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Shelf Life
Monday Night Lights

by Erin Finnegan,

I got a new job! Last Wednesday, I began work as an Animation Area Technician at my alma mater, New York University. I haven't had a full time job since 2008, so I am excited at this new prospect of steady paychecks, generous health benefits, heavily-discounted classes, and accrued vacation time (I haven't accrued vacation time since 2006!). I'm also looking forward to working with a crew of talented students, workers and instructors, and the possibility of animating my own stuff!

Don't worry, I'm going to keep writing Shelf Life. It's been almost a year since I took over for Bamboo, and I've learned a lot by writing this column. I feel like I'm still learning; for example, I'm still not good at pacing out the reviews so it's not all Perishable one week and Shelf Worthy the next. It isn't for lack of trying! God help me, I thought for sure Ninja Nonsense would be Rental Shelf.

Based on the DVD cover and previous promotional material for Ninja Nonsense, I assumed it was an erotic comedy about pseudo lesbians and that it wouldn't interest me. I was pleasantly surprised to find I was wrong. Despite all the jokes about breasts, this is a legitimately funny show. The heavily implied homosexual angle was neither a detractor nor an added value. Over one-third of the punch lines in the show are about sexual harassment, but it is surprisingly funny, rather than disturbing.

I quantify funny on a laugh-out-loud basis. I only laughed out loud once every other episode of My Bride is a Mermaid; Sgt. Frog makes me laugh out loud consistently. Ninja Nonsense had me laughing out loud more than once per episode. It is funnier than Sgt. Frog subbed, but not as funny as the dub.

The action of Ninja Nonsense is usually instigated by Onsokumaru, a character who is oddly absent from most of the promotional material. Onsokumaru is a freaky little floating yellow ball, somewhere between Pac-Man and the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy logo thing. Onsokumaru heads a ninja school where all the students except one are identical male "Sasukes". The remaining singular non-male ninja, Shinobu, dresses in a not-very-sneaky, non-anonymous all-pink outfit.

Shinobu meets the ordinary girl Kaede on a panty raid mission. After the girls become friends, Kaede is allowed to visit the secret ninja training base whenever she likes. The episodes then proceed with very little continuity. Each show consists of two self-contained stories. Usually Onsokumaru causes trouble or devises a scheme involving Shinobu, and Kaede acts as the sane person and the voice of reason. She is a foil to Shinobu's inexhaustible naïve optimism.

If one-third of the jokes in the show are about sexual harassment, another third are about beating up Onsokumaru. For example, when Onsokumaru makes inappropriate sexual remarks about Shinobu's prepubescent sister, he is pummeled into the ground. His elastic body is able to take a lot of punishment; at roughly soccer-ball size Onsokumaru is easily thrown or kicked. Even after six episodes I was left wondering what kind of creature he was. He is able to transform into a muscle-y naked humanoid with no neck and able to sprout wings and fly like the Snitch from Harry Potter. Not quite pure evil or pure id, Onsokumaru drives the plot forward into disaster.

Onsokumaru's flexible nature lends itself well to animation. He's capable of giant exaggerated expressions and movement unencumbered by realism or physics. Norio Wakamoto is the Japanese voice of Onsokumaru. Usually Wakamoto plays villains like Vicious from Cowboy Bebop and Cell from Dragon Ball Z, but here he is absolutely hilarious. In the live-action seiyuu interviews, Wakamoto talks about ad-libbing much of the dialog himself.

Sean Schemmel as Onsokumaru sounds almost like Christopher Sabat in Sgt. Frog. Some of the jokes are changed to be funny in English, but they are usually kept close to the spirit of the original. The dub is just different enough that you could watch the show twice and find the jokes funny in two slightly different ways.

There are so many fast jokes and quick visual gags from the Sasukes that this is a rare anime series that I could see myself watching several times. Re-watch value is one of my elements of Shelf Worthiness.

Ninja Nonsense draws heavily on Japanese culture and puns at times. Fortunately, this set comes with a great color booklet of cultural footnotes, plus a production diary from the staff, and the standard character profiles. Between getting the booklet, the entire series in a box, an enjoyable dub, and the seiyuu interviews, I couldn't ask for a more in a Shelf Worthy release (except maybe a toy). Sometimes the show is great, but the packaging sucks and vice versa.[TOP]

I didn't think I would like a comedy about ninjas. But I sort of knew in advance I'd like an anime series about football.

