Venti Drama with Extra Sauce
by Bamboo Dong,
|Story of Saiunkoku DVD 1|
|Kashimashi DVD 1, 2|
|Peach Girl DVD 3|
|Aoi & Mutsuki 2-Disc DVD|
I really can't think about it anymore. I think I'm going to go cry myself to sleep before I continue writing.
Welcome to Shelf Life.
I have a very delicate love/hate relationship with Peach Girl. It's been a tumultuous rollercoaster, from its first signs of angst and bitchiness, and its glitzy purse. And while I loved the first volume, I felt jilted by the second one. Well, the third volume has come and gone, and while I haven't rekindled my love for the series yet, I feel like we can go back to holding hands.
My biggest disappointment with the previous episodes of Peach Girl was the absolute unreality of Sae, which I felt detracted from the rest of the characters. Combine every mean girl you've ever known in reality, and in the movies, and you get a demon-witch akin to Sae, who does everything from donning a wig and trying to steal kisses from a boy, to this volume's antics, which include blackmailing Momo's boyfriend to break up with her. She's so unbelievably cruel, that if she were real, the first thing I'd do is light her face on fire, and then punch her in the uterus.
With the third volume, much of the focus is still on her evil schemes, but before long, things shift gears a bit and begin focusing on Momo's blossoming relationship with Kairi. Although they start off as just friends, things are definitely changing. It's with this, though, that you really get to see more of Momo's personality. Watching as she deals with breakup woes and jealousy is much more satisfying than watching her deal with a 2-dimensional antagonist, and it's with this new “era” that Peach Girl gets back a little bit of what made it so appealing at the start. The transition between the previous volumes and this one is a bit awkward, though, especially as Touji's screen time drops to almost zero. The change is so abrupt that it's almost as if the writers just didn't have the time or inclination to figure out how to write him out of the script gracefully.
Peach Girl seems to only showcase the best and worst things that could happen to its characters, like the old Fox show, Boston Public. The drama is interesting, and the subplots are fascinating, but there's so much going on that it's hard to swallow. Still, Momo's a strong character, and it's hard to stop caring about what happens to her. Just for that alone, this series is probably worth sticking to until the bitter end.[TOP]
Of course, there's “unreal,” and then there's… surreal. Though, perhaps I just have such rigid standards for reality that I can't accept anything that boggles my fragile mind. I will believe anything that Chris Carter tells me is true, but when it comes to pansy boys turning into pretty little girls? Well, maybe if Mulder and Scully were involved.
Something that just can't be filed anywhere else is Kashimashi: Girl Meets Girl, a show that would be considered shoujo ai if it weren't for one detail—one of the girls… isn't really a girl. Or at least, didn't used to be a girl. Hazumu is your typical sissy boy, and although he's scared of the dark and probably couldn't arm-wrestle a hamster, he's very kind and well-meaning. His life, and the lives of those around him, is completely botched when he gets hit by a spaceship. The impact kills him instantly, but the aliens are able to revive him—only in the process, he becomes a girl.
There are a few tidbits about this story that are guaranteed to raise a few eyebrows. For starters, the fact that one of the characters has transformed into a girl may be a bit odd, especially since it was by way of alien intervention. Then there's the father, who's thrilled that he now has a daughter, even if it just means that he can now peek on her in the shower, or ask her to scrub his back.
At the same time, the series is surprisingly cute and earnest, and despite having such a bizarre plot device, it's as sweet as any love-triangle-containing romantic comedy you'll ever see. All of the characters find themselves in positions they never anticipated—two girls find themselves crushing on Hazumu, and even her male best friend can't help but be attracted to her new body. Without a doubt, Kashimashi is one of those shows that you just can't explain to others, lest they think you were a raging creep. Give it a chance, though, and you'll be mildly surprised by how charming it is. Like most romantic comedies, it features a few clichéd festival scenes and beach scenes, but the characters are so open with each other, and genuine about their emotions, that it's almost nice to watch. It doesn't seem to phase these girls that their crush is now also female. It doesn't seem to phase Hazumu that he's now a woman. This matter-of-fact acceptance of the situation does wonders for the advancement of the different relationships, and if you can get past the obviously unorthodox portrayal of gender in this series, then you may find yourself rooting for all the characters.[TOP]
When I think about my first introduction to anime, I trace it all back to my best friend, whose father owned, and still owns, a video and anime rental store in my hometown of Fort Collins, CO called The Village Vidiot. She was the one who tirelessly fed me copious amounts of anime, starting with my gateway drug, Fushigi Yuugi. Over a decade has passed since then, but that one title still has a special place in my heart. It was that title that cemented my love for anime, and it was the only nerdy subject I dared mention when I toasted her at her wedding reception. Maybe that's where I get my affinity for shows set in ancient China.
