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Shelf Life
Beast War

by Bamboo Dong,

I've discovered a new way of procrastinating working on science presentations for school. Balloon animals. I bought a package of twisty balloons at Target last week, because they were cheaply priced and also very colorful. Within minutes of coming home, I realized that making dogs and flowers was infinitely more exciting than working on Powerpoint presentations. So as a result, I now have a desk covered in balloons, like some kind of circus freak.

Welcome to Shelf Life.

This new trend of releasing anime in 13-episode boxes is truly a magnificent thing. Being able to barrel through an entire story in one sitting is fabulous, and the only downside is that by the time you can finally stop telling your finger to click “Next,” you've already blown half your day. I recently wasted away an entire Saturday afternoon watching Funimation's release of Jyu-Oh-Sei, Planet of the Beast King. I don't know why the Japanese have such a fascination with the phrase “Beast King,” as it appears more often than I would ever deem necessary, but the goofy name didn't tarnish my appreciation for the series.

Here's another great thing about these boxsets—even if the first few episodes are super lame, you're probably in the mindset of, “Oh well, maybe it gets better.” Because the episodes are already right in front of you, you just keep watching. Well done, anime companies. I probably would've stopped watching Jyu-Oh-Sei after three episodes had I been watching the series on TV, but I stuck through it, and ended up being quite engrossed in the story.

The story takes place far in the future in some planetary system that's been terraformed to suit human needs. For whatever reason, though, humans have degraded to the point where they can no longer enjoy 90-some year life spans. Instead, they can only live to about 50, and have lost the ability to reproduce. The hero of our story is a white-haired kid named Thor, who, along with his twin brother Rai, are distraught to find that their parents have been murdered. The two are then kidnapped and dropped onto an unknown planet where carnivorous plants have the run of the land.

As they learn from some of the humans there, the planet is Chimaera, which experiences 181 days of daylight and 181 days of nighttime. The inhabitants are divided into clans by their skin color, and the leader of each one is there because he's fought his way to the top. Now that Thor is stuck on Chimaera, he desperately wants to leave so he can go back and avenge his parents' death. The only way to do that is to defeat all the leaders and become the Beast King. Of course, there are plenty of twists and cliff-hangers along the way, so it's a good thing that the entire series is in one box.

Jyu-Oh-Sei is a series that's simple good fun. It doesn't try to be anything other than what's on the surface. Living on Chimaera is a survival-of-the-fittest battle for supremacy, and that's that. Thor starts out as a 12-year-old kid, and by the time the show ends, he's a manly 18-year-old who gets to learn about love for the first time. When something gets in his way, he stabs it. When things (or people) get in the story's way, the creators kill it (or them) and pretend it never existed. Some would call that cheating—I say why bother with the extra baggage? If someone really wanted to pull out extra meaning from the racially segregated clans or the age-old should-man-play-God question, they probably could, but it's not worth it because those are just obvious gimme points. Just watch people get stabbed and have fun.

I couldn't stop watching Jyu-Oh-Sei until I was done with it, but honestly, I don't really have any desire to ever watch it again. It was fun the first time, but in about two days, I'll probably forget I ever even watched it. It's worth renting, definitely, but it's more of a popcorn flick than anything else.[TOP]

After watching some kid leaping around light sabering people, I was ready for some chuckles. Wanting to watch a couple episodes of Genshiken, I suffered through the second and third volumes of the Kujibiki Unbalance TV show as payment.

I'm still baffled that such a product exists. When the first season of Genshiken was spackled with the fake Kujian episodes, they were hilarious. I ate up all the episodes, played the opening theme on my mp3 player for weeks, and even cosplayed as the Chairman. That's because those episodes were very clearly done as satire, and they were hysterical. These Kujibiki Unbalance TV episodes? Well… if they're meant to be satire, I think the creators failed. Irony only goes so far until it's no longer amusing.

The whole shtick behind the Kujian TV series is that next year's student council members have to go through a huge mess of trials before they're deemed qualified to serve. This could mean capturing spies, or doing some other weirdly mundane task. Done properly, this could probably be the basis for a very entertaining show. Instead, this series was stacked with a bevy of irritating, static characters whose stagnant personalities move like puppets through endless scenarios. It's not funny, it's not entertaining, and it certainly doesn't have a point.

At some point during the third disc, I wondered if Kujian was some kind of social experiment. Maybe the licensors sat in a room and thought, “Let's see if we can make the most pointless show in existence, but package it with the Genshiken OVA, just to see if we can still sell copies.” If that was their marketing strategy, it was brilliant. Kujian could've been 90 minutes of bears spinning beach balls on their noses, and I would've bought it, just to watch more Genshiken.

Luckily, it was worth it. Since Media Blasters is sitting on its hands and not releasing the second season, these OVAs are all I had to tide me over. Watching Madarame's feelings develop for Saki, and watching him splurge on stylish clothes was both charming and mildly heartbreaking, and it reminds me of what I loved about Genshiken. It's a series that understands introspective nerds so well that it hurts. Even the artwork is delightful, with its realistic character designs and its attention to detail in every background shot. It could very well be a snapshot of real life, and it makes me want the second season all that much more.

