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by Bamboo Dong, Aug 18th 2014

Even though Otakon was a full week ago, I still feel the side-effects of the convention. There is something about anime conventions that saps the energy out of you, no matter how much fun you have, and no matter how much you enjoy them. It's like coming back from a long vacation, and feeling immediately like you need a vacation to recover from your vacation. Only conventions also involve wading through giant crowds in tiny hallways, and all-day programming.

In any case, I want to thank everyone who came to the ANN panel, and everyone I was able to meet. I had a great weekend, and I have all of you to thank for it.

Let's get some Shelf Life done.

It's tempting to broadly characterize WATAMOTE as a show about an unpopular nerd—the full translated title is, after all, No Matter How I Look at It, It’s You Guys' Fault I’m Not Popular!—but it goes a little deeper than that. In fact, if ever there was a series that almost perfectly encapsulates the various shades of teen angst, it's WATAMOTE. Sure, main character Tomoko's behaviors may be on the extreme end—few will own up to her crippling levels of social anxiety and awkwardness—but her experiences and emotions are so relatable that it's hard not to see little fragments of her life in your own memories.

Tomoko is a high school freshman who's convinced that any day now, she'll change from an awkward loner into a cool and popular girl. After all, she can always get men to fall for her in dating sims, and as far as she's concerned, there's no real reason she can't transform herself into a pretty girl with just a few Google (or Gaagle, as the show uses) searches. But at the end of the day, everything she does just makes things worse—she can barely squeak out a "goodbye" to her teacher, or order a drink at the nearby not-Starbucks. Aside from her dating sims and "Yandere Boys Vocal Abuse" CDs, she doesn't have a whole lot of friends, either. Her own little brother thinks she's super weird, and her one friend from middle school has managed to go from geeky to cute.

But while it's unlikely that many viewers underwent the same exact situations as Tomoko, and suffered in the same ways, anyone who has ever been un-cool will resonate with some of her internal monologues. She lashes out at popular kids, calling them sluts and idiots, rather than admitting any feelings of jealousy. When she sees them hanging out or making plans, she scoffs, pulling the classic, "Well I wouldn't want to hang out with them anyway."

Although there are occasional instances of "Why is this happening to me?" in Tomoko's mental stream, though, what makes her so affable and loveable is that she rarely lets her situation keep her down. Her optimism (and delusion?) drives the show, letting her wallow in angst, but never quite suffocate. And although her perception of reality is horribly skewed (she's thrilled to share the nurse's room with a boy, making a mental note to tell her friend about how she slept with a guy), it just makes you want to reach out and envelop her in hugs. Tomoko has no idea how to wade through adolescence, but darn it, she tries.

Understandably, it's this kind of behavior that might polarize viewers. While some may find her struggles endearing and pitiable, others may find them infuriating and too exaggerated. Whether you will enjoy this series or not may hinge on how you feel about the first couple of episodes (the entire series can still be found streaming), as Tomoko doesn't really change much over the course of the series. There is a ray of hope towards the end, but as we were all teenagers once, we know change doesn't exactly come overnight.

A bit of good news for dub fans, though—it's absolutely terrific. Monica Rial turns in an incredible performance as Tomoko, perfectly navigating her many vocal quirks, from her raspy, warbling voice, to her barely audible mumbles—and my personal favorite, her mockery of the popular kids at school. There's a scene early in the series that made me literally spit out the water I was drinking—Tomoko sees a female sports manager talking to a baseball player, and plays out the imaginary insipid dialogue in her head, ending with a gruff, faux-masculine, "I have huge balls, hahaha." Reading the line on a page isn't that funny, but Rial's performance absolutely nails it, and it's hilarious.

WATAMOTE is easily one of my favorite series from the past few years, with Tomoko being one of my favorite characters. She's as sweet as she is hopelessly awkward and deluded, and just as some viewers might have flashbacks of high school, they'll just as likely think, "Well, at least I wasn't this bad." If ever there was a fictional character deserving of hugs and a hearty, "Hang on, it gets better," it's Tomoko. The series might make you squirm in discomfort at times, but it's well worth it.[TOP]

Speaking of shows that are worth the time investment, the next series that I wanted to talk about is still in the middle of its simulcast run, but is well worth tuning into.

Terror in Resonance, the latest show from Cowbow Bebop's Shinichiro Watanabe, is the kind that grips you in its talons and forces you to ask for more. It's the kind of frustrating, action-packed show that keeps you excitedly waiting for next week's episode, but bemoaning the fact that you can't just barrel through a BD boxset.

Those who have been along for the ride so far might describe it as an amalgamation of different story elements—as the title suggests, there is certainly terror and terrorism, but it also has a heavy helping of supernatural elements (the terrorists and their nemesis seem to be kids with special abilities who were all trained in a super secret facility somewhere), riddle-solving, and morally gray cat-and-mouse games that would intrigue fans of shows like Death Note.

