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Shelf Life
Better late than never

by Bamboo Dong,
After staring at my computer screen blankly for a good four hours this week, I realized that I had absolutely no material for my Shelf Life intro. I was very tempted to spin off into a tangent on something completely inane, like the uses of rubber bands and aluminum shimmies in Canadian underwater basket weaving, but I decided against it. After all, the only way that I could end it would be to have some bizarre analogy about how the anime industry is like the aluminum piece that supports the reeds of fandom, while immersed in the creek fluids of Japanese culture, but that would just be adding insult to an already vapid topic. Instead, I decided to take a break and play with touchable bubbles. I'm sure everyone's at least heard of these wonderful things. They're like the bubbles you used to blow as a kid with a wand in a vial of goo, except once they're blown, they can be touched. They'll cling on to your walls for days, as intact as when you first blew them. Truly, they make me happy. I perched atop my swivel chair and stared at the myriad of bubbles for an hour, amazed at how bounced off my shelves and my lamp. What amazed me the most was the way they responded to the rules of gravitational mass and air flow. I watched as a bubble struggled between clinging onto the lamp, and the far bigger wall. It finally reached an equilibrium an inch away from the lamp and hovered there for two hours. The amazing thing about these bubbles is the way that they can float in midair in the same spot without being dragged down by gravity. I was so enthused by this that I excitedly told my friend online that the fact that the bubbles only moved laterally fascinated me. Whereupon he told me the following: “It's like… live hentai. Minus all the hentai parts.” And thus the magic of that happy, joyous night was shattered and ruined. And with that, onto Shelf Life.

Shelf Worthy

Crest of the Stars Collectors Set
Bandai Entertainment 325 min. 1/1 $49.98 06/17/2003

Without stretching this statement one bit, Crest of the Stars is the contemporary space opera to set the bar for all other space operas. Emphasizing strong character development and social commentary just as much as its richly complex story, it's a high quality series that everyone can enjoy. Based on the novel series by Hiroyuki Morioka, the story weaves an intricate tale about an intergalactic space battle and the races that are a part of it. The story starts off with the background knowledge of a world called Martine. When a race of genetically altered humans with a heavy-duty eugenics program named the Abh invade, the ruler of Martine surrenders his planet under the condition that he be allowed to continue to rule as an Abh noble. The story then fast-forwards to seven years later and focuses on his son Jinto, who has spent the last several years at a boarding school. As he leaves for military academy, he meets his Abh contact for the first time—a beautiful girl named Lafiel. As the story progresses, viewers finally hit the physical conflict of the story—a war between the Abh and a few other human civilizations. What sets Crest of the Stars apart from other series is the attention that the writers spend on the different human races, as well as their respective technologies. The Abh are shown as a group of people that have very stringent societal rules, breeding only for genetic and political purposes. Their entire way of life, as well as their customs, is interesting to watch and give the series a more anthropological angle than if they had just been generic aliens with elf ears. Of course, to balance out the incredible character and plot development, there has to a downside and Crest of the Stars is certainly not without faults. The most obvious downfall is the pacing, as it is incredibly slow and drawn out at certain times. As helpful as some of the expository information is, it gets tiresome to hear ten minute long lectures about hyperspatial travel, or some other bit of technological information. I admire Nagaoka and Yoshinaga's drive to keep the series as close to the original novels as possible, but some of the scenes are extremely hard to sit through. Regardless of the few yawns that may punctuate the viewing experience, however, Crest of the Stars is still a stellar production, and anyone who is a fan of space operas owes it to themselves to see this series.

