Shelf Life
Wake Up With the Count

by Bamboo Dong,
There are two traditions that have always accompanied springtime at my university. One is Spring Weekend, a university-sponsored weekend of debauchery and drunkenness at the end of April. The second is the housing lottery, where students are pitted against fate to determine where they'll live with their buddies, which could range between a suite with its own bathroom and kitchen, to a cramped triple, depending on their lottery number and their seniority. As much as students loathe this crapshoot, it's become regarded almost as a sporting event. If anything, there's something rousing about seeing a hall full of anxious students, accompanied by drunks screaming and yelling, waving signs saying, “NO SHOW!” and random dorm names. That's what life is missing—more pseudo-sporting events. I think people are too busy with life to waste their time doing stupid things, which is a damned shame. So this week, go out and do something stupid with your friends.

As of this week, this column will be moving to a biweekly schedule. Welcome to Shelf Life.

Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo DVD 3 - Chapter 3
Geneon 100 min. 3/? 03/14/2006 $29.98

Some series get better and better every episode until you finally start to wonder if they'll ever plateau. It's that kind of eternal momentum that characterizes all amazing shows, and Gankutsuou is no exception. The Count has introduced himself to all the important members of the aristocracy, but matters suddenly turn dark. He harbors a mysterious vendetta and hidden secrets, but no one knows what's going on. Life becomes punctuated with murders and foul play, uncovered truths, disrupted romances, and the reappearance of Mr. Edmond Dantes, a man everyone thought was dead. Even for those who have read the novel or have any knowledge of the story, things are still shrouded in mystery, giving the series a sense of suspense and tension that's hard not to love. Gankutsuou is so rich in the way it weaves its story that once you start watching, you simply cannot stop. It hits you in the face with its elegant soundtrack and its powerful visuals, dipping you in a thick fondue of senses that takes your breath away. There simply aren't enough good words to describe this series. If you consider yourself a fan of fascinating characters or strong storytelling at all, then you owe it to yourself to buy this series. It's more than just a pastiche of great literature—it is great literature.

Kaleido Star New Wings DVD 1 - Eclipse of the Star
ADV Films 125 min. 1/? 01/17/2006 $29.98

After long months of anticipation, fans of Kaleido Star can finally watch two mouth-watering, flavor-intensive episodes of recap. It's not the best way to start a series, but when things finally get rolling, it's refreshing to see that Sora is still just as plucky and determined as usual. After Layla's departure, the Kaleido Stage needs to find a way to get their attendance back up. Their solution is a pompous French acrobat, whose ego is matched only by the length of his hair. As if he's not enough of an antagonist, the series brings in a Chinese girl who wants to battle Sora for the title of “Kaleido Star.” It's not without a bit of painful irony that while the characters are struggling with the absence of Layla, that viewers might also feel a tug of regret that she's no longer there. Sure, her iciness is replaced by two new meanies, but it's not quite the same just yet. Still, there's plenty of time for the new characters to become likeable, but it's a relief that Sora's effervescent personality is there to fill up the screen. If there's one thing that the new season is missing so far, it's the enjoyment that came from watching Sora have to mature and prove herself on a daily basis. At this point, one just assumes that she can do everything she sets her mind on, leaving the only conflict in the series to be winning people over. It's a bit of a let-down coming from the amazing last volume of the first season, but undoubtedly the series will get better as it progresses. I think I speak for all Kaleido Star fans when I say that this disc couldn't come soon enough.

Bottle Fairy DVD 2 - Autumn & Winter
Geneon 90 min. 2/? 02/07/2006 $24.98

If you haven't gone to the dentist yet this year, you may have to after watching this disc. It's simply way too cute to be legal, and just as pointless to boot. The girls go through several more months, having mini-adventures (ha) and delivering silly oratories each time. Whether it's the girls dressing up as reindeer and pretending to be stranded in the Arctic, or marching around with soup pots on their heads talking about food, it's fun to see just how far their imaginations take them. Of course, despite how bubbly and sugar-saturated the show is, it's something that can only be handled in very small doses. Two episodes at a time may be the only way to watch it. There simply isn't enough real substance to keep one's interest, and for as much time as you could be squealing over them, you'd probably spend just as much time snoozing. Not because it's boring, but just because there's nothing there but cute, cute, and more cute. It's definitely something fun to keep around the house for those odd 10-minutes a day you could be craving something to warm up your heart, but if it's substance you need, you won't find it here.

