Shelf Life
The Martian Chronicles

by Erin Finnegan, Sep 24th 2012

Last week was super busy, sorry about my short-notice absence. So far, my two classes have been quite excellent. In one of them I'm learning Javascript by way of Processing, and in the other… Well, so far we have listened to a robot puppet sing, put together a life-sized giraffe puzzle, and watched a presentation that ended with a classmate shaving her head on stage. It was intense.

To be perfectly honest, it did take me all of two weeks to watch Martian Successor Nadesico, and the movie, and the OVA.

I don't think the Nadesico TV series is Shelf Worthy, but I did love the Gekigangar 3 OAV, which has heretofore not been available in the U.S. I was also fond of Martian Successor Nadesico: The Motion Picture - Prince of Darkness, and plan to re-watch it.

I think the right time to watch the Nadesico TV series was in 1996, after watching Fushigi Yugi but before seeing Cowboy Bebop. I also wish I'd seen it before The Irresponsible Captain Tylor (1993), because Nadesico strikes me as a poor man's Captain Tylor. I mean “poor” literally; most of the TV show suffers from a low budget. Each disc is in this set is prefaced with a disclaimer saying that portions have been reanimated since it was dubbed and the dub may go out of sync, implying that the original quality was so poor that revisions were made as soon as the money became available. That said, I never noticed any sync problems.

In case you've never heard of Nadesico (perhaps it came out before you were born(!)), it's a self-aware sci-fi series about Akito Tenkawa, a boy who in the midst of an alien attack has mysteriously jumped from a Mars colony back to Earth. A pilot against his will, he's assigned to the Nadesico, a civilian-run spaceship that flies under its own rules. For some reason, everyone on board is obsessed with an old mech anime called Gekigangar. Members of the crew are (or become) otaku; one draws doujinshi, another builds mech models. Communications officer Megumi Reinard is a former anime voice actress.

I have a Tenchi Muyo! problem with Nadesico. That is to say, I liked the first Tenchi Muyo! OVA because of the science fiction, but three seasons later it turned into the proto-typical harem anime, signaling a shift from the sci-fi anime I liked to a new decade of harem anime I didn't care about. Nadesico stands right on that cusp, teetering on the tipping point, and it's a strange tension that pervades the show.

Akito isn't exactly a milquetoast protagonist, but all the women on board the Nadesico are in love with him for no discernible reason. I never really liked any of these characters, and I think shipboard ensemble drama kind of hinges on caring about the characters. I particularly had problems with cutesy teen girl captain Yurika Misumaru. I never bought that she was a brilliant strategist, or, frankly, brilliant in any way at all. Jennifer K. Earhart's dub performance of Yurika was so grating that I regularly switched to the Japanese track for Yurika-heavy episodes.

The creepy emotionless 11-year-old Ruri Hoshino is kind of the Lieutenant Commander Data of this series, except someone decided Data wasn't nearly cute enough without pigtails (millions of Trekker fangirls would disagree). I think Ruri has a lot more character in the movie, when she's a bit older and gets to make more decisions.

The Gekigangar 3 OAV includes all of the in-show footage and then some, for a crazy 30-minute ride of 80's and 70's mech parodies. Maybe I like Gekigangar because it harkens back to a time when anime was about manly men being friends and winning victories on the basis of hot-bloodedness. Back then, shows didn't need a half-dozen girls in love with some emasculated skinny dude. Gekigangar doesn't acknowledge the otaku in the audience directly, so why does Nadesico have to?

Last week's forum readers reverse spoiled the movie for me. Before I saw it, I learned the movie was the first in an unfinished trilogy. With that in mind, I wasn't upset when it ended abruptly. I was able to relax and enjoy the great animation and unusually stunning storyboards. There are no boring shots in the entire film, even when groups of old men are talking.

One thing the TV series excels at is the use of screens. Akito's windshield is often comically blocked by girls messaging him, and this effect is elaborated on in the movie, which obviously had more digital technology behind it. It's as if the film's director agreed with me.[TOP]

I'd pay $30 for the movie and OVA alone. The TV series is my DVD extra. I wouldn't pay $30 for Himawari Too!!, but maybe it's a decent dollar bin find…

Nothing stands out about Himawari Too!! enough to make it Shelf Worthy, but I don't regret watching it. It's like the show that airs after your favorite after school cartoon and you're too lazy to change the channel.

Season two of Himawari! reveals that this is not actually a show about ninjas so much as a show about okonomiyaki. The Shinobi Gakuen (ninja school) classmates make a local okonomiyaki restaurant their hang out, and the shop plays an important part in several episodes. There's even an okonomiyaki-themed monster in one episode. In one of a handful of Japanese DVD extras, the seiyuu compete in teams to come up with new okonomiyaki recipes. The film crew's reactions are totally worth watching (more on these extras later).

Speaking of okonomiyaki-themed monster ninjas, there are a lot of ridiculous theme ninjas in season two -- kicking off with a kid possessing gumball powers -- as part of a season arc. Things seem dark and serious at the outset when the neighboring boy's ninja academy is destroyed overnight, but Himawari! manages to keep things light-hearted, to the extent that I (still) think kids could totally watch this.

