Shelf Life
The Other 1/2

by Bamboo Dong, Mar 31st 2014

Can you believe it's almost April? Where did all that time go? It feels like just yesterday that I had made myself a giant list of "Things I'll accomplish in 2014!" and with a quarter of the year gone, I've done zero things on my list. Slow down, time, I'm not ready yet.

But I am ready for more anime. Shelf Life time!

There are few things in life that can match the pure nostalgic bliss that comes with listening to the first Ranma ½ opening theme song. It makes your head bop, and it forces you to smile, erasing away whatever awful day you just had. In fact, that's pretty much Ranma ½ in general—a show so feel-good, that you could have just fought with your significant other, gotten stuck in traffic for two hours (in Los Angeles, that's just called 5:30PM), and burned your oven-ready pizza, and be ready to laugh in minutes.

Having watched Ranma ½ in my early days as a fan, I was worried sick that I'd watch it again and be appalled. But no worries, old-timers—Ranma ½ not only stands up to the test of time, it's just as funny and charming the second (or third, or fourth, or hundredth) time around. After all these years, I still found myself chuckling every single time Genma turned into that grumpy old panda. I laughed every time the melodramatic (and totally square) Tatewaki Kuno called himself the "Blue Thunder of Furikan High" or offered (threatened?) a girl the perfectly dead-panned, "I will date with you." I pretty much died during the entire cat-fu episode, where we learn that Ranma has a crippling fear of cats due to previous training exercises where he was wrapped in fish sausages and dropped into a den of hungry cats.

For those younger fans who have never heard of Ranma ½, it may sound a little goofy—after all, the central conceit of the anime is that several of the characters morph when they're doused in hot or cold water (Ranma becomes a girl in cold water, while his father becomes a panda; the goofy but loveable Ryoga becomes an adorable pig). While it seems slightly alarming that the citizens of suburban Japan are constantly at risk of being doused in water, it serves as the launching point for a seemingly endless array of jokes. Best of all, it's played so matter-of-factly that it never gets creepy (it's anyone's guess as to how a modern-day gender morph would play out) or tiresome, and while many of the jokes play off a good transformation, it's never a crutch. One of my favorite episodes in this first boxset involves a ridiculous contest where women have to race through the city delivering ramen, and one of Akane's love-rivals manipulates her noodles into a whip. Silly.

If you've never been exposed to Ranma ½ before, you might be a little confused at this point. It's okay. Luckily, there's not much to get. The series mostly revolves around Ranma Saotome, a high school-aged boy who's also a practitioner of the "Anything Goes" school of martial arts. During a training expedition with his dad, Genma, they fell into some cursed pools, and now Ranma is sometimes a girl, and Genma is sometimes a panda (if they get splashed with cold water). They're back in Japan now, and staying at the home of Genma's friend Soun Tendo, whose daughter Akane is betrothed to Ranma. Along the way, they meet a variety of martial arts-minded folk, including a few other afflicted with water-induced transformation.

Quality-wise, this new Blu-ray re-release is absolutely lovely, both inside and out. The new remaster is uncropped, allowing the series to be viewed in its original 4:3 aspect ratio. The restoration process has given the series a much-needed spit-shine as well, boosting colors and cleaning up some of the grime that was present in the old DVDs. The box is beautiful too, vibrant and sturdy, and packed with a 64-page booklet that includes episode recaps, as well as a sample of the manga. It's obvious that this re-release was supervised by people who loved the series. For us old-timers who kick-started our hobbies watching this series, it's a wonderful blast from the past.

The only gripe I have is that there are some things from the old dub that don't really hold up to time. Don't get me wrong—the dub is, for the most part, fantastic. I just think that if the series were dubbed now, the Chinese characters would probably have been spared the stereotypical ching-chongy accents that were more acceptable in the 90s. They're a little more cringe-worthy now, especially since it's fairly obvious the characters are voiced by Caucasians doing a bit.

Outside of that, this first Ranma ½ box is wonderful, and I can't imagine anyone over the age of 25 not loving it. It's such a wonderfully preserved fragment of our pasts, and Viz did a great job with this timeless classic.[TOP]

Next on deck was part 1 of Psycho-Pass, a Dystopian sci-fi flick set in the future that's probably a little hit or miss with people.

Psycho-Pass a little sloppier than some of Gen Urobuchi's other works, but underneath its jerky character development and occasionally lazy animation, lies an intriguing premise. Imagine a future where, instead of relying on a justice system that insists on innocence unless proven otherwise, society places their trusts in an omnipotent supercomputer that can instantly determine if someone is on the verge of committing a crime by scanning their "Psycho-Passes". Criminals are apprehended (and in many cases, permanently dispatched) before they've even had a chance to do anything... and often before they've even thought of doing anything malicious at all. Those responsible for delivering this "justice" are part of a special police force made up of Enforcers, who are all latent criminals; and Inspectors, their handlers. Leading the show is a young woman named Akane, who had such high test scores, she could've gotten any job she wanted.

