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Shelf Life

by Bamboo Dong,

Has anyone else been playing Little Big Planet? I've been on that cursed The Wilderness: The Bunker level for days now, and all my friends have been trying to beat that damned level, too, and none of us are having any luck with that stupid death wheel at the end. And according to the Internet, it's not even the last part of the level! How can a video game this cute be so ludicrously hard? It fills me with tears and frustration.

Welcome to Shelf Life.

Picture this: the planet is in peril, and the only conceivable way to stop a massive army of alien insects is to send in a giant robot and have it detonate the core of a miniaturized Jupiter. So it goes in, rips open its chest to expose one of its generators, and inside the cockpit, you see a woman doing the same thing. With a guttural yell, RAAAAAAAAAAAGHHHH, she RIPS open her blouse, and VWOOOM! Out pops a breast! And there it stays.

Ah, modern science fiction. It wouldn't be nearly as cool if didn't come with a monstrous amount of cheese. Such is Gunbuster, a six-episode OVA made in the late 1980s by Gainax. It was the first time Anno directed anything, and he made a decent impact with this title. Now the whole OVA, plus the “sequel” Diebuster (known in some circles as Gunbuster 2), can be watched on Blu-Ray from Bandai.

Although it's nice watching anime in high-def when they were originally filmed at a high resolution. I don't know that too much of a difference can be discerned from a title as old as Gunbuster. It's old enough that some of the episodes are in different aspect ratios—the last episode even pulls the ol' panning-over-charcoal-sketches-over-music trick to try and make it seem artistic, when secretly, you know some stressed out guy was thinking, “Let's just take pictures of the storyboards. No one will notice.”

Gunbuster is set in a time where space travel has not only been perfected, but needs to be defended against invaders. There are pilot training schools all over the world, where gym classes involve giant robots (piloted by students) doing everyday things like push-ups and calisthenics. Eventually, two students are selected to pilot the Gunbuster, a large mech that will eventually become Earth's first line of defense. One of the students is clumsy and insecure, but with Perseverance and Hardwork, she eventually becomes a valuable asset.

The way the story is set up can be a bit confusing to those who aren't fully paying attention (hint: pay attention), as the timeline for the episodes isn't entirely obvious. Rather than following a linear timeline, each episode highlights a small event—a battle perhaps, or some hardship—only to move onto something else several years later. It works, though, and makes it possible to condense many years of events into a few episodes, and prevents the series from becoming boring. For those who've read Asimov's Foundation series, it's set up similar to that.

Then there's Diebuster. Although I can understand its appeal—new events, new characters, new excitements—I found it less entertaining than Gunbuster. Made in 2004, it's got pep and bright colors, and plenty of pretty girls, but it's also missing that camp that made Gunbuster so charming. The series is very similar thematically to the original, but it's got an entirely different set of appeals. It looks nicer on Blu-Ray, too, which is a plus, but that's simply the nature of watching a newer show.

Is this boxset worth $100 MSRP? That's a little hard to say, because it's something that I would want to own. Just… not for that amount of money. Maybe if I found it on eBay for half the price. Or I'd just buy it on regular DVD, because the Blu-Ray doesn't really help out the 1988 series that much. Either way, it's a good show, and Gunbuster is a definite classic. [TOP]

Personally, my favorite this week was the next title: the thinpak release of Le Chevalier d'Eon. Originally released by ADV, but now under Funimation's wing, this is arguably one of the best series to be released in the last few years. The story is intriguing, and visually, it's absolutely scrumptious.

If I had to file Le Chevalier d'Eon under genres, it would probably be a historical supernatural thriller. It's got all the secrecy and government agents of a CIA thriller, but it also has a fair number of zombies and sorcerors. It's vaguely based on a true story, too, with the main character inspired by the real Chevalier d'Eon (only instead of occasionally being taken over by his dead sister's soul, the real guy reportedly crossdressed as a girl named Lia).

The story begins when a woman's body is found in a casket on the Seine. The curious thing—the word “PSALMS” is scrawled on the lid in blood. As it turns out the woman is Lia de Beaumont, the elder sister of D'Eon de Beaumont. With the number of vanishing women on the rise, aside from Lia, D'Eon decides to investigate the situation, a task that ends up unearthing scores of political dealings and conspiracies. Along the way, he and his comrades encounter a variety of sorcerer-type folk, who can control the dead. It's good stuff. Jack Bauer wouldn't be able to handle the undead.

It's also worth mentioning that most of the characters are incredibly badass. D'Eon can be a wimp at times, but when things get dicey, his sister's soul takes over his body, transforming him into an awesome swordswoman who could probably take down Stalin in her sleep. Aside from D'Eon, many of the other characters are inspired by real historic figures as well, and although I don't think queens would run around casting hocus pocus, it's a nice touch being able to see these cameos.

One of my favorite things about Le Chevalier d'Eon is how utterly gorgeous the visuals are. The backgrounds, in particular, are absolutely astonishing. They're all carefully reproduced from real-life landmarks, and no details were spared. From the gates of Versailles, to the Latona Fountain, to the Hall of Mirrors, to the interior and exterior of Notre Dame, each background could almost be an exact replica of the real-life landmark, and it makes the series that much more pleasurable to watch.

