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Shelf Life
Murders She Wrote

by Bamboo Dong,

I was at Best Buy over the weekend, looking for things to burn my income on. I was about thrilled out of my pants when I saw that Buenavista had re-released the original 1990s X-Men cartoon. Only the first 33 episodes are out now (which includes the first two seasons, plus a few episodes of season three—enough to cover the Phoenix saga), but the rest are in the works. I haven't been this excited since I bought the original He-Man cartoons. Life is pretty great right now.

Welcome to Shelf Life.

After ADV lost its Sojitz titles, all of those properties ended up floating over to Funimation. Some of them were amazing titles that any company would be excited to release. And then there was crap like Murder Princess, which must've been in the fine print somewhere, like, “Also, you can't release Air unless you also release Murder Princess. But don't worry, it'll sell like hotcakes.” Only if those hotcakes were laced with amphetamines or something, because those six episodes were not worth any amount of money.

Before we can answer why the anime is called Murder Princess, we need some backstory first. Traitors are trying to usurp the king's throne, so before they barge into the Great Hall, the princess runs away through a secret passageway. As she's dashing through the woods, away from trouble, she smacks into this bounty hunter, and in a freak accident, they swap bodies. So now the princess is now actually the bounty hunter, who is actually this incredibly bad-ass fighter chick, while the real princess is now in the other body. She convinces the “Princess” to go back and get rid of the bad guys, who are actually a couple of cutesy maid androids, and some scientist known as the Doctor. His specialty is old-world technology like robots and jet packs (modern technology, by the way, involves a sweet motorcycle that rides on wheels of fire). We later learn that the old world was the current iteration of humankind, which destroys the planet in its lust for technology.

Anyway, while the “princess” is kicking everyone's ass, the narrator says, “Because of her fighting style, she became known as Murder Princess.” Look, narrator, that is not an adequate description of her fighting style at all. That kind of just describes what she does. What's her fighting style? Oh, the murdering kind. It'd be like saying to a chef, “Because of your culinary style, we'll call you Deliciousness King.” No. It's a lousy name.

That's not the problem with the show, though. The problem is that it's actually just a big cauldron of colorful things that the creative staff decided to throw together. It's a quasi-fantasy show, with gothic lolita androids who use robo-rocket punches against people with swords, with this supernatural body-switching twist to it. Also, the land is apparently populated by He-Man monsters, who have either all be biogenetically engineered, or have evolved from the refuse of man's overindulgence. The end product is some crappy story that must have been birthed from the pen of a high school student daydreaming during chemistry class.

Now, the other side of the coin is that there are probably people who think that such a ridiculous mash-up of elements is hilarious. But I think there is a proper way to pay homage to genre tropes (see the next review for a shining example), and an improper way. Murder Princess falls into that latter category. It takes itself way too seriously to be considered a comedy, and instead just seems like a desperate attempt to pander to too many fans. I'm not buying it.[TOP]

There's definitely a skill involved in making nonsensical, goofy comedies, and Paniponi Dash has it in surplus. Another ex-ADV title, this madcap (and a little bit exhausting) comedy takes spontaneity to new heights. It is the epitome of randomness. In the first two minutes, we see aliens, a Planet of the Apes reference, and we're introduced to the main character, an 11-year-old MIT graduate named Rebecca “Becky” Miyamoto who will be taking over as the new homeroom teacher because “the last homeroom teacher [expletive] quit." There's also a creepy-looking, yet strangely cute talking rabbit character, a cat idol that lives in vending machines, and boom mikes and overhead cameras lurking in the classroom.

That's pretty much it, really. The show doesn't really change much stylistically after that point. It's just one five-second joke after another, and it manages to barrel its way through an entire series without losing steam once. Of course, it does get a little exhausting, as I wrote before. There's only so many wacky gags you can take before you've laughed yourself stupid, but each episode is so unique that you can always pop in a random disc and still be guaranteed chuckles. It's also great for parties, in the rare case you ever find yourself in a situation where everyone is begging for you to show them some anime. The references are pan-cultural enough that they can appeal to everyone, and each episode can be watched by itself with almost zero prior knowledge of the characters.

One thing to note is that while the animation is incredibly low budget, and pretty bad by most standards, the series uses this to its full advantage. Because the show relies so heavily on visual gags, it gets away with keeping most of the scenes static, and only moving a few quadrants of the screen at a time. For instance, an entire sequence could just be a shot of kids staring at the chalkboard, with one character making crazy faces in the forefront. Heck, a quarter of the time, the jokes just involve having different chalk drawings on the blackboard. Kudos for making the most out of a small budget, I say.

