Shelf Life
Multiple Choice

by Bamboo Dong, Jul 21st 2014

In less than a week, I will be attending San Diego Comic Con for what feels like the millionth time in my life. If somehow, in that giant crowd of a bajillion people, you spot me, please say hi. I will be glad to be distracted from the pushing hoards of people and the mile-long lines.

Welcome to Shelf Life.

Date A Live is a bit of a frustrating viewing experience. Buried within its wink-nudge lampooning of visual novels and dating sims is a really dark and disturbing story, dotted with demon possessions, city-leveling superpowers, and girls who don't think twice about blasting holes through people's chests. But unfortunately, it takes a bit of digging to get there. Much of the series is fluff, which is great for people who like fluff, but it may turn off some viewers who don't have the patience to stick around and wait for the good stuff.

Adapted from a series of light novels written by Kōshi Tachibana, Date A Live can broadly by defined as a harem, if you're just going by the numbers. Only it's not about a bunch of ladies living under the same roof together, and they're technically not even really ladies. The series takes place in a world where Earth is constantly ravaged by "spacequakes." However, it turns out that these spacequakes are actually caused by the appearance of powerful, destructive Spirits, who take on the form of adorable, (mostly) high school-aged girls. The only way to stop them is through the efforts of a high school boy named Shidō Itsuka, who has the power to seal Spirits with a kiss. The catch? The Spirits/girls must like him enough to allow him to kiss her.

And thus the dating sim aspect of the series. While the Spirit-containing efforts are largely overseen by an organization called AST (the Anti-Spirit Team), who combat these mysterious beings via "Combat Realizer unit" super suits, another organization utilizes the help of VN experts to help Shidō woo the ladies. So for instance, when he's out shopping with one of his targets, he can compliment them, ask them to do something for him, or sometimes neg them into oblivion. The wilder the response, the greater his own response, and likely the most entertaining for viewers at home.

It's actually a rather clever take on harem romcoms, and it's so preposterous that it works. Some of the responses are absolutely cringe-worthy, which makes the satirical edge all the better. That the Spirits will often respond positively is as much of a statement about the dire reality (or rather, anti-reality) of dating sims, as it is a good way to provide some tongue-in-cheek humor about the genre.

That having been said, though, Date A Live is rife with polarizing issues. The fanservice in the series is truly awkward at times, especially for viewers who dislike seeing female characters in demeaning positions. As the logic in the series likely goes, because the Spirits aren't real girls, they don't understand the difference between right and wrong. (Not that the fictional characters have any say in the matter.) In one episode, Shidō tells one of the girls he'd prefer her in a school swimsuit wearing dog ears and a tail, and she surprises him by donning one immediately. In the next scene, she uses his belt as a collar, and starts crawling on all fours, in public. Other episodes have the girls snapping nude pictures of themselves in a picture booth (she didn't know any better), or modeling lingerie for him (she didn't know any better). Viewers who don't like this vein of fanservice should not watch Date A Live, as it is saturated with it. (The same Spirit logic is used for appearance, by the way; the young girl character isn't actually a young girl, she's a Spirit that just looks like a young girl. Again, if this is your poison, stay away.)

As uncomfortable as I am with some of the scenes above, my main issue with the fanservice in Date A Live is mostly that there's simply too much of it. The Dating Sim scenes vastly outnumber the Actual Story scenes, regardless of the character arc. This means that while every girl does get a chance in the spotlight, and a chance to tell her story, there's even more time spent watching them try on swimsuits, eat food, and try to sex Shidō. The best stretch of episodes, in my opinion, starts midway through episode 8, when the Kurumi story reaches a climax, and we're also introduced to Kotori's backstory (Shidō's little sister, who spearheads the VN operations). It wasn't until that point that I was really intrigued by what was going on in the series, but by then, it's possible some viewers have already tuned out.

The concept behind Date A Live is cheeky and amusing, but the dating sim elements have a tendency to get old. Those who are also watching for the fanservice may have a better time with the series, but for those who just want some serious drama, be prepared to wait. [TOP]

Next in my review stack was Karneval, one of those series that's super pretty, but is kind of a wreck.

Karneval is on my list of Anime I Would Show At A Nightclub With The Sound And Subs Off. It's exceedingly fun to look at, with bright colors, fluid animation, hot dudes, crazy costumes, and adorable critters, but the second it tries to tell a coherent story, it falls apart into a wet, noodly mess.

The series opens with an introduction to Nai, a bright-eyed, white-haired, button-cute boy who's trying to track down his friend Karoku. However, the only thing he has of his is an I.D. bracelet, worn by members of a government organization called Circus. Luckily, naïve Nai is able to snag the reluctant help of tough-guy Gareki. As they begin their search, they start to learn more about Circus, the true nature of Nai, as well as an evil organization named Kafka that engages in illegal genetics research. True to the literary origins of its name, Kafka's research involves giving both animals and humans cell-modifying medicine that causes them to transform into terrible monsters (and along the way, maybe a giant bug or two).

