Shelf Life
Touched By An Angel

by Bamboo Dong,

When I was a kid, I used to read a lot of Encyclopedia Brown books. I don't remember being very good at solving all the puzzles. Over Thanksgiving break, I noticed that my little brother had a few of the books lying around. I started reading them and was thrilled to discover that, over ten years later, and a lot of schooling under my belt, I can claim to be as smart as Encylopedia. That's right. I'm smarter than a fifth grader.

Welcome to Shelf Life.

One of my favorite anime series of all time is a little-known work called Yugo the Negotiator. Because I like to pimp out that title as much as possible, I try to work it into conversation whenever people ask me for recommendations, regardless of what their tastes are. Their favorites could be Please Teacher and Saint Tail, and my response would be, “Oh yeah? You'd really like Yugo. The way he faces down those war criminals is pretty intense.”

This past week, I watched the first volume of a series that may eventually end up on my Favorites list—a fascinating, fast-paced, unique show called Flag. Released by Bandai, it tells of a UN group's efforts to help promote peace negotiations in a civil war-torn nation by rescuing an iconic flag after its been stolen by a rebel group. Along to document all the action is war photographer Shirasu Saeko, who gained fame for snapping a famous photo of civilians raising their nation's flag.

Especially awesome is the way the series is presented visually—almost everything is shown from the perspective of a camera lens or video camera. The amount of detail that the animators put into every scene is amazing, and they go as far as to include all the camera start-up screens, the zoom and f-stop information, and the battery gage. It's a very creative way to depict real-time events, and although I doubt the government would actually let her tape all of their sensitive secrets, it really gives viewers a sense of the atmosphere, the shifting moods of the people at the base, and all the inner trappings of the missions. The animation is fantastic, and the usage of still images really facilitates the photojournalism angle.

Flag is a must-see show for anyone who wants to see something a bit more mature than your typical teenage-boy-pilots-a-robot show. The political and religious factors in the storyline make it especially intriguing, and the only things that could possibly make the series more realistic would be Anderson Cooper's face and James Burke's voice. There's not a single dull moment in the entire first volume, and I can't wait to see how all the pieces will fall together. This is definitely worth watching.[TOP]

Definitely not worth watching is the next item on my list—a two-part OVA called Angel's Feather. Based on an all-male visual novel, the 60-minute eyesore is an exercise in trite storytelling, boring visuals, and the worst animation I've seen in a while.

Normally, I don't really let animation quality phase me too much. Obviously, it can make a great story even better, or drag down an otherwise good title, but when the only thing you can focus on is how cheap it looks, that's when it starts seriously hampering your viewing experience. Angel's Feather is the animated equivalent of watching one of those old 70s movies where plane crashes are denoted by tilting the camera, and earthquakes are shown by shaking the camera. In this OVA, the animation largely consists of three things—pans, shaking the camera, and something I like to call the Animation Certainty Principle, which states that any moving object anchored onto a stationary item (like strands of hair, articles of clothing, etc) can only be in one of three positions at any given time. This gives rustling hair the appearance of a bandsaw, and everything else the distinct flavor of Low Budget.

Animation aside, Angel's Feather's other downside is that it simply makes no sense. To those who have played the game, there's probably plenty of plot points and nuances that make it work, but these 60 minutes are a clutter of bad writing and plot holes. The story takes place at an all-male boarding school. All the boys look the same, are pretty in some way or another, and are all vaguely homosexual. It's not until a new transfer student arrives that things get a little wild. Apparently, there's an ancient empire called the Winfield Kingdom, a place where everyone who has royal blood can sprout white wings. For whatever reason, rebel groups started popping up, and naturally, they are able to grow black wings.

Because this is a show about pretty boys, it therefore logically follows that some of them are also able to grow wings. Turns out, the most popular boy of them all has that special something which makes him able to sprout white wings. He and the other boys (some of them evil!) fall through floors, end up fighting zombie beasts, get into altercations with each other, and eventually end up doing battle in a place that looks like Superman's icy hideout. There's even a computer that's controlled entirely by crystal spikes, which somehow function like a keyboard. And, just in case viewers couldn't figure it out, there's even a speech near the end that informs you that yes, some of these boys are descendents of the original Winfield Kingdom bunch.

It's possible that my analytical skills have deteriorated since college, but I couldn't make heads or tails out of the two episodes. Nothing was explained, and way too much happened in the allotted 60 minutes.

