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Shelf Life
License to Krill

by Erin Finnegan,

I probably shouldn't mention it, but I interviewed for a Production Coordinator job recently on a new Nickelodeon series called Robot and Monster BFF. It was really great to interview for something in my field that I was easily qualified to do. The recession has been pretty hard on me, and I was starting to forget that I actually have a lot of marketable skills and work experience. I didn't get the job, but if I had, I would've had to move to Los Angeles for two years. My husband would've stayed behind in New York.

I made it through two interviews and basically spent this month looking at apartments on Craigslist, dreaming up my new life living in L.A. and working for Nick. By sheer force of will, I'm sure I invented an alternate universe where this actually happened. Stupid alternate realities…!

I got excited about this job, but I was let down. Likewise, I watched this set of Dragon Ball with a friend (the guy who translates the Spice and Wolf novels and manga) who was let down by the end of the World Martial Arts Tournament, and he taught me the phrase " 期待して損しちゃった" (Kitaishite sonchatta, [I got my hopes up, but] I was let down.).

This set is must-own for a couple of reasons. First, you get a Krillin versus Goku fight in the 22nd World Martial Arts Tournament. Part of the fun of the Dragon Ball franchise is guessing "Who would win…?" It's vital to see Krillin's true strength. Usually he just gets killed by a mega-villian in an unfair fight, but Krillin is a tough guy.

Unlike in Dragon Ball Z, there is a lot of honest-to-god animation in each fight. Here the characters learn to fly and move faster-than-the-eye-can-see for the first time, and it doesn't feel like a money-saving shortcut like it does in DBZ.

I watched this with friends who had never seen the original Dragon Ball. The DVD set begins mid-tournament, so I had to catch everyone up on the plot. Despite starting in the middle of a tournament, everyone became emotionally invested in the outcome. The ending involves a dumb-luck element that really upset Mr. Translator (see above).

After that, King Piccolo arrives, and we're given an epic flashback to his apocalyptic destruction of Earth, as explained by Master Roshi. After the tournament, the backstory feels incredible in scope, like watching the live-action Lord of the Rings movies immediately after the Rankin/Bass adaptation of The Hobbit.

Piccolo's progeny dragon-demon offspring go around serial killing the participants of the World Martial Arts Tournament. Eventually King Piccolo punches Shen Long in the face in a scene so exciting that if I were a kid, I would pee my pants.

The stakes are raised and raised as Goku goes on a Joseph Campell-prescribed Hero's Journey where he faces down a vague Darkness that probably represents death itself. At the end of the set, Goku fights Piccolo. Who could ask for anything more?

This set contains everything that is good and classic about Dragon Ball. Just when you get tired of the tournament, Goku leaps on Kinto-Un and flies off to collect the dragon balls again, restoring everything good about the series. All of the characters from Season Two return like old friends, including my favorite, Korin. Goku even makes a new friend, the True Neutral aligned Yajirobe.

I found the preferred method to watch Dragon Ball in our group setting was to turn the subs on and watch the dub, so we could simultaneously take in the original script and enjoy the added jokes in the dub. In this season, the dub script writers add just enough levity without being as heavy-handed as in earlier seasons.[TOP]

This week's season of One Piece was sadly not as epicly classic as the fourth season of Dragon Ball.

This is the weakest set of One Piece I've seen yet. (To be fair, I still haven't seen the first season.) Half of the set takes place on an island populated by several dozen goats and a retired money-lender. In the other half, the crew visits an island over-taxed by an unfair mayor. If I didn't think this was mostly filler, I would suspect Eiichiro Oda was having financial problems when he wrote this.

But I'm not being fair. In the last fourth of the set, the crew gets trapped in the dangerous Rainbow Fog, a mysterious extra-dimensional space where time flows slowly and space circles back around on itself, like a Pac-Man maze. The conceit is good enough, but admittedly I fell asleep before it was over.

Early on, an entire episode is dedicated to teaching some kid on a Marine ship how to make curry properly. I like culinary manga like Kitchen Princess, Oishinbo, and Mister Ajikko, but that episode was a real stretch for One Piece. It follows the usual culinary conceits; Japanese chefs expect you to observe and "steal" techniques rather than be explicitly taught. It's fine to follow genre conventions, but this makes for a very boring episode of One Piece.

I was hoping the old man on the island would turn out to be a little more like Prospero in The Tempest. Instead, Zenny the Money Lender is a boring old man, and kind of a jerk. Chopper mis-diagnoses Zenny as having three days left to live. Unfortunately, Zenny survives, given a new lease on life by Luffy's cheerful optimism and a lack of an enforced retirement age for pirates.

I didn't like this arc, but it could be because I just don't like goats. Their square pupils weird me out, and goats are just really loud.

I totally dig Stephanie Young as the voice of Nico Robin in the dub. She sounds terrifically sultry. Christopher R. Sabat as Zoro also has a great resonating sound to his deep voice. It turns out he's also Shen Long in Dragon Ball (among other characters, but Shen Long is the best).

There aren't even any extras on his set. Not even a voice actor commentary...? Really?[TOP]

You can skip this entire volume. But don't miss Vandread if you've never seen it.

