Shelf Life
A Certain Something

by Bamboo Dong, Apr 22nd 2013

I have a few friends who are incredibly enthusiastic about cycling. They fix their own bikes, own several, and think that a good, relaxing day involves peddling up thirty miles of hills. I'm not so sure I'm cut out for the sport. For starters, riding a bicycle up a hill is probably one of the least entertaining pastimes I can think of, because it's exhausting and the payoff is not any different than would be accomplished with a car or a pair of hiking boots. But also, I can't figure out how anyone gets to the point where they can ride a bike all day without their butt hurting. Over the weekend, I attended the most recent CicLAvia, and clocked something like twenty miles (of mostly slow, downhill riding). My butt is not happy. I can barely sit today. If this is part of the sport, then I just don't think it's worth it.

Welcome to Shelf Life.

Despite its lengthy official English name, which is quite the mouthful, Ground Control to Psychoelectric Girl is a hidden gem in the slice-of-life library. Its first few minutes might throw some people off—but don't let it. In them, normal everyday high school boy Makoto explains that his parents have gone overseas for work, requiring him to move in with his cute aunt, who works a lot and is thus seldom home. It sounds like a corny, clichéd setup, but when he gets there, he discovers something interesting. There's a girl his age who also lives in that house, but she's always rolled up inside a futon, and rarely speaks. He finally learns that her name is Erio, and she's the aunt's daughter, but her presence is mostly unacknowledged. The town (and her mother) shuns her for her strange behavior, and also her conviction that she's an alien, sent to observe Earthlings. We quickly see, though, that she's just a hikikomori who feels safer when she's shielded from the outside world by her futon.

Perhaps in part because Makoto is just a Nice Guy, or perhaps also because Erio (when she's not hiding in her futon) is a cute girl who radiates sparkles, but he takes an interest in her and legitimately tries to befriend her. In a move that's either helpful or just selfish, he tries to prove to her that she's not an alien, and that she can't fly, shaking her finally from her delusions. The rest of the series is spent trying to help her reintegrate back into a judgmental society, meanwhile befriending two other gals who are slight misfits in their own way.

From its charming and brightly-colored artwork, to its silly title, to series description that invariable mention girls who think they're aliens, it's easy to unfairly dismiss Ground Control to Psychoelectric Girl as nonsensical fluff. However, give it two episodes and it's quickly apparent that this series has a serious and tender side. Sure, the series overall is fairly lighthearted and has several comedic moments, but it's defined by the moments the characters learn to understand and accept one another, and also themselves. I think the series is strongest in the way its shows Erio's transformation, but it also does a good job with the other characters who make appearances, each with their own personal problems and insecurities. My only gripe with the series is that not all of the episodes and side stories are interesting—there's an episode near the end of the series where the characters are playing baseball against another local team, and I'm not sure it has a reason to exist. I guess there were some points to be made about confidence and believing in yourself and having fun, but compared to some of the meatier episodes, it's a little thin.

For those who love packaging extras, the NIS America premium edition boxset is a delight, even if it doesn't fit anywhere on your shelf. The box itself is thick and sturdy—which is good for sloppy collectors like me who have a tendency to ram their discs back into the artboxes. It holds not only the BDs and DVDs, but also a nice, full-color hardcover artbook with stuff like character art and interviews. I'm one of the last people on Earth who still buys physical CDs, so I'm a big fan of package art. These NIS America artbooks are like catnip for fans like me; there is something just infinitely satisfying about being able to rifle through shiny, official artwork.

Overall, Ground Control to Psychoelectric Girl is a treat. I approached the series with a lot of trepidation, because I thought there couldn't possibly be anything to like about a show where a pretty girl claims to be an alien, but I was very wrong. Yeah, there might actually be a real alien girl near the end of the series, but for the most part, the show is a touching story about a nice girl with a lot of emotional problems, and a guy who believed in her enough to break her out of her shell. I highly recommend it.[TOP]

Also highly recommended, and also in a slice-of-life vein, is Maria Watches Over Us 3rd Season, which was originally released as an OVA.

For fans who've been resolutely following Maria Watches Over Us, at least for the first two seasons, you know that the series can fill a lot of time with not much happening. The third season is even more so like this, ditching the melodrama of the second season and settling on something even slower, even more relaxing, and even more sure of itself. Whereas there were scenes in the second season that were downright embarrassing (some of Yumi's actions towards Sachiko when jealousy started rearing its head were truly unappetizing to watch), most of the third season is fairly pleasant. The characters are comfortable in their soeur relationships, and even though there is some cattiness involving some new characters, nothing quite blows up to the same level as the previous season.