If I were somehow friends with someone who really wanted anime for Christmas, this would definitely be my gift of choice. It's a relatively underrated series, but one of the best. If I gave this to someone, they'd probably love me forever, and ask to be my best friend. That's how good this show is. If you want a fresh new series that will keep you on the edge of your seat, and look damned good doing it, this is the one. [TOP]

If you want something a little more youthful, there are plenty of other ex-ADV titles to choose from. One of the more entertaining ones to get a thinpak release is a funky title called Air Gear, which is basically like watching the X Games, only way cooler. And it'll make you feel pretty inadequate for those boring old rollerblades you have sitting in the closet.

The cool factor of Air Gear stems from the sweet skates that all the popular kids have, called Air Treks. They look like rollerblades, but they can go up walls, propel people across rooftops, and for the extremely talented, allows people to grind infinitely down endless power lines. This provides an excuse for people to form rollerblading gangs. They have elaborate battles against each other, and collect team stickers like pilots used to carve kill tallies.

Like many heroes, the main character wasn't born amazing. He had to work hard at his skating skills, using his spunk and his youthful spirit to skate his way to the top. He's brash, and pisses everyone off (in a charming way!), but he's got potential, like all shonen heroes. With his innate talents, he quickly rises to the top of the cutthroat Air Trekkin' community, soon to reach heights that no other skater has reached before.

If it sounds silly, then you already know what you're in for. It is silly, because no matter the themes, no matter the end goals, it's still a show about rollerbladers having mock gang battles in the alleys. Replace the races with step contests, and you've got any number of teen dance-off movies. They've got a lot of heart, and they're fun to look at, but they're not exactly borne from Pulitzer-winning scripts.

One thing that Air Gear does have in its favor is that it's really nice to look at. The character designs are very pleasing to the eyes, and the kids are practically poster children for a show about extreme sports. All the men (minus the weird gang that wears dog heads) have hair that swish in the wind, and all the women are svelte and badass—the kind of badass that makes it possible to swish your hair, talk some smack, then rollerblade away without looking like a dunce. The animation is slick, and with its bright palette, it's a series that pops.

I imagine Air Gear would do the best with kids of both genders somewhere between the ages of 12 and 18. Maybe 12 to 16. Probably the same kind of people who watch Camp Rock while reading Twilight during the commercial breaks. For everyone else—well, it's still fun to watch, but you might not get the same epiphanies. Just enjoy it without thinking too much about it, and you'll probably do alright.[TOP]

Still not enough teen antics in your life? Let's try it again, this time with more vampires. The last volume of Karin is now available, for all those folks out there who just can't get enough of these lovable creatures. In the end, it's all about love and friendship, no matter what species you are.

Karin has come to a crossroad in her life, where she's slowly realizing that her love with the human Usui may not work out after all. Her family has discovered a way to turn her into a real vampire, too, so it's just making the decision even more difficult. Meanwhile, Winner (the vampire hunter who's in love with her) and his grandfather are on the hunt for members of Karin's family, but like always, love steps in the way.

If vampire shows could be placed on a spectrum, Karin would be on the lightest, fluffiest side. It rarely gets serious beyond a few stern glares, or a puddle of blood, and while that can be an asset, it puts a damper on the show's style. Comedies are fun for the whole family, but it's hard to set a more sinister mood when people keep cracking jokes every two minutes. I mean, of course, during scenes in which atmosphere is completely necessary, like watching people get stabbed in the chest. Stabbings generally rank on the more Serious side of things, but when the audience can't take them seriously, they really lose some of their punch.

It doesn't quite help that Karin is pretty cartoony-looking, as far as anime go. The character designs are outright goofy at times. Usui's eyes, often a point of comic relief, are a little unhuman. They more closely resembles marbles rolling around in a bathtub, and it's hard to take him seriously as a main character. Karin family members look like like they popped out of an Adult Swim short. It's a little late to be complaining about the character designs, considering it's the end of the show, but it contributes to the stilted atmosphere of quasi-seriousness that it strives for in the grand finale.

Karin has been an amusing series to watch, but it doesn't really set itself apart from the other wacky supernatural comedies out there. It happens to have vampires, sure, but in a lot of ways, it's more like a teen comedy. It's cute, but a little vapid, and unless I had nothing else to watch, I don't think this series would be a huge priority for me.[TOP]

Alright, that's it for this week. Thanks for reading!

This week's shelves are from Christy:


My name is Christy M. I''m from NH and here is my collection. I've been collecting since about 1998. I have roughly, 412 volumes of manga, 240 DVDs, and 83 VHS's. In addtiion to this, I have many single issues of manga released in comic form, including most of Cardcaptor Sakura, Ranma, Gundam Wing, and Sailor Moon. I have 89 Gundam Seed figures and 4 models. If you look on the top shelf of my largest collection, you will notice that it consists of mostly Yaoi, this is my mothers favorite shelf ( just don't let Dad know). On the very top of that shelf is my collection of FFVIII figures, I've had these since the domestic release of the game.

Thank you for looking at my collection! Christy M.

Hopefully no one will tell her dad about the shelf.

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

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