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Shelf Life
Guest Column

by Brian Hanson,
Heya folks! Bamboo, Ms. Sakechan herself, is busy re-adjusting to her native Southwestern surroundings. Taking the reigns for Shelf Life this week will be me, Brian Hanson, commonly known as “LordByronius” on the ANN forums. I suppose I should fill up this space with blog-like personal introspection with numerous intimate details of my life, but I'll level with you guys. That would be really, really boring. “Yesterday, I recycled a bunch of newspapers that I found beside my dresser. Then I played old arcade games on MAME for about an hour. Then I made mp3s of my Elvis Costello CDs and ate potato chips. You know, they should make a brand of potato chips called 'Dan Quayle's Potatoe Chips. That would be awesome.”

You see? Just pathetic. Anyway, here's this week's Shelf Life:

Shelf Worthy

Read or Die
Manga Entertainment 90 min. 1/1 $29.95 05/27/2003

Here it is, fanboys and girls, the real spotlight of the week. This hotly anticipated, 3-part OAV series has been the subject of many an intense convention Q&A session since it made the fansub rounds a good year or so ago. Those magnificent bastards at Manga Entertainment quickly snapped up the rights and then sat on them, allowing our anticipation to boil and simmer to perfection. For those of you who don't know the score, the story concerns Yomiko Readman, a bespectacled, nerdy librarian for a quiet, local bookstore… WHO KICKS ASS. She's known as “The Paper,” a super powered secret agent for the British Library (which actually exists here. You see kids? Anime is educational!). Read or Die plays out like the greatest American comic book to anime adaptation that never was; it's filled with neat powers, goofy villains, and great animation. I'm sure all you fansub hounds will be busy entertaining yourselves with the new Read or Dream TV series that begins in Japan soon, mere hours after its initial broadcast of course, but for now, the original Read or Die OAV should satiate your superhero lust for quite some time.

Virtua Fighter Vol. #1
Media Blasters 300 min. 1/? $39.95 05/27/2003

Surely I must be going crazy with this, aren't I? I can't possibly be recommending people to purchase the first freakin' volume of Virtua Fighter, except, possibly, as a cruel joke. I mean, just look at the thing! More popular and prolific fighting game franchises have gone the anime route, all of them terrible. How could Virtua Fighter possibly be any better? I'm not so sure of it myself, but I will say that Media Blaster's release of the Virtua Fighter anime is really great. The “plot” surrounds the Virtua Fighter mainstay Akira Yuuki, a plucky martial artist casually wandering about Los Angeles and sampling the finest restaurants until he bumps into Pai Chan, a pigtailed Chinese girl on the run from a bunch of ninjas and thugs on loan from any second-rate Van Damme flick. I could synopsize the “plot” further, but… nah. The real joy here is watching Akira and his fellow Virtua Fighter chums pound the stuffing out of each other in a spectacularly cheesy fashion. This is further aided by the wonderful dubbing job from fan-favorite Coastal Studios, especially the awesome narration by Chris Nubel, whose ridiculously over-the-top commentary perfectly compliments the wacky goings-on. Plus, you get 12 whole episodes of this goofily charming show for only 40 bucks! C'mon, folks, that's a steal. You people pay that amount for 4 episodes of worse anime plus a half-empty cardboard box to keep it in. You owe it to me, and yourselves, to give this funny show a chance.

Berserk Vol. #6
Media Blasters 100 min. 6/6 $29.95 05/27/2003

If you've read ANN for any significant amount of time, it's probably been drilled into your head dozens of times by now that Berserk is a great show that you should buy and watch. Yes, BUY AND WATCH. BUY AND WATCH. …In any case, here's the final volume of what I consider to be the finest fantasy anime series ever created. Be forewarned, however, that these final episodes are so grim and disturbing that the already-violent previous episodes seem PG-rated in comparison. Expect to see the White Hawks attempt to rescue a severely tortured Griffith, who later unleashes the full spectra of hell's grim fury thanks to the powers of the Egg of the King. Also expect to see mucho amounts of violence, including decapitation, evisceration, disembowelment, and my personal favorite, stabbing! All joking aside, this final volume is the perfect conclusion to one of the best anime series on the market. A must.

