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Shelf Life
Victory Dance

by Bamboo Dong,

Recently, I was at Whole Foods, staring at their cases of buffalo steaks. I can't afford to shop there, but I do like their buffalo selection. Next to it, however, was a palette full of the most pretentious water I had ever seen in my life. It was called H2Om, and they claimed that their water was infused with positive energy. Not only does their website make me sick, but it retails for $0.99 a bottle. Now, I've known many people who go nuts for rare artesian waters and glacial runoff, but never have I seen bottled waters whose selling point is a pretty label. I guess this stuff came out a couple years ago, but since I only wander into Whole Foods maybe twice a year, I'm behind the times. Plus now there are seven different kinds to choose from! Imagine if you mixed them all together! They don't even use Oxford commas in their press releases, which just makes me sad.

Anyway, if you've ever bought a bottle of this stuff (doing it ironically doesn't count) because you truly believe in its powers, please speak up in the forums so that I can beat you mercilessly with hard fists of science.

Welcome to Shelf Life.

I am in love. I thought I was past all that love-at-first-sight nonsense, but it happened to me, and before I knew it, I'd become infatuated. Who knew that I'd be swept off my feet by the beautiful Emma: A Victorian Romance. It felt like I was lounging on a patio, eating chocolates, and reading a Jane Austen novel—which is a nice feeling, considering I was just schlubbing in my crappy Ikea chair, eating Del Taco.

Seriously, if you have ever enjoyed a romance novel, film, or comic in your entire life, then you owe it yourself to run (/type) to the nearest store (/website) to pick up the first Emma DVD collection. It comes with the first twelve episodes, but it feels like four, and by the time the last disc ends, you won't be ready to stop. Emma tells a simple story about a maid and the son of a wealthy merchant who fall in love, kept apart only by social pressures, but the characters are so well written that you'll be rooting for them from episode one. As each new person is introduced, the story gets more and more complicated, and by the time anything bad happens, you're so emotionally invested in everyone that it's hard not to let your feelings get wrenched around.

A lot must be said for the main character, too. Emma is so sweet and hardworking that it's impossible to wish any ill on her. Seeing her face light up with the smallest of luxuries is heartwarming, and it's no surprise that so many men end up falling for her. She may be just a lowly servant, but she's incredibly smart, and her dedication to her duties makes her a strong woman worth looking up to. In fact, there isn't really any character that isn't carefully developed (except ditzface Eleanor). Even Hakim, who originally irritated me with the way he was portrayed as this ridiculous foreigner with no regards to social decorum, ends up playing the role of the heart to counterbalance the main male's peer-driven obligations.

Emma: A Victorian Romance isn't exactly original, but it is very unique, especially in today's anime market. Anyone who's read their fair share of fairytales or Victorian novels, or has seen enough Jennifer Lopez movies knows the appeal of the poor-girl-marries-up storyline, but Emma does it with a flair that makes it hard to resist. The artwork is well-researched and beautifully drawn, and the gorgeous soundtrack really adds a nice touch. Everything about this show has a touch of serenity to it, and I'm a happier person for having watched it.[TOP]

Now, contrast the serenity of Emma with the crazy women of Shuffle!. Even as an innocent bystander, the women there stress me out. They're clingy, they're needy, and most recently, they're murderous, have split personalities, and are all on the verge of death. That's just not cute.

Earlier in the season, when I said that I wish Shuffle! had a bit more substance and more drama, I wasn't expecting to have those words bite me in the rear. How was I to know that all those innocent days of cooking omelets would eventually transgress into a daytime soap opera? Not only do half the women have other souls living inside of them, but a lot of them used to be insanely vicious. Not just vicious in the “I'm going to yell a lot!” way, but also in the, “I'm going to throw this utility knife at you down the stairwell” way. Yikes.

Now, for a quick recap. The last time we joined our friends, it involved a journey into hell and a dual personality. This time, in the fifth volume, a previous romance (Sia) is broken up by some inane plot twist, just to give Rin an excuse to date another girl (Asa). Only now, Kaede's more angry than ever before and we get a doozy of a backstory that involves oodles of harassment and blood. And, of course, no dramatic harem show is complete without sickly women in the hospital, so away the ambulance goes.

So what does this mean for the viewer? Well, on the upside, things are more interesting. Dealing with psychotics is infinitely more fun than watching kids run around town, holding hands and eating crepes, but it's a little harsh on the skull. Whatever kernel of sympathy I had with any of the characters flew out the door when I realized that they were all completely crazy. Plus, I just don't get their motivations anymore. At first, it was just a game of who could get Rin to fall in love with them, but now they're all playing matchmaker, which works out great until girls start threatening to kill each other. The only great thing about this is having the DVD loop back to the menu screen after the last episode and hearing that bouncy beach music. Nothing says “I'm going to strangle you!” like a fun soundtrack.

It's not that I'm anti-drama. I love drama. I love yelling at characters, shaking my head in disappointment at their actions, and chuckling at their hormone-driven antics. I just don't like shows that have no idea what they're doing. It's acceptable to have three or four crazy elements in every show to spice things up. Biologically engineered devils, fine. Split personalities, fine. Angry childhoods, great. But you can't make every single character a loose cannon, make them utterly unlikeable, and still expect viewers to care. At this point, the only good character left is Rin, and bless his heart for putting up with all this crap. That man deserves a medal and a blowjob, especially since he has the forgiveness of a saint.

