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Shelf Life
Jin and the Dragonauts

by Erin Finnegan,

This week I'm spending some time with my high school best friend. Recently, our high school's cross country team won the state meet, with five girls running times under 18 minutes. My best friend and I started (or re-started) the cross country team at our high school when we were freshmen, and it's been going strong ever since. We always wanted to take our team to the state meet, but we weren't able to accomplish it when we were in school. It really feels like our hard work from back then has paid off, fifteen years later. If any of you girls are reading this - congratulations!

My participation in high school sports feeds directly into my love of sports anime and my ultimately high rating of Bamboo Blade.

I really struggled with making this Shelf Worthy. The MSRP is pretty high, and there aren't extras in this set. I wouldn't mind re-watching the kendo tournament episodes, but there are plenty of episodes here I would sooner skip than watch again. Does it really deserve to sit on my shelf next to my A+ titles like The Castle of Cagliostro and Stand Alone Complex? I can't exactly put it on my shelf of guilty pleasures between Super Milk-chan and Plastic Little, either.

In the end, the story really won me over. Tama has never lost a kendo match. In this set, she gets injured by a scheming girl from a rival school and is forced to withdraw from a match. Later, she befriends a formidable opponent and loses a match for real. Meanwhile, poor Miyako has never won a match. She meets an American girl who becomes her rival, even though the American is far more skilled than Miyako. Team Captain Kirino misses practice due to family problems and Coach Kojirou faces pressure from the school to suspend the team for a year.

Even if kendo is totally foreign to you, the story is universal to high school sports teams. Everyone faces loss, problems with the administration and problems at home. Kirino sews tiny good luck charms for each team member before a tournament, and it's such a great detail that shows how close all of the kendo team members have become. The diverse players would never have become friends under other circumstances, but by the end, they are as thick as thieves.

Bamboo Blade is far from perfect. Two entire episodes are set aside for Tama to drool over her sentai hero, Blade Braver. Although it's a nice touch that Tama has a hobby, and it's great that the writer/manga-ka put so much thought into the Blade Braver universe, the show wastes way too much time on it that could have been spent animating additional awesome kendo scenes.

The series pacing is also a little off.Instead of building and building to a key tournament, the action rises then falls away several times in what feels like more than one denouement. The first DVD set was much worse in this regard; there is much less meandering in this set.

In my review of part one, I said that Luci Christian's dub performance as Kirino was shrill to the point of being nearly unbearable. She is 10,000 times better in the second set. Christian really owns the character and makes Kirino her own.

If you can find this on sale, Bamboo Blade is totally worth it. It does not, however, pass my "brother test". My little brother isn't into anime. He'll watch the best-of-the-best anime movies and TV series, but he has no patience for anything just because it's from Japan (like I do). He would not make it through the Blade Braver episodes of Bamboo Blade. [TOP]

Likewise, my brother would not give The Last Wizard of the Century the time of day.

Every summer, Japan sees the release of one Detective Conan movie and one Doraemon movie. In the past, I never took these movies seriously. How good could the 15th Doraemon movie be? I grew up in a time when sequels tended to suck. Then one day I watched Doraemon: Nobita and the Legend of the Sun King, the 21st Doraemon film. Even though I watched it in Cantonese with no subs, I had to admit it was a great kid's movie. Even the animation was awesome.

Likewise, The Last Wizard of the Century is shockingly solid. The third of 14 Detective Conan films feels like a longer, high-budget episode of the television show.

I watched Detective Conan on Cartoon Network and on The Anime Network, usually while doing the laundry. I'm not a fan of the mystery genre. I don't care for Agatha Christie, I only watched Remington Steele because Pierce Brosnan is cute, and I haven't seen the new Sherlock Holmes movie.

In this adventure, Detective Conan attempts to stop a white-clad phantom thief known as the Kaito Kid from stealing a newly discovered Faberge egg. The film stretches hard to include Japan in the story, inventing a half-Japanese descendant of the Russian Royal Family. I think you could ask for your money back if Rasputin wasn't somehow involved. (Unfortunately, Rasputin's involvement in this film is not nearly as believable as it is in Crystal Triangle).

The Kaito Kid is quickly explained as "a modern day Arsène Lupin" to catch up viewers who may be unfamiliar with the phantom thief subgenre (genre?) of anime/manga. In reality, the Kid is one of manga artist Gosho Aoyama's previous creations. The word "wizard" in the title probably refers to the Kaito Kid's magician abilities, but they never say so in the film. The Kid resembles a gentleman version of Lupin the Third, who Conan more recently fought in a 2009 special.

