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Shelf Life
Ninja Nonsense

by Erin Finnegan,

Oh man, Right Stuf's 12 Days of Anime used to really kill my wallet back when I had disposable income. This year's sales are really good, with Haruhi Suzumiya, the first season of One Piece, Ouran High School Host Club, and Emma on sale. I think it's the real irony of this recession – everything is on sale – often really great sales—but so many people are unemployed or underemployed (like me) or afraid of losing their jobs that it's really hard to justify buying anything.

I could ask for some of the sale items for Christmas, but with all of this anime coming in for reviews, when would I have time to watch anything? Besides, thanks to my rather extravagant wedding, I've really tapped out all my close friends and relatives in terms of spending. Is there no end to my avarice? Christmas is going to be very sensible this year.

Sorry to start things off on a downer! If you're one of those people who goes Christmas shopping and ends up buying stuff for yourself (like I do), you might pick up Sgt. Frog.

I read the first volume of the Sgt. Frog manga, and watched one or two episodes of the anime when it started airing in Japan, but I wasn't particularly impressed. I'm not into Gundam, so a lot of the jokes seemed to be over my head, and the series was aiming for a much younger audience. But that was before the Funimation dub. This is Shelf Worthy because of the dub.

Just in case you've never heard of this show, and missed Funimation's many screenings at conventions in recent years, here's the plot: Sergeant Keroro, like Zim of Invader Zim, is an alien, sent to overthrow Earth. He's so incompetent on the job that only his human friends notice his invasion attempts. The Sergeant lives with an ordinary Japanese family where he's forced to do household chores by the very aggressive older sister, Natsumi, and he takes up collecting and building Gundam kits. Keroro is joined by a crack team of military expert frogs, including the exceedingly kind Private Second Class Tamama, the psychopathic Sergeant Major Kululu, a ninja named Lance Corporal Dororo, and the super-macho Corporal Giroro. Together, their invasion makes absolutely no progress.

Like Crayon Shin-chan, the dub script has been rewritten to appeal an American anime fan demographic, but unlike Shin-chan, the plot remains the same. It's as if the writers took the existing comedy series and then injected the script with three times as many jokes. There are quippy references to everything in the daily life of an anime fan: Wikipedia, Youtube, eBay, epic fail, and lolcats. "Note that on your Wiki!" one character yells. There are also celebrity mentions: “As unfunny as two Margaret Chos!” and even a classy Diane Rehm reference. "Is there any dated pop culture phenomenon we're not going to rip off?" the narrator asks at one point, "I wanna know in case I'm asked at an anime con panel." The narrator helpfully mentions when the existing jokes are Japanese puns that you're not going to get without years of study.

My husband and I literally laughed out loud many times, and watching this for review went from feeling like a chore to being downright frakking delightful.

This set of episodes 14-26 includes some fairly standard anime plotlines: a summer festival, a trip to the beach, and sports day at school, but the over-the-top plotlines and the additional English language wit make it all feel fresh and new. A simple scene of Natsumi scooping turtles at matsuri is refreshingly hilarious.

I'm not sure what the box copy means by "From the original creators of the Gundam series," but it seems like Sgt. Frog was created in some capacity to sell toys. Most cartoons are geared to sell toys or product licenses, including Gundam, but I don't mind (I especially don't mind if my paycheck is partially sponsored by a toy company).

There are a few sample episodes of Sgt. Frog streaming on Funimation's website both subbed and dubbed, so you can check it out. Even if you're totally uninterested in Sgt. Frog, I think the end theme song for the first season is worth watching.[TOP]

Sgt. Frog features two ninjas, but there are way more in Nabari, and as we know, ninjas fight ALL the time. (Except when they're sitting in cafés, sipping coffee and discussing the plot.)

I didn't watch the first half of this series, but I read a couple chapters of the manga in Yen Plus magazine when it first came out. I was kind of like, “Blah blah real life ninjas, apathetic protagonist, I get the idea.” But apparently I didn't, because the two things this series excels at are character design and gayness. Yes, you read that right. Gay ninjas.

Have you ever thought, “I like Naruto, but you know, I wish there was more Naruto/Sasuke love.”? If so, I'd recommend a trip to Comic Market. Failing that, there's always Nabari. I don't know how gay the first half is, but the second half is all Yoite/Miharu OTP. If you don't know what “OTP” is this show probably isn't for you.

Even the dub actors admit these ninjas are gay in the commentary on episode 25. It's a slightly silly commentary, since they rarely refer to any of the action on screen. Brina Palencia and Joel McDonald talk about going to cons and dubbing Sgt. Frog. Palencia mentions that she is often cast as young boys, as in this series where she plays teenage protagonist Miharu. In fact, she does a really good job capturing Miharu. Overall the dub is quite solid. Hats off to whomever adapted the dub script, as it is tweaked from the subs to sound very naturalistic in the dub.

Miharu possesses a super-powerful ninja technique thingy, not unlike Naruto's Nine Tailed Fox, which he can't control and all the bad guys are after him. Meanwhile, Miharu's BFF Yoite has learned a figure-pointing-and-then-you-die secret forbidden ninja skill that causes the user to (1) be very tall and skinny; and (2) eventually die by turning to stone and evaporating into dust.

