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Shelf Life
Gaoing the Distance

by Erin Finnegan,

I just got back from seeing Scott Pilgrim. I haven't laughed so hard at a movie in ten years. Go see it immediately. That movie has the cultural significance of a John Hughes movie for a new generation. I guess I was always a little too young for John Hughes movies when they were in theaters, but I'm the same age as Brian Lee O'Malley, so I guess I get to be part of this generation, whatever we are. Scott Pilgrim is a hyper-violent, somewhat ironic version of Say Anything that's as funny as Ferris Beuller's Day Off, although perhaps not quite as accessible. And if you've never seen either of the films I've just mentioned, that is why God invented Netflix

Although some of the anime I watched this week was quite good, none of it was as good as Scott Pilgrim. Guyver was so bad as to be Perishable.

Growing up, I considered Sunday afternoons to be the purgatory of broadcast television. It was always alternately horrible syndicated television series or the "Sunday Afternoon Super-Movie" which was almost never good (think of the adaptation of Stephen King's Christine). Guyver reaches a certain level of Sunday-afternoon bad.

It's my understanding that this is based on a franchise. I will not begrudge the franchise, with which I am totally unfamiliar. Guyver made me think of sentai shows and TROMA films, neither of which interest me at all.

Sho Fukamachi is just an ordinary high school kid with a four-eyes fatso BFF, a dead mom, and a would-be girlfriend before he accidently gets his hands on a Guyver Unit suit that merges with his body in a freaky way and gives him super powers. Now he's stuck fighting the Zoanoids, men who transform into muscular monsters, and caught in some government conspiracy craziness.

This show only has two things going for it. First, the bio-suit is appropriately grotesque. There's a good sense of how Sho's body is no longer his own. Sometimes it keeps fighting after Sho passes out. Consequently, the Guyver-suit scenes are well animated. Other more domestic scenes have obviously been passed off to the C and D team of animators, who can't even draw a kitchen table with a straight line.

The second merit is that Sho and his father have a surprisingly nice relationship. A lot of anime dads are either dead, absurdly super-powered, villains, or two out of the three (think Naruto's dad, Shinji's dad, or Ed and Al's dad). Sho's dad is an ordinary widower. He and his son get along pretty well. When Mr. Fukamachi is drawn into the story, it is legitimately touching.

Guyver can be summed up with two words: pretty crappy. It reminded me of Blassreiter without Ichiro Itano making the mess more spectacular. Guyver is just an ordinary mess. The back story about the Zoanoids and Zoalords feels muddled and rushed if you're not already familiar with the franchise.

I just couldn't get behind the Zoanoids conceit. They look like rubber-suited sentai monsters, so I couldn't take the Zoanoids seriously as bad guys. The tone of the show is dark and serious, but I was too busy laughing at the shark-man and the Bugbear-man to care if Sho was getting the crap kicked out of him or not.

Weirdly, Guyver contains elements of a tentacle porn hentai without any sex (or sexiness). There are a lot of bodily secretions and a few too many two-tongued bad guys for this not to be porn. In one scene, a very Cthuloid-looking monster-man, complete with tentacles, actually says "my body is soft and pliant!"

At least if it were porn it might be a little more… memorable? As it is, Guyver is a snoozer. At least the dub script was a nice adaptation. Even the OK dub, commentary tracks, and an obsessive manga-to-anime side-by-side extra don't keep this title out of the Perishable bin.[TOP]

Fortunately, I had the exact opposite reaction to Gaogaigar. Like Guyver, Gaogaigar falls into a genre I normally don't go for.

I only rented the first disc, but I plan to keep watching Gaogaigar. Even though this is a re-release of an older series, I decided it was a good idea to review Gaogaigar now, because word on the street is that Media Blaster is sinking fast. Now is the time to pick up Media Blaster's greatest hits before their titles fall into licensing limbo.²

Normally I'm not into giant robots. I'm more of an Evangelion fan who recognizes that Giant Robo, Char's Counter Attack, Macross Plus, and Macross; Do You Remember Love are all really great, but I rarely have the time for other robots. I had it on good information that the first season of Gaogaigar was skip-able, so I was prepared for disappointment. Thus I was pleasantly surprised at the show's pacing, which ripped along so fast that I wondered if I'd accidentally rented disc two by mistake.

Mamoru was not born by ordinary means, but discovered in the mouth of a robot lion by his adoptive human parents. Most of the story so far follows Mamoru in elementary school as he first encounters Gaogaigar, a giant robot.

Gaogaigar is piloted not by Mamoru but by Guy Shishio, a cyborg (a more extreme Six Million Dollar Man-type cyborg) 20-something guy with ridiculously long red hair. I'm ashamed to admit that I was hesitant to watch Gaogaigar in part because of Guy's over-the-top character design. I was happy to find that he was not the focus of the show at all. And now that I've seen it in context, Guy's design seems perfectly reasonable.

