Sigyn down through several competent female soldiers, to Cleo, a 12-year old with big boobs who trips over her shoes in the first episode. Her breasts and age are mentioned in the dialog more than once, but not so often that it becomes a running gag. I don't think it would affect the show's plot if Cleo had an average bra size, and as such, it's a mark against the show to include that detail for no real reason. I might be cooler with Cleo's bra size if there was a scene devoted to how truly awkward and painful it was for Cleo to be the first among her friends to develop. Otherwise, this is a classy show that succeeds despite Cleo's presence.

I think I could've gotten more into Broken Blade if the landscapes weren't 100% desert. The un-translated pans across maps made it hard for me to keep track of the different kingdoms, made worse by the monotonous landscapes. Maybe I could've tracked the kingdoms better if I'd cared about the characters…

In any case, Broken Blade is worth checking out, but I wouldn't buy it unless I was a completist mech fan. [TOP]

Afterward, I checked out tsuritama. Last week, forum members alerted me to this sci-fi fishing show from noitamA. I've only been fishing two or three times in my life, but I'm very interested in fishing anime and manga, in part because of my Unusual Manga Genres panel. Fishing manga seems eccentric compared to Marvel or DC, but titles like Diary of a Fishing Fool and Fishing Crazy Sanpei are some of the best selling manga of all time in Japan.

tsuritama is indeed a sci-fi fishing show from Noitamina, but I think I got a bit overly excited about it. I was hoping for the sports fishing equivalent of Toriko, but I wound up getting the fishing equivalent of BECK: Mongolian Chop Squad. That is to say Koyuki has never played a guitar as the series opens, as in tsuritama, Yuki does not know how to cast at the story's outset.

Yuki lives with his grandmother, and their most recent relocation as brought them to the seaside town of Enoshima. Yuki suffers from some kind of social phobia that causes him freeze up and make Grinch Who Stole Christmas (Boris Karloff era) faces at school, making it hard to find friends. Yuki is often outwardly silent while we hear his screaming inner self.

Haru is an extroverted blonde freak who claims to be an alien and announces that he will be living at Yuki's house from now on, which Yuki's grandmother accepts without question. A local fishing enthusiast named Natsuki begins teaching Yuki and Haru how to cast. Meanwhile, Haru's movements are being monitored by Akira Agarkar Yamada, an Indian fellow (who also fishes) always accompanied by a pet duck named Tapioca.

tsuritama's science fiction reminded me heavily of NieA_7, in part because Haru's obnoxiousness is on par with a male version of NieA, but mostly because in both shows, the sci-fi takes a back seat to everyday life drama (at least for the first few episodes). For example, Yuki's mother checking into the hospital is far more important than Haru's extraterrestrial status or low-level mind control powers. Frustratingly, the on-screen characters trust Haru far more than I do, and it's six or seven episodes before we get to see some of his more suspicious motives (maybe he's just controlling their minds…).

The show has a unique look. Gradation in color is done away with in favor of flat, bright colors with simple black outlines to represent highlights. Despite the lack of realism in colors -- particularly in backgrounds -- the series gives Enoshima a definite realism of location. It's often bright and sunny, and you get a feel for the surrounding beaches and the ocean. You even get a taste of the local food, as everyone scarves down whitebait dishes.

I never finished watching NieA_7 because it was a little too boring for me. I'll finish watching tsuritama because it is in turns as funny as it is relaxing. More than being a sci-fi or fishing show, it's a drama with comedic moments and a slice-of-life show with eccentric and/or fantastic characters. I wish it were a little funnier, or a little faster moving, or I learned a little more about fishing, but as-is, the show is interesting enough.

Another good title for comparison is Arakawa Under the Bridge. Arakawa has arty and unique visuals, but it also tries a lot harder (too hard sometimes) for comedy. tsuritama is more serious with slightly less visual experimentation, yet I feel both series belong in a category of eccentric arty shows (featuring would-be aliens) that are worth checking out without being everyone's cup of tea.

If you're a tsuritama super-fan, I highly recommend going back and checking out NieA_7 and Arakawa Under the Bridge.[TOP]

Speaking of Arakawa, a NIS America release, my House of Five Leaves replacement discs just arrived in the mail! I ordered them around April 30th, so that took about seven weeks.

Next week I'm going to take a look at Hidamari Sketch × SP, among other things.

This week's shelves are from Lorenzo, who says, "looks small like this, I'm depressed now :("

Untrue! That's plenty big enough!


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