Shelf Life
Sketchy Birds

by Paul Jensen, Gabriella Ekens,

The start of a new season of episode reviews has kept me distracted enough that I don't have a particularly entertaining introduction lined up this week, so I'll just point out that I'm happy to see Assassination Classroom back in action. Nothing says "fun" quite like a yellow mutant octopus monster dude. Welcome to Shelf Life.

Jump to this week's reviews:
Sketchbook ~full color'S~
Daimidaler: Prince vs. Penguin Empire

On Shelves This Week

A Certain Scientific Railgun S – The Complete Series BD+DVD
Funimation – 600 min – Hyb – MSRP $49.98
Currently cheapest at: $37.49 Right Stuf

Synopsis: High-level esper Mikoto Misaka discovers that someone has been secretly creating clones of her and allowing them to be killed in an attempt to create the world's strongest esper. She and her friends set out to stop the mysterious organization behind the program.

Extra: This series previously came out in two parts, and you can find reviews of those here and here. It's also available streaming on Funimation and Hulu.




Hanayamata – Complete Collection BD, DVD
Sentai – 300 min – Hyb – MSRP $69.98|$59.98
Currently cheapest at: $41.99 Right Stuf|$35.99 Right Stuf

Synopsis: A group of high school students start a club for performing Yosakoi, a style of dance that mixes modern music and classic choreography.

Extra: I watched Hanayamata when it came out as a simulcast, and it's a fun little series. You can find episode reviews here, and it's streaming on Crunchyroll.




LocoDol – Complete Collection BD, DVD
Sentai – 325 min – Sub – MSRP $59.98|$49.98
Currently cheapest at: $35.99 Right Stuf|$29.99 Right Stuf

Synopsis: Nanako and her friends become "local idols" for the small town of Nagarekawa, performing at local businesses and appearing on low-budget cable shows. What they lack in a budget, they make up for in spirit.

Extra: We've got episode reviews of this one right here, and you can watch it online on Crunchyroll.




Persona 3 the Movie 3: Falling Down [Import] BD, Collector's Edition
Aniplex – 87 min – Sub – MSRP $74.98|$99.98
Currently cheapest at: $59.98 Right Stuf|$79.98 Right Stuf

Synopsis: Makoto and the other members of S.E.E.S. face hardships as they continue to fight against the Shadows. The arrival of a mysterious transfer student sets a series of changes in motion.

Extra: If this is the third Persona 3 movie, does that make it Persona 9? No official reviews or streaming sources for this one, so you'll have to trust the relatively positive user ratings for its predecessors.




Pokémon XY – Set 2 DVD
Viz – 600 min – Dub – MSRP $26.95
Currently cheapest at: $19.99 Amazon

Synopsis: Ash Ketchum's journeys continue in the Kalos region, where new Pokemon are waiting to be discovered and new opponents are waiting to be challenged.

Extra: I had a devil of a time finding a decent description for this set, so I'm going with a description of this season as a whole instead. It's available streaming on Pokemon.com.




Samurai Pizza Cats – The Complete Collection BD
Eastern Star – 1100 min – Dub – MSRP $34.95
Currently cheapest at: $19.99 Amazon

Synopsis: A team of cats run a pizza delivery service in the city of Little Tokyo, where they also act as a crime-fighting force with the help of their futuristic robot suits.

Extra: As much as I'd like to say otherwise, we don't have any official reviews of this series. It is, however, available streaming on Crunchyroll.




Sword Art Online II – Set 4 BD, DVD, Limited Edition
Aniplex – 175 min – Hyb – MSRP $79.98|$49.98|$114.98
Currently cheapest at: $69.98 Right Stuf|$39.98 Right Stuf|$89.98 Right Stuf

Synopsis: Asuna hears rumors about an undefeated player named Zekken, and sets out to challenge the mysterious swordsman. After narrowly losing a duel, she receives an invitation to join the Sleeping Knights guild.

Extra: Empty wallets across America can finally breathe a sigh of relief, as this is the last big SAO set for the time being. Episode reviews are here and the show is streaming on Crunchyroll, Hulu, and the Aniplex Channel.




