Shelf Life
My Dog Skip

by Bamboo Dong,

When I walked into the elevator on my way back to lab, I noticed that it was full of fruit flies. There was no fruit in the vicinity, so I could only imagine that they had escaped from some lab. That's the biggest reason why I'm so grossed out by fruit flies in my workplace. Not because they're insects (which I normally loathe anyway), not because they tend to burgeon into giant colonies, but because most of the time, I know that they escaped from a lab somewhere, and I just know that they're not wild type flies. If I'm going to have a fly buzzing around my head, I'd rather it not be some kind of strange mutant. So gross.

Welcome to Shelf Life.

Back when Geneon was releasing The Law of Ueki, I always hid the discs at the bottom of my review pile, putting them off until I forgot about them. I don't quite understand why I had such an aversion towards watching the show, but I think it might have been a combination between the lackluster character designs and the fact that the story just sounded stupid. Junior high kids battling each other to win some coveted “talent of blank” prize? Lame. Then last week, I ended up with the boxset re-release, and decided that it was time to finally review this thing, and I'm surprised how much time it sucked up before I finally stopped watching. That's my way of saying maybe I was wrong.

The Law of Ueki is, by no means, a masterpiece of any kind. It follows shonen tournament recipes very faithfully, from the silly speeches about righteousness to the ludicrous new powers that each new character always possesses. Yet despite its silliness, it's oddly captivating, because it's so darned goofy. Essentially, there are 100 candidates from another world (which world? Nobody knows or cares!) who are competing for the spot of Celestial King. They win this position by granting one junior high student of their choice one special power. Those kids then have to fight each other, and the last one standing not only gives his/her sponsor the King title, but also gets to pick a “talent of blank” of their own. Of course, this could either be used for good—or evil. Such suspense. There's also some caveats, like losing your own personal “talents” whenever you use your powers against non-fighters, and so forth, but those aren't terribly important for the review right now.

Naturally, the main character Ueki (whose power is to turn trash into trees) is the one to beat, and he reluctantly squares off against a variety of power-users, like someone who turns coins into wind, or a guy who can effectively change the weight of matter. What makes this show somewhat fun is not so much the story, which is riddled with plot holes and collapses in internal logic, but the fun ridiculousness of it all. Watching Ueki shooting trees at people is kind of fun, especially because you never know what new power he's going to encounter, and he certainly doesn't win all the time. It's kind of like how Naruto dupes people into watching conflicts that last for 10 episodes, because you say to yourself, “Okay, I'll go to bed after this fight.” It's frivolous, but enjoyable, and while it's far from being one of the better shonen fighting shows out there, it's a big time suck. Before you know it, hours have passed, and you've spent all day sitting around doing nothing.

I have one major gripe, though, and it's not about the show. It's about the packaging. The full series is released in this ungainly clamshell case with an extra plastic flappy disc-holder thing inside. For some idiotic reason, the discs aren't actually labeled with volume numbers. Sure, they're factory-packaged in order, but god forbid you shuffle them around. Then you have to stare at the little catalog numbers and figure out the order from there, when the whole thing could've been avoided if someone had decided to plaster big-ass numbers on the damned discs.

Sure, the series is really absurd. Yeah, the fights are completely nonsensical and are explained away by one-liners like, “Whaaaaaat? How could he still be standing???” But it's vibrant and popping with color, and the fights are fun to watch, even if half of them are just people charging at each other and jumping around. I certainly enjoyed myself while it lasted, and if there are others out there who are looking for a way to melt away some hours, this is a good way to fizzle up a few brain cells.[TOP]

While the next title is much more aesthetically pleasing, both visually and aurally, its sad excuse for melodrama and teenage angst plunges it far below the previous fist fest. Before I talk about Shattered Angels, it's worth giving a little backstory on how it came to be. Much like Tsubasa is a fangasm of CLAMP crossovers, Shattered Angels is a melting pot of manga group Kaishaku's works, making references to works like Kannazuki no Miko, Magical Nyan Nyan Taruto, Steel Angel Kurumi, and UFO Maiden Valkyrie. Except, instead of being a shining gem like Kannazuki no Miko, it was basically an empty, vapid vacuum of whimpering girls wishing they could've starred in a better show.

