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Shelf Life
Magic 200

by Bamboo Dong,

200 columns. From its inception, it's spanned something like six years or so, and it's been a fun and eventful ride. During those years, I've wavered between being a super fan, to being jaded, and back to super fan again, to somewhere in between. I still remember my first Anime Expo, my first Otakon, my first Comic Con. I remember walking to my first interview, and I definitely remember internally freaking out when I shook Yuki Kajiura's hand. So to celebrate this momentous occasion, I thought I'd take a look back, not just on the past 200 columns, but also at how the industry has changed, milestones in my life, memorable columns, and other tidbits. So let's have fun together, and let's get ready for another 200!

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2002 - Winter/Spring

Shelf Life started near the tail-end of 2002, after a brainstorming session with Zac, who's now the executive editor. We decided on the Shelf Worthy/Rental Shelf/Perishable Items classification, and even though the layout has changed a bit over the years, the main idea is still the same. When the column first started, the column was physically arranged so that the best releases would be at the top, with the worst at the bottom. It had more releases, too, but with the short capsule format, it didn't leave as much room for opinions or analysis. Back then, all my intros were heinously awful, too. I can't even read them without cringing. I don't know how the editors let me get away with them.

Personal life: I was just finishing up my first semester at Brown, and learning for the first time that college was more work than high school. Of course, the school had just gotten a DDR machine, so I was able to continue the addiction that I had started the previous summer, so that was adequate stress relief.

In the news: The biggest "scandal" of the time was all those R2 Spirited Away DVDs that were shipping with a red tint. People even filed lawsuits. It may not sound like a big deal now, since it was eventually fixed and released to much fanfare, but at that time... boy, there were some angry comments in the forums.

Also, AN Entertainment joined the market with their announcement of Risky Safety. The anime bubble was expanding, and these were good times for anime fans. Especially when Barnes & Noble added a separate graphic novel section. And that's how manga cows were born. In other manga-related news, Tokyopop had just started doing their Rising Stars of Manga competitions around this time.

Notable releases: There were a lot of famous first volumes around that time (and the upcoming months), including Argentosoma, The Animated Classics of Japanese Literature, Noir, Ai Yori Aoshi, Rahxephone, .hack//SIGN, and Chobits. And of course, my biggest guilty pleasure? Colorful. It's still one of my favorite anime DVDs ever.

Stuff that should make a comeback: Cute stuff that is cute for no other discernible reason than being cute. Sure, nowadays we have cute moe stuff, but nothing was ridiculous like Little Snow Fairy Sugar, which featured quaint little fairies named Sugar, Salt, and Pepper. A few years later, Geneon released the ludicrously charming Bottle Fairies, which was amazing. We need more of this stuff.

2003 - Summer

Personal life: After surviving the worst break-up of my young life, I was glad to be home for summer. I went to my first ever Anime Expo in Anaheim and loved every minute of it. My column intros continued to be unreadable.

The bubble, continued: When this column first started, there were much more anime companies that were regularly releasing anime. In any given week, fans had the choice of checking out new releases from ADV, AN Entertainment, AnimEigo, Central Park Media, Bandai Entertainment, Funimation, Media Blasters, Pioneer, Right Stuf, Tokyopop, Urban Vision, and Viz. At the time, I also reviewed an assload of hentai, before ANN changed its reviewing policy.

Notable releases: Who could forget Read or Die, Full Metal Panic, and Animatrix? That's also when I, and countless of other fans, fell in love with Shinkai's works, as he debuted Voices of a Distant Star. And let's not forget Cowboy Bebop: Knockin' on Heaven's Door.

What? Anyone remember this DVD cover? I'm still confused how her torso is a different color from the rest of her body.

2003 – Fall

Personal life: I was just starting my second year at Brown, and I was living in a program house called Games House. I didn't really fit in, but they told me that I'd get a single if I stuck around for a couple of years, so it was worth it to me. All it meant was that I had to deal with living with a bunch of LARPers, who'd also spend a couple nights a week in my (+roommate) room yelling at each other over whether or not they had enough dice power to defeat orcs. Or something like that. I just remember them yelling a lot about magic spells.

Industry:Pioneer changed its name to Geneon. And at the time, anime fans were concerned about how their DVD spines would have different logos on them. Pbffff. Also, Tokyopop announced the release of Marmalade Boy, which would've been the best news of my life, had the actual release not been really, really terrible.

Notable releases: Fall of 2003 saw the release of Banner of the Stars II. Crest of the Stars and Banner of the Stars were some of the best shows of that era, and the third season was a worthy addition. The end of August also introduced Haibane Renmei, one of ABe's best shows. Then there's Super Gals, a show that touted the virtues of friendship and guts. I was also quite obsessed with Boys Over Flowers (incidentally, around the same time, I also got really into the Taiwanese boy band, F4). Notable boxsets from 2003 include Ayashi no Ceres, Fruits Basket, GTO, and Berserk. Also, remember Spirit of Wonder? Now that was charming title.

Notable moments: At this point, I had seen a lot of hentai. Even so, I was completely perturbed by Night Shift Nurses 2, largely because of all the eggs it involved. I was so at a loss for words, I commemorated the event with this scrawl.

2004 – Winter/Spring/Summer

In the news: MTV started airing Heat Guy J, a decision that continues to confuse to this day. And remember when we were all excited about that Linkin Park music video?

Best company ever? AnimEigo. I've always loved them for their offbeat releases, and the fact that they're the only company that will license old classics like Yawara and stuff. Around this time, they released Kimagure Orange Road, which scored massive nerd points amongst everybody.

Best usage of anime ever: The Bush campaign ad that said John Kerry was busy fighting the Yakuza.

