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Shelf Life
The Ru-ins

by Erin Finnegan,

Once an old professor of mine came across a box of graded essays from the 1960's. It shocked him to discover his own grade inflation. A "C-" paper from the 60's was a solid "B" by 1998. I graduated from college nearly a decade ago, and if grade inflation continued at that pace I have to assume that B is the new F.

Let me re-iterate here that a “Rental Shelf” rating is an “OK”. It's not a pan. If you got a B on a test, did you fail? No! (Unless you're some kind of perfectionist freak.) "Shelf Worthy" titles are worth owning, and rental titles are probably worth watching.

Rating streaming series is a bit difficult since the choice is binary; "Stream Worthy" or "Flushable". Since I don't have to worry about these shows taking up shelf space in my tiny, tiny apartment, and they are free, and never dubbed, I can go a lot easier on the ratings. Of course, I value my time, and I wouldn't want you to waste your time.

I don't think watching one episode of Saki is a waste of time. Watching all 25 episodes might be. I watched the first four, then skipped ahead to episode 25 to see how it turned out.

This review is clearly biased. I am biased towards mahjong titles (Akagi, Legendary Gambler Tetsuya). I don't know how to play mahjong, but I am mahjong-curious. I want to slam down the tiles and scream “Ran!” or “Richi!”. I really hope that The Legend of Koizumi, (the mahjong title where world leaders play for F-14s) can be legally streamed, because it's much better than Saki. In the interest of full disclosure, I'm also biased towards food/cooking related titles (Mister Ajikko, Oishinbo).

Disappointingly, Saki does not bother to explain basic gameplay. Instead, the show assumes you are already familiar with mahjong, know how to play, and works from there.

Our title character, Saki, is tricked/coerced into joining her high school's mahjong club shortly after starting school freshmen year. She has previously only played mahjong with her family, who are apparently amazingly skilled players, because Saki is tremendously talented. However, she plays to lose, aiming for a “Plus Minus Zero” score every time. The other characters explain what this means, but the finer points of scoring were lost on me. With Saki's talent, the school mahjong club is totally aiming for Nationals this year.

I love sports anime, so I was disappointed after the first episode, as the show explores the yuri relationships between the girls rather than dwelling on the game. It's too bad, because when Saki is more like a sports show – and I mean it's like watching poker tournaments on ESPN – it's a lot of fun. The best part is the ridiculous sound effects added to every camera pan, just like on broadcast sports. Lightening bolt effects separate split screens, a scoreboard noisily flips when the scores change, and the supporting characters commentate like sportscasters.

Meanwhile, the over-the-top fanservice is good for a laugh. The short skirts standard at this high school would never pass regulation in any real-life school. Ridiculous camera angles pop up throughout the show, although not as often as in Najica Blitz Tactics. In one scene, the camera angles through Saki's legs to look at Nodoka (another player on the team) as the girls stand in the rain. Rain drips from Saki's skirt in just the place you might expect.

Saki is plain-looking, flat-chested, and almost tomboyish, but her new friend/rival in the club Nodoka is the opposite. Nodoka is very well-endowed, and wears ribbons on her girly pink pigtails. Nodoka's uniform top possesses the miraculous ability to stay tucked up under her breast, while simultaneously draping from her nipples in a revealing way. It would take a master costumer to reproduce this effect in real life. Nodoka's pajamas, in particular, resemble a corset, so I have no idea how she gets into and out of her crazy nightgown.

I watched this with friends, and we opted to skip ahead to the last episode, titled “Nationals” to see how things worked out. Unfortunately, the girls merely travel to a hot springs resort in the final episode, hinting towards a non-existent second season. Nothing was resolved mahjong-wise, although Saki and Nodoka's relationship progresses. Mostly the show added a dozen or more characters on other teams. [TOP]

I don't mind sexuality and fanservice as long as it's blatant. That point is probably worthy of a longer discussion, probably in some article written outside the confines of Shelf Life. Meanwhile, let's move on to another overtly fanservice-y show that's not too bad…

This show suffers from the lowest budget opening and closing I've seen possibly ever, and cover art that screams “Perishable”. By the time I actually got around to watching it, To Love-Ru shocked me by being OK instead of awful.

The opening consists solely of pans over still drawings of sexy girls, with zooms to reveal the credits written out strategically on toast, or on clothing labels. It captures the experience of reading the “Ecchi” thread on 4chan. At least someone saved a lot of money, I guess. Sentai Filmworks stripped the credits from the opening and uses it for one of the crappiest trailers ever on their DVDs.

The opening mislead me into thinking that this was going be hentai. Instead, it's a fairly funny comedy. I even laughed out loud a few times. But with no dub, no extra, and no re-watch value, this is a rental.

The premise is totally derivative. Lala, a beautiful alien girl, materializes into Rito's bathtub. Rito grabs her breasts, a gesture which not only counts as a proposal on her planet, but also steals blatantly from Urusei Yatsura. Seasoned anime viewers can guess the paint-by-numbers plot—Lala attends Rito's school, lives at his house and causes wacky trouble. Rito actually likes the shy, quiet Haruna, but Lala accidentally stands in his way all the time, often while buck naked. Lala invents a lot of plot-convenient devices she pulls out of nowhere, akin to Doraemon.

