Shelf Life
Idol Talk

by Bamboo Dong, Dec 17th 2012

Hello friends! It's almost time for the holidays, which means I have some relaxing to do. And by relaxing, I mean last minute shopping, because Christmas shopping confuses the crap out of me. My family is impossible to shop for, making me wish I had one of those generic Sears catalog families where my mom just wanted a blender and my dad wanted a chest of tools. Anyway, this column will be off next week, but it will be back New Years Eve for this season's wrap-up edition of The Stream.

Okay, let's do this.

I appreciate that iDOLM@STER: XENOGLOSSIA tried to do something different with its namesake franchise. Trouble is, what it came up with is so derivative that it's hard to really think of it as anything else other than Generic Cute Girls Pilot Generic Robots. Except these robots have Hearts, so they Feel Things, and also the girls can use Music to calibrate the robots or whatever. The silver lining is that, aside from the show being kind of blasé and generic and totally devoid of any substance or suspense, it's totally and completely innocuous. Meaning, if your only expectation or desire from a show to whittle away an entire weekend was, “Gee, I wish I could watch cute girls piloting some robots,” then iDOLM@STER: XENOGLOSSIA would fit that bill.

Here's the joke—when young, hopefully Haruka nails her audition to start an idol career in Tokyo, she's shocked to realize that the “idols” in question are actually giant robots!!! Because anime law dictates this to be so, Haruka instantly develops a rapport with one of the robots, Imber. In the meantime, we're also introduced to another set of Generically Cute Girls (one of them has a large forehead! hahaha!), including some of the pilots of the other robot, and also pilots of a rival organization. We're not 100% certain why that rival robot-piloting organization is evil, or why they exist, but we know it to be true because we've been told such. Along the way, a variety of events sort of happen—the girls occasionally have to protect Earth against dangerous meteors named after candy, they have to convince previous idols to come back and fix their robots with piano music, and at some point, they even have to go deep into an Icelandic volcano to retrieve the core of another robot. Most of the drama is partially-sort-of-but-not-really-because-there-isn't-much-drama driven by vague flashbacks by the girls, and we are led to believe that all of them have past traumas that have involved the robots—either deaths of family members, or what not. At no point does any of this traumatic stuff really bubble to the surface and become fuel for major angst, though, because then iDOLM@STER: XENOGLOSSIA would have to be something other than fluffy, pointless fun.

I suspect that if this series was condensed from 24 episodes to just 12 or 13 episodes, it would be much better. There would be a lot less filler. In the entirety of the 12 episodes that make up Collection One, only a small handful contain events that actually matter. The last episode, for instance, finally takes the show in a mildly interesting direction when one of the girls defects to the Vaguely Evil Rival Organization.

iDOLM@STER: XENOGLOSSIA falls squarely in that nebulous vat of mediocrity that so many anime series find themselves in. It's not great, but it's not terrible. It just exists. Which, if you have unlimited time in your life, maybe is enough of an incentive to sit down and watch it. But it's hard to strongly recommend a series that just coasts through its runtime, with neither excitement nor drama to push it beyond just existing.[TOP]

Hoping for a little more excitement, I had the chance to check out Mardock Scramble: The Second Combustion—part two of a trilogy based on a series of novels by Towa Ubukata. The story follows Rune Balot, a teenaged prostitute who is rescued from a murder attempt and given the chance to live as a cyborg. Together, with her AI companion Oeufcoque (pronounced Oof-cock), she learns to use her new technology to fight back against the gambler, Shell, who tried to kill her, and is still targeting her. In the second installment of the trilogy, things pick up where the first movie ended, and our heroine is extracted from her fight with Boiled and taken to Paradise, a secret lab-esque research facility where advanced technology is developed. There Rune meets Tweedledee and his gay dolphin lover Tweedledum, culminating in a bizarre scene where Rune is riding through an ocean on Tweedledum's back, learning about what she has to do to next to fight Shell.

Eventually, after a gory gun spectacle, we're led to the main chunk of the movie, where Rune tries to infiltrate a casino and win several million-dollar chips. This is where the movie screeches to a halt. Up until now—both in the first film and in the first third of this movie, the action is heavily ramped up—at times too much so. The rest of the movie is spent in a casino, where Rune learns the ins and outs of casino games, like poker and roulette. In a long, drawn-out scene where she meets an old roulette spinner named Bell Wing, Rune becomes obsessed with roulette, while Oeufcoque tries to give her a lesson on probability, roulette spinning, and the interplay between spinner and player. It's riveting stuff, if you like to watch nothing happen ever. The exchange between Bell Wing and Rune is meant to be philosophical, I think, but it's a tedious scene to watch, especially since it feels so out of place. The whole casino scene is tedious, and it contrasts sharply with the fast-paced intro. While one appreciates that we're learning just how technologically advanced Rune is, and how keen her new robo-senses are, it almost feels like we're watching another movie. Halfway through, I was intensely aware of how much I'd rather be rewatching Casino Royale, rather than a talking pair of gloves teach a girl how to throw a poker game. The cliffhanger, by the way, arrives when Rune learns how to play Blackjack. I held my breath and wondered if she would Hit or Stay.

