Shelf Life
Aria Speedwagon

by Bamboo Dong, Mar 30th 2009

A couple weeks ago, my roommate called me over to his room. He had rented a Japanese movie called Naked Blood from Netflix, and he wanted to share the pain with someone else. In it, a few girls are slipped an experimental drug that turns their physical pain into sexual pleasure (of course). Do not watch this movie if you do not want to be grossed out. It's very difficult for me to be grossed out, but even I was horrified by a few of the scenes—with one in particular. Basically, a girl (Warning: extremely gross. Highlight at your own discretion.) slices off one of her nipples and eats it. Now, imagine my utter disgust when I watched Shigurui this week and saw basically the same exact scene, only it was someone else doing the damage, and yet another person doing the eating. How is it possible that such a gross, gross scene happened to cross my path twice in one month??? Please, Japan, for me, stop putting these scenes in your films and/or anime. You are going to make me cry.

Welcome to Shelf Life.

Amidst the ocean of bright colors and comic relief that tends to spatter a majority of anime, it's nice to occasionally see something that's simply dreary. Shigurui: Death Frenzy, now available in its entirety from Funimation, is both beautiful and grotesque, as it wallows in its morbidity. Several times, I'd admire a beautifully drawn butterfly, only to yell in disgust two seconds later as someone's entrails were being dragged across a floor.

Shigurui tells the story of a simple gladiator-style death match between a one-armed man, and a blind cripple. But, before we can see the outcome, we're whisked back to the time when the two men first met. One of them is a talented swordsman, set to eventually inherit the dojo and the sword style where he practices. Along comes a creepy man with luscious red lips, who is set on joining the dojo and usurping the eventual title of leader. What follows includes a demented man with supreme fighting powers, a couple of women, some betrayal and deceit, and a whole lot of blood. It's only fate that brings the two men together in the end, with one destined to die.

Artistically, the series has much to offer. The artwork is rich with detail, focusing on cicadas, and the complexities that make up butterfly wings. It sports an interesting fascination with anatomy—as fighters are poised for attack, flashes of musculature are superimposed on their various body parts. When they walk through the snow in sandals, the bottoms of their feet turn red. At the same time, it also lets the series be truly gruesome. Among the scenes that viewers are subjected to with harsh details is one where a man reaches into an abdominal wound and wrenches out his guts. There are also plenty of shots where the top of someone's head is sliced off, and the whirling disc of head-bit goes flying off into the distance.

With no exaggeration whatsoever, this is a very gruesome show. There was one scene in particular, that made me cry out in horror, where part of a woman was wrenched off by someone's fingers. The next shot we see is a man picking it up, licking it, then eating it. I have a pretty strong stomach, but that was too much. There are scenes where cats idly drift by a swordsman, only to have their heads drip off a moment later. If something can be cut by a sword, rest assured, you get to see it. It can be really hard to watch sometimes.

Everything about this show is deathly serious. Even the soundtrack, which is kind of brilliant, is serious. It takes its cues from the Edo period, filling the silence with mandolins, biwa, and heavy drum beats. The opening theme is filled with hectic drums, while the ending is just as dreary as the rest of the show. It's all meant to invoke a time period, but it also succeeds in setting the most depressing scene ever.

Shigurui is as poetic as a show about cruelty and ruthlessness could possibly be, but there isn't a single drop of joy in the entire series. The color palate is oppressively drab, the spurting blood is oppressively dark, and everything is either creepy or sinister. I don't know that I would want to ever watch such a morbid show ever again, but it's worth watching once, I suppose. The ending is a bit of a letdown, but the journey to get there is pretty intense. In a dreary, dreary way.[TOP]

After having all the happiness sucked out of my body, the best remedy I could think of was settling down on the couch with my roommate and watching some Dragon Ball Z Broly action. There were three Broly-related movies packaged together, but we got the gist of things after the first one, and everything after that was just a matter of getting through it. We've always liked watching DBZ together, because it's just not as fun watching it by yourself. Who are you going to chuckle over the overacting with otherwise? It's totally goofy, like all those Saturday morning cartoons I grew up watching, like Johnny Quest or Dragon Flyz. But you know what, just like all those cartoons, I can't dislike it, because it's all so relentlessly upbeat. Sure, Goku/Gohan/the rest of the crew might get their butts beat, but they always persevere in the end, and that's great.