With OVAs like this, it's far too hard to try to cram an entire game's events into two episodes. There's not enough time, there's not enough room for exposition, and it's almost impossible to have adequate character development. That's the case with Angel's Feather, which might very well be a very entertaining game. As an OVA though, it completely fails to deliver anything worthwhile, unless you want to see men stroking each other's lips.[TOP]

Personally, I wouldn't mind seeing a fan attempt to recreate a boys' love dating sim using clips from Case Closed. As much as I enjoy watching the various episodes and movies, I'm still shocked every time by how angular the character designs are. With faces like that, everyone could be the villain. Maybe that works to their advantage.

Funimation recently released a Case Closed movie called The Fourteenth Target, which is basically an extended episode (or, if you will, one of those three-episode mini-arcs, only with all the openings and endings removed). As usual, there's a murderer on the loose, and Conan's the only one observant enough to catch him. This time, the bad guy has it out for acquaintances of the detective—his gimmick? He's picking people whose names are spelled with numbers in the kanji, and he's counting down from 13. He even leaves a playing card at the scene of each crime, because a serial killer without a gimmick is just plain boring.

I won't spoil it by offering any other information, but needless to say, it's a fairly fun movie. I've always enjoyed Conan's adventures, and it's always a good time trying to figure out who the antagonist is. Like with many of the other movies, though, The Fourteenth Target isn't really something that one could watch over and over again. Unlike brilliantly executed movies like The Usual Suspects, once a Conan movie runs its course… you're pretty much over it. This movie's appeal is in the revelation in the end, not the journey, so once you know the answer, it loses its magic. Still, it's an entertaining movie to watch, especially for fans of the series. If anything else, it's worth a rental, just to see the story unfold.[TOP]

Next up on my list was ADV's release of the three-part OVA Jing, King of Bandits: Seventh Heaven. I won't crack any Jessica Biel jokes, but I do think that the series would have been much improved had there been some wacky minister's family hijinks. As it is, it's closer to an extremely boring description of someone else's acid trip.

“Seventh Heaven” refers to a high security prison that Jing and Kir have been brought to. It's filled with the worst of criminals, and presumably, it's a man-made Hell that wears people down until they lose their minds. Sadly, it's a bit hard to take any of this seriously when everything is done in such a cartoonish manner. The original Bandit Jing TV series didn't exactly take itself too seriously, but at least it wasn't flat-out cartoonish, unlike this OVA. In the opening sequence alone, viewers are introduced to some of the other inmates being transferred to Seventh Heaven, and amongst them are animalesque creatures like boars and turtles. Even the bus they're riding in looks like an iguana that ambles on four legs.

Once the characters get to the prison, our duo of thieves get to work trying to steal from a man whose pride and joy is collecting dream orbs. Unsurprisingly, Jing and Kir get stuck in a dream sequence which lasts almost until the end of the OVA.

So there you have it. The new OVA is basically a three-episode dream sequence. While there are some interesting moments, like a memory that shows how the characters first met, it's largely a snoozer. Watching characters stumbling around a poorly set up dream is immensely dull, and the story doesn't really go anywhere. Even if you're a huge fan of the series, there isn't really anything new here aside from the aforementioned memory. At best, it's worth a rental, but only for the most diehard of Jing fans.[TOP]

Last on my review list was the second volume of Xenosaga, a series whose artwork was so bad, it almost made it harder to figure out what was going on. Unfortunately for me, I stopped playing the videogame shortly after the events that transpired in the first anime volume, so I can't really say whether or not it continues to closely follow the game events. All I can say is that I didn't really care, because the characters hold zero interest for me.

With the advent of the second volume, we discover that KOSMOS has a lot of cool powers that weren't previously revealed, like being able to obliterate entire armies of Gnosis with little effort. We also learn that there's some kind of shadowy organization that's the cause of everything bad in the world. And, because they needed to fill up time and space, viewers also get to watch a magical girl transformation scene because, big surprise, the characters eventually get stuck in a dream sequence.

The biggest problem with the series is that it's very messy. The story never really proceeds in a linear fashion, and it seemingly skips a lot of important expository events necessary to make the scenes flow together. There's also enough technobabble to choke an engineer, making the already clunky dialogue that much worse.

Given the popularity of the Xenosaga game franchise, it's a little disappointing that the anime series hasn't really matched up to my expectations. I was expecting a glimpse at what made the games so popular, but instead, all I've been getting is a cluttered mess of characters running around looking shocked. It's piquing my curiosity to finish the games, but I can't profess to have any interest in finishing the anime series at all.[TOP]

That's it! See you next week, from the heartlands of the New York Anime Fest.

We're shaking things up a little these week with a figure collection from Ben, who also goes by "hell_xtremedawg." I don't know how Xtreme his dawg is, but his figure collection's pretty awesome.

He claims the photos are a "trip-to-Japan old," which fills me with both fright and awe.

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

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