It's worth noting that Akane is, intentionally, the most boring, blank character ever conceived. This character trait makes more and more sense as the series progresses, but until the tail-end of the first half, it makes it fairly difficult to empathize with her, or even care about her actions. To make up for it, Psycho-Pass is excessively violent, drumming up increasingly gruesome scenarios intended to tug viewers back and forth on the questionable morality of the Psycho-Pass system. One case that sticks out in my mind involves a killer that murders innocent women, chops them up, then plasticizes their bodies (think of the "Bodies" museum exhibits) and displays them around town like pseudo-art installations.

But gory scenes and nefarious bad guys aside, Psycho-Pass is designed to make you think. For instance, take the scenario in which someone is tagged as a violent criminal and is apprehended. Although that person may have previously not been violent, they now are, faced with the fear of incarceration or death. Latent criminal, or self-fulfilling prophecy? It gets hairier too, when we learn that those marked for death can reverse their Psycho-Pass readings. It makes for a unique moral question, given the assumption that we already have a sophisticated algorithm that can accurately predict criminal intent. Are we better off preventing crime before its foundations are laid, or is that morally repugnant?

For the most part, this line of musing makes the viewing experience much more interesting, especially in the first few episodes. Some of the earlier episodes are a slog to get through, especially with dead-eyed Akane at the helm. By the time episode 11 crashes to a halt, though, it's hard to stay away. It's both shocking and terrifying, and completely turns the Psycho-Pass system on its ear.

Those looking for a captivating, futuristic thriller should definitely check this series out. It is not without its issues, but it's fast-paced and exciting, and definitely a good time.[TOP]

I decided to round out my week by talking about the bizarre and surreal Pupa, which can be viewed on Crunchyroll.

Having a four-minute runtime is both a blessing and a curse. The curse is obvious—there's not much anyone can do in four minutes, be it a gag comedy, or a supernatural horror show about two siblings who grew up in an abusive household, and are now infected with a disease called "Pupa" that makes the younger sister a flesh-eating monster, and the older brother a super-healer who lets his sister feed off his flesh.

The upside is that there are only about three minutes worth of actual new animation, which is a boon with shows like Pupa that are intent on making you cringe as much as possible. I have a strong stomach and a pretty darned high tolerance for cartoon violence, but even I could barely make it through episode six, which is just three minutes of someone screaming in pain.

It's hard to tell what parts of Pupa are gimmick, and what parts are meant to be dissected (no pun intended, for all those who have suffered through the other three-minute episode of people screaming) as an elaborate allegory for domestic abuse. As depressing as the scenes are of sibling pair Yume and Utsutsu getting yelled at by their Stockholm Syndrome-suffering mother and beaten by their violent father, they help ground an otherwise outlandish horror plot that, at times, seems to be played more for shock value than anything else. At the same time, it works almost as an extended metaphor, where Utsutsu's daily feedings of his sister translate into self-sacrifice (just not… literally), and Yume's inner monster is more of a manifestation of insecurity and fear stemming from a hateful mother.

I mean, psychoanalyze all you want, but at the end of the day, you're still watching a show about a sister eating her brother alive. The series doesn't try to hide his sister complex either, using shots and dialogue that insinuate sex rather than feeding. Regardless, the end result is a soup of discomfort that tries to be artistic and heady, but is mostly just squirm-inducing. Even the scenes where the human characters are swapped out for innocuous teddy bears are disturbing, because the screams are nevertheless present, and it feels more like shtick than anything else.

It's not until the last two episodes that something different transpires—rather than the same eating and feeding and torture that we've been watching up until then, we finally get to learn more about the siblings' social lives, including a network of supportive friends that had previously not been shown. But by then, it's too late.

Is Pupa worth watching? You know, despite the entire show adding up to roughly an hour of your time… I'm not sure that it is. I think buried beneath the crazy colors and the heavy brushstrokes lies a story much more substantial than is presented, but with only three minutes each week to delve into it, we just don't get enough. I have no doubt that the story is more about the abuse than the flesh-eating, but when the series spends most of its energy peddling shock, it never quite connects the dots that it wants. I'm a little surprised I even made it through the entire season.[TOP]

That's it for this week! See you next time for more anime!

This week's shelves come to us from Finland, by way of our reader Blanchimont:

"Blanchimont from Finland here. Wanted to share some pictures for shelf life...

Although I mainly collect figures, and artbooks, as evidenced by the pics, occasionally I do pick up imports of shows I liked. Space is a bit of a premium, so if you're wondering why there isn't much manga in those pictures, that's because most are stored in a room in the attic. As it is, I fear I might soon have to do the same with figures to make room for new ones... I've liked anime and manga ever since I can remember. Though I didn't start collecting more seriously until a few years back, when I could finally afford it."

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Very cool! Tell you what, I'll trade you some storage space in my office in exchange for some of your free education and healthcare!

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


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