Shelf Life
Cat Fight

by Bamboo Dong, Oct 22nd 2007

Sometimes there are important questions that need to be asked in life. For example, if you could fill a ball pit with any one kind of candy in the world, what would it be? I'm torn between Skittles and Nerds. As I sit here writing my column, I'm consuming a large quantity of the latter, so don't be surprised if, as the column wears on, the sentences become more frantic, the frequency of exclamation marks increase, and my words slur together into a frenetic slurry.

Welcome to Shelf Life.

As upset as I am about Geneon canceling titles like Saiunkoku and When They Cry, I'm also bummed that they won't be releasing anymore live action titles. They were one of the few companies that actually released movies, and although they never released anything terribly spectacular (unlike Viz's live action lineup, which is amazing), it was nice to have more options.

Where else are you going to see something like Princess Raccoon? A bizarre and surreal musical, the movie stars Zhang Ziyi as a raccoon princess who falls in love with a human prince who's been sent away by his vain father, in a strange Snow White-esque setup. Together, they sing songs and wander through oddly constructed sets, a giant reminder that “experimental” is not synonymous with “good.” The film is ridiculous. Everything is acted out on stages with theatrical lighting and two-dimensional scenes, and the special effects, which are meant to be quirky, look like they were pulled from the live action Sailor Moon series. As much as I appreciate the director's desire to do something new, I don't really like it. It feels like I'm watching a staged production, without the benefits of being there, and it makes for awkward viewing.

Luckily, the actors seem to realize that they're dealing with some goofy stuff, so they're able to have fun and make the most of it. Zhang Ziyi is great in the movie, even though it's a little awkward having only her character speak Mandarin, and having her male co-star constantly ask about why she's “speaking in a tongue I don't understand.” Still, I can't imagine myself ever wanting to watch this movie ever again. It was a little too silly for me, and the unimaginative camera angles sucked all the happiness out of me, like some strange film Dementor. If you're in the mood for a weird Asian flick that combines singing, tap dancing, half-naked fat guys, and a bevy of strange untranslated European guys, this might hit a strange sweet spot for you, but otherwise, it's kind of a bust.[TOP]

After my run-in with that faux-musical, I was in the mood for something a little more grounded. I decided to go for the third volume of Suzuka, because nothing rouses me like yelling at teenagers.

Unfortunately, I hate almost every character in the series. Akitsuki is a pathetic wimp whose life decisions revolve around Asahina, and every time he blows off his responsibilities because he's angry at her, I care less about his character. Honoka smacks of desperation, and while I truly feel for her, and want her to get all the happiness she deserves, I want to sit her down with a copy of Greg Behrendt's He's Just Not That Into You. Asahina's just a bitch.

The problem is, when I don't like any of the characters in a series, it makes me not like the show. I don't hang out with people I don't like (unless they have really nice apartments), and I feel the same way about my anime. Luckily, as the third volume wore on, the series started becoming bearable to me for the first time. Honoka finally blurted out her feelings, and Akitsuki, so thrilled for the chance of eventually getting his penis touched, stopped obsessing over his unrequited love long enough to regain some of his senses. For the first time in the series, the characters actually changed, and it's exciting to see them finally growing and reacting to the stimuli around them. For once, I actually want to know what happens next, and I'm curious to see if this new twist in their relationships will lead to something bigger and better. It helps that all the events in this volume revolved entirely around the track team—not having any of the annoying apartment tenants to blow in with their oh-so-wacky comic relief was a nice change of pace.

It's disappointing that it's taken so long for the series to become something more than just a verbal slapfest between a wimp and an overbearing witch, but hey, better late than never. I just hope that the characters will be able to feed off each other and grow as a group. For a series that's primarily a character study, and something that claims as its tagline that “love is not a spectator sport,” it's finally getting its hands dirty and plunging into the pool of angst and tears that is teenage love. It's about time.[TOP]

While I'm talking about a Funimation title, I may as well run through some of the boxsets they've come out with recently. At the top of my list is Haré+Guu, a title that's actually licensed by AN Entertainment. Although it received a good amount of fan buzz when its acquisition was first announced, excitement rapidly died off, and with good reason. While the first several episodes are roll-on-the-floor hilarious (caffeine helps), things die off pretty fast and don't resurrect themselves until the last couple of discs.