Terror in Resonance – The Complete Series BD+DVD, Limited Edition
Funimation – 275 min – Hyb – MSRP $64.98|$84.98
Currently cheapest at: $48.74 Right Stuf|$63.74 Right Stuf

Synopsis: Tokyo is struck by a terrorist attack, planned by a mysterious pair of teenagers. A detective tries to track down the masterminds before they can carry out the full extent of their plan.

Extra: You can check out some episode reviews of this series here. It's available streaming on Funimation and Hulu.




Shelf Life Reviews

This week's shows cover both ends of the spectrum when it comes to being energetic. We've got an easygoing slice of life comedy that could use an extra cup of coffee and a fanservice show that probably starts every day by downing a six-pack of energy drinks.

First up is Gabriella's review of the punctuation-heavy Sketchbook ~full color'S~.

Sketchbook ~full color'S~ stars Sora Kajiwara, a shy girl who joins her school's art club. The series concerns her daily life alongside her friends, a group of mildly quirky fellow artists, and her neighborhood cat. Episodes will have general subjects, like “Sora goes hunting for bugs” or “Sora reminisces about her brother” but mostly they're strung-together 4koma gags and atmosphere. That's about it. This is full “cute girls faff around for 13 episodes” slice of life, everyone. That's right – we have a code Aria on our hands. (In fact, they were directed by the same person.) When it comes to this type of show, you either love it or you're bored to tears. I'm personally a hard sell for this genre, but Sketchbook ~full color'S~ comes off as a pleasant – if not particularly energizing – experience.

Based on a 4Koma manga about cute schoolgirls getting into soft-shaded, pun-based antics, Sketchbook ~full color'S~ immediately draws comparison to the hit 2002 anime, Azumanga Daioh. Sort of the Japanese equivalent of newspaper comic strips, 4koma follow a rigid structure of four panels that culminate in a joke. They're gag-a-day rather than narrative affairs, and their anime adaptations tend to be based on atmosphere and rapid-fire humor. The best of them tend to have jokes or some sort of weirdness that transcends the cultural barrier inherent to Japanese humor. That's why I like Azumanga Daioh. But Sketchbook ~full color'S~ is less surreal and more restrained than that celebrated show. It suffers in crossover appeal for this, but it may still work for fans of full-on healing anime.

It doesn't help that Sketchbook ~full color'S~ looks more dated than it actually is. I blame that on the color palette. Although the actual coloring is, in general, quite nice, the palette seems ripped from a few years earlier than 2007. By then, anime had begun transitioning towards the brighter palettes we see now. This show, in contrast, looks like something from the early 2000s, when digital productions had this generally washed-out look to them. This may have been an attempt to replicate how Sketchbook's mangaka, Totan Kobako, does watercolor illustration. If so, the attempt was unsuccessful, making the show look duller than it maybe could. The character designs don't help. While I came to find them quite cute and expressive, they're decidedly retro. To fans who are used to the brighter aesthetic on display in something like Non Non Biyori, this may be hard to go back to.

Otherwise, these shows like these live on the immediate likeability of their casts. Fortunately, that aspect of Sketchbook ~full color'S~ passes muster well enough. Sora is a sweet, shy girl who expresses her love for her friends through art. Mostly they're not very distinguishable from one another – one makes puppets, one is foreign, one loves bugs, etc. – but all of their quirks lead to cute moments. More than anything else, Sketchbook ~full color'S~ may capture the soft pleasure of casual creative activity. I've had moments like what I've seen in this show, relaxing after a hard day at school by sitting outside with a sketchbook and pencil. If the point here is at least partially to evoke these feelings, then it's succeeded.

Sketchbook ~full color'S~ is the definition of gentleness. If you want slice-of-lice, “cute girls doing cute things” at its most decaffeinated, this is for you. As a comedy, it runs into the common issue of many jokes being untranslatable Japanese puns. The rest are mild, usually animal-based absurdity, like how the teacher is constantly accompanied by a chicken. These were my favorite bits. The highly stylized human (and cat) figures contrast amusingly with the relatively realistic renderings of crawfish, frogs, and insects. Nozomi's release is sparse. It's DVD only and contains no dub. However, this isn't a show where I believe a Blu-Ray release could be of much benefit. Beyond the standard promotional videos and clean openings, extras include six short episodes (seven minutes each) originally packaged with the Japanese DVD releases and a music video for the ending track “Dandelion Waterwheel.”