Sorry about the piecemeal review of this, but I only rented the first disc of Eyeshield. I hate football, but I love sports anime, so Eyeshield has been on my "to watch" list for some time.

Here's why I hate football: (a) I was forced to watch our team lose every week when I was in marching band in high school; and (b) I once tried to learn about football for a boy I loved, but he dumped me on Super Bowl Sunday. (Lots of people have "ex" reasons for hating bands and films, so why not sports?)

The pace of Eyeshield 21 is its saving grace. It's way less boring than all the time outs and commercial breaks in a regular NFL game. Football is hard to understand, but Eyeshield 21 explains the Byzantine rules as it goes in an entertaining way. We're never left waiting for the ref's decision for long minutes like in real life. A lot of dramatic tension carries the action between plays.

Protagonist Sena was a weakling in junior high, the sort of guy who bullies force into being their errand-boy. His childhood friend, a very outgoing girl named Mamori, has always pulled him out of fights and stood up for him. She means well, but she's clearly emasculating Sena. Meanwhile, Sena's only talent is running from bullies and dodging through crowds. This strange and specific talent quickly makes Sena invaluable to the struggling football team. Mamori thinks Sena's been bullied into joining by the team's demonic-looking quarterback Yoichi (he's like a predecessor of Ozu from Tatami Galaxy with a love of football).

When I think of football, I think of large men and girly cheerleaders. Sena is a small guy, who initially resists playing at all until he discovers his talent for running. Mamori is an assertive girl who ends up joining the team as a manager to look out for Sena's best interest. Mamori (unlike me) learns all the rules overnight. Sena pretends to be another team manager, keeping his identity secret from Mamori on the field by wearing an eyeshield. It's cute.

As one might expect, American football is not very popular in Japan, so a lot of time is spent explaining game play. I was glad to have it. My husband periodically objected to illegal moves, leaving us to wonder if the rules of American football in Japan are slightly different.[TOP]

After Eyeshield 21 and Ninja Nonsense, I looked back at the Summer Preview Guide to find a crappy show to balance out the column (looking for crappy anime on purpose - is this is what my life has come to?). Somehow, everyone else was wrong and Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan was a watchable show. (Everyone else gave it a one or a two! What gives?)

Maybe I set the bar too low back in November when I said Miracle Train was Stream Worthy because now I keep thinking "Oh, if it was better than Miracle Train, it should be Stream Worthy…" Or maybe it's just my favoritism towards yokai.

I mean, I like yokai, I like Shonen Jump, so is it any surprise that I liked this Shonen Jump show about yokai? I may not love-love it enough to buy it someday (remember my chart?), and I probably would only watch this if I was totally out of good shows to watch and bored and it was between new TV seasons. Nura is like a straight-B student, never striving for that A grade, or your second choice movie at the cineplex when your "A" choice was sold out. Nura is scraping by, just good enough.

High school student Rikuo is one quarter yokai, and the next heir to his clan. He stands to inherit the rulership of a 100 yokai army. He's lukewarm about this prospect, but when he's in trouble another personality emerges to kick ass, kinda like the Pharaoh in Yu-Gi-Oh!. (And by "kinda" I mean it's exactly like that.)

Most of the show is about yokai politics, but I found the supporting characters to be far more charming than Rikuo or the plot. The absolutely adorable Yuki-Onna is a snow maiden yokai with freezing powers who masquerades as a girl at Rikuo's school to protect him. Rikuo's childhood friend and crush, Kana, is jealous of Yuki-Onna and Rikuo's close relationship. All of them end up joining the school's Supernatural Squad where the ambitious Kiyojyuji is obsessed with finding yokai and the goofy Shima has a crush on Yuki-Onna.

Rikuo is in the comically awkward position of keeping real yokai a secret while his friends tour a spooky abandoned school and then his own haunted house. Two episodes in, a young Onmyouji girl from Kyoto transfers into their school, eager to kill some yokai on the club's ghost hunts, and making things even more awkward for Rikuo.

