Shelf Life
Dance Revolution

by Bamboo Dong, Jun 2nd 2014

Inevitably, as one ages, their taste in entertainment changes as well. When I was younger, I gravitated towards anything with action and adventure. I still enjoy a solid blockbuster these days, but I appreciate the nuances of character interaction a lot more. If anything, that's been one of the biggest joys of getting to check out re-releases, just to see how my appreciation of shows have changed over the years. Unfortunately, the true is also the same in the opposite direction—there are shows that I loved when I was a teenager that I can barely stand now. Such is the march of time. Are there any shows or movies that you've completely changed your mind about?

Okay, welcome to Shelf Life.

Of all the mecha shows out there, Eureka Seven is one of the most deliberately crafted. Things that seem like fluff one episode are brought back several episodes later, wrought with meaning. Characters who act improperly are given chances to explain themselves, either through direct dialogue or flashbacks. Even the most abusive of the bunch (*cough* Holland) are partially redeemed, if not to the point of making them likable, then at least to the point where someone can nod and say, "That explains it." Even the silliest of Gekkostate activities, those that feel like pure filler, are referenced later, if sometimes just to reminisce, "Remember those times when we sat around and just goofed off? We didn't know it then, but it was nice."

A lot of the promo material for Eureka Seven touts it as being one of the greatest love stories ever told. I'm not so sure that's accurate if it's just in reference to the two leads, as the romance between Eureka and Reton is a little watery and naive, but Eureka Seven is most definitely a "love story." Whether it's romance between supporting characters, or even the nebulous concept of familial love, Eureka Seven revolves around love, and it's one of the greatest driving forces behind the characters' actions. Sometimes it's between humans and non-humans, and sometimes it's between human and human; at the end of the day, it's still love. There's one scene between Eureka and the kids that particularly stood out to me, when just one line from one of the boys summarizes their attachment to Eureka, her obligation towards them, and the hardships they've sustained. In that one line, their irritating presence on the ship is explained and justified, and we can't help but see them in a new, braver light. It's like I said, everything that the characters do act as seeds for later scenes, even if the seeds don't seem necessary at the time.

Of course, while Eureka Seven does a good job of rationing out its character development and story bits, that's not to say the series is flawless in its execution. The action ebbs and flows, with the densest bits clustered around the beginning and end of this second half. It's during those times when the stakes are higher—character relationships change, certain players leave the stage, and the truths behind the Coralians are revealed. Critical backstory elements are revealed as well, bringing out once again the importance of family—Renton's father and sister, Holland's brother, his relationship with Eureka, and more.

In fact, the second half does a lot to dispel some of the more unsavory elements in the first half. As mentioned earlier, some of the more onerous characters are given a slight boost, as everyone is forced to confront their pasts, their current responsibilities, and basically wise up and realize that more is at stake than just lugging cargo for money. It takes the series a long, long time to set up enough conflict that the good guys actually have something to fight for, but when it comes, it's a jolt of electricity that brings the entire production to life.

The episodes in which the Coralian threat come to a head are some of the most action-packed in the series, and also a welcome relief for those who wanted to see more action off the ship. Of course, with it also comes some unintentionally ridiculous scenes… I assume that the revelation of Eureka's "condition" was not to generate laughter, but it's a little hard not to chuckle. She looks ridiculous and rubbery, and every time Renton embraced her, I couldn't help but wonder if the sensation was more slick or gelatinous. Even an earlier encounter with a certain ethereal girl (I'm being vague for those sensitive to spoilers) made me smirk a bit; while Eureka Seven is good at human drama, it's not so good at visual drama, and the hokey-ness of several key scenes took me completely out of the series.

It's all a steady march towards the last few episodes, which provide a satisfying, if not slightly ambiguous ending. Though, I think what actually happens when the screen fades to black is a lot less important than the 50 episodes that transpired before it. So many characters have grown since the beginning, and even though some of Renton's actions continue to be immensely frustrating up until the end (one particular tantrum, and its consequences, had me almost yelling at the TV), it's been a journey that's developed organically throughout the series' events.

