Shelf Life
Dog Days

by Bamboo Dong, May 12th 2014

It's supposed to be in the high-90s again by the middle of the week. For those of you with air conditioning, this is a "pshaw." And for those of you lucky enough to currently have snow on the ground (I'm looking at you, Colorado), maybe you'd like to swap places (call me). But for the poor Californians like me who live in places without AC, all I can say is, I am looking forward to this week with about the same amount of enthusiasm as I reserve for going to the dentist. Which is to say, absolutely none.

Welcome to Shelf Life.

Chūnibyō is one of those terms that you've likely never heard of (unless you're intimately familiar with Japanese, or have seen Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions!), and yet, once you realize what it is, it makes complete and total sense. It translates to "2nd year of middle school disease," or more localized, "8th grade disease." Those afflicted with this condition tend to either have a staggering sense of self-importance, believe themselves impervious to wrong-doing, consider themselves better and to know more than those around them, or even believe that they have magical powers. Of course, it doesn't have to end in middle school, and surely we all know people in our lives who still have a touch of chūnibyō, but as far as the etymology goes, it's pretty apt.

I don't think I ever had chūnibyō myself, but I certainly did some dumb things that I don't like remembering, like the very long phase where I fancied myself a swordswoman. Not because I liked martial arts, mind you, or had any real intention of studying martial arts, but because I liked Rurouni Kenshin (obviously). I bought shitty swords off the internet and mindlessly hacked away at trees in my backyard, all with the idea that someday, with enough practice, I'd be able to slice through an entire trunk. Dumb.

The chūnibyō in Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions! is more extreme. Those with it believe they have magic powers, and the ability to summon powerful swords and fly through the air. And thanks to the internet, they can find other magical beings similar to themselves, simultaneously seeking validation for their claims and finding protégées. We learn throughout the series that this disease is self-curable, but whether or not it's worth curing is another story.

The series follows ex-chūnibyō-sufferer Yuuta Togashi, who spent much of his middle school years as the "Dark Flame Master." Ostracized by his peers (which undoubtedly fueled his illness), he decides to go to a high school much further away, where he can start over and erase his embarrassing past. One night, as he's clearing out his mystical rubbish, he meets Rikka, an eye-patch (and golden contact)-wearing girl who believes she has a "Wicked Eye." Her weapon of choice is an umbrella, and although her family is worried about her, she refuses to abandon her supernatural persona. Rounding out the main cast is middle-schooler Sanae, who behaves normally at home and at school, but engages in delusional behavior around Rikka and the others; and Shinka, a popular girl who joins Rikka's magic-users club to retrieve a copy of a spellbook she herself wrote during her chūnibyō days.

I'd estimate that probably three-fourths of the show falls under "comedy," and it's a damned fine one at that. The series does a great job of presenting the characters' delusions, allowing us to identify and chuckle at them, but never in a mean-spirited way. In fact, the writing takes special pains to never put down the characters or mock them, which goes a long way in making the last story thread work. Some of my favorite scenes involve the clever juxtaposition between fantasy and reality, like seeing the characters' faces glow when they activate magic circles, only to pull back and reveal the LED rope lights. The "fight" scenes are amusing to watch, as well, cutting between energy blasts and magic hammers and absolutely mundane shots of the characters flailing at each other at the train station. It gives the series an exciting edge, all while giving viewers the chance to laugh good-naturedly at the characters' make-believe.

Still, for all the entertainment of the comedy aspects of show, Love, Chunbyo & Other Delusions really shines in the last arc. Throughout the series, we get to know more and more about Rikka's family life; she has a rocky relationship with her sister, she's not on good terms with her mother, and her grandparents are disappointed she's still delusional. As she gets closer and closer to Yuuta, though, she begins to open up more about her life, revealing the initial trauma that caused her chūnibyō. The lows and highs that result are sweet and a little heartbreaking, although it never sinks into melodrama.

