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Shelf Life
The Sweet Life

by Erin Finnegan,

Last week I learned a lot. I learned about the difference between dating sims and visual novels, and the definition of galge. Hopefully, some of you also learned more about my tastes in anime. Clannad After Story is actually the first Key series I've watched. I had only seen four episodes of Kanon 2002 prior to writing this column. I'm not going to dismiss an entire genre based on a second season and four episodes of something, so please don't worry about it. That would be like if I'd had one and a half slices of pumpkin pie in my life and totally dismissed pumpkin as a tasty pie flavor. I might miss out on having one really great slice of tasty pumpkin pie later on in life.

I also learned the difference between reviews and film criticism. A helpful blogger pointed me to this article by Steven Grant, a comic book writer and columnist. Here is what Mr. Grant has to say on the issue:

The first priority of a review is entertainment. The first priority of criticism is illumination. Which isn't to say criticism can't be entertaining – entertainment is in the eye of the beholder – or reviews can't be illuminating. I'm not suggesting the two disciplines never overlap; they overlap all the time. I'm not suggesting that "reviewers" are second class citizens, or "critics" exist on some elevated intellectual plane. It's just a simple fact: reviews and criticism aren't the same beast, even though we often like to pretend they are.

The purpose of reviews is to tell the consumer how to spend their money.

That last line is why I feel justified in considering price points in my reviews. I'm on a tight budget, and so are a lot of people nowadays. As a reviewer I'm giving my honest reaction to a work, and then advising you how to spend your money.

Streaming costs nothing (outside of the bandwidth), so here is my honest reaction and consumer report on one very sugary new series, Yumeiro Pâtissière.

This show is amazing. You have to picture me saying "amazing" with sparkling eyes, eyes that you should not trust at all. Even though I'm getting old, within me beats the heart of little girl who grew up in the '80s watching Rainbow Brite and collecting My Little Ponies. Yumeiro is like… a competitive cooking school show that also includes Strawberry Shortcake-style fairies.

Ichigo is 14 when she suddenly realizes she wants to be a patissiere. She transfers to a cooking school, only to find that the other students already have a lot of experience (as in their fathers run cake shops and whatnot). Fortunately, Ichigo gets an assistant, a cute fairy named Vanilla.

If you ever thought, "You know what was wrong with Herself the Elf? Not enough cute boys!" this show certainly addresses your concern. Normal shojo logic would have us think that Ichigo's friends would be other girls, but instead, she is joined by four guys, the "Princes of Sweets". This enrages the other girls at school, adding another item to Ichigo's list of troubles, which so far includes "Can't make crepes," and "Can't temper chocolate."

This show may be mind-blowing, but it's far from perfect. Only seven episodes in and already two sad children have had their problems solved with cake. That's a bit repetitive, even for me, and I'm a fan of Ace of Cakes.

Whenever Ichigo successfully completes a recipe, Vanilla waves her magic spoon and conjures forth a magic recipe card, which is then collected by a mysterious queen fairy who adds the recipe to her magic cookbook with a distinct videogame sound effect. I thought that was odd, but as it turns out, there are not one, but two trading card games connected to Yumeiro Pâtissière.

I've always thought of TCGs as very male-oriented, but that trip to Tokyo Anime Fair really opened my eyes. There was a booth demo-ing some kind of bishie TCG for girls with foil and glitter embossed cards. Never in my life before that moment have I actually wanted to play a TCG. Unfortunately my Japanese wasn't good enough for the demonstration, so I chickened out.

Admittedly, Yumeiro Pâtissière was not quite as good at drawing out my inner girl as Hamtaro (which I watched after college) or Happy Happy Clover (I've only read the manga). It's not as universally appealing as Yakitate!! Japan.

I'm really into food and cooking manga and anime lately, so I'd really like to see the gourmet food critic Oishinbo anime streamed next! (Fat chance, but at least I can read the manga.)[TOP]

Sugar had less cooking and more waffle eating.

I probably shouldn't have marathoned this all in one day. When you were a kid, did you ever shotgun a whole bunch of sugar packets at a restaurant? And it seemed like a good idea at the time and then you regretted it? Yeah, that's what it was like. I initially rented the first disc of this when Geneon released it, and I liked it but never rented the second disc. Pacing yourself with Sugar is very important [insert jokes about cavities and diabetes here].

I don't know if you know this, but in Rothenburg, Germany, the weather is not controlled by meteorological phenomenon. Rather, it is directed by the magic of season fairies (if you threw up a little just now, this is not the show for you). Saga is the last person you'd expect to be able to see fairies. She keeps an OCD schedule and works at a coffee shop. If you're hoping some nut-job half-assed fairy apprentice with a heart of gold will shake up Saga's life and help her get over her dead mother and have more fun, your wish will be totally granted.

The show isn't actually set in Rothenburg, but a fictionalized German town. One of the DVD extras on in this set (besides a disappointing "music video" cut from the show's footage) is a long segment of the director's photographs of his research trip to Germany. It's an interesting bit, but it goes on a little too long.

Part of what drew me to this show in the first place was Koge Donbo's character designs. I can't get enough of her cracktasticly cute characters, although I tend to find the writing in her manga a little weak. Sugar isn't based on manga at all, let alone Koge Donbo's manga, and as a result I think the pacing is actually pretty good for television. A manga series was later adapted from the anime.

This is a standard kid's show, like Yumeiro Pâtissière, but what really started to kill me after several hours of viewing was the search for "Twinkles". In order to pass her fairy test, Sugar and the other apprentices must collect something called "Twinkles," but they don't have much to go on. A few hours of high pitched voices shrieking about finding something "fluffy puffy" is bound to get annoying, no matter how freaking heart-warming it is. And I'm saying this knowing fully aware that I not only watched The Get Along Gang as a child, I also collected the toys and books. (In retrospect, they weren't much of a gang.)

