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Shelf Life

by Erin Finnegan,

Not every week can be a winner.

As people continue to question my tastes in the forums, I've realized some things about my anime purchasing habits. For example, I'm willing to buy really great anime without a dub or extras. If Little Norse Prince got an R1 DVD release, I'd totally buy it, no question, because it's a classic that I'd like to re-watch and force-loan to people. On the other hand, something like Claymore is more of a rental for me, because I don't plan on re-watching it, however, the box set came with a great dub and lots of extras so I considered it Shelf Worthy.

I also take price into consideration. This weekly column is meant to cover releases that came out within the month. Nowadays no one pays MSRP for anime because of our sale-based culture, but because the sale price can really vary a lot depending on where you live or how much you make, I think MSRP gives us a constant number to work from. Along these lines, I don't think Excel Saga is Shelf Worthy, but I bought it at really low sale price years after the box set came out. Conversely, I still don't own Wings of Honneamise because $80 for one movie is really a bit much. Even now, on sale at $40, I still haven't bought it. $40 for 125 minutes is kind of rough. If you want to know how classic titles stand up over time, we have the Buried Treasure column for just that.

This week I found that a bad enough plot and weak characters can drop a show from Rental to Perishable. Your mileage may vary.

What's the opposite of gestalt? Blassreiter is somehow less than the sum of its parts. The CGI elements, character designs, and direction are all independently well done, but the elements all come together like a train wreck… a really bad train wreck with lots of casualties, including the plot.

In the near future, in Germany, a machine-based virus is turning humans into monsters. This isn't explained clearly in the show, at least not in the first few episodes, so I'm basically going by the explanation on the back of the box. Sure, it's terrible when a show has too much exposition in the first episode, but Blassreiter goes too far in the opposite direction, and fails to explain the virus for several episodes. I was never sure how widespread the machine plague was. Is it only in Germany? How many victims have there been, exactly?

The first episode is set at a motorcycle race, where an infected dead body fuses with a motorcycle and wreaks havoc on the track. This monster is clearly out to kill humans, but another good monster appears to fight it off. Meanwhile, a famous biker named Geld is crippled in the chaos. To make a long story short, Geld gets infected with the virus and starts fighting against the bad monsters to help humans.

The motorcycles, monsters, and vehicles are all rendered in detailed CG. I don't like CG/2D animation blends unless it's done really seamlessly, like in Tekkonkinkreet. I hate it when 3D animation just screams out that it's 3D. On the whole, Blassreiter's CG effects are technically well done for a TV budget, but somehow it feels like the CG team is just trying too hard to be cool. They actually make it less cool. To achieve a truly cool aesthetic, they need it to look effortless, but they've somehow done the opposite.

The show's character designer was also trying too hard. Geld joins some kind of unexplained government-based monster-fighting task force. All the members wear really ridiculous spandex outfits. I know they're supposed to look futuristic, but it's hard to take any character seriously with a heart-shape cut-out on the chest their wetsuit-like unitard (and a dude wears this). It's as if the character designer was making too much of a conscious effort to be cool and edgy, and went over the top into the realm of lame and cheesy. One scientist character has neon-green streaked hair that's laughable and distracting, rather than stylish and futuristic.

Geld has a hard time staying on the side of humans, and eventually a coworker on the monster squad gets infected and there's a lot of double-crossing. The box set ends with premonitions of some sort of robot apocalypse. Unfortunately, the robot apocalypse scene is ripped off wholesale from The Animatrix. What the hell? Was that blatant plagiarism?

The dub is well-done, with a lot of heart and a lot of fun extra swearing thrown in. I didn't really hear one stand-out performance, but the dub actors really gave it their all for the material. A commentary track by the American voice actors is included for the action-packed 12th episode.

The high angst level of the series must have provided good meaty parts for the actors. Unfortunately, I found the high drama and angst cheesy and hard to identify with… kind of like On Deadly Ground starring Steven Seagal, which makes me laugh because I can't take it seriously.

