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Shelf Life
X Hits the Spot

by Erin Finnegan,

Otakon. That happened. My panels were wait-listed, my interview requests were never granted (I even followed up this year, unlike last year), and I managed to miss most of the things I wanted to see. Did anyone take notes at the "10 Funniest AMVs of All Time" panel? Because I went to eat a delicious breakfast with friends and missed it. It was important to avoid another Otakon breakfast apocalypse, after all. At least I recorded a podcast (gotta edit the audio…).

If nothing else, I spent a lot of time hanging out with my “online friends”. That is to say, I hung out with a growing cadre of podcasters, bloggers, and twitterers (tweeters?) who don't necessarily live near me. My favorite panel was Mike Toole's "Anime Cult Classics," featuring anime funded by cults. I also watched Welcome to the Space Show, which had a great first half but fell apart in the end. Nevertheless, it was the type of movie my inner 9-year-old would watch on endless repeat.

Before Otakon, I watched the first half of Initial D Fourth Stage to prep for this week's column. Then Bamboo told me she was reviewing it, which is good, because I don't like cars or Eurobeat, but also bad, because it meant I had to cram another show into my week. And that show was Hetalia – Axis Powers.

I should preface this review with the admission that I'm probably going to be raked over the coals in the forums for not liking Hetalia enough. I don't think this show is consistently funny. The fractured, micro-length episodes are hard to follow. The jokes are bizarrely contemporary under the premise of being historic. I can't decide if it's Stream Worthy or Flushable. It's Stream Worthy with a question mark. Maybe I'll change my mind when the DVDs come out. In Hetalia, countries are personified as cute boys (and sometimes girls), and historical events are played out on a personal level. For example, Germany (named Ludwig) gets a job making cuckcoo clocks to help pay war reparations after World War I. The show jumps around to different time periods, with quick historical notes to explain some of the jokes. Jokes are never quite as funny if you have to explain them.

Much air time is devoted to making fun of Italy, who is depicted as pasta-scarfing idiot. If you happen to be Italian, I'm interested to know what you think of this show. I think the jokes about America chugging soda and downing infinite amounts of hamburgers are fair enough, but there's a subtlety missing. World War II-era America shouldn't be eating fast food and complaining about “The Axis of Evil” – those are contemporary jokes (fast food took off after WWII and Bush Junior coined the "Axis of Evil" in 2002). My complaints pale in comparison to the protests of South Koreans, who purportedly kept Hetalia from ever airing on television because they were so offended by their portrayal.

I know saying, “actually, these jokes about hamburgers are inaccurate,” is lame. It is a nerd fallacy to insist on strict factual correctness, regardless of circumstances. The real question ought to be, is it funny or not? Hetalia is sometimes funny, but not nearly funny enough. On a scale of funny to Trouble Chocolate-levels of unfunny, Hetalia falls below Excel Saga but slightly above My Bride is a Mermaid. I do like that Hetalia's humor is a little more absurd (abstract?) than Mermaid.

The first four episodes are available dubbed on Funimation's website. The dub helps the funny level; I laughed a lot more often at the dubbed episodes, even though I'd seen them subbed beforehand. I found the dub a little jarring at first; each country has the most stereotypical accent possible, which made me think “Is this racist?” After one episode I didn't think so. (Speaking of racism, are there any African countries in the show or the comic besides Egypt? Or any Middle Eastern countries?)

But never mind that, why does this show have an age check? Why is it rated TV-MA? Could it be the implied butt sex jokes? Is homosexuality the punch line or is the premise international romance or what?

It is wrong of me to judge a show by its target demographic or its fans. Not all Hetalia fans are nationalist-looking flag-waving fujoshi attending conventions and penning Japan/China fan fiction online, but like it or not, that is how I found out about the show. There is a staggering amount of English-language fan material and artwork based on Hetalia, as well as some pretty freaking elaborate “madd” fan videos. Without watching it first, I assumed that Hetalia was mostly about 1) Yaoi relationships between different countries, and 2) history.

