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Shelf Life
Guu Guu Dolls

by Bamboo Dong,
I am terrible at saving money. I used to be really good about it, but that's before I got into anime. It's not so much the DVDs or the CDs or whatever that kill my wallet, it's the merchandise. I can tell myself for days that I barely have enough money to fill up my gas tank, or that I'm going to need to scrimp if I want to get plane tickets for whatever convention, but I'll go to an anime store, see a figure, and drop $75 on it (Have you guys seen the Final Fantasy VII cold-cast resin statues?? They're gorgeous! [Okay, it's not anime, but come on, it's almost the same fandom.]). This happens all the time.

Yet it comforts me to know that I'm not alone. The anime merchandise industry has been growing steadily every year in Japan, at a much faster pace than the DVD industry. You can always get DVDs, if not now, then later online, or in a boxset, or used somewhere, but merchandise? If you don't snap it up, it's gone forever. True, nobody needs suction-cup Naruto shuriken plastic thingies, but you know what, those things are wicked awesome and I don't regret buying them. Someone needs to form a rehab clinic for this stuff.

Welcome to Shelf Life.

Area 88 OVA DVD
ADV Films 195 min. 1/1 $29.98 07/25/2006

Being a big fan of the TV series, I was really excited to see that the original Area 88 OVA was finally on DVD, and it didn't disappoint. If I had thought that watching the series reminded me of watching Top Gun—well, watching the old school OVA is like being transported to that bar where Goose busts out on the piano. Accompanied by occasional 80s rock ballads, including an amazingly campy opening song entitled “How Far to Paradise,” it even has a song with the following gem: “Goodbye, sweet goodbye, blue lion.” Goofy music and 80s ambience aside, Area 88 is a treat for any fan who gets their kicks from watching missiles and dogfights. Granted, it has its problems, like spontaneous flashbacks that never make the time shift clear until minutes afterwards, but what really propels the story forward are the compelling characters. Shin Kazama is an ace fighter who's stuck at Area 88, a Hell where the only way to leave is to either wait out a three-year sentence, or pay up $1.5 million earned from completing missions and shooting down targets. A quiet and hard worker, he loathes having to kill people and is counting down the dollars until he can go back to Japan to marry his fiancée. He's surrounded by a host of other fascinating characters—backstabbing friends, war-hardened comrades, and a cameraman who's willing to risk his life to get the perfect shot. Rife with anti-war sentiments, the OVA is surprisingly heart-felt; if you already love planes and aerial combat, the emotions packed into this feature will have you captivated. I only wish it was longer and more fleshed out—but that's what the TV series is for.

Haré+Guu DVD 3
AN Entertainment 100 min. 3/7 $29.95 05/02/2006

The dry, ever-morphing Guu has always been the shining point of this show, and in the third volume, this hasn't changed one bit. For a few episodes, it was beginning to look like the comedy well was running dry, what with the repetitive “Oh look! Guu eats things! Haha” shtick, but the third disc gives the series a powerful kick of vitality that will definitely please viewers. With the four episodes in this release, viewers are taken through a whirlwind of new characters, like the suicidal and ultra-violent woman that's been added to Guu's stomach paradise, a crazy hairdresser stalker... and is it possible that Guu actually has a true form? None of the episodes are particularly deep, but each provide plenty of chuckles and more insight into the characters. Watching the way the villagers react to each new scenario (half the time caused by Guu) provides the highlight of the series, and with the creativity of the writers, it's hard to get sick of. Admittedly, I do have a penchant for deadpan characters, so watching the series' blank-eyed heroine pleases me to no end, but overall, you'd be hard pressed not to find something to enjoy in Haré+Guu. Now that the novelty of each character's quirks has died down, it's really cleared the way for more creative laughs. If you haven't seen this series yet, now's a good time to check out a few volumes.

