Shelf Life
La Vie en Rogue

by Bamboo Dong, Dec 16th 2013

Over the weekend I went to a miniature donkey farm in Solvang, CA. If you've never seen a miniature donkey in your life before, you're kind of missing out on a great life experience, because they're probably one of the cutest animals in the world that you're legally allowed to pet, next to llamas and wallabies. It's like someone took a full-size donkey, kept the size of the head, and just kind of shrunk everything else. They're the corgis of the donkey world, and docile to boot. Good stuff.

Okay, let's talk anime.

It's not often that I think a bundled extra is worth almost as much as the value of the Blu-ray or DVD product itself, but that's certainly the case with Little Witch Academia. Granted, the actual feature itself is only 23 minutes, so having extra material helps justify the ¥6,000 price tag, but the 66 minute "How the Magic was Created" behind-the-scenes documentary is truly fascinating. And, it's actually one of the better "how anime is made" documentaries I've seen to date.

But more on that later. It's only right that we start off by talking about Little Witch Academia itself, a short film born from the Anime Mirai project, a government-funded initiative meant to foster the education and development of young animators. Five of these animators, all in their late 20s, were taken under the wing of Studio Trigger, itself a young company founded by previous Gainax employees. Under the careful tutelage of director Yoh Yoshinari, a key animator for works like FLCL, Evangelion, and Jin-Roh, they managed to turn Little Witch Academia into one of the most inventive and charming short films seen in recent history. Whether you chalk the novelty of this work up to the creative freedom that a government grant buys you, or the still-unfettered imaginations of a young studio, is your call. But, LWA definitely stands apart from the rest (with a popularity evidenced by their wildly successful Kickstarter).

Its message and premise is a simple, but effective one. Sweet but scatter-brained Akko Kagari attends Luna Nova Academy, a school for witches. Unlike her peers, she's not from a witch family, but she's inspired by her childhood idol, a witch named Shiny Chariot. One day, the students are asked to explore a dungeon and bring back rare treasures, but Queen Bee student Diana accidentally unleashes a powerful, magic-gobbling dragon. Aided by a special staff and some words from her idol—and of course, plenty of heart—Akko digs deep and finds a way to save the day.

Part of what makes LWA so fun to watch is its imaginative character design and atmosphere. The girls are gangly and awkward, allowing a dynamic range of body movements that one wouldn't normally expect from your typical anime character. This plays out especially well in action scenes, where the girls kinetically contort their way around obstacles and props in leaps and dashes. Even scenes of the girls falling through tree branches or tumbling through rubble are vibrant and full of life. It's a magnificently animated affair, and one can't help but step back and marvel when you think about how the film is largely the efforts of a handful of young and inexperienced key animators—and apparently endless and patient supervision from Yoshinari.

The “making of” documentary that's on the same disc is truly interesting. Narrated by Noriko Hidaka (who also voices the teacher in the film), the doc largely follows the key animators and their interactions with director and mentor Yoshinari. Viewers might be surprised at how deeply involved Yoshinari is in every step of the process, scrutinizing every frame of key animation and making detailed changes in things like spine positions. It's a riveting documentary, and although it runs for over an hour, it doesn't feel like it. With focus on key animation, background drawing, and post-effects, it's a good video not only for fans of the short film, but also animation in general.

For $60, there are plenty of other bonuses that come with the Blu-ray set. The cardboard disc-holder itself contains the original soundtrack alongside the Blu-ray, and there's also a fairly lengthy softcover artbook containing samples of key art, backgrounds, storyboards, and character models. It has interviews and a script as well, but unless you read Japanese, you'll be confined to just gawking at the pretty pictures. Luckily, the international version comes bundled with a packet that includes translated English text, so fans aren't totally left out in the cold.

Overall, this is a fantastic purchase, not only for the movie itself, but for the extras that come with it. At $60, it is a little on the steep side, but it's a fantastic little piece and worth the purchase.[TOP]

On the opposite end of the spectrum of enjoyment is Aesthetica of a Rogue Hero, which I had the damning misfortune of having already watched the first four episodes of for “The Stream.” By the way, I promptly quit the series after four episodes, having suffered my way through a handful of almost-rapes (it's not really rape because he's asleep), forcible disrobing of women (it's okay, because he's just kidding), humiliation (he made them pee their pants because he was trying to get them to bond!!! He's a nice guy), and way too many jokes about an aggressive lesbian who molests every girl in sight.

Before I jump into just why I find this series so disdainful, I find myself obligated to state that I personally don't think there is anything wrong with fanservice—only in the way that it's presented. And this show presents it in a damaging and harmful way.

Aesthetica of a Rogue Hero is the worst kind of over-the-top, power fantasy fanservice show, because it's also a fervent apologist show. Despite the main protagonist being a creep and a molester, the show is perpetually apologizing for and justifying his actions at every turn, to the point where every women in the series responds to all of his infractions with, “gosh, he didn't mean any harm, he's so great.”

Here's a run-down of the many things I hated the most about this show, in no particular order.

1. One of the main female protagonists, demon princess Miu has gigantic tits, so inexplicably, while everyone's gym uniforms are just these weird quasi-80s unitard getups (think Kelly Lynch's undergarments in Roadhouse), Miu's has this massive keyhole in it, just so her breasts can burst out of them. While I typically just roll my eyes at such anime getups, I find it particularly odious that she's the only one forced to wear this outfit, which bears a connotation of shame. At some point, she complains about having to wear it, but let's not pretend for a second that fictional characters are in control of their own outfits.