It's difficult to write any kind of synopsis for shows like Maria Watches Over Us. Yes, I could write down a list of things that happened (school festivals, summer trips), but story has never been the driving force for this franchise. Rather, it's the characters and the way they interact with each other. Because we've known these girls now for so many episodes, and have watched them slowly transform from skittish first years into more refined upperclassmen, we see and understand the subtleties in their interaction with one another. When Yumi has to spend time away from Sachiko, we learn to pick up on her increased agitation, and when she starts taking a new girl under her wing, we appreciate how much she's grown. In fact, all of the first years that we've been following for the past three seasons have been blossoming into strong and mature women, and it makes you appreciate that the series is following them through time, rather than stagnating on one particular slice of their timelines.

Fans who appreciate the franchise's art style will also love the extra care (and money) that went into the OVAs. All of the familiar character design and soft, pastel color palettes are still there, but with that OVA budget comes OVA details. The animation is just noticeably nicer. The characters faces actually move in a more natural way, eliminating those moments when girls just vacantly stare at the person they're talking to. Clothes and hair move in a more fluid fashion too. In a show where nothing much happens, save for nuances in character body language, having extra animation dollars helps.

As a franchise, Maria Watches Over Us is certainly not for everyone. It's very slow, and it's largely character-driven. The third season, in particular, is wonderful for preexisting fans, but likely won't win over anyone who isn't fond of slice-of-life shows. For people who do already love these characters though, this is one of the best seasons yet, and you will not regret sitting through it.[TOP]

Last on my list this week was A Certain Magical Index, the first in a franchise of anime adaptations of the light novel series by Kazuma Kamachi and Kiyotaka Haimura. Considering A Certain Scientific Railgun S is currently simulcasting, I figured I'd better play catch up.

A Certain Magical Index is… a mixed bag, even just within the first twelve episodes. There are some episodes and story arcs that are incredibly fun and exciting, and even a little shocking. Then there are some that just aren't very interesting, which is one of the side effects of adapting a light novel series. I think as anime viewers, we get invested in one particular set of characters, so when the story moves on to something seemingly unrelated, it feels a little disappointing having to let go of the previous set of characters, whom we've already grown to like.

By far, my favorite episodes in this twelve-episode chunk comes in the first half. That's when we're introduced to main character Toma, a Level 0 Esper and academy student whose only power is that his right hand cancels out other magic. Meaning, if someone shoots a lightning bolt at him, all he has to do is swat it away with his right hand, and he'll be okay. He can't attack anyone, but defensive magic is probably useful enough these days. Except for all the dozens of times in the show someone finds a way around his ability and totally takes him out.

Anyway, he soon meets the title character of the series, a nun from the Church of England named Index, whose special ability is her photographic memory. The knowledge from 103,000 grimoires, books that contain powerful magic knowledge, are stored in her memory (which I guess is also part of her special abilities, since just one grimoire is considered toxic to the average person's mind), which makes her a valuable resource and a target. Without spoiling any of the fun, I'll mention that we're also quickly introduced to a few other characters whose placement on a sliding moral scale change as the series progresses. Sadly, the large chunk of Index's arc is done by the end of the sixth episode, leading the show to focus on other characters, including electricity-wielding Mikoto Misaka (the heroine of the spinoff, A Certain Scientific Railgun). She's introduced in the first episode and plays a major role in the series, but is part of a much more complex (and eerie) arc later on.

That A Certain Magical Index has so many characters is both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, it's neat being introduced to so many unique characters—some good, some bad, and some who can deal serious damage to Toma—but on the other hand, they don't really fit together in the same narrative. When Index's arc is over, we're plopped into a second, much shorter one, and then three episodes later, we're tossed into a third one. The effect that this stop-and-go has on the series is that by the time one particular story is fleshed out in terms of side characters, motives, and fights, it's time to move on to the next one. Eventually each new arc picks up again, but it takes time to regain the momentum that was lost during the arc change. The pacing tends to be a little lopsided, too. For instance, the second arc is much more straightforward than the first, but even though the first arc is twice the length of the second, it has much more information that needs to be crammed in. We learn that the Church of England is this massive, sprawling, conspiracy-ridden organization whose actions can't really be distilled into six episodes. This makes the first arc feel more convoluted, and even though the show is chockfull of exposition that tries to explain the ins and outs of the world, it feels unbalanced.

Although I was unsettled with the jerky pace of the series, I can see how A Certain Magical Index and its predecessors have gained a solid following. The characters are incredibly vibrant, and although I am thoroughly tired of shows about espers and magic users, I found that the series was executed with enough excitement and twists that I was able to overcome my prejudice. I'm a little wary already going into the second part of this first season, knowing that I'm in for more standalone arcs, but I'm curious enough to see what new characters will be introduced. [TOP]

That's it for this week. Thanks for reading!

This week's shelves are from Andrew:

"I sent you a picture of my shelves about 6 years ago, just after I had gotten an Anime DVD that started with each letter of the alphabet. In that time I moved from Michigan to Texas and have been greatly expanding my collection over the past 5 years. As I am getting ready to move again, this time to Omaha for a new job, I figured it would be a great time to resubmit a picture of my new collection. Manga and most figures are already packed up but here is a pic of my DVD's BluRays and VHS tapes. "

Nice collection!

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


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