The biggest bummer about this release though, is the lack of the ADV Vidnotes that were on the first release of this series. When the license transferred hands, I guess that was one of the casualties, and it's a huge bummer. The Vidnotes were these VH1-style pop-ups that provided information on all the gags and references in every episode, and it's a huge shame that Funimation couldn't have at least included liner notes. It's still a funny show, though, so seriously, give it a shot. Even if you don't die laughing like I did, maybe you'll at least crack a couple of smiles.[TOP]

On a much more serious note, the fourth volume of Darker than Black made its way onto the review heap. And, for the most part, if you enjoyed the first few volumes, you'll enjoy this one. Since the story is told as a conglomeration of short stories, there's not too much in the way of suspense, but at least you already know what you're in for. The two missions in this disc are just more of the same—Hei gets a mission, we meet some contractors along the way, and eventually, his bad-assery takes over, saving the day. Then the cop lady scowls about how she can't find BK201.

The first standalone introduces an organization called Evening Primrose, whose goal is to promote equal rights for contractors, and allow them to carry on normal lives in public. One of the members is an old friend of Hei, who takes a heavy chunk of the screen time. While their presence is being made known amongst some of the contractors, various terrorist actions are also happening around town, like the bombings of both the MI6 and the CIA offices. The second story introduces a young yakuza apprentice, who takes a liking to a doll.

I've had somewhat mixed feelings about this series all along. I enjoy the episodes, and I find the different contractors to be interesting, but with the way that the story is set up, I don't feel like I have a reason to look forward to the next discs. Because the story is told as a series of standalones, I could potentially step away from the show for a few months, and nothing would change. That's part of why I think it would work really well as a rental. You get to follow the characters and their new missions, but the wait time between volumes won't really be a big deal. However, that could be a huge bonus for some viewers. It makes it easier to just pull a random disc off the shelf, and within an hour, you can pick up a story and get a resolution.

One other upside with the way that this show is structured is that you can cycle through new characters really quickly. This gives the show a bit of a mutant-of-the-week feeling, but so many of the side characters come back, or are referenced later, that this ends up being a fairly efficient way to introduce the huge cast. Besides, I still like smirking over all the different “contracts” that the contractors have. Having to drink hot milk? Boohoo. Some of these truly border on ridiculous sometimes (though nothing will ever top the guy who had to eat flowers).

Darker than Black is better than mediocre, but I don't consider it a great show. It gets the job done, in terms of entertaining viewers, but it lacks that general suspense or drive that keeps people glued to their chairs. Still, if you're looking for something purely entertaining to watch with a Heroes-esque vibe, give this a peek.[TOP]

Rounding out this week is the last half of School Rumble season two, a series that really gets better every episode. The back of the box claims, “we still have no idea what's really going on with this show, beyond the fact that the weirdness is piling up,” but I don't buy that at all. That might have been a pretty decent description of the first season, which really was just a rat's nest of weirdness, but this season has really surpassed my expectations.

While the first season was largely just character-driven gags, this season has really allowed viewers to get to know the characters, something that's continued in these episodes. Instead of just playing the love triangles for comic relief, they're actually a viable source of drama. Luckily though, things never get too serious, and it keeps things light and fun. These episodes also put a lot more focus on Harima, his ambitions as a manga artist, and his growing relationship with the various girls who have a crush on him. As the series progresses, he's also slowly transforming into a bishie character, which I'm sure not a lot of female viewers would have anticipated at the start.

As far as the “weirdness” goes, this show has done a good job of balancing a storyline, and straight gags. It takes metaphors to a very literal level, and it's hilarious when they're executed properly. One example is Harima's editor-in-chief. He's drawn as a towering giant, 100 times the size of a normal man, but no one around him seems to notice his size—they just simply cower in fear. In the following episode, Harima tries to confess to Tenma, but walks into the wrong room. The result of his actions chills him so much, he's seeing possessed people. It's a great way to fish for laughs, while still allowing for the story to flow interrupted.

I don't want to keep harping on how much better the second season is compared to the first, but for everyone who was turned off by the first few episodes they saw of the original, it's worth giving this season a shot. I, too, kind of grumbled about how meaningless the show seemed to be, but these last two boxsets have really turned me around.[TOP]

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

This week's sweet man cave is from Adam V, whose anime room is the envy of... well, me. I'm pretty sure his friends are jealous, too.

"These are my humble shelves. I was going to wait with submitting them untill i felt somewhat at peace with the amount but I've simply given up due to the fact that I can't seem to have enough stuff. Ever.

The manga is sorted alfabetically and the anime is just sorted... well, the way it fit into the shelves really. Wanted it to look somewhat tidy atleast.

Both the larger shelves are actually meant for manga only and the normal books on the lower planes of the shelves are actually just filling so that they won't look so empty. I love books of all kinds so "normal" books actually have two bookshelves all to their own in a separate room.

There's always DVD's and manga lying around in other rooms too so this isn't all there is to this collection. This is basically where me and my friend's hang out, playing games, watching anime, ridiculing each other etc. There's even plans to get another flatscreen so we can link out xboxes together with a system link and play with/against each other on separate screens. This might set back my need to buy more manga though...not to mention the need for more sports supplements... argh... hmmm... deciscions..."

Sweetest bro hangout ever? Maybe.

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

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