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Shelf Life
Home Alone

by Erin Finnegan,

My Christmas was pretty good. I got Jonathan Clement's book, Schoolgirl Milky Crisis, which I'm looking forward to reading, as well as a book on grammar that might teach me how to use "which" correctly in long sentences like this one. I also received Blue Spring by Taiyo Matsumoto, one of my top five favorite manga artists. If you didn't get GoGo Monster for Christmas, you should pick it up; it's one of the best manga of 2009.

Over the last week, I watched some of the anime for this column with my parents. My dad laughed a lot at Hanasakeru Seishōnen, but slept through the first half of You Are (Not) Alone. My mom had never seen Evangelion before, but she liked the film and even guessed Rei's secret. Mom is a big Godzilla fan, so she kept suggesting that Godzilla should be called in to fight off the angels. Neither of my parents could tolerate even a single episode of Dragon Ball Z. They had never even heard of Journey to the West.

I'm not sure if Hanasakeru Seishōnen is so bad that it's good, but we all had a nice time laughing at it.

Because this is based on a shojo manga series from 1987, I was looking forward to seeing what I presumed would be a classic. Although the character designs are very appealing, Hanasakeru Seishōnen did not survive the transition to anime, at least not in the episodes I managed to watch.

Kajika Burnsworth's father proposes a bizarre game. 14-year-old Kajika is to pick a husband from a group of three pre-selected men. Rather than being introduced to the men, Kajika is supposed to find them, and she'll "just know."

The Burnsworth family is incredibly wealthy, and Kajika was raised on a Caribbean Island after she was nearly kidnapped at age four. Although the series begins after Kajika returns to Japan, there are plenty of awkwardly handled flashbacks to the Caribbean in order to explain our protagonist's eccentricities. For example, she had a pet snow leopard named Mustafa who was her best friend, and her Caribbean nanny gave her some unique ideas about reincarnation.

Mustafa died before the first episode, but it's rare that five minutes go by without the leopard getting a mention. Kajika is convinced that the first super-bishonen she meets (obviously one of daddy's picks) actually shares the soul of her dead pet. Other characters are quick to point out that's not the way reincarnation typically works. I was somehow really embarrassed for Kajika as she told her would-be-fiancé Eugene about her dead-leopard-theory. Just because he has platinum blonde hair and green eyes she thinks he is Mustafa? Really? Really?! And how is it possible that I can be embarrassed on behalf of a 2-dimensional character?

This is one of the few cases of film and television I've seen where the direction is actively horrible. In the case of a lot of bad media, the badness isn't usually the director's fault alone, but some wretched combination of bad writing and bad acting. In Hanasakeru Seishōnen, many of the scenes consist of characters sitting around and talking about their emotions, which works well in manga, but is too passive on screen. The director of the Death Note anime series tried his darnedest to adapt sitting-around-and-writing scenes to the screen with laughable, entertaining results. We're not so lucky with Hanasakeru Seishōnen, where a less-than-clever director has doggedly and faithfully depicted the characters… sitting around and talking.

Furthermore, the series tends towards the melodramatic because of the horrible pacing. Two episodes is not enough time to introduce deep, dark family secrets and then show grown men reconciling and crying and falling on their knees to ask forgiveness. I couldn't muster much sympathy for characters I just met! This series is 39 episodes long, but so many plot points are packed into the first four episodes that I'm pretty wary about the pace of the rest of the series.

The only thing Hanasakeru Seishōnen has going for it is great character designs. Kajika has piercing, silver eyes, making her look kind of like a leopard herself. Eugene and the other bishonen are all quite striking.

I suspect that Hanasakeru Seishōnen is probably a halfway decent manga. It must have endured in reader's minds in order to get an anime adaptation in 2009. Unfortunately, this anime series is laughably bad.[TOP]

Fortunately, the new Evangelion movie was actually good. I'm a fan of Evangelion and I would totally end up buying this even if I wasn't writing this column. I mean, I would watch it first, but then I would buy it. I'm not one to buy things blind; not even Miyazaki movies.

Like Carl Gustav Horn, I aspire to watch Evangelion in its entirety at least once a year. (It may be the case that I've seen Studio Sokodei's "Evangelion ReDeath" more times than the original, however.) If you've never listened to Mr. Horn's Evangelion panel, usually delivered at Anime Weekend Atlanta, I really can't recommend it enough. Short of that, he has many essays demystifying Evangelion on evamonkey.com. I certainly would not understand The End of Evangelion without Mr. Horn's articulate explanation.

Some newer fans may not be familiar with the now 14-year-old series, although I feel it is a bit of a waste of column space to summarize the plot here. I will say that if you've never seen Evangelion, this movie isn't a half-bad place to start. You Are (Not) Alone is a re-telling of the original series as a trilogy of feature films.

Watching You Are (Not) Alone is a bit like marathoning Evangelion in short-hand, but it's a more successful "remix" than Gunbuster vs Diebuster Aim for the Top! The GATTAI!! Movie. A few scenes and details have been tweaked so it's not a just a straight-up Evangelion remake. Obviously, only some kind of geek would notice all of the changes, but I think most fans of the series have watched it repeatedly over the last fourteen years and can point out the minutia. For example, the characters ride some kind of ski lift instead of the original elevator, and the angel/monsters have extra limbs. In one creepy and very effective detail, the Eva Unit's skin is a much more realistic human skin-tone in You Are (Not) Alone than it is in the original.

