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Shelf Life
Bottles in the Club

by Bamboo Dong,

My mom got me a soy milk maker for my birthday, and it's pretty incredible. Whenever I went home for the holidays, my parents would always make youtiao and fresh soy milk, and it was my favorite breakfast ever. I love real milk (2% please. None of that skim milk watery stuff.), but hot, fresh soy milk with a healthy dollop of sugar is really amazing. So now I have my own maker, and it's basically the best invention ever made. You just soak beans overnight, pour them in, and press a button. Then boom! Fresh soy milk! And it tastes way better than that cardboard-tasting stuff you get at the grocery store. Y'all should consider getting one. It's fantastic. The only thing that would make it better is if it was shaped like a cow, and made cow sounds. Maybe there'd be a tail crank that would squeeze out the last few drops. I'm going to patent that.

Welcome to Shelf Life.

The latest sugary product to fall off the cute truck is Save Me! Lollipop, a boppity show about a girl named Nina who dreams of meeting a prince who will always protect her from the dangers of the world. Her dream comes true when a small orb falls from the sky, and she accidentally eats it, thinking it's hard candy. That orb is actually the Crystal Pearl, an object that must be retrieved by young sorcerers-in-training, who must obtain it in order to pass their wizarding exams and become full-fledged sorcerers.

At this point, one might think, “Why don't they just wait until she poops it out?” But you see, it's magic, so the only way to get it out is to wait for the higher-ups to mix together a potion. Presumably, it would no longer come out from the butt. But until then, two young sorcerer examinees must protect her from other wizards so that she doesn't get hurt, and that they end up being the team to reach the pearl. Obviously, one of them falls in love with her. And, of course, a handful of other men, because that's the way these types of shows work.

So what could you expect from such a show? Because there are a jillion teams trying to obtain the pearl, this trio is always fighting off other sorcerers who are trying to get at it. This almost always results in antics, like forcing two of them to swap bodies, or turning them into animals. Since everyone is in love with everyone else, there are also emotions swirling around everywhere. As ridiculous as I find the show's storyline, though, and as much as I loathe how terrifyingly useless and stereotypical Nina is, there were a few parts that actually made me chuckle. The episode where she and Zero (All the sorcerers are named after numbers! Isn't that clever? Zero, Ichii, San, Forte… get it? The last one's a pun.) swap bodies was pretty amusing, although the way they resolved it made me gag a little.

One thing I wanted to comment on, though, was the same thing I usually harp—the dub script. Sometimes I wonder if Funimation thinks we're all idiots. Their dubs leave nothing to the imagination, and fill in all the gaps for us. Instead of, “Every time I see you hanging out with another guy, I just feel so…!” it's, “Every time I see you hanging out with him, I feel so jealous!” Yeah, thanks for spelling it out for us. It's the same for all their shows, but this one really pushed me over the edge.

I'm not entirely sure what kind of person is supposed to buy Save Me! Lollipop. Little girls? Because I'm not entirely sure why anyone else would want to buy it. What does it bring to the table, except a cyclic narrative about sorcerers shooting fireballs and throwing talismans at each other? The story is neither exciting nor interesting, and the characters are incredibly dull. I fell asleep at least twice watching it, and had to keep jumping back to rewatch parts that I zoned out on. Save Me, indeed.[TOP]

At least Funimation's other new release wasn't as much of a dud. Baccano! is a long sip of filtered water after that candyland dreck, and it's sexy to boot. It's got train robbers, and mafia dons, and alchemists, and really fabulous hats. Granted, I don't think the 1930s were quite as glamorous as Baccano! makes it out to be, but I'll take a mafia story any day of the week. Even if it involves alchemy.

The way that the narrative is presented is really imaginative. Rather than telling a linear story, it follows several seemingly unrelated storylines that intersect during key events. The events often double back, focusing on a different character in that scene, or coming at it from a different camera angle. Sometimes it'll use a previous scene, just to bring viewers back to a certain period of time that it can use as a launching point. It makes the series canter at a really fast pace, and there are never any dull moments. Viewers can also see how all the characters' lives intersect, and it's exciting to see the story slowly unravel.

To piece together some of it, though, the main conflict revolves around a group of alchemists who are seeking eternal life. They've obtained a potion that will grant them immortality, but they begin disappearing one by one. Centuries later, they end up in Prohibition-era New York, where things end up in one big brouhaha. They're not the only ones that make up the colorful cast of characters, though. Amongst them are various mafia members, gang members, thugs, a homunculus, and weirdly racist black and Asian side characters, with giant lips and slitty eyes, respectively. My favorites, though, are two bumbling thieves named Isaac and Miria, who serve as the comic relief. They're relentlessly cheerful, and round out the series nicely. Also, they're immortal, as many of the main characters are.

