Shelf Life
Vandread By the River

by Bamboo Dong, Jun 8th 2009

Starting this week, Shelf Life will be reviewing streaming anime, alongside DVD releases. It's still primarily a DVD column, but as more and more series are being released as season boxsets, the actual number of reviewable titles is decreasing. Plus, with so much good stuff out there online, it'd be a shame to not be keeping folks up to date with it. As a general rule, I'll only ever review one streaming show a week (since it is a DVD column, after all), and they'll be sorted into two categories: Stream Worthy and Flushable. Regrettably, some of these titles may only be available online to readers in the US and Canada, but hopefully they'll all eventually make their way onto DVD. I hope you enjoy the change!

Welcome to Shelf Life.

When I first saw an episode of Kiba at an anime convention last year, I thought, “Surely, the reason why this is so trite and unbelievable is because the dub must just be poorly written.” Imagine my disappointment when I was dragging myself through Kiba this week, and realizing that not only was I watching that same show again, but that it was just as terrible as I had originally suspected—in either language. Like many a shonen action story that's come before it, Kiba excels only in two things: inventing ludicrous reasons to fight, and convincing itself that viewers will eat up any conflict thrown at them, regardless of repetition or lack of creativity.

A misplaced allegory for teenage rebellion, one of the first glimpses we get of the main character's personality is that he really likes to break doors and gates. When asked why, he shouts defiantly, “I want to do what I want!” Not even a minute later, in a different scene, his friend yells at a doctor, “I like to do as I please!” when cautioned to take care of his health. Teenagers, take note: only in a fictional environment will that attitude transport you to some magical alternative realm, which is what inexplicably happens next. Our main hero (his friend not too far behind) is thrown into a fantasy world named Templar, which looks and feels like any Ye Olde Village plucked from an MMO. The characters even look like it, including this creepy old wizard man, whose dwarven face is the stuff of cookie commercials and Chinese cartoons. In that world, people fight by plucking these marble-sized spirits from various subcutaneous holders. They can throw them at people or put them in weapons, but only the most powerful and strong and special can use them to summon monsters to fight for them.

What a shock, then, when our scrappy eyelined hero can summon a winged beast man who's not only exceedingly powerful, but envied by all the “shardcasters” in the land. Luckily, we get plenty of chances to see it in action, because this Templar land has no shortage of Y chromosomes who live to fight. When their reasons dwindle, they turn to sparring. When the sparring gets dull, they turn to tournaments. And all this because some kid was angry because he probably didn't want to do his homework.

To heighten my already bitter resentment towards the series, the animation is terrible, too. Most noticeably, the lip flaps don't synch up with the Japanese dialogue at all. It doesn't even try. Characters' lips will start yammering before anything is even spoken, and often keep jabbering away long after something has been said. I don't expect perfection with my shows, but surely, there is a quality control station somewhere in the studio where some bright-eyed intern notices these phantom lip flaps. Sadly, I couldn't convince myself to check if that were the case in the dub, after hearing someone use the line, “Ruffian though he may be.”

Look, kids. I know being a teenager can be tough sometimes. Maybe you don't get to sit with the popular kids at lunch, or maybe that cute girl in your US history class doesn't know your name. But there are two unconstructive ways to solve this problem, and that's destroying doors and gates, and watching trash like Kiba. If you need to escape from your problems, consider alternative activities, like constructing a meticulous model of 1607 Jamestown from cherry pits. But don't watch Kiba, because you'll just end up feeling even sorrier for yourself.[TOP]

Even though gloom was lurking over me like a storm cloud after Kiba, I cheered up considerably after watching Vandread. It's a thinpak re-release of a previously released show, but for those looking for an action-oriented series that would be described generically as “a madcap adventure,” it's a good time. My only disappointment was that the Benny Hill theme song wasn't playing over some of the scenes (though its native soundtrack is just as cheesy). But still, it's got enough elements to keep someone's attention for several episodes in a row, and a heavy dose of gratuitous fanservice for those who need that extra pep.