The rise of the nerds: Comic Party marked the rise of the otaku mockumentary, and it was glorious. I hadn't seen anything quite like it since the iconic Otaku no Video. With this and the eventual release of Genshiken, self-referential nerd humor implanted itself in the hearts of fans everywhere.

Notable releases: The moment I watched Saikano, I knew it was going to be my favorite series for the rest of my life. Even now, I cry like a baby every time I watch the last episode. Other great titles included L/R, Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi, Yukikaze, Kino's Journey, and Kaleidostar. Also, if you haven't seen this little-known release called Grrl Power, you should really check it out.

2004 – Fall

Personal life: Junior year. I thought school would last forever. This was definitely the low point of my undergraduate career.

The column: Around this time I thought it would be cute to have food analogies with each title. I'd do things like, "Tastes like:" and I'd equate each title with some kind of food. It was great, until I ran out of food. I also tried doing "synonyms" where I'd suggest other titles that people might like. That was fun for a while, too, until people started complaining in the forums about why I didn't include this or that. I also went through a phase where I had different banners for each of the Shelf Life sections, and they'd be weird 50s style artwork like this or this. I kind of miss those, actually...

Notable releases: Platinum release of Neon Genesis Evangelion and Paranoia Agent.

BEST SHOW EVER??? Obviously Please Twins. My strange obsession with this show remains to this very day and I have ALL the panty figures.

2005 - Winter/Spring/Summer

Personal life: This might have been another one of those crappy break-up years. My column has seen me through a lot of failed relationships.

In the news: Funimation was acquired by Navarre, but nothing changed, so fans didn't pay attention. Around the same time, Nickelodeon decided they were going to make pseudo-anime like Avatar, but amazingly, it became a success. And also, the first of many Death Note incidences. Companies also thought that people would want to buy anime on UMD.

Hahahahahaha: Hahahaha. That turned out well, huh?

The column: My obsession with banners continued, resulting in things like this and this.

Notable releases: This season brought GitS: Innocence, with the worst cover ever, and goodies like Nausica, The Cat Returns, Porco Rosso, Planetes, Elfen Lied, Piano, The Place Promised in Our Early Days, and Koikaze.

Personal favorite: Genshiken.

2005 - Fall

Personal life: Senior year was the best year of college. Not only was I >this< close to getting out of there, but I really started to appreciate Providence as a place with decent stuff to do. I also shirked a lot of my academic duties to play a lot of ice hockey and squash with my friends. It was totally worth it.

Notable releases: Ready for another list? Samurai 7, Kodocha

Best show ever: Yugo the Negotiator. People who've known me for the past few years know that I can't get enough of Yugo. It's like 24, but without Keifer Sutherland's weird lips. The other best show of this season was Gankutsuou, which I still recommend to everybody.

Best dubbed adaptation: A lot of people hated Ghost Stories for the wildly creative dub that ADV put out, but I think it was much better than the original series.

Remember when nobody bought Princess Tutu? A lot of fans, not a lot of wallets.

In the news: The first child porn case. At that time, other anime companies were getting into starting their own TV networks to compete with ADV's Anime Network, like the Funimation channel.

2006 - Winter/Spring/Summer

Personal life: Who graduated? Oh, that's right, I graduated, and it was awesome. Then I was emo for about half a year, because I had to leave the guy I was dating to move to California. Sadness ensued. I secretly still have feelings for him. Also, my best friend in the entire world got married this summer, marking the beginning of the tidal wave in which all of my friends start getting married.

I think this was also the Anime Expo year where some kid puked on Mike Sinterniklaas' shoes at a Buca de Beppo. Ask him about it sometime.

In the news: Anime on blu-ray finally starts happening. So much better than when they tried to get people to buy stuff on UMD.

On the site: ANN started getting really hardcore about its news. It went from updating a couple times a day, to 10-15 times a day. We're totally #1.

The column: I started asking people for pictures of food. These ranged from sexy-looking food, to stuff that would make any normal person vomit. I received a lot of great stuff.

Best damned porno ever: This award belongs to The Duchess of Busty Mounds, for the amazing line, "My balls yearn to be on your chin." When I left Providence, I eventually hid this in a friend's suitcase. I think he still hates me.

2006 - Fall

Personal life: I greatly regret not taking a year off between college and grad school. Kids, don't make the same mistakes as me.

The column: Shelf Life turned into the format that it's in today. Rather than having separate delineations within the column, it's a more fluid format, with longer reviews.

Notable releases: Trinity Blood, Full Moon wo Sagashite, Paradise Kiss, and Hellsing Ultimate.

Since then

Personal life: Since then, I've grown to be more tolerant of Orange County, though not its denizens. I started traveling much more, visiting places like Tokyo and Beijing, and more places within the US. On the other hand, I go to less anime conventions, but I still enjoy hitting up the bigger ones like AX and SDCC.

In the news: Well, Geneon went away. Then ADV lost all their good titles. A lot of companies stopped releasing anime, while some of them (one) started focusing on global "manga." On the upside, anime is everywhere now, and those who are still going strong and bringing their game to the Internet, where streaming anime is all the rage right now. Free anime? Yes, please!

Notable releases: Rumbling Hearts, Le Chevalier D'Eon, Peach Girl, Beck, When They Cry, Story of Saiunkoku, Nobody's Boy Remi, Mushi-shi, Welcome to the NHK, and Flag.

Biggest guilty pleasure: Air. I really love that show. It's 100x cuter than it's allowed to be, except for the ending, which isn't very cute at all.

I'm sure I left out quite a few notable releases, but compiling this column was a fun trip down memory lane for me. Here's to several more years of Shelf Life.

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