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Shelf Life
Bac It Up

by Bamboo Dong,

Having spent a lot of time in Newport Harbor, or whatever they call that body of water off Newport Beach, I've noticed two things. People in boats love to wave to other people in boats. If you are sailing, there is a 90% chance that if you pass someone in a yacht, they will wave at you. If you were kayaking, people will not only wave at you, but they'll yell, “Stroke! Stroke!” like an a-hole. What is it about people in boats that makes people wave? Is it some strange sort of camaraderie? Is it because you're both in a boat? I don't understand this subculture of waving, and I kind of wish people would stop. That's what I want for Christmas.

Welcome to Shelf Life.

Over the span of a year, I have watched what feels like a few days' worth of Shin-chan. I still chuckle when I watch a new episode, but it's really starting to eat into my brain in a bad way. I know, because he's started appearing in my dreams. The latest addition to the Shin train is the first part of the second season, and in case you aren't familiar with the series, it is chock full of butts, beer, and little boy berries. If you are easily offended, then I don't know why you'd even think about watching this show. Ideally, the viewer for Shin-chan would be someone who is easily amused, has a relatively short attention span, doesn't get offended by anything, laughs at lowbrow humor, and doesn't mind repetition. The last part is the most important, because while I love Shin, I think I may have hit my saturation limit.

There are only so many times you can see Shin do “the ass dance.” There are only so many times you can chuckle at a precocious child who's a fervent supporter of patriarchal, right-wing icons. And sadly, there is a finite number of times you can hear the name “Action Bastard” until it's no longer funny. Yet, every time you tell yourself you've had it, the next episode will invariably pull you in with an alien abduction, or a snide joke about herpes. It's like eating fast food—you know it's bad for you, and you know it tastes the same everywhere, but dammit, it smells really good sometimes. If there is another positive side, it's that this is the type of show you can feed your friends when they're over, and 8 out of 10 times, they will enjoy it. Shin-chan is arguably the funniest, pop-oriented anime out right now, because it was rewritten for Americans in the 15-24 age demographic. With the character designs that are barely above a scrawl, there is nothing in the way of the jokes. Compared to some of the other comedies that have been lauded over the years (Excel Saga, AzuDai, Nerima Daikon Brothers), this is the closest you'll get to a comedic American cartoon, and there is massive market appeal for that.

After this, though, I'm going to have to call a moratorium on Star Wars parodies. Let it be no surprise that the first episode in this collection is a Star Wars parody, and just like all the billions of other Star Wars parodies we've seen over the years (with the exception of 40% of the Robot Chicken one), it is not funny. Luckily, it only lasts for an episode, so we can move on to bigger and better things. There's a quaint episode where Shin and his mom do a body swap, and one where his dog falls in love. There are others too, but it's kind of pointless to try to do a plot recap, since each one is basically a jumble of jokes.

This review has been filled with some mixed messages, but it boils down to this—Shin-chan is a genuinely funny show, but it can only be handled in extremely small doses. It comes in 13-episode boxsets, but unless you never want to watch the show ever again, do not marathon it like I did. You will have nightmares of boy butts for the next three days, I swear. There are those who would complain that Funimation changed their holy Japanese original, but they really have to get over it. What the writers have ended up with is hilarious and relevant to American viewers, and even though it gets mind-numbingly repetitive at times, it's still the funniest anime out there right now, with the most mass appeal. So eat it, purists.[TOP]

Next up was a series that I continue to be excited about, Claymore. Alas, the satisfaction wasn't immediate. After popping in the fourth disc, I could only watch about ten minutes of it before I had to dig out my third disc and rewatch the last episode, because there are some weird pacing problems in this show. It seems that once they started with the whole Clare-is-actually-really-good-at-killing-Awakened-Beings bit, the story lost a lot of its flow. Now they just throw her into situations in which she can “level up” her fighting abilities, and get one step closer to killing Priscilla. She continues to meet new Claymores, but the story is the same. They scoff at her low rank, but eventually realize that she's really impressive, and then they end up respecting each other, all while taking out an Awakened Being in the meantime.