If there was a way to give these discs split ratings I would. Kujibiki Unbalance isn't the worst show that's ever been produced, but it certainly isn't worth wasting time on. It's intentionally made to pander to fans, only it doesn't really know how, and ultimately ends up failing. Considering it was made to sell more copies of the Genshiken OVA, I doubt they even tried very hard. It's the OVAs that are the real star of the discs, though, and if anyone still hasn't seen the first season, they really need to. As an anime fan, you owe it to yourself.[TOP]

Speaking of pointless series, I was able to catch up on more ex-Geneon titles this week with the fifth volume of Karin. An update for those who've forgotten what the series was about since the last time it was released—the main character is a girl named Karin. She comes from a family of vampires, but she herself is an unvampire, meaning that instead of sucking blood, she actually needs to get rid of excess blood by either getting massive nosebleeds, or injecting people with her blood. Supposedly her blood lacks blood-typing antigens, which I think is BS, since those are on the surface of red blood cells, which she still gives to others. Obviously, the manga creator was not a scientist. (Edit: At the time of writing, I was under the impression from a fan-site that Karin was type B. I was wrong, so the creator's science still holds.)

Anyway, Karin is in love with some pinhead named Usui, but her family doesn't want them to be together because vampire and humans can't exist. Meanwhile, there are vampire hunters out to kill Karin, one whose name is actually Winner. Five volumes later, and the story really hasn't changed at all. Karin is still in love with Usui, and they do all sorts of sappy stuff together, like blush incessantly and twiddle their thumbs. Her family is still trying to discourage their romance, while her creepy younger sister is out sucking people's blood.

Karin's biggest problem is that it's completely mediocre. Nothing about it stands out in the slightest. The animation is rote, the music is blasé, the character designs are generic, and the artwork is merely adequate. It's not funny, it's not sad, and none of the romance goes beyond a couple forlorn glances. After five volumes, a series should be drastically different from the first volume, but in this case, it's not. Nothing has changed at all, not even the characters, which leads me to believe that this entire series is a giant waste of time. If the entire show was supposed to rest on Karin being an unvampire, then it failed, because that grew tiresome after the first episode. I'm glad that the people who started collecting this series can now finish it, but I don't know what they'd really gain from it.[TOP]

For every mediocre rescue title, though, there's a good one, and I'm glad Black Lagoon: The Second Barrage is on the list. I just had the pleasure of watching the third volume, and boy, is this show awesome. I've compared this series in the past to watching a summer blockbuster, and that feeling hasn't diminished at all. Nothing riles up your blood like seeing a girl get kicked in the face by some skeeze ball, but knowing that justice is right around the corner? Absolutely thrilling.

Rock and Revy decide to help out a young Yakuza boss, a high school girl who has inherited the leadership from her mafia boss dad. She's not really cut out for the job, though, and plenty of nasty things transpire. Throw in some heat from Hotel Moscow, and you're basically left with an entire volume full of blood, swords, and gunfire.

What makes Black Lagoon so much better than other anime shoot-'em-ups is how visually luscious it is. It's not hard to make a show full of bullets and head wounds, but it's hard to make it look good. Just the shoot-out in the bowling alley is evidence of this. The lines in the escalator (and the shadows between them) are carefully drawn, which makes it that much more gruesome when you see a bloodied head smashed against the steps. Bodies strewn against a cold linoleum floor look so better when you can see the patterns in the tiles, and the reflection of the fluorescent lights. Metal lockers are much more menacing when you can see the gleam in their doors. It's details like that which makes you feel like you're right there in the action.

While animation has always been an art form that allows directors to carry out anything they see in their imaginations, it's always had the downside of being able to pull people away from the action. When you see bad animation, you're jarred out of the experience, no matter how engrossing the story is. Having those little details makes all the difference in the world, and that's what sets Black Lagoon apart from some of its counterparts.

Between the intricate connections with all the mafia groups and underground rings, and the up-close personal changes you see within individuals like Rocky, Revy, and Balalaika, you really get a sense for the dynamics that make Black Lagoon work. It's less like watching an anime series, and more like watching a good Hollywood mafia flick, and that's what makes this show so damned good.[TOP]

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

This week's collection is a bit smaller than last week's behemoth, but the owner, Albert, is just as happy.

"Decided to take a few pics of my shelves to test out my new phone. i have a few shelves in my room, but i decided to send pictures of the neatest ones... (room is very messy) the shelf with the dvd player is mainly filled with manga and some boxes and a stack of Newtype dvds that you can't really see (above the Beck box). my smaller shelf has a few volumes of manga and novels; also have CD's (AKFG - World World World, and Utada Hikaru - Heart Station), stuff from the haruhi psp premium box, and some more boxes. i have a few shelves of gundams, but i only took pictures 2 of them. Finally there's the volumes of Newtype i picked up before it was cancelled, and the Yen plus magazine.

Not the largest collection, but i just felt like sending a few pics."

Hey, my room is messy too, so I totally understand.

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

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