Shelf Life
Friendship is Magi

by Bamboo Dong, Feb 12th 2014

Last night I had a lovely stand-off with an upstairs neighbor. The plumbing in our apartment complex was backed up, and every time the guy upstairs tried to use his garbage disposal, it caused the water in my sinks to rise even higher. I told him that my sinks were in danger of overfilling, and his only response was, "but I gotta use the disposal, man." Needless to say, my kitchen flooded, and was covered in an inch of greasy kitchen water that smelled like old meat. There's no other point to this story, other than to tell everyone that my upstairs neighbor is terrible.

Welcome to Shelf Life.

Generally, I'm pretty efficient at watching anime. When I've made up my mind to marathon a TV show, it rarely takes more than one day. Haganai took me two weeks. I had every intention of finishing it in one day, or even a few days, but I just… couldn't… drag myself… to keep watching it.

Haganai starts off really strong. We're introduced immediately to a handful of characters who are just goofy and likeable enough to feel like instant friends. Which is ironic, because the one thing they all have in common is that they have a really hard time making friends. Heck, the name of the show translates to I Don't Have Many Friends. Cue the premise of the show, when leading lady Yozora convinces misunderstood loner Kodaka to join her new club, the Neighbor's Club. We learn the real motivation behind this near the tail end of the series, but for the time being, she tells him that the club will help them find other lonely souls. In true anime fashion, this quickly becomes the catalyst for some wacky hijinks and frenemy shenanigans, but not before it turns into a quasi-harem involving an arrogant rich girl, an adorable little sister who pretends to be a vampire, a total trap who gets suckered into cross-dressing to embrace his masculinity, a fujoshi scientist, and a child nun. I say quasi-harem because they're not all trying to jump his knob, but that's still an awful lot of ladies.

Without a doubt, the series' strengths lie in its characters... some of the time. When the show takes the time to slow down and allow the characters to connect on an emotional level, it's wonderful. The characters' ticks become more than just archetypal clichés, and you get a real juxtaposition between their loneliness and their desire to connect. We don't even really get the full Yozora experience until the second-to-last episode, but it's a great episode, with a bittersweet conclusion.

Unfortunately, the series also wastes a ton of time in between with recycled referential humor, like drawing the characters inside a video game, or drawing them inside a dating sim. Every now and again, the jokes hit, but when so many of the episodes feel like variations of each other, it starts to get boring. This is especially true when the cast grows, because the series spends more and more time on wacky humor instead of actual character relationships. This leaves viewers with a show that's mostly a bland paste of old jokes, with a few gems stirred in. The gems themselves are nice, but it just takes so long to slog through the soup.

Originally, I did start off watching the series subbed, but made the switch to the dub because I just couldn't handle how lame the character insults were. Yozora keeps calling rich girl Sena "Meat," because, you know, she has meat in places. Sena keeps calling her "Fox Face," which at the end of the day, is not really that great of a dig. Given how socially awkward these characters are, I get the motivation behind having them also be kind of terrible and unimaginative at insults, but it also makes for a dull viewing experience. The dub, led by Whitney Rodgers and Jad Saxton, at least mixes it up. Rodgers is especially efficient at injecting derision in her voice instead of resorting to lame name-calling, and it's a good directorial choice.

There are certainly some very good episodes of Haganai, but there are also a whole lot of mediocre episodes. Given the name and premise of the show, it absolutely shines the brightest when it does talk about friendship and loneliness, and how easy it is to be misunderstood by those around you, but those episodes are far too few and too far in between. [TOP]

Speaking of how easy it is to misjudge someone or something, I had an opportunity to check out the first part of Magi - The Labyrinth of Magic.

On the surface, Magi - The Labyrinth of Magic looks a lot like a Saturday morning kids cartoon show. The character designs are all kind of bright and nubby, the main character is a kid with a flute, and by all accounts, the show looks like a kid-friendly retelling of the story of Aladdin and Alibaba.

Of course, if you feel that way going into the series, you'll change your mind about two episodes in. Sure, it still has all the rollicking adventure of a kids cartoon, but it tackles a vast array of issues way beyond the scope of what you'd expect if you plopped your kid in front of a TV. Topics like slavery, currency inflation, and class distinction play a big role in the show, making the characters as much champions of social justice as journeying heroes.

The story follows two boys named Alibaba and Aladdin, the former of which is a merchant whose dream it is to conquer a magical Dungeon that will spew forth unimaginable riches, the latter of whom is a gentle boy whose flute summons forth a giant headless genie. For Aladdin, his genie is just a trustworthy friend, but he soon learns that he himself is a Magi, one of few who have the power to choose rulers, and his blue-colored pal is a powerful Djinn. However, the series is anything but formulaic. Where one would expect Magi to just be a straight-forward swash-buckling adventure about a boy who helps his buddy become the king, the series takes several detours and twists along the way. By the time the first twelve episodes careen to a halt, we've already spent time with a nomadic tribe, witnessed tales of death and bravery, sparked hope amongst the downtrodden poor, made friends with powerful princes and mercenaries, and done battle with powerful magicians.

