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Shelf Life
Love and Piece

by Erin Finnegan,

Happy Halloween! My Halloween activities this year include going to a house that is actually haunted, eating pumpkin-flavored whoopie pies, and hitting a bar that has ten flavors of pumpkin beer. That's what I did last weekend - over actual Halloween I'm going to MangaNext as an Industry Guest. Maybe I'll wear my Paprika costume (or maybe not…).

If I was ever going to cosplay again (probably not), I want to dress as Nico Robin. She doesn't get enough air time in this arc of One Piece, but maybe she'll get a bigger role in the next set.

This is where One Piece finally jumps the shark. Just kidding! In this set, Luffy is confronted with a dozen sky sharks, and he punches them all a hundred times in the face.

I've made my feelings on the show so far known in the past. One Piece is great. The sky island arc follows a similar trajectory to the desert island arc and the winter island arc; Luffy and the Straw Hat crew find an island, get embroiled in local conflicts, and many episodes and one war later, we know they're going to sort things out and leave the place in better condition. Is all of One Piece like this? In another 100 episodes will they still be finding islands and solving problems?

I mean, I don't mind at all, it's a fine story format! The sky island arc feels fresh, despite the similarities to the Alabasta arc. I wasn't even thinking about it until Pierre the giant bird creature re-appeared in this set, paralleling Vivi's bird. Then, when a tribe of Iroquois-looking native people launch an attack I almost - almost - rolled my eyes. Great! Another local war. Instead of a princess, in this arc they're crossing paths with an old knight who looks like Don Quixote but turns out to be more of a deposed king. (Gan Fall is very likeable, but he's not as pretty as Vivi.)

Don't get me wrong, One Piece is still wonderful high adventure and I love it. This arc has some meaty goodness about a twisted religious government, the rights of native people, and the concept of holy land. On sky island it's possible to hold the office of “God” and rule like an absolute tyrant. When the locals say “God is watching” they mean it - if you're not careful he strikes with a huge lightning beam from the sky. Meeting god is not only possible, it's inevitable. And he's a jerk, and he's vengeful…and bored!

The interplay between all of the characters is so wonderful that it makes watching this show feel like hanging out with a group of friends. Sanji misses the girls whenever they're not around and makes them stew with carrots cut into hearts. Nami is mostly in it for the money and tries to curtail the crew's shenanigans. Luffy loves the adventure, and laughs through the roller coaster-like Milky Road while Usopp freaks out the whole time. Chopper is the Cowardly Lion – but he's right to be afraid, his friends do use him for shark bait, after all. I swear to god (har) it's like being on a road trip with them. You've got the responsible friend who gets asked to drive, the motion-sick scaredy-cat, and the thrill seeker. I wonder if Oda based his characters on his friends in real life.

Luffy ends up fighting one of four priests who have videogame mini-boss levels of power. In the dub Chris Cason does a great job with the boss of spheres, a crazy-looking fat dude who looks like an homage to something from Yellow Submarine. The dub script differs from the subs in a way that feels like a very natural adaptation. It's loyal to the spirit of the translation without being overly precise. Kudos to the script adapter! Colleen Clinkenbeard as Luffy gets in some hilarious well-translated asides. (At one point he says something like, “Bored now,” while Nami explains something to him. I laughed out loud.)

One Piece is horribly long and intimidating, but you're doing yourself a disservice if you don't watch it.[TOP]

I'm proud to say I'm a One Piece fan, but I'm uneasy about becoming a Maria-sama fan.

I rented the first part of Maria-sama ga Miteru season four. I've only seen the first two episodes of season one, but I've heard enough about the show to get the gist of the “seour system” (girls pair up in intense mentor/sister couplings) and to know what's going on. I never finished watching season one because it was way too slow for my taste, and by all reports I heard there wasn't as much lesbianism as I'd hoped for.

I know this show is huge in Japan (I saw about a million fan novels of it at Winter Comiket 2006, not to mention the doujinshi), but somehow I was glad not to be a fan of it. It's like how I'm glad I'm not a smoker, I don't have to deal with the problems smokers have. I'm doubly happy not to be addicted to cocaine or crack. What I'm trying to say is this show is crack and watching season four is like taking my first hit off that pipe.

This is Rental Shelf because I have the same problem with Maria-sama that I do with Marmalade Boy. I love Marmalade Boy, but it's a soap opera; each episode leads into the next in an addicting way. I've often thought of buying Marmalade Boy but choked at the price. It was worth watching once, but I'll probably never watch it againMaria-sama has the same soap opera additives.

Unfortunately, the first two episodes of season four are drawn totally off model. I mean, this series is mostly about elegant girls looking pretty. Drawing protagonist Yumi off-model means she looks ugly and cross-eyed, which makes her seem more dumb than naive in a “hurf durf” way. Miraculously, after those two episodes everything is animated beautifully and on-model. (And sponsored by Pizza Hut, apparently.)