This second half box starts off with the resolution to a fight from the previous season. After that, Miharu and Yoite go off in search for a cure to Yoite's illness, or rather, Yoite wants to erase his existence from the world and Miharu plans to help. Meanwhile, the bad guys are after a technique that will essentially turn the world into The Big O universe without robots (it's somewhat spoiler-y, so I won't explain further).

Except for the super-sweet character design, this show seems somewhat typical of current late night anime series in Japan. The budget obviously wasn't too high, but the staff did everything they could to make it look good. Unfortunately, the ultimate showdown with the bad guys uses some pretty heinous and questionable (yet laughably memorable) CG. I really love how lanky the characters are, and that there's a reason in the plot that Yoite is extra lanky. I had a little bit of a hard time at first telling apart some of the boys, but then I realized you have to identify them by their sideburns. In any case, if you like skinny teenage boys looking sad, this is so totally the show for you.

Nabari hits one of my pet peeves of recent years—the characters drink tea (or coffee) and talk about the plot a few times. I first identified this annoying trope during my failed attempt to watch Fate/stay night (I started fast forwarding through those scenes, which happen at least once per episode). In Nabari, there is a lot of ninja terminology, many old alliances, and sometimes it seems necessary to have coffee talk time. Really, if this were better written, it wouldn't be necessary. Hilariously, I thought one of the ninja characters had no powers at all and hung around the others because he's the only character who owns a car. It turns out he did have ninja powers, and I was a little disappointed.

This is certainly no Ninja in the Dragon's Den, but it shares many of the themes of the film's opening song:

Now listen to me children and I'll tell you of the legend of the Ninja, …
They were ready to fight (ooh shaka-ninja)
Ready to kill, they were ready to die…
Sentai Filmworks has gone to great lengths to mask that this is season two of You're Under Arrest. They've given it the subtitle "Fast and Furious" and don't mention anything about the second season on the DVD spine or the back cover. If you look very closely at the logo on the front, two letters in a 10 point font say "S 2" around a much larger font telling you this is "Collection 1". The episode titles are also strangely missing from the show; each episode has a title card with the show logo and a blank space where the episode title should be.

Consequently, I was completely fooled and thought I was watching the original legendary You're Under Arrest anime series. In fact, about 47 episodes and several OVAs precede this set, and I've never seen any of them. I thought this was an early 90's series, so I was mystified by the number of cell phones used in the show. I also wondered why there wasn't much of an introduction to the different characters. It was as if I had watched Dirty Pair Flash and mistook it for the original. You're Under Arrest follows the lives of some very nice ladies in the Tokyo Police Department's Traffic Division. Saori Saga joins as a rookie in the first episode of the season, and we are briefly introduced to the department. This is hardly a police drama series since the crime rate is pretty low in Tokyo, (at least, non-yakuza crime). The officers can only shoot paintballs at the windshields of get-away cars, which seems laughable by American standards.

At the very least, it was refreshing to get away from the school formula of beach/sports day/culture fest/hot springs for once. Instead, a trip to sakura matsuri is interrupted by a car theft, the police station is used in a test program for advanced crime-fighting technology, a monkey steals a few lunches and stirs up trouble, and, in one exciting two-parter, an earthquake causes a leak in the Tokyo subway system and the passengers must be evacuated.

But something rings hollow about these plots. It's hard to put a finger on, but somehow this show manages to be boring despite the car chases. Maybe it's because the criminals always apologize (even the monkey) or maybe it's because this isn't an action show, so the action isn't for the love of action. Instead, this is about admiring idealized women (not that there's anything wrong with that).

Kousuke Fujishima, the author of Ah My Goddess was behind the original manga series. I should have guessed from the subtle antenna-hair, ideal women, and the absolute lack of conflict. If I had pitched this in class in film school, there's no way any of the instructors would approve it, because a show about nice people being nice doesn't have enough conflict. If you go by Robert McKee's Story (as featured in the movie Adaptation) a good romance needs to give us a reason why the couple can't be together. In You're Under Arrest coworkers date and have long distance relationships without any trouble at all.

There is no dub, but I'm sure the seiyuu cast is so super-famous you won't even miss it. There are no real extras on this bare-bones release (textless opening and closings! Woooo I just wet my pants that's so exciting).

Although I am interested in the friendships of young women in the workplace, this show isn't for me. I'd much rather read the melancholic workplace josei manga Suppli any day of the week. That said, if you happen to be a fan of shows about nice women having a nice time being friends and being really worried about each other and going on pleasant adventures in some kind of unfunny sitcom, good news! If you've never seen this, it's new to you. [TOP]

Here's something that is for me: It wouldn't really fit into the review, but I'd like to mention that in Nabari, the sickly Yoite drinks a concoction translated as “Lemon Cider” in the dub and “Lemonade” in the subs. I went to Japan during the cold winter months, and that stuff was totally my favorite hot drink. It's kind of a lemon-y vitamin laced stuff that isn't really tea or juice. It's packed with Vitamin C, so it's somewhere between drinking hot Airborne and Tang. You could get it as powder mix at convenience stores, or from vending machines dispensing hot beverages in cups (instead of the usual cans). I always check for it at Japanese grocery stores around here, but I've never seen it for sale in the States.

Next week I'll be taking a look at Bamboo Blade.

This week's shelves are from Eric, whose blurry manga pictures should not be seen as an obstacle... but as a challenge.

Any one want to guess what the manga are?

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

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