Despite the commentary, despite the good dub, despite the high budget, Blassreiter is still a really crappy show.[TOP]

As for Shonen Onmyouji… sweet Jesus, this was boring. This may have been a Rental Shelf, but the dub was lousy and none of the characters were memorable.

Abe no Masahiro is living in the shadow of his legendary grandfather, Abe no Seimei. Both are onmyouji; a kind of Heian-era wizard/astrologist tasked with keeping normal folks safe from the supernatural. Seimei was a real guy in history, whose onmyouji exploits have since become folklore and made into drama series and fiction. You might remember him from Onmyouji, a 2001 live action film based on manga, and Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi, which happens to have some of the same Japanese voice actors as this show.

Masahiro is referred to as "Seimei's Grandson" by demons and humans alike, which drives him crazy in that Edward-Elric-being-called-short-running-gag way that's supposed to be funny and just isn't, and it gets less funny the more often the joke comes up. Which is often. I started to wonder why this show just wasn't about a young Seimei to begin with. We rarely see Masahiro's father, so much so that I started to wonder about his parents. Didn't his dad have to go through the same thing?

Masahiro starts off a little like a Shonen Jump protagonist. His grandfather is the greatest onmyouji of all time, but Masahiro lacks his ghost-sensing second sight. You know Masahiro has the genetic/magic talent to become a great onmyouji, but how will he do it? It's unfortunate, but after a while, I really wanted to see a fighting tournament to pick up the pace. Maybe because this is based on a light novel series, there are never fighting tournaments or duels.

Things suddenly take a turn for the gay when Mokkun, a little mononoke demon thingy/sarcastic sidekick, reveals his true form, a.k.a. Guren, a shirtless hot dude who has sworn to protect Masahiro. (This fujoshi element is also reminiscent of Shonen Jump nowadays.) Bamboo pointed out the penis monster they fight in an earlier Shelf Life.

Some of you in the forums may recall that I dislike shows involving invisible demons, but Shonen Onmyouji's monsters have an immediate and visceral effect on the real world, which I appreciate, and Masahiro gets his second sight back almost immediately.

At this point, the plot wanders around a little. Some foreign devils (literally) are attacking a princess named Akiko and Masahiro falls in love with her and takes a lot of damage protecting her. Who knows why, because Akiko is really lame and annoying. She feels guilty that Masahiro keeps getting hurt, so she stops telling him about the ongoing demon attacks. It really puts the entire kingdom and her own life at risk, so I couldn't like her character at all.

In fact, I didn't like any of these characters. Masahiro is such a paint-by-numbers "I'm going to do my best!" protagonist that I couldn't bring myself to care about him. I only liked Guren, and he spends most of the series as Mokkun instead of shirtless and handsome. Guren is a shikigami, one of twelve powerful god-like creatures. The shikigami have really cool character designs, but don't get enough screen time. Meanwhile, some of the lesser demons look like a poor man's Pokemon.

Mokkun's English dub voice is kind of annoying, with this weird made-up accent. The Japanese vocal performances for the entire show are by fairly famous voice actors (Guren is Katsuyuki Konishi, Kamina in Gurren Lagann) giving good performances. This is in sharp contrast to the English dub, which is weirdly bad for this day and age. Many of the incidental characters sound like amateurs reading straight off the page. Seimei's dub actor makes him sound like hick (and an annoying hick at that). Akiko in particular gives a whiny performance that brings down the entire show.[TOP]

If shirtless hot dudes are more your thing, I think you'll really like Miracle Train (I did).

Miracle Train is both the best and the worst show of the new season. I couldn't call it both Stream Worthy and Flushable, and I can't call it Stream Worthy in good conscious, so I'm calling Flushable. It's a huge guilty pleasure for me, and I hate the term "guilty pleasure".

If you've ever seen the Bartender anime series (which I love), Miracle Train has a similar premise, only I can't watch it with my husband. In Bartender, an almost-magical bartender at a mysteriously perfect bar solves customers' problems by giving them just the right alcoholic drink for the occasion that happens to solve their problem, followed by a drink recipe so you can mix yourself whatever they just had. Bartender has CG liquor bottles, and Miracle Train has CG trains. It's pretty craptastic CG in both series, but I can forgive it because both series are self-aware of how cheesy they are.

