Shelf Life
All Thinking Men

by Bamboo Dong, Jul 14th 2014

Shortly after Anime Expo, I boarded a plane for southern China to visit relatives. Although I've been back a couple times over the years, I always forget how impossibly hot it is in this part of the country. It is both like a sauna and also an oven, cooking your brains and melting your face until you have no more will to live. Humidity is my worst enemy, and summers in China are my Hell. But, for those who have the chance to visit, it is also absolutely beautiful and filled with the kinds of jagged mountains and expansive fields that you only see in the movies. And the food is incredible. I guess what I'm saying is, visit in the fall.

Welcome to Shelf Life.

Short Peace is, in one word, breathtaking. And every bit of it deserves to be on a film lover's shelf right next to Memories.

The four-film omnibus is compromised of four pieces: Possessions, a beautiful and surreal story directed by Shuhei Morita that tells of a traveler who encounters discarded inanimate objects come to life; Combustible, a film by Katsuhiro Otomo about the class-defying love between a noblewoman and a firefighter; Gambo, by Hiroaki Ando, about an enigmatic white bear that helps defend a village against a demon; and A Farewell to Weapons, a cheeky and incredible tale of metal scavengers battling automated tanks in a post-apocalyptic Japan, by Hajime Katoki.

Of the four, all are remarkable and completely unique in their own way, both in terms of visuals as well as storytelling. Perhaps the only thing that they have in common is that they all pack a powerful last punch, be it a haunting shot of flames lunging towards the sky as in Combustible, or the unforgettable and laught-out-loud shot of a naked man angrily running towards a robot, as in A Farewell to Weapons. Each film is short, but all are unforgettable.

While Short Peace is an animation marvel, using the talents of the folks at Sunrise, it's also perfect for lovers of film in general, animated or otherwise. Each short story is ripe with meaning, and give plenty to mull over, again and again. Take Possessions, which is both a supernatural period piece, as well as a timeless tale of materialism and overconsumption; or A Farewell to Weapons (based on the Otomo manga), both action and absurdist comedy, and a glimpse at a dystopian future of authoritarianism and over-mechanization. Whether it's just pretty pictures to gawk at or stories to enjoy on multiple levels, Short Peace is a treasure.

Those who are tired of the same old anime day in and day out should definitely take a look at Short Peace, which single-handedly has the power to shake off any cobwebs that any jaded anime fan may have collected. It's wonderful and imaginative, and one could only hope that we'll see another collection of this quality again in the future.[TOP]

Of course, for those who prefer their entertainment stretched out over several episodes, there are shows like Mekakucity Actors, which is still streaming on Crunchyroll.

The interesting side effect of managing the Interest feed on ANN (no "interest" pun intended) is that it gives me a glimpse as to what's trending amongst Japanese otaku. Sometimes it's similar as the US (Attack on Titan seems to be a ubiquitous crowd-pleaser, as is Free!), but sometimes the things that take off over there don't really get as much buzz stateside. In any case, I'd been reading about Kagerou Project for a while, and while it has its fair share of fans over here, it pales in comparison to the excitement it's generated over the years in Japan.

For those unaware, Kagerou Project got its start on Niconico as a Vocaloid song series produced by Jin / Shizen no Teki-P. It's like a modern minstrel tale, only instead of telling of the valor of knights and kings, it's about the Mekakushi Dan, a hoodie-wearing group of kids with magical eye powers.

The project took off, spawning light novels and a manga, and eventually Mekakucity Actors, an anime series directed by Akiyuki Simbo and animated by Shaft.

While the answer to, "What is Kagerou Project, really?" is a little hard to distill into one sentence, it has zero bearing on one's enjoyment of Mekakucity Actors. In fact, it's plenty easy to enjoy the series without any kind of prior knowledge at all—and as is the case with many adaptations, coming in fresh has the benefits of not having expectations.

Right off the bat, it's pretty easy to see how visually captivating Mekakucity Actors is, with large swaths of the series colored in two-tone black and primary colors. As far as style is concerned, this series has it in abundance. Characters race through cryptic backgrounds of gears and cyber-industrial embellishments. Other times, they find themselves languishing in front of burning-hot sunsets, or atop fantastical towers. It's a series that begs to be watched, even if the stylistic choices sometimes exacerbate the slightly messy execution of the story.