Wizard succeeds in including a cast of nearly a dozen characters. All of them, even the youngest junior detective Amy Yoshida, get a chance to figure out at least one clue. Conan might roll his eyes whenever "Sleeping Detective" Richard Moore opens his mouth, but even Moore figures something out. Conan really trumps Death Note in this regard. I thought it was annoying in Death Note (and the first manga volume of MPD-Psycho) how the universe was populated exclusively by super geniuses and idiots with almost no variation in between.

I may not have cared for the mystery itself, but I loved the animation in this film. Specifically, I enjoyed the way the cars were animated. In this day and age, it saves money to throw 3-D vehicles into a 2-D show, even if the results are a little choppy. In this film, the 2-D cars have tons of life and plenty of stretch and squash.

It's impossible not to compare this film to Hayao Miyazaki's The Castle of Cagliostro. The Last Wizard of the Century includes a castle with spires, an inherited royal treasure containing clues to a mystery, and a phantom thief. Unfortunately, it's hard for any film to hold a candle to Cagliostro, one of the greatest action adventure movies ever made and one of my personal favorite films of all time.

There aren't any extras included on this disk. The dub is totally acceptable. Jerry Jewell's (Jimmy's) voice has always reminded me slightly of Lorenzo Music, the voice of Garfield in the 1988 TV series Garfield and Friends, although that is crazy. I think it may be the slightly gravely quality.

The Last Wizard of the Century is totally adequate, and a nice film to watch once, but now that the mystery is solved, I don't ever see myself re-watching this. [TOP]

What flummoxes me about Dragonaut is the crazy high budget. Every space background renders the stars with love. The animation is good. Sure, the CG isn't great, but it is pretty high quality for Japanese television. My question is this: who put so much money into such a crappy show?

Here's my review of the first half of the series. I want to do a post-mortem on the second half. Where did Dragonaut go wrong? What caused it to suck so very much? Acting as the coroner, I'm going to say the writers did it. The production staff and the animators and artists all did their jobs very well, and it looks like they had fun making it.

The premise is muddled and the execution is poor. The mysterious menacing space object Thanatos moves ever-closer to Earth in this second half of the series. Dragon-girl Toa has a glowing tattoo on her back that's foretelling her death. If there's one thing I hate, it's foretelling. The other plot points needlessly complicate matters. In the bulk of each episode, characters stand around hashing out their motivations. Fortunately, there is only one scene where characters drink coffee and talk about the plot (a pet peeve of mine).

A lot of commotion is made over Toa and her human boyfriend Jin's hokey puppy-dog love. The villains try to keep 'em apart and the good guys try to keep 'em together. I'll be damned if love doesn't save the day. I had a hard time believing the villains really cared so much about one little couple. Jin and Toa are just boring, regardless of species. I wouldn't invite them to a party. There isn't a single moment in the show when they act like a real couple. Even after living together in a tiny cabin in the woods for an entire year, they never once bicker or argue on camera.

Is this inter-species love story supposed to warm our hearts? Three-color highlights on breasts have me thinking otherwise. Despite the series' very liberal take on inter-species love, the lesbian inter-species dragon-human couple suffers a terrible fate.

After the plot wraps up, there are two OVA-like episodes. Half of one is spent re-casting the characters in a Blazing Transfer Student type of school (i.e., one that includes an ōendan), and another episode set in the same timeline as the series features a ray that accidentally switches characters' personalities to hilarious effect. Well, it was clearly hilarious to the writers. I didn't think it was that great.

I really never cared about any of these characters. The show almost climbed out of the Perishable bin due to high production values and a decent DVD treatment by Funimation. Really, I can't emphasize enough that it looks like the staff had fun making this show. As someone who works in animation, I really appreciate that. I kind of wish I worked on Dragonaut instead of having to review it.[TOP]

That's all for this week. Next week my personal schedule is completely changing, because of a daytime Japanese class at Japan Society. Hopefully I haven't forgotten all the kanji I learned last year. Cramming may be great for short-term memory, but it's bad in the long term.

This week's shelves are from Animaven:

"I never planned an anime/manga collection of this magnitude – it “just growed there” over the last quarter century or so. (I started with VHS tapes - anyone remember "Barney, the purple fansubs"?; had to replace the “keepers” when the technology changed.)

There are only a few figures – what you see here is about half the total.

With the exception of the large one in the white frame, over the lamp, which was made as a separate "art piece", the framed cels are all production originals. The poster was purchased on a whim – it is for “Sailor Ranma” and says “In the name of Peace, Love, Harmony and All Things Sweet and Feminine, I Will Beat You to a Pulp”. How could anyone pass that up?

If some of the DVD cases look small, it is because they are. (Zoom in a couple steps.) I have found that I can save a lot of space by transplanting DVDs to ‘jewel cases’. The two-deep bookcases were purchased at the Nihonbashi store of Takashimaya. (Recommended!)"

Not bad, huh?

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

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