With the Broly three-hit combo, we start off in a scene where Goku and his overbearing wife Chichi are trying to enroll Gohan in school. During a scholarship meeting, Goku gets a message that he has to go fight the most Super-est Saiyanest guy ever, whose power level is something-thousand. That guy is Broly, who looks like this frail little twerp, but is actually ludicrously powerful. All this time, his dad's just put some kind of power filter on him, so he can't go all out and rage across the universe. In the meantime, Vegeta is there too, because he gets an offer to become the king of a planet. That turns out to just be this wasteland, but it does provide kid viewers with a snappy lesson about social hierarchies and the working class. Anyway, people get beat up, but Piccolo comes in for a good pep talk, and then eventually, Goku gives Broly a piece of his fist. But that's only the first movie—Broly comes back, bigger and badder than ever, and eventually all this repeats.

I feel like these movies are kind of like professional wrestling. You already know that the good guy is going to win, but along the way, you get to see a show. In our case, we get to see the characters get all Super Saiyan and power up, and eventually kick some ass. There's zero suspense, because it's not even a question whether or not Goku is going to win, but there's something comforting in this old formula. People like watching Goku dominate like, I imagine, pro wrestling fans like watching Whatever Big Name dominate. I'm not a big DBZ fan, but I can kind of see the appeal in this sort of delightful monotony.

Of all the DBZ movies I've seen over the years, and I've seen a ludicrous amount by now, I think the Broly saga is one of the better ones. Broly himself is a good character, full of inner turmoil and outer strength. It also has the makings of a decent revenge story, so it's kind of fun to see him coming back, round after round. Yeah, it's silly, but it could seriously be worse.[TOP]

Awhile back, I was incredibly sad because Ouran High School Host Club ended. I wanted my ludicrous pretty boys and my non-sequitur humor. Luckily, Wallflower was still in the middle of being released, so I had that to sate my thirst for over-the-top comedy.

But alas, Wallflower has come to an end. I am greatly saddened by this. Not because of the pretty boys, which are, quite frankly, a dime a dozen when it comes to anime. But because here was yet another show in which the characters are painfully aware of their own stereotypes. It was self-referential humor at its finest (not finest ever, but fine enough), and I always laughed out loud at the characters' antics.

One example of this is when Ranmaru goes to meet the girl his parents have picked out for him to marry. He desperately tries to make her hate him by cycling through the other boys' personality quirks. He shows up dressed in leather punk gear and plays the asshole rebel. When that doesn't work, he switches to being the smarmy d-bag who informs people that they're holding their forks wrong. When that fails, he switches to being the mama's boy who cries at everything. If a series is going to be over-the-top with its stereotypes, I'd rather they be self-aware of them, and Wallflower definitely nails that.

The only problem with Wallflower is that, like many quirky character-driven comedies, it has a hard time staying focused with one particular story arc. After the introduction of the arranged marriage girl (who really isn't all that different from the rest of the nameless girls in the show, because she too, is infatuated with him for his beauty), the show jumps to an episode about a boat trip and a cursed island filled with pirate ghosts. At one junction, one of the boy dryly remarks, “If this weren't a comedy, we'd be dead.” Such truth. I also love how the humor revels in sheer randomness. At one point, for instance, when all the characters are having visions of their ultimate fantasies, the prim, proper one sees a brontosaurus. Of all the fantasies to have! I was beside myself with glee, and it's moments like that which make the series as silly and fun as it is.

Ultimately, though, the story is partially supposed to be about Sunako and her issues with self-confidence. That was set up at the very beginning of the series, and as the series draws to a close, more of this starts coming to the surface. We learn that Sunako was always a kind and gracious kid, and a very cute one at that, but that moment in middle school, when the boy told her he didn't like ugly girls, was the one that led to her crushing insecurity. The series never ends up fully expanding on just how tragic Sunako's side of the story really is, but it makes throwaway effort at the end when it says that hey, being a lady means loving who you are.

