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Shelf Life
Mysterious Plays

by Bamboo Dong,

I'm the last person in the world to know about these customizable "photobooks" you can order from Shutterfly or iPhoto. Seriously, where have I been? They're basically these photobooks that let you drag and drop photos and text into pre-existing layouts, for that one-of-a-kind glossy book that documents all your vacations, adventures, memories, and what have you. They don't have the same effect as a fat photo album full of all your favorite pictures, but as far as keepsakes go, these aren't bad. If I ever run out of gift-giving ideas ever again, I'm reaching for Shutterfly. That's right. I'm the sucker who ends up using these things for Mother's Day.

Welcome to Shelf Life.

Many have said that Haruka is basically one big Fushigi Yuugi ripoff. This is completely untrue. For starters, the high school girl who fell into a mysterious world was the Priestess of Suzaku—the Phoenix God; clearly, Akane is the Priestess of the Dragon God. Miaka had seven warriors who protected her—Akane has eight. Miaka had brown hair, Akane's hair is chestnut; Miaka has huge, pretty eyes, Akane has huge, cross-eyed ones. So you see, no adequate comparison.

So far, the story is as follows: Akane and her (male) buddies are on their way to school when she's summoned by a demon in another world. She wanders towards a well and is pulled in—along with her friends. When she gets there, a pretty boy guard discovers that she's the Priestess who will save their country from ruin. However, the demon wants her powers too, so she'll have to endure an epic struggle between evil and good to save the world…while fighting off plenty of bishonen along the way, I'm sure.

The story isn't terrible so far, but it also hasn't gotten very far. There are only two episodes on the first disc, so by the time the disc ends, nothing's really been accomplished. All we know is that Akane has the power to save or destroy the alternate world, and that she can summon the power of the dragon to make streets explode. Visually, the series is nothing to really drool over. The characters move rather awkwardly, and Akane seriously looks cross-eyed. Her eyes are huge, but in a way that makes you wonder if the animators really knew what to do with that much extra pupil. The character designs are pretty standard, too—they're just your average gallery of flowy-haired men, and if you've seen your fair share of shoujo fantasies, then you already know what to expect.

As far as fantasy series go, Haruka isn't awful. It's just… not very imaginative. A girl thrown into a mystical world where she and her (X number of) protectors have to defend the country? Eh. Okay. I'd watch it on the weekends if I had nothing better to do, but I wouldn't pay to watch it two episodes at a time.[TOP]

Next up on my list was Kujibiki Unbalance. Now, if I could split this review into two ratings I would—I'd give the series a big stinking “Perishable,” but a glowing “Shelf Worthy” to the one episode of the Genshiken OAV. Combine the two, and you get something that evens out to a decent “Rental Shelf” rating, because that OVA makes it totally worthwhile. I just wish that you didn't have to buy the cursed Kujian to get it.

Kujibiki Unbalance is every bit as terrible as you would imagine it to be. It's pointless, it's lame, and even as some kind of meta-joke, it doesn't really work. The few episodes that were featured in the Genshiken TV series were totally hilarious (especially the one where one of the characters is fawning over baskets of mushrooms), but the ones here are limp in comparison. Basically, it starts with the male character drawing his lot as the next president of the student council. His childhood friend draws the position of vice president so together, they and a few others embark on a series of missions that help train them to carry out their tasks as the student body leaders. These include capturing pandas that have escaped from the zoo, tracking down the treasurer, and manning a store. Basically, any task that could be seen as impossibly mundane.

Seems like a great show, right? Throw in some shoddy animation, and you've got the start of the fabulously terrible Kujibiki Unbalance.

Luckily, the entire disc isn't a waste. Media Blasters has also included the first episode of the Genshiken OAV, which helps transition viewers into the second season. A few new characters join the club, but it's nice to see old favorites on the screen again. Whereas the original series spent most of its time exploring the life of the average otaku, through trips to comic markets and doujinshi shops, the OVA sets the tone for a transition to a more character-driven atmosphere. It's different, but it's still fun, and it makes for splendid viewing.

If you haven't seen the original Genshiken, then you really ought to do yourself a favor and check that out first. Even after that, it's not even worth your time to watch this abomination of Kujibiki Unbalance, but you should check out the OVA. So buy it if you must, for the sake of completion, but otherwise, just give it a rental and move on.[TOP]

For fans looking to get a lot of anime for not too much money, your best bet this time around is on Funimation's release of Aquarion—if you're using run-time as a criteria. With 13 episodes released on three thinpaks, the $59.98 MSRP is pretty attractive. The only drawback? The terrible storyline.

