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Shelf Life
Band of Brothers

by Erin Finnegan,

I'm getting geared up for Otakon! (I'm not going to SDCC or Anime Expo this year.) All my panels were wait-listed, but I take that as a positive sign. Usually my Otakon panels are outright rejected, but thanks to Anime Boston and AnimeNext (and SITACon), I have a lot more panel experience.

I'm also excited about Otakon because Felipe Smith will be there! I had the honor of meeting the madman of OEL manga in Japan when I was there last year. He was working on Peepo Choo for Morning 2 magazine (Morning Tsu?). Consequently, I just finished reading an advance copy of Vertical's English version of Peepo Choo. Dude! Talk about shrink wrap…! I thought MBQ was kind of explicit, but fuhgeddaboudit!

I went to a closet-sized anime theme bar in Kabukicho with Ed Chavez and Felipe Smith at about 2:30 AM on a Tuesday. We had anime-themed cocktails like the "Fujiko." Some big shot producer in sunglasses was there with a couple of babes, but we didn't know who he was. It was an otaku-cool moment, and I'd like to pretend that's just how I roll, but actually I was in town to get my wedding dress. I also happened to attend the Tokyo Anime Fair, where I saw Brotherhood's staff dressed as State Alchemists just for fun.

Curious podcasters want to know-- if you're watching Fullmetal Alchemist for the first time starting with Brotherhood, and you've never read the manga, what do you think of it? Does it make sense to you? I ask because I can't tell if Brotherhood stands alone very well or not. I can't un-watch the original series or forget that I've seen it.

Allow me to save you some reading time if you've seen Brotherhood already; this set is a retelling of a little over half of the original series. There are a couple of divergent plot points, but the new material will begin in the next DVD set.

If you don't know what's up with Brotherhood, here's the deal; It's like the new Evangelion movies or Dragon Ball Z Kai. Much of the beginning of the first series has been re-animated, although not shot-per-shot like with Eva. It's like an American comic "reboot." The original anime series was produced before the manga was half-way done, so the TV crew, with the author's blessing, invented their own ending. Meanwhile, the manga plugged along. Brotherhood claims to be the manga version of the story. Instead of keeping the same pace, Brotherhood assumes you've seen the first series and condenses the story like Campbell's condenses soups.

In case you've never, ever seen FMA (what are you waiting for?) Ed and Al dabbled in alchemy as kids trying to raise their mother from the dead. Their failure cost Ed a leg and Al his body. Fortunately, in this alternate-universe pre-WWI version of Germany, a kind of armor called "automail" has provided nifty replacement parts. Ed and Al join a branch of the military known as the State Alchemists. They hope to find the legendary Philosopher's Stone and restore their bodies. A lot of adventures unfold along their quest; a dark-skinned "Ishbalan" is serial killing State Alchemists on a holy revenge mission. To make matters worse, some mysterious bad guys with crazy powers are following Ed and Al, and burning down libraries where they plan to research the Philosopher's Stone.

Characters that only turned up in the second half of the original turn up early on in Brotherhood. Sheska (the girl with a photographic memory) gets a lot of screen time and Ed and Al's dad makes more than one appearance.

Just like Kai or the new Eva movies, Brotherhood provides a handy shorthand for revisiting an old favorite (or in this case, not that old). Watch it again without having to re-watch the original verbatim! In these tough economic times, launching a new franchise is a huge financial risk for an anime studio. It's safer to stick with remakes, reboots, and re-cuts, and if they're as good as Brotherhood, I don't mind. I'd rather see a new-ish anime than no new series and a bunch of unemployed people (although it turns out I get both, whether I like it or not).

The dub is quite nice, maybe even better than the original dub. Unfortunately, Aaron Dismuke had to be replaced as Al, because he was a kid and his voice changed. I really loved Dismuke, who sounded like Linus in A Charlie Brown Christmas. Fortunately it doesn't take long to get used to Maxey Whitehead, who is a very good Al. [TOP]

I had forgotten that Ed and Al are left in the wilderness by their martial arts teacher as "training", Piccolo-style. Funnily enough, Kenichi also did wilderness training this week.

Here's my review of Season 2 Part 1. I've only been watching this show since Kenichi became mighty. I missed the first set, where he's still a weakling and they introduce his six martial arts coaches. I feel like I missed the meat of the series and now Kenichi is just going around being mighty.

In this set, Kenichi rushes home from the middle of wilderness training to help defend his friends against the Ragnarok gang. Kenichi's friends have started their own gang called the Shinpaku Federation (Shinpaku Alliance in the dub), and by the end of this set, it's an all-out war between the two. Leading up to the face off, demon-alien freak Haruo arranges a mixer party for the good guys and bad guys while Kenichi is away. Kenichi's Not-Girlfriend Miu and former badgirl Kisara meet and bond over their mutual love of cats. It's all amusing enough and the set ends with Kenichi battling a naturally gifted street fighter just before a tantalizing cliffhanger; Kenichi's coaches are about to join the fight!

This set was much more amusing that Season 2 Part 1, but it just isn't good enough to be Shelf Worthy. A lot of members of Ragnarok dress like Loki, whose outfit looks like either a rip-off or a parody of Gambit from the X-Men (with goggles). If Kenichi had better character designs, I'd give it more credit. If I can't tell if it's an homage, a parody, or a rip-off, I think you're doing it wrong.

So Kenichi continues to be a perfect "Rental" rating. It's amusing, but it doesn't pass my three-pronged Shelf Worthy test. In order to take up shelf space in my 300 square foot apartment it must be something that I will watch again, something I'd loan to a friend, or have some outstanding extras that make it worth the money. Instead, Kenichi is low priority viewing. I'd show it first at an anime club meeting while waiting for other members to show up. I'd throw it in my rental queue mid-way down the list to kill time waiting for better DVDs to arrive. I would watch Kenichi if it was on TV randomly, and if I had a TiVo, I'd set Kenichi on auto-delete. I'd watch it on demand if there wasn't anything else I hadn't seen.

