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Shelf Life
Recycled Air

by Bamboo Dong,
So here I am, celebrating my birthday above the clouds, flying to an anime convention. Forget the silliness of spending the anniversary of my birth crowded amongst a throng of anime fans. I'm more taken with the fact that outside the window is an ocean of grandeur and beauty, and here I sit staring at the same screen that I stare at every single day. All because this column is horribly behind schedule. I have no one to blame but myself. Well, me, and professors who have decided that leisure time is a passé hobby. So here's where I invent another crazy system for Shelf Life to dig myself out of this hole. In the past, I've reviewed titles by release week. Starting now, until that far off day when I fully catch up again, I'll be trying to hit the major releases of each recent week, along with whatever past titles I haven't done yet for another past week. It's like two columns at once! ... In spirit, anyway.

Thanks for all your continued support. There's lots of great titles this time around, so let's get started, shall we? Welcome to Shelf Life.

Fullmetal Alchemist Vol. #1 + Artbox + OST
FUNimation 100 min. 1/? $49.98 02/08/2005
Fullmetal Alchemist Vol. #1
FUNimation 100 min. 1/? $29.98 02/08/2005

Even after just four episodes, one thing is clear—Fullmetal Alchemist is the best series to be released this year. No, it's the best series that will be released in the next five years. It has everything that a masterpiece needs: an engaging storyline, engrossing characters, deep messages, and enough action and humor to keep any viewer riveted. There is one cardinal rule of alchemy, and it's that nothing can be created unless something of equal value is exchanged. Challenging this rule, Ed and Al tried to resurrect their dead mother, but the reaction that took place ripped away Ed's arm and leg, and took Al's body. Now that four years has gone by, they are traveling across the country to look for the Philosopher's Stone, rumoured to have the ability to amplify alchemy so that the Law of Equivalent Exchange no longer applies. Following one lead after another, their travels take them to many a deserted town, each filled with its own dangers and dirty secrets. Captivating and wonderfully written, this series is a requirement for any anime fan's collection. Oh, and for all you artbox lovers out there, the tin case that comes with the starter set is the sexiest on my shelf.

Fullmetal Alchemist (ful'mĕt'l ăl'kə'mǐst) n: A short alchemist on a spell-binding journey with his younger brother to regain their lost bodies and limbs.
Syn: For a series of similar caliber about searching for a dream, you can't go wrong with Wolf's Rain.

Gantz Vol. #1 - Game of Death + Artbox
ADV Films 50 min. 1/? $27.98 02/08/2005
Gantz Vol. #1 - Game of Death
ADV Films 50 min. 1/? $17.98 02/08/2005

At some point, everyone must come to a fork in Anime Purchases Blvd. Do you buy a fabulous series that will keep your attention welded to the TV screen... or do you balk at paying for a disc that only has two episodes? As your tour guide for today, I hope to steer you towards the first path. Released uncut in all its guts and glory, Gantz is captivating not only as a man vs. aliens manhunt, but also as a social commentary for all that's wrong with the world. Viewers are given an open window into each character's mind, letting them access everyone's thoughts except for two who are more “innocent.” The main story opens up at a subway station where a drunkard has fallen onto the tracks. Each person is busy chastising his neighbor for not helping, but no one's willing to do anything except for two boys. Unsurprisingly, they die in a shower of blood and decapitated heads. When they come to, they find themselves in an apartment with other recently deceased people. As if that weren't confusing enough, they're all given orders by a giant sphere to hunt down stray alien criminals. While the plot is a bit confusing, it sets the stage for a story that's hard to stop watching. Be forewarned though, that this is not for viewers who balk at the site of blood, nudity, and sexual situations, because there is a LOT of that here. If you can swallow the low episode count, be sure to give this a chance. Few shows are as intriguing as this.

Gantz (gänts) n: A word of unknown origins, describing a show where the undead are pitted against alien criminals, MIB style.
Syn: For a non-violent alternative with a similar atmosphere, check out Full Metal Panic. Or, if it's excessive violence you want, how about Ninja Scroll?

Last Exile Vol. 7 - Sealed Move
Geneon 75 min. 7/7 $29.98 12/14/2004

After the sixth volume, I thought that a fabulously heart-pounding ending was inevitable. I was wrong. Despite the grand setup, the finale was nothing more than the fizzle you hear after a firework explodes. After the glorious rush of the preceding battle, Claus and Alvis eventually float back to Norkia, where they share a few silent moments about the things they've learned, and how everything has affected their lives. As nice as the bit of character development is, it kills the momentum that had been building up in the previous discs. Even the final battle against the Guild can't drag the series back to the same speed it was at earlier. It doesn't help that the ending hardly makes sense, and requires quite a few logical stabs in the dark to get to what the series is trying to accomplish in regards to the Exile. The ending is satisfying enough for those who have been following the series up until now, but it's a bit of a let down.