I enjoyed the first Mardock Scramble, in particular the coolness of Rune, and the dark, gritty environment that drenches the movie. The Second Combustion, though, left me feeling flat. It's not that I don't enjoy a good casino infiltration or two, but the pacing shock between bad guys ripping limbs off kids, and a cyborg learning how to play roulette was a little too much. If the entire movie trilogy was about learning how to beat the system of casino games, maybe this would've jived with me more. But considering its placement in the grand scheme of the storyline, and just how much time the casino scene takes up, I wasn't thrilled.

Also distracting was the rainbow filter that colored Paradise. The place is meant to invoke a dreamy sort of futuristic Eden, but rather than use intricate designs to bring this place to life, the foliage-filled backgrounds were just shot through a rainbow filter. The end effect is a scene that is kind of cool, but also a little cheap. Notably, despite my complaints about the drawn-out casino scene, the visuals there are really exciting to look at. The atmosphere is instantly felt, part-sexy, part dangerous, and if the transition had been better between the scenes, I think I would've appreciated it more.

Mardock Scramble: The Second Combustion is not nearly engaging as the first movie. But, unfortunately, trilogies come in threes, so if you've seen and enjoyed the first, then you will owe it to yourself to see the second. Seen as individual parts, this second movie has parts to enjoy, but taken as a whole, it's a little bit of a letdown.[TOP]

Wanting to end my week on a light-hearted note, I checked out Funimation's release of Is This a Zombie?, a crazy spectacle packaged in a glittery pink artbox that I loved possibly more than the show. Crazy, weird, and tone-wise all over the place, Is This a Zombie? is actually a lot of fun. It's easy to dismiss this show because of all its familiar elements (the taciturn moe girl [who also happens to be a necromancer], the [vampire] ninja girl, the magical girl, the zombie guy), but they're mashed together in a way that's mostly tongue-in-cheek, and occasionally clever.

The central premise of Is This a Zombie? is so ridiculous that I want to give the show credit and assume that it's ridiculous on purpose. Regular high school boy Ayumu is murdered one day by a serial killer, but brought back to non-life by a cute little necromancer who speaks only through a notepad she carries with her. Now that he's a zombie, he can't be killed again, but he's vowed to hunt down the serial killer that's still terrorizing the town. Unfortunately, he's also crossed paths with a magical girl, but because he's accidentally taken her powers, he has to don her frilly get-up and fight the evil Megalos in her place. Then there's the vampire ninja girl with the obscenely large (and football-shaped) boobs, who wants to kill him and serve the necromancer in his stead.

Amongst all the goofy and wacky hijinks that inevitably follow, there are some gems buried deep within. Because Ayumu is a zombie that perpetually reheals, he can sacrifice his body in the name of comedy. There's a good fight scene early on in the series against the vampire ninja where he throws his arm at her and slaps her in the face with it. Come on. That's good stuff. I'm not big on slapstick, and even I had to laugh out loud at that—and the subsequent scene where he carries on a conversation with a shuriken buried in his forehead. Another favorite scene was near the end of the series, amidst this inane set-up where all of the girls decide they want to compete with each other to be idols. Most of it is obviously terrible, and it gives one of the bystanders plenty of ammo to fire at a shallow idol industry.

Unfortunately, it's not all gems inside Is This a Zombie? In fact, if the series has one major flaw, it's inconsistency. Sometimes the jokes are laugh-out-loud funny, while at other times, they fall on their faces from the weight of cliché—guess how many times Ayumu gets punished by one of the girls for looking at her at the wrong time? The tone of the series is inconsistent, too, at times comedic and slapstick, while at other times dark, dreary, and gory. Sometimes the convolution of ladies provide good bait for anti-harem jokes, while at other times, that's eschewed for typical romantic gags.

The nice thing about Is This a Zombie? being released on DVD, though, is that this is the kind of series that's much easier watched in one sitting than on a weekly simulcast. There's not enough of a consistent storyline to carry this show from week to week, but in one go, it's pretty fun. The jokes are hit or miss, but when they hit, they're worth it.[TOP]

Okay, that's it for this time. See you in two weeks for the Stream!

This week's shelves come to us from Jordan, who wrote this:

"'I haven't been collecting anime for very long, believe it or not, but I have accumulated well over 200+ DVD's! Some of my favorite are 'Alien Nine', 'K-ON' and 'Sound of the Sky'. Not to mention anything that comes from 'Studio Ghibli'.'"


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