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Shelf Life
Anime, F*** Yeah!

by Bamboo Dong,
Take a journey with me, my young ones, back to the days when anime wasn't nearly as readily available as it is now. Back in the day, anime was dispensed on fifth generation VHS fansubs. Clubs would gather around in the back of comic book shops and stare at a screen, dumbfounded at the blurry figures running around amongst streaks of Old Video. If you had a friend who had a friend who was roommates with a guy whose brother in the Navy could get you raws from Japan, you were the coolest kid on the block (that is, the small, miniscule “anime fandom” block). Those were the days when two subtitled episodes were released on VHS by American companies for $30 (*if* you could find them)... the days when the saviours of the fansub world were purple-colored tapes with inkjet labels. Now, you can walk into any Best Buy or Suncoast and pick up just about any anime DVD on the market, stroll into a bookstore and grab fresh manga hot off the shelves, or go to a million and one places to get your hands on anime plushies and delectable not-anime-related-but-you're-not-cool-unless-you're-a-bandwagoner boxes of Pocky.

And then there's anime licenses. They're announced by the bucketful, decorating anime conventions with news of old classics being released, new series being released, and even shows that haven't even been made yet being released. This makes fans like me happy. This makes us very happy. Why, the anime industry has grown from a wee chick to a big, fat-ass chicken ripe for eatin'. There's nothing that makes us happier than supporting the Japanese creators by paying for the North American releases of their shows. For those of us who have been fans for so many years, it's the least we could do to thank them for the happiness and (insert sappy emotion here) they've given us over the years. Sure, there will be dissent when there's a worry that a show will be mistreated, but that's all in the normal course of customer feedback. But to all you young whippersnappers out there who think that anime should be a commodity given to all free of charge, and who boo the announcement of new acquisitions, think of all that we've been through, and shut up.

Welcome to Shelf Life.

Shelf Worthy

Get Backers Vol. #2 - Find the Fine Arts
ADV Films 125 min. 2/? $29.98 10/19/2004

Now that the series has moved beyond standalone episodes and into lengthier stories, it's gotten much more interesting. People from Ginji's past are stepping into the story, accomplishing the double feat of giving the show plenty of chances to reinforce Ginji's background, and set the foundation for a larger story arc. The first three episodes follow the Get Backers as they go on a mission to retrieve a blind violinist's Stradivarius. Little were they expecting to have to work against another team of fighters hired by the other side to keep the violin in their possession. With both sides unleashing all their cool powers, the fight scenes are as exciting to watch as the story itself. What's really nice about Get Backers is that unlike other series where disposable enemies keep getting stronger and stronger, only to be beaten week after week, the bad guys in this show are around to stay. As the episodes progress, the different ways that the antagonists are connected to Ginji and Ban are slowly revealed, hinting at an intricate storyline looming in the distance. Since the first volume, the series has bounded forward to something much more fascinating. Make sure you give it a try.

Rental Shelf

Mezzo Vol. #1 - Shell One + Artbox
ADV Films 125 min. 1/3 $39.98 10/19/2004
Mezzo Vol. #1 - Shell One
ADV Films 125 min. 1/3 $29.98 10/19/2004

Mezzo is one of those shows where no matter how muddled the story gets, it's still fun to watch. Having a cadre of loud and fun characters certainly helps, that's for sure. Nestled between the supernatural genre and the action-packed-mercenary-for-hire genre, Mezzo is a show that starts off in the middle of things without an explanation, and ends with plenty of questions. The story centers around the Danger Service Agency (DSA), a trio consisting of a reckless girl with a penchant for blowing things up, a spikey-haired techie guy, and an old man who likes noodles. They hire themselves out for dangerous missions, whether it's safely transporting a mystery briefcase, or gunning down aliens. What makes the story interesting (and sadly, kind of sloppy) is the way that the supernatural gets thrown in. Oftentimes, the DSA will find out that their client is really a ghost, or that they're trying to track down an extraterrestrial—but then never bother following up any of these discoveries. Not once do they try and figure out why they were approached by a ghost, nor do they ever even think, “Hey, what the... Was she... Was she like, just a ghost and stuff? Yo, what the hell's up with that, man?” It makes the episodes seem almost empty and disjointed because each standalone is over and done with before you ever really get into it. This problem fixes itself with the last two episodes though, which are a joy to watch. I've always loved the kind of episodes that follow a character as he goes through his day and eventually bumps into one of his colleagues, and then in the follow-up episode, shows the other character's day and how through a series of coincidences, s/he bumps into the first character. These last two episodes reveal a lot about the characters' backgrounds, and by themselves, are worth the rental. Give Mezzo a peek, if just for that.

