Shelf Life Boys will be...girls?
by Bamboo Dong, May 7th 2007
|Peach Girl DVD 1|
|Le Chevalier D'Eon DVD 2|
|Bleach DVD 3, 4|
|Air Gear DVD 2|
|Princess Princess DVD 1|
Oh, and one quick tangent before I start. ANN has started offering video content, and while right now it's just convention footage, we'll be offering some really awesome exclusive content soon. But, in case y'all haven't seen it yet, you should check out our footage from Anime Boston. Not only can you get the skinny on what some of the industry reps had to say about new releases, but you can also watch me ham it up on camera, and finally stop assuming that I'm a male. Because I'm not. Yeesh.
Welcome to Shelf Life.
Recently, I was sitting around my apartment with nothing to do. Yes, I had plenty of work I could do, but everyone knows that it's times like those when, the larger your To Do list, the easier it is to be bored by procrastination. In that dark, desperate moment, I reached blindly towards my DVD shelf where my hand alighted on the first season of The OC. I'm not ashamed to admit that I watched the show, because even though it had its (many) terrible moments, it was also loaded with hours of kitschy melodrama.
Melodrama is one of those things that must be delicately handled. If there's too much of it, it can become tiresome, heavy, and just Too Much. If there's not enough… well, it's better to err on that side than the other. This is especially true when it comes to high school dramas. My latest favorite is Peach Girl, a show that spins a drama-filled tale of schoolyard love, romance triangles, and bitchy backstabbers that deserve to be stuffed in lockers at the end of the school day. Released by Funimation, the limited edition starter kit comes stuffed inside a baby pink and white purse. As a female that uses purses, I can't say that I would really wear a Peach Girl purse in public, but it's a cute packaging tactic that works well with the identity of the show—that is, a show that embodies what it's like to be a high school girl.
The premise of Peach Girl is quite simple: Momo is your everyday girl who's trying her best to be successful—she works hard in school, she busts her ass on the swim team, and she's hopelessly in love with her longtime friend. Rumor has it, though, that he doesn't like tan girls, but because of her endless hours in the pool, Momo not only has incredibly tan skin, but her hair's been bleached an unsightly hue of blonde. To make matters worse, her trend-stealing, man-stealing friend is vying for the attention of the same guy, and she'll stop at nothing to get what she wants. Add in a persistent guy whose set his eyes on the heroine, and you've got a full-blown show that reeks of high school drama.
I'm not sure if it's because I'm a girl, or because it's only been 5 years since I graduated from high school, or I'm just partial to melodrama, but Peach Girl really stuck with me. Sure, the characters are a bit overdone, to the point that they're more archetypal than they are real, and the series is more about wallowing in teen angst than anything resembling an advancing storyline, but there's something so earnest about Momo that you can't help but feel for her. It's easy to accuse her of over-exaggerating her plight, but when I was in high school (and even now), things like love were a big deal. Peach Girl manages to take all the insecurities and heartaches of young love and bottle it into an energy-filled series. It would be nice if later on, there was a more solid storyline to go with all the crying, gossiping, and love-struck eyes, but for now, the series is on solid enough ground.
If high school dramadies aren't really your cup of tea, there's a pretty good chance you won't be as taken by Peach Girl as I was, but if you want a shoujo series that will remind you of what it's like to pine after that unattainable boy next door, then this show is a must-see. It definitely has its flaws, but it's a great way to spend a quiet afternoon.[TOP]
Even as dramariffic and LJ-able high school life can get, it doesn't compare to what Japan would lead you to believe happens in their all-male schools. Maybe I've been misled with my public school upbringing, or the stories I heard in college from all my friends and their fancy-pants East Coast private schools, but I've never known single sex schools to hold practices akin to single sex rat cages.
For those not in the know, if you have a cage full of female rats, sometimes, when they're in heat, one will simulate a male and have mock sex with the other females. According to Princess Princess, Media Blaster's newest BL title, prestigious, desperate all-male schools in Japan will do a similar thing, giving new meaning to the term “old boys club.” Boasting the tagline “boys will be girls,” Princess Princess dives into campus life at a swanky boarding school where Tooru Kouno has just transferred in. Pretty and fresh-faced, he learns that the school has an awkward secret—every year, the prettiest boys are given the task of dressing up as girls. These “princesses” tramp around the school in dresses, giving hope to the all-male student body (har) so that they may excel in academics and athletics. To no viewers' surprise, Kouno is next on the list.
Now, creative as this story may be, it inspires many questions. For example, why are all these boys so inspired by their cross-dressing classmates? Are they not bothered by the fact that, under that lacey dress and those cotton panties… lies a penis waiting to strike? If they are aroused by these Princesses, would that technically make them ragingly gay, especially knowing that they're actually men? As viewers, are we supposed to be amused by this school's secret, or should we be appalled?