RahXephon Vol. #3
ADV Films 75 min. 3/7 $29.98 06/17/2003

I'm so completely in love with this series it's almost disturbing. Even the cover art is beautiful… Nearing the halfway mark of the series, RahXephon only gets more and more enjoyable. Letting viewers learn more about the various characters' quirks, as well as the thought patterns that their minds take, a tight connection is being formed between the story and the audience. As a huge plus, the fight scenes are getting more breathtaking every time they happen, and coupled with the intricate storyline (if somewhat slow at times), the episodes just leave viewers gasping for more. What's really appealing about this volume is a particularly mind-blowing episode that launches Ayato into a state where the fine lines between reality and dreams is completely erased. Ironically exploring the difference between reality and imposed falsehood within the surreal, trance-like state, the writing and the revelations revealed really give RahXephon an extra shot of depth and impressiveness. Using the didactic scenes to explore the human consciousness, it gives the same thought-provoking effect as passages from Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, and I must say, I'm thoroughly impressed. As always, the ever-fluid movements of the characters and the beautiful art boost the powerful scenes, and quite frankly, I can't stop gushing over this series. If you want a mind-tingling series with explorations into the psyche and adventures with wondrous robots, RahXephon won't fail to deliver. This is one series that definitely deserves a place on your shelf.

Rental Shelf

Crying Freeman Vol. #3
ADV Films 100 min. 3/3 $29.98 06/17/2003

If you've been following Crying Freeman up until now, I suggest that you quit while you're ahead and pretend this volume doesn't exist. Don't let the DVD cover fool you, with Freeman sporting his Day-Glo tattoo and his all-purpose Speedo—if you think it looks cool, it's really not. Well, if you're really curious, I'd suggest a quick rental, but nothing more. When I watched the first two volumes, I was rather impressed with the way the story concentrated on Freeman's emotions and his interaction with the people around him, trying to give it as much of the original manga flair as it could. However, with the advent of the last volume, it drops all pretenses and transforms a violent, angsty, and character-driven show into a show with nothing but random blood, sex, corruption, and all the other qualities that grace the local Blockbuster $4.99 VHS Sale bin. With two standalone episodes on the last extra-devoid disc, Crying Freeman leaves viewers with rather sour taste in their mouths. The first episode kicks off with a man asking Freeman and the 108 Dragons for help in retrieving his daughter and her family. They were apparently kidnapped by a group of really angry ex-military men that creatively named themselves the Kidnappers Organization. Guess what their organization does for a living. As it turns out, the kidnapped persons were actually being used as bait to draw Freeman out. Naturally, when you have a powerful killing machine pitted against a rogue group of pissed off militiamen, you get a 50 minute OVA soaked with blood and ruthless fighting. As if all the testosterone-infused rote fighting wasn't enough to make hair grow on a woman's chest, the writers kick it up a notch by throwing in random scenes of nudity. The Kidnappers are being led by a blond chick stalking Freeman. She's so obsessed with our hero that she not only has his picture by her bed every time she has sex, she also enhances the meaning and depth of the plot by prancing around naked the entire time fondling herself while cooing Freeman's name. The second episode is a rather forgettable one with the token “there's a traitor amongst our ranks!” subplot with just as much violence and random nudity. If there's one nice thing about Crying Freeman though, it's that the animators spent a lot of time putting in a lot of anal details, like muscle lines, bruise marks, and scratches. Of course, there are people out there who thrive on such series. If all of this sounds like your dream come true, then by all means, give it a whirl. For all you other folks, if you're curious in seeing the last volume of the series, then maybe a trip to the rental store is right for you.

Dragon Knight: Wheel of Time Vol. #1
SoftCel Pictures 60 min. 1/? $29.98 06/17/2003

After disclosing my belief that the last volume of Crying Freeman is bad because it has pointless nudity, here I am recommending porn. Go figure. Well, if it's good, it's good, hentai or not. Dragon Knight is one of those rare hentai titles that not only have an engrossing plot, but also not that much sex. Based on the fourth Dragon Knight video game, it takes place several years after the first Dragon Knight. A dark force is spreading through the world, turning everyone into stone. The only person that can save the day is Kakeru, the son of the man that saved the world the first time around. Assisted by his half-naked female companions, Kakeru is also helped by someone named Eto, whose origins are certainly interesting. Oddly, Eto acts just like him. Could there possibly be a plot twist there that I'm not telling you about? Of course. Surprisingly though, there are seldom any sex scenes, with the exception of one none too gratuitous moment per episode. Still, this isn't something I'd show little kids. With the lack of sex though, they have to fill the rest of the time up with something. Luckily, they choose to do so with well animated fight scenes, giving the series a heady action kick that makes it more enjoyable to watch. As amusing as the viewing experience may be though, with only two episodes on this disc and no additional extras, the price is a little unfair. If you're looking for some fantasy adventure to color your nights, and don't mind some additional sex, Dragon Knight might be something you could rent for fun.