Last Exile (lăst ĕg'zīl) n: A fabulous show about war and trust that ran for three episodes too long.
Syn: For another story with a similar theme, try Escaflowne.

Get Backers Vol. #4 - Battles With the Past
ADV Films 125 min. 4/10 $29.98 02/08/2005

After being separated inside the Limitless Fortress, the team of retrievers and transporters are reunited, but this won't last for long. They're faced with a circular room containing six doors, each leading to a separate corridor. As they split up, they find themselves face to face with figures from their past. Friends and enemies alike are thrown against them in a battle of loyalty, skills, and death. Will they be able to prevail, knowing that all their destinies have already been chosen by Makubex? Packed with stirring fight scenes and plenty of unexpected twists, the episodes carry a lot of momentum that's hard to pass up. Over the course of these first four volumes, Get Backers has really transformed from a fairly pleasurable show to something a lot darker, a lot more complex, and a lot more intriguing. At this point, it's hard not to clamour eagerly for the next disc. Take a chance and reach for this series.

Get Backers (gĕt bă'kərz) n: People whose jobs are to retrieve items at any cost, even if it means killing close friends and working with the enemy.
Syn: The characters from Mezzo (conveniently reviewed below!) may not have powers and special techniques, but they've got the Hired Brawn act down. If you're liking Get Backers so far, you might also like Kiddy Grade, another show starring characters with dark pasts carrying out dangerous missions.

Mezzo Vol. #3 - Shell Three
ADV Films 100 min. 3/3 $29.98 02/08/2005

It's been a fun ride so far, but then they stop the cars and pitch you over the guardrails and onto the tracks. As with all of the episodes in the earlier discs, Mezzo continues to pour out an ensemble of fun standalone stories with an extra dash of the supernatural. Whether it's dealing with cursed mummies or hypnotizing cell phone viruses, the DSA has it under control with its fiery cast of members. In the last two episodes though, the series makes an effort to bring together a two-parter with a few oh-so-(not)-scandalous plot twists that are snatched out of thin air. It's not the lackluster ending that makes this volume so enjoyable though. It's the chance to compare how much the characters have changed. Over the thirteen episodes, audiences have seen Asami transform from a weakling to a strong killer-in-training. With such an organic, interesting group of characters, it's almost a shame that the series ends so soon, as it feels like it never got the chance to reach its full potential. Still, the series has been a great way to pass the time, so give it a shot.

Mezzo (mĕt'sō) n: A hectic world where business partners are a contract away from pointing a firearm at your back, and the only guaranteed way to save the day is girls with guns.
Syn: Pack some heat with Najica Blitz Tactics if gun-toting gals rock your world. Also, if you're willing to sacrifice some quality for a bit of slapstick, give Lost Universe a poke.

The Daichis Vol. #1 - Dysfunctional Heroes
Geneon 125 min. 1/? $24.98 12/14/2004

Sometimes there are series that are so absurd and so forced that you feel guilty for laughing and even guiltier for enjoying it. Shoji Kawamori's latest project, The Daichis, falls under this category. The unlikely heroes are members of a rather dysfunctional family. The father is an overweight salary man who spends all of his time playing with gadgets; the mother is a selfish and lazy woman fed up with marriage and taking care of her children. The last thing anyone is expecting is a fax telling them that it's their fate to rescue the world, with a handsome monetary reward at the end of it. Using special cards that allow them to transform into spandex-donning superheroes, the family uses their new special powers to rid humanity of invading monsters. With clichés galore and plenty of slapstick humor (like getting shat out of a monster's ... ”portal”), this show is surprisingly fun. A far cry from some of Kawamori's more preachy series, The Daichis is a goofy take on the old dysfunctional family sitcoms of eras gone by. Give it a try.

The Daichis (thə dī'chēz) n - An unhappy family selected by The Voice to save the world from invading aliens through the power of animated violence.
Syn: Messed up families are everywhere, but none of them capture the sentai flair quite like them. Of course, you could always check out Gatchaman for more silly bad-guy-fighting action.