There are harem shows that do the drama bomb shtick very well. I think shows like Kanon and Air are ridiculous, but heartwarming and addictive. I think Shuffle! is a cheap knock-off. I can't stop watching it because I'm attracted to bad ideas, but I can't help but wonder if we're even supposed to like these characters. How could anyone? And without any character worth supporting, what's the point of watching the show? At least if you do decide to buy it (don't), it comes with this sweet poster.[TOP]

Onwards now, with something a little more serious. I was finally able to check out the last two volumes of Flag, and they are seriously amazing. I know some people may be turned off by how unaction-oriented it is for a war-centric series, but it's so unique and so well told that I recommend giving it a fair shake.

The last several episodes still revolve around retrieving the flag, but now there are other issues at play, such as the UN's real motivations, and some of the activities happening in the background. But, I don't want to dwell on the synopsis because it's not the storyline that's the point. The story is just background noise for what the series is really about. It's about the soldiers who are doing what they think is best for the world; it's about the nomads who are aware of the conflicts, but whose lives are still focused on their shepherding; it's about the civilians who are just trying to make the best of things. It's a series that focuses on the people who are the most affected by wars—those who live in the conflict regions, and those whose jobs it is to carry out the government's orders. Whether or not the good guys win or lose is inconsequential—what matters is the people whose lives are being troubled.

Because everything is “shot” through camera lenses, it gives the series a chance to really play up the realism angle. Instead of having flashy scenes of robots pummeling each other and meaty guys bayoneting each other, Flag is more about grainy photos of kids grinning in villages, and soldiers washing their mechs. It's like what a slice-of-life show would be like if it was stuck in the middle of a hostile armed conflict, and that's what makes it brilliant. There aren't any heroes—just people, and it's all told through people's cameras. Even the photographers' personalities come through in the way that they record what's happening around them, and viewers get to learn more about the characters this way than they ever would through traditional storytelling methods.

If you're looking for a gung-ho, blood-splattering, Jack Bauer story, Flag isn't going to satisfy your needs. Watching Flag is more like sitting down in front of the History Channel, sifting through old footage of people shopping for fruit while bombs are whizzing through the streets. It's subtle, it's brilliant, and it works well as a character study for what happens when your government turns its back on you. I can't recommend this series highly enough.[TOP]

Next up, the second part of Aquarion. I must say, I'm really digging these boxset chunklets over the individual volumes, especially in series like this where so much of it follows a monster-of-the-week format. Had I been watching the show four episodes at a time, I probably would've gotten bored a really long time ago. The way it is now, it's much easier to keep watching it because the episodes just happen to be there. It's like eating at a buffet—you're already full, but hell, it's there! Why stop now?

The format works to the show's advantage, too. If I had to estimate, I'd say that there are only two minutes of story advancement in every episode. People are a lot more willing to sit through pointless fight scenes if they can feel the tug of storyline just around the corner. I know that's the reason I kept watching (aside from the whole job thing). But, let's get everyone up to speed. Aquarion is an epic story of humans versus Angels in a battle to the death over the fate of the Earth. At least, it would be epic if the story weren't so slow in divulging information and advancing the storyline. The pacing is brutally slow now, but something tells me that if you stick it out through the end, you'll be rewarded with one hell of an ending.

That's for later, though. Right now, most of the episodes just follow the characters as they battle one monster after another. Some of the battles require them to Be True To Themselves, while others show them the importance of Identity. Others even give them the opportunity to give speeches about how important it is to stand on your own two feet and believe in yourself. Aww. When the characters aren't in their robots and beating things up, we occasionally get to cut to the Angels and listen in on them as they relay the backstory. In my opinion, those are the only useful scenes in the series so far, but they don't last very long, and they're hard to come by.

All this means is that for mecha enthusiasts, this show will tickle you pink. There's minimal story to get in the way of the fights, and our heroes get to fight everything from flesh-eating microbes to giant vampires. The series looks good doing it, too. The artwork is exceptionally pretty, and the artists do a great job of making things look ethereal. Between the imagery of shorn wings and glowing monsters, the series is very pleasing on the eyes. There's even a fun episode on the first disc where all the characters are whisked into a cartoony world where they end up looking like players in an experimental film.

I wasn't too keen on Aquarion when it first started, but it's slowly growing on me. I don't really care about any of the characters, but there's nothing bad about the show, either. It's as moderately good as shows come, and if you want some mindless entertainment for the weekend, this might be worth a rental.[TOP]

Alright, that's it for this week. Thanks for reading, and join me again next week for some hot Comic-Con action.

This week's shelves are from D. Kim. I'll let him talk about his collection:

Felt bored and decided to take some pics of my shelf... well its turned into a chubby cause of that blasted cabinet thats at the foot of my bed. Anyways, Yeah heres my shelf. Very Top Shelf is probably the biggest waste of my money ever, the complete DVD series imported from Japan of Lucky Star... and wait. Also the complete Limited Edition DVDs which are stilled sealed in the plastic wrap T-T. Then my PS3, PS2, PSX, PSP games...... God I'm such a Sony fanboy. Overall the Top Shelf cost me easily over $2000 cause the DVDs set me back $1440 cause it was $110ish per release T-T. Blew away $120 on the original PSX version of Valkyrie Profile and $90 on the Black Label PSX Final Fantasy VII game. Then add in the rest of the PS3 games and so on ugg.

Then theres my second top row. Those are all the series which I'm slowly putting together. Following is the middle shelf which are the series which I'm still focused on buying mainly. Then the bottom two are pretty much completed series. I'd estimate each row is anywhere around $700~800 excluding the few manga which are sitting on top of the rows horizontally.(those are volumes which I accidentally bought copies off >.<)

And yes those are sadly my Magic cards that you see in those boxes. And yes thats a lei made out of money which my mom made for me for graduation. And I don't care if I'm walking around with $300 of cash around my neck. I'd rather have a cheap $5 lei which wasn't itchy as damn hell.

Broke as always D. Kim

Awww... I'm sorry you're broke, but at least you can spark some envy into some folks out there.

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

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