Frankly, I'm a little disturbed by this show. Considering the vaguely homoerotic nature of the series, I would assume that the target audience is primarily women who also happen to like yaoi and shonen ai. However, it was to the best of my understanding that the appeal of shonen ai was in seeing two men fall in love—not seeing a school full of men go gaga over a transvestite. Needless to say, I'm a bit confused as to its appeal, and I will be the first to admit that I do not fall within the target demographic. However, as a viewer who doesn't take any pleasure whatsoever in watching BL comedies, I think the show falls flat once the “secret” of the princesses is revealed... in the first episode. Even then, the big reveal is more disturbing and incredulous than it is funny. Maybe I just don't "get it."
It's not just the premise of the show that I think is of questionable quality. The characters are mostly forgettable and lackluster, and though trivial observations are made about each one (“[suchandsuch] is so well respected!”, “[soandso] is so pretty!”), they're largely interchangeable with one another. There also doesn't appear to be much conflict in the show, which is okay if you're happy with a 100 minute-long extended unfunny joke, but other than that, it's not very engaging. Still, it's only the first volume of the series, so who's to say that it won't miraculously become incredibly complex and meaningful later on? Perhaps an existentialist indictment of the military industrial complex? Needless to say, Princess Princess was made for a very niche market, one in which I confess I am not part of, so unless you thought to yourself, “boys dressing up as girls? What a novel idea!” then you may consider giving this disc a pass.[TOP]
To be fair, it's not the boys dressing up as girls part that bothers me. When they do it as an extracurricular job to inspire the students at an all-male school, rather than working in the dining hall, then yes, it's a bit suspect. Sometimes, though, boys dressing up as girls can be part of something a lot cooler (like a fencing match in full drag?).
If you were worried that Le Chevalier D'Eon would fizzle over time and stop being amazing after the first volume, then luckily, you can put those fears to rest. Still going strong with the second volume, this historical fiction remains one of the best shows out on the market. From beginning to end, it's chock full of goodies: the characters are strong and three-dimensional, the series is well-paced, the story is intriguing, the action sequences are thrilling to watch, and the visuals are gorgeous.
Just like the first volume, the series is a feast for the eyes. The character designs are crisp and realistic, the costume design is creative and fun to look at, and the meticulous 3D-rendered interiors and architecture are enough to stop your breath. Le Chevalier D'Eon is classy from head to toe, and the visuals definitely have a lot to do with it.
Another highlight is the new turn of events. Finally accepting that his sister's soul is using his body to exact vengeance on those who killed her, D'Eon has discovered more of the secret dealings that were involved in her death. What he learns, and what he still wants to know, takes him and his companions east to Russia. As they vie for an audience with the empress, they must continue to fend off all the gargoyles and undeads that are being sent after them.
What's so great about Le Chevalier D'Eon is that it's a series that could easily make itself comfortable in a primetime slot, if it weren't animated. The suspense is on par with some of the latest NBC and Fox serials, the premise is unique and fascinating, and it's a show that can definitely appeal to an older audience. Don't be fooled by the historic background—while the series does take some of its inspiration from real-life people and events, it's merely a vehicle for the story. In fact, take the characters and throw them into modern Washington DC or into a futuristic Mars colony and the results would be the same. The show would still be exciting, the characters would still be interesting to watch, and the story would still make just as much sense. And, considering how much the story relies on supernatural elements, it's worth noting that everything feels totally plausible. That's talent.
For any anime fan that's ever complained recently that the anime selection is getting stale, your answer is here. Anyone who can attest to enjoying spy shows, supernatural thrillers, or action series will likely find an exciting view in Le Chevalier D'Eon. D'Eon's no Jack Bauer or Fox Mulder, but he (and his dead sister) can definitely hold his own.[TOP]
Speaking of getting rid of spirits and other moving things that were either once dead, or could soon be dead, it's worth taking a look-see at what Viz has been doing with their release of Bleach.
One of the most entertaining Shonen Jump manga-based shows out there, Bleach is one of those series that proves that not all Jump titles are about tournaments and fisticuffs. With the third and fourth volumes now available, the series is starting to pick up steam. Soul-feasting Hollows are still chilling out in the human world, but luckily, Ichigo knows just the right moves to get rid of them. And, on the positive side, having Hollows ravaging through his town and his school does let viewers find out other neat things, like the fact that one of Ichigo's classmates, Orihime, also has spiritual powers and it doesn't involve spinning greens.
