Shelf Life

by Bamboo Dong,

Shelf Worthy
Rental Shelf
Batman: Gotham Knight
Otoboku v.1
One Piece s.1 pt.1 box
The local county fair is back, which means I'm a big happy kid. Between the deep fried Oreos, the Krispy Kreme chicken sandwiches, and the huge giant pens full of fluffy sheep, I will be entertained all month. Plus they have hundreds of varieties of chickens!! And pig races!! Seriously, county fairs are the best idea that America has ever come up with, and they probably didn't even come up with it.

Welcome to Shelf Life.

With only a few days to go until the Dark Knight premiere, a lot of anime fan attention has been directed towards Batman: Gotham Knight. Like the Animatrix of the Batman franchise, it bundles together several animated shorts that flesh out the important characters. The only downside is that, also like Animatrix, Gotham Knight isn't very good. There are some shorts that are very well done, but as a collective whole, it's a bit of a disappointment.

All of the shorts were written by Americans and directed by different Japanese directors, and as varied as the production staffs were for each one, so was the quality. Luckily, the weaker ones seemed to be clumped near the beginning, so by the time you reach the good ones, you're really thankful for them. The first one has a bunch of skateboarders sitting around swapping stories about Batman, and in each tale, his appearance is different. One of the kids describes him as a living shadow while another says he's more of a bat beast; yet another says he's a robot. Of course, by the time the real Batman shows up in that vignette, he ends up being some chubalub who's getting his butt kicked by a bad guy. It's an interesting story, but substance-wise, it kind of missed the mark for me.

Likewise, some of the others were also hit-or-miss for me. My least favorite was the second, a short called “Crossfire,” in which nothing happens for a really long time. Basically, a team of detectives are delivering a criminal to Arkham Asylum. On the way, they have insipid dialogue about whether or not Batman is good. Eventually, they get stuck in the middle of a shootout, and after a torturously long and boring fight, Batman appears to save the day. Ta-dah! As if the story itself weren't dull enough, the animation was flat-out uninspiring. They really could've learned a thing or two from the old 90s Batman cartoon, because anything named “Crossfire” shouldn't be allowed to be that boring.

To make up for it, some of the later vignettes are pretty sweet. In particular, “Working Through Pain” really fleshes out Bruce Wayne's character, and shows him working with an outcast Indian woman to learn how to block physical pain. With that story, not only is the animation absolutely gorgeous, but the story is just fabulously written. The dialogue is relevant and meaningful, the characters are well developed, and I was immensely sad when the short ended. With good shorts, a lot can be conveyed in a very brief time, and full stories can be introduced and developed. With crappy shorts, all you end up with is a waste of time that extends minutes longer than you're willing to watch.

Gotham Knight is about 60% awesome, and 40% crap. That 60% is totally worth watching, but the remainder makes it difficult for me to have any desire to own it, because I don't want my love for Batman to be tarnished by some lousy 5 minute cartoon. Don't let my bitterness get in the way, though—seriously, some of those shorts are really excellent. Gotham Knight is worth renting just for two or three of those stories, and now that the entire nation (world?) is flushed with Dark Knight fever, there's no better time than now to check it out.[TOP]

Moving onto something completely different, by almost a zillion miles, one of the more interesting shows I got to watch was Otoboku: Maidens Are Falling For Me. For a show that revolves around a boy masquerading as a girl, it's surprisingly cute, and decently heartwarming. To be honest, I was expecting to watch it and then shoot off a bunch of snarky comments about the premise, but none came to me. In fact, I ended up enjoying it the entire way through.

Like many girl-centric high school shows, Otoboku takes place in an exclusive, all-female school. The main character, though, is far from ladylike. Mizuho is actually a boy who's enrolling in the school just to satisfy his grandfather's dying wish. To help him blend in is his spunky friend Mariya, who teaches him the importance of details like sitting on the toilet, and always being polite at school. It helps that his willowy frame and a killer makeover has made Mizuho the most beautiful girl at the school. Within days, all the girls are eager to be his friend, and half of them are crushing on him. Throw in some catty drama from a new rival and some laughs from a wayward ghost, and you've got a show that can stretch its wings over a variety of emotions.

Despite all the opportunities that the show could take to be lecherous or campy, it remains very innocent. Mizuho is as sexually non-threatening as they come, and he has a sincere desire to stay at the school to honor his grandfather's wishes. His mother, who died when he was young, went to the same school, and part of his tenure there is an added chance to learn more about her. He has no romantic feelings towards any of the girls (yet, anyway), and there is nothing remotely sinister about any aspect of his situation. Otoboku could be any sweet female drama, were it not for Mizuho's gender, and in a way, that's refreshing. It's all just so… innocent. And that's what makes it appealing.

