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Shelf Life
Brotherhood of the Wandering Pants

by Erin Finnegan,

Later today I am going to a friend's birthday in a bouncy castle of some sort. I will let you know how this turns out. After that I am eating Viking-themed cupcakes. My life is a nonstop rollercoaster of bouncy castles and cupcakes, is what I'm trying to say here.

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is not quite as fun as cake and ice cream, but it is more intellectually nutritional.

I've never watched FMA on blu-ray before, so it was odd to see the individual ink lines on backgrounds this time around. FMA is usually an immersive viewing experience, so noticing the sharpness of the picture distracted me from the show. I guess that's just the price we all pay for living in the future.

This set begins to diverge drastically from the original series. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, read my review of part one of Brotherhood. Never-before-seen characters Lin Yao and May Chang are introduced. They're total Chinese stereotypes; Lin has lines for eyes most of the time and May has a pigmy panda for a pet. They are from the distant land of Xing, where alchemy is used as a healing art.

Interestingly, Brotherhood focuses much more on the geography and history of FMA than the original series. We're given more maps of the region and a backstory about the man who spread alchemy to Amestris and Xing. This is very effective as world-building, but I still found myself distracted over the differences from the original series. Pride and Wrath are different dudes! The Fuhrer's identity gets revealed way sooner. I almost wish I'd never seen the original so I could just focus on the story.

That said, my complaining is just petty whining. I should be kissing Hiromu Arakawa's feet for creating a series that's so compelling and original. So much anime falls into the otaku database method of stock plots and stock characters, but FMA is free from the tyranny of beach episodes, badly done CPR kissing scenes, and the inevitable school festival. Instead FMA bothers to ask challenging questions about racism, genocide, and immoral medical experimentation through the guise of a fantasy show that marginally involves martial arts. It's like how the Klingon Empire was obviously symbolic of the Soviet Union in the original Star Trek; FMA is clearly about our own world on a symbolic level. And that is GREAT. It's meaningful without being preachy. The narrative is getting at something in a way that isn't an obvious moral lesson.

Anyway, our heroes end up trapped in a pocket dimension filled with blood and fighting some crazy-ass nightmarish monster rendered in CG. That's pretty cool. You should obviously buy this and/or move it up on your “to watch” list. The dub is fine; Maxey Whitehead has really grown on me as Alphonse. Vic Mignogna is really, really into his part as Edward Elric, and I give him credit for that. However, I prefer to listen to Romi Park's emotional performance, which doesn't sound quite so raw.

FMA defines what makes a good show, but Black Blood Brothers is the title I'd use as the perfect example of mediocrity.

I reviewed this once a long time ago for Otaku USA (the April 2008 issue), and I didn't think it was that bad. But that was before I started Shelf Life. Since then I've really gotten a feel for the pitfalls of mediocre anime.

Black Blood Brothers is mediocre in that way that only shows based on light novels can be. The character design is just not… quite… good. Jiro Mochizuki, our vampire protagonist, wears a pointy red hat like Alucard from Hellsing or Freya Crescent from Final Fantasy, and he ALSO has a giant ridiculous buckle, AND goggles. Ridiculous anime costumes and hairstyles may be distracting to anime newbies, but c'mon, the goggles on top of everything else are enough to make even a seasoned veteran lose focus. A lot of the other characters have unmemorable designs akin to something like Kaze no Stigma.

That said, the characters are written well enough. They have somewhat complicated back stories, but we aren't talking Anton Chekov here. As one might expect from a light novel, this isn't literature, but it isn't complete garbage either.

If you absolutely can't get enough of vampires you'll certainly want to own this show. I'm only so-so about vampires, but I have to admit that the first episode is pretty good. Ten years before the main story, a vampire war breaks out in Hong Kong. We get some sweet fight scenes from the war; the hopping Chinese vampires are cool. As a result of the war, a “Special Zone” city is established where vampires and humans can live in peace. Most of the story follows “brothers” Jiro and Kotaro as they start a new life in the Special Zone, and get involved in vampire clan politics and make new friends who they fight to protect.

So this otherwise forgettable show comes with a ton of great extras. Apparently the Japanese seiyuu regularly do a radio show and worked on a drama CD of the BBB novels. Three of the seiyuu and the author of the books do a commentary track for every episode of this series. That's crazy! I would be less impressed if the original author weren't involved, but hearing his input is damnably interesting. Because the voice actors are used to doing a radio show, they have a nice candor. Unlike some American voice actor commentary tracks, the seiyuu manage to consistently talk about the episode they're watching.

The English dub is adequate. Michael Tatum makes a sexy-sounding Jiro, but Leah Clark is an annoying Kotaru. That said, I think the Kotaru is supposed to be annoying as the bratty child vampire who acts as a bright foil to the cool and mature Jiro.