I know a lot of people who read this column just buy whatever comes out if it's halfway decent. (I've seen the pictures of your shelves!) If you're one of those readers, Kenichi is an easy buy. You get a dub, attractive boxes that'll fit economically on your shelves, and a decent episode count per set. The boxes are way more attractive than the series' character designs.

Speaking of which, Kenichi has a very spirited dub. It sounds like the actors are having a great time. This go-round I noticed that Haruo is voiced by the same actor who plays Sgt. Frog (Todd Haberkorn). Chris Cason puts in a great performance as Siegfried, a martial arts master who looks like a cross between the Violinist of Hamelin and a JoJo's Bizarre Adventure character. Siegfried sings a lot, and Cason does a great job of adapting the ridiculous songs into English. Not only is the spirit of the Japanese seiyuu intact, but it sounds like Cason loves his job.[TOP]

Kenichi's dub is slightly better than Soul Eater's formidable dub, which sounds Cartoon Network-ready. Why isn't Soul Eater on Cartoon Network? Is it the brief nudity? Is it because Death the Kid shoots someone in the face in this season?

Dearest Funimation, what is the harm in labeling DVDs sequentially? I got these episodes in the mail some time ago. They arrived without the box, and because the DVDs were labeled "Disc 1" and "Disc 2". I thought I had duplicates of Part One, which I already reviewed. Then Part Three came in the mail, also labeled "Disc 1" and "Disc 2" but with different characters, and I realized my mistake.

I don't want to ghettoize Soul Eater by saying this, but basically this series delivers everything I'm looking for as an anime fan. I love the Shonen Jump formula (Soul Eater ran in a Square Enix magazine but you get the idea). Sure, the formula is predictable, but sometimes that's what you want.

For example, I knew when Maka fought a certain rival in this set that they would become friends. As a fighting protagonist, you must befriend your feared rivals, whether you're Goku or Grappler Baki. It suddenly occurred to me after that particular fight that Maka is a female protagonist of a shonen show. Sure, she fights on a team with Soul, but it's nice to see a girl in the lead role for once. (Actually you can tell this isn't a Shonen Jump title because the two main rivals are not blonde and brunette boys as in Naruto, Death Note, and Hikaru no Go.)

Soul Eater continues to deliver high quality animation and creative character designs. Everything is drawn with gusto. This is a great show for aspiring artists and graphic designers. There are no off-model episodes or poorly designed filler-only characters. Correct me if I'm wrong, but Soul Eater almost never feels like filler, and if there is filler, it is mercifully short.

My favorite episode of the set was 17, "Legend of the Holy Sword 2 – Wanna Go Drinking, Gambling, and Playing?". Part One established the legendary sword Excalibur as a weapon who can take the form of some kind of foppish dog creature. Anyone can draw the sword from the stone in Soul Eater, the trouble is that Excalibur tells long-winded stories and insults the would-be sword bearer. This would get old if Excalibur were a regular character, but Part Two confines Excalibur's rambling to one excellent slapstick episode. We're given quick glimpses of Excalibur's improbably life story, which includes leading the Jets in 1950's New York.

Excalibur as the leader of the Jets - I can't say was expecting to see that when I got up in the morning! It also happens that the madness living in Maka's head (think Herman's Head) takes on a devil-form and occupies a room suspiciously similar to the Red Room in Twin Peaks. That is awesome, because even if you don't get the pop culture reference, it still fits into the story.

You know because of the well-documented Shonen Power Creep that Maka is going to have to fight some kind of vague, universal evil eventually. You know it. Brak know it. Zorak know it. I thought I skipped a set when the kids started battling Asura, a bad guy from Death's younger days who may never have been human to begin with. The series seems to start wrapping up (and much quicker than usual!) around episode 24.

Somehow it keeps moving forward, with the action now split evenly between the teachers' generation and the student's generation. It's very Harry Potter. Death is like Dumbledore, Asura is your shonen version of Voldemort, and instead of Harry, Maka is the kickass version of Hermione, leading the fight. I think we'd all like to see Hermione kick a little more ass.[TOP]

Watching Brotherhood made me nostalgic. My husband and I and basically everyone we know all really loved the original FMA. In 2004 at Otakon, a friend cosplayed as Winry along with a dozen other Winrys (pics or it didn't happen). That friend's future husband even started making a homemade RPG system for FMA, although I think his career got in the way eventually. In the ensuing years the show got dropped from Cartoon Network and people more or less stopped making shoddy cardboard Alphonses and the hordes of girls dressed as Edward Elric all but disappeared. Daryl Surat continues to receive more hate mail from his Otaku USA feature on Fullmetal Alchemist than on anything else he's ever written for the magazine. And it's not because he didn't like the show, but because he didn't love it enough. He opened with a line like, "This isn't the greatest show ever made, but…" The hate mail, akin to children's letters to Santa in Miracle on 34th Street, argues that it is the greatest TV show ever. I'd say it's in my top 25 non-Ghibli recommended anime titles, maybe even top 20.

This week's shelves are from Kayla:

"Hello, I'm a New Englander anime fan. Sadly, I'm moving back to Ohio, and I want to show off my collection before I leave. All the figures are packed up now, and the books are rearranged to make the house more sellable.

I've been collecting Anime/manga since I was 10. It's been my hobby, and much to my mom's chagrin, it'll stay that way. I own DVDs too, but my collection is embarassly small.

I'd really love to be featured in Shelflife before I move, it'll be dear to me, because I'm losing the place I love for exchange of a new life."

Good luck selling the house, Kayla!

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

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