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Shelf Life
Grounded AlienS and Spaceborn Humans

by Bamboo Dong,
Trivial as it may seem, movies and TV shows wouldn't be the same without extras jabbering in the background during crowded scenes. Called “walla” (derived, as I'm told, from wala, or with a lot of actors), it's pretty much just a group of people talking. Imagine watching Will & Grace and hearing only the main characters voices as they walk around a department store. That would be pretty stupid. Well, it's the same in anime. Every time a dub is made, they have to add walla whenever necessary. Sometimes they grab some bored voice actors, or sometimes they just plop some office guys behind the mic.

A friend once told me that he wanted to direct a dub some day, or at least get the chance to voice in one. I made him promise me that if he ever got the chance to do either, he had to find a way to work in a certain phrase the first chance he got. Over a year later, I got an IM from him which started out with, “Hey Bamboo! Guess what I did?”

Long story short, if you chance to pick up the second volume of Madlax, listen carefully to the people yelling in the background of episode six. If your ears are sharp enough, you'll hear a voice calling out: ”HEY! Your mom called! She wants you to grow some balls!!”

Welcome to Shelf Life.

The Galaxy Railways DVD 1 - Station 1 - Ahead Full! + Artbox
FUNimation 125 min. 1/? $34.98 07/19/2005
The Galaxy Railways DVD 1 - Station 1 - Ahead Full!
FUNimation 125 min. 1/? $29.98 07/19/2005

Fifteen minutes is all it took. After that, I was hooked. It's anyone's guess as to whether or not the series will stay this fascinating, but watching the first volume was like finding a filtered water fountain in the middle of an anime desert. Right at the get go, we're introduced to a lovely family, the kind you only see in ABC Family originals. The father is the epitome of Cool, commanding a train called the Big One as part of the Space Defense Force, and his sons are inseparable brothers who admire their father more than anyone else in the world. Somehow, Leiji Matsumoto managed to make the story of this family so compelling in only 15 minutes that he was able to kill off two family members and still have their memories lingerering painfully throughout the rest of the disc. Against his mother's wishes, the remaining son joins the SDF to pursue his dream of going into space and defending the galactic railways. Facing plenty of adversity from fellow co-workers and anti-SDF factions, he struggles to find his place in the organization. Along the way, he ends up on a colorful range of worlds. From ghost trains carrying the souls of the dead, to planets that collide with the past, the adventures that await the main character can't help but tranport viewers along for the ride. Whether you're a Matsumoto fan or not, this is a grand adventure that shouldn't be missed. Each new world is incredibly fascinating, and with such a tragic character helming the series, you can't go wrong with The Galaxy Railways.

Related Products: The way this series is set up is a lot like Galaxy Express 999. If you enjoyed the manga, you will undoubtedly love this. Or, just wait and see if the animated series will ever come out stateside.
Tastes Like: Ramen noodles. The concept of noodles has been around for ages, but the ability to spice it up with your own flair is what makes it so great.

My Beautiful Girl Mari DVD
ADV Films 80 min. 1/1 $29.98 07/05/2005

If I somehow fell asleep in the middle of My Beautiful Girl Mari, even the most innocent and ethereal of my dreams couldn't match the imagery wafting across the screen. Relaxed and luxurious, the movie flirts with innocence, adolescence, and the magic of childhood dreams. Nearing the end of yet another school year, Nam-woo starts feeling the pangs of loneliness when his grandmother becomes ill, his friend announces he's moving to Seoul, and a local man keeps trying to barge into his fatherless home. Luckily, he's able to escape into a wonderous world populated by giant flying fish, a giant Clifford-sized pink dog, and a girl named Mari who teaches him the bonds of hope and friendship. Although the movie is simple enough on the surface, it's rife with meaning and metaphor, but even if you're not prepared to furrow your brow and figure out why there's a giant dog walking across the harbor, it's still something anyone could enjoy. The artwork and animation is absolutely mesmerizing, and the musical score is fabulous. Like a dream that blankets everything it touches, My Beautiful Girl Mari is a quiet, serene experience that will take anyone's breath away.

Related Products: If it's dreamy locales and flying fish you're looking for, sink into A Tree of Palme. Or, for a time honored classic, be sure to watch Studio Ghibli's Nausicaä.
Tastes Like: Pink cotton candy. Put it in your mouth and it's gone in five seconds, but the sweet taste will last for a long time afterwards.

Cromartie High School DVD 1 - Cromartian Rhapsody + Artbox + Manga
ADV Films 100 min. 1/? $44.98 03/15/2005
Cromartie High School DVD 1 - Cromartian Rhapsody
ADV Films 100 min. 1/? $29.98 03/15/2005

The problem with comedy series is that they've all become so alike and so redundant that even the funniest of jokes have been driven into the ground. Maybe that's what makes Cromartie High School so hilarious and so entertaining—its carefree pursuit of its own comedic path, the wealth of original jokes it pulls out of nowhere, and the fact that it's unlike anything else out there. Kamiyama has just enrolled in Cromartie High School, a school full of delinquents. Befriending a guy whose mohawk has a life of its own, he discovers that the school is filled with a barrage of quirky characters, including a gorilla, a robot... and a guy who looks like Freddie Mercury. Despite all the grunting and talk of head-bashing, the show couldn't be further away from action-oriented. All the characters are so amiable and multi-sided that by the end of it all, you kind of wish you could hang out with them. The episodes themselves are incredibly random. Clocking in at around 10 minutes each, they carry the same kind of punch-lines you'd see in the best deadpan comedians. Whether it's a bunch of thugs trying to figure out the name of a song stuck in somebody's head, or a rival delinquent on the noble pursuit of the perfect joke, the humor is as far away from slapstick one could get. Despite the goofy characters and the occasional gags, Cromartie High is probably the smartest comedy to ever grace anime. If you love a good laugh, you need to see this.

