Shelf Life
Closed Case Files

by Bamboo Dong,

Here's something that makes me sad. I woke up this morning and thought, “I'd really like a nice hot bath tonight.” In preparation, I went to Target and got some girlie fizzies so that I could soak in nice, aromatherapeutic peace. All night long, I kept thinking, “Just finish your work, and you can go relax in the tub.” So of course by the time all my work is done, there isn't a drop of hot water in the whole damned apartment complex. Thanks, terrible graduate student housing. All I want is some hot water. Is that so much to ask for in my nice suburban city? Is it really?

Tangentially, I wanted to let everyone know that Shelf Life will not be appearing next week, so I can spend some quality time with my folks for Thanksgiving. Plus I'll be in too much of a food coma to even think straight. Welcome to Shelf Life.

Last year, Funimation released a lovely little two-part OVA called Itsudatte My Santa. To the woe of Ken Akamatsu fans all across America, they had to pull the release because they had given it a TV-PG rating, when it should've been TV-MA. There's actually only maybe three seconds of nudity, but you do see a girl's tickleberries, and everyone knows America has a complex with breasts. However, that didn't prevent me from reviewing it last year, and it didn't prevent some fans from crying a few rivers over my review. One guy in particular (I discovered his web page after egotistically Googling my name) accused me of crapping all over Christmas, and said that I was, in the style of Keith Olbermann, the worst person in the world.

Well, that's a shame, because I'm here to crap all over your Christmas again. Only at the end of the day, I'll realize that I actually love Christmas, while diehard fans of this show actually just have bad taste in anime. It's okay, it happens. After all, like many critics, I'm horribly “biased” against bad anime.

The problem with many Akamatsu anime adaptations is that much of the original charm in his manga is always lost in translation, in lieu of fan service and idiotic women. The same goes for Itsudatte My Santa which, truthfully, would've been a cute Christmas anime if it stopped at the end of the first episode. The milquetoast hero is a guy named Santa, who always spends Christmas alone because his orphan-loving parents would rather spend their holidays with other people's children. Everything changes when he runs into a cute girl who claims she's (a descendent of) Santa Claus. She can magic items out of the sky, but she can't use her full powers because no one believes in her anymore.

She ends up going back to his place, where they inevitably do the tiresome Akamatsu trick of her bursting out of the shower, then getting angry at the boy for looking at her. Despite all that, she confesses her love for him anyway, having known him for maybe two hours. Then she transforms into a big busty Santa Claus with giant tits and a flying reindeer.

While all of that is pretty generic, it would've been better had they stopped it there. It would've served its purpose. But no, then in the next episode, they have to go to the beach, where the storyline takes a nose dive, and we get to stare at prepubescent girls in swimwear. Great. For the rest of my review, I'm actually going to pretend that episode doesn't exist, because it sours my mood.

The biggest problem with Itsudatte My Santa is that it doesn't even try. The fact that it can rush through the Akamatsu formula (girl meets loser boy, falls violently in love, shows her breasts) in 30 minutes is ridiculous. At that point, it can no longer pretend to deliver a storyline. At that point, it's just straight-up pandering. They didn't even bother with good animation, which looks like a bunch of fanart drawn by high school kids stitched together with key frames. If I'm going to watch fanservice for an hour, I at least want it to look good. But no, they couldn't be bothered to try hard enough.

It's not that I hate Christmas. It's not that I hate Akamatsu. I still tell people every year to watch the Love Hina Christmas Special because I love it so much, because under all that fanservice, he does create interesting human relationships. But with Itsudatte My Santa, it's not given enough time to even get there. Everything is slopped together, and by the time you even get the meaning of Christmas, they've already moved on to bikinis. If the creators can't be made to care about their own product, why should I?[TOP]

Hoping for something a little more masculine, I figured I couldn't go wrong with the boxset that has some fire-eyed armored guy on the cover, with glowing blades shooting out of his elbows. For those of you who missed ADV's release of Guyver: The Bioboosted Armor the first time around, now you can catch the entire series in one thinpak set from Funimation. Or you can just be glad that you missed it, shed a tear or two, and then move on to bigger and better things.

There are several iterations of Guyver, including a manga, an OVA series, a handful of movies, and then this 26-episode TV series, which was made in 2005. I don't know what opinions most people have of the earlier stuff, but this new Guyver taught me to never set my expectations too high, because the downfall can be severely sobering. Having high expectations for a show can involve a variety of things, like how much potential a story has to be awesome, or how sweet it would be to have your own bioarmor. The crushing disappointment comes when you realize that the show you're watching feels like a Saturday morning cartoon because the villains are too lame. To make things worse, fight scenes that could have been really amazing are, in actuality, stupendously dull. That's really the biggest buzz kill of all time.

Like many science fiction stories of its kind, Guyver stars a very normal high school boy who becomes extraordinary by complete accident. He was walking around with his sidekick friend, when they chance upon some mysterious device. Upon touching it, he's enveloped in a muscley slime, which eventually turns into some kind of mech-like exoskeleton called Guyver. Obviously, the organization that lost that device is not too keen on letting this kid run around with it, so they send out a variety of other bioweapons to try and kill him, including weird pigbeasts, strange woolly creatures, and other bad guys that look like they got fired from the cast of Dragonball Z. Luckily, this kid's bioarmor is so intense that he's basically indestructible, except by other people who have symbiotically combined with other Guyvers.