The series follows a kid named Haré, whose life is just like any other normal kid who lives in the jungle. He goes to school every weekday, he has to hunt for his food, and he plays video games in his spare time. Things change when his drunkard mother invites a gal named Guu to live with them—she's as cute and sparkly as a polished button, but at the drop of a hat, she can transform into a stoic, scary-looking girl whose voracity for eating people and strange objects is such that she has another world inside her belly. Haré is deathly scared of her, but her protective nature towards him pulls them through all the hard times, and all the family drama that ensues.

Haré+Guu has two chunks of great episodes—the first few, where things are genuinely funny and still fresh, and introduce all the strange characters in the village, and the last few, where the series dives into the mother's past and waxes magical about love and family. Everything else in between, unfortunately, is a bit dry. Much of the filler in the middle of the series is little more than just the same jokes, recycled ad infinitum until you're hit by a powerful and frightening sense of déjà vu. At $99.98 MSRP, the price is a little steep for a show that spends much of its time wallowing in mediocrity, but it's nice to know it exists. You know, in case you ever have a spare Benjamin lying around, a problem that most college-aged anime fans tend to have.[TOP]

Other recent boxset releases includes the first half of the first season of Fullmetal Alchemist. It doesn't have the flashy appeal of the limited edition tin cases that the series first came in, but at only $49.99 MSRP ($39.99 at places like Amazon!), it's ridiculously cheap, compared to buying the discs individually. And, at that price, everyone really should buy the series, assuming you haven't been dissuaded by all the FMA fangirls yet. Plus, what better way to invest $40 than being able to fall asleep to the sweet sound of Vic Mignogna whispering sweet nothings into your ear every night. That's the reason I bought my new earbuds.

I know there's a stigma out there amongst some of the “cooler” anime fans out there that insinuates that watching popular series somehow makes you less vogue, but Fullmetal Alchemist is definitely a series that everyone should at least sample. It won't make you less hip or more mainstream, and it won't make your Sunset Rubdown t-shirt burst into flames, so give it a shot. The relationship between the two Elric brothers is beautiful to watch as it evolves during the series, and the life lessons that they learn are both heart-warming and complex. The action scenes are pretty sweet, too, and if you don't come out of the series hoping to conjure a steel pillar every time you secretly clap in the bathroom, you must have missed an episode. At this crazy low price, you have no reason not to check out this series.[TOP]

Of course, there's nothing quite like the magic of watching some seriously good, seriously old school stuff. My current obsession is Cat's Eye, which is being released by Imaginasian. After falling in love with the first episode, I devoured the next three volumes over the weekend. And, despite the episodic nature of the series, and the somewhat patterned nature of all the episodes, I had a huge amount of fun.

It is impossible to not have fun when you combine women, fine art, and unitards. There is something innately kitschy about thieves who wear unitards, and I gravitate towards kitsch like a mouse gravitates towards a wedge of smelly cheese. It's the same kind of fascination that makes movies like Big Trouble in Little China so freaking awesome. If you can appreciate 80s stuff like that, then you can definitely appreciate anime shows that end in big-haired women doing aerobics routines.

What help make Cat's Eye so great is not only the heisting and the never-ending chase, but also the relationship between one of the Cats and the detective. They've been dating for years, but they've yet to kiss, and he's so obsessed with work that he hardly ever has time for her. Having dated workaholics, I know how she feels, and I know the pain that comes with it; it's totally human emotions like loneliness and disappointment that makes the characters seem more real, and not just a clan of sexy thieves who can get away with everything. That makes all the difference in the world, and it's what prevents the show from just being a glitzy thief show.

Given the age of the series, Cat's Eye certainly isn't a shining example of visual excellence and artistic beauty, but if you were expecting anything of the sort, then you've got your standards set way too high. The show looks its age, and I'm still holding out for the possibility of a Suzanne Somers cameo. If you get the chance, you should definitely try to watch this show. The 80s flashback itself is well worth it.[TOP]

That's it for this time. Thanks so much for reading!

This week's shelf obsessee is Patrick "Sully" Sullivan, from Virginia. He's been slowly replacing his old VHS (and Betamax tapes) from the 80s, and now he's got plenty of DVDs to show for it. He has around, or over, 1000 DVDs. He also has two very cute dogs named Maggie and Max, both of whom were recues. Super cute!!

Do you have any awesome stuff you want to show off? Send your jpgs to shelflife at animenewsnetwork dot com!


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