by Erin Finnegan,
Gurren Lagann the Movie ~Childhood's End~ LE
Slayers Evolution-R complete
None this week.
Durarara!! episodes 8-24
Funnily enough, it was at that AX that I first went to an Anime News Network panel to find out what these people look like. I saw Christopher MacDonald, Bamboo Dong, and maybe even Zac Bertschy. I had no idea that Bamboo was her real name, or that she was a girl. I never imagined I might take over her column someday.
After some explanation about the history of the site, the panelists took audience questions and gave away DVDs. One groggy-looking con-goer said something like, "Uh… is your site the one with like, um, pink on the right side…? I go to it every day, and I think if you describe the front page, I'll remember…" Her question threw me into a kind of nerd rage. What was she doing here?! Why even go to this panel if you don't know which website the panel is about?! And you couldn't figure it out in the last 40 minutes of talking about it? I had a fannish indignation freak-out internally.
Every convention is filled with at least one moment like that. Here's hoping your Anime Expo went well. Perhaps you purchased the Gurren Lagann movie over the weekend.
I've heard mech fans puzzling over why non-mech fans like me dig this show. I like it because I'm a Gainax fan, and the plot is solid (and Yoko's anatomy doesn't hurt, I suppose). The gung-ho DNA-fueled "Spiral Power" theme is inspirationally pro-human, unlike a lot of current science fiction, which is anti-human (District 9, Cameron's Avatar). The animation is pens-on-fire, passionate work that leaps off the small screen. The weird/cool two-faced robots are just icing on a cake made of awesome.
I hadn't seen this movie yet because I heard it was a re-cut of the TV series. Indeed, it is a re-cut of the first half of the show. Theatrical re-cuts are nothing new, and date back to the days of Space Battleship Yamato. I think they made more sense in the days before a well established home video market and syndicated television.
This movie is the wrong way to watch Gurren Lagann if you've never seen it. For all practical purposes, it's a highlight reel of the robot fight scenes. It might be a useful way to watch an old favorite without watching the entire thing, but unlike Dragon Ball Z Kai, or the new Evangelion movies, or FMA Brotherhood, this movie brings nothing new to the table.
The pacing is really awkward. The first episode is included almost in its entirety, along with a few other key episodes. Weaker episodes are glossed over in montages that will only make sense if you've seen the TV show. You can forget about Rossiu entirely; his character is really skipped over in this film.
Despite being "Limited Edition," this is a barebones release. Not only is there no dub, there's not even a "Set Up" menu on the DVD to select English subs. The subtitles are enabled by default (and you can turn them off). Watching this in VLC Player meant I had to turn on the subs through the menu.
There are three reasons you might want to own this:
1. You're a completist. Four of the web-only "Parallel Works" are included in this set. One of them is the Medieval Europe fantasy adventure starring Viral. I haven't seen all of the Parallel Works yet, but I think that is the strongest one so far.
2. The set comes with two nice postcards and a full-color booklet with storyboard panels, character designs, and some interviews. Unfortunately, the booklet isn't translated! Man, what the heck, Aniplex? I guess you don't need to read Japanese to enjoy the artwork, but I'd like to read the interviews! A black and white flyer with some translations would've been nice, even if they didn't want to re-do the entire booklet.
3. You could loan this to your friend who refuses to watch Gurren Lagann. It can be hard to convince someone to watch Gurren (perhaps because of the robots), but maybe if you give them this movie, they'll be intrigued enough to check out the rest of the show.[TOP]
The first few episodes on this set are like a reminder that you could be watching other, better shows. A haunted suit of armor reminded me that I could be watching Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood instead. A Dullahan convention in the second episode reminded me that I had to watch the end of Durarara!!. A huge nature spirit thing in the third or fourth episode was an obvious homage to Princess Mononoke, and a reminder that I could be re-watching classic anime instead of the new Slayers.
But then there's the reverse-mermaid paternity suit episode; "Quality time? A loving life?". A female fish with legs and two kids shows up and accuses Gourry of being their father. Gourry quits adventuring and starts a new life providing for his new air-breathing fish-family, despite the fact that the kids obviously don't look like him. The rest of the episode is a hilarious over-the-top parody of soap opera clichés. If you watch only one episode of Slayers, watch episode 4 (95 overall). My face hurt from laughing so hard.