The series follows two teenagers named "Nine" and "Twelve," so-called because of the fore-mentioned super secret facility that stripped them of their names. Together, they operate as Sphinx, a masked terrorist duo that issues riddle-laden bomb threats online. But as such series usually go, nothing is quite black and white—while the terrorists are indeed blowing up buildings and trains, their targets are carefully selected in retaliation against some kind of evil, and are largely orchestrated to minimize human casualties. In an episode where it looks as though the police won't be able to disarm a bomb in time, they go out of their way to do it themselves.

It's worth noting the wall of separation from reality that allows viewers to root for such protagonists. Nine and Twelve are not objectively bad people, although any court of law would find them to be criminals. (Some would even say that they're good—they reluctantly take under their wing a girl who's bullied so much at school that she eats in the bathroom and constantly vomits from anxiety.) It's the same fabricated emotional distance that allows viewers to hope that the protagonists continuously stay one step ahead of the police, and especially the enigmatic nemesis that's introduced a few episodes in. If viewers feel fidgety hoping that Sphinx never gets caught, it's likely because the things they are doing are meant to cause discomfort. The imagery of buildings being leveled by bombs is likely not one that viewers will find soothing, nor should it ever be.

But then again, nothing in the series is meant to be consumed with ease. Even as the actions of Sphinx are tempered by artifice—their obsession with Greek mythology, their mysterious pasts—other aspects of the series are mired in darkness. Lisa's bullying aside, her life at home is just as bad, with a mother who's so abusive that Lisa would rather run away and join two known terrorists. Even the genius detective who's been assigned the case has a problematic past that's alluded to, but has yet to be wholly delved into.

While only six episodes of Terror in Resonance have been aired so far, it's shaping up to be a show to keep an eye out for. The inclusion of arch-rival Five has the potential to be a little hokey (not to mention the use of some seriously questionable American English), but it's keeping the action and suspense high. If you're looking for a fast-paced show to watch this season, check it out. [TOP]

Last on my list was Gatchaman Crowds, a show that deserves much more attention that it ever got, or is getting right now.

For a show about superheroes, Gatchaman Crowds is very loose on the definition of "hero." In fact, it spends a large majority of the show not showcasing heroes, but rather, asking viewers to define for themselves what really counts as "heroism." Are heroes the ones who don super suits and fight aliens? Or are they the everyday citizens who help direct traffic in the event of an emergency, or make sure that injured strangers get the care they need? Or maybe it's the person in the wings, directing people through community organization and encouragement. Maybe it's just characters like main gal Hajime, who are so suffocatingly optimistic and ultra-genki that their very insistence on change is what instigates others to do good, even if you wish she'd shut up for a minute or two.

The series takes place in 2015. Aliens are constantly invading, but it's okay—the Gatchaman are around, and they're always on hand to save the day. Cue Hajime, a new addition who can't fathom why the Gatchaman are so reluctant to reveal their powers, or use them for everyday good. She's relentlessly chipper, and her actions are completely baffling to her new teammates. She's also a big fan of GALAX, a social app that allows users to help each other by mobilizing them in the event of a tragedy. (The developer of the app himself has different notions of heroes, believing them to be a hindrance towards society's ability to help itself.)

Things go haywire, though, and without spoiling too much of the middle, let's just say that we're soon introduced to a mysterious villain named Berg Katze, who's as bizarre as he is evil, and plays a large part in crafting one of the most surreal, but satisfying endings written in quite some time—provided, of course, that you're okay with glossing over details and focusing on the big picture.

Perhaps what's so intriguing about Berg Katze is that rather than just filling in the generic role of "bad guy," he's also the catalyst for much of the series' secondary themes, forcing viewers to examine the effects of unfettered power on large groups, and the delicate moral strings that can influence group thought. In the end, we gain new appreciation for Hajime. As much as she's a force of change for the Gatchaman, she's also an analog for change itself, coaxing individuals to break from the shackles of herd mentality and act for themselves.

If it all sounds a little heady and pretentious, it's because it's hard to believe that under the candy-coated layers of Gatchaman Crowds' bright visuals, robo-pandas, and light-up super suits, there's a substantial story that begs to be examined. It's a series that can be appreciated on multiple levels, either as a philosophical prompt, or just as a fun action romp.

For those turned off by Hajime's annoying persona and in-your-face enthusiasm (perfectly encapsulated by dub actress Jessica Calvello, who does a great job with the role), or perhaps even the association with Gatchaman, it's worth pushing past the first few episodes. It's a series that's a little hard to settle into at first, but once you do, it's a treat for both the eyes and the brain that's hard to put down.[TOP]

That's it for this week. Next week, Card Captor Sakura and more!

This week's shelves are from Christy, who wrote the following:

"Hello Bamboo and fellow shelf life readers my name is Christy and these are my shelves (along with the rest of my small anime filled room). I have been collecting anime, manga, figures, etc... for about 8 years now and I don't see myself stopping any time soon. I hope that all of you enjoy my pictures, and snow Miku says hi!"

Click on the thumbnails for properly rotated images

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This collection is incredible, and I'm super jealous. I'm also pretty drawn to those plush soda cans.

Want to show off your stuff? Send your jpgs or YouTube video links to [email protected] Thanks!


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