Shelf Life
Euro Trip

by Erin Finnegan, Aug 27th 2012

By next Friday (8/31/12) I will find out if I've gotten into the awesome grad program I've been waitlisted for. I now have the utmost sympathy with anyone who's ever been on an academic wait list; all my plans for next year hang in the balance and it's totally out of my control.

To kill time while waiting for my immediate future to be determined, I watched season four of Hetalia: World Series.

I'm at a loss when it comes to Hetalia. Should I read the historical notes first and then watch the episode, or watch the episode first and then read the notes? Roughly every other episode is about some historical event I've never studied so I feel like I ought to read the notes first, but then the notes don't make sense since I don't have the context the episode provides. Alternatively, there's a certain je ne sais quoi, or “WTF” factor that's spoiled by reading the notes. In other words, sometimes it's funnier if you don't know what they're talking about. Oh, to be Walter Amos! I think, as a history buff, he understands all the jokes the first time through (especially if those jokes are about Prussia).

I could almost say that if you liked the third season of Hetalia: World Series, this is certainly more of the same. The animation and jokes are certainly on par with the previous two seasons, save for just one thing: Nekotalia. I would like to say “just when you thought Hetalia couldn't get any dumber…” but that's not accurate. Hetalia is far from a “stupid” show (except for when it's making incredibly stupid jokes). Nevertheless, portraying the already anthropomorphized countries as cute cats struck me as a new low.

Setting aside Nekotalia for a moment, I liked that season four dealt with increasingly obscure and/or more modern history. I felt like I was learning more than I had in previous seasons, but that doesn't mean I thought this was funnier. It's almost like saying that season 16 of Antiques Roadshow is hilarious.

Is it just me, or has the dub gotten a lot less raucous since season one? I recall more eyebrow-raising, monocle-popping jokes from the earlier dubs. Maybe season four is just as monocle-popping if you're from Austria or Lithuania (who gets mercilessly pelted with acorns). As in previous seasons, this set includes self-indulgent dub outtakes, half of which are pretty funny, the other half of which are only so-so.

I think I'm over Hetalia now. Hetalia cosplay at conventions seems to have died down lately, too. Could the tidal wave of Hetalia fandom finally be receding from our shores?[TOP]

Whereas Hetalia: World Series Season 04 was more of the same, somehow Moyshimon Returns is less of the same? Allow me to explain…

I loved Moyashimon season one; it's too bad it still isn't available legally in the U.S., but at least it will be streaming soon. The first anime series was ten times better than the live action show. It was even better than the manga series, or at least, what I managed to read of the manga before Del Rey tanked during the recession and stopped releasing it. Masayuki Ishikawa may excel at designing cute germs, but he's a poor draftsman when it comes to drawing humans.

Unfortunately, Moyashimon Returns is a little more true to the manga than season one. That is to say, the draftsmanship has gone severely downhill. I know from personal experience in the cartoon biz that getting the old crew back together after a long hiatus can be impossible; everyone has gone on to work at other places, and chances are you can't the same people back if your budget has dropped. This season definitely looks bargain-basement compared to season one.

In case you've been missing out on all the franchise fun so far, Moyashimon is about Tadayasu Sawaki, a student attending an agriculture college with the strange ability to see and talk to microbes, who happen to look much cuter to Sakaki than they do in real life. Sawaki falls into Professor Itsuki's eccentric lab, where some of the students know about Sawaki's ability and some don't, in particular his possible love-interest Oikawa, as season two opens.

I thought that season one left off on a cliffhanger, with Sawaki's BFF Yūki dropping out of school to cross-dress. Season two picks up like this was no big thing, and instead of doing something interesting with Yūki, it treads some familiar territory with another school festival (this time it's the fall harvest festival).

Where we learned about sake and beer from season one, season two is all about pulque and wine. Particularly by episode eight, much of the cast has been transported to the vineyards of France for a grape-based adventure. I was particularly disappointed earlier in the season by male students combing the female baths for leftover pubic hairs (gross!) but episode eight had me back on board, as I am interested in wine.