I thought Gaogaigar might look dated, and it does, just not in the way I expected. It looks aged like how the first season of Pokémon looks if you watch it now. Gaogaigar uses cel animation and chunky, kid-friendly character designs.

I love the small details of this show; the Professor (who reminds me of Doctor Wily from Mega Man) surrounds himself with crazy inventions. He hovers around on rocket boots, and eats lunch off a cafeteria tray with little robotic arms that shovel food into his mouth for him.

Early on, Mamoru's role in the adventure seems silly. When Gaogaigar encounters the monster of the week, Mamoru glows, grows fairy wings, and flies in to tell Gaogaigar not to kill his opponent. As strange as that is, I appreciate that involving an eight-year-old in a plot essentially about adults is a difficult thing. I think of Mamoru as the "Wesley Crusher" character, who is meant to appeal to younger members of the audience, even though it's a bit of a stretch to include him in the plot. If anything, Mamoru fits into this show much more believably than Wesley did in Star Trek: The Next Generation (note: Wesley was my favorite character from 4 th-9th grade).

I thought the villains were fun, in a ridiculous sort of way. The monsters of the week are ordinary people transformed by their negative feelings; for example, a trucker who hates traffic becomes a truck-monster with the help of an evil alien force. It reminded me of early Sailor Moon opponents. One henchmen is an evil ballet-version of Carmen Sandiego, which I found hilarious.[TOP]

I am looking forward to more Gaogaigar. I wish I had more Soul Eater to watch, but this week marks my completion of the series.

I did not like Part 3 of Soul Eater, but the ending is certainly Shelf Worthy.

I think about Harry Potter every time I watch Soul Eater . I brought it up in my review of Part Two (I reviewed Part 1 here). Both series are about a group of friends attending a creepy magic academy at a time when a very evil character comes back from the dead (or the equivalent) to wreak havoc on the entire world. In the case of Harry Potter, the havoc is evil; in Soul Eater it's madness, but you get the idea.

Remember the seventh book of Harry Potter? Voldemort is on the loose and Harry and friends can't return to Hogwarts, so they live in a tent in the woods, trying to figure out what to do for hundreds of pages of lameness (I'm sure the movie will be better, thanks to the miracle of editing). Fortunately, the final chapters of Soul Eater are much more gratifying. There is some aimless running through the wilderness, but the surprisingly level-headed Soul actually stops Maka to ask where she is running to without a plan.

By the last disc, the Kishin has disrupted normal life so much that classes cannot continue as usual at Death Weapon Meister Academy. Maka, Black Star, Death the Kid, and their respective weapons are caught up in the final battle. Only Maka's "genie killer" move stands a chance of killing the Kishin. Soul Eater trumps Harry Potter for involving the students in a much more believable way in the big final fight. Harry Potter split the action between the teachers and student in an awkward way, but Soul Eater handles the generation gap well. While the kids end up fighting the Kishin in a pocket dimension, all the teachers can do is watch and hope for the best. I can dig it.

Each character gets a nice final scene. I never liked Black Star much, but his penultimate battle with Mifune turns Black Star into a sympathetic character. Death the Kid's final shot at the Kishin could have been more spectacular, but at least there's some clever business involving the stripes in his hair.

The fight between Maka and the Kishin is nicely animated and memorable, with some thoughtful philosophy worked in between the satisfying face punching.

In my previous Soul Eater reviews, I failed to mention that the Soul Eater Late Show is included as an extra with each set. The Late Show segments are short thrown-together bits that include a preview for the next episode along with guest art, photos the staff eating meat, and little comedic mixed-media bits. I never really understood the Soul Eater Late Show, but it is a nice extra.

The set also includes an all-girl commentary on episode 44. I had no idea that Monica Rial sounds like that in real life. I mean, that's her real voice? Rial sounds like an anime character in real life?! Casting her as the realistic-sounding Tsubaki in Soul Eater is going against type!

I almost regret that there isn't more Soul Eater to watch. Almost. This show could stand to be 10 to 15 episodes shorter. I wish fan editors would undertake more re-cut projects, like the version of The Phantom Menace where someone cut out Jar Jar Binks ("The Phantom Edit"). I liked Soul Eater a lot, but a Soul Eater KAI would be even better. (Unless the manga sucks.)[TOP]

¹ God did not invent Netflix.
² Genshiken, Moribito, Twelve Kingdoms, and Tweeny Witches might all be Shelf Worthy. OK, so Tweeny Witches might only be Rental Shelf, but it's by Studio 4°C, and I love them. If you like Strawberry Panic! or Otoboku they're from Media Blasters, too.

Next week, please look forward to Tatami Galaxy! Can you dig it?

This week's shelves are from Andrew:

"I've read your column for a while, and love your system. Finally got myself one of them there "Otaku Pride" moments and a shelf with which to carry it out. I've not been collecting long, but here's my humble animation (Japan + US) collection thus far...with a few items loaned out to friends: Girl Who lept Through Time, Avatar: Book 1, Noir, Mezzo - Series, Ratatouille, Whisper of the Heart)"

Sleek shelves!

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

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