Shelf Life

by Bamboo Dong,

80% of the stuff coming to my mailbox nowadays is re-releases, so guess what you get to read about? That's right. So strap on your seatbelts, kids, cuz it's going to be a funtastic ride.

Welcome to Shelf Life.

For whatever reason, UFO Ultramaiden Valkyrie is four seasons long. That's right, four seasons. That means on three separate occasions, someone said, “Hey, should we continue pumping out this brainless schlock?” And three different times, someone said, “Yes, let's.” Unsurprisingly, over the course of these four seasons, the show managed to get worse, not better. The last two seasons aren't even really “seasons,” per se, as they're both direct-to-video OVAs. Thanks to good ol' Funimation and their infallibly good taste (that last bit was sarcasm, folks), you can now buy both seasons 3 and 4 in one handy little DVD case.

Having failed as a romantic comedy, UFO Ultramaiden Valkyrie learned that it was only good at one thing—throwing a bunch of cute girls onto a TV screen, and watching them run around like drunk teenagers. In these episodes, we get to watch our gaggle of brainless women doing all sorts of fun things, like amass an army of glasses-wearing girls, running around the city collecting magical stone shards, and doing other wacky things. (Note: if you haven't seen the series—don't worry. None of the characters are that notable.) Everything they do is wacky, wacky, wacky, yet strangely enough, none of it is really that interesting. That's largely because they fall into one very big trap—they let every joke play on for way too long. Watching the catgirl maid slowly change into her masked cat superhero alter-ego is amusing—but seeing the exact same sequence for the third time in the same episode? Tiresome. Watching characters take psychotic mind trips—amusing. Watching the tenth character go through the same thing? Tiresome. Each and every episode starts off alright, but by the time it's crawled to the finish line, every last punchline has been told so many times that it's just painful.

Also, I'm going to throw this out there—I don't think these girls are that cute. In fact, I think they're really irritating. Their dullard personalities are as complex as a slice of cheese pizza, and the unstructured episodic nature of these OVAs makes it even worse. Try as they may, these women are simply not interesting enough to carry on an entire series of them doing silly things. Who cares if Boring Guy and his child bride can't get married? Who cares if Glass Girl has a weird insecurity about her glasses? I don't. I think they should've ended this series when they had the chance.

If only to punch viewers in the face yet again, the animation is also not very inspired. Despite the short length of each “season,” the studio must have been allotted mere nickels for the budget. Each scene is reused as much as possible, and the animators have taken every shortcut known to mankind. Want to save money? Spend 30 seconds on three frames. Better yet, do that—but then reuse those same three frames at least five times throughout the episode. Now that's how you save money.

Ultimately, UFO Ultramaiden Valkyrie: “The OVA Collection” is a waste of time. The writing is terrible, their sense of comic timing is terrible, and anything that is mildly good is repeated to death until it, too, becomes terrible. If, for some unexplained reason, you are a giant fan of the series—even then, I don't recommend watching these OVAs. They serve no purpose other than to put silly girls in silly situations, and that just makes everyone sad. Don't do it.[TOP]

Fortunately for humanity, while things like the previous title continue to exist, the world is trying to balance out the bad with the good. In this case, it's ADV Films' re-release of a previous CPM title—the critically acclaimed war classic, Grave of the Fireflies. One of the best war films ever created, as well as one of the most tragic and moving, this movie is one of the finest things ever produced by the Japanese film industry. Directed by Isao Takahata, this movie is on a short list of animated films that everyone should see at some point in their lives.

Set in the final year of World War II, it follows two kids, a boy and his 4-year-old sister, as they try to survive the horrors of a war-torn Japan. Orphaned by a firebombing raid and resented by their distant aunt, who has her own problems to worry about, the children try to fend for themselves, barely surviving on scraps of food and their endless optimism. Using the war as a backdrop, the movie focuses mostly on the children and their strong will to survive, despite being victims of a war they have no part in.

Released as a two-disc set, the bonus features are pretty nice, and include interviews with Takahata, as well as Akiyuki Nosaka, the author of the novel on which this film is based. It also includes an interview with Roger Ebert, and commentary by two history professors, amongst other features. There's also a documentary about video restoration, which is a little curious, considering the film doesn't look that great. I had doubted that the film was even restored until I saw that documentary, because even with my PS3's “upscaling” capability and my HD TV… it wasn't looking that good.