Dai-Guard Vol. #6
ADV Films 125 min. 6/6 $29.98 05/27/2003

On the complete opposite end of the anime spectrum is Xebec's highly entertaining Dai-Guard, which displays more of the wonderfully kooky misadventures of the agents of the 21st Century Defense Security force. I'm really quite glad that Dai-Guard didn't take the route that Xebec's Nadesico did, which eschewed the wonderful humor in the later volumes in favor of rote, formulaic space-drama. For me, the quirky office humor combined with giant mecha heroics was always the main draw for this show and this sixth volume is a fine conclusion to one of this year's unexpected anime triumphs. ADV has struck gold with this show, and it'll be a perfect addition to their Anime Network. Whenever that happens.

X Vol. #5
Pioneer Animation 75 min. 5/8 $29.99 05/27/2003

Okay, so someone else is dead, and Kamui has chosen to become a Dragon of Heaven. That about sets up volume 5, wherein all seven of the Dragons of Heaven and Earth assemble for the big, awesome battle that we're all hyped up for. O'course, it doesn't happen yet, but what is contained in this volume is still great. With Berserk's last DVD hitting the streets this week, the constantly surprising and always entertaining X TV series should fill in the void nicely. Hopefully you've been watching this show from the beginning; if you haven't, well, grab the previous DVDs, too. This is some fine anime here. And I'm not even a big CLAMP fan.

Rental Shelf

Can Can Bunny: Summer Fun
SoftCel Pictures 75 min. 2/2 $29.98 05/27/2003

As far as hentai goes, Can Can Bunny is fairly innocuous and non-threatening. That's either a good thing or a bad thing, depending on your tastes in the genre. If you've never seen or heard of Can Can Bunny before, well, just imagine a twisted, perverted version of Ah! My Goddess, where the goddesses put their holy powers to use for some serious shagging. This Summer Fun volume is your typical lighthearted hentai fare; mediocre animation, unmemorable characters, and average, acceptable scenes of sex. There are, however, worse ways to spend 75 minutes. For examples of this, read the “Perishable Item” section.

Fruits Basket Vol. #4: The Clearing Sky
Funimation Productions 123 min. 4/4 $39.99 05/27/2003

Hm, there's a lot of series concluding this week. Here's the final volume of Fruits Basket, an amiable show that, for some reason, I find intensely boring. Personally, I blame the protagonist Tohru, a personality-deprived non-character that rivals Love Hina's Keitaro in banality. Nonetheless, I do enjoy the supporting cast, and Akitaroh Daichi directs the show with a particular aplomb. And speaking of supporting cast, Fruits Basket continues to just pile 'em on, even up to the very last episode. Unfortunately, the ending might be seen as a disappointment to some – plenty of relationships are left unresolved, and the whole thing is a tad bit mawkish for my taste. But, if you've watched Fruits Basket this far, you'll see no reason not to watch it to the end. Other than that, I'm still a big fan of Funimation's pricing policy with this. Listen up, anime companies: releasing series on less volumes leaves more space on my “shelves” which in turn makes me really happy.

Mahoromatic Vol. #3: A Warriors Fate
Pioneer Animation 100 min. 3/3 $29.99 05/27/2003

Yet ANOTHER conclusion to a show I am not particularly crazy for! Oh well. I'd like to say that their passing will clear the floor a bit for newer, better shows to take over, but like all things, I'm sure my blind optimism will prove horrendously wrong. Now, I firmly maintain that there are two Gainax's in this world: the Good Gainax and the Evil Gainax. The Good Gainax makes great anime along the lines of Wings of Honneamise and Evangelion. Meanwhile, the Evil Gainax creates bizarre things like bondage Rei Ayanami models, and creepy furry hentai games. Mahoromatic, to me, plays out like an unholy union of the two entities; on the one hand, the show is wonderfully designed and animated and has a wonderful production crew including Gainax veteran Hiroyuki Yamaga. On the other hand, it's more creepy, subservient maid stuff, something I've never sat well with. These final episodes continue that trend, but they DO make an effort to flesh out the character of Mahoro herself, where she takes plenty of time to reflect upon her memories and experiences in preperation for what may be her last big battle against Saint. It might be a case of too little, too late, though, but Mahoromatic contains just enough visual flair to make it worth watching.

