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Shelf Life
Sugar and Spice

by Erin Finnegan,

Happy 2010! I didn't really do much for New Year's Eve this year, but back in 2007, I celebrated New Year's Eve in Japan. I went to Comiket, where a handful of Japanese girls selling doujin said "Happy New Year" to me in English. After midnight, a friend took me to a small shrine in the suburbs where I threw some money in the box, drew a fortune, and ate grilled mochi. We watched Red vs. White on TV and ate ozoni soup, which was really good.

Hopefully this year I'll be able to get a full time job and save up money to go to Japan in time for Summer Comiket in 2010. It would help if the dollar did better against the yen.

To start off the new year, I watched the first season of Spice and Wolf. Picture a Venn diagram with three circles. One circle is "furries," another is "people who like tsundere" and the third circle is "armchair economists". Spice and Wolf sits at the intersection of these three circles.

Kraft Lawrence is a traveling merchant in what appears to be Renaissance Italy. One day he encounters Holo, a wolf-god of a small village who takes on the form of a naked chick with ears and a tail. Thanks to technological advancements in agriculture, the village doesn't need to rely on Holo to bless the harvest anymore, so she decides to rejoin her ancestors in the North. Lawrence agrees to take her there. Thematically, the series is slightly reminiscent of Neil Gaiman's American Gods.

After Holo gets some clothes, much of the show is dedicated to explaining commerce. An entire episode is devoted to Holo learning about the competing currencies of various fiefdoms. Fortunately, the show isn't 100% economics. There is a little bit of action, when Holo uses her wolf-god power, and the beginning of a romance between Lawrence and Holo. Without it, the show might be almost totally unbearable.

Clearly this is not for everyone. In one episode, Lawrence buys some clothes at a loss and explains at length how it's actually a gain. That is the most boring plot point I can possibly think of. If I weren't watching this for a review, I would have quit at that point.

I sometimes like tsundere characters (like Haruhi Suzumiya), but Holo just wasn't enough to hold my interest. My husband, on the other hand, is a bit of an armchair economist, so he thought Spice and Wolf was very compelling.

From my experience working on American cartoons, it seems crazy that this show exists. The director of one show I worked on was a fan of anime, but refused to read or watch Hikaru No Go because the idea of two kids sitting around playing a chess-like game sounded too boring for him. I can't imagine pitching Space and Wolf as a TV show to anyone—it would never air on Adult Swim, and even if it was live action, I think the only network that would consider airing something like this is PBS.

However, in light of the recent economic disaster, maybe Americans in particular should watch more television where cute girls explain finance. Besides, it's not like there is no audience for this sort of thing. Lots of nerds like games like Settlers of Catan. I've even had conversations with several friends about their enjoyment of manipulating the marketplace in World of Warcraft.

Funimation has done a nice job with the dub. Weirdly, though, Brina Palencia and J. Michael Tatum very carefully annunciate every word in the show. I couldn't tell if they were aping the super-articulate speech of the Japanese actors or what. It's not bad, it's just a little odd. The dub script is quite loyal to the subs. Palencia's performance really captures the character.

Spice and Wolf is an obvious rental, because it might fulfill your fox/wolf-tail fetish, or it might give you a brain hemorrhage. [TOP]

Then there's Ichi, which is for people with a fetish for Zatoichi. I've never seen a Zatoichi film (they are all live action, like this one) or any of the TV series before (there are tons of them), but it's my understanding that they follow a strict formula. A blind swordsman encounters some bandits on the road, who make fun of him for being blind. He promptly maims them, showing off his badass sword skills. Then he proceeds to the next town, which has been overrun by bad guys, like in a Western movie. The blind swordsman helps clean up the town and gets rid of the bad guys.

Ichi follows this formula exactly, with the added twist that instead of a blind guy, our protagonist is a blind girl, and a goze musician instead of a masseur. I can't help but wonder if putting a young girl in the lead is an attempt to appeal to younger people interested in the franchise. In that respect, it's kind of like the Star Trek reboot from last summer, except Ichi is hinted to be the daughter of the original Zatoichi, so it's not a exactly a reboot.

Ichi is a wholly adequate film, but it's not great by any stretch of the imagination. The Zatoichi formula really holds this move back. It's just predictable, though not to the extent of being bad; it's just ordinary. At the end I said to myself, "Well, that was a movie."

There are three film festival symbol thingies on the DVD cover, but on closer inspection, Ichi didn't win awards at those festivals - the laurels simple tell us where Ichi premiered. I was totally fooled by this packaging and thought Ichi might have won some awards at indie film festivals. It didn't. A sticker on the front indicates that Haruka Ayase won the 2008 Mika Sports Film Award for Best Actress, although she didn't win it for this film.

If you have a crush on any of these actors, you might get more mileage out of this movie. But isn't that true for any movie? I thought Yosuke Kubozuka was kind of cute, though the top knot with that whole shaved head thing took away from his good looks.

I am utterly mystified by the dub. Does anyone really like live action movies dubbed? I suppose there all those 1970's samurai films that were dubbed and occasionally turn up on TV, including getting re-dubbed for obscure cable shows like Uncle Morty's Dub Shack. Because this is a recent film, and an OK film instead of a campy chanbara film, it seems extra weird dubbed. I mean, I know it's kind of standard to watch dubbed live action stuff in other countries, but it just weirds me out. Cartoons look so much more believable dubbed.

