Shelf Life
Hal I Met Your Mother

by Bamboo Dong, Apr 14th 2014

I'm headed to Sakuracon next weekend, which is very exciting for me. This is only my second time at Sakuracon, but it's already one of my favorite conventions in the US. The location is wonderful (Seattle has some amazing food), and the convention center is probably one of the most cosplayer-friendly I've ever seen. Anyway, if you see me, stop me and say hello! I love meeting readers!

Okay, let's talk Shelf Life.

If the first season of Silver Spoon centered heavily on our relationship with our food, the second season is more about our relationship with our animal and human companions. From Hachiken's interactions with his dog and his thickly-browed horse, to his efforts towards helping out his fellow classmates during times of hardship, these episodes are all about empathy and understanding. In a way, it's the perfect follow-up to last season. In the same way that one must come to grips with the realities of where their meat originates, and pay the necessary sweat toll for the rest of their meal (something that those in the agricultural sect feel more acutely than those of us that can just roll to the nearest Vons), this season is about appreciation. Not only for the milk that your cows gives, perhaps, but for their key role in ensuring your daily survival.

We see this kinship with animals develop on a smaller scale early on in the season—Hachiken finds a stray pup and decides to keep him outside the stables. He learns early on that in order to have a fruitful, non-destructive life with his dog, he needs to put in the necessary hours to develop a relationship with it. Later, as Hachiken wrings his hands over his inability to get his horse, Maron, to jump a fence, he's taken to a local show jumping competition by fellow club mate (and love interest) Aki. There he learns about the fragile relationship between horse and rider, and how much the latter credits the former for all of the accomplishments. It's then that he finally comes to peace with Maron, a pay-off that's well-earned after over a season of built-up comedy (still amazing: the scene where Maron takes Hachiken's head into his mouth and slowly munches on it).

But all of this is still just lead-up for the final "conflict," when the characters learn that one of their classmates decides to leave school and find a job to support his financially bankrupt family. They're forced to sell their farm as well, along with all of their livestock. The scenes and conversations that follow are a more than a little heartbreaking, circling back to the appreciation mention earlier.

The familial relationships in Silver Spoon are fascinating as well—on one hand, you have characters like Aki who are expected to carry on the family farm, despite her desires to go to college and work with horses professionally. On the other hand, you have Hachiken, whose father turns his nose up at the very idea of agricultural work. While this show uses farms and agriculture as its primary examples, this is something that so many can relate to. Who among us haven't butted heads with their families over the fate of their futures?

There's a great scene in episode eight when the students are walking to the cafeteria, talking about how delicious agricultural products can be. Aki says that no matter how bad the economy gets, those who work in agriculture will always have food to eat. "Us farm kids really were born holding a Silver Spoon." It's one of the best lines in the entire series, and so contrary to how the rest of think about the idiom. Even as the other kids laugh about how, "My family's not that rich though," and "Yeah, neither is mine," there's a palpable sense of appreciation in the air.

Of all the anime series that I've seen over the past several years, Silver Spoon—seasons one and two—has been one that's resonated with me the strongest. I've never lived on a farm—the closest I've come to Aki's life was raising some chickens in my suburban backyard and coaxing lettuce to grow—but the series touches on universal themes that we can all relate to. There's a tenderness about this show that's missing in so many others, and the simple way it crafts its messages is near flawless.

Hiromu Arakawa has written a great deal of wonderful stories, some of which will continue to be popular long after Silver Spoon has been forgotten. But I'd encourage all of her fans to give this one a shot. It is by far one of her best.[TOP]

After finishing Silver Spoon, I had the chance to check out an early screener of Hal, a feature film by Wit Studios, and the directorial debut of Ryoutarou Makihara (key animation: Monster, Attack on Titan, Summer Wars).

For roughly three-fourths of the movie, I was really entranced by Hal. I loved the serene character designs, the beautiful and idyllic backgrounds, and the overall charm of the film. The second I met the movie's lead robot, I was in love. It had the bright eyes of a child, and curiosity to match; the way it examined the world reminded me of the way kids hide behind their parents' legs when they're taken to a new place.

Within minutes of the movie's opening, though, tragedy strikes. As we watch, a plane explodes with a puff of dark smoke. We learn that a young man named Hal was on board, and his grieving girlfriend Kurumi is no longer the same. She no longer eats or sleeps or smiles, and has completely withdrawn from the world. Our robot friend is asked to become a replacement Hal and bring Kurumi back.

Along the way, though, we learn that things are never really like what we see on the surface. We realize that despite Kurumi's overwhelming grief, she had her fair share of problems with Hal, who got himself mixed up with the wrong crowd, and who made decisions that upset her. And even though she missed him terribly, he was not always the greatest of boyfriends, leaving her to scrawl her wishes on Rubik's cubes instead of talking to him. Whether you think about it as grief masking our problems, or not really appreciating someone until they're gone, the movie's scenes dredge up a mixture of emotions, both sad and uplifting.