When a bad yokai clan not under Rikuo's family's control attack his friends, Rikuo realizes he must fight.

This show falls somewhere between Scooby Doo (if the ghosts were real) and Reborn!. Reborn! is a perfectly OK "Let's fight for our friends" show involving clans and cute teenagers. Tsuna is a loveable loser who is more interesting than Rikuo, but if you replace the yokai with the whatevertheheck magic Italian mafia it's basically the same show with monsters instead of babies.

Because Nura is a Shonen Jump show, the production values are very decent for this day and age. Characters stay reasonably on-model, there is a nice amount of animation without an over-reliance on pans over still frames and so on. (For more about what I think "looks expensive" in anime, read my blog entry about it.)

Sure, Nura is as bland as vanilla ice cream (compared to every sane person's favorite: chocolate), but what if vanilla was the only flavor left in your freezer on a 90 degree day? In the absence of other cold treats, vanilla is going to taste fricking delicious. Sometimes mediocre anime is better than none at all. Nura is certainly more entertaining than American reality TV reruns.[TOP]

Just last week, I started reading Otaku; Japan's Database Animals. It's going to take me a while to read such dense philosophy, but I'm already thinking about anime differently. In Carl Kimlinger's review of Nura, he said:

The series is a vast vacuum, a featureless nothingness that never varies from established plots, characters, or settings… nothing makes it into the show without having been test-run in a small army of anime. "
I've made the same complaints about so-called "moe" shows. The Otaku book talks about a database of stock characters, plots and settings that describe our implicit complaint, summarized here in the book's introduction:
"The book proposes a model of the 'database animals' as a new type of consumer in the postmodern information era, arguing that, rather than reading the stories in a 'human' mode of consumption that longs for the existence of and searches for deeper meaning, the cravings of 'animalized' otaku are satiated by classifying the characters from such stories according to their traits and anonymously creating databases that catalog, store, and display the results."

This book might totally change the way I watch anime.

This week's insane collection is from SonRyu, who wrote this:

"Since I finally rearranged things so I could get my entire collection from 3 rooms to 1, I thought it was time for pics!

First, you'll see a pic of my entire anime collection, followed by closeups of each shelving unit. I have the boxes that don't fit on the shelves spanning the tops, with the two long-term commitment titles included (Bleach & Naruto). While the shelves may look full, a lot of the boxes are turned sideways just for that purpose. When I need more room, I just turn them spine facing out again. And yes, everything is alphabetical.

As I am a DVD collector, I thought I'd take pics of the non-anime DVD's as well. Again, there's the full shot, followed by the closeups. On the wall mounted shelves, I have my box sets and collectors editions. Below, on the 3 short DVD units, from top to bottom, left to right (and again, all alphabetical), I have my Jackie Chan's, followed by Bruce Lee's, Samurai films, Akira Kurosawa films, animated features (of foreign origin), then Disney et al. On the 2 taller shelving units to their right, I have my blu-rays, my movies, and my TV seasons (again, alphabetized). Spanning the top of those 2 are more collectors editions (though there's a few more items still in storage). If you look closely at the titles (including the anime shelves), you may notice I have a tendency to double, triple, and in one case (Lord of the Rings) quadruple dip on titles; since I buy just about everything limited/special/collector's edition, I have a tough time passing up re-releases.

The tall book self to the right of those contains the extra/bonus stuff from my anime DVD's; (again, I buy just about everything limited/special/collector's edition, so they needed their own shelves)... and that's still not all of it! (the rest is boxed up). On the bottom is my Dragon Ball/Z DVD's (I had no room elsewhere).

I also included a pic of my Paul Champagne custom DVD box collection (most of those I designed myself!), but since I don't have the shelf space for them yet, I laid them out on the floor for the pic (but they're usually boxed up).

Unfortunately, as space is still limited, I still have quite a bit of stuff in storage, including my manga collection (ANN has it at 606 volumes!), my anime figures, and as previously stated, some more of my special/limited/collector's stuff. Someday though, I'll have it All Out!! on display!"

Yikes!! This is pretty amazing.

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

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