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Shelf Life
Almost 200

by Bamboo Dong,

It's hard for me to believe it just yet, but in one week, Shelf Life will be celebrating its 200th installment. The column has been running for about six years, now, and it's seen me through a lot of interesting times. I started writing it in college, and several years later, with a Bachelors and a Masters under my belt, I'm still at it. A lot has changed since then—especially in the anime industry, but many things have stayed the same. I still get excited whenever I get a new box of screeners, I still enjoy writing the column, and I still Google my name every once in a while, just to say who's talking smack about me.

This week, I want to take a look back at several years of Shelf Life, and pull out some old reviews. Sometimes I'm a little appalled at the types of shows I used to like, but sometimes, I realize my tastes have completely changed over the years. Either way, hopefully we can all enjoy this little reminiscing trip together before you go to the forums and complain about how much I suck. Next week, I'll get a little more personal so we can wax nostalgic about life.

Welcome to Shelf Life.

Remember when this was popular? Pioneer (woah!) had a reputation for releasing a lot of solid, thought-provoking shows. Amongst them was a hearty collection of Yoshitoshi ABe works, including NieA_7.

The review: Unlike Lain's dark and morose atmosphere, NieA_7 is much more lighthearted and carefree, occasionally indulging in moments of slapstick comedy that would be unheard of in Lain. The story is about an everyday 18-year-old girl named Mayuko who has a steady job, a nice apartment—oh wait, and an alien for a roommate. This odd roommate happens to be Niea, an “under” who belongs to the lowest caste of aliens. She's your requisite anime character that eats a lot and is confused by everyday societal things that we take for granted. The majority of the story focuses on the growing friendship between her and Mayuko, treading the terrains of insanely slow episodes all the way to hyper slapstick scenes. Despite the mostly positive and happy overtones of the series, it still doesn't display the bright and sugary colors you'd expect for such a series. Rather, its use of pastels and sketches are more demure like Haibane Renmei's rural shots. Although the series can be dreadfully boring at times, its ability to be fun at other times makes up for it, along with its beautiful artwork. This is truly a unique series, and if you're a fan of ABe, this is something you might want to check out.[TOP]

Bonus round: Around that same time, Pioneer was releasing a lot of boxsets of their stuff, including now-forgotten gems like El Hazard and Sol Bianca.

Bonus round: Remember Reign: The Obsession of Alexander? That was when Tokyopop was still releasing a fair amount of anime, and they decided to release this Peter Chung title about Alexander the Great. It eventually faded into obscurity (not that it was ever popular), but I'll forever remember the images of a sinewy, ripped, half-nude Alexander striding across my screen.

Remember making fun of this? Junkers Come Here was the butt of many jokes in 2003. The movie itself was very charming, but Bandai Entertainment decided that too many kids would call the dog Junk-ers, so they threw a garish word bubble on the cover that read, “Call my YOON-kers.” The anime community has yet to forget about this one.

The review: With Bandai's new release, Junkers Come Here manages to win the awards of being the best family film this year and also possessing the world's worst DVD cover for this year. It's a film that would appeal to families everywhere, fans of anime or not. Starring a young girl whose parents are almost never there, the story is a heartfelt piece about friendship, growing up, and just trying to make the right choices in a life where you can never really know which path to take. Hiromi's best friend is a cute little Schnauzer named Junkers who, incidentally, talks. He only talks to her, but he provides companionship and occasional wisdom that is certainly a boon in her lonely life. When her parents decide to go through a divorce, the movie truly takes a turn for the tear-jerking as viewers watch Hiromi struggle to retain happiness in her life. With themes like divorce and absent parents, this is a film that is both powerful and unconventional. With Junichi Sato helming the production, this movie easily rivals Ghibli titles for child-targeted charm and innocence. This is not only a must-have for anime shelves, but general family shelves everywhere.[TOP]

Remember this collectible item? When ADV announced the limited box for Najica Blitz Tactics, the Internet was in a happy uproar. To be included with the first volume was a pair of white panties. Of course, not wanting to make anyone feel left out, ADV chose to make them all in XL, rewarding collectors with a pair of underwear that could easily provide shelter in a rainstorm.

