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Shelf Life
Rumbling Hearts and Grumbling Tummies

by Bamboo Dong,

Shelf Worthy
Rumbling Hearts v.1
Air Gear v.1
Black Cat v.1
Fate/Stay Night v.1
Nothing this time
From Japan with <3
Ninja Vixens: Vixen Dropouts
Raise your hand if you hate Ticketmaster as much as I do. Come on, I can't possibly be alone on this one. If you don't hate them, or at least possess an extreme dislike of them, then you obviously haven't used their service enough. There are many good points about them: for instance, they are convenient. Tickets online for everything. Wonderful. But I'll be damned if I don't feel like they're kicking me in the face and taking my lunch money every time I fork over their damned “convenience charge.”

Convenience? What convenience? By not making me go to the box office? Does that justify them gouging me $5-15 per ticket? I could understand if going to the box office meant I had to drive 100 miles through quicksand and a small village of Olsen twin wax automatons, but come on. I recently bought two tickets to see the Dropkick Murphys. Tickets were $18.50 each. The convenience charge was $10 each. For those lacking in mathematical skills, the convenience charge was over 50% of the original ticket price—and this didn't even include some other mysterious $5 service charge.

I was not pleased. But, at least I got to melt away my anger in the ridiculous blanket of snow that was dumped on my beautiful state. Nothing gives you more reason to sit around doing nothing than being stranded in your house. Welcome to Shelf Life.

I've always been a sucker for packaging. If the cover looks nice and shiny, you can bet that I'll be thinking about it until I can finally tear off the cellophane and shove the disc in my DVD player. With the pastel hues and the clean white backdrop of Funimation's first volume of Rumbling Hearts, I was dying to watch it. (I wasn't so pleased with the back cover—with a show as bitter sweet as this one, is it really necessary to gunk it up with a terrible tagline like, “Betrayal is a Bitch.”? There are appropriate times to be “edgy,” and times when it's completely out of place—this is one such example.)

With this being my first exposure to the series, I was pleasantly surprised. Short story first: I liked what I saw and I want to see more. The series is unlike any other shonen romance I've ever seen before, with its frank portrayal of human tragedy and pain, and it's a refreshing break from your typical boy-meets-girl-gets-slapped-the-end fare. If there was just one aspect I personally didn't like about it, it would be the characters. None of them are particularly likeable, so for me, it was a bit hard to sympathize with any of them.

Takayuki finds himself dating a meek girl named Haruka, who has obviously never picked up an issue of Cosmo in her life, for she is neither Fun nor Fearless. Rather, she's the type of gal to constantly burst into tears without provocation, so it's a bit of a wonder that she's one of the main love interests in the story. The other love interest is Mitsuki, a spunky, sporty girl who's been in love with Takayuki for as long as she's known him. Things take a tragic turn for the dramatic when Haruka gets into an accident and falls into a coma. Flash forward three years later—Mitsuki is dating a listless Takayuki, whose life is ripped apart when his former girlfriend finally regains her consciousness, ready to pick things up where she left off. Straight-up drama.

Seldom are there series that deliver so much human emotion in such a short amount of time. With Rumbling Hearts, the pain that the characters experience as they struggle to continue living their lives gives the story a rawness that's hard to pull away from. It barrels through each episode with reckless emotion and plenty of heart, and if you love drama and heartache, then you'll find yourself drawn to this series like snow to our runways.[TOP]

Speaking of snow once again, I've always hoped that all the snow would melt and freeze the entire town under a layer of ice, so that I could ice skate to the mall. When I was a kid, I used to fantasize about that happening, and hoped that in the event that this miracle occurred, people would forsake their cars and chained tires and opt to all get ice skates and hoof it to work. True, I could have just learned to be really ridiculous on roller blades, but those are clunky and cumbersome compared to the streamlined speed of my hockey skates.

It's thus not without rapture that I experienced my first viewing of Air Gear. Here was a show whose entire premise revolved around self-powered rollerblades so deliriously cool that you could skate up buildings, jump from rooftops, grind on power lines, and serve people just by kicking them in the face. I'm in favor of any show where someone gets kicked in the face. Nothing says, “I'm 10x cooler than you” than a heel to the visage.