Naturally, a new season brings a new conflict. Yumi's seour, Sachiko, suddenly demands that it's time for Yumi to choose her own petite seour now that she's going into her second year of high school. This makes sense in a sorority sister kind of way, but in the context of the show it feels bizarre. It's as if your lover told you it's time you found a lover of your own.

Yumi finding a petite seour turns out to be difficult. She and some other student council Rosa Chinensis sisters throw an honest-to-god tea party that's almost like a sorority speed dating event. I have an anime pet peeve about characters drinking tea and talking about the plot (the number one offender is Fate/Stay Night), but in Mara-sama's case tea parties seem vital – no, crucial – to the plot. The tea party is the plot.

What finally hooked me was the kendo episode. Two elegant all-girl schools face off, and an all-female crowd of students and alumni come to cheer them on. The only men are the referees. I found this episode of sweaty female sports camaraderie absolutely enthralling. I suddenly understood the appeal of Maria-sama.

Several episodes take place outside of school. For such a school uniform-heavy show it's jarring to see everyone in street clothes. (And damnably charming… OH MY GOD AM I BECOMING AN OTAKU?) I thought this show didn't take place in the present for some reason, so it was weird to see the characters in modern clothes.

The chibi extra shorts on these discs are legitimately funny, unlike the equivalent chibi shorts included with Neo Angelique Abyss. One of them even involves a mahjong game. (I want to play a Maria-sama mahjong game!)

If you're on board for elegant, flat-chested girls (who might be gay) walking slowly and talking about their feelings, you're probably already on the Maria-sama train, and I'm the one late to this tea party.[TOP]

In order to balance out the uber-girliness I had to watch something extremely manly.

Sweet Christ I am sick of DBZ. A few months ago I had a nightmare that there was a Dragon Ball Z live action drama currently airing in Japan and that Funimation would be importing it soon. I woke up in a cold sweat, terrified of having to watch the Freeza saga again this year. Then this arrives in the mail…!

I stand by my previous review; if you're going to watch or buy DBZ for the first time (or again for the millionth time) Kai is the best way to go. The picture has been cleaned up, the dub is great, and the excess weight of filler has dropped off like so many unwanted pounds.

This set takes us through the end of the Vegeta battle and then everyone blasts off to Namek and starts getting involved with Freeza's henchmen. The Ginyu Force is mentioned but won't appear until part three.

I am so sick of Saiyans. Particularly on the second disc, there is way to much standing around and talking about power levels. It's just un-cinematic. Even this streamlined version of DBZ has way too much standing around and not nearly enough fighting. For a show with so much testosterone, I am appalled by the lack of physical contact.

Another big pet peeve I have is when two powerful foes battle and all we see are two huge energy beams pushing each other back and forth. This happens in everything from Sailor Moon to Harry Potter, and it happens here in the Vegeta/Goku battle. You know what's easy to animate? Two color beams pushing each other back and forth.

Nevertheless, I was drawn into the battle that makes up the first disc of this set. I might complain a lot, but it was still compelling to see what Goku would do after every limb in his body is broken in order to defeat Vegeta.

I have to say that the hard rock guitar riffs over the DVD menu are a nice touch. That kind of rock makes me want to lift weights (metal was the weight lifting music of choice in my high school). If nothing else, DBZ is a great show to watch while pumping iron.

On what is now my third viewing of this set of episodes, I find myself more intrigued by Freeza's henchmen. I've started to have a surprising amount of sympathy for Appule, a lizard-dude I barely even noticed when I watched this the first time. That poor guy. He's probably a great fighter, and he's stuck spending his career working for the worst tyrant in the universe.

Christopher Ayres does a phenomenal job as Freeza. His slight British accent is freaky in the same way that the officers on the Death Star are a little freaky in Star Wars (yes, I know it was shot in Britain). Some of the slightly British-tinged accents of Freeza's subordinates in the dub are also great. Mr. Popo is very eloquent in English, in contrast with his simplistic speech on the Japanese track.

Even though this set was only 12 episodes long, it nearly defeated me. Someone bring me a Senzu bean before part three comes out, because I'm going to need it.[TOP]

P.S. I didn't see any ghosts on the haunted tour and my coworker didn't actually make whoopie pies this week as promised. Then, the bar was down to only six pumpkin beer varieties by the time I got there. Hopefully, next week's titles won't lead to similar disappointment.

This week's shelves are from Jayce:

"Hi, I'm Jayce and I've been collecting Anime and manga for almost two years. I like shonen series like BLEACH, but my favorite series has to be Ghost in the shell SAC. I've recently gotten into collecting wallscrolls, and figures as you might have noticed from my pics! My favorite item I have in my collection is probably My Soul eater wallscroll signed by Todd Haberkorn (death the kid) as it is my first autograph from a voice actor! "

Thanks for the collection!

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

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