The battle of the sexes is a tried and true algorithm for generating instant conflict and humor, but Vandread takes it one step further. In the distant future, women and men are now living in separate planetary colonies, and are sworn enemies. Propaganda films show women as vile creatures who eat the innards of men, so inevitably, generations of men are raised to wage battle against those fearful, menstruating creatures. During one of those clashes, though, the unexpected happens. An even greater enemy attacks the once-male-commanded-but-now-usurped-by-women battleship. The two sides must now shelves their differences, and learn how to work together to battle this greater threat. Cute.

Although that part of the story isn't a new concept, the events in later parts of the series (two seasons in total) will likely take viewers by surprise. The origin of the enemy and their motivations, as well as what they actually do, provide a horrifying twist to the somewhat comedic series and give the last season a lot of momentum to barrel to the finish line. As cynical as I am about anime storylines, even I was taken aback by what our band of heroes discovered about the enemy, and it managed to hold my curiosity long enough to marathon the entire series.

As mentioned previously, though, there is a fair amount of gratuitous fanservice in this series, though it dwindles as the show progresses (the ending theme is laden with buxom ladies wearing gleaming nipple-showing outfits). Curious, because one would wonder why, in a society of women, some of them would choose to wear such ridiculous outfits, but maybe that's a question better answered by a sociologist. Why would someone be dressed in a fetishy French maid get-up? How do these sci –fi women keep finding vacuformed space outfits that are able to cup each individual breast? And while we're on questions, explain how a doctor can fix a robot, based on the logic of, “Well, you're a doctor, so can't you fix all living things?” Nobody knows, but presumably this is some male fantasy where it's just three everyday guys who have to save the universe with the help of a shipful of hot ladies. Muscle flexing, and all that.

As silly as it gets sometimes, though, it's actually a pretty fun series. The technological side of it is completely nonsensical if you think about it, so it's best not to. It's best just to enjoy the adventure and let the series take you along with it, and think about things as little as possible. If you follow that strategy, you'll probably have a good time.[TOP]

Going back to nonsensical shonen shows for a bit, though, I ended up watching another Dragon Ball Z double feature this week, something I will probably do once a month for the rest of my life, because God knows there are a million of these things. This time, I was faced with the masculinely named Fusion Reborn and Wrath of the Dragon. I couldn't help but chuckle when the back of the box said for the first film, “A dangerous plan of attack is devised, and only an unprecedented level of teamwork will deliver victory.” The chuckle was in part because nothing in DBZ is “unprecedented” anymore, and surely not teamwork, but as the title suggests, a fusion takes place. For those not in the know, that's when two people actually fuse into one stronger person. Creepy, yet amusing.

Apologies in advance for the series spoiler, but Goku basically dies all the time. When he dies, though, he goes to this alternate place called Other World, where he just trains like crazy so he can come back to life even stronger when his family brings him back to life using special Dragonballs. So at the start of Fusion Reborn, he's dead again and is, of course, fighting in a tournament. Things get interrupted when he has to go fight Janemba, a tubby monster with giant ki-shooting belly buttons. Meanwhile on Earth, his kids are dealing with a zombie problem, including zombie Hitler who is commanding his zombie troops.

The second movie starts when Great Saiyaman is out busting some crime, whereupon he realizes someone is spying on him. The spy tells them they have to rescue some super warrior named Tapion, who's trapped in a music box. The box can't be opened by brute strength, so off they go to gather the Dragonablls, which is, by this point, a really mundane task. They open the box, the guy is released, and a series of events end up also bringing back some monster named Hirudegarn. A bunch of things happen, and our heroes prevail again.

I kind of like Dragon Ball Z in the same way that I enjoy putting Hugh Grant romantic comedies on my Netflix queue. They're oddly relaxing to watch, even if nothing interesting ever happens. One of my favorite part about watching DBZ is being able to exclaim in incredulity, “What just happened?!” But even as I pretend to sound indignant, I know that deep inside, I actually kind of like how ludicrous it is. The fusion dance is still funny every time I see it, because there's something universally amusing about seeing burly men dancing in synchronization. That's pretty much written down as a rule somewhere. The fact that such a thing had to be invented as a plot device to destroy bad guys amuses me.