Generally I am in favor of fujoshi and history geeks. Unfortunately, I think the Hetalia anime fails to deliver on its premise. Besides, hearing the end theme song every five minutes is downright grating.

Hetalia teeters on the border between Stream Worthy and Flushable, testing the waters. Isn't Hetalia just Strike Witches for girls? I gave Strike Witches a Perishable, so does Hetalia deserve to be Flushable? Hetalia's popularity makes me happy that ordinary people can converse about history in an upbeat way… if you don't mind the sex jokes and cheap shots at Italy.[TOP]

Fortunately X is something we can all enjoy (probably).

Admittedly, only the first half of X is Shelf Worthy, but it is very Shelf Worthy. Watch the first two discs with your friends or at your anime club! Then when they want to see the second half, you can loan it to them and tell them to watch it without you, because disc three and four are a big letdown.

Like many fans, I watched the X movie a long time ago. It was incredibly boring and hard to follow, maybe because I hadn't read the manga. There are fourteen major characters, and the plot is a tad complex, although the details are repeated frequently enough that it all makes sense. The movie stripped out most of the characters for simplicity and totally lost the meat of the story.

I wish I had seen the X series in high school, because it pushes all my high school buttons. The protagonists are super powerful psychics fated to fight for the future of the world as doomsday approaches. X reminded me of Utena, where high school kids are coming of age at "The End of the World". The result is a lot of brooding teens whose friendships are linked to the fate of the Earth.

Kamui Shirou is the most powerful psychic, and he gets to choose between two possible futures; if he chooses to become a "Dragon of Heaven," humans survive but there's an environmental apocalypse (the predicted future looks like Fist of the North Star). If Kamui becomes a "Dragon of Earth," humans get the shaft, but the Earth flourishes. There are seven dragons of Earth and seven of Heaven and they're all powerful and attractive psychics who get to fight each other throughout the show.

This is the best of CLAMP. Sexy characters fight over gorgeous cityscape backgrounds. Buildings get destroyed in luscious detail of tearing wires and twisting metal. Everything is animated on the highest budget. Particularly in the first half, the writing is worthy of prime time TV. before "prime time" just meant "reality shows". It was directed by Yoshiaki Kawajiri, the man behind Vampire Hunter D; Bloodlust and Ninja Scroll (both are Shelf Worthy titles).

With the exception of Avatar the Last Airbender (the TV series), I usually hate any show with a prophecy about a "Chosen One". Happily, X is an exception to this rule. I bought into the premise and was willing to accept that crazy tragic things happen for tragedy's sake because of "fate". When fate and tragedy are done right it turns out like the story of Oedipus; he tried to avoid his fate and got screwed anyway. Kamui and the other characters are sympathetic in the same way; they're trying their best to avoid fate, but they just can't, and it's tragic.

In the second half the prophecy is repeated ad nausea, the plot falls apart, and the ending is disappointing after such a promising first half. The OVA is totally useless, mostly recycled footage.

Sadly, the dub is not nearly as awesome as the Japanese vocal track. Sure, Mary Elizabeth McGlynn, (Major Kusanagi), is rocking the mic as Kanoe, and Crispin Freeman is dead sexy as Fumi, but Sora, who has the Osakan accent, just sounds weird in the dub. Yuzuriha is annoying, and I can't tell if she's annoying in the same way on the Japanese track. Despite its shortcomings, the dub works. I'm just glad there is a dub in this age of austerity.

Several Japanese extras are included. They consist of the usual interviews with voice actors, plus there's an interview with a writer who adapted the manga. Between the extras, the dub, and the great first half, X belongs in every anime collection.[TOP]

As long as I'm recommending things, House of Five Leaves is certainly stream-able.

I mean, you should at least check out House of Five Leaves. Sometimes we all need to take a break from the Shonen Jump formula and/or the moe parade. Sometimes you just need to watch something different. If your TV is tuned to IFC and the knob has broken off (or you lost the remote or whatever), it's time to check out House of Five Leaves.

