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Shelf Life
Ready to Rumble

by Bamboo Dong,

I am a great believer in The Mix CD. IPod playlists just don't hold the same appeal for me, because when you can listen to 1000 or so of your favorite songs, then that designation of “favorite” really starts to lose its meaning. That's why I like the Mix CD—it only lets you put ~18 songs on there, so those better be some pretty darned good songs.

A while back, I found an old anime music mix CD that I made, containing 16 tracks that were either old favorites, or recent songs that I couldn't get out of my head. The CD immediately brought back tons of memories—listening to the Marmalade Boy opening reminded me of hanging out with my best friend the summer we plowed through the series on VHS fansubs, mimicking the characters' movements in the opening sequences. “Popotan hatake de tsukamaete” reminded me of the time my then-boyfriend and I drove to Otakon, this song playing full blast, as we cursed at every last driver on the Jersey Turnpike.

After 20 seconds of thought, I decided that if I had to compile a short list of my favorite anime themes, it'd definitely contain “Poketto wo Kara ni Shite” from Escaflowne, “A-I-TSU” from Super GALS!, “Itooshii Hito no Tame Ni” from Fushigi Yuugi, “Forever Love” from X, and “Extrication” from Lost Universe. Those songs are to anime as "Don't Stop Believin'" is to karaoke, and unless you can think up better songs, I think I may have the golden list.

Welcome to Shelf Life.

Funimation really has a talent for making quirky artboxes. Every time they release another new series, I can't help but comment on how pretty and unique they are. Fittingly, the first volume of School Rumble comes packaged inside a tin locker—and the best part is, they even included a sheet of magnets so that you can decorate the box at your leisure.

Box design aside, School Rumble itself is just as unique—for the first episode. Then it gets a bit old. Fitting snugly into the romantic comedy genre, it tells a cat-and-mouse tale of a girl who has her sights set on a dull, lifeless boy in her class. At the same time, she herself is being pursued by a delinquent from another class. Doing her best to capture her crush's attention, our bubbly protagonist spends much of the volume trying to muster up the courage to confess her feelings.

Regrettably, I can't bring myself to watch more than one episode at a time. It's great that this gal is going after the guy she likes, but after 100 minutes of hearing, “I need to tell him I love him!!!!,” you start to feel your mind shuffling off the path of sanity. It gets to be so repetitive that you can't help but want to shake the protagonist a few times. To the show's credit, though, it is pretty funny. When the AE86 from Initial D made a cameo, I almost sprayed Mountain Dew Code Red out of my nose. Luckily, I didn't, so my keyboard is still safe, but I did appreciate the moment.

Personally, my favorite part of the show is the thug character. In the vein of the delinquents you see in shows like Cromartie High, he's not nearly as tough as he looks, and the contrast between his cheesy personality and his bad-boy exterior provides for a few good laughs. In fact, most of the situations that the two main characters cook up to try to impress their crushes are pretty entertaining, largely because they're so ridiculous. Watching these two wildly different people come to the same decisions, like trying to scare their unrequited loves into liking them (because, after all, when the other person's heart rate increases, how do they know it's not just love?), or impersonating health care professionals just to infiltrate the school physicals, is so silly that you can't help but crack a grin.

In the end, the show's only about as fresh as day-old fish, but thanks to the quirky characters, it's a good show to watch if you're just looking for a couple chuckles. I still think I'd slap the girl if I ever saw her in person, as her level of obsession with that guy borders on creepy, but if someone gets laughs out of it, then I guess it served its purpose.[TOP]

Wishing to move onto something else that had a bit more violence, Weltschmerz, or both, I looked at my DVD shelf and reached for the darkest spine I could find. The one I ended up choosing had a woman's face on the top, clearly expressing some kind of distress. Perfect.

Regardless of anything else that happens in this world from now until the end of time, there will always be one universal truth: nothing is creepier than giggling children in an empty hallway, and glowing butterflies. I've never been able to explain Japan's fascination with glowing butterflies and their connection with everything that is violently evil (though I'm hoping that one of my more intrepid readers will look it up and let me know), but it's gotten to the point where I can't see butterflies in a field without assuming that somewhere nearby lies the rotting corpse of a child.

Red Garden takes those same feelings of uneasiness and paranoia and shoots them back at viewers in a stylish, and even sexy, story about death and murder. The premise of the series is fairly original—a group of girls whose only common thread is a dead friend are led to a woman who tells them that they were murdered the previous night. That they're still able to move around and go about their “lives” is because she's graciously rented them more life. In exchange, they have to kill monsters with their bare hands.

It's not really that good of a deal, if you think about it. Sure, you're alive, but only as long as you don't get mauled to death by these creatures, and as long as you're some woman's pawn. These girls don't seem to think it's a great deal, either, and are wracked with personal problems. For starters, they're dead. Being able to go to school with your friends is a lot less fun when you know that you've been stabbed in the stomach. Add having to brutally kill whenever you're called upon? Oof.

As far as psychological horrors go, Red Garden's pretty great. The characters are a bit dull at the moment, but I imagine that as the story unfurls and they learn to interact with each other more, they'll become more complex. It's easy to draw initial comparisons to Gantz (incidentally, both series were produced by Gonzo), but the atmosphere is very different, and Red Garden doesn't appear to have as much social commentary. Instead, it focuses more on the stylistic aspect, stocking itself with chic women and drowning itself with enough red symbolism to summon Bruce Willis.

