Shelf Life
Saber Teeth

by Bamboo Dong,

After two weeks in the delightfully biting cold of Colorado, I'm back to my old haunts, ready for another year of wholesome anime goodness. It's only been a couple hours since I stepped off the plane, but I'm already ridiculously homesick, and have already called my parents twice. If I didn't have a hale stack of anime waiting for me, I don't know what I'd do. Cry, perhaps? Or shake my fists angrily at the heavens? Perhaps later, but for now, cartoons await.

In other tidings, I hope everyone had a happy transition between the years! Hopefully no windows were broken, and no time was spent in any kind of jail. And now that we're all back together again, like a cuddly 50s sitcom family, we can get back to business. It's a short one this week, but I'll make it up to you.

Welcome to Shelf Life.

Topping my list this week is the exciting second volume of Claymore, which has become my new temporary obsession. For those who missed out on the first disc, viewers were introduced to a woman named Clare. She belongs to an organization of Claymores, women who are part youma, who use their superb fighting abilities to vanquish the various youma that end up terrorizing human establishments. Shortly thereafter, the series flashed back to Clare's youth, showing her as a young girl who tagged alongside a Claymore named Teresa.

Continuing the backstory, the second volume continues this story. What makes it particularly interesting is that rather than focus on Clare, it mostly focuses on Teresa and her actions, as well as the motivations behind them. This ends up providing the perfect transition back into the present time, where viewers learn that Clare has had a reason for pursuing life as a Claymore. It also reveals her hidden talents, and I'm excited to see how they'll be used throughout the show.

If you haven't started watching the series yet, now's the perfect time to start. Although the series started out a bit slowly (and a bit generically), things really sped up with the Teresa backstory. It was through those episodes that the Claymores' powers were really explained, and it makes Clare's quest seem much more interesting. It also makes her seem more human, an important trait since the Claymores are, by nature, somewhat cold and subdued. Plus, any fears I had that the series would be a monster-of-the-week quest have been completely erased, and now I really can't wait to see how her character will develop over the upcoming episodes.

It's also worth noting, somewhat fangirlishly, that the Claymores are completely admirable. Part of the reason I'm so taken by this show is that I can't get enough of them. Visually, they're stunning to look at, with their pale complexions and their Amazonian strides. Even being part-monster, they're completely badass, and I think Clare could easily ascend to the upper tiers of those silly “Japan's Top Ranked Anime Female Whatever!” charts. She's the perfect heroine (especially with the crucial exposition introduced in the backstory), and she's even an underdog, which everybody digs. If there's one reason to watch this show, it's for her. Claymore has been garnering a fair amount of praise lately, and it deserves every last drop.[TOP]

Sadly, I had to come down from my high eventually, and nothing harshed my Claymore buzz like watching Tales of Phantasia, one of those goofy based-on-an-RPG OVAs that plague the animesphere. Originally licensed by Geneon, this four-episode OVA has been re-released by Funimation to poison the shelves of retail establishments all over our beloved nation.

Like many RPG-to-anime adaptations, Tales of Phantasia has the one giant downside of being Too Damned Obvious. It's so eager to pay homage to its game roots that it looks and feels like watching somebody playing a video game. Everything from the cheesy summons to the mini-bosses is a few pixels away from having a dialogue box asking you to “[Accomplish this task] in 20 minutes.” Even if someone has never even heard of this game before, I bet you $10 and my new socks that they would be able to tell you that it was adapted from a video game. That's how obvious these OVAs are, and it makes them difficult to watch. They're so concerned with being comparable with the original product that they forget that the story needs to be vaguely interesting.

And, of course, you get the cadre of nerds on the internet crying about how in the game, someone used an axe instead of a sword. So even though those fans are the ones the anime producers were trying the hardest to please, they're not even happy.

So who's happy? Well, probably not the people who have to deal with an entire game being crammed into four episodes. To condense it even further for your reading pleasure, the central villain is the Demon King Dhaos. He's so wily, he can travel through time and space, avoiding death until finally some people seal him away. Like all sealed evils, though, he's eventually unleashed upon the world again, and it's up to our scrappy team of heroes to save the day. Along with their magick and swordsman powers, they can also use technology and mana to navigate the tides of time and chase after our slippery antagonist.

It sounds like a fun story—for a video game. And it was. But for a four episode anime, it's too rushed. The characters hardly get a chance to introduce themselves, and unless you're familiar with the game, you're left wondering why there's some bubbly girl flying around on a broomstick, or why some girl can talk to trees.

So once again, in the end, this kind of thing appeals to no one. It's not complete enough for diehard fans of the game, and it simply isn't good enough for people coming to the name for the first time. Time to toss this one into ever-growing pile of video game adaptation duds.[TOP]

But, when the anime gods give you something terrible, they always give you something amazing to make up for it. Sometimes it's an honest to goodness gem, one that could become an instant classic. Sometimes… there's almost not enough irony in the world to allow people to appreciate it. Shows like Saber Rider and the Star Sheriffs, which make me question why anyone would hold onto VHS masters long enough to re-release something like this.

Saber Rider and the Star Sheriffs was made by Studio Pierrot sometime in the mid-80s. It was dubbed shortly afterwards, but mercifully, it disappeared into the dark annexes of time… until now. Released by WEP via VCI Entertainment, it's available in all its original, grainy, ear-splitting glory.

The age of the anime is very obvious within the first few frames, and it's glorious. Then the dub kicks in, and if you're not laughing by now, you have a rancid sense of humor (no offense meant to those who have real taste, and don't find this dreck amusing). The show is like a space Western meets the Power Rangers. Somewhere in the far future, after mankind's already colonized space, there are aliens that are trying to destroy humanity. Luckily, man has a hero called Saber Rider, a man who whizzes around on a mechanical steed. He's aided by the Star Sheriffs, a unit within Earth's Cavalry Command that has command of big robots called Ramrods which, as the dub helpfully points out, “is shaped like a giant cowboy!” There's a variety of good guys, for those who like to pick favorites, and each one comes with his/her own wacky voice and memorable quotes. There's the rugged hero, the cowboy (“Look at all them buffalo! We sure gots lots of them in Odessa!”), the brash one, and a girl. And together, they create magic.

I can't imagine why anyone would pass this in a store and think, “My God, this is what I've been waiting for all these years.” But then again, I also own all of He-Man, so what do I know? All I know is that if you can find this thing for rental, you really ought to watch it. It's really, really terrible, and the dub makes me grin like a jackass. It also has the best script ever written, with great lines like, “How would you like to dance the Winchester Waltz?” and “Will you take me back? In your arms?” Or, "Those aren't horns! They're love nubs!" It also has the most obnoxious theme song of all time, which is basically a minute of a man and woman chanting, “Saaaaaaber Riiiiiider.........and the Staaaaaaar Sheriffs.” And then he asks if you can feel the thunder inside. So great.

If you're like me, and you love irony as much as hipsters love flannel, then you will enjoy the nuts out of this show. They really don't make shows like this anymore, and they ought to. I could easily see this on Cartoon Network, nestled between Scooby Doo and infinite marathons of Land Before Time VII. It's cheesy, but lovable, and if you long for the good old days of your bygone youth, back before they had Bratz dolls, then this is a must-see.[TOP]

Alright, thanks for reading, and see you next week!

To kick off the year, Michael's wall o' anime and manga are displayed proudly below.

Very excellent.

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

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