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Shelf Life
Akina Drift

by Bamboo Dong,

Shelf Worthy
Kurau Phantom Memory DVD 1
Initial D Boxset 1
Nerima Daikon Brothers DVD 2
Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles DVD
I Shall Never Return DVD
To Heart DVD 1
After 22 years, I have finally had melon bread. Moving to Orange County has finally shown its fruits. Life is now a little more complete.

Welcome to Shelf Life.  


The appropriate way to celebrate my discovery of legit melon bread would've been to hunker down with Geneon's recent release of the DearS boxset, but I was distracted instead by a disc I recently got from Media Blaster.

Anime ages very unevenly. You can never quite tell how old a show or movie is, just by looking at it, like the way you can tell the age of an old sitcom or tell which decade the pictures from a high school French workbook were taken. With anime, though, you can never entirely be sure, because character designs can really throw you off. My most recent example is I Shall Never Return. From the characters' terrible clothes, their uneven eyes, and their perpetual blank stares, you'd think it was made in some back-alley animation studio sometime in the late 80s.

Turns out it was made somewhere around 1998. Who would've guessed, what with the extended discothèque sequences, one of which I immortalized in this low-quality (looping!) animated gif, and which should really be played while listening to this Jan Wayne sound sample.

Questionable art and animation aside, the story itself is a bit silly, even though it means well. The OVA revolves around three characters: an enigmatic bad boy who whores out to men, the best male friend who eventually falls in love with him, and the friend's girlfriend, whose sexual frustration leads her to sleep with the (first) gay guy. It's supposed to be somewhat artsy and profound, but given the 30-minute run time, it hardly comes off as more than a hackneyed fan fiction.

Luckily, it's beautifully campy hackneyed fan fiction, which levels this silly love story up to something worth renting to watch with open-minded friends. It's almost impossible to take seriously, and all the haphazard portrayals of cheating, intimacy fears, and love are more insulting to human relationships than they are risqué or enlightening. Approach this with good humor in mind, though, and you'll be hard pressed not to laugh and have a good time. Because really, what else could this release be used for? The men aren't good looking enough to be yaoi fangirl fodder, and the story's not nearly deep enough to be a solid romance. At least you can learn some sweet dance moves from the characters.[TOP]

Armed with my new ability to cut the rug, I scoured my review stack for a disc that would now give me the ability to hit on members of the opposite/same sex. My eye alighted on the first volume of To Heart, a show that, I think, is supposed to make me root for the characters and hope they get to have sex with each other.

Based on the popular dating sim of the same name, the animated version of To Heart is as innocuous as they come. None of the characters possess any negative traits, and the biggest fret in their lives is figuring out how they can get tickets to a sold-out concert. Even though it's obvious that the main girl wants to get into the main boy's pants, she never mentions anything beyond really wanting to be his friend forever, she never gets upset when he stands her up, never gets upset when he's spending a lot of time with other girls—there is basically zero strife whatsoever in this entire disc.

Some call that “feel good.” I call it dull. There's no jealousy, no worry, no heartbreak, no romance, no anger, no competition… it's quite appalling, actually. I desperately wanted one of the girls to get pregnant, develop a dangerous meth addiction, or knife a bitch. Something. Anything to perturb the monotony of SPOILER ALERT assigning new seats in class, finding out that they can all go to the concert together, befriending a rich girl, and helping a girl recruit new members for the Martial Arts Club.

For goodness sake, it's high school. This kind of non-conflict not only doesn't exist, but it also makes for terrible storytelling.

If you were somehow fortunate enough to play the game(s), then it's possible you'll get a kick out of watching this series. If you like brainless, perma-cute girls, you'll likely dig it too. For the casual anime viewer, though, this may not be the series for you. Yes, it is heartwarming, but so is watching the annual Animal Planet Puppy Bowl, and they at least piss in their food dishes. I really wanted to like this series, because the games had such a profound impact on the dating sim industry, but unless there's some good, solid conflict in the next few discs, this will just end up as one large bore.[TOP]

While I was pretty lukewarm about To Heart, I was pleasantly surprised with one of ADV's new titles—Kurau Phantom Memory. Between that and another ADV show, Le Chevalier D'Eon, I'm going to have fun titles to look forward to for quite some time.

Kurau Phantom Memory is a bit like a nice pot of stew. The different constituents remind you of a lot of good stuff you've had before, but it's still exciting and tasty in its own original way. A bit reminiscent of Ghost in the Shell, Rahxephon, and a host of others, this series takes science fiction and has a blast with it.

