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Shelf Life
The Spirit of Hunger

by Bamboo Dong,
Amongst the qualities that are most sought after in resorts, the ones that are advertised the most include luxury, relaxation, family convenience, and of course, romantic atmosphere. The latter is a coveted trait especially sought after by resort owners. Ad managers fill their brochures with flower petal backgrounds, and cheesy taglines like “New England's best place to kiss.” Just to spice things up a bit, they'll put in pictures of happy couples sharing romantic moments—and there the magic is ruined. Ad managers apparently don't seem to understand the idea that pictures of random couples don't necessarily equate to romance. In fact, sometimes people might be turned off to a place just because the people in the brochures are so incredibly unattractive. Couples seeking a quiet place to spend a few romantic nights nuzzling one another want to see pictures of starry-eyed lovers with wine in their hands, fawning under a backdrop of placid lakes and twinkling stars—not old people sitting on a bench eating sandwiches. They want to see happily married couples dancing in a field—not gawking at a cabin's wall décor. I'm well aware that many happy couples do spend copious amounts of time eating sandwiches on a bench, but when the word “romance” is uttered, one generally thinks of a quiet chat in front of a fireplace, not a gnarled housewife petting a cow. I do respect whomever job it is to take pictures for brochures, but perhaps it's time that they opened their eyes to the present and changed their marketing tactics a little. After all, as much as I think it might be fun to watch local villagers weave a basket, it certainly doesn't make me want to drag a significant other there with me. Maybe when I'm older.

And now, Shelf Life.

Shelf Worthy

King of Bandit Jing Vol. #2
ADV Films 75 min. 2/4 $29.98 09/02/2003

After a fun and chipper introductory volume, King of Bandit Jing continues to steal viewer hearts and laughter with the second disc. Although a steady story has yet to be established, it's well on its way to show that sometimes, a story arc just doesn't matter. The first episode on the disc starts off as a light-hearted escapade to steal a girl who has been put up on the auction block. As if the cheerful banter between the characters wasn't enough to entertain, the experience is enhanced by the beautiful artwork and set design. Taking place in the Technicolor Town of Pompier, the backgrounds are bright and almost cartoon-like, giving the visual experience an even sweeter sensation. Sadly, there are only three episodes on the disc, but the last two make up a two-parter that make the disc worth it. Introducing a girl named Vermouth and her partner, they are on the search for eternal life, using Jing and Kir to help get what they need. As the conflicts (and the womanizing) heat up, the series definitely takes a turn for the more exciting. Proving itself to be one of the most fun series of this season, King of Bandit Jing certainly deserves a place on your shelf. It's rather painful paying $30 for only three episodes, but considering the enjoyment waiting for you on the disc, it's certainly a steal.

s-Cry-ed Vol. #2
Bandai Entertainment 125 min. 2/6 $29.98 09/02/2003

If it weren't for the colorful characters and the unpredictable plot, s.CRY.ed would be one of the dumbest shows ever made. A cartoon about mutants capturing other mutants? As it is, the story is rather engaging, with enough twists in the story to keep viewers glued to their seats, trapped in the Reckless Fire that is s.CRY.ed. Unlike many other action-oriented shows, however, the fight scenes in this series are certainly not the highlight. In fact, with the rare exceptions that involve truly jaw-dropping rivals (like the fights between Kazuma's Shell Bullet and Ryuhou's Zetsuei), the fights are either pitiful excuses for comedy, or most usually, a trite exercise in repetition and cheesy lines. Every single fight involving Kazuma follows the exact same formula in a timely matter so much that his Special Attack sequences can be timed with a stopwatch. In this volume, HOLY is on a capturing rampage, quarantining all of the Native Alters for their own lucrative purposes. It's Kazuma's goal to try to break into—and out of—HOLD Headquarters to try and figure out what's going on. This is one of the coolest shows out there right now, and while the fight scenes may be lame, the overall action-filled atmosphere of the series gives a mighty kick to the show. This is something you shouldn't pass up.

.hack//SIGN Vol. #4: Omnipotence Special Edition
Bandai Entertainment 100 min. 4/6 $39.98 09/02/2003

After four volumes, three things have been established. A) Tsukasa is a whiny little wuss. B) Someone needs to slap that kid. C) Every “revelation” that is made will only confirm something that viewers already knew in the first volume. As Tsukasa et al get soundly punished in a fight, Bear and Mimiru jump back to their last save point. The problem is, when Tsukasa meets up with them again, he's lost chunks of memory from his mind. Serving only to show viewers that yes, Tsukasa is firmly part of the game, the episode is an exasperating tangent that merely affirms the same blatant fact time and time again. While the series is getting more interesting as more facets of the game world unfolds, the pacing is still ludicrously slow. With viewers still knowing the exact amount of information as they knew in the first volume, this gets a bit tedious. By now, it's also apparent that the same three music tracks are being cycled endlessly, which is rather annoying. Despite all of that, .Hack is still one of those series that manages to grab you in and hold you there when you least expect it to. Whether it's a glimpse of the beautifully rendered scenery, or a tiny droplet of information that is released, it makes you want to watch more—if even just to see if anything will ever happen. If you've been watching .Hack//SIGN up until now, there's no turning back.