I mentioned earlier that the series never mocks or looks down on any of the characters with chūnibyō, and it's actually one of the reasons the series works so well. Sure, characters like Yuuta and Shinka bemoan their chūnibyō pasts, but the series never actually ridicules anyone. Not only does it make the last arc feel more genuine, but it also keeps the show upbeat and fun. After all, everyone has embarrassing phases that they wish they could erase— some just needed it more than others. The series assures viewers that while delusions can be outrageous or ridiculous, they're never wrong. It's a good way to end the first season.

By the way, while the DVD release of Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions! that I reviewed was subtitled-only, Sentai announced in April that they would be dubbing the series and releasing it in a limited edition premium box set on BD and DVD. After watching the series, I agree whole-heartedly with their decision. I didn't know too much about the series going into it, other than that there was a girl with an eyepatch, but after watching it, I'm happy it's getting dubbed. It's a great little show that I think a lot of fans would enjoy.[TOP]

Next in my review pile was NIS America's beautiful release of Fusé: Memoirs of a Huntress.

Over the years, there have been countless adaptations of, and homages to, the 19th century novel series Nansō Satomi Hakkenden (and in some regards, an old Chinese myth that predates it). The dog-human warriors who fight in its pages have made their way into countless forms of Japanese media, be they directly inspired by the story or not. The latest to bear the Hakkenden stamp, though, is a little unique, in that even the original author is featured.

Fusé: Memoirs of a Huntress, adapted from the novel of the same name by Kazuki Sakuraba (Gosick), takes place near the tail end of the Tokugawa era, around the same time that Hakkenden author Kyokutei Bakin was already going blind. He actually makes a cameo in the movie, although in the movie, Nansō Satomi Hakkenden is based on the real-life events surrounding the dog-human Fusé, and there's a play-within-a-play that's supposedly a parody of the novel series (and in a meta way, also the "inspiration" behind the movie).

We're introduced to main heroine Hamaji as she chases a wild dog through the mountains. She "connects" with it, shoots it, and carries it home to eat alongside the ashes of her dead grandfather. While the rest of her family may love the hubbub of big-city life, she prefers living amongst nature. As she's eating, though, she receives a letter from her brother, who asks her to visit him in Edo. When she arrives, she sees a stand in the middle of town with the heads of six dead dogs. It turns out, eight dog-human hybrids called Fusé have been terrorizing the city, murdering people and eating their souls. Soon after, we're introduced to white-haired Shino, who seems like a nice dude, except he's murdering people and eating their souls.

What follows next is fairly predictable. Hamaji's brother wants her help hunting down one of the Fusé, which will yield not only a high monetary reward, but also a shot at a government job. Together they embark on this task, though not before Hamaji falls in love with Shino.

Overall, the movie is enjoyable, although I didn't love it. It's one of those cases where I think it would've actually worked better as a short TV series. That way, there would've been more time and better spacing between the hunting of the second-to-last Fusé, and Hamaji's own acceptance of Shino and her feelings for him. As it is, the transition between the two events is a little patchy and there are a lot of potentially amazing scenes that we're missing out on. Likewise, the final showdown is showy and fun, but it could stand to be expanded..

For a one-shot viewing experience, though, Fusé: Memoirs of a Huntress is pleasant and worth the time investment. Animated by TMS Entertainment, the film is beautiful, full of vibrant colors and beautiful backgrounds. The landscapes are gorgeously textured and make good use of light, showing everything as spackles of color and high-contrast greenery. In comparison, the characters feel a little too flat at times, but for the most part it feels balanced. The illustrations of the city are stunning, as well, especially the brightly-colored pleasure district.

Amusingly, Wikipedia tells me that Kyokutei Bakin is actually a pen name, and a pun at that. The kanji can also describe a man devoted to the courtesans of pleasure districts, which seems apt. I didn't dig too much into Bakin's personal history, but Fusé: Memoirs of a Huntress spends a good chunk of time in Yoshiwara, a pleasure district in Edo. In fact, that's where the main hunt takes place, and it's a beautiful choice. I'm sure that in real life, the pleasure districts were probably dingy and depressing, but in fictional anime form, it's loud and lively, bursting with bold colors in every corner. Despite the bizarre pompadour-rocking character design of Itezuru (voiced by the indomitable Nana Mizuki), the entire sequence is gorgeous.

