Shelf Life
Super Size Meats

by Bamboo Dong, Jan 14th 2013

I spent the vast majority of this past weekend watching football and trying to wash away the crushing disappointment of seeing my favorite team get knocked out of the playoffs. There's a stereotype that nerds universally dislike sports, but that is simply untrue. My Twitter feed would disprove that. I think sports are an amazing way to unite people; even though there's plenty of trash talking during regular season, every fan understand a fellow fan's pain when they see their team lose for the last time in a season. For me, there is something beautiful and uplifting about hundreds and thousands of different people cheering for the same thing. For many people, myself included, athletes are our avatars for our hopes and dreams, like somehow our entire year would be better if our teams made it to the Super Bowl, or the Stanley Cup, or the World Series. There is an incredible camaraderie amongst fans, I think, and I am happy to be part of that family.

Now onto some anime.

Imagine a world where gourmet food is within everyone's reach—chocolate syrup oozes out of trees, entire deserts are (somehow, don't think about it) covered with glistening yakisoba, and animals have evolved to be insanely delicious beyond your wildest dreams. I'm not sure how this age of fine dining has come about, but I'm all for this. As a result of wanting the most rare and most delicious ingredients, a new breed of hunter has come about—the Gourmet Hunter. They brave the harshest conditions and fight the scariest of beasts all in search of the world's best ingredients—rare fruits, dangerous game, and animals that can only be prepared by a handful of the world's most skilled chefs.

Chief amongst these is series title character Toriko, a hunter who only kills animals if he plans on eating them. Armed with deadly punches that can knock down stone walls, immunity to 70 poisons, and a freakishly large appetite, he is looking to create his perfect Full Course Menu. Tagging along is meek five-star chef Komatsu, who always seems to know what to do with these rare ingredients. Together, he and Toriko go all over the world looking for fictional ingredients that make your mouth water.

Toriko is my kind of show. It's incredibly fun and I love this show deeply for three main reasons. Firstly, I live vicariously through the episode introductions, where the narrator talks of magical pancake trees and ice cream mountains or whatever. These are like the fantasies that every kid has where you wake up one day, and everything is edible and delicious. I could probably watch an entire feature-length presentation solely comprised of these magical edible fantasies, and just happily gawk, drooling, for the entire runtime. Secondly, everything in this show is incredibly cute. No matter how dangerous the animal, everything is nubby and adorable, which tickles my love for all things cute. And thirdly, Toriko is my kind of hunter. I'm very aware that hunting is very controversial, and people have very strong feelings about this, either for or against it, but Toriko and I have the same philosophy about hunting. That is, he won't harm an animal unless he plans on eating every last inch of it, which aligns with a school of thought I can very much agree with. But of course, depending on how you feel about hunting, this may very well affect how you feel about a show like Toriko, which basically boils down to macho dudes killing things just to put them in their mouths.

Enjoying Toriko also means embracing its ridiculous action scenes. It's more than just tracking down these rare and dangerous animals—the characters are also bulging meatheads whose arsenal of creature-fighting include such techniques as synthesizing anti-venoms in their bodies on the fly, shooting poison cannons at them, transforming into giants, or bulking up their limbs until they have the girths of redwoods. It's silly, but enjoyable, and I felt like a total kid as I marathoned these episodes.

Undoubtedly, Toriko qualifies as a Monster-of-the-Week show. Each week, the setup changes slightly—Toriko is asked to track down an ingredient, or he's asked to clear out some bad monsters in order to reach an ingredient, but the end is inevitably the same. He ends up putting something in his mouth. To the show's credit, it does a really good job of setting and keeping a fast and engaging pace. If it needs to stretch a story out to three episodes, it does so, and when a particular quest only has the shelf life of about one episode, it knows when to keep it short. Manga creator Mitsutoshi Shimabukuro should also be given huge props for coming up with creative animals and plants, something that's way harder than I think a lot of people give credit to.

I'm not sure who I'd say would like Toriko the most. Obviously it's aimed at people who have an affinity for other Shonen Jump shows, but it might also appeal to people who have a passing interest in Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern and those “Epic Meal Time” videos on YouTube. Two parts absurdity, one part action, Toriko is simple-minded, but incredibly fun. I highly recommend it.[TOP]

For those who are looking for something a little less macho, I'm delighted to recommend the first season of Bodacious Space Pirates, which was recently released on DVD and Blu-ray by Sentai. I caught this show when it was originally first streaming on Crunchyroll, and I was pleased to see that it's still entertaining a second time through—and it looks great on Blu-ray.

Numerous Internet arguments have been had about the translated title of this show—is “bodacious” the right word? Does it make the show seem more fanservicey than it is? Who uses the word “bodacious” anymore? But regardless of how stupid it sounds (everyone agrees on this), once you move past it and actually watch the show, it is highly enjoyable. The gist of the series is this—peppy high school gal Marika has just learned something interesting. She's descended from a long, proud line of pirate captains, and she's been tagged as the next captain of the Bentenmaru. Before she makes up her mind though, we're given plenty of time to see just how peppy and scrappy and fast on her feet she is. Whilst on a club field trip, which in this idyllic future involves taking a spaceship out on a routine sail around their star system, she's given a few opportunities to show leadership—once by guiding the girls on a space walk to fix a stalled mast, and once to help defend them against some other ships with malicious intent. We see that not only is she highly capable, but she's a great leader. Cheerful and upbeat, it's hard not to like her, and she plays a huge part in carrying the series.