It's also possible that this new show, The Story of Saiunkoku, is simply something special. Maybe I don't pay enough attention to anime trailers, or my memory retention for new licensing announcements is like that of a goldfish, but I wasn't expecting this show to be this awesome. I even have the opening theme on repeat right now, because this series gives me the same giddy sense of happiness I felt when I first started watching anime.
Packaged with an embarrassingly pink cover, Saiunkoku is an adorable and uplifting show, and if you don't fall in love with the characters by the end of the first disc, then you really need a hug or something. The heroine of this tale is an energetic girl name Shurei, a princess who is no stranger to hard work and determination, and dreams of becoming a government official. Desperate for more money to help support her family, she agrees to become the emperor's consort. Although he's incredibly bright, he has zero desire to be an effective ruler; her job is to transform him into a confident, hard-working emperor—one who will prevent the country from once again slipping into ruin and civil war. Helping her with this daunting task is a small handful of bodyguards and military officials, one of whom has deep ties with both Shurei and the emperor. But, even though things are cherry blossoms and sunshine now, it doesn't appear as though things will stay this way; someone is out to kill Shurei, and trouble is looming on the horizon.
As in love with this series as I already am, I have to admit that it's probably not for everyone. For starters, it's pretty girly. With its abundance of beautiful men and its strong female protagonist, this is definitely something that is aimed squarely at a female audience. In fact, this is a title that I would strongly recommend to all the female viewers out there. Shurei is nothing short of amazing, and unlike all the hoe-y “role models” that are poisoning the girls' market today like those damnable Bratz, she's someone that I would want girls to look up to. She's kind, she's elegant, she's incredibly smart, she's hardworking, and she isn't afraid to reach for impossible dreams in a man's world.
I'm very much looking forward to the rest of this series. The first five episodes were paced very well, setting things up without being boring, and hinting at just enough turmoil (both past and present) to keep things interesting. With its gorgeous character designs, its tranquil music, and its likeable characters, this is a series that unfolds more like a fairy tale than anything else. I'm definitely sold.[TOP]
I'm a little sad I didn't stop after I watched Saiunkoku. That I had to end my week on a sour note was disappointing, though probably unavoidable.
Back in the day, there was a show called Space Pirate Mito. Basically, there was this three-foot tall, kid-looking woman who used to be the Queen of the Universe, but decided that life was much more awesome as a pirate. And thus, her pirating life began. Flash forward to the sequel, and for some reason, Media Blasters has decide to acquire Aoi & Mutsuki: A Pair of Queens. Fans of the spunky red-haired Mito will still be able to get their fill of her, but this 13-episode sequel (packaged conveniently in a two-disc release) focuses more on her son, Aoi, only he ended up turning into a girl during puberty. Unfortunately, he's in love with Mutsuki, the police officer who started out hunting down Mito.
Surely, there's someone out there who liked Space Pirate Mito enough to desperately want the sequel. I didn't, but there's got to be someone out there. Or maybe there's just someone out there with an affinity for Goofy Hijinks!™ and a Krazy Good Time!™. Aoi & Mutsuki is physically exhausting to sit through. Every episode has the attention span of a five-year old on a sugar high, and not half a minute can go by without someone or something careening into an object, or some alien doing something Wacky. This is okay for maybe half an episode, but by the time you get to the second disc, you just want to scream at the top of your lungs to release all the chaos building up inside your brain. You'd think that as the season progressed, the pacing would somehow even out, but no. You'll be sitting there, watching somebody shoot something, and suddenly WAAAAAAAAAHHH!!!!!!!!!! Somebody will SCREAM!!! and THROW SOMETHING! and perhaps even MAKE A FUNNY FACE!!!!!!!! If reading that sentence stressed you out, then you know how I'm feeling right now.
Energy is good. Direction is good. Having a lot of energy, and a place to go is good. Reveling in a 325 minute circus of cacophony in what amounts to a Good vs. Evil showdown that doesn't even matter is no good. It just makes me want to go back to my happy place.[TOP]
And now you're at the end of the column. Are you a little bit sad? Don't be; I'll see you soon.
This week's wonderous shelf comes by way of Cori Leydon, who boasts a collection of over 400 volumes of manga, "most" of the issues of Shonen Jump and Shojo Beat, a whole slew of Japanese manga magazines, over two dozen doujinshi, well over 60 anime discs, and over 44 Japanese manga volumes. *breathe* AND several Japanese ultimania, a small army of anime figures, several books on Japanese culture, over 30 plushes, and several Zoids model kits. And apparently a billion posters, too. Cori is so well endowed in the manga sector that her shelf has become the de facto manga library for the town, with around 50 volumes circulating about at any given town.
Quaintly, her last question in her email was, "Is this shelf obsessed enough?" What does everyone else think?
Think you've got an awesome collection of stuff? Send your jpgs to shelflife at animenewsnetwork dot com!
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