If you're looking for something in the vein of Non Non Biyori, Sketchbook ~full color'S~ comes recommended. As immersive “healing” anime, it still largely succeeds in spite of a dated art style. It isn't much more than “pleasant,” but sometimes, that's enough.
-Gabriella[TOP]

After kicking the year off with some A-list titles, it was high time I took on something a little less glamourous. Daimidaler: Prince vs. Penguin Empire seemed to fit the bill, so here's my review.

My definition of a “guilty pleasure” show is broad enough to include two smaller, more specific categories. First are the “love to hate” shows, the utter trainwrecks where the main appeal is seeing just how far off the rails a work of fiction can go. Daimidaler is an example of the second category: shows that can be enjoyed as the creators intended, but only at the cost of a tiny piece of the viewer's soul. This series is lewd, dumb, and incredibly trashy, but I still kind of enjoyed it.

Daimidaler begins, as so many mecha shows do, with the Earth under threat from a powerful force of otherworldly beings. In this case, the baddies in question are known at the Penguin Empire: a race of humanoid penguins with long, rigid tails that just happen to protrude from a very suggestive spot. Humanity has designed giant robots to fight against the penguins, but our machines require a very specific source of power in order to work. The pilots need to produce “Hi-ERO” particles, which are generated whenever a person has particularly lusty or perverted thoughts. Naturally, the best candidates for the job are a bunch of teenagers with raging hormones.

I've seen plenty of shows make bad first impressions over the years, and Daimidaler's early episodes rank among the worst of the worst. If you think the premise sounds like it was though up by a gaggle of giggling eighth-graders, the first few episodes won't do much to change that impression. The scripts seems content to bask in the trashy glow of its central gimmick, and the early running consists mainly of the main character thoroughly enjoying the opportunity to touch boobs under the auspices of saving the world. It's difficult to like or even tolerate the lead pairing of a sleazy pilot and his obviously uncomfortable copilot, and Daimidaler starts off with some of its least creative attempts at humor. The animation quality is average at best throughout the series, and there are numerous moments during the fight scenes where the robots are presented with impressively low levels of detail. It'd be entirely reasonable to bail out after the first episode or two.

By some miracle, however, Daimidaler gets better over time. Not genuinely good, mind you, but better. The penguins and their human ally Ritz are goofy and eccentric enough to provide a consistent foundation of humor, and some of their nefarious plans are amusingly ridiculous. The show also kicks its initial pair of pilots off the stage after a few episodes and replaces them with a new couple that can deliver comedy without constantly resorting to the “fondle breasts and hope the audience laughs” approach. This rather drastic change in the central cast echoes a larger shift in the series as a whole. Since the original premise is better suited to a five-minute parody video than a twelve-episode series, the script is forced to move towards poking fun at the mecha genre. The humor is inevitably raunchy and lowbrow in nature, but it hits the mark often enough that my inner thirteen year-old forced me to laugh more often than I expected.

The English dub doesn't take itself seriously by any means, and that actually helps with a show like Daimidaler. I'm not typically a fan of rewriting dialogue to cram in additional jokes, but it makes sense here. A series that's shamelessly trashy to begin with benefits from an extra helping of sex puns and snarky one-liners. The dub actors deliver their lines with more winking and nudging than their Japanese counterparts, which makes it slightly easier to laugh when the show walks right up to (and frequently over) the line of good taste. The lovey-dovey pilot couple of Kiriko and Shouma benefit the most from the broad alterations, and even the uncomfortable duo of Kouichi and Kyoko are easier to put up with. Part of this is simply down to humor tending to work more naturally in the viewer's native language, but it's also a matter of going all in on a series that wasn't exactly subtle to begin with.

Even when it's at its best in the latter half of the episode count, Daimidaler isn't going to suit everyone. This isn't a comedy with an above-average amount of fanservice, it's a fanservice show with just enough sense to laugh at itself. There's a lot of nudity in here, and not all of it happens in situations where the characters have a choice in the matter. If that's not something you can tolerate, then you should skip this series without a second thought. I found enough dumb humor here to balance my own moments of discomfort, but enjoying Daimidaler is very much a matter of personal preferences. If the six short, fanservice-focused OVAs in this set sound like an enticing extra, then there's a good chance that you'll enjoy the series as a whole.

