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Shelf Life
Girls and Gunso

by Bamboo Dong,

You know what's great about the fall? Three things: ice hockey, American football, and the World Series. This is seriously one of the greatest seasons in America, and it's almost ludicrous that so many good things get to happen at once. The NHL season hasn't started yet, so my excitement is still within manageable levels, and I'm still feeling a little testy about some things (Bears fans, I'm saturated with resentment right now), but all is right with the world once again.

Welcome to Shelf Life.

This week was a good week for comedy. It's rare to find anime comedies that keep me giggling episode after episode, but I seem to have struck personal gold. First up was Sergeant Frog, a quirky show about frog aliens who are stranded on Earth. The original plan was to take over the planet, but after the rest of their troops abandon them, it's up to our five anti-heroes to keep the dream alive.

Sgt. Frog has some of the best non-human characters ever written, including the main alien, Sergeant Keroro. Despite his rank, he has almost no leadership skills whatsoever, and now that he's living with a human host family, he spends most of his days doing housework and putting together Gundam models. Joining his taskforce are a variety of other aliens, each who embody various character stereotypes that generally match the personalities of the humans they live with. The shy Tamama is sweet and gentle, until jealousy kicks in, while Corporal Giroro is a fireball, whose love for efficiency and organization makes him the hard-ass of the group. Throw in a gloomy inventor/scientist and a meek ninja, and you've got a cast of colorful characters that are ten times more entertaining than any of the humans in the show.

For fans who live picking out anime references, Sgt. Frog is a treasure chest, especially for jokes that reference other Tomino works. Filled with nods to space operas and giant robot shows, the series also pulls heavily from slapstick comedy and flat-out quirkiness, like transforming Keroro into a photo-realistic frog, or threatening him with dissection. Of course, if you're watching the dub, there are also plenty of American pop culture references thrown in. In fact, it's changed enough to the point that, although the flow of the stories in both languages are roughly the same, they're two completely different scripts. I don't know that this was entirely necessary, since the Japanese version is funny enough as is, and in my estimation is easily accessible to most viewers, but at least they did a reasonable job with the English script. And, well, if you wanted a dub that was faithful to the original script… bummer.

What's delightful about Sgt. Frog is that you can pop in just about any episode, and it'll still be fun to watch. This isn't to say that there isn't an overarching storyline—there is—but the laughs are general enough that you can watch (or rewatch) any scene and still chuckle. It doesn't take a whole lot of setup to laugh at two aliens harmonizing by chanting their names, or watching Keroro flip out over model kits. It's the kind of quick, punchy humor that may not appeal to everyone, but has a fairly good success rate in getting the average viewer to laugh. And really, a cheap laugh is all you need sometimes to cheer yourself up after a bad day.[TOP]

If you liked the anime references in Sgt. Frog, though, you'll really enjoy Hayate the Combat Butler, which is not only steeped in blatant nerd references, but displays a level of self-awareness that makes the jokes even more hilarious. Having never heard much about this series, I didn't quite know what to expect, but right after one of the characters informed Hayate that it was almost time to deliver his intro speech, I was hooked.

In his own words, Hayate is an unremarkable high school student from an unremarkable high school, but because of his neglectful parents, has to spend most of his time slaving away at part-time jobs to put food on the table. When his parents abandon him and saddle him with an enormous debt, he becomes desperate for employment. After a series of events that I can't bear to spoil, he ends up working for a rich heiress as her butler, frequently hulking out and rescuing her whenever she's in trouble.

Not only does Hayate the Combat Butler drown itself in obvious anime references, like alluding to Gendo Ikari's famous Evangelion pose, but it also spends ample time talking about anime. The characters name-drop series and characters all the time, from arguing that Gundams are mobile suits rather than giant robots, to exclaiming, “Hey, I'm not Frieza!” Not only that, but the show is painfully aware that it's an anime. Characters are often interrupted by the narrator (who has the most amazing narrative voice ever, behind Morgan Freeman and David Attenborough), introduce themselves in front of the camera, or calmly acknowledge that they are, indeed, anime characters. My personal favorite involves a cheesecake shot of the super young female protagonist, followed by a jibe from the narrator, commenting that older viewers probably like such things.

I've watched anime before that was relatively self-aware of its clichés and stereotypes, but Hayate the Combat Butler takes it to a new level. It not only presents a joke, it also looks into the camera, winks broadly, and says, “Hey, see what I did there?” It's a lot of fun, and it's guaranteed to please fans who love to be in on jokes—even if that was the intention of the series all along. It doesn't take itself seriously for one second, and that's part of the fun. The show is just aching for people to like it, and for now, I think the effort is paying off. It's a hilarious show with a new brand of humor, and I'm loving it.[TOP]

With Halloween right around the corner, and already invading every major retail outlet, all the anime companies have been pumping out their horror shows, too. Luckily, there's a fairly decent selection this year. First up is the complete collection of Ghost Hunt, whose title pretty much describes exactly what the show is about. People hunt for ghosts. Unlike that Scooby Doo wannabe Ghost Stories, though, Ghost Hunt is actually scary, and a lot of that relies on the utterly creeptastic atmosphere that the artwork provides.