I've been rather strict with my Flushable ratings lately, and certainly Moyashimon Returns is a let down after the first season, but I'm still hesitant to write it off completely. This may be a half-assed second season, but it's still much more worth watching (for science!) than so many other half-assed anime series. Watch it with some patience, but for goodness sake, watch season one first.[TOP]

Speaking of mild disappointments, Fractale came in the mail…

I'd never heard the colorful phrase “shitting the bed” applied to anime until Zac started using it liberally on the ANNCast. I'm sure he didn't coin the metaphor, but it has certainly stuck with me. At just 11 episodes, I don't think it's fair to say Fractale shits the bed per se. I think the series is interesting enough to forgive a weird, rushed, counter-point final episode. I mean, this isn't Neon Genesis Evangelion, (which one of my teaching assistants thought was some kind of cruel joke after my recommendation) or even Space Runaway Ideon, where we've spent 26 to 39 episodes getting to know these characters only to have things go horribly wrong. I mean, yes, the final episode undermines all the themes of the series so far, but I felt far less betrayed by Fractale than Evangelion episode 25.

Backing up a bit, one thing I'm always looking for in Shelf Worthy titles is a certain “recommendability” factor. I would certainly recommend Fractale to sci-fi fans. Fractale presents a genuinely interesting sci-fi future scenario, and even if it never answers the questions it poses, let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Clain lives in a future where everyone syncs up with a satellite called “Fractale,” which gives the population unfettered internet/virtual reality access and a stipend to live on (called “Donay”). It's practically a utopia, save for the fact that Fractale is breaking down and not everyone wants to live “on the grid”. When Clain's ipod-like-sync (“Don't blink!”) with Fractale is broken one day by a mysterious girl on the run, he becomes a fugitive (and potential terrorist) with alarming rapidity.

Clain's love interests are Phryne, a priestess from Fractale, and a plucky virtual AI girl named Nessa. Clain himself is a little lacking in personality, but this seems intentional, perhaps on the part of co-creator Hiroki Azuma, as a nod to the otaku database (Azuma wrote Otaku: Japan's Database Animals).

As such, Fractale fluctuates uncomfortably between interesting science fiction and Clain accidently seeing girls' underwear. In other words, it's an odd mix of things I don't like about anime combined with elements of science fiction that I adore. In research for prior reviews of Fractale I ran across a couple of anime fan blogs with the opposite opinion; they wanted more cute girls and less science fiction. Sp Fractale managed to isolate both audiences it could've gone for, but I don't think the show is a complete failure.

For one thing, I think the animation and art department did quite a good job for a late night TV show. Early episodes reminded me favorably of shows like Nadia - The Secret of Blue Water, or even some kind of future version of TaleSpin between the air ships and goofy bad guys. Episode seven features a futuristic virtual city that made me think about the versions of the internet portrayed in Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, except cooler (and lower budget, with less CG, even further in the future).

Another thing I love about Fractale is the almost an anthropological level of detail. We learn how the world's economy works, what everyday family life is like, and how society treats its outcasts. We even learn about the history of the world. I think that's a huge scope for such a short series. The voice actors say in one of the dub commentaries that it's like watching a feature film, and I agree.

I don't like Brina Palencia as Clain in the dub, I think she sounds pouty-er than I took Clain to sound in Japanese. Meanwhile, Luci Christian sounds exactly how I pictured Nessa in my mind's ear. Caitlin Glass sings some awkward refrains as Phryne in the first episode, but what can you do? Maybe her character can't sing either.

In any case, as a road test, I'll probably loan Fractale to my friends who like sci-fi but aren't big anime fans. I certainly didn't mind watching it again, especially my favorite episodes. I'm glad this got dubbed, but I can't imagine it ever being more than a cult hit.[TOP]

Well, I'm off into my own uncertain future. Wish me luck!

This week's shelves are from Mathieu:

"Some backstory, got into anime back in the 90's when Sailor Moon popped up on TV. Started looking stuff up about Sailor Moon on the internet and was amazed by all these other series that looked so interesting. I've been a collector ever since. I've been collecting so much that I don't even have enough shelves to show everything. I've got about half of my DVD collection in boxes. I moved in with my girlfriend this year, she's a fan too so the collection got even bigger. On the manga side we're really lucky to be in the province of Quebec. That means we can get manga titles in french that not available in English like The World God Only Knows manga. One of the main piece in my collection though is my signed laminated picture of Belldandy signed by Inoue Kikuko and Hidenori Matsubara."



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