Incidentally, the movie is chock full of talented and well-known voice actors, with Mamoru Miyano and Minako Kotobuki heading the cast as Shino and Hamaji, and the highly prolific Maaya Sakamoto as Funamushi. While it would've been nice to see a dub for such a short movie, the Japanese cast does an incredible job with their roles.

I did enjoy the movie quite a bit, although I didn't really love it. I think there are parts of the movie that could've been ironed out, especially Hamaji's personal journey of reconciliation regarding the Fusé. Still, for an afternoon movie, it's a pleasant viewing experience, and like with all of NIS America's releases, you get a top-notch quality release. [TOP]

Last on my list was the first half of Eureka Seven.

A while back, I watched EUREKA SEVEN AO, and I liked it well enough, but never as much as I remembered liking the original. Imagine my excitement, then, when I saw that Funimation was re-releasing the original Eureka Seven series, on Blu-ray no less.

I'd forgotten how much I absolutely enjoy Eureka Seven. It was such a pleasure to watch again, especially since it had been quite some time. I don't even remember the last time I'd watched it, but it must have been eight or so years ago. The pacing and character development in this series are flawless, and are about as natural as it gets. The way it builds up the conflict and tension is terrific, and it makes every episode a truly entertaining experience.

The show centers around a teenager named Renton, who lives with his mechanic grandpa. Renton, like many teenagers, is soooooooo bored, but enjoys "lifting"—riding on Trapar waves on what's basically an air board. His life completely changes when a transforming, lifting mech called Nirvash careens into his grandpa's shop, and after some quick thinking on his part, he's invited to join Gekkostate, the ragtag protagonist group. He quickly falls in love with the heroine of the series, a young girl named Eureka, which provides for plenty of teenaged bumbling.

What makes Eureka Seven so absolutely pleasant to watch is that everything unfolds in a completely natural and realistic way. Unlike many mech shows where the teenaged hero comes on board and is immediately tasked with saving the world, we spend a lot of time getting to know the Gekkostate crew. And they spend a lot of time doing nothing, like taking on chump missions, or hazing Renton. There's an entire episode where they send Renton out on an elaborate prank, just because he's the new kid. It's charming and adorable, and while it's not exactly high-octane excitement, it gives viewers a chance to really feel like they're one of the group.

And in fact, it's these small day-to-day elements that make Eureka Seven so fun. Sure, it's great watching some of the battles that ensue, but it's the quieter moments that I appreciate the most. I enjoy watching the mood of the crew after the fights, or the sillier moments when they're trying out new health fads, or even the scenes where Renton butts heads with the kids on board. These are the scenes that separate Eureka Seven from so many of the other modern mecha series.

This careful, organic character development has big pay-offs, too. Because we're emotionally invested in Renton and Eureka, the scenes in which they're apart... and eventually come back together... are especially poignant. You simply wouldn't have the same emotional, or even narrative, impact without all the episodes of build-up. Seeing Eureka wearing Renton's ramen delivery jumpsuit isn't the same without having the prank episode, nor is the act of her placing a bowl of ramen down in front of empty space.

Having the show on Blu-ray is a nice boon, too. The visuals, provided by the creative titans at Studio BONES, are incredible, both in the quieter moments (the Coralian scene is breathtaking) and in the action scenes. The way the Nirvash slices through the sky is effortlessly cool, both in the fluid way it's animated, but even just in the way it moves. Of course, that credit has to be given to mechanical designer Shoji Kawamori, whose list of credits is as storied as it is long.

If you missed Eureka Seven the first time around, now's a good chance to pick it up. Not only can you get 26 episodes for about $1 each depending on the retailer, but it's just a series that deserves to be enjoyed again. I found that I appreciated even more the second time around, and I can't wait to sit down with the second half.[TOP]

Send me your shelf pics, folks! If you've sent them in before and they never showed up, send 'em again! Thanks!


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