The review: I'm probably the only girl in the world who loves panty shot shows, but they amuse me to no end, and Najica is high on that list. With the first DVD + box being packaged with a pair of white cotton panties, you know right off the bat that in terms of white-flashing fan shots, it doesn't get better than this. Najica is a perfume creator working for the elite CRI Cosmetics company. At night, though, she works for the same company—as a secret agent. She goes around rescuing people that need to be saved, pummeling bad guys that need to be hurt, and being the all-around kind of gun-toting lady you'd see in Charlie's Angels. On her first excursion, she goes to rescue a girl from an evil lady. The girl turns out to be an android named Lila, who is now her new partner. What's amusing about Najica is the low camera angle in many of the scenes. This creates the opportunity for a torrent of panty shots that guys might find hilarious, but girls might find grotesque. Either way, if you're a fan of panty shows, this is high heaven for you. If not, well, it'd be best to stay away from this one.[TOP]

Remember when fans weren't used to getting what they wanted? Nowadays, getting a series uncut and in bilingual format is pretty much the norm. Back in the day, though, every time a popular kids' show got the bilingual treatment, everyone rejoiced. Like with Sailor Moon, which ADV released in July of 2003 in an uncut boxset.

Remember when this was controversial?Tokyopop's release of Initial D had fans in a ruckus. Wanting to seem more hip to a younger generation, they “tricked out” the dub, removing the dated Europop with a smattering of hip-hop and pop-punk, and giving the characters names like Izzy. Fans were not amused.

The review: As almost everyone must know by now, two versions of Initial D were released on the disc, a “Classic” version and a “Tricked Version,” word. Let's talk about the Classic version first. The story is about a guy named Takumi (Tak) who drives a tofu delivery car. Sooner or later, he gets roped into a downhill street racing team because he's the best driver in town, so the series follows him and his personal ordeals, as well as his quest to be the best racer he can be. While the story may sound stupid, it's oddly addicting and almost exhilarating. The CG car races get repetitive after awhile, but they're still exciting enough to pull viewers to the edge of their seats, even if they don't give a fig about cars (before watching the series!). It's certainly something that everyone needs to try at least once.[TOP]

Remember when this was popular? Satoshi Kon has always been one of my favorite directors, and Tokyo Godfathers is definitely one of his greatest.

The review: Over the past decade, famed director Satoshi Kon has cemented himself a title as one of the best directors in the business. It's therefore no surprise that Tokyo Godfathers is anything short of amazing. Weaving emotion and action into the imposing backdrop that is Tokyo, it's a touching film that can be enjoyed by anime fans of all tastes. In the peace of Christmas, three unlikely characters meet our acquaintance: an old drunk, a drag queen, and a teen runaway. They stumble upon an abandoned baby, and it is then that their lives change forever. Instead of turning the baby over to the authorities, they embark on a journey to track down the parents, with only a locker key for a clue. As they travel, viewers get a glimpse into their life and the histories that they've had to live. With the same surrealistic charm as a Sabine Weiss work, it plunges the audience into a sea of intrigue and heart-touching solidarity. If you haven't seen this movie yet, make sure to put this on your list.[TOP]

Remember when Kenshin was the greatest thing since sliced bread? I do.

The review: Ask any Rurouni Kenshin fan in the entire world and I guarantee you they will tell you that the Kyoto Arc is one of the best parts of the series, if not the best. You could flush all their Kenshin TV series DVDs down the toilet, but as long as they still had the Kyoto Arc, they would hardly notice. If you like Kenshin at all, and don't already have these DVDs on your shelf, then I recommend getting them right now. Drop what you're doing, and run to the store. Kicking off right after Kenshin's departure for Kyoto, it follows our wandering hero as he encounters a colorful new cast of characters, including the feisty Misao, the insert-random-enemy-turned-inspirational-elocutionist, the Juppongatana, and the ever enigmatic Shishio. With revenge burning in his soul, the latter serves as Kenshin's Final Boss for the arc. Before that battle can be fought however, Kenshin needs to find a way to get his old hitokiri edge back, all while staying true to his pacifist ideals. Packed with slick fight scenes and one of the best soundtracks in the entire series, this arc is not something that should be missed. If you were turned off by the slapstick humour of the earlier arc, give this series another try. Drama, action, suspense… if this doesn't make you a Kenshin fan, nothing will.[TOP]

Remember when everyone and their mom loved this show? When Azumanga Daioh first came out, not all the press coming out of ANN was positive. Those who weren't gushing with love for the show immediately got heckled off the stage.

