Shelf Life
Rose Garden

by Bamboo Dong, May 20th 2013

After a couple years in my current place in sunny Orange County (CA, not NJ), I'm relocating a little further north. Not too far north. Just north enough to make my commute more inconvenient. As I begin the slow process of sifting through my belongings, though, it's always surprising and terrifying how much junk I own. You'd think that since I had just moved two years ago, I would've remembered the process, and told myself to not buy anything else, ever again. But I didn't learn. And so now I have to do it all over again. Here's to lugging another billion pounds of unread books.

Okay, welcome to Shelf Life.

At first glance, The Rose of Versailles might elicit a few chuckles. After all, it was made in a bygone era where it wasn't surprising to see anime characters with giant, glistening eyes and reaction shots that spanned multiple seconds. And yet, it's still beautiful even to this day; the women of Versailles look elegant and picturesque, and Oscar is an absolute head-turner. It's a damned shame that manga creator Riyoko Ikeda openly disapproves of fans cosplaying her characters, because the outfits are absolutely scrumptious.

Of course, under all the glitz and the opulence, it's a story about much more. It's a story about the rumblings that led to the French Revolution. It's a story about people who are prisoners of gender and class. At times, it's a story about petty court melodrama. There are moments in the series when one can't help but wring their hands over the childishness of the spats between the nobles, but the lenses of history provide comfort with the knowledge that eventually, these people get their just desserts.

Admittedly, previous to this encounter, I had never read or watched any Rose of Versailles before. I wasn't even sure I was going to like it, because I was heading into the experience facing a gale of hype. What quickly brought me over to the side of the believers was Lady Oscar, a character so fascinating and strong that I would have been offended if the ladies of Versailles didn't swoon when she walked into the room. Her very existence makes the story interesting, on multiple levels. When she was born, her father, the Commander of the Royal Guards, was so disappointed that she wasn't a boy that he raised her like a boy anyway. She grew up learning swordsmanship and wearing men's clothing, eventually earning the position of the leader of the palace guards. Perhaps as a byproduct of an upbringing where men trump women, she's also acquired what I can only describe as a resentment (or at least a more critical eye) towards the frivolity and cattiness of women.

The best part about a character like Oscar (or Marie Antoinette, or any number of the women who are trying to claw their way up the social ladder through her), is that their lives and actions leave plenty of room for discussion and interpretation. Having heard so much hubbub over the years about gender portrayals in The Rose of Versailles, I was worried the series would have an agenda to shove down my throat, but there is none of that. Oscar is who she is, and there is plenty to chew over, for those who want the option of dissecting her character as more than just a cool, awesome hero(ine). Even sweet, empty-headed Marie Antoinette is an intriguing character. We know from history books the fallout of her court's reckless expenditures and their greedy natures, but at the same time, Marie and her husband were just two dumb teenagers surrounded by poisonous people.

Of course, there are parts of The Rose of Versailles that I found to be a little exhausting. I understand the importance of showing the little tiffs that the palace ladies got themselves into (like Marie and Madame du Barry's cat-and-mouse game of the former acknowledging the latter, or Madame de Polignac's scheming), and I understand that palace life was just that mundane and trivial, but as a viewer… my God. It was like watching Mean Girls, with poufy dresses, and there were a few moments where I about just had it with their nonsense. Luckily, there is no schadenfreude like that which is provided by the hindsight of history.

Overall, I'm glad to see that The Rose of Versailles is finally available on DVD. It's a wonderful work, and while I don't think it's perfect (the overwrought facial expressions and reactions didn't age too gracefully, and I could've dealt with fewer catfights), I think it's an important work to have available. Oscar is one of the most iconic female protagonists in anime, and it's easy to see why. I'm happy to have finally been introduced to the series, and I'm looking forward to seeing the rest.[TOP]

Unfortunately, the rest of the week wasn't quite as lovely.

Apparently they made a new Tenchi Muyo! anime a few years ago without me noticing. I mean, technically Tenchi Muyo! War on Geminar is a spinoff, since it stars Tenchi's younger half-brother Kenshi, and it's set on some different world, but it mostly just feels like one giant self-insertion fan-fiction. The story is set on Geminar, where people battle each other with ancient Sacred Mechanoids that they excavated from some ruins somewhere. In comes Kenshi, who somehow appeared from Earth, and was tricked into piloting one of those Sacred Mechanoids in an assassination plot against a princess. He chooses not to kill her, and instead, ends up accompanying her to the Holy Land as her pretend servant.

Kenshi, who looks like Tenchi, in that he looks like some Mario Lopez-looking goofball with a rat tail, is good at everything. Absolutely everything. He's great at cleaning, he's great at cooking, he's great at endurance sports, he's great at hunting and fishing and gathering, and he's great at kendo. Hell, he's soooooooooooooo good at giving massages that when he's hypnotized into giving all the ladies of Holy Land massages, all of them just explode with orgasms. I mean, of course. There is literally nothing he isn't stellar at, so all the gals are super into him, including the hot, sexy Dark Elf, and the hot, sexy teacher lady (whom I'm preeeeetty sure sexually assaulted him at one point), and just about everything with two legs and a vagina. Which is funny, because there is absolutely nothing interesting about this guy, but whatever.

There is… SOME story. Somewhere. I mean, we're introduced to Kenshi in the midst of an assassination plot, so that's always just vaguely percolating in the background, but for the most part, the first part of this OVA series is utter fluff. Like I said, it's just one big self-insertion fic where the dashing (but come on, not really) hero makes all the panties drop with his sick housekeeping skills and his magic fingers. I assume that in the latter half of the series, things actually get serious (and maybe even crazy??), but for the time being, it's mostly just snippets of exposition here and there.