Periodically, aliens show up attempting to marry Lala. Other genres and titles are parodied throughout the show as characters' clothes explode off for a variety of reasons, some more believable than others.

To Love-Ru worked really hard to win me over. The show chugs along through the opening premise at a nice pace. Rito is a very active protagonist compared to Keitaro from Love Hina, or Tenchi of Tenchi Muyo!. Rito tries desperately to ask Haruna out, but the universe conspires to stop him. On the way to delivering his love letter, Rito gets hit by a bus and run over by a stampede of elephants.

In one choice scene, Rito is about to confess to Haruna at the aquarium, when a puffer fish slams into the back of his head. He turns to see his fiancé naked and riding a dolphin atop a tidal wave of escaping fish, crashing towards him, destroying the aquarium in the process. Not every episode is this good, but I guess they can't all be winners.

The level of cartoon violence reminded me a little bit of Ramen Fighter Miki, although in tone, this is like a poor man's School Rumble.

There was a time long ago when I rented anime indiscriminately from the local video store to watch with my friends. In those days, I felt lucky if the show had no tentacle rape. To Love-Ru has surprising amounts of tentacle rape, but now that it's 2010, I don't mind the tentacles, which are mostly for comedy. I'm just glad there are no hyper-sexualized elementary school girls in this erotic school love comedy. Of course, this is only the first half of the series, so there's still time to introduce a preadolescent.

I do have other standards of quality. There is some really nice animation in this show. Occasionally we cut to space, where Irresponsible Captain Tyler-esque space battles are raging in surprisingly detailed animation. At one point, a shockingly high budget CG squid fights an octopus.

The earlier episodes are funnier and higher budget than some of the subsequent episodes. I'm not really looking forward to the second half, as I suspect the crew may have run out the budget already.[TOP]

El Cazador de la Bruja, on the other hand, spread their low budget evenly throughout the show.

Last week, I took a look at part one of this Bee Train mediocrity. The series ending disappointed me a bit. The opening and closing credits lead me to believe a more spectacular ending was in store. The opening has a floating island and the end credits clearly show a sharpshooting cat assassin. Sadly, neither of these things come to pass. Even the voice actors mention this in the commentary!

Ellis clearly has the “Noooooooo! BOOM” psychic power outlined in the most excellent book, Even A Monkey Can Draw Manga (highly recommended). Like all psychic adolescents, the scientist who created her pursues her with ill intent. In this Thelma and Louise desert chase series, Nadie the bounty hunter helps Ellis out. In this half, trouble brews as Nadie goes rogue from her employer, Miss “Blue-Eyes” Hayward, who is sadly more interesting than the rest of the characters in the show.

El Cazador continues to be good at character moments, but the plot just isn't very satisfying. This is exactly analogous to the new Star Trek reboot movie, which made great use of the characters and had great character moments, but let's face it, the plot stunk.

In one fine El Cazador character moment, fellow bounty hunter Ricardo comes across two vultures tied up outside a shack. As he approaches, one of the buzzards throws off its rope and flies away. A man runs out of the shack and accuses Ricardo of letting his prize pet vulture escape, demanding Ricardo catch a new one or pay for a replacement. Ricardo refuses, saying, “You're still running that old scheme? Who would ever be dumb enough to fall for that?” Cut to Nadie and Ellis in the desert, trying to capture a vulture. Ellis, who has a psychic sympathy towards animals, lets the vulture go free in the end.

Not every character gets a proper treatment in El Cazador. Rosenberg, the villainous scientist, suffers from a particularly lame back story. L.A. (a character cursed with the worst name ever) gets badly short-shifted in the series. This white-haired Kaworu-looking stalker freak saves Ellis and Nadie from death dozens of times from behind the scenes throughout the show. At one point, Ellis appears to vaporize L.A. using her mind (which is cool), but he shows up later with no explanation (not cool). In one scene that would make a great animated gif, L.A.'s crotch catches on fire. He eventually meets an untimely end without getting the send-off he deserves as a main character.

I know some members of fandom thrive on characters alone. As long as they have a favorite character, they're happy. I am not one of those people. Great characters and great character moments are a minimum requirement of greatness in my book. In order to be truly great, the plot must also be great. In short, I would have stopped watching this show if I weren't being paid, but only because it is “meh” and not because I thought it was intrinsically bad.[TOP]

I just got a bunch of Detective Conan movies in the mail, so please look forward to several weeks of detective work in the next month.

This week's shelves are from Dan, who had this to say:

"I had to wait to send in pics a lot longer than I wanted because my shelves collapsed last month under the pressure of all the stuff I've collected. I used them for almost ten years and never thought they would break out of the wall. I ended up having to put up new shelves. Luckily nothing broke but I got another floor shelf for manga and kept the DVD's on the wall shelves.

I've got quite a mix of anime, almost all I could buy before I put myself in the red, and other DVD's as well as an interesting set up of figures and manga. Some of my favorite things of the collection are my GE999 figures I just picked up at Anime Crossroads just last weekend, the Mikuru Asahina signed on it's base by her voice actor Stephanie Sheh, the Ubaba and Chihiro music wind up my sister got me at the Florida Disney Park (always get Land and World confused), and my DVD's signed by their voice actors at ACross last weekend.

I hope these shelves last because I have more anime to buy before the end of the year and the rest of my life."

Kudos, sir. That is quite the collection!

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

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