It's easy to toss the series aside early on as a "kids with superpowers" romp, but it quickly distinguishes itself as something different. Stay on the hook, and you'll be rewarded with a complex—albeit convoluted—fairy tale about monsters and resurrection. Told in chunks, the series follows two primary trajectories—one that introduces the various members of the Mekakushi Dan and brings them together, then one that explains their origins and their powers. Be forewarned, though—despite what the first few episodes may lead you to believe, the series isn't about superheroes or even crime fighters. Rather, the powers are just a unifying thread for something bigger.

Ironically, an early flashback in idol-in-training / Mekakushi Dan member Momo Kisaragi's introduction shows classmates taunting her for creating artwork that's all style and no substance. Because at times, Mekakucity Actors comes dangerously close to encompassing just that, with a slapdash execution that leaves the story scrambling for breath in the last few episodes. Giant chunks are seemingly left out of the story, and the ending is so rushed it's unpleasant. Had the series been 26 episodes long, it would have fared much better; the Medusa story alone deserves at least 12 episodes.

It's a bit of a shame because the Medusa aspect of the story is what really sets this series apart from other shows of its ilk. Not only does it pull the focus away from the kids' powers in a meaningful way, but the way it's introduced is clever as well. By the time viewers realize the fairy tale tidbits don't have a happy ending, it's like a gulp of fresh air. Those with a taste for mythology will also enjoy the blend of East and West, as well as old and new.

In spite of its poor pacing and overemphasis on cool visuals, though, Mekakucity Actors is still pretty riveting, especially for those approaching the series fresh. It's certainly recommended for those who are tired of the old grind and want something different to look at.[TOP]

Last on my list was a gorgeous offering from P.A. Works, good for those who like to wallow in Eastern mythology.

Over the years, I've come to appreciate P.A. Works as one of my favorite studios. Their knack for beautiful, ethereal backgrounds and fluid character animation makes their series a joy to watch, and Red Data Girl is no exception. From the vivid mountainscapes to the soft, puffy clouds and striking renditions of the Milky Way, to the supernatural creatures (I won't spoil it) that show up later in the series, it is jaw-droppingly pretty. It's a shame that, unlike some of their other projects, Red Data Girl is also a little ungainly, with more potential than actual prowess.

The story follows a shy, nervous girl named Izumiko who lives a protected life at Tamakura Shrine. She seems like your normal, everyday girl, except when she touches electronic devices, they break, and when she takes off her glasses, she sees spirits. She's saddled with a sour boy named Miyuki, who's tasked to be her guardian, and although he's at first reticent to have anything to do with her, he learns that she's the vessel for a very powerful spiritual entity named Hime-gami who's capable of destroying humanity.

Impressively, Red Data Girl is able to pack an incredible amount of information within its 12-episode run time, although this is both good and bad. Episodes seem to stretch on for eternity, crammed full of exposition and fascinating tidbits. Nothing is wasted, nothing is extraneous. Everything, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant at the time, has a place in the story, and weaves into a final mythos that will tickle the fancy of those who have a taste for Shinto traditions and Eastern mythology.

At the same time, the series has a tendency to get bloated. Sometimes entire episodes go by that are rich in plot, but shallow on story. Things happen, and they're all important, but they struggle to fit themselves elegantly into the greater narrative puzzle. For viewers who like their stories straightforward, Red Data Girl isn't the show for them. Rather than telling viewers, "this is what happens next," it presents the elements, and asks those watching to string things together themselves.

The downside is wasted potential. Here is a series that has rich visuals and a wildly complex story, but it doesn't quite have the execution chops to pull it all together in the end. There are things left unexplained in the series that are perhaps better told in the novels by Noriko Ogiwara, such as the academy students who are vying to become World Heritages, and awkward time jumps that make the transition between the first two arcs jarring.

Ultimately, the viewers who will benefit the most from a series like Red Data Girl are those who have the patience to sit down and really chew on it. Familiarity with Shinto legends and practices is a must, as is a knack for remembering small plot details. Of course, if it's just a visually stunning work you're after, then Red Data Girl will get the job done.[TOP]

That's it for now. Thanks for tuning in!

This week's shelves are from Miguel Garcia, who wrote in the following:

"Greetings from (almost) the other side of the continent, the beautyfull country Colombia.

As you can see the format for DVD is quite different around here, what you probably don't know is that we have the short end of the rope when it comes to anime licencing (we barely have 200 animes here, adding series and movies), so my shelf is monstlry books and yugioh cards, with few anime seres there and a couple of mangas.

Before you ask, yes those color things are origami cranes, i made myself a goal to complete the 1000 so i can make a wish. At the time of this email i have 817."

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Wonderful collection! Thanks for sharing!

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