Admittedly, there is no real need for this remake to exist. It's my understanding that pachinko companies and Doritos approached Gainax to make additional films for the franchise. As such, the Frito-Lay logo and bags of Doritos get plenty of eyeshare in the film. Although I was unaffected by that particular product placement, Misato's chugging of Yebisu beer has inspired me to pick up a six pack in the near future. I don't even like drinking canned beer, but Misato is my favorite character.

I skipped the screenings Funimation did at conventions this year because they were only screening the dub. I've never liked the Evangelion dub. Shinji just sounds too old to me. Probably because I watched this in Japanese first, I could never get used to Misato's English voice. Plus, at the time the original TV series was dubbed, dub studios were not quite as savvy as they are today. Remember the old ANN column The Dub Track? When Ryan Mathews stopped writing it in 2005, dubs had slowly gotten better. "These days, the average dub's flaws are much more subtle." Ryan wrote, "It's rare that you hear truly bad acting or bad directing." You Are (Not) Alone brings back a few members of the original Eva dub cast, but this time, they are admittedly doing a much better job than they did with the original TV series. Granted, the dub is much better, but I still love Gendou best in Japanese.

Because this is a feature film, the price point is very reasonable. The lack of extras is a bit of a downer, but I can't think of a reason not to own this, unless you hate Eva.[TOP]

Plenty of people hate Dragon Ball Z, but if you like it, the Dragon Box is worthwhile.

Admittedly, this is Shelf Worthy because of the release, and not because of the actual content of the show. The Dragon Box comes with a nice, hardcover book that reads left-to-right and includes a plot summary, a character relationship diagram, character designs, and a nice timeline. You also get a lot of episodes for the price point. This might be worth owning just for the original "Cha-La Head-Cha-La" opening.

But… do you really need me to tell you to buy Dragon Ball Z if you're already a fan of the series? Chances are, if you like this show, you probably already own it. I suppose you could loan out your previous sets to friends or younger siblings or cousins or something. If you're a hardcore collector, you're probably just wondering if this will come out on Blu-ray later, and I don't know the answer to that question.

Personally, I'm not much of a Dragon Ball Z fan. I far prefer the innocent charm of the original series. Apparently I watched DBZ almost completely out of order on Cartoon Network. The show makes a lot more sense watching it chronologically, but somehow, the clarity has actually decreased my interest in the show.

Normally, I'd provide a brief plot description at this point, but it hardly seems necessary for Dragon Ball Z. In fact, it's hard to think of new things to say about a show that aired 20 years ago in Japan and 13 years ago in America. Most of you reading this column already know more about Dragon Ball Z than I do, and if I make even the smallest mistake I'm sure I'll be reprimanded harshly in the forums.

DBZ suffers from some serious structural problems. Not much happens in a single episode of the show. Early in the set, Gohan is training alone in the wilderness while Goku runs along Snake Road to find martial arts training in the afterlife. Meanwhile, Piccolo trains against himself, and all the while a couple of super-tough Saiyans fly menacingly towards Earth. Half a dozen episodes transpire with nothing more than the above happening, until finally the Saiyans arrive. That's exactly like a soap opera; there's an illusion of progress being made, but in reality, almost nothing happens in each episode.

The dub script is an extreme deviation from the subtitles. 90% of that "Last time on Dragon Ball Z!!" narration doesn't exist in the original Japanese script. The series is also littered with things that could never air on American television. In one scene, a lady in Snake Palace tempts Goku to stay by offering to play a game, that game being Russian Roulette. As she explains how to play it, the snake-lady shoots herself in the head immediately with the first pull of the trigger. "Oh," Goku says, un-phased, "I guess that means the game is over." If you like DBZ, it's worthwhile to watch it uncut.

According to the box, the picture has been remastered and restored. That's great, but I wish there was a marathon mode like on the One Piece releases so you could power through the show. I know this is a reproduction of the Japanese box set, so Funimation was probably not at liberty to add extra functionality.

I watched this using VLC player, and I found that the picture froze several times across different discs, forcing me to quit VLC and start again. That doesn't normally happen.

If you only want to own one release of DBZ, this is the release to buy (unless you're waiting for the Blu-ray version). If you've never seen DBZ, you should clearly rent it first to see if martial arts soap opera is really your cup of tea. DBZ really isn't for everyone.[TOP]

This week turned out to be all about old stuff; Hanasakeru Seishōnen is based a 22-year-old manga, Evangelion is 14 and Dragon Ball Z is 20. Next week I'll be looking at some newer titles, like the first season of Spice and Wolf.

This week's shelves are from Brett:

"Here are my shelves, two being hand crafted and the other bought and assembled. I have been buying anime, manga, and video games for about 5 years now. Hopefully the pictures are good enough quality and everything is viewable. Hope they are worthy!"

Definitely worthy.

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

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