Spirit of Wonder
Bandai Entertainment 97 min. 1/1 $29.98 09/02/2003

When I first watched the original OVA series, I was still too young and immature to be impressed with it. In fact, I fell asleep. Four times. And I thought Miss China was the dumbest nickname in the entire world. Needless to say, I wasn't too thrilled about the prospect of there being yet another OVA series. Produced in 2001, the property is now available through the nice folks at Bandai for your private consumption. With reluctance, I forced myself to watch it—and was pleasantly surprised. It certainly is one of those titles that defies categorization... something that only lets you sit back and enjoy what you're watching without making you figure out why. In any other aspect, the episodes would be dull and exceedingly pointless, but the show goes out of its way to show you that, sometimes, wondrous things do happen. This DVD is comprised of two vignettes featuring Miss China, and two episodes about the Scientific Boys Club. The vignettes are sure to please fans of the original OVA as they capture that same imaginative flair, with Miss China being shrunk, or figuring out how to walk on the moon. Although fans may be disappointed that the episodes spend so much time on the Scientific Boys Club instead of Miss China, it's still very enjoyable to watch. Inspired by science fiction works, the boys want to pursue their dream of traveling to Mars. Uniquely enough, the way the story is set up also feels like an old 50s era science fiction piece. Reminiscent of Bradbury's lyrical and long-winded days, or some of Heinlein's shorts, it relies heavily on dialogue and imagery to accomplish its story goals. It's a release that can't quite be quantified in any means. Even the story is dull enough that the only appeal to the story is, really, the wonder that you feel. Like immersing yourself back in the golden age of s.f., Spirit of Wonder is a trip back to a youth that you've probably never lived.

Rental Shelf

Ninja Scroll TV Vol. #1
Urban Vision 90 min. 1/? $24.95 09/02/2003

Without a doubt, the Ninja Scroll movie served as a cornerstone of anime fandom, being one of the titles that not only many fans have seen, but also those people who don't care for the artform at all. While the original movie didn't do nearly as well in Japan as it did in the US, it achieved an almost cult status here. It is therefore unsurprising that when plans for a TV series were raised, American fans immediately raised an interest for it. Co-funded by Urban Vision, the series chronicles the adventures of Jubei Kibagame as he wanders through the countryside, trying to relax, while keeping the gallery of enemy ninjas at bay. While the original production was saturated in blood and sex, the TV series tones it down a bit. It still has violence and sexual overtones, but rather than letting those traits be a focal point, they're done much more tastefully, serving as a carefully woven aside to the story, rather than a central vertex. The series is inaugurated with a brief standalone, showing Jubei left with the duty of protecting the sacred Dragon Stone. Along the way, he meets his comrades and also a host of enemies. It's the characters in the Ninja Scroll TV series that makes it so much more appealing than the movie. While the demons in the original were intriguing enough to watch, the enemies are even more vibrant in the series. Featuring gargantuan metallic monsters to women who shoot plant roots out of their limbs, there's enough action to keep viewers interested. As of yet, however, the story is suffering the same problem that its predecessor did— not enough drive. In fact, the characters are the only thing keeping the production afloat, coloring the sparse ninja-of-the-week, mission-based storyline. I'm still wary that the show may eventually degenerate into the violence-fest that marked the movie (and consequently helped to give anime such a bad rap in the US), but the series is showing potential. If you didn't like the movie the first time around, there's certainly nothing here that will capture your fancy, but for the neutral people out there, this might be the thing to pique your interest.

Full Metal Panic Vol. #3
ADV Films 100 min. 3/7 $29.98 09/02/2003

As the first arc crashes to a satisfying close, the series saves itself from rote repetition by steering away from the mecha-o'-the-week formula that it was settling into by veering off course into another direction. Rather than focusing on organizations that want to capture Kaname for her Whispered abilities, they toss things up a bit by introducing a new character. This heralds the appearance of a young man named Takuma, a violent and shady man who is being eyed as a potential Lamda Driver. Of course, his sister is a bit miffed that he's been thrown in a hospital, so an attack is launched that reduces the place to a pile of ashes. There are action sequences galore in these episodes, showing off the flirtatiously attractive animation and smooth coloration. For action aficionados, this will certainly give you a great reason to watch this show. As per Full Metal Panic tradition though, the dark fighting is always lightened up by playful character interactions and humour, and this goes for the third volume as well, with the last episode ending on a perky slap-stick note. While this may keep viewers who are not violence inclined interested, for the people that would rather see the story uninterrupted by tangential fluff, this is a letdown every time it happens. It may frustrate some viewers to see a fast-paced storyline suddenly halted with extraneous prattle and cheap laughs. Either way, Full Metal Panic is a healthy alternative to rampant boredom, so if you're looking for something to procrastinate your workload, this may be the title for you.