Tenjho Tenge DVD 7 - Round Seven
Geneon 75 min. 7/10 $24.98 6/13/2006

Beware a man ruthless enough to rip someone's hands off. Beware a victim superhuman enough to not bleed afterwards, merely shriek. Behold, the seventh volume of Tenjho Tenge. Whereas the earlier volumes in the series set up the characters, their sporadic dashes of humor, and their sweet fighting moves, the end of the series is focusing on more serious things—namely, the brother figure and his untameable powers, and kicking people's asses. Oh, and of course there's still the fanservice. I rue the day when I'll watch a volume of Tenjho Tenge and not be greeted with at least four pairs of breasts and white panties. Now that the tournament has begun, the series has found an excuse to offer up straight pummeling every five minutes. Instead of focusing on the fist-to-face action, though, the series spends more time unveiling the more mysterious parts of the story, like Shin's powers, secret agendas against Maya and crew, and other bits. Sadly, this is less amazing than one would think, as these elements aren't presented that well. It's as though all of these plot points were forced into the timeline and made to blend by adding a few fisticuffs on both sides. All in all, not one of the better volumes of TenTen, but as Shin's powers develop, things may start getting juicy soon. Until then, enjoy some breasts.

Papuwa DVD 1 - Wild Things
ADV Films 125 min. 1/? $29.98 08/08/2006

Papuwa is, in one word, flamboyant. It is the Hollywood hairdresser of anime and spends its humor quota on blazed mushroom-men, transvestite fish with hairy fishnetted legs, gender-ambiguous pink dinosaurs, and anything else that could be found in a seedy dance club for non-heterosexual animals. Our beloved hero is Kotaro, a willowy pretty boy who demands only the best in life—even though he just landed on a bizarre, super gay island. Unbeknownst to him, he holds the power to completely obliterate the entire landmass, so while his newfound buddies are trying to repress his memories, his hometown military is out to recapture him. Now, this story has been done to death, but this time, the creators know it. So to make up for the cookie-cutter story, they've decided to make it humorous by pouring in aforementioned wacko characters. Problem is, it's not funny after a certain point. The first time each new character is introduced, it will definitely make you laugh out loud, but the 700th time something lisps? Not as funny. What really drags it down is that when it's trying to advance the storyline, it desperately tries to be serious and it just doesn't work. Be funny, be sinister, but for goodness sake, pick one. Maybe it'd be funnier if you were stoned out of your mind.

Negima DVD 1 - Magic 101 + Limited Edition Artbox + Figure
Funimation 150 min. 1/? $39.98 08/01/2006
Negima DVD 1 - Magic 101
Funimation 150 min. 1/? $29.98 08/01/200

Ken Akamatsu is the grand master of fan pandering. If I had even a mild affinity for harems, prepubescent girls, and little boys, I would be building a shrine for Negima. Alas. But, if one has to commend this series for something, it would be for overachieving. Negima is scrappy and hardworking, and deserves credit for busting its ass on making the most out of everyday clichés. I give it five golden stars for the following:
Most shonen romance series like to limit themselves to five or six archetypal women. Not Negima. There's more fetishes out there than just your standard butch, bitch, brash, bashful, and brainy. There's also the robot, the ever-present ghost, the Chinese Girl, the twins, and the pedophile, so screw harems. Let's fill a whole classroom.
It's not enough for plucky young men to just look 16; they should look nine. Negima one-ups this by making the main character actually nine.
Moe panty-flashers are at the height of their popularity. Marketing strategy? Drop the entire cast into a junior high and make boob jokes.
Nothing adds Instant Depth and Characterization like orphans. I'll take two please.
Harry Potter is for sissies. Real men watch little boys ride crooked staffs.
But let's back it up and talk about the story—Negi is a nine-year old magical whiz, but in order to pass his OWLs and be a real wizard, he must teach English to a class of girls. Unsurprisingly, he ends up living in a girls' dormitory where most of the ladies develop a raging crush on him. His goal is twofold: to survive the year, and keep his magic a secret. In the meantime, he has to juggle his gaggle of females, which makes up the bulk of the first six episodes. Barebones story aside, the biggest problem the series faces is its inability to settle on a tone. Negima tries desperately to be funny with its wacky characters and goofy scenarios, but the dialogue is so stiff and deadpan that the series is caught in an identity crisis. The dub is vastly funnier, but it's so different from the original language that depending on how much of a purist you are, this could be either good or bad. If you found shows like Love Hina and Sister Princess hilarious, then you may like Negima, but if you enjoy substance with your anime, look elsewhere.