The review: For many people, Azumanga Daioh is largely hit or miss. Either you think the show's hysterical and cute beyond comparison, or it misses your funny bone by a mile. Packed with Japanese cultural in-jokes, a colorful cast of characters, and plenty of gags, it recreates high school through the lives of several high school girls. The audience jumps in right as two new girls transfer into the class—a cheerfully adorable 10-year old prodigy named Chiyo, and a rather estranged girl from Osaka named Ayumu. As the show's short episodes roll forward, viewers are slowly introduced to the quirky girls who make up the cast. From Sakaki, a quiet girl with a penchant for cats, to the boisterous Tomo, the personalities dotting the show are diverse and entertaining to follow. Depending on your taste of humour, the repetitive gags that litter the episodes may get very dull after awhile, as they hardly change throughout the disc. Towards the end of the first volume though, viewers get introduced to the first prominent male of the series… a perverted male teacher who would like nothing better than to stare at prepubescent girls all his life. As predictable as he is, I found him absolutely laugh-out-loud hilarious. Really, this is the kind of show which, if you watch hit long enough, you'll find something that will make you laugh. Truth be told, it's not for everyone though, so if you haven't seen this before, definitely give it a rental before you make any decisions about it.[TOP]

If you don't remember this, remember it now. My copy of Memories is one of my most beloved DVDs of all time. I could watch it forever.

The review: You haven't experienced the beauty and depth of anime until you've seen Memories. Created by Katsuhiro Otomo, the mastermind behind Akira, Memories is a collection of three vignettes that not only stand out magnificently on their own, but tie together to sculpt a strong image of the futility and drive of human life. The first is a piece directed by Koji Morimoto entitled “Magnetic Rose” which follows a team of intergalactic garbage collectors who end up inside a woman's space mansion, only to be sucked into her web of stagnant memories. The second is called “Stink Bomb” and offsets the first one with a bit of humor. Directed by Tensai Okamura, it's about a chemist who unwillingly turns himself into a biological weapon of lethal BO. Otomo makes an appearance directing the last one, a precocious short named “Cannon Fodder” reminiscent of the mindset that clutters Orwell's 1984. Truly an example of fluid artistic achievement and introspection, this is a movie that everyone should watch at least once in their lives. You may end up not liking the whole thing, but there will most likely be something in this film that will pull you in.[TOP]

Can you believe it's been four years since this? It seems like just last year that Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex came out. Has it really been so long?

The review: The second I saw the opening animation for the series, I was sold. Kicking off with a chilling, all-CG sequence complemented with gorgeous Russian vocals provided by Origa, it sets the mood of the series perfectly. Set in the year 2030, technology has entrenched itself deeply in society. It's now possible to replace chunks of your body with mechanical parts and even switch between artificial bodies by carrying your brain in a box. Eerie? Yes. Cool? Hell yes. Naturally, this sets the stage for plenty of political issues. For instance, if someone's body was destroyed, but not their brain, would that classify as murder? Luckily, Sector 9 is there to take care of all these special crimes. A branch of Public Safety made up of a group of specialists, their job is to keep an eye on technology-related crimes. Whether it's a hacker hijacking people's brains, robots going berserk, or prosthetic government officials trying to smuggle classified information out of the country, it's up to Motoko Kusanagi and her colleagues to keep everything under control. Stand Alone Complex is made up of two types of episodes: Stand Alone episodes, which are one-shots, and Complex episodes, which make up a larger story line. Both give fascinating glimpses into the society in which they live, and if you're at all familiar with the original Ghost in the Shell, you won't have a problem immersing yourself in their world.[TOP]

Remember when this was popular? Oh, Wolf's Rain. How I loved thee.

The review: If anime series were fish, Wolf's Rain would be rainbow trout… quiet, beautiful, graceful, and damned tasty broiled with salt and ginger. One of the best series to come out this year, Bandai's release of Wolf's Rain is a necessary staple for any fan's shelves. Wolves used to roam the land freely, but eventually, they became extinct. Hundreds of years have passed since the last wolf was seen, but they're still amongst humans. Literally so, for they prowl the streets along with humanity, disguised as regular people but still able to see each other for the creatures they really are. After all of this is revealed in the first few episodes, inklings of the story begin to unfold and the wolves start to come together. They are searching for one thing… Paradise. A utopia that only wolves know the location of, this place can only be reached after they first contact the Flower Maiden. Even though she's nearby, the strong lead characters must go through a few ordeals first, with plenty of luscious fight scenes and harrowing escapes. Entwined with vivid art, a strong character base, and great pacing, Wolf's Rain is a must-see on this year's anime list.[TOP]

Remember this gem? Dead Leaves is brilliant. The end.

