Shelf Life
Capture the Flag

by Bamboo Dong,

A couple years ago, a friend convinced me to join his Fantasy Hockey league. I enjoyed it for a couple weeks, but I eventually grew bored of adjusting my lineup every day. Eventually, I just completely forgot about it. I may have ended up last in the league.

This year, I decided to try something different—Fantasy Congress. It's so much cooler. It's like fantasy sports, but instead of trying to figure out your dream team of athletes, you get to recruit your favorite congressmen. Points are handed out based on how many new legislations they propose, how far those move in Congress, how often they cosign on bills, attendance, and so forth. The site is ridiculously detailed and complete, and I've been nerding out every day.

Welcome to Shelf Life.

Since I was already in a politicky mood, I ended up watching the second volume of Flag, which continues to engross me with its power struggles and its covert operations. In an attempt to get ceasefire negotiations back in full swing, a small squadron of the UNF embarks on a mission to steal back the enigmatic flag. With their secret military weapons and their bevy of technology, they definitely have the upper hand in most combat situations, though their goals may be harder to attain than they thought.

As I've said before, what makes this show so unique is its visual style. Everything is shown through camera lenses, and is comprised of video “footage” and still images. It gives viewers an outsider's point of view, and the only insight you get on anyone's feelings is what they reveal to the camera. A lot of attention has been paid to the detail—not only are there the basic items like the timestamps in the corner of the video, but all the night shots are appropriately grainy, and all the “shots” are taken from natural vantage points. It may just be a gimmick, but it's a really good one, and it's helped make Flag one of my favorite new shows.

There's only two DVDs left, and I'm itching to see what happens next. I've always had a soft spot for anything covert government-related, and having the events in this series mostly told from the side of the shadowy UN side of things makes it really fun. Some things are a little too obviously swept under the rug, like the lack of dead bodies in the mechas' viewfinders, and the fact that their weapons are virtually indestructible, but those can easily be forgiven. I'm absolutely loving this show, and I hope others are willing to give it a chance, too. The artwork looks great, the animation is fantastic, and the story is engaging. If this genre of action shows seems like your cup of tea, be sure to give it a shot.[TOP]

Unfortunately, the high of watching Flag got muted when I popped in both discs of the Dragonball Z double-feature—The History of Trunks, and Bardock the Father of Goku. There's hundreds of thousands of fans who live and breathe Dragonball, but I've never really been one of them. I've enjoyed some movies, I've hated others, and I've never had the patience to watch the entire Dragonball/Z/GT franchise, so I don't always have the best frame of reference when it comes to movies.

I'm not really sure why Funimation decided to pair these two films together, but as the titles suggest, the first one tells partially of a segment in Trunks' youth. Originally aired as a TV special, it's kind of awkward as a standalone feature. Right off the bat, Goku dies. It then flashes forward a few years to a future where the world is getting thrashed by androids. Trunks and Gohan get beat up a few times, but eventually the title character ends up climbing into a time machine to make sure that Goku doesn't die. I realize I just spoiled the entire special for you, but trust me, it's not that big of a deal. Nothing really happens; people just grunt a lot.

Still, it's the better one of the two specials. The second one is Bardock the Father of Goku, another made-for-TV special that features a lot of HGH-jacked men, and an immense amount of little boy penis. Seriously, I saw Goku's infant penis maybe eight times the entire movie. The main character of this little diddy is Bardock, a Saiyan soldier who serves under Frieza. Due to a series of circumstances, he's actually able to see into the future. This would be a really great gift, if it didn't come with the nightmares and bad omens that such abilities almost always come with.

So, after a pretty bad life and plenty of ill visions regarding his son, the special eventually fizzles out with Goku landing on Earth, and another shot of his junk. Good thing Funimation was able to use some sweet Sum41 and American Hi-Fi songs as the ending theme! Who wants to hear the original ballad (still available on the Japanese-version tracks) when you can hear Deryck Whibley rocking out?

Although these two discs come in a pretty neat tin case, they're not really something I'd push people to buy. For starters, these are TV specials that were wedged between episodes, so they're kind of random, and honestly, their production values are kind of awful. They're not any worse than the production values you'd see in a series that runs several hundred episodes, but when you're spending $30, you kind of want it to be worth it. Chances are, though, if you're scrambling to buy this, you're probably striving to complete your DBZ set anyway, so price probably isn't an issue. For casual fans of the show, though, I really don't recommend it. You barely get a scrap of new character insight, and because they were one-hour specials, they don't really have a beginning or an end—just lots of scenes you would've eventually gotten with the TV series anyway. Verdict: this is something for hardcore fans only.[TOP]

The next set of heroes I watched didn't hit up the muscle milk as much as the Saiyans, but they were still able to hold their own pretty well. The second volume of Venus Versus Virus is infinitely more interesting than the first, but the pacing still seemed a little ragged to me. It's nice to see the girls making progress on perfecting their powers, as well as discover some crucial facts about the bad guys they're fighting, but none of it really comes as a surprise. A lot of the major plot reveals are just thrown out haphazardly, so it doesn't have the same impact as a well-timed, suspenseful twist.