For a series that I enjoyed so much, Wallflower had a terribly unsatisfying ending. It never really resolved some of the tension between Sunako and Kyohei, but more importantly, it never really gives Sunako the time to fully cope with who she is. I was hoping for more from the ending, but it didn't live up to my expectations at all. I'm a little disappointed, but overall, it's been a really fun series. I had a great time with it, and I selfishly hope that more comedies like this come out in the future.[TOP]

Now, the next release is a bit old, but I only recently saw it, and decided that I absolutely had to try and get more people to watch it. I'd read about Aria before when we featured it in Protoculture Addicts, but I hadn't actually watched it until now. Now that I have, I wish I'd seen it sooner. More importantly, I wish more people would watch it, because it's absolutely delightful.

In the future, there is a terraformed world called Aqua. On it is a city called Neo-Venezia, patterned after Venice. The heroines of Aria are all female gondoliers, and when they're not working, they're out and about the city, having incredibly uplifting adventures. Co-starring with them is their porky animal friend President Aria, a dog-looking cat-type creature whose anthropomorphic behavior is one of the highlights of this delicate and wonderful show.

Over the years, Right Stuf has released a couple of these lackadaisical slice-of-life shows (like the underrated Piano), and they're absolutely splendid. If you've been hankering for a show that's as laid back as they come, Aria is really the way to do it. It's cheerful and optimistic, and floats through each episode like a big ray of sunshine dipped in candy. Each episode is completely unrelated to the next, and follows a few of the girls as they embark on some new, mundane, chipper little adventure. The first episode, for instance, takes place during a festival where one of the traditional sights is a mysterious masked man named Cassanova. After following him through the city in a playful sequence of dancing and singing, two of the girls discover his true identity—that of a giant cat. The second episode shows the girl skipping through the city, following a series of treasure maps.

Aria is not for people whose cynicism has taken over their lives. The girls probably wouldn't know that it was possible to be cynical. They're so innocent and plucky that I'm sure nothing could possibly cloud their days. Of course, it's not for impatient viewers, either. Aria is an experience that needs to be soaked up over the span of each episode. There are no jokes, there is no drama—things just unfold at a slow, but organic pace, and by the end of everything, you're just supposed to have a big ol' smile on your face.

There are some downsides, though. For those who demand an English dub track, they might not be too pleased with this sub-only release. Of course, I also think they'd be missing out. After finally watching this series, I want everyone to give it a chance—or at least those who enjoy slice-of-life shows. In stressful times like ours, we need shows that are beaming with happiness. If I could brainwash myself into feeling like a peppy little rainbow all day, I'd do it. Instead, I'll just watch these girls giggle over how magic everything is, and realize that everything will be A-OK.[TOP]

Alright, that's it for this week. Thanks for reading!

This week's Shelf Obsessed entry is from "grapeofdeath." Either this person has a negative rapport with grapes, or it's a delightful reference to one of David Sedaris' pieces on morgues, or it's a strange in-joke that we're not cool enough to understand, but despite the username, it's a very awesome collection.

About the collection:

"I stated collecting about a year and a half ago, very slowly at first. It's only become big in the last few months. It breaks down into about three sections. Sailor Moon (from my childhood), Black Jack, and everything else. My collection might not be as big as some of the others that have been showcased, but I think it's fairly unique. When I like a manga series, I feel compelled to buy all the different Japanese and English editions that exist. Normally that means buying two or three editions. This backfired when I started reading Black Jack, my newest addition that started three months ago. I guess I shouldn't be surprised as it is one of Osamu Tezuka's famous pieces. I'm still not finished collecting it as several of the editions are out of print and hard to find (not to mention expensive)."

I hope you don't live in California, because seriously, when that next earthquake hits, those books are gonna be all over your face. Maybe that surprisingly cute Blackjack will save you.

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


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