For those who don't remember, in the last volume of Claymore, Clare inherited a new ability (and something else) from another Claymore that allows her to move her arm really fast and slash enemies with lightning speed. Armed with this new trick, she heads off to find her friend Raki. Along the way, she runs into a group of Claymores who are in town to fight an Awakened Being. Conveniently, this segues into some important exposition about where Priscilla is, and also why there are some Super Bosses that need to be reckoned with.

At this point, one of the drawbacks of Claymore becomes apparent. With 50-some Claymores around, it's really hard to keep them straight. Up until now, we'd only have to deal with a couple at a time, but by the last episode, we end up with a group of 24 Claymores—some of whom viewers had seen before. Whether or not viewers actually remember them is a little dicey. To their credit, they announce who each person is (“*gasp* It's Number whatever! Muriel! The One-With-The-That-Thing!”), but that doesn't really help. Supposedly some of these women may have fought with or against Clare before, but with their white hair and their grey eyes, who really remembers? That's the biggest visual downside about the show—while the austere appearances of the women (and the grotesque faces of the youma, but the disturbingly beautiful Awakened Beings) give the show a lot of artistic oomph, it does make the characterization a little vague. You can develop a relationship all you want to, but unless viewers can attach some memory or meaning to it, it doesn't live up to its potential when it's reintroduced.

Yes, the show is becoming increasingly choppy, and it seems apparent that the creators were rushed in their efforts to push the series towards a suitable ending, but there's enough inherent suspense that it's hard to stop watching. At this point, if you've been faithfully watching the show, you've moved past the point of no return, and now you need to know what happens next. Although Clare started off as somewhat of a dud, her determination and somewhat contrived ability to always win makes her a heroine that's easy to get behind. There's enough momentum from the first half of the show to carry viewers through to the end, and I hope that it can keep itself together long enough to deliver a decent ending.[TOP]

One more single volume release to stoke my fire—Baccano! volume 2. This show is so sexy. Way sexier than the 1930s even have the right to be, because nothing says hot jazz and glamour like sweet, sweet poverty. All the killing aside (because that's a downer!), there's just something about this show that makes it pop. Maybe it's the big band music that blares during the knife fights, or the cool mobsters in suits, or the madcap chaos that permeates this show, but it's lively, it's exhilarating, and gosh darnit, you will like it.

Even the bad guys are cooler than your average antagonists. There's this one guy who absorbs a person. Like, he actually puts his hand on some guy's face, and sucks his whole body through his pores. It's so cool that it's not even gruesome. The backstory of all these people who can absorb each other is explained later in the volume, but seeing it for the first time without explanation was absolutely surreal and amazing.

Part of what makes Baccano! so interesting is that it's somewhat of a jigsaw puzzle. Nothing is told linearly—the series is made up of a seemingly scrambled collection of action-packed scenes, that are slowly pieced together over time. Sometimes scenes will double back and get replayed from a different character's point of view, sometimes a story won't be fitted together until after three chronologically mixed takes. And it's not just the way that the show is set up—even the different elements that make up the series are like puzzle pieces taken from other action shows. There are mobsters, bootleggers, thieves, alchemists, demons, and even homunculi. It is one big bag of awesome things that someone threw in a burlap sack, then violently shook before finally throwing the pieces onto a storyboard. By the time the story elements, and the timelines, and the character relationships are finally pieced together, you're left with a story that's full of secrets, supernaturalism, and turf wars.

