Shelf Life
Gunslinger Girls

by Bamboo Dong, Mar 10th 2014

I stuffed my face full of kaiten sushi yesterday, which is one of my favorite activities to engage in. Sure, the sushi's not the best, but you can't really expect greatness from places that advertise $2 a plate. It makes me think that other cuisines should seize on this rotating-food business and figure out a way to capitalize on it. I would eat rotating dim sum in a heartbeat. I would even eat rotating Golden Corral, and I hate Golden Corral. But there's something about having an endless parade of food in front of you that's pretty hard to beat.

Okay, let's talk about anime.

Kamisama Kiss is perfectly pleasant, which one might surmise is neither a resounding recommendation of the show, nor a dismissal of it. It's sweet and innocent, with a list of genre keywords that might read, "supernatural, shoujo, romance, romcom, comedy." A quick peek at our own encyclopedia tells me that viewers are largely in agreement about this list. But in a nutshell, that's what it is, with barely a stray outside what you'd associate with each word. It has all the things that successful series have had in the past—fox spirits, cute boys, cute boys who are also (animal) spirits—buffered by a feel-good, fuzzy haze of innocent high school romance.

The series opens with a narrator telling us that, despite all of the terrible events that are about to befall the main heroine, Kamisama Kiss is not a tragedy, it's a romantic comedy. And the show delivers as promises, with a light-heartedness that is able to put a comedy spin on everything that happens in the series. Even in its opening notes, which show leading lady Nanami getting evicted from her house because her father ran away due to outstanding gambling debts, everything's told with a slant towards comedy, and seasoned with a dash of cynicism. Out on the streets and down on her luck, Nanami is approached by a strange man, who offers her a place to stay. Before she's fully aware of what's going on, Nanami finds herself in a strange situation—she's not inherited the position of "earth deity," and now lives in a shrine watched over by a curmudgeonly (and handsome) fox spirit named Tomoe.

Like many series involving cute shrine-dwelling girls and dashing fox spirits, a romance begins to brew. At first it's just a blush here and a blush there, but then it takes root like an invasive plant, growing until the romance transforms from just sidelong glances into Nanami fretting over whether or not Tomoe is having fun at an amusement park. It's not my cup of tea, but for those for which it is, by all means, drink the whole pot.

Luckily, there are enough vibrant characters scattered throughout the series to dampen the heavy blow of the supernatural romance. We're introduced to other hot animal spirit boys, including a tengu named Kurama, who literally takes on the guise of a teenage heartthrob pop star. He's arrogant and kind of a jerk, but through his actions, Nanami opens herself up enough to make a real friend. His presence also leads to some good bits with Tomoe; a sight gag of Tomoe turning Kurama into an ostrich had me laughing out loud for what felt like a minute. Other characters make their way into the cast as well, including the (equally handsome) snake spirit Mizuki, lest your heart not already be captured by the likes of a fox or a crow.

What helps push the show along is its deft usage of comedy. I wouldn't categorize Kamisama Kiss as side-splittingly funny, but it has a surprisingly large arsenal of jokes, backed by a solid Japanese and English voice cast that make the best out of well-timed comedic pauses. If there is a downside, it's that the series errs on the side of comedy a little too often, using it as a crutch during dramatic moments instead of letting characters be carried away by their emotions. The result is that there are more than a few episodes where characters reveal painful pasts, only to have everything be swept under a rug and forgotten by the time the next opening theme starts up.

I don't know that I would necessarily go out of my way to recommend Kamisama Kiss to anyone, unless they specifically asked me, "Hey, do you know of any good supernatural shows with fox spirits who fall in love with human girls?" It's not really the type of show that would light anyone's world on fire, although it is exceedingly charming, and easy to watch. If you're in active search of a pleasant romcom, then by all means, give this show a whirl. [TOP]

Taking a departure from the sweet to the… sweet(?) with a twist, I checked out Sentai's release of Upotte!!

Bless the internet for making online shopping a thing, because I don't know how willing I'd be to march up to the cash register with Upotte!! in hand. The girls spend the majority of the series (that is to say, 51+%) fully clothed, but you wouldn't guess it from the DVD or Blu-Ray cover, which has bikini-clad (and gun-toting) girls on the front, and some kind of slumber party-looking shot on the back, with one girl lifting her ugly shirt, and another grabbing her chest in confusion. None of them are wearing pants, of course. If we're counting, between the front and back images, there are four nipple bulges, six bikinis, four panties, two instances of clothes being lifted (one blouse, one bikini bottom), and one girl shooting a gun between her legs.

As I said, internet shopping is a great thing.

Really, all the cover accomplishes is making me feel slightly dirtier about liking a show that, by all accounts, is not a good show. I believe they call these "guilty pleasures" and Upotte!! is mine.

To say that Upotte!! is a "girls with guns" show is disingenuous, because the girls themselves are also literally guns. Or rather, they're anthropomorphized guns. Who also carry guns. And who go to an all girls school for girls who are guns (and who carry guns). Actually, it's best to not think about it too much. Upotte!! is a series that begs itself not to be taken too seriously, although it's not really possible to anyway.