I think that there are many things to get out of Eureka Seven, depending on what it is you're looking for at the time. As an action series, it's a little slow in parts, but the scenes that do have plenty of mech-flying action are a pleasure to watch. As a brooding commentary about humanity's relationship with its environs, it's provides fuel for thought, though perhaps only at the tail-end of the series. For me, it was just nice to see a show where character growth took the forefront, and naturally, at that. It made the series less about the conflicts, than the characters who simply had to find a way to live in spite of them. It's something that's increasingly rare in modern anime, and something that has to be appreciated when its experienced. Basically, if you haven't seen Eureka Seven, I think it's worth the time.[TOP]

Transitioning to something a lot sillier, I popped in Sentai's re-release (and dubbed, this time) of Maria Holic Alive.

Maria Holic and Maria Holic Alive are definitely cases in which you should never, ever judge a book by its cover. Or in this case, a Blu-ray by its case. What looks like a cheesy romp about a girls' Catholic school, complete with a twin-tailed maid, is anything but. In fact, Maria Holic Alive is like the anti-girls-Catholic-school-anime, in that it forcefully rejects subtlety and decorum, kicks it in the stomach, and then drags it through a pile of fish guts. In a good way, of course.

Its premise is not wholly unique, despite bucking the trend of what you'd typically find from an anime about all-girls schools. The lead protagonist Kanako is not only afflicted with anime "I can't touch boys or else I'll break out into hives" syndrome, she's also a mega-perverted lesbian whose choice of school is fuel for her vivid imagination and perpetual lust. While I typically roll my eyes at the old Aggressively Sexual and Kind of Molesty Lesbian stereotype, Maria Holic (Alive) handles it relatively diplomatically. While Kanako's perversion is about on par with her male anime peers, which many viewers might find funny, the supporting characters mostly keep her in check. They're seldom complicit in her hijinks, and even scenes that do nudge the fanservice envelope never really cross the line into anything too uncomfortable.

It helps that 99% of Maria Holic Alive (and its predecessor) is completely ridiculous, over-the-top, and cheesy. Entire episodes are devoted to absolutely meaningless gags, like the girls making their way through a dorm literally filled with traps and obstacles. Other episodes find Kanako on trial for misdoings in a previous episode. There's a story... sort of, but it doesn't really matter. From start to finish, it's nonstop comedy, with non sequiturs brimming out of every corner. Facts are tossed around as casually as bad jokes, resulting in a see-saw of awkwardness that leads to more laughs. There's a bit where the characters have an extended conversation about the academic virtues of CalTech (yes, the university) after Kanako petulantly bags on her sister for going there. For all the jokes that hit, though, there are just as many that don't. Still, on average, each episode yields at least one solid laugh-out-loud moment, which is about as high of a bar as you can set on anime comedy.

Delightfully, unlike Sentai's 2012 release, this version of Maria Holic Alive does come with a dub. It's fantastic, if just to hear Monica Rial play the flip-flopping Mariya. Those familiar with Ms. Rial's voicework are likely also familiar with her range—bubbly school girls, sultry ladies, and gun-wielding bad-assses—and Mariya is the perfect playground for her talent. She and Jessica Calvello (who plays Kanako) inject the series with personality, and I can't imagine re-watching this series in any other way.

While I don't typically advocate the redubbing of songs, I do kind of wish that the opening was dubbed. Similar to the first series' "Hanaji," opener "Moso Senshi Miyamae Kanako" is delightfully straight-forward in its explanation of the series and character, with lyrics that cheerily include, "Kanako is a lesbian" and "If she gets a nosebleed, she'll just eat raw liver to replace the iron." It would've made for a good re-dub.

It almost goes without saying that if you enjoyed the first series, you'll likely also enjoy this second one. The jokes are about on par with the original, though with even more Kanako the second time around. It's certainly not for everyone, and there are moments when the nonsense can get exhausting, but for what it is—a cheeky takedown of your classic girls-school comedy— it's pretty good.[TOP]

Last on the pile was a streaming show that I've been itching to talk about for a while now.

Love Live! School idol project is freakishly popular in Japan, with cafes, and mountains of merchandise, and even ita-cars. While its popularity stateside has never quite attained that level, now that the series is in its second season, it seems as though it's at least gaining some ground. At the very least, fans of the series are increasingly vocal about their ardor for the show, and their favorite girl (Nico nico niii!).

