Shelf Life
Spiriting Away

by Bamboo Dong,

Shelf Worthy
Galaxy Railways Boxset
The Taste of Tea
Origin - Spirts of the Past
Disgaea v.1
This past weekend was New York Comic Con, and also, the first American Anime Awards. Between the spectacularly packed convention, and the glamorously bedecked Awards, it really should have been the coolest business trip I've had so far this year. Alas, how did I spend it? Deliriously ill. Before my trip, I somehow fell prey to a vicious sickness that ravaged through my body, which provided me with four of the worst plane trips of my life. I was really bummed about it, too, because I love going to conventions. It was still a blast, to be sure, but it's really hard to have a great time when you're spending every waking minute praying for death.

Regardless, with the illness and the convention, this issue of Shelf Life didn't quite get the full sunshine and nurturing attention that it deserved, so it's a bit short this time around. As always though, thank you so much for your support and readership—it means a lot to me! Welcome to Shelf Life.

I've always been excited every time a live-action film shows up in my mailbox. I've said it before, and I'll keep saying it—I love this trend of domestic anime companies releasing Japanese films (Tetsujin notwithstanding). It's a huge industry that is only barely being tapped stateside, and I think US anime companies are a good conduit for the release of these films.

Viz is currently releasing a rather interesting film entitled The Taste of Tea. Written and directed by Katsuhito Ishi, the film can best be described as either whimsical, or dreadfully boring, depending on your level of patience. I recommend aiming for the former and having enough patience to get through the movie, as it's worth it. It's the kind of movie that has no discernible storyline, but rather, follows the quirky members of a family and explores the idiosyncrasies of their individual lives. For example, there is a boy who is perpetually afraid of women, but tries to meet a cute transfer student through his school's Go club. Then there's his sister, who is plagued with visions of a giant version of herself that stares from the sidelines. There's also a mother, a father, a grandfather, and a handful of relatives, all of whom have their own very distinct (and bizarre!) lives. On occasion, they intersect, but for the most part, the movie plays like a fun cornucopia of scattered vignettes.

Ishi does a splendid job creating each character's backstory; it helps that he has a deliciously unique sense of humor, illustrated with everything from yakuza men with fecal coils on their heads, to grandfathers who debate the best poses an anime superhero should adopt. It's the kind of humor where you have to giggle and ask yourself, "Is this really happening?" It's a bit laborious to sit through, quite honestly, but the movie delivers the reward of watching each person chasing after his/her own goals, and observing as characters' lives deliberately weave together at crucial time points. However, as I said, it requires a lot of patience, especially for a full-length feature film. The “slice of life” genre is a delicate one to handle, and requires a commitment from not only the director, but from the moviegoer as well.

The movie is not hard to “get.” There's really not too much to get. But, it's one of those films that have be viewed like a painting in a gallery: you sit there for a while, examine the details, and pull your own conclusions. It's definitely not your average summer blockbuster. The Taste of Tea isn't out on DVD yet, but if you can't make it to one of the theatrical showings, mark this one down for later.[TOP]

Then there are films that are more like poster reproductions of gallery paintings. These are the types that look very pretty, but there's something off about them. Like maybe they're hanging in a crazy old woman's house in a giant gilded frame. Kind of like Origin, although if the movie was the pretty reprint... who would be the crazy old woman? Gonzo? Hm...

Visually, Origin ~ The Spirits of the Past is a beautifully animated, wonderfully illustrated film rich with amazing CG and fascinating characters. Sadly, it's bogged down by an overdone soundtrack and a muddy “Save the Earth!” message that isn't always lucid. Let's start with the positives. Coming from Studio Gonzo, viewers knows that they'll be treated to a visual buffet of luscious artwork and smooth animation, and this is delivered by the truckloads. Aesthetically, this movie does not ever disappoint.

Everything else about it is just so over-exaggerated. The music matches the scenes, but only superficially. If there are children smiling, suddenly it's a whirlwind of giddy pizzicato strings and chipper flutes. Even if the children are just sitting there, eating a sandwich, the music has to be histrionically happy. When a cloud passes over the sun, the music reaches an orchestral apocalypse. Battle scenes have their trumpets blaring and their bass drums thumping and surely you get the point by now. It takes a really out-of-place soundtrack to make one realize that bad music can be very distracting.

However, now would be a good time to talk about the story itself. Sometime in the far future, Earth is so angry that mankind has destroyed it that the forests have begun to fight back. Intruders are beaten back by angry vines, and the precious water supply can only be tapped into by forming a delicate partnership with guardians of the forest. They call themselves Zruids, perhaps because “Druids” was already taken. When a young boy wanders into a forbidden part of the forest, he encounters an Enigmatic Girl. Frozen in time for 300 years, she has been “sent” from the past to help mankind realize how they can befriend the forest again.