Even so, this movie is very much worth watching, both from an artistic perspective and a historical perspective. Offering a glimpse into Japanese culture during one of the most trying times of its recent history, Grave of the Fireflies is a profound experience. Laced with symbolism and backed by a very strong narrative, this movie is a true classic that continues to be screened in classrooms and living rooms all across the world, despite its age. If you missed CPM's original DVD release, this is your chance to own one of the greatest animated films ever made.[TOP]

We continue our week of re-releases with the thinpak release of The Wallflower, a cute comedy whose box cover looks more like a shampoo commercial or some kind of porno. First released not that long ago as individual discs by ADV, then as half-season boxsets by Funimation, it's now available in one handy 2-case box about the width of a standard DVD case. And, for bishie-lovers who are a little tight on cash, this is definitely the right time to pick up this quirky gem.

As seen by the four naked dudes on the cover, this series is packed full of pretty boys. In fact, they're so pretty that they constantly have hordes of women shrieking outside their door, leaving piles of candy and cards, and harassing them until they're out of breath. Needless to say, this series is completely aware of the bishie clichés it's embracing, and spends most of the episodes lampooning the more frivolous side of shoujo romances. The four beautiful men on the cover are rooming together in a giant house owned by their rich, but slightly crazy landlady. She tells them that her niece is going to move in, and offers them a deal. If they can transform her into an elegant lady fit for posh society, she'll let them live there for free. They, of course, take the challenge. When the niece arrives, they realize that they've got their work cut out for them. Preferring horror movies and anatomy mannequins to roses and makeup, Sunako is more like a ghost than a girl.

Of course, it goes without saying that when she wants to, Sunako cleans up real nice. Unshockingly, this also means that one of the boys falls for her a bit. But really, that's not the point of the series. The Wallflower has just as much fun making fun of beauty standards as it does making fun of reverse harems stereotypes, fangirls, and even horror tropes. It has a delightful sense of self-awareness, and every time one of the boys cracks a joke about being pretty, it's almost like they're winking directly at the audience.

It's hard to do comedy right, but The Wallflower makes a really strong effort and succeeds most of the time. The characters never take themselves too seriously, and Sunako never ceases to draw out laughs with her headstrong personality and her affinity for the occult. This is the third time this series has been released, but maybe this time, it will get the retail love it deserves.[TOP]

Next up on the re-release train is xxxHolic, a series that I mildly enjoyed during its individual disc run, but that I have almost zero interest in watching ever again. This is mostly because of two reasons. One—the best part about this series for me was seeing what new kinds of magical creatures the show could conjure every episode. Now that I've seen all that xxxHolic has to offer, I'm not really at the edge of my seat anymore. Two—honestly, if you've seen two episodes, you've seen them all. New magical creatures/spirits/ghouls/whatever aside, all of the episodes are very similar.

Based on the CLAMP manga of the same name, xxxHolic is a supernatural show in the same vein as Mushi-shi, except less interesting. Our whiny hero Watanuki gets roped into doing odd jobs for Yuko, a witch who grants customers anything they desire. Conveniently, all the desires are generally linked to something supernatural, which is curious because no one ever asks for a bag of unmarked bills, or just a cheeseburger. Along the way, Watanuki sees all sorts of stuff, like spirits that weigh you down when you lie, or magical foxes that sell noodles.

Even though I've spent a great many hours watching this series, only one thing really sticks out, though. It's not the characters or the story, or any of the episodes. What I remember the most was how much the artwork in this series absolutely sucked. I feel certain that half these episodes were animated by a room full of 12-year-olds. The characters go off model in just about every scene, and they end up having freakishly large hands, or grotesquely long necks, or heads that are way too small for their bodies. It's downright ghoulish, and if I had to choose to be locked in a shack with all of the xxxHolic monsters, or just one character, I'd choose the former. CLAMP is known for their wonderful artwork, and truly, that did not carry to the anime series at all. These people look like monsters.

xxxHolic is a decent time if you're looking for something supernatural, but low key. With its repetitive nature and slow pacing, though, it might not be the best for marathon sessions. This is the kind of show that's best watched in small increments, so as far as that goes, maybe renting bits and pieces at a time is the way to go.[TOP]

That's it for this week. Have a good Labor Day!

This week's shelf selection is from Walter:

"The anime collection currently stands at over 100 titles with some lumping for tidiness, e.g. I am counting things like "Ah! My Goddess" as one although I have the OVA, both TV series, and the movie. Manga only come to 30 titles, not all completed. The collection has been accumulating since 2001."

You get 1000 cool points for having Yawara. Maybe even 2000.

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

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