For Tenchi Muyo! fans, there are some winks. Kenshi constantly references the people he grew up with, making mention of his grandfather, as well as all the girls. For the most part, though, everything is a totally new story, on a totally new world. Only in the last couple of episodes in this set, though, are we really introduced to the characters who will become the primary antagonists of the series. That's when I imagine we'll see the actual war on the Holy Land and when we'll find out what Kenshi is really doing in this world… but six of these seven episodes on Part 1 mostly exist to establish what a bad-ass Kenshi is. To his credit, he's completely oblivious. In fact, it's one of the most endearing things about him—even as the ladies of Holy Land are going gaga over him, he's just an awkward goof who neither notices nor cares. In one scene, in which the women insist that he join them in the bath, he just cries softly in the corner.

Tenchi Muyo!: War on Geminar is a little clunky in the first seven episodes. The vast majority of the setup is unceremoniously dumped in the first episode, with the next several just being fluff, but there are signs that the rest of the series will kick things up a notch. While the show itself has a healthy amount of fanservice (as one would expect from a show that has the Tenchi Muyo! name on it), it's not terribly egregious, and Kenshi's reactions to much of it is actually somewhat amusing. If anything, Part 1 is a solid Meh+.[TOP]

Lastly, I decided to check out another spinoff. This time, it was the first part of A Certain Scientific Railgun.

You know, if I had to choose between A Certain Magical Index and A Certain Scientific Railgun, I would choose the latter. There are parts of both that I enjoyed, as well as parts of both that I actively disliked, but as a unit, A Certain Scientific Railgun feels more cohesive and enjoyable—especially when it gets to the Level Upper arc. If I could have, though, I would've launched a nation-wide petition to make Kuroko about 200% less annoying.

Based on a manga spinoff of A Certain Magical Index, A Certain Scientific Railgun mostly follows electromaster Mikoto Misaka and some of her gal pals. Amongst them is lecherous and irritating teleporter Kuroko Shirai, who fills the stereotype of the crazy, obsessed stalker girl who tries to grope Mikoto, and peek at her panties, and all that other wild stuff that girls who like each other do (I guess). I think how much you like her might be related to how tolerant you are of aggravating individuals, and how sick you are of characters like that. My tolerance is pretty low, and I'm pretty sick of characters like her, so… well, if she had died in a mysterious accident, I'm not sure I would've shed too many tears.

Aside from her, though, the other characters are relatively charming, although Mikoto is my favorite. She was my favorite even in A Certain Magical Index (although Toma lovers will be pleased to see that he makes appearances in this show as well), so having an entire show focused on her was a bonus. We also get to see a lot more of her power, which is much more interesting and intricate than what's shown in Index. Not having her compete for screentime with Toma also makes her more of a three-dimensional character, rather than a token tsundere (despite there being a throwaway tsundere gag or two). Together, she and her friends absolutely make this series work. Unlike Index, which jumped from one serious arc to another, Railgun has a lot more standalone episodes and mini-arcs. Even so, because of its nuclear cast and the filler scenes where they interact and hang out, it feels more complete. When we reach the climax of the Level Upper arc, it means a little more because we've previously felt the pangs of Level 0ers like Mikoto's friend Ruiko.

Even though the world of Index is much more complex, and we meet more characters with huge backstories, there's something simplistic about Railgun that, to me, makes it more entertaining to watch. Obviously, when you're adapting a spinoff about one character, you're going to have a big shift in the storytelling approach than if you're trying to adapt a light novel series with multiple arcs, but while Index is great for fans of the novels, Railgun is a lot more user-friendly. And, if I'm being biased here, I think Mikoto is a more interesting character than Toma, who seems to largely fit the role of the Generic Nice Guy.

Having now been privy to both series, I would argue that knowledge of Index is not required to understand or appreciate A Certain Scientific Railgun. Obviously, if you want to know more about the world in which the stories are set, or see how Academy City works, then yeah, you should check out the original series. And I do think that the Index arc itself is worth watching (and maybe even deserving of its own 12-episode spinoff), but if you're interested in seeing the multiple Railgun series that make up the franchise, I would encourage you to just jump right in.[TOP]

Alright, that's it for this week. I'll probably check out the last part of War on Geminar next week. Thanks for reading!

This week's shelves are from Alexander, an anime and wrestling enthusiast who sent in the following collection:

"My name is Alexander, I'm a 19-year-old anime fan, and have been for the better part of 15 years. Growing up, what hooked me into anime was watching the original Pokémon series, starting with episode number 1 in '98, which lead to me discovering Toonami on Cartoon Network, in late '99. Over time, I proceeded into the shows of Adult Swim, such as Cowboy Bebop and Inuyasha, the latter of which would become my favorite anime series ever.

The last few years, I slowly grew burned out of anime, but then Toonami started back up last year, which rejuvenated my fandom, and indirectly resulted in me buying a LOT of anime DVDs... admittedly, my collection didn't really begin until last October, but I'm working hard on building it up. My media collection is made up of not just anime, but general movies, TV, and wrestling releases, as well as a ton of VHS tapes and CDs (both of which are not pictured). Being a collector is hard work, let me tell you... "



Young grasshopper, being a collector only gets harder, because there will always be more things to covet, but you are well on your way.

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


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