Baki the Grappler DVD 8
Funimation 100 min. 8/? $29.98 07/11/2006

In the cut-throat world of animated ring brawling, who will win? Will it be the drug-abusing Canadian pit fighter? The Chicago nightclub bouncer? The secret service guy who floats like a blood-thirsty fairy?? Or will you stop caring halfway through? Baki the Grappler has, over the volumes, slowly transitioned from a story about a meaty-faced boy determined to be a world-class grappler like his old man, into a never-ending UPN nighttime cage fight. Who needs exposition or motivations when you can watch legions of men ram into each other on a wrestling mat and flex their abs of thunder? What used to be a mildly cool show has become a Van Damme movie of ridiculous proportions, and unless you like to watch episode after episode of ring-fighting, then this will have zero appeal for you. If you really want a solid story about a boy who's determined to be a prize fighter, you should pick up Fighting Spirit instead, whose fights are at least grounded in reality. The only way to possibly enjoy Baki is to be inebriated with a group of guys so you can hoot and holler at the screen, punctuating your liver damage with calls of “DAMN!!” and “OH SHIT!” Other than that, this volume's a total dud.

Last Quarter
Geneon 112 min. 1/1 $24.98

If everyone had as cheerfully cavalier of an attitude towards the undead as the characters in this film, there would be no need for ghostbusters and exorcists. Although Last Quarter starts off as a somewhat stilted excuse to show a troubled Hyde pouting in tight pants, it soon transforms into a riveting story of love and longing. Based on the manga by shoujo genius Ai Yazawa, the movie has a few problems with pacing, often manifested in choppy transitions and narrative leaps, but its style and atmosphere are so rich that its faults are easily brushed under the rug. Starring Chiaki Kuriyama, Hiroki Narimiya, and Hyde, the story is a supernatural romance chronicling a girl who gets a break from her misery-drenched life when ends up in a coma. While her large-nosed body is stuck in the hospital, her soul is taken over by a girl from the past who's dead-set on rejoining her old lover. Interestingly, even with all the gothic backdrops, sinister settings, and crazy dark eyeliner, the movie isn't the least bit scary; rather, it has an almost calming effect. Given Yazawa's talent for emotion-steeped dialogue and complex characterization, this isn't too surprising. It's her storyline and imagination that makes this movie as enjoyable as it is. As a standalone film, Last Quarter is far from winning any awards, especially for its mangled screenplay, but its dark, subdued imagery and interesting characters make it a taste of Yazawa well-worth dipping into.

Yoko Ishida Live in Concert
Geneon 183 min. 1/1 $19.98

I remember seeing Yoko Ishida live for the first time. I was so in love with Eternal Flower at the time (a song I'm still convinced is one of the best anime themes ever written) that when she sang it, I was in fangirl heaven. Her “Sweets” album was in my CD player for two weeks. That having been said, I couldn't help but watch her Live in Concert DVD with a mix of horror and embarrassment. Filmed during her Anime Fusion tour at her Hollywood stop, it really doesn't make for good entertainment. Don't get me wrong; the sound quality is great, the visuals are great, and if you've ever wanted a front row seat to an Ishida concert, this is the way to do it. But... it's hard not to watch and feel embarrassed for her and her uncoordinated goof troupe. I cannot bring myself to like her para para dancers. They look silly and when she's singing a slow ballad, they look like the backdrop of a junior high musical. There was a moment in the concert when they started teaching moves to the audience... and I froze. The camera panned to a group of overly enthused dancers in the audience, whom I recognized as other members of the para para troupe, grinning and waving their arms like no one was watching. Only now, anyone who buys the disc can see them, and it's probably not a good thing. I can't in good conscience recommend this disc, but I do attest to the great quality of it, and do encourage everyone to explore Ishida's beautiful music.

That's it for this time. See you in two weeks, and hopefully I'll see some of you at Otakon!

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