Fighting Spirit Vol. #3 - Test of Endurance
Geneon 115 min. 3/? $29.98 12/14/2004

Despite my reluctance to enjoy a show that was so incredibly long, Fighting Spirit has really wormed its way into my heart. Not because it's particularly moving or enthralling, but because its episodic nature is oddly addicting. Ippo has made his way into the world of professional boxing at last! His first few matches have gone without a hitch, and even the kids who were bullying him at school think he's pretty fly stuff. Even with all his successes though, Ippo wants a way to test just how strong he is, and what better way than to enter the Eastern Japan Rookie Tournament? If he's lucky, he may even get to fight Miyata, but first he has to get through Jason, a burly fighter who has the ability to send people to the hospital with just one blow. What's especially nice about this series is that even viewers unfamiliar with the world of boxing can easily get involved in the episodes and the fights. While it may be a sports show on the surface, Fighting Spirit really is, at its heart, a story about a boy who grows from a weakling to a strong-minded and determined champion. The transformation Ippo makes from volume to volume alone is worth a rental. If you're looking for a rousing tale of underdog heroes, give Fighting Spirit a chance this week.

Fighting Spirit (fī'tǐng spēr'ǐt) n: The vivacity needed to chase your dreams and go from a weakling to a local sports hero.
Syn: Call me silly, but what better to capture the zero-to-hero sentiment like Hikaru no Go? Just be prepared for some supernatural help instead of raw determination and talent.

New Fist of the North Star Vol. #3 - When a Man Carries Sorrow
ADV Films 55 min. 3/3 $29.98 12/14/2004

Fans of cheesy action titles, come together and join in watching New Fist of the North Star, the silliest and hokiest muscle fest of 2004. While the first two volumes were entertaining enough to warrant a rental, don't expect a good ending, or even a coherent one. To those who haven't checked out this series yet, I only recommend this title for the sheer hilarity of watching a Rambo look-alike scream out “caiyaiyaiyaiyaiyah!” Xena style, every time he fights. Just a note though, unless you've seen Fist of the North Star in its entirety, this OVA can be quite confusing. In this disc, Tobi imprisons Kenshiro and sets out to rouse the townspeople against Seiji in a brutal holy war. Alas, our muscled figure is the only person who can bring dignity back to the people and he must do anything he can to break loose and shriek his shrill war cry against Tobi. With the help of a slutty, half-clothed woman, he teaches the audience that even amidst a bath of blood and gore, an anime series can still be dull. The pacing drags at times and with all the stuff going on, it's hard to follow the action happening on the screen. To be sure, viewers who enjoyed the original series will probably get a small kick out of this one, but with the weak, cop-out ending, it's better to spend your time on something else.

New Fist of the North Star (nü fǐst ŭv thə north star) – A gesture made with a clenched fist to show that you won't take sass from anyone, but only when it advances the story.
Syn: That the original Fist of the North Star is similar goes without saying, but for more flying fists, check out Shootfighter Tekken and Voltage Fighter Gowcaizer (hint: don't check them out).

Media Blasters 60 min. 1/1 $19.95 12/24/2004

What the hell did I just waste an hour of my life on? This?! Some may argue that Eiken is a parody of all the bad anime elements out there, like the ginormous bouncing breasts, the tentacle rape, and the milquetoast hero, but I honestly, there's no excuse for this OVA. It's not even sexy. It's just plain sick. Densuke is a student at Zashono Academy who has recently joined the Eiken Club. He soon sets his eyes on the sickeningly busty Chiharu, a girl whose gelatinous breasts are so large that she needs to hold them up while she walks. As soon as the intros are done, we see that the characters are entered in a campus wide contest, which events include sliding down a slide filled with yogurt, or swimming across a pool filled with eels. Don't be fooled though. The show has nothing to do with this contest. Its entire purpose is to use as many hideous and vile clichés possible. One of the girls looks hardly a day above 10, but has breasts that reach from her hips to her chin. Another girl is constantly trying to seduce Densuke, either with her naked body or with her face planted in his crotch. Another always has a banana in her mouth—you get the idea. The onslaught of innuendos and sexual tension is so strong it's almost nauseating. Do yourself a favor and keep this far out of reach. Brain cells don't replenish once they're dead—use them wisely.

Eiken (ā'kĕn) n: A fetish club open only to post-operative patients receiving experimental beach ball breast implants.
Syn: If huge sacks of fat are what get you going, check out some of the biggest and breast best examples of Giant Breast Anime out there, like Divergence Eve and G-Taste (H title).

Well, that's it for this week. I left out some titles from the week of the February 8, but I'll slip them into the next installment. Thanks for reading!

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