If you actually like this show, you should definitely get the Blu-ray. The plot is just so “meh” that I can't bring myself to give this one a Shelf Worthy. But like I said, if you love vampires….

Fortunately, El-Hazard is mercifully free from vampires.

Godammit El-Hazard! Your first disc was totally Shelf Worthy! What the hell happened? There are several different OVA re-tellings of El-Hazard. Maybe the TV series is just not the optimal way to consume this material. This "Complete Collection" does not contain the OVAs.

As our story opens, Makoto is working late at night on his weird science invention at school just before the cultural festival. Makoto's childhood friend, the entrepreneurial Nanami is also at the school that night, and it happens their teacher, Mr. Fujisawa, a mountain climber and sake enthusiast (maybe just a drunk) is sleeping at the school on night duty. Nanami's brother, Jinnai, the serious-to-a-fault megalomaniacal student council president, decides to mess with Makoto's machine and ends up opening a crazy portal that transports all four characters to the magical world of El-Hazard.

Once in El-Hazard, Makoto and Mr. Fujisawa visit three powerful priestesses of Wind, Fire, and Water in hopes to find their way home. Meanwhile Nanami gets a series of odd jobs and just keeps making money like she did on Earth (like Nabiki from Ranma ½).

And Jinnai… It took a lot of self restraint for me not to turn this review into an 11-page essay on why Jinnai is the best character ever. Jinnai is immediately taken prisoner by the seemingly hostile monster-ish Bugrom. They look like bugs, as one might expect. It turns out that Jinnai, with his signature screeching manic laughter, is much more evil than the Bugrom. He befriends their queen and positions himself as their horrible dictator, which you can tell was his life's dream all along.

I find it hilarious that the most evil person in El-Hazard is from Earth. Even when Jinnai acquires a robot-ish girl who's supposed to be an evil weapon, she's actually nice.

Everything goes horribly wrong around episode ten, when suddenly the animation quality plummets, the plot turns badly episodic, soon you're watching Tenchi Muyo! instead of the other, better show this started off being. The addition of Ura the cat-thing signals the start of this transition; he's the Ryo-Ohki of this show.

By the final third of the show the animation quality improves, but the female characters have all lost their personalities. Makoto's love interest, the princess Rune Venus, never had much of a personality to begin with; she suffers from what I like to call Belldandy syndrome, she's terribly nice but not the least bit interesting. Nanami had a personality in the beginning of the show, but by the end she's stopped dreaming of making money in favor of supporting Makoto and Rune as a couple. Shorty Alielle was hired as a sarcastic guide in the first third of the series, but by the end she just makes lesbian-ish remarks about loving her "oneesan" Nanami. Both girls are utterly robbed of personality. Don't even get me started on the priestesses!

The unattractive standard sized DVD case is nothing special. At least the DVDs aren't on a spindle. The extras are kind of a stretch; line art galleries are not terribly thrilling.

The dub is a relic from the bad old days of dubbing. Fujisawa-sensei sounds annoying. Makoto sounds way too old and too goofy. Jinnai's voice actor Bob Marx tries to re-create Jinnai's cackle from the Japanese performance with some success. However, because I love Jinnai I couldn't get enough of Ryotaro Okiayu's performance (he also plays Scar in FMA).

I could see someone owning this for nostalgia purposes. If I hang onto this set it is only because I intend to make my own fan edit of the series so it is only about Jinnai. Or I could just watch Jinnai and the Bugrom a few thousand more times.

I want to throw out there that the El-Hazard Wikipedia page is woefully inadequate compared to those of other, newer series. The differences between the OVA series and The Wanderers are only listed on the character page. I tried to do some digging for ancient internet sites with more El-Hazard synopses, but came up short on Wanderers information.

See you next week, with part two of Casshern Sins!

This week's shelves are from Tim, from Nottingham, UK:

"I'm from Nottingham, UK and have been collecting Anime and Manga for around 5-6 years. Most of the collection is in my spare room, which recently had some additional shelves hence things are not now packed in tightly and there is some room for more purchases. I do keep some Anime in my room though for easy access though :). The collection on display only includes about half of my figures, (i have way more Lucky Star and MoHS Figmas which are stored away along with various other figures), and I do have some artbooks elsewhere in the house, (including Avvenire, Alpha, Stella and Cielo by Kozue Amano, and the latest K-ON artbook).

I picked up the GA and the Sora no Woto wallscrolls in Japan when I went earlier this year (along with the Cherry and Green Tea flavoured KitKats). The CD's are all Anime OST's or JPOP. My favourite section of the collection is the Nozomi section of goodness with Aria and Maria Watches Over Us.

Sorry no pictures of animals and apologies for the quality of the photos (not something I'm good at doing).">

That's quite the collection!

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

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