Related Products: If you don't mind watching something a little more lowbrow, you can always check out the whacky hijinks in Excel Saga. Or, you can try and import a great title directed by Daichi called Sekushi Commando Gaiden: Sugoiyo! Masaru-san.
Tastes Like: Borscht. It tastes so different from what you'd expect soup to taste like that it's completely enjoyable.

Madlax DVD 1 - Connections + Artbox
ADV Films 100 min. 1/7 $39.98 04/12/2005
Madlax DVD 1 - Connections
ADV Films 100 min. 1/7 $29.98 04/12/2005

It's impossible not to make comparisons between Madlax and Noir at first glance. For starters, the same guys worked on both series, and both have soundtracks composed by Yuki Kajiura, so that takes care of visuals and sound. Then there's the strong lead female who mixes a sense of high class living with killer fighting skills. After that though, all the similarities start melting away. While Noir somewhat slugged around, Madlax whips its guns out at a furious pace... to the point that sometimes, it stops making sense for a while. A web of political games is being woven in Gazth-Sonika, a country torn apart by a civil war. On the fringe is a gun-toting babe named Madlax who does the work of whoever hires her. In the thick of it all is a shy girl who has a book that could be the key to ending the war. What makes Madlax so confusing is how hard it tries at times to be surreal and mysterious. With unexplained cuts to dream-like sequences with unintroduced children, random pans across shadowy men at altars, and brief clips of scenes that may or may not be important, the whole show is shrouded in mystery. Backed by Kajiura's haunting melodies and her gripping chants, the show has an edgy flair to it that can't be shaken off. The series may not make complete sense right now, but the curiosity will keep plenty of viewers glued to their seats. Shows featuring girls and guns are always made more impressive with dark, sultry atmospheres, and Madlax is no exception.

Related Products: Despite the obvious similarities to Noir, Madlax also reminded me a lot of Gunslinger Girl, with its quiet and mildly dark atmosphere.
Tastes Like: Chocolate éclairs. Made well, they can be so wistful and delightful, with just a touch of class.

DearS DVD 1 – 1st Contact + Artbox
Geneon 100 min. 1/? $34.98 08/02/2005
DearS DVD 1 – 1st Contact
Geneon 100 min. 1/? $24.98 08/02/2005

Every bone in my body is telling me that I should hate DearS. It has a paper-thin plot, stereotypical characters, a disturbing amount of male chauvinism, and the depth of a cookie sheet. But you know what, Ren is so goshdarned cute I can't hold a grudge against the show. Adapted from the manga by Peach Pit, the artwork is best described as “docile.” All the characters have big doe eyes, flowing hair, and pretty faces that bubble with life—that is, everyone except the main character and his neighbor. Takuya finds a naked girl by the side of the road and finds out that she's a DearS, a race of aliens that crash-landed on Earth a year earlier. Professing to be his slave for eternity, she follows him home and manages to wriggle her way into his life. For those who have seen Chobits, the resemblance will be immediately obvious, but the parallels eventually fade. Unfortunately, those are replaced with other clichés, like the childhood-friend neighbor who has a crush on the main guy, the promiscuous teacher who prances around the classroom in her skivvies, and cooking competitions. Ultimately, what's the most discomforting about this show is the odd twist in fanboy pandering. All the DearS women are perfect models of how women should be, yet they profess to be nothing more than slaves to their masters. While I'm sure that's a perfectly welcome thought to the target audience, it's a little disgusting. Even with all the downsides though, DearS still remains a relatively entertaining show. It doesn't do anything more than entertain, but with the cute character designs and the chipper characters, it's worth a light-hearted rental.

Related Products: For another shounen romance series involving unhuman sweethearts with big gushy eyes serving men, check out Chobits or Mahoromatic.
Tastes Like: Melon bread. Actually, I have no idea what it tastes like, but they sure do make it look cute in the series.

Cyber Team in Akihabara DVD 3 - Cyber History
ADV Films 100 min. 3/? $29.98 03/08/2005

When I reviewed the first volume, I acknowledged the plethora of traits that made this show horrible, but I suggested that it would be good for a rental just for giddy schoolgirl's sake. Little did I know that two volumes of later, the series would be exactly like it was right at the beginning. The only change? Instead of just two girls with transforming Pata-Pi, there are now four girls, one of whom has a digipal that looks like a 40s caricature of Hirohito without the glasses. A valiant attempt is made at introducing a few plot twists, namely the discovery of the Prince's evil identity, the introduction of another Diva, and some girl who ends up being the next Anima Mundi. Problem is, these plot twists fall flat on their faces because there's nothing else substantial keeping them afloat. The fight scenes are almost identical as those from the first disc (although the enemies change every three episodes), the transformation sequences are the same, and the characters are little more than repetitive strings of “quirks.” Even more jarring is the haphazard way different mythologies are thrown into the series just to infuse some symbolism into it. Sadly, it doesn't work at all, and just makes the faux complexity of the show one giant joke. Irritating and one-dimensional characters, dull fight scenes, a mangled storyline... this one's a big pass.

Related Products: Archetypal girls who fight for justice? Too easy, but try checking out Wedding Peach if you're bored.
Tastes Like:Old carrots. You know how when you leave a carrot in the fridge too long, it gets all rubbery and soft? Ew.

As a parting shot, I offer you this gem of Freddie from Cromartie High next to his beloved real life counterpart.

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