Baccano! might have just become my new favorite series to follow, after Claymore. The action is intense (and unpredictable-- who thought someone's fingers would get sliced off in the first 30 seconds?), and the story hurtles forward at a madcap pace. There are dozens of characters to follow, but each are unique and bring something tangible to the table. I've always had a weak spot for mafia stories, and while this one's more frantic than your typical 30s-era flick, it's a lot of fun. I highly recommend this.[TOP]

If you don't have the patience to wait for a show to be released in increments, though, you could always check out some of the full thinpak releases that are out. The entirety of Red Garden is now available on two thinpak boxsets from Funimation, comprising of the entire 22 episodes, and an OVA called Dead Girls. When the series first came out from ADV, I immediately fell in love with it. The story itself was morose and dark, but the characters themselves were incredibly classy and stylish. The girls are impeccably dressed, and the minimalistic, somewhat sterile art style is gorgeous in this setting. Everything about the show, from the way the characters are drawn, to the harsh New York backdrop, is very cold and austere and it adds to the show's eerie atmosphere perfectly.

The story starts when four girls wake up with the uncanny feeling that they don't remember anything about the previous night's events. As is eventually explained, the girls are actually dead, but have been brought back to life in “borrowed” bodies to fight monsters. For various reasons, they are now fighting on behalf of a group called Animus, whose enemy is another group called Dolore. They're each trying to steal a cursed book from the other group. It sounds pretty ridiculous and you wonder why they don't just hire someone who's really good at heisting things, but the real meat of the show is watching the girls try to put their lives back together. They know they're dead, but they struggle to learn what it really means to “live,” and cope with their new roles.

Without a doubt, Red Garden is one of the most visually pleasing supernatural shows I've ever seen. Without the unique artwork and the gorgeous animation (thanks, Gonzo), it might have just been another weird-girls-kill-things show, but this series is truly beautiful. Even the subtle but creepy soundtrack adds to the stark, industrial beauty of the show.

I don't really think the extra OVA really adds anything, though. Set in futuristic Manhattan, the girls are all grown up, and everyone rides around on weird hoverscooters. It seems to exist for the sole purpose of being awkwardly creepy, and to show the girls dressed in bizarre clothes that look like they were ripped from a Fanta commercial. The added hyuk is that all the side characters look just like the ones from the original series, which makes it weird because this woman who was totally dead in the series is suddenly back again. It's just a little uncanny.

Extraneous OVA aside, though, Red Garden is a real treat for those who want a sexier take on supernatural shows. The story is simple, but fun, and there's plenty of eye-candy for those who have a soft spot for quirky character designs. This is definitely worth checking out.[TOP]

But sometimes, people don't want unique things; they don't want change. And for those who want to watch the same thing over and over every day, you can check out the re-release of two Dragon Ball Z movies, Super Android 13 and the wonderfully named Bojack: Unbound. If you're a DBZ fan, but are still surprised at how these types of mini-movies end, then you have the memory allocation rivaling a goldfish.

In Super Android 13, Goku's just trying to mind his own business as he chows down at a restaurant. His relaxing day is interrupted when robots barge in and basically blow up the entire area. Since Goku's such a nice guy, he decides not to fight them there, but instead chooses to fight them in some barren Arctic wasteland. There, he has to face perilous enemies, who almost crush him, but are defeated in the nick of time. Meanwhile, in Bojack: Unbound, a parallel story is told. Gohan, Krillin (or as the subtitles now like to call him, Kuririn, presumably to pacify all the fans who cried about it), Trunks, and some human are the top contenders in an intergalactic martial arts tournament. Things go haywire when bad guys infiltrate the contest and try to take over the world. Not too shockingly, Piccolo and Vegeta show up to lend some help, before Gohan realizes that all he needs to defeat Bojack et al is inside. His heart.

There's not much I can say about these DBZ movies that I haven't said before. If you like this franchise a lot, then I suppose you'd also like these mini-movies, but I'd also wonder why you haven't already bought them. But, in its defense, the packaging is really nice. These tin cases look really good, and their matte surface even makes me want to keep them around. The whole time I was watching these movies, I couldn't stop stroking the DVD cover, it was so nice. So maybe that's a selling point. But hey, DBZ is what it is.[TOP]

That's it for this week; thanks for reading!

This week's shelf is from Alex. These pictures are about a year old at this point (if I haven't posted your pictures, send new ones, folks!!), but they're still pretty impressive. Also, a picture of his chubby cat Kaname, who is super cute.

That cat is TOO CUTE. Guh.

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

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