The story starts when Kurau is twelve years old. She accompanies her father to his lab and, in a freak accident, becomes the host of an alien organism. Called Rynaxes, these life forms take over the human host's consciousness, but imbue them with powers, such as the ability to fly, communicate with electronic devices, and move through solid objects. With her powers, Kurau eventually becomes an Agent, folks who are hired to do risky odd jobs like retrieve smuggled goods or act as bodyguards. As a Rynax, though, there are two parts of her, one that occupies Kurau, and a smaller one in the form of a girl that eventually appears beside her. Unsurprisingly, her powers eventually make her a government target, but as she finds herself physically weakening, she has to figure out how to protect her newfound “sister” and herself, all while managing to stay alive.

With its slick visuals, quiet soundtrack, and the seeming androgyny of Kurau, the show ends up with a very polished futuristic feel. Even within all the bullet-dodging and teleporting, though, the series makes sure the main character is still sweet and likeable. And really, that's one of the nicest things about the show—Kurau's humanity, despite being a gadget-modifying alien. I really hope the series doesn't start beating viewers over the head with this later, but right now, it's a nice touch.

Packed with interesting characters (okay, just Kurau and her other half right now. Everyone else is dull.), fun action sequences, and a story that will only get more involving, Kurau Phantom Memory is a must see. It's definitely one of the more exciting releases of 2007 so far, and well worth checking out.[TOP]

Now, taking a break from the slick and futuristic to the old and blurry, it's time to talk about Tokyopop's release of the first season of Initial D in a slick looking package that they made the cats at Funimation design and release.

Before we do that, though, an anecdote. I love Initial D. I confess, the first time I saw this series, it was on VHS fansub. I sat at home one day during summer break and marathoned the entire series, including the movie and OVAs. Yes, the animation was terrible, the character designs were worse, and the CG was laaaaaaame, but Initial D was easily the coolest show I had ever seen in my entire life. I imported all the models, imported every soundtrack I could lay my hands on, and learned how to drive a stick shift, in the hopes that someday I would take my dad's Sentra down the Loveland Pass and impress all the boys with my sick drifting skills. Initial D is the reason I became interested in cars, the reason I saw The Fast and the Furious: TOKYO DRIFT opening night, and secretly, the reason I keep dating boys with cool cars.

Can you imagine how psyched I was when Tokyopop released Initial D? I even forgave them for that abomination they called the “Tricked Out” version, because I just wanted to see Takumi in all his X-treme coolness in my DVD player.

For those unfamiliar with the series, a brief recap. Takumi has been delivering tofu for his dad ever since he was a little kid. Driving an old AE86, he's mastered the art of drifting around the mountain passes in order to save time. It's not too long before he's discovered by the local racing team, who's eager to use his skill to compete against other teams. With his dedication and driving abilities, Takumi soon earns a reputation as the fastest on Akina Mountain, and a force to be reckoned with.

Over the course of the first season, he faces foe after foe, each time using a new trick or bit of intuition to cruise past his opponents' faster and better cars. More than just an excuse to watch CG cars scream around corners and blast Eurobeat music, Initial D is a story about growing up, dedicating yourself to a sport, and learning how to put up with a whore girlfriend who sells out to old geezers.

There's a few things to be said about the season one boxset, though. First of all, it comes with a really cool sticker of the Akina Speed Stars logo, so you too, can be awesome and stick it on your ricer's dual-plane spoiler. It also comes with the Fujiwara Tofu Shop logo, so you can … rice out your microwave or something.

And then there's the “Owner's Manual.” This is both cool and amazing for very different reasons. For starters, it's good for some general info about the series, the manga, the video games, and the live-action movie. You know, useful stuff. And then there's the unintentional hilarity that made me almost bust a gut.

A few pages of the owner's manual are dedicated to the Tricked Out version, the Stu-Levy-AKA-DJ-Milky-approved dub that makes Initial D seem like a UPN companion to Laguna Beach. This is the one where Tak, Natalie, and Iggy go bumpin' in their phat ridez, blasting indie rap, and being fly. The owner manual reminds us of this again by talking about the US Version music, including opening themes by DJ Milky and b_nCHANt_d. Anyway, through this, we also discover that there are apparently Tokyopop records available from Rhapsody, eMusic, and Zune entitled “Beats for Riderz,” “Drift 2 Die” and “D Sides.”

If that's not the most amazing thing you've ever heard of, I'll buy an Initial D hat and eat it.

Honestly, all the “Tricked Out” bashing aside, this is a fun, fun show if you like cars. If you're going to get hung up over the character designs, no amount of convincing will make you want to watch this show. But if you can deal with how crappy this show looks visually, and embrace the inner kid in you that's yelling, “DRIFT BABY DRIFT!!!!!,” then you will have a blast. Yeah, the show gets a little formulaic after awhile, but it never really gets old. If you can enjoy the first three episodes, then you'll love the rest of the show. Just give it a chance.[TOP]

Really, Initial D was just yet another one of my dork-out phases, of which I went through many of. Yeah, I spent a disgusting amount of time hunkered over plastic model kits of the Trueno, but this pales in comparison to the days I spent painting and sanding Gundams, Valkyries, and Misato's car (I'm the most proud of my cute Escaflowne guymelef). Models rocked my nerd world long before sewing machines and Sculpey ever did, and it was only natural that Robotech model kits feed right into my obsession. At my age, though, Robotech was way before my time, and I had finished watching all the re-releases of Macross, Southern Cross, and Mospeada long before I started watching the re-release of Robotech.