I had more fun watching Daimidaler than I expected, but that's a very low bar to clear. It's a show that knows what it is and what it wants to do, and more or less figures out how to do it after completely striking out on its first attempt. I find that blatant honesty more palatable than a series that obscures its fanservice behind a half-hearted attempt to tell an actual story, so the show's excesses weren't a deal-breaker for me. Your results may vary.
-Paul[TOP]

That wraps up this round of reviews. Will another penguin-themed show force me to confront my slowly decaying moral fiber again next week? You'll just have to come back to find out.

This week's shelves are from Usagi-kun:

"How's everybody doing? I am Usagi-kun and these shelves are my addiction. It has been...almost three years since I sent in pictures of my collection. The last time I was featured on the Thanksgiving installment of Shelf Life, but I actually sent my pictures in June of that year in the middle of the night. It was only a few hours before my wedding, and I rambled on about love and two people finding ways to connect and bond over the freedom and acceptance of our multi-faceted fandoms. I guess that is good Thanksgiving fare..it has been three years and I thought it was about time to give ya'll an update…

Things are going amazing. I work hard every day and come home not just to the person I fell in love with, but my best friend in the world. It is bliss beyond anything I can explain. My heart, and fandom, have grown.

Anyway...on to the shelves! I really like the setup I have here. Compared to two cramped book cases in a tiny studio, we have moved twice into a bigger space, and now we are moving yet again. It might take me a little time to grow into another space, but this one has been good to me. I have been collecting anime for relatively twelve years, first with Iria and my single Geneon discs of Hellsing. Gone are 90% of my tankoubon to pay for furniture in our second apartment; I only kept a handfull of special ones. Also most of my posters have been sold away and I am left with only a dozen or so fav series and characters. Broken down, I have picked up a lot of neat stuff over the years and have shifted the focus of my collecting to anime in general.

I have several autographed art books from my favorites like Masaaki Yuasa, Yasuhiro Nightow, and even a Nausicaä artbook with Miyazaki-san's autograph. The red photo album is filled with promotional cards I pick up mostly from Right Stuf. I also found a BAAF 2001 press kit from in an estate auction. There are a dozen or so Champagne artboxes, including all of the licensed series and some that aren't. I picked up a lot of imports for unlicensed shows in Australia, Japan, and the U.K. that I watch on my region-free dvd player. Several Kickstarter project rewards and Nendoroids of my favorite characters are on display. My Armin figma was autographed at Winter Wonfest 2014 by Yui Ishikawa (voice actress for Mikasa), Koji Asano (character designer AOT), Tetsuya Kinoshita (producer AOT), and Tetsuya Nakatake (co-founder of Wit Studio). A picture of Raki from Claymore was autographed by Todd Haberkorn, and I have a Chibi sketch and autograph from Yoshitoshi ABe, as well as an autograph from the lead singer of the band Boa who performed the opening theme for Serial Experiments Lain. I also wanted to include a photo of my Koro-sensei button because I had it signed by Sonny Strait at my local con, and he actually made fun of me for buying it for $2 in the dealer room. Too expensive? XD

The crown jewel (at least in my eyes :)) of my collection is my Anime Press flyer from Austrailia, signed by the OVA cast of Hellsing. I know that is a lot of text to wade through...I also wanted to take a photo of my 7ft Megatokyo poster, my stuffed rabbits, and two cats: Baldr and Paprika. I have some other neat but non-anime related memorabilia, but unfortunately, it is already packed away into moving boxes.

Thank-you so much for reading! I look forward to continuing to enjoy Shelf Life with all of you, and good luck to all of us for the New Year! There are a lot of photos. As promised, I also included a bit of trivia: I was watching something when I took these pictures of my obsession. The last photo is a shot of the paused tv. Can anyone tell me what I was watching? I'll give you two hints. One: It takes place in "Someday" A.D., and Kickstarter record broken. Figure it out first!"

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It's awesome to see how people's collections grow and evolve over time. I should point out that our nefarious gallery system has increased the difficulty of your trivia by placing some of the photos out of order, but I'm sure everyone's up for the challenge. Thanks for sharing!

Y'all know the drill by now: send your photos to [email protected] If it's been a while since you sent your stuff in and it still hasn't made an appearance, feel free to send it again. Stuff occasionally gets buried in my inbox, and I'd hate to miss anyone's collections.


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