I wasn't fond of the peculiar-voiced, tan, blonde, foreign ninja Himeji in the first season, but she grew on me in season two. Himeji is the weapons fanatic, with a sort of ninja-gun-magic thing going on, and if anything she's only more violent and explosion-thirsty in this set. In Himeji's character focus episode, the other girls must fight tiny micro-ninjas inside of Himeji's body before the micro-ninjas burn all of Himeji's memories. (It's a lot like the equivalent Fantastic Voyage episode of Sgt. Frog, but with ninjas instead of frogs.) It manages to be a simultaneously funny and touching episode that endeared me to my least favorite character, and I think that's saying something.

The season's (and series') conclusion is a little low-budget and disappointing. The fight scenes through the final villain's hideout include a lot of running through identical (animation cycled) corridors. One scene in the final fight involves stopping a villain from pulling a big lever with a red handle, and that's a cartoon cliché if I've ever seen one. (But hey, the recent Avengers film had that kind of lever scene, too…)

That said, Himawari Too!! never overstays its welcome. The show feels about as long as it should, and there's a nice coda about what happens to each of the characters. Few American cartoons get a succinct little ending like that.

I think this under-appreciated show could totally play on cable in America after school if it were dubbed. A good dub could even play down the implied student/teacher romance. But the fact that all of the protagonists are girls (…and there's no merchandise, and American kids don't know what okonomiyaki is, and kids aged 7-13 don't buy DVDs…) would probably keep this off the air.

It turns out both of the seyiuu extras are about cooking. In the second short, the voice actresses cook and then eat takoyaki, Russian roulette style. That means that one fried dough ball is filled with spicy mustard while the others are “normal” octopus flavor. I think Russian roulette takoyaki was a fad in Japan, because I've had it a couple times (I only lost once). This kind of cooking extra seems kind of weird for anime DVDs, but not unusual for Japanese television, where making celebrities cook is the norm.[TOP]

I was almost as pleasantly surprised by the oknomiyaki extras, as I was pleasantly surprised by Sword Art Online.

Daryl Surat maintains -- and I agree -- that one can tell the bulk of which anime to watch from the upcoming season by the thumbnail art and a single sentence descriptor. Anything worth watching that fails this test will be quickly recommended by reviewers. From the thumbnail and pitch sentence, there was no way I'd watch Sword Art Online. Even if you described the plot to me, I'd be hesitant to check it out. But when I looked at what got the highest ratings in the Summer 2012 Preview Guide across reviewers, I decided I'd better check this show out.

In the near future, hardcore gamers are excited about a newly launched MMORPG title called Sword Art Online, wherein the players use a newly invented technology called Nerve Gear to log in via virtual reality helmets and more or less live in the game world. The series follows Kirito, one of the game's beta testers, as he enters the just-launched world and teaches n00b Klein some moves. Things go horribly wrong when the game's creator suddenly traps everyone in the game world without the ability to log off. Worse, if you die in the game, you die in real life. However, manage to beat all 100 levels of the tower, and maybe some players can escape. End episode one. I was hooked.

I've dabbled in the .hack franchise (usually for review purposes) and I could never get into it. For my money, Sword Art Online is orders of magnitude better than .hack. For one thing, the stakes are a lot higher in SAO. It's not just one or two kids that stand to die, it's everyone in the game. There are 10,000 players in the beginning, and by episode ten only 6,000 remain.

The show never flashes back to the outside world, so we have no idea what's happening to these poor gamers' bodies. It's intense, and it makes player disputes and player killers that much more dramatic when you know it wasn't the bad guy who killed these people, or monsters, but rather people who needlessly killed each other.

Sure, some of the show's conceits are hard to follow. Almost immediately the players' avatars are replaced by images of their real faces and bodies. I think if this happened in say, World of Warcraft, you'd see a larger range of body types. I mean, maybe Japan is filled with buff, weight-lifting gamers who play knights. I don't know.

The series takes another step away reality every time Kirito meets another girl who falls for him. That said, the romance is handled in a favorable way, particularly around episode nine. Episode nine calls into question whether or not it's worth returning to reality if your game life is much more fulfilling than your real life ever was. I mean, after all, reality bites.

This series has some great background art, which isn't to say the action is so boring that I was staring at the backgrounds. I think that the series' premise supports having hyper-real, extra beautiful fantasy landscapes, and current digital art makes those fantasies possible. The animation is good too, and one or two of the boss fights look like they had famous guest animators. I would almost say I smell Gainax on this, but I don't see them in the credits.

I think the series could be slightly improved if, rather than a sinister villain capturing the players in the game, that the reason was unclear why the players were trapped with no rescue (like, say, in Dragon Head). SAO is a good show in part because it inspires that kind of brainstorming. “What would I do if…?” “What if the players did this instead…?” It's like a good book that you want someone else to read so you can have long conversations about it.

I hope the series comes to a satisfying conclusion, but it's been good enough so far that I won't mind if they flub it. I think the premise is good enough to support even a shabby ending. I hope this gets a dub eventually.[TOP]

I just got a big box of review copies in the mail. I'll see you guys in a couple of weeks, probably with Ergo Proxy and Oblivion Island on October 8th.

This week's shelves are from Eddie:

"Hi, the name is Eddie. I've been an anime fan for about five or six years, started somewhere around my junior year in high school (needless to say, I'm probably late to the anime party at that age.) This is my (at least in my opinion) small collection of animes and mangas that I have collected over the last I say two years (when I finally got money to buy them.) I haven't read like about 2/3 of the mangas/light novels that I have (I feel so ashamed.)

Two of the pictures are a better view of what I have on my bookshelf."

Thanks! Looks great!

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


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