Michael Sinterniklaas' company, NYAV Post, delivers a perfectly adequate dub of this show, but it just can't hold a candle to the Japanese performances. I don't know how this was recorded in Japan, but the microphones pick up a lot of subtlety in the seiyuu's voices that you never normally hear. The vocal performances are so good that they're better than the artwork, the animation, or the plot of this season.
To be fair, the big finish is well-animated. I didn't care for the ending of Revolution, because it felt like the main characters weren't involved enough in the plot. If Slayers is like playing in a Dungeons and Dragons campaign, Pokota felt like the Non-Player character that you have to help and the entire season felt like a side quest. In this season, Zelgadis has a personal interest in seeing the Red Priest Rezo resurrected, so it feels much less like a side quest, and more like part of the overall campaign.
If you didn't understand anything in that last paragraph, Slayers probably isn't for you. I can't imagine watching Slayers without at least being familiar with World of Warcraft or Final Fantasy or some other party-based role-playing fantasy game.
I said in an earlier Shelf Life column that an anime series is only as strong as its toughest villain. Red Priest Rezo is a great villain, so much so that the ending of Slayers is nearly Shelf Worthy. Even though I never like Pokota, I have to admit that this was a good ending. [TOP]
Durarara!! also has a solid ending, a rarity in anime.
If forgetting the characters' names made me feel somewhat mentally handicapped, I felt even dumber by the end of Durarara!!. I had a lot of questions that were answered within the show, that I'd somehow missed. Really, this should be a compliment, because the only other series I've had this kind of problems with are The Wire and HBO's Rome.
The fact that I'm able to compare Durarara!! to HBO dramas is a gigantic endorsement. Watch this show! You could be watching it right now. If you're sad it's over, watch Paranoia Agent.
My only complaint, if I have one, is that Durarara!! seemed to wrap up nicely at the end of the first "season". Episode 11 comes to a satisfying conclusion, with episode 12 as a nice epilogue. The new theme songs kick in at episode 13, and the new opener and closers aren't nearly as good as the originals.
But I was glad I came back to finish the series. We never found out who "the slasher" was in the first half. Much of the rest of the series is devoted to the slasher, and, without spoilers, it is pleasantly reminiscent of Boogiepop Phantom (another fine series that you should check out).
Anri wasn't very well developed as a character in the first half (only her bra size was "well developed" hyuk hyuk). Fortunately she gets a lot of story time and empowerment in the second half.
Durarara!! does a great job of pulling you into its world. When I left my apartment after watching the series, I carried the feeling of Durarara!!'s fictional Ikebukuro with me out my front door and into the street. It felt like something mysterious was going on in my neighborhood. Whenever I leave a movie theater and I still feel like I'm in the world of the film, I think a movie has succeeded as cinema. Durarara!! achieves that feeling as a television show.
Durarara!!'s use of the Dollars gang reminded me a lot of the NYC-based improv comedy group Improv Everywhere. The group uses a mailing list to orchestrate elaborate pranks like flash mobs. You've probably seen some of their videos on Youtube. There is a kind of magic to bringing strangers together to act for a secret cause, and Durarara!! captures that feeling. In one episode, Anri is running from a gang, and finds that seemingly random strangers are helping her escape. In truth, the Dollars are helping her from behind the scenes, communicating by email, text messages, and their BBS.
In that scene, Durarara!! captures the feeling of the present and the future at the same time. I'm glad that for once the vision of the future isn't some kind of dystopia.[TOP]
I might end up taking July 12th off from Shelf Life because I foolishly watched Salaryman Kintaro last week instead of something newer (it was great, by the way, and I'm in a hurry to buy all those used DVDs). I also want to prepare my Otakon panels in case they get approved. Or I might be able to write a column on the 12th after all… Who knows what tomorrow will bring?
This week's shelves are from Ashlee, who had this to say about her collection:
"I started to actively collect anime and manga back in 2008 after I got my first (and current - yay!) job. My main loves of the collection is my growing CLAMP goodies - I believe it's quite obvious by how I organize my shelf - and it's my goal to get everything I love related to them. Yeah, there isn't much I can really say about my collection; I know it's small compared to many, but I'm very proud and happy with it. ^^"
There's plenty to be proud of!
Want to show off your stuff? Send your jpgs to shelflife at animenewsnetwork dot com. Thanks!
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