Neoranga Vol. #3
ADV Films 120 min. 3/6 $29.98 05/27/2003

Neo Ranga is truly a bizarre creature – and I'm not referring to the titular mecha as portrayed in the show. Here's a show with subplots and story elements to spare, a show that goes in every which way and really winds up nowhere. SOME of the plot elements are interesting though, and the production values are more than agreeable. The Neo Ranga creature itself is also amazingly cool. A hulking, telepathically controlled behemoth that plows through whatever artillery fire the US and Japanese military can toss at it. But, this third volume commits a grave sin. It diminishes the coolness of Neo Ranga by haphazardly throwing in ANOTHER TELEPATHICALLY-CONTROLLED GOD-LIKE ROBOT and then, of course, making the two duke it out. Yes, really. Writer's block works in mysterious ways in the anime industry, it seems.

Sakura Wars TV Vol. #1: Opening Night ADV Films 125 min. 1/? $29.98 05/27/2003 Sakura Wars TV Vol. #1: Opening Night W/Box ADV Films 125 min. 1/1 $39.98 05/27/2003

The locales, the creatures, the mechas, and the entire production design in general is just so wonderful in Sakura Wars that I really, really wish it were being used for a more compelling anime series. In any case, Sakura Wars is one of those shows that is absolutely huge in Japan, but has yet to make a real dent in American fandom. This is probably due to the fact that none of the games, which I hear are real fun, have been available in the US. All while watching this show, I couldn't help but feel that I would probably be enjoying it much more than I was if I knew who these seemingly bland, uninteresting characters really were. Nonetheless, the production values for this show are quite stellar. I particularly like the big, brassy orchestral score. Sakura Wars is a flawed show, but it looks so nice that the slack-jawed gawker inside of me can't help but watch.

Space Pirate Mito Vol. #3
Media Blasters 75 min. 3/4 $24.95 05/27/2003

Like cute, sugary, meaningless fluff? Space Pirate Mito might just give you a cavity. Space Pirate Mito compensates for its lack of engaging characters and storyline by serving up pure, unadulterated wackiness by the boatload. This is especially true of the English dub, which is fantastic, and probably the only real reason I can think of to watch this show; Lisa Ortiz as Mito continues doing a fantastic job here, and Sean Schimmel proves more than adept at handling the frequently oblique jokes that would go soaring over the heads of most western anime fans. While Space Pirate Mito was great fun to watch at first, I must confess that the whole thing is beginning to grow a bit weary; the substance here is simply not enough to sustain my interest through a full 13-episode run. Everybody should still check out the dub, though. Especially the “Mister Roboto” character.

Yu Yu Hakusho Vol. #13: Genkai's Test
Yu Yu Hakusho Vol. #14: No Return
Funimation Productions 62 min. $24.95 05/27/2003

Yu Yu Hakusho is a great show with tremendous appeal that I immensely enjoy. That said, I'm not exactly eager to plunk down fifty bucks for four episodes of a show that has over 100. That's what Toonami is for, ladies and gentlemen. If you have both the free money and free time to keep buying all of these Yu Yu Hakusho DVDs separately instead of waiting for the upcoming boxed sets, may I suggest donating to Brian's Broke-Ass DVD Fund? It's a non-profit organization dedicated to making sure I am constantly entertained. It's (non)-tax-deductible!

Perishable Item

Alien From Darkness
Kitty Media 45 min. 1/1 $29.95 05/27/2003

Get ready for it, people, it's… TENTACLE PORN!!! Woo! Fans of tentacle porn come in three varieties: those who view it strictly for it's comedic value, those that secretly enjoy it in a very special way, plus those who are a combination of both. Which one do I place myself in? I'm not telling. As far as tentacle hentai goes, Alien From Darkness is pretty dull. What happens when you cross a substandard knockoff of the movie Alien with slimy green tentacles on loan from the Demon Beast series and very little else in the way of interesting characters or design? Boredom, that's what. The story, such as it were, involves a mysterious accident aboard the cargo ship Zogne that leaves the entire crew killed, and all the female members covered with a green-colored goop, except for a mysterious and beautiful girl named Flair. If that doesn't strike you as amazingly erotic, then there's something wrong with you. Also, what's with the pricing on this thing? Thirty bucks for 45 minutes worth of non-quality pornography? Why, such treachery shall not stand! Those fat cats at Kitty Media shall bear the full brunt of my terrible wrath! Maybe! Next item.