Mobile Fighter G-Gundam Vol. #10/11/12
Bandai Entertainment 100 min. 10/11/12/12 $19.98 06/17/2003
Mobile Fighter G-Gundam Box #4
Bandai Entertainment 300 min. 4/4 $49.98 06/17/2003

With the release of the last three volumes in the series, Bandai Entertainment finishes off yet another Gundam title. At only $20 for four episodes, the discs certainly come at a great bargain, proving once again that if anything else, Bandai knows how to market. In the last chunk of the series, the story kicks off into the rounds of the final battle. Domon must defeat his comrades and face the four evil kings that are out to get everybody for virtually no reason. He joins the rest of the pilots of the Gundam Federation and prepares to fight against the Ultimate Gundam. If this was any other Gundam series, the Ultimate Gundam would be the good guy kicking everyone else's butt, but G-Gundam is undoubtedly one of the more unique shows in the franchise. It tones down on the political and social strife that's so heavily prevalent in all the other Gundam incarnations, dumbs down the plot, and ups the computer work. Of course, with more resources allocated towards the art, G-Gundam has the power of being fluidly animated and well drawn, but for old-time Gundam fans, this doesn't quite make up for the lack of Gundam-ness in the show. The cockpits are different, the characters have more personal agendas, there is much less emphasis on any kind of nationalism, and all around, it's just not the same old Gundam “old skoo” fans are used to. Despite that, however, the series is still rather interesting on its own. The fight scenes are fun to look at, and even if the plot isn't as dosed in politics as it used to be, the final battle is still a sight to behold. Unlike most of the other Gundam series, it's easier in G-Gundam to just jump right into the middle of the series without being completely lost character and plotwise. So, if you're curious in how the series is going to pan out, a rental would be good for you. If you really like what you see, well then by all means, buy the discs. Luckily for you, Bandai and their beloved marketing team are also releasing the last three discs in an inexpensive boxset, so either way you win.

Reign: The Obsession of Alexander Vol. #3
TOKYOPOP 80 min. 3/4 $29.98 06/17/2003

Striding in on his scaly metallic horse, here cometh Alexangelion Unit-01 to save, or ruin, the day, depending on the whims of the writers who have produced a show with more historical incongruencies than Pocahontas. With only one more DVD to go, the initial stirrings of the final battle are brewing and handy foreshadowing in the form of an oracle is being tossed about to spice up the day. To give the series a dramatic, Caesar-esque flair, Alexander experiences visions of a glorious future, complete with his grave. Then, just to make sure that fans caught the foreshadowing the first time, a wise oracle tells Alexander that he will end up killing the ones that he loves, and that his own demise will be brought about by his closest friend. Don't worry though, it's no plot spoiler. Besides it being on the back of the box, it's one of the few things that I really like about the series. Replete with ancient Hellenicisms and what not, the way the story is told is reminiscent of classic Greek plays a la Antigone, giving the atmosphere a solid Tragic Hero feeling well utilized by the writers. In fact, as the story progresses, the similarities between Reign and Greek dramas become more apparent, and it's this extra flair that keeps me watching the series. While it may not have the most engrossing plot in the world, the most visually appealing characters in the world, or even very exciting fight scenes, it's still a good boredom killer for those times when you know you have things that need to be done, but you just don't want to do them. Unless you've been following the series closely and have been loving it every step of the way, I don't recommend buying it, but hey, a rental never hurt.