While environmental anime films (and series) seem to be growing in frequency, it's not that aspect of it that slows down the movie. In fact, the message of the movie is an earnest one, but it's lost in somewhere in the ornate execution. While the first half does a good job of setting up mankind's plight, the ending is a maelstrom of cannons and guns and vines and outright absurdity. It's messy and distracting, just like the soundtrack. Ultimately, it's worth seeing for the artwork, but there's a lot of lost potential.[TOP]

Now let's take an abrupt jump and transition to something completely different—anime based on video games. When I was a sophomore in college, my roommate spent weeks playing Disgaea: Hour of Darkness. I never had an interest in the game, but every time I did my homework, I would always hear Flonne saying, “Oh Lord, give me strength!!” To this day, that voice still haunts my dreams.

Thankfully, that line has not reprised itself yet in the Disgaea anime. Yet.

However, Disgaea is the ultimate example of an anime series that exists for the sole purpose of pandering to fans of the original video game. I guarantee you that if you've never played the video game, you will have zero interest in the series. It's like listening to a private conversation full of in-jokes that you're not privy to. The series follows the plot of the video game surprisingly closely, all the way down to the “I shall call you Mid-Boss!” jokes that delighted hordes of fans. Out of the context of the game, though, it's really not that engaging. Disgaea's storyline isn't interesting enough to truly be captivating, so what you have left is a madcap adventure with weird characters running around trying to be funny. Add the fact that they're all incredibly whiny and immature, and continually spout terrible “I'm afraid of your voluptuous breasts!!” jokes, and you've got a big stinking pile of Not Funny.

But, really, if you are a fan of Disgaea, you will probably like this show. It's filled with energy, you can relive the game without having to play it again, and the dub is fantastic. And it has lots and lots and lots of Prinnies. Unless, of course, you're a purist, which in that case you'll be bitter the whole time because there are discrepancies between the anime and the game.

As someone who hasn't played the game, though, I can't really recommend this. By trying to cram a game into a 12-episode series, and trying to be funny while doing so, it's really made itself too inaccessible to non-fans.[TOP]

With anime, though, there is always a way to cleanse the palette. This week, I did the trick with the Galaxy Railways boxset. If you were collecting the series as the individual discs came out, you're not missing much, as Funimation just repackaged the artbox with all the discs inside.

If you haven't seen it yet, though, it may be something that will pique your interest. Galaxy Railways is certainly not for everyone. Even though it was only made in 2004, it keeps the Leiji Matsumoto tradition with his trademark aesthetics and storytelling. And, frankly, to many modern anime fans, Matsumoto's stuff looks “old.”

Still, it's not fair to pass it off so quickly. The storytelling style, while quite episodic, is one that reminds me of listening to a grandparent tell stories. Each episode is like a story, and if you're the type of person who uses books and anime to explore new worlds, then Galaxy Railways will light your imagination. It sets itself in a future where intergalactic travel is made possible by trains. Although they are extremely technologically advanced, travel is still dangerous because of terrorists, meteors, and the like; it's up to the SDF to protect the entire fleet. The series follows one boy's journey as a member of the SDF, a job that leads him to perilous planets and ghostly stations and everything else that can be dreamed of in a 26-episode series.

When I first read Galaxy Express 999, I was endlessly fascinated by each new world that was introduced. It was with Galaxy Railways that that same spirit of adventure was met again. It sounds old-timey and maybe even a little silly, but even after all these years, no one quite does frontier exploration quite like Leiji Matsumoto.[TOP]

And with that, I draw my exit. Thank you so much for reading, and join me next time for a non-ill edition of Shelf Life!

One man has risen to the challenge! Claiming that he couldn't let his friend draw all the praise from a previous Shelf Obsessed entry, he has retaliated with four images of his own. (Okay, two of them just have manga, but since the other guy had MacGuyver chilling on his shelf...)

This man is none other than Russ Piper, who says his next project is to build floor-to-ceiling shelves to hold his treasures. He currently boasts a collection of over 1,800 DVDs and 500+ manga volumes. And not a single bootleg in site.

My hat goes off to you.

What do you guys think? Is he allowed to have bragging rights?

If you're particularly proud of your collection, or you just want to show off your Super Limited X-Treme Edition Gundam LE toy next to your anime DVDs, send your picture(s) to shelflife at animenewsnetwork dot com!

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