On paper, Karneval sounds like a terrific show. And sometimes, it is. Episode five is one of the best in the series, concisely written and focused on its characters. For viewers new to the series, it's also the first real time that audiences really understand the nature of what Circus is dealing with. But unfortunately, episodes like that are hard to come by. Much of Karneval is a sloppy mess, which is a shame, because it has all the right pieces for a terrific action or supernatural show.

Mostly, it just suffers from poor execution. There are too many characters that are introduced too briefly, too early on. Few of them are really developed thoroughly (Gareki is given a reasonable character arc, while Nai—despite being a major part of the show later on—is treated as more of an accessory), and even by the end, there are members of Circus that are barely more than just pretty faces. Lacking a clear direction, the dialogue is senseless as well. Everyone rambles and talks in circles, despite the fairly straightforward story elements. The story jumps around to too many locations, features too many bad guys, and basically, is much more complicated than it really needs to be.

But!, like I said, it's very pretty. If you like cute anime animals, there are plenty of those in Karneval, with nubby rabbits and cuddly snowmen (not an animal, I know), and soldier sheep galore. Sadly, that's about all it has going for it, as it's otherwise a largely unsatisfying viewing experience.[TOP]

Last on my list for this week was Problem children are coming from another world, aren't they? which is a thoroughly entertaining, if largely unmemorable series.

The series title is a bit of a mouthful, but it reasonably describes what viewers are about to get themselves into. Although the title insinuates there are multiple "Problem Children," they all kind of turn out to be okay kids. By the time the series draws to a conclusion, it's hard to really dislike any of them.

Anyway, the story starts when three super bored teenagers living completely different lives each receive mysterious letters. Before they realize it, they're literally dropped (from the sky) into a strange world where they learn that they've been chosen for their "gifts"—or basically, super powers. Tough, brash Izayoi has "unknown" powers that allow him virtually limitless strength and all-around physical prowess, spoiled rich girl Asuka can force people to do her bidding, and quiet Yō is the "animal lover" of the group; not only can she communicate with various creatures, but she can take on their characteristics as well. They learn that they were summoned by a bunny girl named Black Rabbit who wants their help guiding her decimated nation to prosperity again.

The alternate world they find themselves on is ruled by Gift Games. Anything and everything can be gambled, including the name of a nation, or water. Thus, with some strategy (but mostly a lot of bravado), the three problem children help a nation regain their former glory, along the way defeating horrible sex-trafficking demons, child-eating demons, and more.

The first time I ever watched Problem children are coming from another world, aren't they? I compared the show to playing make-believe with kids, and I think it's an apt description. Everything is seemingly pulled out of thin air—the outlandish settings, the characters, their superpowers. But because it's so light-heartedly slapped together and entertaining to watch, one forgives many of its issues. Main dude Izayoi is especially reminiscent of a character that a child might invent during playtime, as he's basically unstoppable. The hypothetical conversation with a kid would basically play out like this:
"You can't hit the wall; that's against the rules."
"Nuh uh! He can break the rules! It's his power."
"Well the wall is made of diamonds."
"He can break anything."
"There's lots of walls. They keep growing."
"He can move really fast."

It's both the most annoying thing about the series, and also the most fun. It allows the show to get away with practically anything, and just have fun without fear of consequences. You just need to turn down the voice in your head that's whispering, "this is a mess." Basically, as far as disposable, forgettable entertainment goes, Problem Children is not bad.

It is, however, frustratingly short. Just as the characters are developing any sort of dimension, and just as viewers grow to accept Izayoi as a lovable rogue, the series ends. It's not necessarily just the run-time, though; poor time management early on means that characters don't get as much mileage out of their dialogue. Too many fights means that the series doesn't have an opportunity to further explore the world they're in, or meet the various peoples who inhabit it.

And yet, it's just as well that the series plays out exactly as it does. It's the kind of series that's best watched in one sitting, consumed like calorie-high, nutrient-low candy. The sloppiness can be ignored in favor of ridiculous fight scenes, and shallow characters forgiven because they ended up being pretty likeable kids. Any longer and the series might collapse under the weight of its own narrative shortcomings

Problem Children is probably the best saved for a lazy afternoon when you've got nothing else to do, or mountains of work to procrastinate, and you want to mindlessly while away several hours of your time. It's not exactly the best written of shows, but it is pretty fun to watch. [TOP]

That's it for this week. See you at Comic Con, folks!

Since I have not received any Shelf Obsessed submissions, here is a picture of my dog stuffing her face into an M&M-shaped ball that she ripped open.

If you've got pics of your collection, or YouTube videos, send 'em! If you sent them in and I've never posted them, send them again. The address is [email protected] Thanks!


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