In Miracle Train, train stations on Tokyo's Oedo line are anthropomorphized as hot dudes. They ride a special legendary train that only one lady passenger can board at a time. Over the course of each episode, they solve one lady customer's problem. Somehow, the solution to the problem happens to include a lot of train facts about Oedo line stations. At last, a show for fujoshi train otaku!

Anthropomorphizing places as hot dudes pre-dates Hetalia. It's a trend that's sweeping the nation, and you can read all about it in this comprehensive article. In general, I'm a fan of equal opportunity pornography. If there are OS-tans for men, I'm in favor of Oedo-line stations for girls.

On my first trip to Japan, I got a Japan Rail Pass and used it to travel all the way from Sapporo to Fukuoka by rail. It was easy for me to see how Japanese people could get really obsessed with trains. There are so many different privately owned rail lines, each with their own particular technical details, as well as thousands of stations. Tetsuko no Tabi is an anime based on a non-fiction manga about a guy who has visited every train station in Japan, and that's just one of several train-based manga titles. I was particularly interested in the limited edition bento boxes that are served only on specific train lines. There's even a manga about train bento, Ekiben Hitoritabi.

I'm not sure most Americans will "get" Miracle Train, not because of the nut-job sexual politics of anthropomorphization, but because trains are not a part of everyday life to most Americas. If there were an American version of this show, it would have to be about super-hot dudes based on different models of cars. Car fans are generally male, so it would be equally as mystifying as Miracle Train, as Japanese train otaku are generally men.

Miracle Train was originally a web based game and web manga about the Chuo line, so if you go to the original web site you can check out the cute dudes of the Chuo line.

The problem-of-the-week formula gets a little old after a while, even for me, so I was intrigued by episode seven. Instead of taking on a passenger, the train has some kind of crazy mechanical problem and flies through space while the mysterious conductor works to resolve the issue. The Oedo line boys start to freak out and question their own existence. It's so surreal that it's definitely my favorite episode so far.

I'm not a full blown fujoshi or a train otaku, but I am a little curious about both, and I really like manga and anime about unexpected topics (like sports manga about curling, or 4-koma manga about capybara) so Miracle Train really pushes my buttons.[TOP]

Next week I'm going to review Dragonaut, which hasn't pushed any of my dragon buttons yet.

This week's shelves and dog are from Michelle G from Washington state:

"Oh...how long has it been since I got into anime? I think if I count correctly, I've been into it for about 6 or 7 years now. I was around 9 when I first saw an awesome 'cartoon' called Sailor Moon on TV. It was just a show I'd come home to after school, and a show my parents would see and ask, "What the hell are you watching?!" I remember the common phases I went through -- Inuyasha to Naruto to Bleach. Haha, I remember when my parents began to humor me and brought home a rental... Ah, the oh-so-loved Samurai 7 series.

From there, I started to watch series with my older brother, which I even do to this day. My interest quickly expanded into many genres with many ratings (never mind how old I was when I watched the mature rated ones, ;D). What truly hooked me into the world of anime is Monster, which will always remain my favorite series out there.

Anyway, I won't bore you any longer about such things. Here's about the shelves: I got the majority of my manga from the first Con I attended with my bro, along with a few of my figures. Haha, a most amusing story with the Evangelion figures and crazy fans, but I'll not get into that (>_>). The wallscrolls and posters I mostly got from my parents as gifts, along with those swords. The small collection of DVDs I've gotten through a bunch of means with the help of my bro. I also have numerous CDs and games not featured but oh well.

But, most of all, my collection wouldn't be complete without my little baby Dachshund, Rusty. (I...uh...also won't get into the fact that my family runs an anime store now called Silver Otaku.... >8D)"

What a cute dog. And of course, it's not fair to mention a hilarious story, then not actually tell it! So you're obligated to go to the forums and tell us that story.

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

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