The series also does a really good job of grafting in a really swanky atmosphere into their dank 1930s setting. The soundtrack is full of slinky bass lines and slick riffs, and it goes well with the industrial backdrops of a dirty city. If I were to complain about one thing, though, it'd be the bizarre Brooklyn accents that some of the English voice actors are sporting. I don't want to single out any (or several) of the actors, but they're not consistent, and they kind of sound like caricatures of what a Texan might think a Brooklyn accent sounds like. Sometimes the accents are there, sometimes they're not, and sometimes, they end up sounding more like Tweety Bird. Throw in the Slavic accent that one of the alchemists have, and the whole production ends up sounding more like a bad video game (though he does a bang-up job, compared to his Brooklynite co-stars). It does add something to the series that makes the dub more fun to watch than the original Japanese version, but sometimes, those accents are really bad. I'd rather watch a period piece with newscaster English than one with bad accents, but at least it's not all bad.

Overall, Baccano! is amazingly fun. It may be a little jarring for those who are more used to linear storylines, but for those with the patience and attention span to piece these bits together, it's well worth it. The story is a lot of fun, and it's more complex than one would originally think. It's definitely worth picking up, even if it's being released one volume at a time.[TOP]

To feed my hunger for more mystery, I turned to the fourth season of Cased Closed, a show that will never end. Every time I watch Case Closed, I always have a great time. But each time, I'm always kind of baffled by its ridiculous popularity in Asia. This show has 530 episodes to its name in Japan, and it's still going. There is no end in sight to this show, and yet Conan remains forever young, like Benny Alden from The Boxcar Children. I can't begrudge it its success, though. Even after watching some 90+ episodes of this show, I'm still impressed with this show's writers every episode.

For a kids show (that happens to include lots of murders), Case Closed is a very thoughtfully written show. The writers don't skimp on the details, not even after all those episodes. I'll give one example—in one of the earlier episodes on the first disc (“The Dead Hobo”), a homeless guy shows up dead. The Junior Detective League is ever so happy to have found the dead body, and proudly show it to the police, but as usual, it's Conan who solves the mystery of his murder. The key? A gingko leaf and a shoe tied with a granny knot. It's not entirely fair to say that “you never see the ending coming!” because the episodes never give you all of the details. Conan draws conclusions using details that we're not privy to, which gives him an unfair advantage over the viewers, but it's still somewhat of a surprise just to see how far the writers thought out each case. It's a bummer the viewers never get a solid shot at cracking the cases, but if it's part of their game plan to keep people watching this show after 530 episodes, maybe it's a good strategy.

That curiosity is basically what drives this show. Because let's be honest, here, there's not that much else to the series. The artwork, animation, soundtrack, voice acting… everything kind of exists, and it does what needs to be done. Nothing is mind-blowing, but nothing is bad. It's just comfortably mediocre, which is not bad, considering how long this series is. So it comes down to the ability to tell a good story, and that's something that Case Closed rocks at.

Once I've seen an episode of Case Closed, I can safely say that I'd never want to rewatch it ever again, so that's my argument against owning it. Once a mystery has been solved, why bother going over it again? It's like watching The Sixth Sense more than twice—once you know the ending, you're probably not going to sit through it again too many times. At least Case Closed can drum up a good story every time, so if you've got a weekend to kill, this might be a good way to skim off some of your free time.[TOP]

That's it for this week. It's good to be back, folks.

This week's shelf is from Chelsea:

Hi! Well, here is my collection -- all 324 volumes of manga, and my anime (I haven't really counted that), art books and doujinshi. I started seriously collecting a little over a year and a half ago, when I started my job at a book store. I had been a casual collector before then, only concentrating on 2 series. Obviously its grown a lot! When I first started seriously collecting, I only had 2 or 3 shelves worth of stuff, but soon realized I needed more shelf space. As of now, almost every shelf in my big bookcase is two volumes deep. I also have some figurines that aren't pictured, and others that I ordered online and am waiting for them to be shipped from Japan. I've read almost every volume of manga that I own, except maybe 3 or 4. I keep everything in perfect alpha, which can create a bit of a problem when I buy more manga or anime, but its still a lot of fun. Enjoy!

Keeping things in alphabetical order can be such a pain in the butt. I commend you.

Want to show off your stuff? Send your jpgs to shelflife at animenewsnetwork dot com. Pictures of animals sleeping on shelves is a plus. :)

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