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Shelf Life
Manly Spirit

by Bamboo Dong,

Whoever invented deep-fried White Castle is the devil. I went back to the fair last week, and when I saw the sign for this item, I thought, “This is the best idea ever!” It was not the best idea ever. It was actually the opposite, kind of like the time I bought a bag of Chocolate Skittles for a road trip. If ever there was a way to make candy unappealing to children for the rest of their lives, it would be to give them a bag of those cursed Skittles. Anyway, the food stand I got the burger from has now driven me away from White Castle for years. They took the slider, dunked it in a huge, thick layer of cheap batter, then deep-fried the whole thing. It ended up being the size of a Dwayne Johnson's fist, only about 60% of that was just batter. I wanted to die. Whatever you do, don't eat deep-fried White Castle.

Welcome to Shelf Life.

I like the idea of Naruto movies, because I like the idea of watching something, and then not having to worry about waiting a week to see the resolution. The stories are sometimes lamer, but hey, it's over and done with in less than two hours. Viz's latest bite-sized Naruto treat is a movie called Legend of the Stone of Gelel, which is similar to other Naruto movies, in that it's basically 95 minutes of filler. Naruto and two of his fellow ninjas are out on a mission when they're attacked by some blonde knight. His powers are pretty fierce, too, but instead of using chakra, he has to rely on the mystic Stone of Gelel. Of course, like with all useful and powerful things, they can be incredibly dangerous when they fall into the wrong hands, so Naruto and his gang, plus the Sand Ninja folk, are doing all they can to stop this guy and his cohorts.

It's not really worth going into the technical aspects of the show. The animation gets the job done, and it suits its purpose. This was tailored towards fans who will watch it because they like the characters, and they want to see them go on missions. In that respect, the movie delivers. It's not exactly the blockbuster hit of the season, but for Naruto fans, it's a good amount of fun.

The packaging is nice, too; the two discs come in a book-like case, and if you're too lazy to watch the movie, you can read the booklet inside for a synopsis of what happens. And just in case you're not in tune with how awesome and fun the movie is, every page of the booklet is filled with obnoxious quotes like “HEY! IT'S YOU!” and “You-you JERK! Wha'd I ever DO to YOU?!” I know that my enthusiasm increased about ten-fold just reading the first booklet.

Of all the Naruto movies I've seen, I'd probably stick this in the middle. It's interesting enough to keep someone's attention for an hour (not the full 95 minutes, because I fell asleep an hour in), and you get to hear idealistic kids talk about creating utopias. If that doesn't sound like a barrel of excitement, then I don't know what does.[TOP]

But, as far as excitement goes—let's hear it for Gurren Lagann! After hearing about this show for ages, I finally got to check it out for the first time, and I've got to say, this is one really fun show. The characters are a blast (except for that wimpy Simon kid), and there's something charming about those Gunmen. Plus, there's an air of wackiness to the show, which really keeps the energy high.

The series starts out underground, in a dank little village where people have been living below the Earth's surface. In the spotlight is Simon, who's one of the drillers. One day, he finds a drillbit-shaped trinket during one of his digs. This is complemented later by a strange object that is seemingly just a very large head with a cockpit. Lo and behold, the two go hand in hand, allowing Simon to pilot the head. A bunch of events happen, but to fast-forward a bit, he ends up fighting a large mecha from the Earth's surface with the aid of some new and old friends. Eventually this transitions into a journey across the country to the headquarters of those large mecha, which are being piloted by Beastmen, intent upon destroying humanity.

It's a lot to chew on, but the story is actually very straightforward. It doesn't spend much time at all explaining things like why the Gunmen are able to function, what they're powered by, or how our heroes know how to pilot them, but it doesn't really matter. All that matters is that we've got a ragtag team of heroes who are trying to save the world, and they have the guts to do it. The exposition will possibly come later, but it's irrelevant for the time being. Right now, the series wants to have fun, and it does just that.

Gurren Lagann is directed by Hiroyuki Imaishi, who's leant his talents to works like FLCL and Dead Leaves, and it totally shows. He injects a lot of attitude into the show, giving it the kind of mad-cap energy that jolts like a punch to the face. It takes a lot of good timing to pull off lines like, “It just takes male energy!!!!!!!!” without seeming like the world's frilliest maribou-trimmed party, and he's just that much cooler for having done it.

Plus, kudos to the entire staff for coming up with amazing characters. Kamina is a crack-up and plays the part of the testo-head perfectly. His enthusiasm and determination are offset by the spunky Yoko and the amazingly fabulous mechanic, and together, they make up one cool team... along with Simon the Wimp. At this point, though, I'm totally a fan of these characters. If they just want to wander around the desert aimlessly for the next 20 episodes, I'm completely cool with it because they're inherently interesting. It's just an added bonus that the story comes packed with fun action elements.