Mospeada, Genesis Climber Box Set
ADV Films 625 min. 1/1 $89.98 06/17/2003

Yes, I'm aware that you can't rent boxsets, but I didn't know where else to throw this thing. At long last, the breakdown of Robotech is almost complete. With Macross already out and circulating, here comes Mospeada from ADV to lessen the gap for all the purists out there who want the original episodes uncut and un-Harmonized. With all twenty five episodes being released on five DVDs at a mere $90, plus an additional twenty-some page booklet with staff interviews and info, ADV is making some fanboys (and girls) happy tonight. The discs are subtitled only, so fans of dubbed anime will just have to settle for Robotech. Some of the names have been changed too, but outside of that, let the nostalgia roll in. Mospeada fires up with some expository material, keying viewers in on the fact that Earth has been overrun by weird things with crab robots called Inbits (AKA Invids). A bunch of straggling survivors on Mars decide to reclaim their planet, but the first two batches of them get their butts whupped soundly. To save the entire planet, one survivor named Stick rounds up a bunch of wanderers, and together with their transforming vehicles (how cool would it be if you had a refrigerator that transformed into a mecha suit? You could eat while fighting and throw spoiled vegetables at all the bad guys), hatch a plan to break into the Inbit headquarters and defeat them from the inside. With a series that was made circa 1983, the age definitely shows. Albeit the battle scenes are cool with all the crabs and the transforming motorcycles, but from an animation standpoint, they're pretty hideous. They utilize the character-jump-occasionally-connected-by-white-lines approach much of the time, but since Mospeada wasn't a big-budget show to begin with, this is to be expected. For all the Robotech fans out there, this is definitely something that should be sitting on your shelf next to your Robotech DVDs. It's definitely fun seeing all the scenes that they cut out, and hearing the characters in their original Japanese is just plain nice. But hey, if you've never had an interest in Robotech, I really can't envision any reason why you would want this series. There's plenty of other mecha shows out there that would be better for casual viewing, but if you're curious to see why Robotech fans have been clamoring for this show, you might have some fun borrowing a few discs from a Techie fan.

Steam Detectives Vol. #1 (also w/box)
ADV Films 125 min. 1/6 $29.98/39 06/17/2003

Kia Asamiya's manga turned TV series is finally being released in the States by ADV, which should please fans of his works. Steam Detectives is rather like Dick Tracy meets the Gargoyles, in a strange way. No, it doesn't resemble either of the shows, but every time I see it, the atmosphere automatically triggers something in my mind that says, “hey, remember Dick Tracy? Or that one cartoon with the Gargoyles with the stupid Burger King toys?” Narutaki is a detective that runs around Steam City solving Holmes-esque riddles with his fanservice bearing, fanboy-pandering nurse Ling-Ling. He's also accompanied by a ghetto steam-powered robot named Golriki. The art is very Asamiya so if you're not used to his designs, it may take a little getting used to. For the most part though, it's an interesting series that doesn't require much thought. With the lack of detective series out there, it's nice to see one so well done, but once it's been viewed, it's rather forgettable, aside from the character designs. Unless you're a slave to detective stories and Asamiya, there's not a huge reason to get this DVD. I'd give it a rental to make sure, though.

Perishable Item

Real Bout High School Box Set
TOKYOPOP 325 min. 1/1 $79.99 06/17/2003

Real Bout High School started off as a popular manga series and soon spun off into a thirteen episode anime series, released to ever endearing fans by Tokyopop. Now the entire series is available in a boxset, but is it really worth it? Real Bout High School is a rather unique school in the fact that it teaches students how to fight. If the students ever have a problem, they just duke it out in a K-Fight. Enter Ryoko, the K Champion. Before long though, she gets dragged into another dimension by a mysterious pendant to fight evil entities. In fact, the first volume of the series is incredibly cool. The story is still exciting and the fight scenes are lushly animated. Then, it not only strays from the manga, but strays from itself entirely. The focus of the series is lost and rather than pick a few plot points and aiming for a goal, it opts to instead spread out in a random collection of directions. The end product is a show that spreads itself too thin, gets nothing accomplished, and ends up being aimless fluff. It's a shame that the caliber of the series dropped so steadily after an enjoyable first disc. If you're curious about the show, I'd recommend the manga, but as for the anime series, it's something I'd pass up.

And thus endeth Shelf Life for this week. Until next time!

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