Shelf Life
Mixed Martial Hearts

by Bamboo Dong,

While Erin is at Otakon battling the hordes of kids playing Marco Polo in the hallways, I get to rub my opinions into your faces once again. I had a really good time writing the column this week, and I hope you all have a good time reading it. Because really, without getting too sappy here, I miss you guys a whole bunch. Aww, group hug.

Alright, welcome to Shelf Life.

I have to congratulate Funimation on two things. First, I'd like to congratulate their phenomenal trailer department for cutting one of the funniest and most attention-grabbing trailers in recent anime history. Their coinage of “Boobs, butts, and burgers” is genius. Alchemic, actually, considering their source material was Master of Martial Hearts… which leads me to my second congratulations. Congratulations, Funimation, on finding and licensing one of the worst anime shows to be produced since the bursting of the Anime Bubble.

Where do I start? Chronologically, I suppose. First off, Master of Martial Hearts has an opening theme song that was clearly scrambled together by two college students and a hacked copy of GarageBand. No one else could've paired a thudding minor key accompaniment with a sickeningly sweet major key melody. Sadly, it was only a harbinger of bad things to come, as the show itself was much, much worse.

Local legend tells of the Platonic Heart, a mystical conglomeration of jewels that will grant the owner any wish her heart desires. It's renamed in the dub as the Martial Heart. Because, see, the girls do martial arts. And they're trying to win the martial… heart Art. Heart. It's a pun.

To win the Martial Heart, each contestant has to battle every other entrant, bracket style, until only one remains. There are no rules, and law enforcement is apparently not a concern. Importantly, the competition is only open to women. The reason is simple—in this version of modern Japan, whenever you get punched, your clothes explode into bits, and no one wants to see penis in their fanservice anime. Luckily, this means that the neighborhood is rampant with breasts, swinging every which way. There are a lot of ladies out there who want the Martial Heart, so if you do the math, that's a lot of nipples.

Our heroine is Aya, a sweet high school girl who loves to eat hamburgers with her gal pal Natsume. She has a dark secret, though. Turns out, she possesses killer martial arts skills, made obvious by the fact that she flies into a berserker rage every time a fight turns dire. She has a noble reason for wanting the Heart, but honestly, the details of the storyline don't matter. Clearly, people aren't watching the show for the story. They are watching it to see clothes disintegrate into a massive fit of tits.

But surely, a show about martial arts must have some amazing action sequences! Wrong. The meager animation budget barely left room for plausible lip flap, much less believable fight sequences, unless you really think a purse can magically stretch 10-feet. Hilariously, though, the second episode features a scene where a chemistry teacher shouts out her attack moves in formula names. So if her right fist is Na, and her left fist is Cl, she'll yell, “Sodium chloride!!!” and she'll do a right-left combo. Who says anime can't be educational?

Considering the terrible storyline, the complete lack of characterization, the lackluster animation, and the ear-splitting music, and the complete disregard for science, there is no redeeming feature of this show. Unless, of course, you want something to whack off to. In that case, Master of Martial Hearts is your Holy Grail. There are girls of all shapes and sizes, and everyone's clothes are made of stunt glass. Whether you're looking for some full-on nip action, or just slow motion pans of bra-less girls running in tight gym clothes, all your not-so-platonic wishes will be granted. I just hope that while you're rubbing out a long one, you are filled with so much shame that you can't look yourself in the mirror until Labor Day.[TOP]

Luckily, the rest of my week wasn't quite as agonizing. I was actually really excited to get the opportunity to review Initial D Fourth Stage, part two. Back in high school, my local anime club started showing the original Initial D, and I was certain it was the coolest thing I'd ever seen. I thought the races were amazing, I thought Eurobeat was the greatest thing in the world, and I was convinced my life would be incomplete unless I owned a Lancer Evolution.

Refreshingly, while “Fourth Stage” maintains the same excitement level and the same number of ridiculously detailed race sequences as the first season, it's completely different in terms of pacing. Instead of following the obvious "meet the new opponent then get roped into an Akina downhill fight and figure out a way to win" formula, this season focuses more on Takumi's personal growth as a person and as a driver. For the first time, he's facing adversity within himself, and it's nice to watch a struggle that doesn't involve just driving closer to the gutter.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Initial D franchise, Fourth Stage isn't really the best place to start. At the same time, it's not really that hard to figure out what's going on within a couple of episodes. In the second part of this season, Takumi learns that the Impreza that's been zipping past him on his tofu runs actually belongs to his dad. He's also been given an interesting challenge—alternate between the two cars for his deliveries. He thinks it's a foolish exercise, especially since he can't figure out how to push the new car to speeds to match his old Eight-Six, but his ever-wise dad knows this will be an integral part to Takumi's racing training.

While Takumi is busy figuring out how to be a better driver, the rest of the street racing world moves on without him. The episodes are filled with races between other teams and other drivers, partly to flesh out the other characters, and partly to give the audience something exciting to watch.

As far as the races go, they look much better than the ones in the first season. Gone is the awkward 3D CGI, and in its place, a flat, two-dimensional look that blends in much more naturally with the rest of the series. Because of this, the races are actually a lot more fun to watch. They actually seem like they fit in with the show, rather than feeling like they were culled from the random video archives of the nearest Korean karaoke joint.