Fighting Spirit Vol. #2 - The Debut Match
Geneon 125 min. 2/? $29.98 10/19/2004

There's something about Fighting Spirit that makes it incredibly hard to watch. Maybe it's the fact that each fight takes four episodes to finish. Maybe it's the fact that it follows the pre-established Guidelines For Making an Against All Odds Sport Series handbook so incredibly closely, from the “Woah! I didn't know he was this strong! When did he become so strong?!” all the way down to the, “AHA! He minimized the damage of the punch by [insert sporty jargon here], showing his clever knowledge of [insert obscure sporty technique here]!” While the first volume of Fighting Spirit showed the inspiring journey of a young boy as he transformed from a schoolyard weakling to a confident young boxer, the second volume spends the entire time watching Ippo and his match against Miyata. As he and Miyata go head to head in a slow-motion fight with plenty of dark “action lines” and face-distorting punches, the audience can easily get bored to tears by the commentary coming from the sidelines. For some grueling reason, each object with a mouth feels the need to repeat the same “WOW, he's strong!” comment uttered by every person around it. Hopefully Fighting Spirit will get better once it starts focusing on Ippo more rather than his mind-numbingly dull boxing matches, but that might take a while. Until then, this isn't worth more than a rental, just to keep up to date on Ippo's exploits.

Shaman King Vol. #1 - A Boy Who Dances with Ghosts
FUNimation Productions 1/? $19.98 10/19/2004
Shaman King Vol. #2 - Perfect Possession
FUNimation Productions 2/? $19.98 10/19/2004

Any Shaman King fans who were afraid that the show wouldn't get a proper release can rest in peace now. FUNimation and 4Kids did indeed stick by their word and release the series in bilingual format, uncut. Now you can watch little kids fighting ghosts until the end of time! Hooray! The first volume introduces Yoh, a shaman that can communicate with ghosts. In order to become stronger, he needs to find a ghost that he can junction with so he can borrow its powers. The ghost that he tracks down is a bad-ass dude with big hair named Amidamaru. Together, they set their sights for the World Shaman Tournament. Before they can get there, they must first battle through volume upon volume of other little kids with equally bad-ass spirits, including zombie kung fu masters and pissy ancient warriors. Even though Shaman King is targeted at kids, it's still mildly entertaining enough to watch. If you're stuck babysitting this weekend, this might be something fun for the kids. It's not particularly engaging for the brain, but no one ever said tournament-patterned shows ever were.

Perishable Item

Sister Princess Vol. #1 - Oh, Brother! + Artbox
ADV Films 100 min. 1/7 $39.98 10/19/2004
Sister Princess Vol. #1 - Oh, Brother!
ADV Films 100 min. 1/7 $29.98 10/19/2004

As soon as I heard the infectiously cute theme song utter the words, Aitai ai ai ai ai noni... .! I knew I was in for one hell of a ride. There are only two types of shows on this planet that have unbearably cute, clutch-your-knees-in-pain adorable J-Pop theme songs: shows based off a hentai/dating sim, and shows about a scrawny boy who lives with a collection of girls that have predetermined personalities (young girls included!). Sister Princess, or Sister Princest as called by many, belongs to the latter group. Our milquetoast hero is distraught after getting rejected from the only high school he applied to, and worse, getting kicked out of the house by his dad (for no good reason at all because, as we all know, explaining plot points in a show takes up valuable time that could be filled instead with blushing damsels and wet t-shirts). But he's in for the Time of His Life™ when he learns that he is supposed to enter a high school he was recommended for (by whom? Never says.), on an island he's never heard of before, with people he's never met in his life. After a series of housing mishaps, he somehow ends up living in a huge house. But the story only just begins here because as it turns out, he's living with TWELVE OTHER WOMEN!!!!!! AND THEY'RE ALL HIS YOUNGER SISTERS!!!!!!!!!!! Of course, he has no idea why he has thirteen younger sisters, and neither does the audience. All we know is that out of thin air, a convenient plot twist has been devised so that we can somehow get one boy in a large house with a myriad of women. I assume that this will eventually be explained, but as of now, we're living in Cliché City, population: 13. There's your quiet girl, your annoying detective girl, your sporty girl, your jailbait bunch—if you've ever seen a harem show, you get the drift. This cute caboodle of siblings all go to school together where we even get to see the Clumsy Girl try to be a cheerleader, never mind the fact that she looks like an elementary school student. Of course, it's entirely possible that this show gets better. But right now, with all these clichés up in the air, with not even the world's thinnest explanation to back them up, this is nothing but a vapid waste of your time. Unless you particularly enjoy this genre of shows, back up and watch something else.