The story takes place in one of those sprawling anime schools where it's always spring time, kids never litter, and the army of janitors are mysteriously hidden in a cupboard somewhere. Our heroine is Kuu, a worthless pretty little thing whose name not only means “empty,” but whom also sighs all day long about how empty she feels. Not too surprisingly, she spends much of her energy penning long letters in her head to an imaginary prince, who will someday rescue her from mediocrity. One day, a brooding transfer student from a “now defunct but legendary” high school joins the class, and crazy things start happening. There are immortal, indestructible man-made humanoids called Absolute Angels who command giant mechs, and they do all sorts of damage. Mankind is in peril, crazy things happen, and there are plot twists I can't even begin to talk about.

And yet, this whole series is so, so empty. The characters are bland and two-dimensional, and even though there are a couple of rough scenes where someone might be prone to shed a tear or two, most of the dialogue is so overwhelmingly cheesy that those scenes never reach their full emotional potential. The characters exist in this strange quasi-reality where they exist only to look pretty, have perfect breasts, and watch on as Kuu sputters over something. But, at least they exist for a reason. Until we realize what Kuu's real purpose in the series is, she exists merely as a shiny bauble who gazes wistfully into the distance, presumably thinking about newborn puppies and chocolate cupcakes. Her voice in the Japanese version sounds like air leaking out of a balloon.

On somewhat of an upside, if you are easily distracted by pretty visuals and melancholy piano music, then perhaps you'd get a lot more out of this show. The animation is flashy and hides its flaws well. All the characters are extremely attractive, from the main cast, down to the squealing hordes of girls who scurry through the hallways. The soundtrack is almost good enough to stand on its own, with mournful chamber orchestrations that are truly lovely until Kuu opens her mouth. If there was a magical way to strip off the dialogue from the show, and just leave the background music, it'd make a really great screensaver.

I have an unhealthy love of all things melodramatic, but even I had trouble slogging through Shattered Angels. It's really not the worst show in the world, but it's so lazily and poorly written, and the characters are truly bland. I would reckon that one might be able to enjoy the show based solely on the visuals and music alone, but it's like drinking water for dinner. It's refreshing when you're thirsty, but ultimately unsatisfying.[TOP]

The next boxset re-release on my pile was Utawarerumono, an ex-ADV release that one of the marketing managers once told me was jokingly refered to as Under-water-Ray-Romano. It's a mouthful, and part of me wonders if that isn't why more fans don't talk about the series. That, or maybe because it's also really boring.

Imagine waking up one day with no memory of who you are, or how you got to some village. And strangely, you've got a horned mask on your face that you can't take off. That's the position that the main character Hakuoro finds himself in. Instead of wailing in despair, though, he eventually settles into his new surroundings and eventually becomes a respected healer. However, bad things keep happening to the village, and our stoic hero must take responsibility for the villagers and keep them safe. Based on an interactive computer game, the narrative also plays out like a game, where mini-incidents happen every episode, only it's much less interesting because you're not the one controlling the events.

Part of the reason for this is the utterly boring characters. Each character, including the masked protagonist, plays one very specific role. There is the loud, brash one, the wise one, the angsty teeneger, and so forth. Hakuoro plays the trustworthy leader who is so good and virtuous that nothing could possibly lead him astray (except for some interesting twists near the end). Everyone loves him and looks up to him no matter what, and while those are certainly good traits in a leader, his lack of internal conflict for the first part of the series makes him a very boring person to watch.

Utawarerumono is not a bad show. It's interesting, if only to see this specific world that the characters live in, but it falls short of what it's capable of. The characters are never fully developed to a point that's satisfying, and the problems that the villagers face are never exciting or suspenseful until the last two volumes. It's one of those shows that "gets better," but I'd hesitate to watch the series again just to reach that point.[TOP]

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

This week's collection (and cat) belong to Trav, who had this to say about his stuff:

"I'm Trav from Tampa and here is my Anime and Manga collection. I've been serious about Anime for about five years now. The first series I bought was a bootleg version Cowboy Bebop, there was no way I was going to pay 20 bucks for four episodes well as you can see I've changed my tune. In addition to anime and manga, I collect gashpon and revotech figures. I haven't opened the revotechs yet because I don't have anywhere to display them, well anywhere my cat can't get to them she's already destroyed my Revy."

Awww, a cat chewing on a figurine. I'd be angry about it too, if the thought of it didn't seem so cute.

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

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