Sometimes, but not always, second seasons of anime can be much better than the first. But in order for that to happen, a few things have to fall into place. The story has to be good (obviously), the writers need to have enough flexibility with the characters and scenario that they're not constrained by storytelling prerequisites, and the director has to give a f***. This last bit is important. I'm not saying that all cases of subpar follow-up seasons have been due to directors not giving a f***, but it certainly feels that way sometimes. Of course, I'm certain that many times, it's not even up to them. Sometimes it's the omnipotent purse-string-holders that call the shots, issuing strong hints like, "We need to sell more merchandise," or "Fans like X, Y, and Z; just give them more of that." Likely, a good director is able to do all of the above—make money, appeal to fans, but still give enough of a f*** that the studio isn't just grinding out half-hearted money-grabbing garbage.

In any case, what I'm trying to get at is that the second season of Love Live! School idol project is absolutely delightful, and actually much better than the first season. And, considering how ludicrously popular it is in Japan, it's likely also a) making a ton of money and b) appealing to fans. Good job, team.

Like the first season, the girls of μ's are working hard to reach a goal—making it through the Love Live! preliminaries, and onward through the regionals, where they'll be competing with local rival group, A-Rise. While the first season spent much of the time getting the group together and working out the kinks in their performances, the second season starts out with the group already as a cohesive unit. As a result, rather than spending more time watching the girls rehearse, we can get to know each of them a little better. Each member gets her moment in the spotlight, whether it's Nico's home life, Rin's struggle with her self-image, Nozomi's hopes for the group, or others. Each girl has her own unique story to tell, and this season does a magnificent job of doing each one justice. Rin's episode was especially sweet, and I reckon that it might have hit home with many of the series' female viewers.

There's plenty of singing and dancing as well, as one might expect, and this season easily hits the bar that it set for itself in the first season. The songs are catchy, the costumes are cosplay-worthy (including/especially the KISS one), and the dance choreography is as fun and infectious as it's always been. Throw in some good ol' rotoscoping, and you've got in-series PVs that viewers can actually look forward to.

While there are plenty of series that feature idols of various caliber, eras, and age range, Love Live! School idol project is one of the best. Unlike other series, in which you can't help but think the entire time, "Are they trying to get me to buy a CD?" (to be fair, that's exactly what Love Live! is trying to do, too), there's enough story momentum and character development in Love Live! to allow it to stand on its own as a piece of quality entertainment. That the songs (and the girls) are infinitely marketable is just testament to how well this series has been able to balance itself on the scales of money and artistry.

It also helps that there isn't a drop of cynicism in the entire show. From the girls' wide-eyed view of the school idol "industry," to their steadfast dedication towards unity and friendship, the girls present themselves with open arms and open hearts, making it hard to not greet them with the same. Even in the first episode, when Honoka literally makes the rain stop with a hearty, determination-filled yell, what normally would come off as cheesy comes off as shockingly sincere. In a sense, the series is almost like a sports anime in the way that it builds itself up from one "match" to the next— only instead of Koshien, the girls are gunning for the Love Live!.

It's easy to dismiss Love Live! School idol project as just another piece of idol fluff (the name doesn't really help, either), but it's remarkably genuine and entertaining. It champions friendship and hard work above all else, which already sets it apart from shows like AKB0048 that peddle the fantasy of the idol life, and given its placement within a three-year high school system, adds pre-imposed time limits. It forces the focus onto the present, and allows the girls to value teamwork over the idol dream.

If you've been avoiding Love Live! for its glitz and frills, I recommend checking out at least a few episodes from the first season. Its wholesomeness goes a long way in making the series enjoyable, and the rest is all heart.[TOP]

Alright, that's it for this week. Next time, samurai brides, amnesiacs, and maybe some monsters.

This week's shelves are from Jade, who sent in the following:

"So, I just discovered the "shelf-life" bit on the wonderful ANN site, and I thought... why the hell not?

The REALLY bad thing is that I have more scattered around the house not on shelves. I used to translate visual novels as a hobby so... and I have a Japanese PS2 sitting around here somewhere...

Greetings from the UK btw!"

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Well, whatever's not scattered around the house looks lovely, and I'm definitely jealous. Nice shelves!

Alright, send in your collections, folks! If you've sent in your pictures in the past and I never posted them, then send them in again to [email protected]! Otherwise I'll just start posting pictures of my dog.


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