Vandread took me totally by surprise. Based on the premise and the costume designs, I assumed this would be crappy on the level of Geneshaft or Divergence Eve¹. But I was totally wrong, and Vandread is actually a solid sci-fi TV series along the lines of The Irresponsible Captain Tylor (and Tylor is one of my favorite series).

In the distant future, two single-gender human space colonies have been at war for so many years they have never even seen a member of the opposite sex.² A lowly (male) worker named Hibiki attempts to steal a mech and ends up onboard a space pirate ship (The Nirvana) crewed exclusively by women. Hibiki and the crew are up against the "bad aliens," a bunch of mysterious organ harvesters who are scary, but thankfully not as scary as Reavers.

Two other dudes, Bart and Duelo, also end up on The Nirvana. While Hibiki becomes a fighter pilot of one of the "Dreads", Bart becomes the nude navigator a la Outlaw Star, and Duelo becomes the sarcastic ship's doctor like the doctor on Star Trek: Voyager. (OK, so he's not that sarcastic.)

About a third of the plot is dedicated to the men fitting into the ship's crew against gender bias (from mild to misandry). Another third of the plot is devoted to a would-be romance between Hibiki and Dita, who continually calls Hibiki "Mr. Alien" ("The Truth is Out There! "). The final third of the show is a desperate battle for survival against the bad aliens.

The writing is solid. Every episode cuts between the large ensemble cast with as much deftness as any given Star Trek series. In one original Star Trek style episode, the crew stumbles across a Planet With a weird religion, which they later destroy, much to the upset of the natives. (Thanks, Captain James "Your bible is a lie!" T. Kirk!)

Vandread takes some of fights for survival too lightly. If the show were more serious, it could compare favorably to something like Battlestar Galactica. (Maybe it is more comparable to the original 1978 Battlestar Galactica…)

The bikini bottoms and occasional pointy-boobs (particularly on Sub-Commander Buzam Calessa) didn't bother me after a while. In one scene, Hibiki gets a faceful of breasts (I assume a law on the books mandates this scene in every anime series produced in Japan), but Hibiki doesn't react. He doesn't have any experience with women at all, so he doesn't know to be embarrassed. To Vandread's credit, this only happens once.

Despite the man:woman ratio, Vandread never turns into a harem show. In fact, Hibiki and Dita's are-they-or-aren't-they romance may be the most believable hesitant romance of all time in anime. Neither of them has any concept of love or dating, so their stumbling, blushing friendship comes off as a play on anime clichés.

I'm not much of a mecha fan. The all-CG mecha aren't terribly memorable, and since the series is from 2000 the CG isn't that great, but it is more than adequate by television standards. Remember the CG scenes in Babylon 5? Vandread's CG is way better than that.

This set includes the entire series and the OVAs. The dub is perfectly fine. My only complaint is that Buzam sounds very Takarazuka-like in Japanese, but she only sounds regular-sexy instead of Takarazuka-sexy in the dub (granted, this is not much of a complaint). The OVA isn't dubbed, but apparently it hasn't been released before.

This is an easily recommendable show to anime fans who are also sci-fi fans. However, I think there are too many anime tropes for sci-fi fans who don't like anime. The mecha combine in a hard-to-believe way, the logistics department is staffed by girls in maid costumes, and one Harriet the Spy-type annoying character carries around a hand puppet, which was the style at the time (Best Student Coucil, The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service).

Ironically, I would never have watched Vandread or even read a review of it if I wasn't writing this column. The well-endowed girls and mech on the cover art would guarantee I'd never touch it.[TOP]

¹ I think I saw the Divergence Eve trailer so many times on ADV releases that it had a scarring effect on my brain. I kept forgetting the title, so I ended up accidently starting to watch the trailer again and again. Divergence Eve has made me mentally write off an entire subgenre of boobs and mecha shows like Gravion Zwei. It's thanks to Divergence Eve that I will probably never watch Godannar, which I've heard is good (if there's a rerelease I'll probably have to watch it for the column).

I'll never (voluntarily) watch Divergence Eve for the same reason I'll never read a Lady Death comic. When I look at those characters I can only think of back pain and breast reduction surgery. I know they're only cartoons, but I can't help it. I guess I could accept a sci-fi series with huge breasts if it took place exclusively in zero gravity.

² If you like art house movies, science fiction, and Vandread's premise, rent The American Astronaut immediately. Even if you don't like any of those things, listen to the soundtrack.

This week's shelves are from Brandi, who wrote the following:

"So, I've been collecting since 1994 (God, I feel old) though I don't think any of this collection existed at that point. Well, outside of a few Animerica magazines. It certainly has grown and changed over the years. I've had bit more in DVDs in the past and I had way more video games (close to 400 at one point). I finally ended up collecting manga which pictured here is like 544 volumes (yes, I keep a spreed sheet!). Said spreed sheet also is is great in helping me bargain hunt for titles since I'll often buy them out of order. Some of my favorite pieces are the Megami Tensei and Shin Megami Tensei (a.k.a. Tokyo Revelations) anime on laser disk (I've never owned a LD player) with associated soundtrack...on vinyl (I also don't own a record player); the Utena music box (I have never seen another one); the awesome cel of Gara from Bastard!! my friend gave me; and of course my Hellsing sketch that I got at Otakon from Kouta Hirano."

That's quite the impressive collection! Spreadsheets are a good thing.

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

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