Earth has suffered an enormous catastrophe. As a result, Antarctica has melted, unearthing giant monsters called Shadow Angels who have been dormant in the ice for 12,000 years. Their only mission is to wreak havoc upon the Earth's inhabitants, harvesting humans for living energy, Matrix-style. Luckily, three teens have what it takes to pilot mechas that can defeat these terrible Angels! Along the way, they may even fall in love, form love-triangles (including a nasty brother complex), and learn how to work together to save the world.

This would be a nice, albeit cookie-cutter storyline if it wasn't just the backbone for a steaming pile of philosophical nonsense. If you thought series like Evangelion and RahXephon went overboard on the philosophizing, theorizing, and Jung-thumping, Aquarion puts them all to shame. You can't go a few scenes without someone gazing into the distance and saying something pretentious about humanity and theology, or searching deep within their souls for a bit of childhood trauma.

Not to be outdone, the series wants to be a comedy, too. Aside from all the mecha shout-outs and all the serious pondering, it also spends a fair amount of time wallowing in awkwardly-timed comic relief. In fact, every time things get serious, you can count on someone saying something silly or outrageous and destroying the mood.

It's a shame the series is such a mess, too, because a lot of money was thrown into certain aspects of it. The soundtrack was composed by the famed Yoko Kanno, who does a fairly good job with the background tracks. They fit the scenes well, and are variegated enough to not induce any boredom.

Overall, I give Aquarion props for trying, but it also gets several points knocked off for simply trying too hard. It wants so badly to please everyone that it's tried to reach for every genre possible. It wants to be serious and thought-provoking, but it really wants to be funny; it wants to pander to every mecha fan in the world, even though it wants to give the kids magic powers too. Aquarion simply wants to do too much, and as a result, it ends up accomplishing nothing. At least it didn't cost too much.[TOP]

If the new-fangled Aquarion doesn't whet your whistle, then maybe a compilation for an older anime series will. Funimation has also released a boxset for Solty Rei, a Gonzo series that tries to be all tough with its big robots and action scenes, but is actually a big softy that gives free ice cream cones to kids.

The series drives its main focal point around two characters: Solty and Roy. Solty looks like a happy little girl on the outside, but she's actually a robot with amnesia who has the power to beat the crap out of anyone who dares mess with her. Roy is a hardened old mercenary who grudgingly warms up and accepts Solty into his life, so they can live happily ever after as daughter and surrogate father. Add on a dorky technician and a bombastic thief, and you've got a superteam of heroes that can take on evil. Unsurprisingly, they get saddled with a variety of mini-missions, that include apprehending bombers, and stopping foes from the past who are up to no good.

The first half is fairly episodic in this regard—the good guys continually get mixed up with bad guys, and end up with firefights and mech battles—but halfway through, things get a bit more serious. Not too shockingly, Solty has a mysterious past that is slowly revealed throughout the series. There are also plenty of secrets and conspiracies that are waiting to be unraveled.

Solty Rei follows the same path as any ragtag-team-turned-unknowing-heroes show, but it's fairly pleasant. The characters have a decent amount of depth, and even though you know from the first scene that Solty and Roy are going to end up being the best of friends, it's nice watching that crotchety old man warm up to her.

The series starts off rather tamely, but by the end, the twists max out to a rather satisfying conclusion. The ending itself is a little anticlimactic, but the journey there is exciting, and it makes the last half of the show worth it. I don't know that it's anything I'd want to watch over and over again, as reaching the ending once is satisfying enough, but it's worth checking out once. Solty Rei is one of those shows that isn't talked about too much in the fan community, but check it out, and you might be decently surprised. It is one of those shows that “gets better” as you go on, though, so just be careful about whipping out your wallet without watching it first.[TOP]

That's it for this week; thanks for reading!

This week's shelf belongs to Bob Mays, who has quite the collection. The wrap-around shelf was built by him, and it's quite the looker. All art boxes that contain fully-released series are full, and he has lots more Star Wars and Star Trek stuff in storage.

Whew! That wrap-around shelf is studly.

Want to show off your collection? Send your jpgs to shelflife at animenewsnetwork dot com!

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