The review: “Your TV is awesome!” “So is your dick!” Without a doubt, any show that has that dialogue exchange in it must be worthy of checking out to some degree. A contrast to Production IG's usual subdued and classy artwork, their latest work is a flashy and haphazard dash into bright colors and sharp angles, like a superhero comic book given life (except with farts and dick jokes). It follows two wild characters who wake up to find themselves naked outside of a city. Pandy is a saucy gal with a red patch of skin around her eye, and Retro is a horny young guy with a TV for a headRight at the get go, and myriads of exploding heads and destroyed buildings later, the two get captured and sent to a prison on the moon. There they engineer a mass jailbreak...amongst even more exploding heads and destruction, along with butt rape, drill-shaped penises, flatulence, irreverent language, and mind-blowing insanity. Clocking in at only 50 minutes, the story races by at a breakneck speed, managing to cram in so many random plot twists and “what the f—?”s that it takes all your brainpower to keep up.[TOP]

Remember when Genshiken was the greatest thing ever? It still is.

The review: Sometimes, real life is a lot more interesting than fantasy—even if it's scripted and animated. That's part of what makes Genshiken one of the best shows out this year. Sure, it doesn't have super villains or masked heroines, but it has something even better: realistic people doing ordinary things. Following the manga almost exactly, the series follows a college club named the Society for the Study of Modern Visual Culture—Genshiken for short. The first volume puts its focus on the three newcomers: Sasahara, a shy freshman who still isn't comfortable declaring himself a nerd; Kohsaka, a super gamer geek who looks every bit a dashing, normal, non-otaku pretty boy; and Saki, a “mundane” who's in love with Kohsaka but loathes his fandom. Between all of the characters, there's probably at least one person who reminds you either of someone in your life, or yourself. From trips to doujinshi shops to the raging crowds at ComicFest, the adventures of the club members are an undeniable riot. Serving almost like a documentary on fans, Genshiken spends just as much time delving into the ins and outs of Japanese fandom as it does looking at the gaps between otaku and “the mundane.” Full of jokes that strike darned close to home, and captivating characters to deliver them, Genshiken is an absolute must see for any fan, bet it anime, manga, or game.[TOP]

Remember this? I still remember the feeling in the room at Anime Boston when Funimation announced their acquisition of Kodocha. People thought it would never happen, but it did, and it was great.

The review: Kodocha is bliss in a bag. Almost literally, too, since the art box comes with a MythWear shoulder bag. Regaling the adventures of sixth grade TV star Sana, the first disc is mostly just fluff that sets up the friction between her and a bully named Hayama. What sets this apart from a lot of other comedies though, is that this show is sincerely funny. All of the characters are so wild and so vivacious that virtually all of them can bring you to your knees in laughter. If not your knees…well, you'll at least be smiling. That's really the biggest draw of the first volume. The series may get more serious later on, but for now, the story is simple: Sana versus Hayama. For now, most of the fun is just seeing how all the different characters interact with their environment. Whether it's seeing Sana freak out at the breakfast table, or watching for her mom's weird squirrel-house hats, everyone is just so unpredictable that it's hard to tear your eyes away. For several years, fans have been begging for this show to come overseas, and boy, was the wait worth it. If you're aching for some goofy comedy and firecracker characters, Kodocha has your name stamped all over it.[TOP]

Remember this. Even now, whenever people ask me for anime recommendations, I always tell them to watch Gankutsuou. It's one of the most visually stunning and captivating series I've ever seen.