Though… that's kind of all that Air Gear is. Straight-up cool. There's not a lot of substance and there's not a whole lot of character development. In fact, take out the extreme wickedness of the Air Treks, and all you're left with is a silly show about kids trying to diss each other in skate-offs by taking each other's personalized posse stickers. It's nice that these kids are taking their Xtreme Sport so seriously, rather than selling Xtreme Drugs on the street corner, but it really doesn't make for a deep anime series.

Really though, Air Gear is all about brainless pleasure, and it doesn't bother hiding it. From the insane (and unrealistic, but I totally want a pair) abilities of the Air Treks, to the bright and bold artwork, to all the fanservice (of which there is an excess of), this series is all about making the little kid in you happy. I can't in good conscience say that this is a good show, because the characters are one-dimensional and the story is silly and trivial, but I had a great time watching it. Chances are, if you're in the 14-24 age demographic, you'll probably get a kick out of it too.[TOP]

Since I was already watching a show about kids who kicked ass on rollerblades, I decided to swiftly transition to another show about other kids who kicked ass. Or rather, a show about people who looked like kids. I've always been slightly puzzled about shows where the main characters are deadly assassins/bounty hunters/thieves/etc, but who look like they should be in junior high school. Do their parents not worry about them? How did they manage to dodge Social Services? Maybe they're actually really old, but just eat really well and use a lot of Botox?

Regardless, the Shonen Jump archetype being what it is, the latest SJ-manga-based series to launch out of the gates is the fast-paced Black Cat, a show starring a hero of questionable age who can sprint through shadows faster than a cheetah. Wielding just his gun and his lightning reflexes, Train is an eraser, an assassin who wipes out anyone his boss tells him to. Too bad his missions often cross paths with Sven, a bounty hunter who often finds himself after the same targets, with the exception that he wants to capture them alive.

The first four episodes are pretty straightforward and episodic. It's not entirely clear who Train's evil boss is, or why Train is sent out to cap certain people, other than providing convenient excuses to run into Sven's targets. That, and who doesn't want a show where the ruthless killer slowly has his heart melted and his emotions muddled by a girl? (In this case, the girl is a kimono-clad bounty hunter also of questionable age, whose claim to fame is an unhealthy obsession with milk and a predilection for singing terrible songs atop roofs.)

Truthfully, there's not much that can be said about Black Cat. Besides the story, there's really nothing else there yet. The characters have yet to really be developed, there doesn't seem to be any exposition for anything other than the fact that everyone lives in corrupt times, and really, besides finding people and shooting them, there's not too much else going on right now. I didn't really expect anything mind shattering in the first volume, and as far as Shonen Jump-type shows go, Black Cat is entertaining enough to watch. Just don't be expecting anything too spectacular right now.[TOP]

Speaking of spectacular, let's make an abrupt transition and focus our attentions on something that most viewers don't know about. I call it Geneon's Bizarre Underbelly. Most anime fans will know of their big anime releases, but little do most people know that there is another side to the beloved company—a side that releases titles that most have never even heard of. Remember that review I did about the amazing sport of car soccer? Yeah, that was Geneon. (And don't think I'm not going to use this space to nerd out in two weeks about JDM Option vol. 31's excess of awesome drifting crashes.) The company even released a DVD of Wynton Marsalis in concert. How's that for range?

Then there's Ninja Vixens, released under Geneon's Neon-G label (10 pts for cleverness). Released in Japan as some kind of softcore comedy, this series of mini-features does its best to create awkward chuckles in pseudo-titillating epics of ninja nature. I wasn't sure if I truly wanted to watch all of the discs, so for brevity, I chose just one of them: Ninja Vixens—Vixen Dropouts.

Oh my gosh.

I was speechless for a good two hours after watching it. This is either one of the worst things I've seen this year, or… vaguely brilliant in a disturbing way. These movies are essentially a ruse to introduce Japan's prettiest ladies by dropping them into ninja stories and (not so) subtly surrounding them with uglies, to hide the fact that you just bought a softcore porno.

