Shelf Life
Clanning Up

by Bamboo Dong,

I was at the movie theater last week, and I saw a trailer for “All About Steve.” In it, Sandra Bullock plays this woman who falls madly in love with a news anchor and ends up chasing him across the country to profess her love, or something. Dear God, can we please stop having movies with these idiotic female characters? Can we please stop having movies where the only purpose in these women's lives is to get married? Can we please not have movies where this oh-so-quirky girl can't manage her finances to save her life? Yeah, yeah, “if you don't like it, don't watch it!” Fine, but seriously, guys. These movies are destroying America.

Welcome to Shelf Life.

This week, I was finally able to get my hands on the last boxset of Ouran High School Host Club. After laughing and cheering my way through 13 episodes, I giddily watched the last episode, then happily went on ANN to check how many episodes there were. 26. Only 26. I had just finished watching Ouran.

The feelings that washed over me at that moment were horrendous. I hadn't been that sad at reaching the end of a TV show since Chris Carter shat all over the ending of the X-Files. I had finally decided that I like Mori the best, and the show was cruelly wrenched away from me. On the upside, the last 13 episodes were just as delightful as the first, and the ending, albeit a bit abrupt, got the job done.

Like the first half of the show, the last half doesn't really follow a linear storyline. Rather, it jumps around and highlights different characters each episode. Viewers get to learn more about how the different boys came to join the host club, and you get to see just how much they mean to each other. It completely panders to the viewers, but that's what hosts are supposed to do, and they do it well. Each of the backstory episodes makes you appreciate the boys' complex personalities more, and I'd be surprised if there were too many female fans of this show who walked away without feeling little something for one of the boys.

More than anything, though, I had a really great time watching Ouran. All of the jokes cracked me up, and even after 26 episodes of tongue-in-cheek wisecracks about the ignorance of the upper class, I still laughed at every one. This is a show that simply exists for making people feel good, and I think everyone could use something like this in their lives. Granted, I don't envision too many guys pounding on the doors of Best Buy, begging for the last copy of this show, but I think there's something in the show that even male viewers could enjoy. The laughs are genuine, and the characters are comical, so I don't see what there isn't to like.

Even now, I'm feeling a little morose that the show has ended, but I'm glad I watched it. I still haven't completely forgiven all the fangirls I've ever seen at all the anime conventions with their stupid blue jackets, but I'm one step closer to understanding how they feel. Seriously, I know it's hard picking up a show with the words “high school host club” in the title, but you'll be surprised by how much fun you have.[TOP]

Going to the opposite side of the spectrum, I checked out the first twelve episodes of Clannad, a visual-novel-turned-anime being released by Sentai Film Works. First off, it's only in Japanese, so for those of you who need your dubs to be happy, you're out of luck. On the upside, maybe reading the subtitles will feel more like a visual novel! So it's all good in the end.

For whatever reason, I'm hopelessly addicted to these supernatural visual novel shows like Clannad, Air, and Kanon. I love seeing how messed up these girls' lives are, and I kind of enjoy the banal conversations that make up 99% of these shows. The characters rarely have significant conversations, outside of the mini-finales for each girl's arc. I'm pretty sure they could even make an entire show based solely on girls making sound effects while getting their heads pat. Because in the end, these girls are barely more than pets, except they also happen to be physically not-there, or dying, or have some kind of crippling social handicap.

And yet I can't stop watching. It's a sick addiction, I tell you.

To recap a bit about what treasures you might encounter should you watch this, there are a variety of girls whose lives revolve around a sweet guy named Tomoya. You can tell he has a heart of gold because he's constantly saddened by the sight of his drunkard dad. The first girl introduced is Nagisa, a girl who's missed a lot of school because she's sickly. Tomoya agrees to help her raise more membership for the drama club, and from there, more girls are introduced. There's the shy genius who spends all her time studying, but doesn't know how to make friends. There's the tomboy martial-arts expert who can beat up everybody. There's a girl who really likes starfish and party hats, and who may not actually be present in the flesh. There's also at least one more girl and her older sister, but I can't remember what their shticks are at the moment. I haven't figured out what everyone's supernatural dark secret is yet, aside from the ghostly girl, but I think there may be at least one weird science experiment involved.

Why am I so inexorably drawn to such frivolous shows? I've been asking myself that for years, but I think that I, like many other fans, just like seeing these incredibly broken girls. Maybe that anxious feeling I get when I press the “Next chapter” button on my DVD player is actually moe. Except in my case, there's also a part of my brain that thinks, “Boy, these creators are really messed up. Seriously, stop it with the dying girls!” (I just read a spoiler alert on Wiki about the game, and boy, does this story get depressing!)

Like other shows of its ilk, though, Clannad is also really relaxing to watch. The soft color palette is easy on the eyes, as are all the generically cute/handsome character designs. The music tinkers along like a commercial for life insurance, and everything always flows at a lackadaisical pace. Even when the characters are joking around and are cracking jokes with each other, there's something really serene about it. I think that's what sets apart “good” visual-novel-based shows from pure garbage like that cursed Shuffle!. It's not just enough to have a bunch of cute, dying girls—you also need the atmosphere, and these Key/Visual Arts shows have that in handfuls.