I did mention that I only liked three-fourths of the movie, but I can't really get into why. It's impossible to talk about without revealing too much about the film. I will say that by the time the end credits rolled, I was more irritated than satisfied, and felt as though some of the decisions in the script favored shock over logistics. It's not that the circumstances couldn't have arose, but it was executed so hastily that by the time we've really wrapped our heads around it and pieced the parts together, the movie careens to an ungainly stop.

I thought long and hard about whether or not I felt the end of the movie ruined the experience for me, and I think it has. Up until then, I loved it. I loved the music, loved the animation, loved the artwork, and loved the deft way it was able to bring up darker pieces of Hal's past, while still respecting Kurumi's grieving process. But now I can't really bring myself to feel the same way anymore, although I may need to rewatch the film to reconcile my feelings. Either way, the ending feels cheap and ridiculous, and I don't buy it for a second.[TOP]

Rounding out my week was the second and final part of Psycho-Pass.

Episode 11 was absolutely a game changer, and it makes Part Two (which starts with episode 12) a real blast to watch. It sounds clichéd to say, but if you stopped watching Psycho-Pass, keep going because it totally gets better. Or at the very least, it gets more interesting. After the events that transpire in that episode, nothing is the same anymore. Whereas I've always personally loved the Psycho-Pass and Sybil systems for what they represent—harbingers of a sinister and over-controlling Dystopian future—there was always a little ambiguity over just how flawed they were. We all knew that they were morally flawed, of course, but now for the first time, we realize beyond all doubt that they are also functionally flawed. And, for the first time, Akane realizes this too, and it absolutely destroys her.

For the entire first half of the series, Akane is a bit like a potato with a uniform, who just sort of exists and doesn't really have a personality of her own. It's eerie and unsettling, but as the series progresses, we realize that she's supposed to be a little eerie and unsettling. This overbearing, omniscient social surveillance system has rendered it beneficial to be as blank as possible, and that's exactly what Akane is. Or was, rather, because now that her unwavering faith in Sybil has been shaken, she rebuilds herself stronger than ever before. We see her change from a personality-less scrap of cardboard into a strong person, who's not only capable of calling her own shots, but evaluating situations without the help of a computer. It's the most welcome change in the entire series, and although I think we spent too long dealing with Boring, Dead-on-the-inside Akane, I'm glad we finally got a heroine worthy of rooting for.

Sadly, not everything in this set of episodes is golden. By the time Akane rebels against Sybil, I do too, because it is one of the stupidest revelations in the history of anime. I don't want to spoil the series for those who haven't seen it, but it turns out Sybil isn't just some overly complicated supercomputer. It's actually something much more dumb and logically unsound, and it baffles me how it even got approved in the Psycho-Pass world. I realize that the show is fictitious, and takes place in a fictional world, but I find it difficult to believe that Sybil ever cleared enough bureaucratic red tape to become installed. As is the case with Hal, I feel like the twist in Psycho-Pass was conceived primarily to be shocking, despite logistical flaws.

Because of this, the best episodes in the second half of Psycho-Pass are the ones that don't involve Sybil at all, or speak nothing of its ridiculous truth. Akane's long-overdue character growth aside, my favorite scene amongst these episodes is an incredibly dark one where someone is murdered in public, and no one bats an eye. It shows a society so devoid of individual thought that they can't even be riled up unless a computer tells them otherwise.

For those curious, Production I.G made good on their promise to reanimate some of the episodes, which they made their way onto the release. Some might remember the scene in episode 18 where Kogami's jacket and tie spontaneously appear and re-appear as he's talking to Pops. That's been fixed, as well as some other scenes where the quality dipped precariously due to a couple of the episodes being farmed out to other studios. Akane's face still looks ridiculous in some scenes, but I think that's just her face.

Overall, Psycho-Pass has been really fun. There have been moments I have absolutely loved about the series, some that have given me major creeps for days (in a good way), and others that made me want to throw my DVDs over a bridge. As far as the last half of the series goes, most of it's really exciting… provided it's not talking about the "truth" behind the Sybil System, which was conceived by a pack of monkeys. In the end, it's been a good run, and I would encourage those who want a good action show to check it out. [TOP]

This week's shelves are from Elizabeth:

"Hello, I'm Elizabeth, I'm from Kansas, and these are my shelves! I've been collecting anime and manga for about 10 years now. I've been meaning to send pics in for a long time, but I am about ready to move and I wanted to get some pictures before I boxed everything up. And good thing I'm moving too - because I've run out of room in these built-in book cases! I also have some more manga in boxes that I was planning on selling one day... or not. I like collecting a little of everything besides DVDs and manga, including plush, figures and CDs. The binders are full of Pokémon cards. I'm also including some bonus pictures of my CD collection, since you can't really read the spines from the light glare. Also, I want to apologize for the dust on the figures. It didn't seem worth the effort to properly dust the shelves when I'm just going to be boxing them all up in the next few days. And also for the bootleg Yu-Gi-Oh! DVDs - I know they're bootlegs but they're just too nostalgic and funny to get rid of."

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Fun shelves! Thanks for sending them in!

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