I was afraid I'd dislike Gurren Lagann because of the almighty Hype Machine, but I'm glad it lived up to all the word-of-mouth. They storyline hasn't really flexed its muscles yet, but right now, it's doing a great job of entertaining, and that's all I can ask for. I'm definitely looking forward to the next volume.[TOP]

While Gurren Lagann is one of those big titles that most people have probably heard of by now, the next title still isn't that well known. I had the chance to pop in the second volume of Tweeny Witches, and it just keeps getting better and better. In the first volume, viewers get a good sense of who Arusu and the girls really are, and what they stand for. Arusu is an idealist who believes that magic should only ever be used to make people happy, and even when her life is in danger, she'd rather not resort to violence. Almost opposite from her is Sheila, whose loyalty to authority plays the foil to Arusu's naïveté.

With the second volume, an even more serious side to the story is set up. The reason why the witches are so intent on recapturing all the fairies, besides harvesting their body parts for their spells, is because they're now fighting a war against the warlocks, the males who live on the other side of the mountain. It's a bit unclear why the warlocks can't just capture their own fairies instead of stealing the witches', but either way, they're out for powers that the fairies can bestow. Caught in the middle are the girls, especially Arusu, whose powerful lightning magic has made her a target for the warlocks.

Tweeny Witches is almost better than Harry Potter. Despite its weird title, the show has a surprising amount of depth. Between clashing ideologies about pacifism and warfare, and opinions about government authority, it gives viewers plenty to think about. The characters all have their own very unique set of beliefs, and it imbues them with an added dimensionality that elevates this show beyond a basic girls-with-magic free-for-all. It's surprisingly dark, too. Aside from Arusu's bubbly personality, much of everything else is very twisted. From the slightly grotesque character designs to the gloomy colors, this is very much a Burtonesque world worth exploring.

For viewers looking for something off the beaten magical girl path, Tweeny Witches is good for a look-see. It'll inspire you to think, and inspire you to really question the characters' actions, and it'll give your eyes a feast in the meantime. It's a shame the series isn't more well known, but that shouldn't stop anyone from checking it out.[TOP]

Now, before I even get into the review for the fourth volume of xxxHOLiC, I want to point out how absolutely horrifying this screen shot is. This was within the first few minutes of the show, and I was so turned off by it I almost shut off my computer. The artwork for this show has always been really weird, but sometimes it's even worse than usual.

Seriously, I've been defending the character designs for this show for quite some time now, but what the hell is wrong with that picture? Himawari looks like one of those Men in Black aliens that grow new heads when their old ones are blown off. Either she has the smallest head in the world, or her torso and her GIANT MAN HANDS have taken over her entire body. Talk about supernatural. And then there's this shot. The whole series isn't like this, thankfully, but there are some shots that really make me question whether or not these artists fully woke up in the morning.

Regardless, creeptastic artwork aside, xxxHOLiC continues to grow on me more and more. I think one of the reasons I really enjoy it is because I feel like I can learn from it. Obviously it's not going to cleanse me of any spirits that may be following me around, but I feel like it imparts a lot of wisdom. Things like not being a pushover, or not letting resentment build up inside of you. There were even two episodes dedicated to the importance of words, and how positive words and personal encouragement can change a person. It's like a self help book, almost, or a sage old man that tells you what to do.

My journey with xxxHOLiC has been kind of a long one. There are times in which I think it's incredibly boring, and then times when I can't get enough. I would blame it on mood and setting, but that almost seems like a cop-out. Still, when the time is right, it suits the palette perfectly.

Watanuki hasn't stopped being the most irritating guy in Japan, but it's getting to the point where I don't think it matters anymore. I think the real star of the show is Yuko, and it's quite obvious that she steals the scene whenever she shows up. Without her and her wisdom, the series would have failed a long time ago, but she does a good job of tempering Watanuki's whininess. xxxHOLiC hasn't changed one bit since the first episode, but the more I watch it, the more I warm up to it. If you haven't tried it out yet, maybe it's time to give it a rental.[TOP]

That's it for this week. Thanks for reading!

This week's shelf obsessed fan is Ian, from Columbus, OH. He sent in two versions of his shelves-- with and without hentai. I threw the hentai ones in. Shield your eyes if you're offended by racy titles.

He admits to buying some bootlegs back in his younger, more naive days, but because he apologized profusely for it, I forgive him. We can all just heckle him in the forums later.

I can dig it.

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

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