In any case, because this is a Funimation release, all of the voice actors are anime voice actors. Some of them are really recognizable, too. It's one thing to hear the same voice actor play different anime characters, but it's oddly incongruous to hear those actors placed in a live action film.

I regret that this a bit of a meta-discussion of the film, but honestly there's not much to say about Ichi. The only remarkable aspect of the production is the use of CG blood spray. After first two scenes, the amount of blood isn't excessive, it just artfully sprays in arcs that could not have been achieved using analog special effects. The blood looks slightly silly.

I enjoy the occasional samurai film, but I'm hardly an expert, so I can't really say if the sword fights were well executed. I didn't find any of them particularly memorable, but they weren't bad or boring either.

Likewise, this season of One Piece was neither particularly boring nor bad, but not terribly memorable either.[TOP]

I thought that episodes 79-91 of One Piece were Shelf Worthy in a previous column, but that doesn't necessarily mean every season of One Piece is Shelf Worthy.

In this set, Luffy and crew return Princess Vivi to her desert kingdom of Alabasta. All is not well in Alabasta, where a gangster named Crocodile is causing a lot of problems for Vivi's father. Luffy and friends end up crossing the desert to set things straight. Also, Luffy's brother Ace joins our heroes for a time, acting like a badass.

When I play tabletop RPGs, particularly in a long-running campaign, I really hate side quests. I also loath mini-games in videogames. I find any task that doesn't further the main plotline incredibly frustrating. Likewise, this season of One Piece suffers from quite a few side quests. There are a lot of annoying incidental characters like Chip and Dib (brothers from the Badlands) who need to be dealt with. I don't mind party members getting lost in the desert, but those ruins better figure back into the plot later or else I've just wasted 26 minutes of my life!

Worst of all, there is no conclusion of any kind in this box set. The crew hasn't found the Rebel Army by episode 103, which wraps up in a "The Princess is in another castle" ending. At least in the previous set they got a new crew member and set back to sea for a new adventure! In this set, the crew meets a villain named Mr. 2, but they don't even fight him. I know Funimation probably has a set number of episodes they wish to include in each box, but this was just really bad timing. Episode 103 ends with the bad guys gathering for showdown, which is such a terrible place to stop.

I'm also annoyed by the numbered villains of Baroque Works (doesn't Baroque Works sound like a furniture store or a design firm?). In fact, I'm annoyed by any numbered villains, so much so that I've only watched one episode of Afro Samurai. I like the villains in One Piece a lot, but why do they have to have numbers? It's a little like a videogame, with level bosses to be beat. I often feel like videogames are hard work to play, so numbered villains makes me feel like this show is hard work to watch. They didn't even defeat a single boss in these eleven episodes. The map at the beginning of each episode in this set is also gratingly like a videogame. You know they're going to have to "unlock" all the cities on the map. It's so annoying! They only finish half the map in this season.

For a few episodes, Nami and Vivi wear ridiculous belly dancing outfits, as featured prominently on the DVD casing. The outfits are impractical for the desert, so they change relatively quickly, but I was left wondering why we need so much cleavage in a show for younger viewers. It's kind of the slave-Leia moment for One Piece, I suppose.

Like with the previous set, I enjoyed Oda's inventive creatures, and I enjoyed the dub. The dub cast commentary on episode 103 is alright, with some nice insight into voice acting. Even the dub cast admits in the commentary that it's regrettable there is no showdown in this set.

This box didn't do much to convince me that it would be worth owning all of One Piece.[TOP]

Some weeks, everything is a rental. I realize that the parameters I've set for my reviews end up making a lot of things Rental Shelf, but I think that just means it's up to the reader to actually read my review and draw their own conclusions. Sometimes it's nice just to glance at a letter grade or the number of stars instead of actually reading a review, and I admit I occasionally do that. However, I think it's much more informative to read the body of the review. Spice and Wolf is a great example, because for the people in the center of the Venn diagram of interests, it's Shelf Worthy. For me, it's not, but you can only tell by reading the review.

As an aside, a friend of mine translated the Spice and Wolf novel. I haven't read it yet, but I certainly have some questions for him next time I see him.

Helping us kick off the new year is Alec, whose shelves are blowing us away:

"I have been a fan of and collecting anime and manga in one form or another for just about 24 years now. My collection spans from VHS to Laserdisc to DVD to Blu-ray. Most of the the media collection is located in our loft area. The manga collection resides in my office. The figure collection is spread about the house including the office, loft and TV room.

While DVD Profiler tracks my collection at about 2698 discs currently, that is somewhat of an understatement when you factor in the numerous multi-disc collection (both anime and non-anime), the moderate collection of Japanese R2 DVDs as well as all the VHS tapes (for titles that never made the leap to Laserdisc; never mind DVD or Blu-ray) and of course the fairly good sized Laserdisc collection that I still maintain.

For the curious, more of my collection can be seen at my web site: www.animerepublic.net


We are indeed enjoying these pictures... and stewing in envy.

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

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