Shelf Life
Yugo the Olympian

by Bamboo Dong,
I first started watching curling at the tender age of 12. Back then, I thought it was the dullest sport ever invented, and it was often the butt of Olympic-related jokes at school. However, 8 years later, I've slowly developed an appreciation for it. Largely, it was because I finally had the patience to sit down and watch an entire game, and I have to say, once you get to that point, it's absolutely mesmerizing. The more you understand the rules and just how intricate it is, and the physics behind the scrubber guys and what they're doing, it suddenly becomes a game of skill and suspense. I've always loved the Winter Olympics much more than the Summer Olympics, and this year, I'm not ashamed to say that the US vs. Finland curling match was intense, and I loved every slow second of it. I'm also not ashamed to admit that I cried when Michelle Kwan announced her withdrawal from the games, and I cried when I typed this sentence.

Welcome to Shelf Life.

Yugo the Negotiator DVD 3 - Russia: Legacy
ADV Films 100 min. 3/? $29.98 01/10/2006

After the heart-stopper that was Yugo in Pakistan, I couldn't wait to see what would happen in Russia. I was expecting more greatness from what I thought was one of the best shows ever made, and I was not disappointed. The scene has shifted from the grueling heat of the desert to the harsh winds of Siberia where Yugo has been sent to retrieve a young girl and whisk her into Japan. Alas, every step of the way is an uphill battle against the Russian government, from double-crossing KGB captains to torture-happy officers. Like the first mission, the second one is filled with plenty of suspense and gripping moments; how Yugo manages to get out of each situation is totally unpredictable and leaves viewers begging for more. The way it takes itself so seriously helps quite a bit as well; it's far too easy for series to pull a Macgyver and pull their heroes out of a tough spot in the nick of time, either by some secret weapon, a rescuer, or some other convenience. Not so with Yugo. The fact that he's stuck with the barriers he's dealt and manages to work through them makes him a far greater hero than anyone with an explosive shoe. That's what differentiates between a heart-stopping suspense drama, and a summer blockbuster action flick. For anyone who's ever wondered if there are any “grown up” shows out there, Yugo is right at the top of the list. It's one of the best that the action drama genre has to offer, and it's something that I think everyone needs to watch. You're not going to regret it.

Samurai 7 DVD 3 - From Farm to Fortress Limited Edition
FUNimation 100 min. 3/? $49.98 12/13/2005
Samurai 7 DVD 3 - From Farm to Fortress
FUNimation 100 min. 3/? $29.98 12/13/2005

Gonzo's animated retelling of Kurosawa's classic may have started out slowly, but it has quickly become an indispensable title for all fans of serious anime. From the first episode on this disc to the last, it represents what every good story should have—strong characters who are carefully constructed and portrayed, a wide palette of emotions to bolster the scenes, and an amazing storytelling that has settled into the perfect, suspenseful pace. Now that all seven samurai have been assembled, their task is to fortify the village and prepare it for war against the bandits. However, with traitors in their midst, low morale, and mistrust, their hardest job may be to first unite the farmers. Everything comes together nicely in the third volume, giving the series a solidarity it was lacking before. While on the surface, Samurai 7 is an action series that could make anyone roll around in joy (watching the samurai slice through multi-story robots is pure bliss), it carries plenty of deeper messages about society, both contemporary and period. From class conflicts to self-sacrifice, the amount of time the series invests on character and inter-personal growth really sets its apart from other sword-fightin' action shows and it's wonderful. This is something that all anime fans need to see; if there was ever any reincarnation that could have done Kurosawa's film justice, it's Samurai 7.

Princess Tutu DVD 3 – Erwachen
ADV Films 100 min. 3/? $29.98 01/24/2006

To watch an animated series and think to yourself, “what beautiful set design!” is truly a wonderful feeling. To be able to feel like you're watching a stage production in two-dimensions is something that very few series could, or even desire to accomplish. Of course, that's been the norm for Princess Tutu since the first volume so it's not much of a surprise that the visuals and atmosphere would continue to be so uniquely elegant. What was a surprise was the turn that this series took in just one volume. After I had watched the second disc, I commented that the series was irritating and dull, that the characters were one-dimensional. With the events in the third disc though, everything is spun around. As the identities of the princess and the knights become known to everyone (though I seriously can't believe how poor all fictional characters are at recognizing these things), the meat of the fairytale rises to the surface. Instead of subjecting viewers to repetitive Shard-o'-the-Week episodes, the characters get ready for their final showdown. What makes the series work so well is that everything is so dreamlike and ballet-like that even the goofiest of story elements can be executed gracefully. In any other setting, Mythos would be the world's biggest sissy, but because he's surrounded by so many other strong characters, his blandness is forgiven. This series had its ups and downs with me, but the end of the first season really made everything worth it. Shoujo heroines have gotten dull over the years, so if you're looking to shake things up, give Princess Tutu a chance.