As of this point in the series, Bleach is still sort of a Hollow-of-the-week show, but it feels like it's building up to something exciting. Having not seen this series before, nor having read the manga, I can't tell what will happen next, but with the way that the series has been progressing, it looks like fun times are ahead.
If there's one thing that Shonen Jump is really good at, it's finding manga series that are really good at creating fun, lasting characters. Because most of the series run for so long, it's crucial to have characters that won't bore you to tears, and characters that are vibrant enough that they'll stand out even amongst all the hundreds of side characters and bad guys that will be introduced. Granted, I've only seen the first four volumes of Bleach, but it seems to me it's got that “fun characters” bit nailed. Ichigo's fiery personality is a blast to watch and if you've never seen the show before, it's worth renting a disc or two just to see if you'll like the gung-ho ghostbusting nature of all the lead characters. I'm always wary to recommend discs for shows that I know will carry on for a million volumes, but Bleach is worth Netflixing if you're craving some good Jump action.[TOP]
Oh, and the discs also come with stickers of the title cards. I mean, who doesn't want rad stickers that say BLEACH 13 or BLEACH 14 on them? I know I do. They're so cool, I'd even put them on my guitar, or maybe even on the bottom of my shoe.
When it comes to cool, though, nothing screams “wicked cool!” more than Air Gear. I may be in the minority here, because I know a lot of people who think that show is juvenile and ridiculous, but there isn't a single minute while I'm watching that series when I don't think to myself, “If I could have anything for Christmas, I'd want a pair of Air Treks.” What's not to love about them? They look badass, they let you skate up walls, they let you fly, and I bet you could play a sick game of roller hockey in them.
If you recall the last episode of the first disc, our AT-wearing hero Ikki was in the middle of a crazy battle against a fat guy whose skates were decked out with tank treads. In the last stretch, he sucks in all his blubber, turns into this sleek, buff dude, and blocks the alleyway with his virile frame. Just as he thinks he's about to win the battle, he gets crushed by the walls and sees Ikki high above him, skating with one foot on each wall.
Tell me that's not cool.
If you had the ability to skate on walls and up flagpoles, you would.
And… I'm not gonna lie—the cool-factor of the ATs is exactly what makes Air Gear so appealing, even in the second volume. I thought I would grow out of my starry-eyed “I want a pair!” phase after the first disc, but no, the slick design of the show and the enthusiasm of the characters has only cemented my desire to someday join Ikki in his quest to become a king of the road.
Air Gear is the kind of show that was created largely to appeal to thrill-seeking youngsters, teenagers, and people who love extreme sports. The story itself isn't that terrific. With volume two, there are just more battles to be had. Every now and then, Ikki gets to hunker down between a pair of breasts, but for the most part, this disc is all about battles. This could probably get really dull in the future, but with the series only on its second disc, it hasn't gotten old just yet. Plus, with each race relying on different strategies and new turf, each one is still fun to watch, especially since they reveal more details about the infamous ATs.
If the glitzy metallic cover is any indication, Air Gear was designed for the kid in everyone. You're not going to find anything mind-blowing in this show. You're not going to meet any characters with deeply troubled childhoods. You probably couldn't write a term paper about the series even if you were the most pretentious kid in campus. However, if you love speed lines, freeze frames, and scenes that look like they were torn from a Mountain Dew commercial, then you will totally eat this up. Watching Air Gear gives you the same kind of mindless entertainment that you get from going to a SoCal eatery and watching all those looped TV feeds of surfers, skateboarders, and snowboarders tearin' up their terrain. When stuff like that is on TV, you watch. Not because it means anything, but because it's really fun to watch.[TOP]
Unfortunately, that's it for this week. Thanks for reading, and come on back in two weeks for more shelves and more life!
Thanks again for sending in your awesome entries! I'm having a blast looking at your collections, and hopefully, you guys will get that same excitement. There's two more Shelf Obsessed entries this week, because I just couldn't resist.
First up is from Ember Harper, who claims to have the coolest sister ever. Why? Because when the bookstore that the sister works at was getting rid of their promo bookstand, they gave it to her, who then passed it on down to Ember as what could possibly be one of the neatest birthday gifts ever. Are you guys ready for this? Because it's pretty awesome:
Not to be outshone by the awesome FMA bookshelf, our second entry is from Abdullah Al-Ghanim, who hails from the State of Qatar. His two anime shelves currently hold 695 DVDs and 300 manga volumes, amongst which include a Ghibli Shorts DVD that he picked up in Japan.
What do you think about both their shelves? Cool, really cool, or hella cool?
Wanna show off your anime/manga/figure/plushie/etc collection? Think you have a neat shelving system? Send your jpgs to shelflife at animenewsnetwork dot com!
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