Natsume Ono is the manga-ka behind Ristorante Paradiso, reviewed here, (the manga is way better than the anime), and Not Simple. Some of the House of Five Leaves manga is available legally online here. Ono's distinctive characters have a strange line quality and big, weird, almost frog-like eyes. Her characters mope around and talk about the their feelings in a way that's totally unacceptable by Hollywood narrative standards.

But you know, sometimes you just want to watch black and white art house movies from Europe, and this is the anime equivalent of that experience. Akitsu is a perpetually unemployable samurai. He's supposedly talented with his sword, but this is no chambara picture. Akitsu is more defined by his personality quirks than his fighting style – he even runs away from two sword fights in the series. He's a terrible liar. His emotions are easy to read by looking at him. Other characters criticize him by saying, "you're the sort of guy who is exactly what he appears to be, aren't you?"

Akitsu falls in with a band of thieves with a kidnapping scheme; they kidnap a nobleman or his kid, drug the victim, and hold him for three or four days until the ransom is paid. The gang's leader, Yaichi, is a real cool cat with white hair who lives at a brothel. Akitsu is fascinated by Yaichi, and seems to stick around with the thieves just because he wants to learn what makes Yaichi tick.

I'll level with you; I can try and be all fancy and high-brow, but the truth is I was totally bored by this show. When I get too bored, my mind starts to drift. I start thinking about other stuff, like what to make for dinner, and do I need to go grocery shopping this week? Then after the eight minutes per episode of not much happening I miss the ten seconds' worth of important dialog because I wasn't paying attention.

Don't get me wrong, I love the atmospheric snow and I appreciate the Ukiyo-e-like backgrounds. I absolutely loved the incidental music, and if it exists I want to import a CD of the soundtrack. But man, this was booooooooooring. My inner 10-year-old was fast asleep. Don't marathon this show. Appreciate it one episode at a time.

If you're wondering what Yaichi's story is, rest assured you find out in the last two episodes. For a show that's trying so hard to be different, the plot structure is oddly predictable.[TOP]

And that was my week. Fans of Bamboo can rest assured that she'll be back in the future to cover other weekends when I'm away. But for now you're stuck with me.

This week's shelves are from Jerome (Jeromeskee), who had this to say:

" I'm a big fighting game and anime fan, and my shelves and walls reflect that.

As you can see, I'm really into marquee posters. Highlights include an original King of Fighters 94 Re-Bout promo poster (extremely rare!!!), a vintage Super Street Fighter II Turbo poster from circa 1995, and an original Street Fighter III Third Strike promo poster for the PS2 release in Japan. The three posters above my shelves showcase three of my all-time favorite anime series, Yu Yu Hakusho, Code Geass, and Bleach.

My top shelf showcases what I feel is a definitive PS2 fighting game collection, at least as far as US releases are concerned. From Street Fighter to Samurai Shodown to Fatal Fury to King of Fighters to World Heroes to Guilty Gear to Arcana Heart to Naruto Ultimate Ninja to Dragon Ball Infinite World to Tekken to Soul Calibur to Dead or Alive, I pretty much have it all!!! My PS1 collection is to the right, which includes such rarities as Darkstalkers 3, Rival Schools, JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, Gundam Battle Assault 2, Marvel vs. Capcom 1, and an original Japanese release copy of Dragon Ball Z Legends.

My second shelf showcases my anime collection. My personal favorites include the complete Yu Yu Hakusho series, the complete Gundam Universal Century series (from the original movie trilogy through Char's Counterattack), a bootleg copy of Macross: Do You Remember Love? (my all-time favorite anime film), and complete collections of Cowboy Bebop and Vision of Escaflowne.

My fourth shelf showcases my manga collection. As you can see, I own Death Note and Rurouni Kenshin in their entirety! Kenshin definitely is one of my all-time favorites!

Finally, my bottom shelf showcases my Street Fighter Anniversary Stick, released about 6 years ago in commemoration of Street Fighter's 15th anniversary. This stick is a very rare item, and I use it for all of my fighting games!

My collection is not as awe-inspiring as some of the collections I've seen in Shelf Life but I definitely have a lot of rare, quality stuff!"

It's awe-inspiring to me!

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

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