Doki Doki School Hours DVD 2 - 2nd Hour
Geneon 100 min. 2/? $24.98 01/24/2006

There's no way to deny that Doki Doki School Hours isn't repetitive—it is. But at the same time, it's not repetitive in a way that would drag down the pace of the show or irritating anyone—the show is simply so charming and so effervescent that repetition serves only to make the characters more endearing and the situations more goofy. Everyone expects the girly narcissist to flit around in ribbons and fishnets, but when it happens, it's just as funny. Everyone expects Mika to be tortured for her height, but when that's done, it's just as silly and cute. Everything in this series is created for the sole purpose of bringing a smile to the viewers' faces, and it totally works. It helps that there are no extraneous characters; the class serves as its own autonomous subject which emphasizes the relationships between the characters. In the sense that Azumanga Daioh gave viewers another glimpse into their high school years (not just any random flashback nostalgia either, but more often than not those last couple of years when everything clicked and friendships cemented!), Doki Doki does the same thing. Only... more... round. The series has yet to settle on any themes and everything is given an extra dosing of sugar. If you find yourself easily taken in by cute things, then this show will definitely appeal to you. Don't expect much of a point or any complex messages and you'll enjoy their daily adventures just fine.

Starship Operators DVD 1 – Revolution
Geneon 100 min. 1/? $29.98 12/06/2005

There's something universally appealing about watching kids strike out on their own, save the world, and battle bad guys with their ingenuity. It's fierce independence and creativity that makes the Boxcar Children so interesting even after so many years. The problem is, sometimes it gets a little too ridiculous, to the point where you can no longer believe that the heroes have the skills to survive, like in Starship Operators, where space cadets are wiping out seasoned military veterans. A gaggle of students find themselves in a bizarre situation when their superiors abandon them after learning that their home planet has surrendered to the Kingdom. Instead of going home like good kids, they decide to purchase the ship by allowing the Galaxy Network to film their day-to-day activities, and use it to fight back. It's obvious to everyone else that letting a network run your battles is a terrible idea, but there's apparently some conspiracy at play that viewers aren't yet privy too. As eye-rolling as the story is at times, it's a little interesting watching students match their wits against ruthless captains. It's unbelievable, but seeing them so isolated not only in space, but also politically, almost forces viewers to root for them. It would be nicer if the series marched at a faster pace and canned the clichéd secret conspiracy scenes, and it would certainly help if the characters didn't all look so similar, but there's really no reason to dislike this series. Hopefully things will get better as the characters' emotions and relationships develop.

Salaryman Kintaro DVD 1
Arts Magic 130 min. 1/? $24.98 05/31/2005

“You can make being a business man as cool as being the leader of a biker gang.” Any show that has quotes like that is A+ in my book. In fact, it's sentiments like this that make Salaryman Kintaro a surprisingly awesome show and something that I enjoyed the entire disc. Don't sweat it if you've never heard of the show before, though—the series is about an unconventional hero in the tireless white-collared workerscape of Japan, something that isn't quite as relatable to the American worker. Still, the series is unexpectedly fun and so damned ridiculous that it's wonderful. Yamato Construction gets a shock when the chairman hires a new employee; long-haired, outspoken, and unwilling to kiss ass, Kintaro was the leader in the largest biker gang in Tokyo. Similar to series like Great Teacher Onizuka, the show follows an ex-thug as he battles his way into the hearts of his co-workers, and up the corporate ladder. Despite how silly it is, it's a fun series that's easy to cheer for. Kintaro's exploits are so absurd that they almost sound like they were generated from one of those Chuck Norris jokes (for example, Kintaro swam in the ocean for 7 hours just to rescue an old man). Of all the series available right now, this isn't exactly something that's high on the Must See list, but if you're looking for something underrated and unknown, this is a fun title to check out. Where else can you watch salarymen going at it in an all-out brawl, or transvestites fawning over some office worker? Although this series was made for Japanese salarymen, it's still something that everyone could enjoy. True, there're better series out there, but if you want a unique weekend rental, this is it.

I gave you guys a couple of weeks to give me some "nasty" entries, and I have to say, I was pleased. I visibly retched at some of them, so I salute you. But first, let's talk about this week's contest.

Grand prize:
Gantz Season 1 Thinpak Boxset

Consolation 1: Ghost Stories v.1
Consolation 2: Godannar v.1

How to win: Head out with your digital camera, or a friend's, and take a picture of something food-related and alien. Send your name. (or alias), your mailing address, and your photo(s) to shelflife [a] animenewsnetwork [dot] com. JPGs only. All entries must be received by Sunday, February 26 at 11:59PM EST (GMT -5:00), no exceptions.

Now on to last week's winners!

Winner of Xpress Train is Christopher Joy for his cat's un-lunched meal:

Winner of Debts of Desire goes to Joe Levering for ... pork?

Another Lady Innocent goes to Sebastian Padrino for this amazing hot dog:

Legend of the Blue Wolves goes to Scott Riley for rotting meat:

Sensitive Pornograph goes to Rosyna Keller because canned burger is just sick:

Congratulations to everyone who won! Have fun with this week's contest, and thanks for reading Shelf Life!

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