Genma Wars Vol. #2: Elusive Sanctuary
Media Blasters 75 min. 2/4 $24.95 05/27/2003

Japan has seen a real boom of retro-themed anime in the past few seasons and us fans in the West are just now getting a glimpse at some of their recent offerings. There's the updated Babel II, Kikaider, and Cyborg 009, the latter two of which will be airing on the Cartoon Network soon, and of course, the recent Astro Boy. Some of these shows are better than the others, but none of them are as downright wretched as Genma Wars. The exceptionally cheesy plot, the lackluster animation, and the oddly upsetting amount of nudity do little justice to Shotaro Ishinomori's original manga, which had been previously adapted into the one-shot OAV series Harmageddon in the 80's. Genma Wars is truly awful, something that's only a little disheartening considering the quality of some of the other recent adaptations of his works. Cyborg 009 is much, MUCH better folks, I swear.

Knight Hunters Complete
Media Blasters 625 min. 1/1 $99.95 05/27/2003

One hundred bucks? That's probably the entire animation budget for the whole show. I really have a hard time understanding why this show exists. Don't most fangirls these days demand some amount of substance with their swishy bishounen? I mean, us guys have stuff like this that is lacking in any artistic merit that only exists to titillate – we just call it porn, and we sure as heck wouldn't pay a hundred bucks for it. I think…. Okay, we probably would, but that's neither here nor there. Anyway, for those bishounen neophytes out there, Knight Hunters, a.k.a. Weiß Kreuz, is the intensely dramatic anime series about a group of “Hunters” who take hold in a local – get this – flower shop. You, in the back, stop snickering. Supposedly they fight crime and save women from evil, but I couldn't really tell because the animation is so terrible and the plot so scatterbrained that it was difficult to tell what, exactly, was going on. Guys and girls, there are plenty of good bishounen shows out there, so there's really no need for this one. Buy X. X is real good. And the guys are real cute and dreamy, too.

Media Blasters 120 min. 1/1 $29.95 05/27/2003

Some shows age better than others, I guess. Madara was only produced in 1991, but it already looks dangerously close to pushing up daisies. Madara is such a product of it's time that, even scant few years later, it simply does not hold up. I was confused as to the origins of this title, but a quick jaunt through the vast glory that is Google revealed that Madara is based upon a series of forgotten NES RPGs by Konami. That said, this is your standard RPG-to-Anime adaptation, replete with bad animation, ugly designs, goofy plotline, the works. This is completely forgettable and unmemorable in every way. Life is way too short for stuff like Madara.

Vanilla Series: Dark
The Right Stuf International, Inc 65 min. 1/1 $24.95 05/27/2003

I'm no prude, by any means, but Dark leaves me physically ill. There is normal hentai, and then there's tentacle hentai, and then there's… this type of stuff. Yes, Dark is a wonderfully upbeat and downright heroic depiction of rape, violence, and sadism that takes place in that most magical of places, a high school. Two boys, Shinji and Satoshi, hear faint rumors and visit creepy websites that tell tales of grim, forced sexual encounters during normal school hours. They dismiss the legend until, amazingly, they march into the nurse's office and uncover a poor, defenseless girl. It totally turns them on, of course. I shouldn't have to explain what happens next. There's a supposed bit of comedy at the end, where the two guys believe they're forcing themselves upon an older faculty member, but she's secretly enjoying it, and when they both find out, they are so repulsed that they just lose it! Heh! Heh heh! Ha ha ha ha ha! Hah. Huh.

Why am I not finding that very funny?

Variable Geo
ADV Films 75 min. 1/1 $19.98 05/27/2003

Ever wonder why it's embarrassing to be a fan of ANY fighting-game based anime? It's because of crap like this, honestly. I had the misfortune of “playing” one of the Variable Geo fighting games this thing is based off of. Whilst I was fumbling through the terrible controls and awful graphics, did I ever think to myself, “Y'know? I'll bet this terrible fighting game predicated upon pictures of anime girls with humongous breasts would make a truly stellar anime series”? I'll give you a hint: no. Plus, there's the creepy addition of girls being forced to strip and humiliate themselves after losing. The end result makes Variable Geo look like the Girls Gone Wild of anime, only more unappealing, if you can imagine it.

That's all for this week, folks! Stay tuned for the next installment of Shelf Life, where Bamboo tells all of you to buy The Animatrix. Probably.

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