I'm not entirely sure if these kinds of shows appeal to other girls or not, or if I'm just kind of strange anomaly. But as the back of the DVD cover helpfully points out, the show is “for fans of Kanon and Air.” As if we couldn't figure that out by ourselves. It's true, though. Clannad features different girls and different stories, and there's no snow or beaches in this one, but it follows the same formula. So if you too get a kick out of watching cutesy girls stare each other with giant, blank, concerned eyes, and having insipid conversations about mochi, then you will eat this up.[TOP]

But, back to eye-candy for girls again! This week has been good for beautiful boys, and it just gets better with the first Wallflower boxset. Only their personalities aren't quite as developed as the Ouran boys, but boy, do they pander to women even harder. Everything from the opening sequence, which is full of sultry men saucily glaring at the viewers, to the utterly ridiculous chest-baring outfits that they sometimes wear in the episodes, is designed to scream, “Eat it up, laides!” That just makes me love this series even more. I appreciate a show that knows it's ludicrous, and uses it as its main driving force.

The Wallflower is actually one of the funniest comedies I've enjoyed recently. It's incredibly self-aware of the genres it's lampooning and it really goes all out in chasing down the laughs. The series stars four ludicrously beautiful men who all live together in a boarding house. The landlady says that she'll give them free rent if they can find a way to turn her creepy niece Sunako into a beautiful, socially-accepted woman. Sunako is actually quite pretty, but because of her unconventional interests (skeletons, horror movies, murder scenes, the occult), everyone around her thinks she's really scary. Most of the time, she's even drawn as a two-foot tall super deformed lump that emanates bad vibes, except when the story calls for her to be badass and gorgeous.

It doesn't sound like much of a premise, but at least for the anime, the storyline doesn't really matter that much. Most of the show's appeal is just in watching all the characters interact with each other. The SD-Sunako bit never gets old, since the production staff is able to get really creative with it. Whether it's having the guys lug her off like a sack of potatoes, or dropping her after she's turned to stone, the perpetual caricature of Sunako keeps the show fresh.

I love that the show embraces itself for being shallow, visually-oriented entertainment. It doesn't set up any pretenses, and it doesn't try to get deep. It's 100% popcorn and candy, and I think more people should check this show out. The men are gorgeous for the sole purpose of being gorgeous, and Sunako is The Creepy One. That's it. They may go through various trivial plots like helping her study for a math test, or get mixed up in a murder investigation, but those are just excuses to show the characters doing the same ol' thang. I'm okay with it. Mindless entertainment has a place in the world, and I will consume it.[TOP]

Which brings us to Rozen Maiden - Träumend, volume three. It used to be mindless entertainment, but as the series progressed, it became darker and darker. Instead of frivolous games of catch about the house, the dolls became more focused on the Alice game, which is where they all have to kill each other until one of them is the champion. The entire last volume is devoted to the Alice game, and quite frankly, it's terrible. It's just not as enjoyable as the preceding volumes, and the finale's last “twist” was simply ridiculous and anticlimactic.

While the first part of the show is very happy and frilly (and oftentimes pointless), these last few episodes are very dark. Normally I like dark shows, but to suddenly transition from, “Look! We're eating noodles! Let's take a trip to the mail box! Yippee!” to girls flying around in a parallel dimension, killing each other, is a bit jarring. Plus on a more personal note, I was about beside myself with frustration at Kanaria, who is so incredibly stupid and useless as to be aggravating. I've loathed her insecure speech patterns (…I guess?) since the first episode, but her last stand made me want to hurl my computer out of the window. If we were supposed to feel sorry or proud of her, then I missed the memo.

But that's not the real reason this volume was a giant let down. The reason why it was terrible is because the Alice game is something that the entire series has been building up since day one. We've known all along that eventually, these dolls will be driven to kill each other, whether they want to or not. What we're not prepared to deal with is the, “Haha, gotcha!” ending, and the fact that these episodes came out of left field. They end just as abruptly as they begin, and this whole volume sticks out like a broken thumb. The “twist” at the end doesn't elicit any shock or surprise—it just smacks of lazy storytelling, and altogether, I'm sorely disappointed by this ending.

I've mildly enjoyed Rozen Maiden up until this point, because even if it was mind-numbingly trivial most of the time, I still had the Alice game to look forward to. Since I haven't read the manga, I didn't know what I was in for. Now that I've reached that point, I feel like the writers took the lazy way out and crapped all over the ending, like the last episode of Seinfeld.

So, in short, if you've been watching Rozen Maiden up until now, you might as well keep watching. There's a good chance you might even enjoy it more than I did, but I'm still pretty peeved.[TOP]

That's it for this week. Thanks for reading.

This week's shelf is from Tamisen:

"Dear Shelflife,

I wanted to share my 14+ years worth of anime and manga collecting with you. I currently have 330 series worth of anime. I use to have them all in individual dvd cases, but it's just impossible anymore. I now have 1 shelving unit (5ft wide by 7ft tall and double stacked) and I have recently invested in an 800 dvd trunk to hold the ones I've taken out of cases (around 350 right now). Many of my series are imports, but I'm a pragmatist and will go with whatever is the most reasonably priced for the content.

As for my manga collection, I've read around 240 series (that I can remember) and currently own 80 series. I have several Art books, Magazines, Drama CDs/OSTs, Figures/Plushies, Posters (some signed), Pencil Boards, Clear Files, and Prints/Cells, along with a few games (board and computer) and two Wall Scrolls. I also have a few Cosplay outfits and miscellaneous items and run two anime blogs. Basically, I have way more than my apartment can handle. :) I'm attaching a few pictures to give an idea of the breadth of my collection, though the attached pictures are a bit old now.

Feel free to share! Thanks!

~Tamisan L.

P.S. I also have the most understanding boyfriend in the world who puts up with and sometimes even encourages my addiction. :)"

Whoo, looks good!

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

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