This show probably won't appeal to a lot of people, but for those looking for something a little offbeat, this is a pretty cute find. A few of the characters are far too annoying for my tastes, but I'm eager to see where this is going.[TOP]

Next up was a show that has garnered tremendous fan support across the US—the infamous One Piece, whose stateside treatment has been the subject of fan rants and raves for quite some time now. Luckily for the hardcore fans, they can enjoy Funimation's season boxsets, which contain half a season at a time, uncut, and bilingual. They even have the marathon mode option which is fast becoming one of my favorite DVD features ever, because it reduces the need to skip through songs and previews.

Now for the sticky part—I'm going to have to admit that I can't really get into this show. Yeah, I know it's wildly popular, and it's the coolest thing ever since sliced Narubleach, but I couldn't quite muster up the same enthusiasm for it as I was expecting. But, let's talk about the good first. The story is very well written. It starts with the introduction of Luffy, and as he runs into members of his future crew, the series takes the time to not only talk about the new characters' pasts, but also their personalities and the things that drive their ambitions. One Piece could have easily taken the easy route and slapped a few characters together like so many other shonen shows, but it takes its time to make sure it's done right. Within the first six episodes, viewers already know about Luffy's childhood and his desires to be a pirate, and they're already familiar with Zoro's honorable interior. That's not bad.

My problem is that I don't really like how cartoony the show is, because it makes it hard for me to take the characters seriously. It's noble to strive for fame, power, and greatness, and all that, but I don't really care if Luffy gets it or not. I find his personality to be grating, and his rambunctiousness to be a turn-off. Frankly, I think his rubber attacks are dumb, too. Likewise, none of the other characters (of which Zoro is totally the most badass) really appeal to me either. They have their solid moments and nice ambitions, but when people are bouncing all over the place or are running around with ridiculously exaggerated facial expressions, it takes me out of the show. Every time I get into the story, something outrageously cartoony happens, and it's a big turn-off for me.

Fortunately, this probably isn't an issue for a lot of fans. One Piece, after all, is a very well thought-out show, and has decent characters. I just have a problem with the whole wooooaaahah!! wacky!!! animation style that characterizes this show. I don't expect realism in shonen attacks, but seeing some dude grinning at me with huge eyeballs as he lunges towards me isn't really my style.

For everyone else though, the availability of this boxsets is good news. If more long-running series were released 13 episodes at a time, it would make collecting them much easier. Plus, it's a great chance to start collecting the show from the beginning, and if you like what you've seen on Cartoon Network, you'll probably get a huge kick out of this. The TV show is infinitely better than the movies, in my opinion, and if you start collecting now, you'll only have…what, 30+ boxes to go? If anything else, just stick this in your queue and see if all the fuss is right for you.[TOP]

Lastly, I was able to enjoy one of Funimation's more recent live-action releases, a samurai film called Hana. It got a little muddled at times, but it's very charming and it's a unique take on the samurai genre. The film centers around a samurai named Sozaemon who's on a mission to kill the man who killed his father. Not really knowing where to start, he ends up living in a shantytown outside of Edo. While there, he ends up meeting incredibly colorful characters, who are all very well aware of their economic status, but make the best of it anyway. They have a lot of fun together, commiserate about their dilapidated rowhouses together, and even put on an annual play. None of them resent Sozaemon for having money, but they do make fun of him for his piss-poor swordsmanship, which probably couldn't cut down a slab of ham. And, when it comes time to avenge his father, Sozaemon finds that he doesn't necessarily have what it takes to carry out his duties.

Unfortunately, the narrative gets a little garbled at times. There are so many subplots (including the planned attack on Kira Yoshinaka by the 47 Ronin) that things get a little messy along the way. Sometimes you even have to wonder if you're even watching the same movie, but in the end, it's something worth watching in your spare time just for its message about enjoying life.

Notably, the side characters are the best part of the film. The residents of the rowhouses are so incredibly vivacious that they could drive the movie on their own. Between the weird guy who has the personality of a three-month old puppy, to the local beauty who can't bear to tell her son his father is dead, there is so much life in the slums. Paired with the lilting soundtrack and the exuberance of it all, this is a movie that can make people smile.[TOP]

That's it for this week—stay tuned for more next week!

The first shelf is from Jessie, who's quite happy with her "humble shelf." The first photo has all her manga and her Kaleidostar box set, and the second has her artbooks and CDs. The ticket is from Warped Tour '08 where she got to see Oreskaband on her birthday!

The second set of shelves is from Morten, who hails from Denark. I'll let him talk about his collection:

"Just thought I'd send in pictures of my not-so-big collection. I've been collecting since summer 2005, and have spent something in the vicinity of 10,000 Denmark kroner on my collection. I also have a Clannad wall calendar, four posters and three chibi Negima figures, but sadly, I've no room on my walls for the posters and I'm such a terrible photographer that I just couldn't get any non-blurry/-crappy pictures of the calendar and figures. (The fact that I'm a bad photographer also explains the poor quality of some of the pictures I've sent in.)

Disregard the truck wallpaper behind my Haruhi figurine. It's an old wallpaper. >_>"

Personally, I kind of like the truck. It looks like it's coming straight at her.

Awesome collections!! Want to show off your own? Send your jpgs to shelflife at animenewsnetwork dot com! Thanks for reading!

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