It sounds silly, but it also kind of sounds cool. This is the kind of generic storyline that could fuel hundreds of episodes of awesome fights and crazy government conspiracies, but Guyver blows it by making everything look too goofy. How am I supposed to take a bad guy seriously when he looks like he looks like a Power Rangers villain? When some drooling, voice-modified werebeast is snapping his sharpened teeth at the screen, it doesn't strike fear into me. It just makes me sad that that's the best they could come up with. It's generic, it's trite, and worst of all, it looks absolutely ridiculous.

Maybe it would've been saved had the action scenes been remotely interesting, but they fail to amuse. There's a whole lot of standing around, and even Guyver's ultimate attack is boring to watch, which involves him pulling apart his pec flaps and firing super light cannons from his breasts. The great thing about animation is that you can do anything your mind imagines. You can fly around, jump tens of stories, or hurtle bad guys across a football field. You shouldn't have to resort to just showing a lot of dudes pushing against each other, and waiting for their breast lasers to charge. That's what kids do in crappy high school plays. What this show needs is 500% more martial arts, or at least more blood or something. I realize the main character isn't that good at using his powers, but he'd be more fun if he just roundhouse kicked a beast in the face. Maybe if the animators weren't too busy dealing with their garish villains, they'd have more time to make simple things look better.

The point is, Guyver is a giant disappointment. It could've been so much, but it failed. It's boring, it's lame, and it gives Guyver a bad name. No thanks.[TOP]

On to better things. If you've been yearning for something off the beaten path both visually and narratively, then you should consider throwing Tweeny Witches on your rental queue. Don't be scared by the title-- yes, "Tweeny Witches" sounds like something that Miley Cyrus would guest star in, but it's actually an incredibly dark tale of perseverance struggling to exist in a world ruled by destruction and relentless pessimism. Just watching it can drag your mood down with its dreariness, but like any cloudy day, there are bits of sunshine that make it an overall rewarding experience.

Tweeny Witches is as visually stunning as it is overwhelmingly dark, and perhaps the two work hand in hand. Seldom do you see a show that's so stark and harsh in its beauty, and it's a feeling that prevails whether the characters are flying through a magical forest, or fleeing through a cold, industrial fortress. Combined with a soundtrack that reaches a feverish pitch in almost every scene, and you've got a series that's a breathless, neverending epic.

In the first two volumes that I reviewed, I briefly introduced the story of a girl from the human world who falls into the witch realm. Ever an optimist, she believes that everyone can do magic, and that it should only be used for good. In contrast, the witch world is oftentimes cruel, such as the way it captures creatures to harvest their magical parts. It turns out the men and women are separated in this world, and the dynamic between them feeds off resentment and misunderstanding. Eventually the two sides go to war, and in the final volume, the conflict is such that the entire magical realm is on the brink of destruction.

The dark story may not be for everyone. It's a series that feeds off its anger and panic, and snowballs into a gusty ball of fury. It's really not going to brighten up your day, I promise. But if there's one reason to see it, it's the stunning visuals. The character designs are sharp and almost violent, but they're beautiful in their own way. One look at the girls' hair and it's obvious that there's a different aesthetic here. Everything in the foreground is very rigid and two-dimensional, eschewing typical shading for something that more closely resembles paper cutouts moving across a carefully colored canvas. It's so gorgeous to watch the characters move, and that is one of the greatest pleasures of this series. For that reason alone, I think this series is worth watching. It's a piece of art that happens to tell a (somewhat nightmarish) story, and for anyone who's getting bored of anime, this should be on your list.[TOP]

Over the years, as Funimation has been steadily releasing more and more Case Closed, I've found myself becoming a staunch fan of this show. It's good stuff. It looks like a cartoon, but the storytelling is impeccable. Even after a billion episodes, each mystery case still throws a curveball, and the ingenuity behind each one is staggering. And, despite all the murders, it's relentlessly upbeat, which is great.

The third season of Case Closed continues with more of the same, which is good news for people who dig the series. Most of the cases involve mysterious deaths or gruesome murders, and it's up to Conan to figure things out. Along the way, the viewer gets ample time to try to solve the case on their own, but with the clever way the stories are written, it's not easy. The standalone side characters are quirky and fun, and they prevent the series from drying out, even after so many episodes.

It took me a while to really get into the series, but the more I watched it, the more I liked it. The murders are ridiculously elaborate, and sometimes a little hokey, but they're almost always interesting. I don't think I've ever been bored watching a single episode, and that's reason enough for me to keep going. Yes, it's formulaic, but for anyone who grew up reading stuff like the Hardy Boys, it's callback to those days of children-can-solve-mysteries-too!.

It's always a little daunting going into a series that has way too many episodes, but luckily, you don't have to start from the beginning. You can just pick it up wherever you want, and you'll be enjoying it before the episode is over. Plus, with these nifty little boxsets, it makes collecting the series a breeze. So go out there, and enjoy some gruesome murders.[TOP]

That's it for this week, see you in two weeks! And enjoy those turkeys.

This week's shelves are from Sammy:

Here are my anime and figure shelves. My anime shelves are packed, some of them 2 DVDs (or manga) deep, as you can see by the ones that look like they stick out further than the others. I don't mind them double stacking though, since I burn a copy of every DVD I own, and keep a copy on my hard drives for easy viewing on my home theatre pc. Once I copy one of my DVDs, it pretty much never comes out of the case again. The figures I have are about 2/3 of my figures, I have quite a few that are spread around wherever they will fit. Fortunately my girlfriend doesn't mind at all (actually, the shelves were all her idea, and she lets them be displayed out in the living room. I hope you enjoy my collection.

Those figure shelves are pretty amazing. I need to rethink the way I have my room set up.

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

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