Sugar loves waffles so much so that “Waffo!” becomes a battle cry/exclamation of joy. The waffles eaten in the show are some kind of Belgian street waffle that look delicious, and left me with a vague craving for the same.

One highlight of this collection are the punk fairies Cinnamon and Basil, who control ice and lightning and aren't overly concerned with passing the exam. When Sugar and Saga have a fight, Sugar runs away to hang out with Cinnamon and Basil, and gets to jam with their weird miniature punk band. She even gets a punk hairstyle and two piercings - a couple of paperclip earrings. It's freaking adorable.

Early on there are some fairy conflicts with crows and mice, but if you're looking for more hijinks, you should probably watch Bottle Fairy instead. Shugo Chara! is also very similar in tone to Sugar (serious girl gets wacky magical help).

I wasn't familiar with Sentai Filmworks when I started this column, but now that I've watched several of their releases it seems like they don't usually include dubs. Because Sugar is a re-packaging of Geneon's release, it includes Geneon's dub. It's a fine dub, and I'm sure age-appropriate viewers will appreciate it, since they might not be up to subtitle speed yet.[TOP]

It's too bad Ghost Hound, another Sentai release, wasn't dubbed.

Not to be confused with the 1999 Jim Jarmusch film Ghost Dog, Ghost Hound is a paranormal mystery series similar to Twin Peaks. When Ghost Hound initially aired in Japan, I skimmed reviews that said something about "blah blah psychic kid sees ghost" and I was not interested. Unfortunately, early first looks at the show really sold me short. For one thing, no one told me Shirow Masamune was one of the original creators!

I'm not sure how much Shirow was involved in the show beyond its conception, but you can certainly see his influence. There's a talky intellectualism to the show, as well as some nicely done special effects. Nothing is on the scale of Ghost in the Shell, however.

When Taro was four years old, he and his sister were kidnapped. Although Taro survived, his sister did not, and the kidnapper was hit by a truck when he ran from the police. Now Taro is 14, and he still has reoccurring dreams about the incident. He can't remember the kidnapper's face, or the things his sister said before she died. The reoccurring dreams are coupled with real-time out of body experiences where Taro flies disembodied above his small town. One girl who lives at a Temple, Miyako, can see Taro's spirit.

One day, Masayuki, a smirky smart-ass transfer student from Tokyo, starts hassling Taro about the kidnapping. He gets the gloomy delinquent Makoto involved and insists that the three of them visit the site of the kidnapping, an abandoned hospital. Abandoned hospitals are already freaky enough, even if you weren't held captive there, but this one happens to be in the old town that was purposefully flooded when a new dam was built. So it's extra creepy.

Masayuki, Makoto, and Taro end up having a shared out of body experience that gives them the ability to start going on “OBE” trips at will. This always made me anxious, in a parental “your face will freeze that way if you do it to much” way. Their bodies turn an ashen gray color while their consciousness separates and I'm worried something bad will happen to them. Out of body, the boys look like ghost babies with enormous heads. They are mostly translucent, but some body parts are opaque, like their eyes and ears, and humorously, their butts. While experiencing an OBE the boys can see the ghosts of dead animals flying around, sort of like the invisible world of Shinto spirits in Kamichu!, or the microscopic world made visible in Moyashimon.

The new age out of body nonsense is nicely balanced out by real science in the series. Taro's psychologist appears in most episodes, spouting facts about brain research and the psychological effects of post traumatic stress syndrome. Some episodes relay information practically direct from high school Psychology 101, occasionally going so far as to feature Taro learning about brains in science class.

I think brain mapping is really interesting, so the intellectual bits held my attention well. I also listen to NPR's Radio Lab for fun, so your experience may vary. I'm less interested in the spirit realm and psychic children, but this show does a great job of balancing both.

This is a moody show without being depressing. In these 11 episodes, Taro seems to be getting better. It turns out Masayuki also suffered a trauma, and Makoto certainly has his own issues, but the three of them are starting to confront their fears and phobias together in both scientific and unscientific ways. So far, it seems hopeful.

This would almost, almost, almost be Shelf Worthy, but the lack of a dub or any extras really holds it back. Also there's not much re-watch value. I think after I finish watching the series and its "mysteries" are solved and everyone's pasts are revealed, I'm not going to watch it again. This is a show that's worth renting, and it is worth your time. I've realized a lot of people who read this column are also pretty hardcore collectors, so for a lot of you, this is probably going to be Shelf Worthy.[TOP]

Hopefully there was nothing too controversial this week. I'm off to try out a new low-calorie pumpkin pie recipe. Wish me luck!

This week's shelves are from Kayla, who also has two of the cutest hamsters known to mankind.

"When people ask me what the 'gem' of my collection is, my answer is normally that it isn't a DVD, or a book, or a really cool action figure. It's my walls. I've gradually been adding on posters, notes, pictures, print outs, wall scrolls, and other random articles to my walls and ceiling so that now my room truly is my 'nerd den'. But if I had to pick an item, my gem would be my Wallflower 1 DVD. >.> Why yes, that is Nabeshin's autograph on the back. (To be honest, I just kinda wanted to show that off.)

I tried to combine all of my shelf into one picture. Rather than having the rows like people normally do, my books and DVDs are mixed together on a shelf that runs along my back and side walls. Actually, my side wall shelf (which you can see in the first picture, it's that big long piece of wood on the right side) fell down during the last hurricane and I've yet to replace it. So there's big piles of magazines and books laying around everywhere, waiting for me to get unlazy and fix the shelf.

I put in pics of my ham-hams too, cause they're really, really cute. The white one is Suzaku and the black one is Lelouch. <3"

Now that's a room! And the hamsters are very cute.

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

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