Shelf Life
Never Forget

by Bamboo Dong, Jun 30th 2014

I was shocked last week to realize that Anime Expo is right around the corner. I am always unprepared for convention season, and it seems to sneak up on me every year. For me, Anime Expo is the herald of summer, and quite frankly, I'm just not ready yet.

How many of you will be at AX? If not, what other summer conventions are you attending?

Welcome to Shelf Life.

When I first sat down to watch Amnesia, I really, really wanted to like it. I find otome game adaptations fun in a cheesy way, because they tend to be 90% beefcake, 9% melodrama, and maybe only 1% story. Most of the time, the plot tends to just be an excuse for more beefcakes, rolling out pouty hot dudes like sushi on a conveyer belt. Simply put, if you're looking for a light-hearted, goofy good time, these reverse harem shows are where it's at (Uta no Prince Sama, another Sentai release, is fantastic.).

With Amnesia, though, it's just really difficult to enjoy any aspect of the production. Most of the male characters are abusive a-holes (I guess if we're counting, maybe 3.5 out of 5 are a-holes), the story is a convoluted nightmare, and the main character is as dumb as a broken brick. So basically, the very appeal of an otome show (which of these pretty boys do you want to become your lover?) is sullied, unless you're a broken individual and you want your lover to drug you and forcibly "protect" you from the outside world. I'm trying not to drop any spoilers here, but there are some doozies in this series that are difficult to dance around. Hell, abusive behavior aside, these boys should be rejected on their clothing choices alone, which range from "lace-up, mismatched, thigh-high boots," to "tattered rag tied around the waist, to "coats that have at least two dozen belts on them."

The story stars a brainless heroine who wakes up on August 1, sans any and all memories. Her floating fairy guide friend tells her to not go to the hospital, and because she's a dumb, useless person, she agrees. She soon learns that she works at a maid café and is acquainted with a handful of reasonably hot dudes who all dress like they got fired from Cirque du Soleil. One of them is an aloof, whiney, emotionally-manipulative Nice Guy; one of them is a coldly logical (but at least not psychotic) math whiz; one of them is an arrogant womanizer with magic eyes; and two of them should probably be in jail. As the story progresses, the heroine realizes that she keeps getting sent back to August 1, except she's dating different dudes every time. Lucky her (not).

It's difficult to sit through a series when virtually every action performed by a character, MC or otherwise, is worthy of a sad head shake. If the premise of the game was, "which of these pretty boys would you peg as a potential axe murderer?" then perhaps their actions would be more understandable. As it is, the characters—the main character cycles through all of them, all while suffering from complete amnesia—get worse and worse as the story progresses, to the point where you wonder if there's any hope left in the world at all.

As for the main character, a.k.a. the heroine who is trying to choose one of these oh-so-eligible bachelors (read: RUN FOR YOUR LIFE, GIRL), her actions will have you screaming at the TV. If stupidity was a disease, she'd be dead already. It's not unlike watching a bad horror movie, where warnings of, "don't go near the well" are met with the heroine happily trotting towards the well. This is a real example from the series, by the way, in case you needed a sneak peek at her decision-making skills.

Characters aside, the execution of the series is simply not good. The dialogue is clunky and feels a bit too much like reading directly off a visual novel. When your guardian-angel-bug-looking-fairy-guide gives you advice, you can practically feel the dialogue bubbles jumping off the screen, with directions like [He wants you to make a parfait] and [Hm, his name is Shin. You should write this down.] Naturally, none of the dialogue is actually helpful, and you don't really even figure out why the heroine has Amnesia until the very end. When you do learn the reason, it's vague, only partially thought-out sci-fi babble, more akin to, "look the other way while I frantically wave my arms and introduce another psychopathic love interest."

Pity must be delivered to the voice actors, who do an admirable job despite having to deliver increasingly vapid lines while their characters dress like court jesters. That many of the lines sound hollow is not their fault—the characters are not given any personalities whatsoever, least of all the soggy shell of a main character.

While it's tempting to slide Amnesia into a "so bad it's good" category, it takes itself a little too seriously to allow that to happen. Instead, it's just bad, and doesn't even provide any untainted eye candy to make up for it. If you like your boys a little bit on the deadly side, perhaps, or on the deranged side, this might tickle your fancy. Just be prepared to scream at the brain dead heroine. A lot.[TOP]

Luckily, I had the great opportunity to reset my own mind with the next title, which I'm sure by now needs no introduction.

Attack on Titan has been an absolute juggernaut—not since Sailor Moon or DBZ, really, have I seen a non-kid-targeted anime property with this much pop culture spread and mainstream appeal. I've seen "mommy bloggers" scratching their heads over it, non-anime fans excitedly talk about it, and probably enough cosplayers to fill two dozen stadiums. And you know what? It absolutely deserves it.

I don't think anyone would ever claim that Attack on Titan is the best show ever made, or even the best show available on shelves right now, but it certainly possesses that intangible allure that makes viewers tune in every week, talk about it with their friends, and beg for more. It has characters worth rooting for, cliff hangers galore, heart-pounding action scenes, death scenes that will have your eyes popping out of your head, and an undercurrent of mystery that can't help but take hold of anyone who watches it. Simply put, it's a series that's really darned hard to put down.