In these episodes, the girls continue onwards with their Virus-busting activities, but with increased testing and experience, Sumire slowly learns how to control her berserker powers. No longer the insecure klutz she used to be, she's grown a lot, and it's nice to see her taking a bigger part in the agency's goals. At the same time, Lucia does quite a bit of soul-searching to realize her true origins. It's quite shocking to her, but rather than letting it get her down, it ignites a spark in her that gives the series much of its vitality.

Incidentally, I mentioned last week that action anime have a huge obsession with dream sequences and alternate realities. When Sumire walked in on a dream-like scene to see Lucia's childhood self, I almost crowed in delight. It's almost a prerequisite now, so much so that I'm tempted to make a chart of every illusion I've ever seen in an anime.

Still, I have to admit that the show is pretty cute. The girls are supposed to be all deadly, but they definitely prove that it's possible to be strong and feminine at the same time. Lucia is an amazing heroine, and even with her incredibly tortured past, she still takes care of business. She's also cute as heck, which makes her that much easier to root for.

In the end, Venus Versus Virus is definitely worth at least a rental, especially if you're craving some supernatural demon-busting action. It doesn't have a huge amount of variety to add to the preexisting little-girls-killing-monsters genre, but it's fun, it's action-packed, and the storyline is one that's tried and true. ADV isn't exactly prolific right now, but there's no harm in adding this to your queue, just to wet your tastebuds.[TOP]

Speaking of cute girls, if that's what you're looking for, then the recently released Negima boxset will have you hyperventilating. There are girls galore, and if you enjoy projecting yourself into the anime you watch, even better. The only male that's really around all the time is Negi, and he's pretty sexually non-threatening, so dream away!

Negima is based off a manga by Ken Akamatsu, a creator known for his ability to generate female characters in his sleep. He's also the master of milquetoast men, so if domineering women are the stuff of your fantasies, you will be in heaven. Negi is a 10-year-old wizard who dreams of becoming a Magister Magi. In order to do so, he must first complete his task as an English teacher in Japan. Because all his female students (31 in all!) mostly regard him as a little brother, they're able to feel quite comfortable around him. This paves the way for plenty of fan service, but in that innocent way that tells you, "hey, it's okay to look."

While a large chunk of the story is fluff, the series eventually does get a bit serious. Battles are waged, tensions are tightened, and eventually tragedy even strikes. Luckily, there are plenty of chicks to choose from, should you need to seek comfort. They range between the bitchy one, the brash one, the brawny one, the brainy one, the robot one, the weird occult one, the ditzy one, the one who looks like she's four, and a bunch of others. It's like reaching into a bag of Jelly Belly beans.

Packed in a fold-out plastic case, the boxset just offers the discs, but they're the same discs that appeared in the original individual releases, so all the extras are still intact. It's not a show that will appeal to everyone, and I have to admit that I could never quite get into it, but it's cute and happy enough that it could probably brighten up someone's day. Personally, I could never keep all the females straight, and I couldn't move past the 10-year-old teacher bit, but for those more forgiving than I, it might be fun. And hey, it's cheaper than buying the individual discs, so if anything, this could make a good gift.[TOP]

So that's that. Thanks for reading!

This week's shelf obsessee is Mike Nicolas, of the Anime Roundtable Canada podcast. Unfortunately, his collection is too big to show completely, so he sent in some highlights. He even provided us a handy guide to his pictures, so here it is:

"1. The bulk of my anime DVD's. This was taken in August. Recently I went on another binge and things grew too big for this shelf. I started to box quite a bit of it, which is not a bad idea since I'll be moving in the latter part of 2008.

2. The bulk of my manga taken on the same day. I have a habit of putting comic book covers on them for various reasons.

3. My DVDs with a protective covering. A similar cover drapes my manga too.

4 & 5. The reasons for the covering. This family of lovebirds reside near my manga shelves. Recently three of them were given away to family. One of them I nicknamed "Honya" because she likes to take naps in the crevices of the shelf if given the chance. She doesn't have that many chances now, but she still likes to sit on top of the shelf.

6. What happens if they're not covered. Notice they took a big piece out of Densha Otoko's face. Now I'd show you what happened to the most unlucky of my manga, but let me remind you again what they did to Densha's face. And on that manga, they managed to get though the covering on both the shelf and the book itself. So sometimes the Force doesn't protect them.

The whole collection actually resides in different parts of the house. Namely my room, my sister's room (who will likely keep quite a bit of that), and the basement. And I haven't taken a look at exact numbers but if you want me to estimate:

Anime DVDs: Give or take 1200. Manga: Give or take 700 volumes. Artbooks: Over 100"

Whew! And those are some seriously cute birds.

If anyone else would like to show off their collections (and their pets), email your jpgs to shelflife at animenewsnetwork dot com! Thanks, and see you next week.

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