The series stars a ragtag team of ghost-busting professionals, from spirit mediums to exorcists, who all work for the Shibuya Psychic Research team. Owned and operated by an enigmatic pretty boy, the team hires out its services to any client with paranormal problems. Each case generally spans three episodes, and follows the same rough pattern—the situation is presented, the various team members do their thing and try to corner the spirit, and eventually the fresh-faced heroine Mai uses her latent psychic abilities to draw out the culprit. Despite its recognizable pattern though, it doesn't really get old, partially because of the length of each arc, and also because each case is so unique from previous ones.

Most importantly, Ghost Hunt is genuinely scary. Maybe it's because I generally tend to watch my anime late at night, after the whole world has gone to bed, but the show gives me the chills. The ghosts all have these crazy, wide eyes that peer out from the darkness, and their faces are always just slightly messed up. Just enough to let you know that they wouldn't think twice about eating you alive. Plus, I appreciate that the characters actually make an effort to try different tactics to smoke out the ghouls each time. Usually, in a lot of these ghost-seeking anime, they just send in someone who closes their eyes, scribbles on a talisman, then unleashes some kind of fox spirit, but Ghost Hunt is more like that one Discovery Channel show where the dudes walk around measuring the temperature of a wall. It makes it more real—even though the team still has plenty of talisman-scribbling members.

Mostly, it's just fun to see what they'll encounter next. I've always admired the anime industry's ability to dream up wild demons and monsters and ghosts, and it's the same here. By the time the first episode of each arc is over, I'm glued to the TV, dying to know how they'll get rid of the spirit. It's not the creepiest series you could marathon this Halloween, but it'll set the mood.[TOP]

If you want your horror to be a little more elegant, there's also Red Garden, a show that'd be incredibly classy, if it weren't for all the girls beating monsters to death with baseball bats. Previously released by ADV, the full series is now available in a snazzy thinpak from Funimation, who also previously re-released the show in half-season boxsets. So, it might be a sloppy third, but it's still a fun show for people who want to see monsters getting bludgeoned.

Part supernatural thriller and part action, the series introduces four girls who are tied together by one event—they wake up one morning with no recollection of what happened the previous night. All they know is that now, one of their friends is dead, and they can't remember why or how. Upon meeting representatives from a mysterious organization, they learn that they, too, have died, but were resurrected for the purpose of defeating strange monsters that appear on the streets of New York. If they can't defeat the monsters, they die again, permanently. Faced with a disturbing reality and a feeling of emptiness, the girls must embrace their new lifestyle, all while slowly discovering their role in a sinister plot involving their dead friend.

Visually, Red Garden is one of the most aesthetically pleasing horror series I've ever seen. Lean and lanky, the girls are more like high-fashion models than anime characters, with sharp facial features and a unique coloring style that uses gradients to shade their hair. They also have really fabulous outfits, an artistic luxury for a medium that so often slaps characters into uniforms and nondescript cookie-cutter clothes. If anything, it contributes to the air of sophistication and elegance that surrounds some of the girls, and it goes well with the stylized drawings of a slightly evil New York City.

It's also nice to see a show where the characters truly struggle with their new lives, instead of happily accepting whatever silly premise a storyline throws at them. Not only are they thoroughly frightened by their situation (who wouldn't be?), but they let it consume their thoughts. They stop talking to their friends, they start neglecting their schoolwork, and in general, they are very much affected by what happened. They have a near impossible time coping with their existence, and the ongoing conflict draws them closer together. It makes the characters seem more real and more human, and it makes them much more interesting to watch than if they were just monster-bashing action heroes.

Red Garden never got too much buzz when it was released before, but it's a series that deserves more attention. Aside from its unique and gorgeous artwork, it's a supernatural show that tries to be different from its peers. The storyline is fast-paced and filled with twists, and it never ceases to be engaging. It's less outright scary than it is suspenseful, but still a good choice this Halloween season.[TOP]

That's it for this week. Watch out, Bears.

This week's collection is from Steve Evan, whose anime collection is a wonderland of awesome things.

"I got into anime watching Speed Racer and Star Blazers around 1979/1980 but was reintroduced to it in 2001 with Evangelion. Being recently divorced at the time, I discovered ebay with the endless stream of anime collectibles available and my finances have been in a downward spiral ever since.

I've watched almost 90 entire series (not including movies) and have about 85 series/movies in my collection. I don't have much manga, but I'm working on that.

The pictures I've submitted are of various stages of decoration from the past couple of years, so some inconsistencies may be noticed from one shot to another. I've been told my apartment is like a museum or a wonderland. I just love being surrounded by cool stuff. Heaven help me, however, if I ever get a girlfriend who isn't also into anime!

Those wishing to see the rest of my collection, past and present, can see it at my Flickr page."

Don't worry, Evan. Maybe after seeing all that, the girls who like anime will start knockin' on your door.

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

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