Lady Death
ADV Films 80 min. 1/1 $29.98 10/19/2004

What do you get when you take an American comic intended for a mature audience, take out all the violence, tits, and ass, have a bunch of seasoned industry folk condense the thing into an 80 minute flick, and have a bevy of Koreans turn it into an animated film? Honestly, I don't even know. I have no clue what the hell this thing is supposed to be, but I know that it sucks. Lady Death, made in ADV's in-house production studio, is the latest project to test the distinction between Anime and Animated-Films-With-Big-Eyes. The story starts out in 15th century Sweden where it is revealed that a local mercenary is actually Lucifer!!!! To crank up the injustice a tad, just because her dad's the king of the underworld, the pious daughter gets sentenced to be burned at the stake. But in the nick of time, as her skin is peeling off her face, she cries out to the underworld and gets whisked away to Hell, where she finds that the souls of her mother and her loved one are being held captive by her dad. She vows to become a strong, ruthless fighter so she can wreak revenge on her dad and slay him. With the help of a rogue anti-Luciferian she meets and a lame montage (from just a beginner to a pro, you need a montage!), she amasses a huge army, turns pale white, changes her name to Lady Death, loses her pupils, and attains the ability to shoot electricity out of her palms and fly through the air. Then, using Hell's Best Sword, she's able to go up the chain of command, slashing all who stand in her way. There lies one of the biggest problems with the show. From beginning to end, it's filled with the most anticlimactic battle scenes ever animated. An incredibly powerful, indestructible enemy is introduced, only to be slain with a few jabs of Lady Death's sword. Throw in the fact that the animation is absolute crap, and the story is rushed and half-assed, this is one gigantic waste of time. It takes a lot of careful scripting to make a story like this not seem completely contrived, and the writers failed at that task. If this is what ADV is going to churn out of their in-house production studio, maybe it's time to invest money in something else.

BASToF Syndrome Vol. #5 - Past Echoes
ADV Films 100 min. 5/6 $29.98 10/19/2004

Five volumes later and this show is still utter crap. Nice. When one of the industrial compounds that Bebe was fighting at in the Lemon Game develops problems in real life, rumours start flying about how the game is linked with some of the buildings in the real world. Normally in an anime series, volume five is where all the revelations are made, so the characters can prepare for the Ultimate Battle. The thing is, they generally try to find a subtle way to do it to make it seem like part of the story, and not just the writers throwing out ideas that they came up with while they were sitting around drinking Yoohoos and playing darts. Within the space of an episode, viewers get the displeasure of watching all of the show's “secrets” get rushed out in the most unimaginative ways possible, like an online voice chat with a mysterious girl that knows every last thing there is to know, or a poorly animated series of flashbacks that reveal the other half of the secrets. Generally, it's a nice feeling when all of a show's questions are answered, but not this time. There's just something so incredibly unsettling about side characters suddenly spilling out a rash of “revelations” that turns the series a complete 180. Maybe if the revelations weren't so obviously pulled out of a writer's ass in the middle of a caffeine-inspired brainstorming session, it would be better. Alas, what has been done cannot be changed. Watch something else.

And that's the way the Pocky crumbles. See you all next time!

Any DVDs that were unreviewed this week are due to a lack of screeners. Sorry!

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