Magi may have a lot of high-flying action and fun, but each episode also packs a heavy, socially conscious punch. The series takes every opportunity to teach a lesson, whether it's about sacrificing one's life for the safety and pride of others, or about class inequality. At times it's a little ham-fisted—there's a scene where Aladdin talks to the ghost of someone recently deceased that's more cheesy and ridiculous than it is moving—but it does its best to provide a richer context for its storyline than just sword fights and genies.

If you are just in it for the action, though, Magi doesn't disappoint. Once the show gets going, it's thrilling and exciting, with fight scenes that combine the traditional with magical flair. You wouldn't expect it from the cartoony character designs, but the action scenes are serious business. They may not have the best fight choreography, but they're drawn with such attention to movement that your eyes can't help but be drawn from one blast to another.

The first time I tried to watch Magi, I found that I wasn't particularly fond of watching it on a weekly basis. Having the opportunity to sit down and watch it in one go was exactly what I needed. It makes the jumps in scenery a little easier to handle, and makes it easier to keep track of all the characters as well. Magi might not be much just judging from the cover, but give it a chance.[TOP]

Lastly, I want to do something that I haven't had an opportunity to do in a while, which is to review a streaming show. As many of you might now, I stopped writing the Stream last year when it became just Too Much Anime for one reviewer to handle, but I haven't stopped following some of my favorites. And after preaching about this show for a few months on Twitter now, I realized I just had to blast my love into the world.

I speak, of course, of Yowamushi Pedal. Yes, the bicycle anime. Not just any bicycle anime— the only bicycle anime I've ever seen that would make any cycling enthusiast's mouth water at its talks of saddle positions, and handle bars, and gear shifting, and drafting, and all those other things that people like me have only ever vaguely heard of. It's a love song to bicycles and cycling, and quite frankly, I'm a little surprised that it took so long for a show like this to burst onto the scene, considering the huge cycling culture in Japan.

Based on a manga by Wataru Watanabe, who also did the art for the Densha Otoko manga, the story follows the unlikely story of an otaku named Sakamichi, who's so gung-ho about collecting anime goodies and CDs that he rides his single-gear mamachari bike to Akihabara just to save on train fare. He eventually meets two talented freshmen, both who are determined to dominate in the cycling team, and both who help and encourage him to also join the team and use his powerful cadence to tackle uphill riding. It's a sports show, to be sure, with typical milestones and personal victories, but beyond that, it's also a story about a boy who learns for the first time in his life that he can actually be good at something.

That's what makes Yowamushi Pedal so compelling. It's more than just seeing who can get to the top of a hill the fastest, and more than learning about how different handle bars can affect the way you pedal (although both are riveting)—it's about digging deep, and using what you have to excel in life. And like most sports shows, it's also about friendship and friendly rivalries, and the things that make competition more than just about placing.

I've thought long and hard in the past about what sets apart good sports shows from bad ones. I eventually came to the conclusion that it's all in the training. Talent is a lottery, but training is what pays the bills. I would rather watch an entire season of someone training, and then losing the big game, than watch an entire season of someone winning. It's the effort and the hardship that makes one's athletic journey inspiring. In that sense, Yowamushi Pedal absolutely knows what it's doing. Sakamichi is really good at pedaling, but what makes him so easy to root for is his refusal to give up.

Honestly, I don't know anything about cycling. I don't even like riding my bike in the streets. Yowamushi Pedal is fascinating regardless. The way the episodes are paced makes you beg for more, and the characters make you wish you were friends. If you're jonesing for a sports anime that isn't the same ol' baseball or basketball show you've seen a million times, I strongly recommend Yowamushi Pedal.[TOP]

This week's shelves are from Henduluin, who hails from "Dutchtopia."

Good *insert local time of day here*!

As I just finished sorting my humble collection (yay for new shelves! Finally no more hundreds of volumes spread out over the floor) I figured I might as well show it off a little.

I've been into anime and manga for some 13-14 years now (coming up on my 27th trip around the Sun by the way), with my collection starting roughly 10 years ago with the first 8 volumes of the Love Hina manga. In the 10 years since, I've managed to get up to nearly 1200 volumes, although new acquisitions have unfortunately been slowing down lately as moving out and living on your own is apparently a fairly money-draining venture. Who knew?

Not much anime in there due to DVD region nonsense, but I generally prefer manga anyway. There's just something special about actually having the book in your hands, rather than, say, reading the latest digital simulpub on a tablet, though that's a pretty great development as well.

There's also a couple dozen figures lying around, but due to them being in a mirror-backed glass cabinet facing the window, getting a decent picture is nigh-on impossible. Just use your imagination~

Instead, as an omake of sorts, I added a photo of what my collection looked like some 9 years ago. It's funny how some things just completely snowball out of control without you even noticing it...

Help?

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Anime and manga collections really do have a tendency to snowball, don't they...

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


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