I wouldn't say that Initial D: Fourth Stage is better than the first three seasons prior to it… it's just different. It's really great watching episodes that break from the original formula. It's fun watching Takumi kick ass all over the mountain, but that gets boring after some point. Fourth Stage ensures that there's still something to offer. Takumi isn't just some emotionally retarded teenager with a knack for driving—he's an actual person who gets frustrated by his pitfalls and shortcomings. The other characters see more development as well, especially the usually goofy Itsuki, and it's these minor storylines that make this show still worth watching even after all these seasons.

Obviously, if you like cars and street racing, you will probably get a kick out of Initial D. Even though the fourth stage focuses more on characters than the endless races, there's still plenty of carspeak to nerd over and appreciate. But even if you don't care about cars, and the pshhhhh of the turbo does nothing for you, there's still plenty to like. By all accounts, Initial D is an action show… only instead of dudes hitting each other with swords, it's guys racing around in tuned cars. It's exciting, and I can almost guarantee that you'll have tons of fun.[TOP]

As fond as I am of action shows, though, I wanted to end my week with a comedy. After checking out some of the available simulcasts on Crunchyroll, I ended up watching Mitsudomoe. Really, how could I resist clicking on a show full of rosy-cheeked school kids and frazzled male teachers? I am drawn to that stuff like a fly to an outhouse, because I'm always morbidly curious about what kind of show it'll end up being.

Turns out, Mitsudomoe… is actually really difficult to classify. It's a comedy, that much is clear, but its raunchy, surreal humor, combined with its cast of sixth grade kids, makes it kind of a strange viewing experience. According to the Crunchyroll website, the episodes are rated very high (around 4.5-4.8 stars out of 5), but the show felt flat to me. Maybe I just didn't get it.

The show starts with a very familiar premise—a young, idealistic teacher comes to a new school, full of hope and vigor, and can't wait to mold the blossoming minds of tomorrow. He's introduced to the blushing school nurse before going to his classroom full of kids.

At this point, the show flips the entire moe audience the finger, and pretty much says, “Oh, you like this? Well, here's how I feel about your tropes!” and then punches the whole genre in the face. From then on, it's rapid-fire jokes, each one dirtier than the last. The class is commanded by the Marui triplets, who are completely different in looks and personality (hence mitsudomoe, a representation of Man, Earth, and Sky [thanks Wiki!]). They completely terrorize their new teacher, whom they lovingly nickname Yabecchi. I don't think they're purposely making his life a living Hell, but when their best intentions involve antics like trying to thump him in the testicles, things can be rough. Why there's no disciplinary system in place is a mystery, and maybe if I could've suspended my disbelief, I would've enjoyed the show more than I did.

As it is, the show is a stretch of different gags, slapped together to form an episode. They're all either relatively dirty (like suggestively rubbing a hamster's tail and having it squeal in erotic delight) or just gross (like wrapping the teacher in a long ribbon of snot), but it's worth noting preemptively that it has nothing to do with the characters' ages. Seriously, I can't really imagine anything less moe than Mitsudomoe, except maybe bass fishing.

In a way, that's both a bad thing and a good thing. I get that part of the humor is derived from the fact that these kids are running around giving the teacher hell, and that it's hilarious to see these cute little girls be such massive forces of destruction. At the same time, it's kind of overdoing it. The show tries way too hard to be funny. In a way, it's like the show itself is acting out to try to get attention. There's too much energy, too much suggestive humor, and too much slapstick. It hits you in the face with these implausible scenarios, begging for a laugh.

I appreciate what the show is trying to do. I get that some people forever enjoy the scenario of kids tormenting their teachers, but it's so over the top that it misses the comedy mark. The sisters aren't even plausibly realistic enough to make the situations humorous. If a show is just going to rely on potty humor, they could just as easily sub out the girls and use a sack of potatoes as the main characters. There's no challenge in spitting out dirty jokes.

But maybe I'm just a big ol' stick in the mud. Who knows. I guess my funny bone must be broken, because that 4.8 star rating does not make sense to me. Personally, I'm done with the show, and no cajoling could convince me to keep wasting my time on it.[TOP]

Alright, it's been an absolute pleasure subbing in for Erin, and I hope to do it again sometime in the future! Thanks for reading!

Instead of showing you pictures this week, I'm going to post an interesting email I got from a reader who was displeased with some of the pictures he's seen lately:

"While it's lots of fun to see what other folks have on their shelves, the percentage of bad photos is starting to make me cringe. It might be time to post a few suggestions for people who want to take shots of their collections.

- Please, turn off the camera's built-in flash! Try to use either indirect light or a light source that ~45 degrees off the axis of the shot (the line between the center of the shot and your camera instead. Shots that are more than 50% glare are nearly pointless and book/DVD/... spines tend to be quite glossy.

- Use a tripod, or a step ladder, or a stool, or a door frame, or ANYTHING to steady your camera. Shots that are a giant smear from hand movement are just as bad.

- Look at the shot and if it isn't good (well lit, glare free, in focus, sharp and clear), delete it and take it over. Pros take plenty of bad shots too, but they self edit, filter, and purge ruthlessly. Digital photography makes this easy and nearly painless because the "film" is free.

Thanks for the column and your patience with a cranky photographer."

Thanks for the tips, Tom!

Now, while I don't expect everyone to bust out some crazy $800 cameras just to take pictures of their anime shelves, I should mention that it makes everyone happier if the pictures are clear enough that we can all read the DVD spines. After all, it's a lot easier to make us jealous with your out-of-print Urusei Yatsura boxsets if we can actually see them.

With that in mind, keep on sending in your jpgs to shelflife at animenewsnetwork dot com. Thanks!

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