In the future, mankind is hiding behind towering walls, shielding themselves from humanoid, man-eating monsters known as "titans." Everyone lives in uneasy denial of the threat until one day, when the titans finally break through. Countless citizens die as a swarm of titans rampage through the outer village, making their way to the interior wall, threatening to wipe out humanity.

At the center of the story is a trio of determined teens, the headstrong and idealistic Eren, the over-protective (and completely badass) Mikasa, and the courageous Armin. They join the anti-Titan defense corps, swearing to protect humanity and take back the towns that have been decimated. Along the way, they meet an assorted cast of other soldiers, all of whom have gathered legions of real-world fans, and together try to turn back the tides of a losing battle.

But with Attack on Titan, it's not just the matter of winning and losing that makes it so hard to put down. Sure, there are temporary wins—like when the soldiers finally have a secret weapon of their own (though not without its own setbacks and internal conflicts)—and plenty of losses, but there's a relentless surge of momentum that's perpetually hurtling ahead, sweeping the characters with it whether they're ready to go or not. That's what gives the series its juice. It itself is a colossal titan, barreling through episodes, killing people when necessary, tossing others aside, and all for an elusive answer that feels like it's always one step beyond human extinction.

Excitingly, the English dub cast has come prepared to play, and every last one of the actors throws their full weight into the roles. It's to expected, of course—how many times in your life do you get to be part of a project that has the potential to be one of the biggest entertainment smash hits of a generation?—but it's still a relief and a delight to see. When the characters scream, they're filled with anguish, and when they're gearing up to fight, you can feel it. The series is filled with roles that demand a wide range of extreme emotions, and the actors do a remarkable job.

Truthfully, though, the dialogue is a bit on the cheesy end. Eren has a penchant for speaking in platitudes, and a lot of his rah-rah lines sound like they should be delivered while throwing a fist in the air. But it doesn't really diminish one's enjoyment of the series. Eren has always been a little Too Much, delivering gung-ho calls for justice that sound like a hero action figure with a string in his back, but he's balanced out by the many other characters in the show.

Over the years, I've talked to many fans, each with glowing praise for Attack on Titan. Amusingly, it's always been a little vague, like, "It's just so crazy" or "Oh man, that show is just so sick." But when you actually sit down to watch it, that's exactly the kind of non-eloquent excitement that grips you. It's like a summer blockbuster that never ends, and you can't wait to watch more.

There are many ways to watch Attack on Titan, but it's worth jumping on the bandwagon.[TOP]

Last on my list was Devil Survivor 2, which is an adaptation of the Devil Survivor 2 video game (and not a sequel, in case you're worried about it).

All the cool kids have latched onto a crazy new app, a social media platform where you can friend your buddies… and then watch videos of them die. If it sounds gruesome, well… I mean, it is. One day, high schooler Hibiki and his pals are startled to watch a video of themselves dying from a train crash. When the fated event happens, though, they're given a choice—live or die. Naturally, they choose "live," and are forced to download a program onto their smart phones which then allow them to summon demons. It's a good thing, too, because horrible monsters start invading Japan, and only these cell phone demons are capable of fighting them.

Needless to say, it's the kind of premise where you don't want to think about it too much, because it would lead to a never-ending soup of questions. When answers do arrive, they're not much more illuminating. The iDemons are dispatched by an organization who is keen on protecting Japan from an evil mastermind who wants to destroy the world and reset humanity. There are some twists and turns along the way, but that's essentially the gist of it.

The big upside of this series is that it's really entertaining to watch, despite its many logical pitfalls and lack of interesting characters. The Demon vs. Monster fights are a thrill to watch, and it's clear where all of the money went. Even just the monster designs are cool to gawk at, mixing mythological elements with pure imagination, delivering bad (and good) guys with superpowers that are nightmarish, but also evoke the "woah, cool!" that such scenes of destruction usually do. It's clear how the video game influence manifests itself, and watching the episodes is not unlike watching over a friend's shoulder while he or she plays the game.

The obvious downside is that because the series is focused so heavily on demon fights and action scenes, it really doesn't leave any time for anything else. The human characters are woefully underdeveloped, and near the end, when viewers are asked to cheer or mourn for them, it's almost impossible to do so. Up until that point, they're little more than just vehicles for the gargantuan heroes that they summon. It's great for people who have played the game, or who have no vested interest in anything aside from the action scenes, but watery for everyone else.

Appreciably, the finale of the series is about as crazy as you'd expect from the premise. It does a good job of scaling up the opponents and the demons, making for a final battle that's both visually impactful, and unlike anything the series has shown up until that point. Once again… it's a lot like a video game.

If you manage your expectations before watching the series, and come to terms with the fact that you'll pretty much just be watching someone play a video game for several hours, you'll have a good time with Devil Survivor 2. It's all brawn and action, with a little bit of emotion thrown in towards the end, so if you like that sort of thing, you'll have a good time.[TOP]

That's it for this week. Thanks for tuning in!

This week's shelves are from Aaron:

"Hello, my name is Aaron and I'm a college student from southern Indiana. I have been a fan of anime sense I was a kid in the 90s and I have boxes filled with old Dragon Ball Z figures to prove it! I have over 800 books in my collection and who knows how many DVDs. The pride of my collection is my complete set of Japanese first edition copies of my favorite manga, Urusei Yatsura. It is unfortunate that Viz only released a handful of it in English, but maybe they will release it again in the near future."

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