This is definitely a series worth watching, especially as the department stores start loading up with Halloween merchandise. The gloomy aura that permeates the show is enough to send chills up spines of even the toughest, and with so many unanswered questions presented in the first disc, it's impossible to not want to keep watching. The character designs are gorgeous, too, with the big hair, the huge lips, and the blunt noses. Combining these super shoujo looks with such a dark atmosphere provides a terrific contrast, and if you're not in love with the show by the time you see a fashionista clubbing someone with a baseball bat, then this probably isn't your can of soda. For everyone else who likes their ladies with a heavy dose of violence and plenty of suspense, Red Garden is a must-see.[TOP]

Also a must-see is the next series, which is so bad-ass that you feel like a rockstar just for watching it. I'm talking, of course, about Beck, a show that's only increased its cool factor since the first volume.

Koyuki really is the perfect character. He's so easily relatable that you can't help but like him. Fed up with the way he's treated at school, he's been determined to learn the guitar, taking lessons from a porno-loving, Brit-rock-admiring swim coach. Even with all his determination, he still gets crapped on a lot—after busting his ass to make enough money to fix Ryusuke's guitar, it gets destroyed when some buttwipe bully bashes it against the sidewalk. It's junky moments like those that just make you cheer even harder when something good finally happens to him.

Wonderfully, all of the characters, not just Koyuki, are really great. Amazingly complex, analyzing them and seeing what makes them tick is like trying to figure out why your best friend is pissed at you—you want to know because you care. Everything about this show seems so real, that you really do forget you're watching a cartoon.

To credit Funimation, the dialogue is terrific, too. The English dub doesn't match the Japanese translation exactly, but it flows incredibly well. Mundane as it sounds, my favorite part in this volume was when someone pushes Rysuke into a pond. His stoner friend looks over and exclaims, “Yeah! You find that fish and you kick its ass!”

I have friends like that. I don't think that's something to be proud of, but I love them a lot. And you know what? I love these characters. They're so genuine, and their emotions are so real that any given scene could be lifted from real life.

You don't have to like music to like Beck (but let's face it, you'll like music once you hear the tunes in this show. You won't like all of them, but you're sure to appreciate most of them.), so if that's your excuse for not investing any interest in this show, then you really have to get over it. Everyone who's ever been in high school, who's ever gotten the smelly end of the stick, who's ever wanted to sit with the cool kids, needs to see this show.[TOP]

Now that we've covered everything hip and fresh, let's step back into my ol' e-Delorean that I lure all the kids into and check out something from back in the early 90s. Some of you older fans may remember an OVA called Hakkenden: Legend of the Dog Warriors. That was one of the titles that Pioneer released on laserdisc, before later re-releasing it at a DVD box set in 2001. Now it's back again, this time under the Geneon label, something that's now a rather sobering thought considering the fate of the company.

Based on a series of novels from the early 19th century, this samurai epic is some pretty heavy stuff. The action is fierce, the bloodshed is aplenty, and the story is… well, frankly, it's a bit convoluted. Considering they crammed 100-some novels into a 13-episode series, the first volume feels very rushed. This may help explain why some of the dialogue is so awful. The writers tried so hard to cram as much information as possible into every line, without being too obvious, that you end up with really awkward exchanges like:
”Has it really been 15 years since Hachiro died?”
“No, it's been 16 years since my father died.”
“Oh, so it's been that long.”

Thanks, guys.

To give a bit of exposition, long ago, a terrible war, a nasty curse, and some bad circumstances resulted in the marriage of a princess to a dog. Somehow, she was able to conceive his pups, but shortly afterwards, she was killed. Her death released the eight pups' spirits into the skies, leading to their eventual resurrections. All of this takes place in the first episode, and during the remainder of the disc, the focus switches to Shino, a young man tasked to deliver a powerful sword to its rightful owner. Unfortunately, he meets a lot of adversity along the way, but is helped out by the other dog warriors. Note: that was the Extreme Cliff Notes Lite version; the detailed version is much, much, much more detailed, and requires a thoughtful viewing (maybe even two) to truly grasp.

Despite its complex and fascinating storyline, the series has not aged very well. Aesthetically, the video looks like crap, and although the mucho-macho look of all the battle-hardened characters is a nice addition to this virile title, the chunky animation doesn't do much for them. Granted, complaining about the video quality of an old OVA is like whining about the graphics on the old Mortal Kombat for DOS game I had, but I think it's worth mentioning; while series like this are valuable for their fantastical stories, they're not in very high demand given the current market demographics.

It goes without saying that this isn't the kind of show that you can pop in while you're folding your laundry, or bathing your cat. If you miss even a minute of it, you will be lost. There's some great swordfighting in here, but unless you're prepared to invest some time and brainpower into the viewing experience, you won't be able to fully appreciate all that this show has to offer. If you have the patience, though, it's worth checking out, just for the immensity of the story.[TOP]

This week's amazing Shelf Obsessed entry is from Jaxom, who hails from the Phillipines. He's into anime and model kits, and is a self-described "hentai freak." (His words, not mine!)

Maybe the coolest thing ever are the shelves he uses to store his models. The floating shelf was custom-made by him and specially designed to compensate for the slopped roof.

Oh, but wait, there's more. He has somewhere upwards of 300 or so various models, more of which can be seen below:

All of his anime DVDs are stored in the drawers underneath, so we can be assured that he has plenty.

I am so jealous. Suddenly, my IKEA shelves don't look so bad-ass anymore, and once I'm done writing this column, I'm going to go cry myself to sleep on my IKEA bed. I'll only be cheered up if y'all keep sending in more pictures of your collections, so that I can live vicariously through your pictures. Spread the love and send your jpgs to shelflife at animenewsnetwork dot com!

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