Maybe that's why I didn't go as gaga over Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles as I thought I would. Mainly because I'm not a big enough fan of the “original” series.

Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles is the Robotech fanboy's wet dream, somewhere between owning and piloting his own Valkyrie, and getting a lapdance from a mute Minmay. Or rather, it was meant to be. Unfortunately, it fell a bit short, what with the terrible script and the convoluted storyline. The story takes place during the final Invid battle, which times it somewhere around the last few episodes of “The New Generation.” The humans are intent upon wiping out the Invid, but when the entire Invid race flees Earth, it's revealed that the humans are swirling into their own death trap, and because of their negligence and misuse of technology, another alien race is planning on wiping them out. It sounds simple enough, but the actual scripting is a bit of a nightmare. Between the technobabble and the subtle Robotech references that only the most hardcore will get, the story jumps all over the place. One moment it focuses on old Rick Hunter lost in space, then the next it'll warn us against the dangers of racism, and then that will lead to something else entirely. It's almost as if the story is made up of chunks of smaller, unconnected stories.

It is possible to follow the story if you've never seen the series, but it's not easy to do. There are far too many nuances to let the casual viewer fully appreciate the story, and there are things that are just left unexplained, like the Protocultures and why humans are even really doing battle with the Invid. There's a short recap at the beginning, but it doesn't do anything to really alleviate any confusion that follows.

If there's one thing that the movie deserves a nod for, it's the music. The score is simply fantastic, and every note feels worthy of a grand space epic. It accomplishes what everything else aspires for. Its swooping melodies make up for the clashing 2D/3D and the rather cheap-looking CG, and every time the messy story is interrupted with a swanky looking space battle, it comes in to save the day once again.

The Shadow Chronicles isn't boring, per se—it's just not meant for everyone. With a movie like this, it needed to strike a balance between pleasing hardcore fans, and not alienating everyone who didn't spend their childhood praying for the next episode to air. Unfortunately, it tips more towards the former, but even then, it's still unsatisfying. It doesn't provide any closure to the series (I smell a sequel!!), it doesn't really give you a legitimate end to Rick Hunter's life saga, and it misses a large part of that oomph and camaraderie that made Robotech so special. Ultimately, it's a bit disappointing, and likely not worth more than a rental, even for Robotech fans.[TOP]

It's weird, then, that I would tell people that Shadow Chronicles isn't quite worth their time, but turn around and say, “Hey, you know what's worth your time? A show about radish farmers.”

Make no mistake, Nerima Daikon Brothers is a riot, even into the second volume. It's so disturbing in so many ways, that every time you think the show is getting old, it does something that will leave you in stitches. Green-faced hags slurping champagne from the unwilling mouths of docile boys? Amazing. Fat Godzilla-looking clawed women doing the turn-turn-kick-turn? Priceless. This show crosses that line from comedy into the land of “What.” and it works well.

In the second volume, our heroic trio finds themselves squaring off against psychics, dragon ladies, sleazy lawyers, obnoxious TV hosts, and retail bosses. Along the way, they ride radishes, spank each other, and dance. It sounds classy, doesn't it? It shouldn't. It's this crazy madcap pacing and story composition that makes this series so fun to watch. The fact that it's a musical makes it even better. The songs get a little dull after awhile, since they're usually just different lyrics slapped onto the same tune, but everything surrounding them are usually so hectic, you don't really notice anything's amiss.

Honestly, no matter how I describe this show, it sounds absurd, and that's exactly what it is. If you're getting bored of anime, this is the kind of series that you need to check out.[TOP]

And with that, it's time for my grand exit. Thanks as always for reading, and I'll hope to see you again soon!

Alright kids, what's going on? I haven't gotten any submissions in a while, and frankly, I'm getting a little lonely. Why won't anyone send me pictures of their shelves? ;___; Don't feel daunted by everyone else's crazy stacked shelves-- I don't care if you only have 4 DVDs, and three of them are hentai. Be proud of your collection!

This week's collection comes courtesy of Daniel Staab, whose dog enjoys sitting on his anime. He also has GTO and Cromartie, which means that his sense of humor is A++.

Now, if anyone can take a picture of real pets lounging all over their collections (the bigger the pet, the better, really), I will give them mad e-props for the rest of the year. I will give even bigger e-props to picture of anime collections lounging on top of their pets.

Send your pictures to shelflife at animenewsnetwork dot com!

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