There are great upsides and downsides to such a show. The upside is that because the premise itself is already so inherently bizarre, it allows the series greater freedom to play around with old genre staples. Instead of girls just going to the beach and splashing around in their bikinis, they can bust out their guns and start fighting. Instead of girls putting on boring school festivals where they Rochambeau to decide between a haunted house or a maid café, they can provide more themed content, like having a café based entirely on military rations, or visit stalls that sell gun parts. The show can be as bonkers as it wants, because as viewers, we've already committed to a show where we've agreed, as a unit, that these girls are guns with guns.

The other upside is that it's loaded with neat military and gun trivia. Sure, some of the trivia takes a weird fanservicey turn, like equating a rifle's skeleton butt stock with a girl wearing a thong… but sometimes the info is actually pretty neat. Did you know that American M16A2 rifles were designed to only shoot in three-round bursts to prevent soldiers from panicking on the battle field and wasting ammo/engaging in friendly fire? I didn't. But it's a neat fact. Of course, it goes without saying that you have to have a mild appreciation for guns before getting into the show, or at least not a vehement hatred of them. But one does get a fair amount of accidental education on military and gun history, not dissimilar from learning about world history from Hetalia, or learning about tanks from Girls und Panzer (or about gear shifting from Yowamushi Pedal), and it makes the episodes more fun.

Upotte!! does have its downsides, though… which ties back into its fleshy DVD and Blu-Ray covers. It absolutely reeks of fanservice, which is fine to a point… but Upotte!! has a tendency to take things a little too far. For instance, the girls may be guns, but guess where their triggers are? Ah. Yes. To quote Seinfeld, "It rhymes with a female body part." Hint, the characters' name was Delores. So that's kind of skeevy, since the girls are probably not 18 ("but they're guns" doesn't really make it less skeevy). And having a male teacher "pulling her trigger"… alright, there are a lot of boundary issues. And if potential viewers can't get past this aspect of the series, it's completely understandable and justifiable.

Another downside is that at times, the series is downright ugly. This is kind of strange, because a big part of the reason this show even exists is to peddle fanservice. And yet, the character designs are just not that pretty. The girls are awfully stumpy, and they look terrible in distance shots, like tree trunks with skirts. The animation quality is questionable as well, with limbs that expand and shrink with the tides. I'm not saying that all women should look one way or another, but I expect that they should not change on the fly.

At times, I feel like an Upotte!! apologist because I know that the show has a lot of problems. I know that the whole "male teacher pulling the triggers of these gun girls" bit is over the line, and I know that the show is one big gun fetishist show. But I also had a lot of fun watching it. The gun fights are well-planned and exciting, and focus a lot more on strategy than butts, and the gun trivia is surprisingly thorough and interesting. Upotte!! is not a quality show by any stretch of the imagination, but if you want a frivolous show where you get to learn about assault rifles, then I think this could be a fun way to fill a lazy night in.[TOP]

Transitioning from stumpy girls to burly men, I popped in the second season of Dragon Ball Z on Blu-ray.

Every time Dragon Ball Z is re-released, I tell myself that I'm going to make an effort to sit down and watch the series from beginning to end. After what feels like a dozen iterations, I've pretty much seen the entire show, although it's always been an arc here and an arc there, sometimes out of order, with gaps filled in by later re-re-re-releases. After watching another second of this show, though, I'm back to where I started, which is the realization that I may never be the type of person who has the attention span to watch DBZ in its natural entirety.

Those of you who are, you know exactly who you are. And it's towards you that this new BD release is aimed (although I maintain that you should hold off for BD Re-Release 2.0, which will undoubtedly eventually be released, because I don't think that the "reframing" of this show is necessary). Personally, the more I watch this BD release, the more okay I am with the steps they took to clean up the series. It's still jarring that Funimation's restoration process has made bright objects lose their details, but overall, those objects and moments are trivial in comparison to how much the entire show benefits from the brighter colors. The fight scenes are more vibrant now, and that fresh coat of paint (figuratively speaking) does more to bring out my teenage memories than the old dusty colors.

With season two, Goku is nursing his wounds on Earth. Meanwhile, his pals are off to Namek to find some dragon balls, but they'll have to contend with Vegeta! And Frieza! Only it takes something like five episodes to actually get to Namek. When they finally do, they discover that Frieza and Vegeta have both gotten there first, and it's pretty much a mad sprint to track down the dragon balls. There are several tussles between the gang and Frieza's baddies, but eventually Goku shows up and the cycle of punching and fighting begins anew.

Still, for all that the bright colors add to the series, the "reframing" really takes away some of the joy. I can't get over that everyone's chins are cut off, and that full-body shots don't include feet. No matter how many times I try to ignore it, some part of my brain tells me that it's not correct, because no director in his right mind would frame things so unnaturally.

I'm not much of a gambler, but I have my money on the bet that if we all sit around and wait long enough, Funimation will release an un-cropped version of DBZ. And then we can begin this whole circus all over again.[TOP]

That's it for this week. See you next week with more Jormungand.

This week's shelves are courtesy of Jesse, who wrote the following:

"My name is Jesse(go by "tangytangerine" on ANN). I've been a fan of anime since my high schools days in late 90's, but never really started buying anime & manga until 2010. Started with a budget of $50 a month that's somehow accumulated into this collection 4 years later. I've bought so much that I've ran out of space for everything. Which has led to me boxing up my manga collection that I've built up. But this collection has definitely helped on days of complete boredom."

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