The review: Gankutsuou is an exquisite feast, both aesthetically and mentally. From its uniquely experimental visuals to the lush, rumbling voice of the Count that rolls warmly into the ear in Japanese, English, and French, the series will tickle every sense and leave viewers gasping for more. Based loosely off Alexandre Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo, this series tells a futuristic love story about love and vengeance. Only this time, the Count travels in a spaceship and is rumored to be a vampire. He makes the acquaintance of Albert de Morcerf, a young man who finds himself intrigued by the aristocrat's mysterious air. The series doesn't follow the story of the novel exactly (obviously, since at last recollection, there were no blue-skinned vampires in Le Comte, nor was there interplanetary travel), but the narrative it tells is fascinating nevertheless. The dialogue is strong, the character conflicts are compelling, and the pacing is perfect. Visually, one of the first things viewers will notice is the animation. The coloring is done almost entirely in textures, and when the character move, the textures stay put, making it almost seem like the characters are gliding through a bright Rococo tapestry. It's a bit shocking at first, but it suits the atmosphere so well that it soon becomes an irreplaceable aspect of the whole experience. Even for viewers who have somehow managed to have never heard of Dumas before, Gankutsuou is an absolute must-see, both for its extravagant execution and its robust storyline. Fans of the novel will simply adore this futuristic retelling. Do yourself a favor and check this out.[TOP]

This generation's Big Thing Every generation has that one big show that brings them together under an umbrella of nerdiness. Before Naruto, came Fullmetal Alchemist.

The review: Even after four episodes, one thing is clear—Fullmetal Alchemist is the best series to be released this year. No, it's the best series that will be released in the next five years. It has everything that a masterpiece needs: an engaging storyline, engrossing characters, deep messages, and enough action and humor to keep any viewer riveted. There is one cardinal rule of alchemy, and it's that nothing can be created unless something of equal value is exchanged. Challenging this rule, Ed and Al tried to resurrect their dead mother, but the reaction that took place ripped away Ed's arm and leg, and took Al's body. Now that four years has gone by, they are traveling across the country to look for the Philosopher's Stone, rumoured to have the ability to amplify alchemy so that the Law of Equivalent Exchange no longer applies. Following one lead after another, their travels take them to many a deserted town, each filled with its own dangers and dirty secrets. Captivating and wonderfully written, this series is a requirement for any anime fan's collection.[TOP]

Hey, remember this pile of suck? Eiken! Oh, how those breasts bounced.

The review: What the hell did I just waste an hour of my life on? This?! Some may argue that Eiken is a parody of all the bad anime elements out there, like the ginormous bouncing breasts, the tentacle rape, and the milquetoast hero, but I honestly, there's no excuse for this OVA. It's not even sexy. It's just plain sick. Densuke is a student at Zashono Academy who has recently joined the Eiken Club. He soon sets his eyes on the sickeningly busty Chiharu, a girl whose gelatinous breasts are so large that she needs to hold them up while she walks. As soon as the intros are done, we see that the characters are entered in a campus wide contest, which events include sliding down a slide filled with yogurt, or swimming across a pool filled with eels. Don't be fooled though. The show has nothing to do with this contest. Its entire purpose is to use as many hideous and vile clichés possible. One of the girls looks hardly a day above 10, but has breasts that reach from her hips to her chin. Another girl is constantly trying to seduce Densuke, either with her naked body or with her face planted in his crotch. Another always has a banana in her mouth—you get the idea. The onslaught of innuendos and sexual tension is so strong it's almost nauseating. Do yourself a favor and keep this far out of reach. Brain cells don't replenish once they're dead—use them wisely.[TOP]

Remember this? For quite some time, Samurai Champloo was the bee's knees. Now people have kind of forgotten about it.

The review: It's all about the flavah, baby, and Samurai Champloo's exploding with it. From the lame (admit it, it's hokey) opening theme to the record scratches that dot the episodes, the show is body rolling with style. Mugen and Jin's lives were crossed when they ended up on the executioner's block together. They escape with the help of their sick samurai skills and a peppy girl named Fuu, but now they have to carry out a promise to track down a samurai who smells of sunflowers. Along the way, they wind up as bodyguards for the yakuza, fighting each other on opposing sides. Mixing exciting sword fights with a suave hip hop soundtrack, Samurai Champloo is really in a class of its own. The characters are a firecracker of energy and the swordfights are a hurrah a minute. Throw in those sexy beats to make it stand out from all the other samurai shows, and we've got one hell of a winner. Check this out.[TOP]

Of course, there are a zillion other titles that I didn't have room to mention, but what are some of your favorites that have come out in the past few years? Head on over to the Talkback forum and share your thoughts!

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