Yumeria DVD 3 - The End of a Dream
ADV Films 100 min. 3/3 01/03/2006 $29.98

Linear storytelling is underrated. I'm all for creative uses of time and unorthodox transitions, but there needs to be some logic tying everything together. One can't just look at their calendar, suddenly remember that their show contract is running up soon, and slap together a makeshift ending. Well, correction—they can, but they shouldn't, because otherwise it ends up like Yumeria. Up until now, the series has been a frivolous, but mildly interesting, show about a group of girls and their male companion who fight to save the future in their dreams. Only in the third volume does the storytelling get a real boost and not a moment too soon. The true identities of all the girls are revealed, and even while all the conspiracies are being aired, the writers still take enough time to explore the relationship between the characters, and their dependencies. For once, viewers might have even been inclined to care about the girls, but everything's chucked out the window when the series speeds up, holds its breath, and plunges into “holy crap we're running out of time, quick, quick, drag in the men with the black suits and the aluminum attachés and for chrissake fabricate a goddamned war” freak-out mode—all within half an episode. It's a shame, because had the series been given a few more episode, it could've ended on a high note and redeemed itself. Or had it not wasted an entire episode on this disc dicking around a make-believe beach. Overall, it lands itself squarely in the Meh category. It's not a fabulous series, nor is it thought-provoking or spell-binding, but it's an interesting premise that wasn't given enough time to develop. Hell, harem shows are so commonplace there's no reason why you shouldn't just watch this one.

Daiakuji: The Xena Buster DVD 1 - The Return of Daiakuji
Adult Source Media 55 min. 1/7 12/13/2004 $29.99

I'm not sure what a Xena is, or why it (she??) needs to be busted, but I'm positively alarmed that busting it/her/Them takes up seven volumes. Frankly, I became bored after 15 minutes. There's nothing more tragic than boring porno. It's very commendable for hentai to have a storyline, and even more commendable for it to take up seven volumes, but if it's so dull that the viewer fast-forwards just to get to the ass, it's not worth it. The series takes its name after the macho hero, Akuji, and presumably, his large penis. Perhaps he tells his many women to call him Daiakuji, or perhaps that's the name he's given to his member, or maybe it's just a stage name like Little Richard, but it's not the point—after all, he is a xena buster. After spending several years in jail kissing his muscles, he's released to discover that the world is being run by snobby women. Infuriated that them bitches darest step away from the stove, he puts together a fighting team of women whose only initiation is sex. Together, they go to his old stomping grounds and tear up a gang lair, raping a few things along the way. With plenty of breaks for sex (and flashbacks of sex), the constant stream of intercourse is regrettably interrupted by disjointed, dull excuses for plot and random sausage fests of ugly man-on-man fist fighting. As an action series, it's terrible. As a super-revenge-slaughter-fest, it's awful. As a hentai, it's just plain dull. Man, it's tough to be sexy.

UFO Ultramaiden Valkyrie DVD 1 - Bedlam, Bathhouse & Beyond
ADV Films 100min. 1/? 03/07/2006 $29.98

Wiggles & giggles & catgirls—oh my!
Whoever wrote that on the back of the DVD deserves to be cudgeled with a silicon breast. Not because it's not true, but because it's so prophetic about the contents of the disc that it's sickening. UFO Ultramaiden Valkyrie is essentially a series about naked women taking baths, starring two princesses of who have landed from a faraway planet, but have been transformed into children. Before they can think about going back to their motherland, a few more fanboys need to be baited with catgirls, catgirl maids, naked transformation sequences, and feisty run-ins with a Childhood Friend character. Despite all the clichés though, it's almost hard to dislike the series. It's so vapid and harmless that one can't hold animosity against it, not even for a minute. 95% of it is loaded with déjà vu moments from other series, but then you realize that the characters are mad cute and all disgust is replaced by sadness. But, to be fair, as fanboy fodder, it works very well. It probably has something that could appeal to every fetish, and it certainly has enough breasts to fill a man with happy dreams for eternity. Personally, I always feel uncomfortable watching anime series where I can see nipples through battle uniforms. It makes me feel dirty, like someone in the room should be wearing a condom. At least the art is pretty.

My apologies to past winners who haven't received their prizes yet. I haven't been in town much lately, but things should be heading out soon! Now, on to the winner of last issue's Alien food category:

Winner of Gantz Box 1:
Congratulations to John Maxwell for his... octopus. There's something oddly poetic about the way it's just lying there. Maybe ready to strangle a small child.

Consolation prizes (please email me for your choice of either Ghost Stories 1 or Godannar 1):

Congrats to Kiet Diep for his creepy jar girl:

And to Kraig Halmer for his revolting pot roast:

And lastly, to Ricardo Cantu for baffling me with a tank of Mexican candy that I can't even imagine eating with any amount of gusto:

Thanks again to everyone who entered!

There's no new contest this time, but tune in two weeks from now for some more loot from my sagging piles of anime! Thanks for reading!

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