This particular one follows a Band of Ninja trainees who are training to be the best warriors they can be. Unfortunately, they're some of the saddest fighters to live in Japan. One of them is a colossal mannish fatass, one of them swallows her own blowgun darts… one of them is constantly horny all the time and takes off her clothes whenever she can. Guess who's the star of this particular adventure? Hint: not the fat one. Together, the girls try to prove their worth, all while spending some quality TLC time in the river, rubbing each other's bosoms. Oh, and the horny one strips and licks her lips a few times. Altogether, not quality entertainment, but hey, what can you expect from something called Ninja Vixens? The point is, Geneon has some weird, weird stuff. You should really check out their catalogue sometime.[TOP]

Luckily, despite the weird titles they release on the side, they still have plenty of good ol' anime. For all the fan hype that it's generated, December finally saw the release of Fate/stay night, the latest series to be made from a TYPE-MOON visual novel. Although the story isn't an entirely original concept, the first volume gets the job done in terms of hooking in new viewers and keeping them interested enough to keep going.

I attribute this mainly to the characters. While the actual main characters aren't too fascinating as of yet (drab boy who wants to be a champion of justice, business-as-usual girl who has a surprising nurturing streak, etc), the Servants are pretty sweet. For whatever reason, every decade or so, seven Masters are chosen. With the ability to use magic, these folks can also summon a Servant, a historic hero who will fight on his or her behalf. Picking each other off one by one in a battle royale, the winner and his Servant can then obtain the Holy Grail, which will grant them their deepest desire. What's interesting about the Servants, though, is that their actual identities are rarely revealed, because that exposes their weaknesses to the enemies. Call me easily entertained, but I find that kind of silly hook just enough to keep me watching—that, and wanting to know what all of them look like.

Having never played the original game, I'm not certain at which point in the story you got to see breasts, but I've always been somewhat impressed by the ability of anime creators to take an erotic game and turn it into a respectable series. Fate/stay night doesn't have the immediate darkness and morbidity of Tsukihime, but it's interesting enough to keep watching, at least for now. Once the novelty of the premise wears off, it'll be neat to see just how far the series can carry itself.[TOP]

In any case, this draws the column to a close. Here's to hoping that 2007 is great for everyone! Happy New Year!

The first installment of Shelf Obsessed comes courtesy of Michael Montanye, a grad student in computer science at the University of Vermont.

Notable Anime Title
The release this month that had me excited was Media Blasters' World of Magic Knight Rayearth, which contains both seasons of this classic.

The good: This early CLAMP title was their bread and butter before really hitting it big with Card Captor Sakura four years later. The characters are memorable to the point that Hikaru is still one of my favorite characters in all of anime, even nearly seven years after I first saw the series, and the plotline, while starting out like a stereotypical RPG, gets completely upended by the twist ending to the first season that sets the stage for the second season.

The bad: The series is more than twelve years old, and parts haven't aged well. It was among the earlier "girls in alternate world" series, and now might seem clichéd among a host of later copycats. Further, the second season is somewhat of a letdown, compared to the excellent first season, and tends to drag somewhat over the middle and later sections, despite a host of excellent new characters and a truly interesting scenario, before picking back up for the last few episodes.

The ugly: This is another repackaging of the same disks that were released by Media Blasters in their original box sets in 2000 and 2001, meaning the first season's buggy menus, odd chaptering, and missing creditless opening are all still problems with this release, six years later. While these problems were mostly fixed for the second season disks, this is my fourth copy of the first season (VHS, Memorial Box, Economy Box, World) and third of the second (no VHS), and it's annoying that what was once touted as a flagship title is still hampered by the mediocre quality of one of the company's earliest DVD titles.

The verdict: If you already have a copy of the series, there's nothing new here for you. If you haven't seen the hottest property of 1994, this is your chance to own it at an excellent price.

The Shelf

Shining Nerd Moment
Nerdiest thing I've ever done... Winning Anime Jeopardy at a small con while dressed as Subaru Sumeragi from X would probably top the list.

What do you think? Is he totally right about Rayearth being the cream of the 1994 crop? And are we totally envious of his anime collection? Head on over to the forums to chat about it!

Want to alert us to a current release that's got you all up in a tizzy? Send your own submission to Shelf Obsessed!

I'm looking for three things:

  1. A brief (250 words) review of a recent release that's stoking your rocket. Love it, hate it, or wish you could buy it just to throw it at somebody, give me your thoughts!
  2. A picture of your anime collection. Should we be jealous?
  3. The nerdiest thing you've ever done. I dress up as cartoon characters—what's your poison?
If you want to give a brief blurb about yourself or include a photo, all the better. Remember, this section is all about you. Oh, and send everything to shelflife at animenewsnetwork dot com.

Thanks for reading!!

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