I've kind of lost track of how many of these double features have been released. I don't even know how many movies there are in total, because it feels like I've seen at least a hundred of them. There are some that I like better than others, and of all the ones I've seen, I feel pretty positive about Fusion Reborn (moreso than Wrath of the Dragon). I like how outrageously goofy it is (the fat guy explodes into a mountain of jelly beans), and there's this one scene that just freezes on Goku's blank face for 5 seconds that just tickles me. If a show's going to be campy, they might as well go all out, and nothing screams camp like this movie.[TOP]

For the inaugural streaming anime review, I chose Ristorante Paradiso, with no better reason other than it having a fascinating title. Currently, it's streaming on ANN as well as Crunchyroll, so if you want something to watch right now, while you're waiting for DVDs to come in from Amazon or Netflix, you can get your instant fix. First introduced as a manga, it was recently adapted into a 12-episode anime series, and presumably, the older women really dig it. Mostly because it's full of old guys wearing glasses.

Like most slice of life series, Ristorante Paradiso veers on the slower end. It centers around a small restaurant in Rome that's staffed entirely by old dudes wearing glasses. Because they're gentleman, they speak very slowly, which delights all the older female restaurant patrons who flock to the place in droves in order to hit on the guys. The main character is a 21-year old girl named Nicoletta who has come to Rome to reveal to the restaurant owner that his wife is actually her mother, who abandoned her when she was young. Nicoletta falls in love with the head waiter, who is also old. In order to spend more time with him, she ends up working in the kitchen as an apprentice chef.

As a mid-20s woman who doesn't dig old guys, the romance aspect of this series escapes me, but although I can't personally relate to the story, it's still really interesting to watch her relationship unfold. It's not really about her crush on the waiter, either, as much as it is watching her reconcile with her feelings and become the independent woman that she wants to be. Through her daily activities at the restaurant, the viewer really gets to know the staff and their personal relationships. It may be meticulous at times, but it's a beautiful and relaxing series for those who have the patience.

While the character designs border on hideous, one of the artistic highlights is the backgrounds. Highly textured, everything has a splotchy overlay, giving everything the appearance of an Impressionistic painting. It's easy on the eyes, and lends the series a hazy, nostalgic feeling. It contrasts sharply with the characters in the foreground, and is able to retain a lot of detail without appearing busy. Part of the reason I keep watching the series is the artwork, which is truly beautiful. Because the series is so slowly paced, too, there's plenty of time to admire the visual aspects without missing any of the dialogue, which is nice.

Understandably, slice of life shows are a hard sell for a large portion of anime fandom, because of their pacing and their lack of an overall narrative, but I think they're delightful. Ristorante Paradiso is mesmerizing, and I found that my original distaste for the old man fetish quickly wore away as I began to appreciate the series more for its visual content and dialogue. It may not be one of the more hip offerings online right now, but for those who like this genre, it's worth watching.[TOP]

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

This week's shelves are from Rex:

"But a few weeks ago Brian Hanson talked about basement dwelling nerds in his hey-answerman column. So I thought I would also include some pic's of my "nerd den" or as I like to call it my fortress of solitude. It's in the basement of my parents house and my father being a good American of German descent refers to it as "Der Fuhrerbunker". In the basement we've got a big screen HD tv with surround sound, two computers, a nice leather "C" shapped couch (unfortunatley it has to be covered with blankets for the dog), lot's of shelves (also unfortunatley most of the space is taken up by books and not DVD's, damn books). Not pictured is a "state of the art" fly tying station for making flies for fishing (my mothers hobby), a nice bathroom (no walking upstairs to take a leak!), and a mini fridge in the back room loaded with beer, sake, and various energy drinks for those long marathons."

While I was hoping for more pictures of the shelves, I will accept the pictures of your nerd cave. You should've included the fly tying station.

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


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