2. There is a whole lot of forced disrobing. Ranging from bra-snatching, to panty-snatching, to clothes exploding off women's bodies from fighting or magical motorcycles (yep), the women in the series are constantly being exposed in public, left to cower and cover their bodies because our “rogue hero” is a little creep. Perhaps one can at least give the series props for sharting out all manners of finding reasons to disrobe these women—in the obligatory beach episode, there's a contest where one guy is “it,” and within the span of one hour, contestants have to snatch his bathing suit in order to win a lump sum of money. Right, because this is a contest that would totally exist. (It even had the laughable stipulation of, “nothing is off limits; don't worry, the event organizers will take responsibility.”) So naturally, Rogue Hero Akatsuki is “it,” and decides, “Wait a minute, if they're all trying to snatch my swimsuit (uh huh), then I should be able to snatch theirs!” Let's pause to mention that literally no one in the entire world ever would organize such a swim trunks-snatching event because it's also incredibly demeaning to men.

At the end of this bit of fanservice diarrhea, Akatsuki ends up in the water with Miu, who is accidentally wearing a see-through swimsuit. And being the “hero” that he is, he starts groping her breasts, at some point slipping under her top to massage her breasts under the pretense of, “I'm just trying to help cover you up!” And then he scoops her up into his arms and carries her ashore, saying, “This way no one will see you,” to which she blushes and thinks, “Gosh, he's so sweet.”

No. This is the response of emotionally abused women, who are harassed, molested, or otherwise humiliated, but think, “Oh… he's doing it for me, so it's okay.” Seriously this show can go in the toilet.

3. There are a whole lot of excuses for unwanted sexual contact. Akatsuki disrobes and gropes Miu, but it's okay because he's sleeping. Yes, this is a thing that happens all the time, said no statistic ever, except for occasions where you want some character to get molested but don't want your main character to get blamed for it.

And I haven't even gotten to the part where he forces two girls to pee themselves in front of their friend, because “he just wanted us to be friends!” and “he didn't want her to be the only one embarrassed!” What a gallant gentleman.

Meanwhile, when women aren't being groped, molested, exposed, humiliated, or threatened by the danger of rape, there's some BS story about some secret organization run by teenagers who can travel between two worlds. Because clearly, we're all just watching this show for the story, aren't we.

Surely, surely there's a happy medium between having male protagonists that just get beat up by tsunderes all the time, and "alphas" like Akatsuki who think that kicking ass and protecting women need to go hand-in-hand (or tit-in-hand) with sexual predation.

What's so deeply offensive about Aesthetica of a Rogue Hero is not that it includes a stockpile of tits, and that there are scenes of a girl practically riding a guy's dick in the forest. It's that at every. single. bloody. turn, there are excuses as to not only why the hero was justified in carrying out those actions, but as to why he should be rewarded for them. That he can grope a girl's breasts in front of her friends and say, “I'm just trying to relax you!” and to have her respond, “He's so nice, teehee!” is not only repulsive, but it is flat-out lazy writing.

By the way, if you want shows with giant tits, there are a lot of shows to choose from that are heaps better, like High School DxD and Highschool of the Dead, both of which are choking with fanservice and aren't revolting. [TOP]

Last but not least, I poked my head into the giant volume that is the Golgo 13 complete collection. Priced at ~$50, this pretty much boils down to $1 an episode, which is awesome if you're on a budget but you still want to see a grumpy hitman scowl at people.

Made in 2008, this adaptation of the manga hits North American shelves at a good time. The manga's been around for 45 years now, and it's the oldest manga still in publication.

That having been said, the Golgo 13 TV series is clearly made for people who just blindly love Golgo 13 and want to see more of it. I'm not saying it's bad, but it strays a little on the boring side, and it's not terribly well thought-out beyond "here's a handful of stories that we wanted to adapt, so we just hired some guys to make it, 'cause Golgo."

You'll notice after a few episodes that Golgo 13 is very, very repetitive (but to each his/her own; somehow American fans were able to watch House for eight years without noticing its tired formula, and crime procedurals are somehow always some of the best rated shows on TV, despite being churned out from the same mold). Golgo accepts a mission, then dodges some bad guys, and then finishes off whatever dude he's been hired to kill or whatever. Sometimes he uses a different gun or something, but basically he always wins, and then he moves on. If you're looking for a story arc to tie everything together, you'll be searching for a while. Not only are the missions and episodes sporadic and unrelated, they take place in all manners of eras and locales.

Of course, what makes this show (and franchise) so endlessly profitable is that Golgo himself is a total badass, carved from a single hunk of cold, hard granite, and polished with a mixture of whisky and the blood of his fallen targets. He is a caricature of a manly man, stocky like a bourbon barrel, and crying only when his dog dies. He probably does pushups with his eyebrows.

But that having been said, when you watching something like Golgo 13, you are watching it for the idea of Golgo 13, for the persona that old man Duke has crafted for himself over the decades. It's not an easy show to watch for extended periods of time—you may find yourself going slightly mad with how formulaic it is—but it's good for those nights when you're sitting down with a plate of food and thinking, “what should I watch right now?”

Would I recommend Golgo 13 to someone? Uh, maybe not really. I think everyone should see an episode or two (or one of the previous works in the francise) at some point in their lives, because he's so iconic, but I don't know that 50 episodes is really necessary. Five, maybe. Ten at most. But it's kind of good to know that it exists, because for as cookie-cutter as the stories are, Golgo is a man of legend and should be remembered as such.[TOP]

Alright, that's it for this week. Let's go argue in the forums.

This week's shelves are from David, who wrote in the following:

"I mainly collect anime. I do own 16 volumes of berserk as it is my favorite manga. I have been collecting for many years. I love Studio Ghiblis movies, so I own all of them as well as most of the beautiful Japanese editions. I hope people enjoy seeing my collection. I sure do J. I hope you will share these on your next shelf life segment. If there are any other pictures you want let me know, there was a limit on this email :(."

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I particularly like that puffy Totoro that I spy...

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


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