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Shelf Life
The Phantom Master

by Bamboo Dong,

The depressing thing about having $30 worth of Best Buy reward certificates is sitting at your desk, thinking about how much money you've blown at Best Buy.

Welcome to Shelf Life.

Once upon a time, there was a feudal empire called Jushin. Just and wonderful, it protected its citizens with a secret army of warriors called Amen Osa, who carried around medallions that proved that they were governmentally-certified to kick people's asses by summoning spirits and such. Unfortunately, mighty Jushin eventually collapsed, ravaged by zombies, monsters, assholes, and other unsavory types. Thankfully, there's still one Amen Osa left, whose secret power is summoning phantoms and carrying concealed firearms. He's kind of a dick, but people respect him anyway because he has powers.

Blade of the Phantom Master takes its roots from a Korean comic created by In-Wan Youn and Kyung-Il Yang. It was eventually adapted into an anime movie, to the excitement of the five or six people who actually cared. Clocking in at 90 minutes, the film feels like it really should have been a series instead, something that would've explained the random and unrelated story arcs. The first half of the movie introduces the main character, explains where he got his goofy headband, and watches while he beats up some corrupt leader and gains a female bodyguard. The second half takes an entirely different path and provides another scenario for the protagonist to flex his Amen Osa powers. Then it just ends.

While the movie isn't exactly boring, it doesn't really serve a purpose either. It feels like two episodes slapped together, and as a result, no meaning was gained, no message was delivered, and viewers walk away from the whole thing not caring a damn bit about any of the characters. It's hard to care about any of the characters when none of them change or most of the supporting cast seem to have been thrown in on a whim.

The movie is also ridiculously misogynistic. There are only two female of importance in the whole thing, and both of them serve as servants who have to respond to their masters' every beck and call. The Amen Osa's woman doesn't even get to sleep under a roof—she's expected to find her own shelter, gets yelled at when she gets in his way, and is barely treated like a human.

Overall, it's just a very disappointing movie. Undoubtedly, the original manwha is probably loads better, because I reckon it isn't just two weak story arcs slapped together. It's a shame, too—Blade of the Phantom Master could have succeeded as a TV series, but as a movie, it's very weak and unimpressive. The opening animation is gorgeous, and the overall animation quality isn't bad, but even that can't save such a barebones story. If you're a big fan of the original comic, this is a good chance to see the characters alive and about, but for strangers to the story, it's not really worth it.[TOP]

I've always appreciated the Media Blasters catalogue for their bizarre and quirky titles. Whenever I feel myself getting a little disillusioned with some of the bigger companies' offerings, I look to the mighty AnimeWorks label and indulge in something completely unexpected.

This week, I had the pleasure of watching Ramen Fighter Miki, a series that has its ups and downs, but definitely deserves kudos just for being weird. For starters, the main character is the poster girl for a ramen shop. She's energetic, she kicks dogs, and she has the attention span of a drunk freshman. She's terrible at her job, but because she's family, she never gets fired, which means more adventures for us.

It's hard to really identify a storyline. Basically, Miki's job is to serve customers and make deliveries, but her vivacity makes that pretty impossible. All of her deliveries are almost always derailed by her desire to crash a Little League baseball game, and she ruins a good many bowls of ramen by insisting that she assert her superiority over a fierce dog. She also has a fair amount of rivals, including a bakery girl from across the street (who's very proficient at throwing bamboo skewers), and a guy who wants revenge against Miki for everything she's ever done to him, like tying him up and throwing him into the river.

While the series deserves a lot of style points simply for being weird, it doesn't come without its problems. All of the characters are so over the top that they have a tendency to annoy—the first time that Miki's mom flexes her superiority muscles, it's funny. The second time, it's less funny. The third time, it's just kind of old. It's the same for all the shticks—getting attacked by the bakery girl, stopping in the middle of a delivery to play baseball, viciously attacking some guy—and at some point, things just get a little stale.

Still, even with its setbacks, Ramen Fighter Miki is worth checking out. After all, it's not often that your heroine is a noodle delivery girl whose special attacks could totally put the entire action genre to shame. The fights are hilarious, and even the artwork is hilarious. Almost everything has an absurdly sharp set of triangular teeth, and is so exaggerated that even the most jaded would have to grin a little. The series isn't something I could watch a lot of in one sitting, but in moderation, it provides a lot of kooky laughs that you simply won't get anywhere else.[TOP]

After the goofiness of my ramen-toting hero, I needed something a bit more chill and a lot less manic, like a collage of sad girls against pastel backgrounds, set to a twinkling music score.

For reasons I can't quite pin down, Air relaxes me. Maybe it's the music, or the wide-eyed, blushing smiles of all the chipper (but internally pained) girls, but when I feel keyed up, I watch stuff like Air, and everything goes away. It could be a testament to its lackadaisical pace, or the fact that it finds as much wonder in soap bubbles and floating feathers as a little kid—whatever it is, it makes me happy.