Please Teacher Vol. #3: The Honeymoon's Over
Bandai Entertainment 100 min. 3/4 $29.98 09/02/2003

Depending on how much you like this show, these four episodes will either be one of the best Onegai Teacher ones you'll see in the series, or a painful indulgence in stupidity that makes you want to slap all of the characters twice. As with all shounen romance series, there comes a time when the writers decide to dip into the requisite “relationship insecurities and misunderstandings” pool and test the strength of the characters love and faith. While this may be an important part to understanding a relationship, it's still painfully redundant when done over and over again. In this volume, jealousies run high as a variety of people show up to steal away one half of the couple. As Kei and Mizuho slowly and reluctantly explore the possibility of breaking up, angst and emotions run high and wild. If you've been avidly following this series up until now, this will be the perfect time to really get to know the characters. All of their emotions come flooding onto the screen, giving depth to their relationships and histories. As the characters pour out wisdom much too smart for them, it's a great time to see their true natures. On the other hand, if a series about teachers dating their students just really isn't your cup of tea, then this disc will just make you want to go out and shoot something. The character insights are overdone and rather trite, and the people are so exasperatingly stupid and naïve in their sheltered, over-protective, jealous lives that it's painful to watch them make fools of themselves on the screen. Truly, this is a series that relies heavily enough on personal viewer taste to not be a rental.

Saiyuki Vol. #4
ADV Films 100 min. 4/? $29.98 09/02/2003

Although Saiyuki started off as a rapidly degenerating monster-of-the-week show starring unpretty pretty boys who wandered around making a pointless show even more pointless... well, it's picking up. The first episode on the disc punches viewers in the gut with a surprising sortie into the past, digging straight to the hearts of the characters' troubled histories. Viewers get to learn how they first met, their motivations for their actions, and the tragic events that shaped their personalities. Because of this episode, the barrier of male pseudo-aloofness is chipped, allowing the men to start down the path of closer friendship and bonding. Just through this episode alone, viewers get a much keener sense of who these people really are, transforming a dry show into, well, a show that's still dry, but with more of a nod towards what makes these men tick. The following episodes go back to the normal standalone routine, but now that viewers harbor a softer sensation towards the characters, it's much easier to watch than before. Altogether, the director did a good job of kicking the series back onto the right path. What was once doomed to be a failing operation is now resurrected again and with a new heart to go with it. If you haven't been impressed with the series up till now, it might behoove you to give it another chance.

Love Hina Again
Bandai Entertainment 75 min. 1/1 $29.98 09/02/2003

Oh no, not again! Yes, you heard me, it's happened again. Presented by Bandai Enta'tainment, it's Love Hina Again... with all of the same lame jokes and pitiful excuses for fanservice again and again and even more so again. Keitaro's off with Seta on a dig, so in is absence, a girl moves in as the manager. Of course, this is the perfect opportunity for the writers to make as many noses bleed as possible. With this idea given the green light, every inch of the three-episode OVA is stocked to the brim with as much panty-flashing, ass-grabbing, lesbian-groping action as it can fit. Apparently in 75 minutes, there's plenty of chances for that. It's eventually revealed that the new manager Kanako is Keitaro's... sister? And she has a crush on him... ? Well, it is Love Hina after all, and if the anime wasn't designed to give guys wanking material and cheap laughs, I don't know what is. While this was made to give fans a chance to see their beloved characters again, and provide some extra closure for the series, this fails miserably. Instead, the plot is broth-thin, completely pointless, and spends most of the time showing whiny girls beating up guys for problems that they started themselves. Truly, it's just like Love Hina... again. Naturally, Love Hina fans will gobble this up and pant for more. For the more casual viewers though, I can only recommend this as a rental alternative to homework. If it's a touching story you want, you're better off watching the Christmas Special.

Yu Yu Hakusho Vol. #16: Yoko Kurama
FUNimation Productions 60 min. 16/? $24.95 09/02/2003

Kurama fangirls, this is your chance to drool to your heart's content. With three episodes on this disc devoted almost solely to that man, you'll be able to sit and stare until your eyes pop out. Available dubbed and edited, or bilingual and uncut by FUNimation, this disc presents episodes never before shown on TV. The Dark Tournament finals are in full swing, and Kurama's set to go against some creepy guy named Kurasu. Things aren't looking too good for the redhead, but after transforming into Yoko Kurama, things may just take a turn for the better. Either that, or he'll get his butt kicked, triggering a heart-wrenching sob from fans that could be heard all the way in Zimbabwe. This is definitely not one of the better Yu Yu Hakusho discs out there. The story is non-existent, opting instead for a fight-fest of speed-lines and lousy dialogue. Really, the only reason to see this would be if you were a die-hard Kurama fan. If you're just a casual Yu Yu fan though, this isn't worth much more than a rental.

That's it for this week, folks, so quit dawdling and get outta here! See you next time!

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