Bodacious Space Pirates has moments when it drags, but it makes up for it with the occasional episodes where the action gets ramped up. There's an incredible scene in episode eleven that made me giddy, reminding me of the days in my childhood when I'd voraciously tear through every Isaac Asimov short story I could get my hands on. I'm not certain the physics in Bodacious Space Pirates would stand up to the scrutiny (and science) of Asimov, but there's something about its deliberation and attention to detail that reminds me of my favorite author. In episode eleven, when the Bentenmaru crew finally spots the ghost ship, they face their biggest challenge yet—getting there. Stalled by space-time quakes, they need to figure out how to maneuver their ship there, and that one scene is probably my favorite on the entire boxset.

Mostly, what I love so much about Bodacious Space Pirates is its reverence for space. There are plenty of shows and movies set in the vast emptiness of space, but only a select few stop to admire the grandiosity of it. There's a scene early on in the series when Marika has a conversation with her mother. During it, she admits that she's filled with doubt about taking on the role of Bentenmaru captain—a nice change of pace from all the shows where the teenaged hero/ine all too quickly jumps into his or her newfound role. Her mother assures her that the decision is completely her own, and reminds her that it's not one to be made lightly. During this entire scene, the characters are backlit by a blanket of stars, the galaxy slicing through the middle of the screen. It's beautiful and awe-inspiring, and even thought it's just digital paint on a digital canvas, it holds a beauty that reminds many of us science fiction fans why we're so entranced by space.

Don't be fooled by your preconceptions of Bodacious Space Pirates. Yes, there are a lot of high school girl characters with school uniforms, but it's never played for fanservice. There are zero panty shots, zero pans of blushing girls, and zero scenes of girls trying to grab each other's bosoms. The girls are all smart and capable, and even though Marika has her fair shake of bubble-headed moments, she's immensely intelligent and hard-working. More series need female characters like Bodacious Space Pirates, and it's nice to see these gals take an earnest interest in science and leadership. I'd encourage everyone to give this show a shot.[TOP]

Closing out my week was the Shakugan no Shana movie, which actually readapts the first arc of the TV series. Although there are some new scenes, it stays fairly rigid to the original TV telling. There are a few slight departures, which I'll get into later, but not enough that fans of the series might have a reason to watch this re-telling. But the big question is—does it work as a standalone movie? And surprisingly, I think it does.

These types of anime series condensations are usually hit or miss. I've seen some that I enjoyed, and some that I've hated, but for the most part, the Shakugan no Shana movie works and I think viewers who've never seen the series before might find it to be a nice introduction. We're introduced to Yuji, a high school boy who sees something unexpected and terrifying—as he's walking through town, everyone around him freezes. Suddenly, he sees a giant baby and a floating ball made of heads, and they start sucking up everyone's soul. Luckily, this horrific scene is interrupted by the introduction of a red-haired girl whom we later meet as Shana. She slices up the giant baby and floating-head-ball with her sword, and restores everyone's lives. Sort of. It turns out that after such events, in order to maintain order in the world, everyone's partially recreated with blue life flames within them that eventually burn out. Weird, right? But of course, Yuji can actually see all these flames, and he himself is a “Mystes,” who has some kind of incredible treasure inside him. This is kept vague for almost the entirety of the movie, because otherwise, why else would you keep watching? There's also a bad guy with a flying scarf which looks like a strand of toilet paper, and he provides most of the movie's conflict.

The premise of this movie sounds a little silly and difficult to follow when one tries to type it out, but mercifully, it's fairly straightforward when you actually watch it. Notably, I think it works very well as a standalone movie. It's just complex enough that it's engaging, but still simple enough that the characters are able to have reasonably complete arcs without the movie feeling rushed. Those who are fans of the series might notice a few things though—Yuji's role is very much diminished, despite being one of the main characters. His presence in the movie is mostly that of a curiosity, where for most of the movie, we wonder what his Mystes power is. At the same time, this also means that Shana gets a lot more concentrated screen time, which is great for people who want more Shana, and less Yuji. Considering they tried to cram a whole lot of anime into one movie, this was probably the right move.

If you're already a big fan of Shakugan no Shana, I'm not entirely sure you have a reason to buy this movie. The vast majority of it is scenes you've already scene and dialogue you've already heard. I think the condensation of the arc is an admirable effort, but if you've already seen the show, I'm not sure you'll get too much out of this. However, for viewers who haven't seen the series, this is perfectly entertaining as an intro to the franchise. It's not a masterpiece, but as a retelling of a series, it works.[TOP]

That's my time for this week. Thanks for reading everyone, and keep sending in your shelf pictures!


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