With the second volume of Air, we continue to watch Yukito's search for the “winged girl in the sky.” This leads him to develop deeper connections with all the girls he's met, including the ever-cute Misuzu, and the sweet Minagi, whose strained relationship with her mother provides a large focus for these episodes. Maybe it's the wide-eyed stares of all these girls, but this series has a dampening effect on my cynical side. Normally, if I saw a little girl standing on the ledge of a roof, I'd roll my eyes and wait for the inevitable lunch date between gravity and concrete, but this show is so dreamy to begin with, that it seems totally plausible to me that a girl could fly.

As much of a sucker as I am for wispy shows like this, Air really isn't for everyone. Pacing-wise, it's extremely slow. Extremely. Unless you're totally in the zone and wrapped up in this show, every lingering scene spent watching a girl blowing bubbles will lead you one step closer to self-inflicted blunt trauma. It's also sappy enough at times to make you vomit. Every one of these girls is filled with enough untapped emotion to fill a punk album, and either you feel moe for them, or you don't. To be honest, nothing really happens, either. Air is a character study played at half speed—the appeal is not in seeing what happens, but in uncovering more and more about each girl's personality. It's a bit of an acquired taste, but for those with enough patience, it's worth checking out.[TOP]

But, while Air is one of those series that only appeals to certain subset of viewers, the next title is a little more universal.

If Beck was in a Battle of the Bands, it would beat everyone else over the head with a Les Paul, then light them on fire—and then win. Beck rocks you like a hurricane. It's touching, it's inspiring, it's motivational, and at times, it's totally hilarious. Without fail, every time I watch this show, it makes me want to practice my guitar for about two days. Alright, so it doesn't really motivate me to be a better guitarist, but it does give me hope in thinking that some day, I could be as cool as Koyuki.

Why is he so cool? He's cool because no one thought he could be cool. Everyone thought he was this lame little nerd, but in the third volume, he not only blows away the lead singer of the Dying Breed with his performance, but also gets to perform with them on stage. He also puts up the world's greatest show during the school rock contest, which scores him mad points with all the ladies. Koyuki is the American Dream. Only, instead of getting a nice house with a white pickets fence and a supple young nanny, he gets to be cool, which is almost the same thing.

I've said it time and time again, Beck excels because it's so real. The characters are believable and easy to identify with, so you desperately want them to succeed. It also helps that the show was brilliantly directed. The dialogue is natural and convincing, and every pause between the actors' lines makes you feel like you're listening to an actual conversation. None of the music is extraneous, either; there's no useless background music to break up important scenes, which makes it all that much more real.

It's also worth noting that this show consistently has some of the best one-liners in the world. I've been aching to go to a Hannah Montana concert, just so I could use the line, “Man, it's like a sea of training bras in here!” Seriously, the dub is fantastic. Some of the lines are comedy gold (“The first time I kissed a girl, I cried, okay? I cried! She was 40-years-old and I met her in the red light district!”), and they're delivered perfectly by the actors. Also Maho's character is the coolest chick ever created (thanks in part to Brina Palencia's sterling performance), and for that reason alone, I would happily watch this show for eternity. I want to be her friend.

Beck is one of the best shows out right now. If you haven't seen it yet, you owe it to yourself to check it out. It has one of the frankest portrayals of adolescence I've ever seen, and the characters are so genuine that it's like watching a video of people you know. This is definitely something that should be watched over and over again.[TOP]

Now, onto something completely different.

ADV recently released the super ultimate supremo collection of Gantz. In the past, it's been released individually, and also on season thinpaks. Now, you can get it in a shiny black ball.

Every time one of the companies releases something in a quirky package, the first question is always, “how in the world does that work?” I'm glad you asked. I even took pictures of the outside, the inside, the little package that the discs come in, and what it looks like laid out. And yes, my bathroom tiles have schmutz all over them, but I'm sure we can all get over it together.

I love violent anime because there's something really appealing to me about watching two-dimensional characters attack each other in sprays of non-physiologically possible fountains of blood. Geysers of red that don't stop for minutes? Sign me up! Gantz affords me all of that, plus a complex storyline, and a great balance of social criticism—nothing complements visceral stimulation like intellectual stimulation, and this series allows viewers to watch it with several degrees of depth.

If you haven't seen the series yet, now's a good time to buy it in a ball. Everyone likes round things, so this is the perfect opportunity to enjoy your anime and play with it, too. Retailing at $99.98, it's not bad for the entire series. If you're really aching to own the series, though, and you're a poor college student... well, TRSI has both of the thinpak seasons for $24.99. You just won't be able to roll them around.[TOP]

That's it for this week. See you next time!

This week's shelves are courtesy of Kerry Crawford, who's been collecting since he was in 8th grade. Currently the most popular 19-year-old ever, he often loans out his anime to friends. Kerry, please be my friend.

;__; So cute. I want them all.

Got some pictures of your collections that you want to show off? Send your jpgs to shelflife [at] animenewsnetwork [dot] com!

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