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Shelf Life
Magica the Gathering

by Erin Finnegan,

Remember those Fist of the North star DVDs I mentioned last week? It turned out I rented the New First of the North Star from a few years ago, and the first disc was too scratched to watch (I'll write to Netflix about that), and the 2010 DVDs weren't available yet from Netflix anyway. Usually I rent from rentanime.com, but the most recent release of FotNS doesn't seem to be available there quite yet.

I ended up watching the second half of Rental Magica instead.

What is it about Rental Magica that makes me keep it on the Rental Shelf? Maybe it's the word “rent” in the title. Here are my two reviews of part one.

My attitude about these characters completely changed in part two. Instead of feeling like they were generic, I felt like they were familiar characters with long back stories outside of the series, like the characters in Giant Robo (except not as good). Maybe it's because it's based on a light novel series that I feel like these episodes were extracted from a much, much longer story and aimed at an audience of readers in a sort of “best of” compilation.

The highlight of this set is a two-episode arc explaining a bit of Mikan's back story, focusing on the Shinto sect she's from and introducing her older sister. Mikan's sister didn't feel like a throw-away character like she might in some other series; instead it felt like a lot of work went into rounding her out. The same thing can be said of several other characters introduced in this set; Sekiren, a fightin' Buddhist monk (reminiscent of Corpse Princess's monks) and a pantsuit wearin' female bodyguard, Daphne, both have long stories of their own. An extra-tough cutie villain, Fin Cruda, is introduced in the final arc, and it seems like there should be at least one side-story novel about his complicated life.

The show proceeds in small arcs with some stand-alone episodes. I complained last time about the over-the-top Christmas episode, and this set has an even more ridiculous wedding episode, plus a requisite hi-jinks heavy beach episode that pales in comparison to the wedding shenanigans. It's too much to go into without spoilers, but the wedding episode is something viewers will either love or hate.

I didn't notice at first, but both DVD sets come with rather long black and white booklets filled with information about the show's many magic systems, cast interviews, character profiles, and the like. I guess I looked over the books because the spines are plain white. Right Stuf absolutely bends over backwards to include great extras like this. If I had any interest in watching Rental Magica a second time it would totally be Shelf Worthy, in part because of the extra mile Right Stuf went to to translate this 141 page book.

The animation quality is quite high. Some of the incidental music sounds orchestral instead of synthesized. Unfortunately I just can't see this high budget show taking off in America. There's just something about it that makes it unmemorable. I could see where it might have a big fandom in Japan, since there are plenty of characters, lots of lore, and a lot to like… but it's just not for me.[TOP]

Maria-sama proved not to be my thing either.

I rented the second half of Maria Watches Over Us season four (discs three and four). You can read my review of the first half of season four here.

Nearing the end of the fourth season, Toko acts like a jerk to protagonist Yumi, even though it seemed like they were sure to become “soeurs”. Toko even goes so far to run for student counsel for mysterious reasons.

A friend of mine once read a book on the history of salt and I laughed at him because it sounded incredibly boring, on par with something like a videogame where you watch paint dry. It turns out that the history of salt is full of adventure (or so I've heard). I'm not saying Maria-sama is as boring as salt, but there is an episode where the dramatic ending hinges on protagonist Yumi deciding not to fret about something anymore.

80% of this show is girls talking about their feelings. If you didn't roll your eyes just now, this is the show for you. But here's a warning: You will want to drink tea while watching this show. When the girls aren't drinking tea and chatting about the relationships of student council members, they are throwing parties to cheer up Yumi. The parties also involve tea. Get some water boiling water ready before you crack open the DVD case.

I complained about a couple off-model episodes at the beginning of this season, but the rest of season four has exceptional production values. Admittedly, when I say “high production values,” I usually mean that the show adds an expensive-looking third or fourth level highlight on the characters' hair. Sometimes Maria-sama uses some subtle (and pricey) CG, which seems weird outside of an action show. Once or twice there is a crazy (difficult/expensive) camera move during a key dramatic moment. Either a lot of money went into this or it is incredibly cost effective to make a series where the characters drink a lot of tea (probably both).

No spoilers as to whom, but a friendship break-up totally goes down in this season. I have, in real life, had friend break-ups, and I have to admit that sometimes it can be like a break up with a lover. The thing about Maria-sama is that the seour relationships are so much like lovers' relationships that the result is indistinguishable from an actual breakup. Tears are shed. Loyalties are tested. Chicks get depressed. It's a rough time.

Impressively (or maybe weirdly), the end theme song lyrics play into a key metaphor of the season arc. I found this metaphor, and a few other metaphors about hearts and emotions nearly insufferable, but your mileage may very.

If nothing else, the world of Maria-sama is surprisingly engrossing. It draws you in, and the world of the show feels hermetically sealed. After all, Maria-sama takes places in a unique fictional Japan where cell phones were never invented (the creator has said as much). [TOP]

A character from another series could never make a cross-over appearance in Maria-sama, which is the opposite of Hayate, where character from other series appear at random.

Normally I like to spread out reviews of different volumes of the same series over time, but this show came up in the Rentanime.com rental queue a lot faster than other shows. Here's my review of part four from last week.

Could it be I've become a fan of Shinichi “Nabeshin” Watanabe? (And I missed him at Anime Expo this year?!) Nabeshin is the fictionalized afro-sporting director of Excel Saga. He totally makes an appearance in this set of Hayate at episode 35. That episode is absolutely worth watching twice. It's so bizarre that I didn't laugh out loud much; the gags in episode 35 fly by in a fast mix of inside jokes coupled with current Japanese pop culture references that you'd only get if you were watching contemporaneous Japanese variety shows.

Another episode worth watching twice is the Detective Conan parody show. Nagi writes a murder mystery script which she forces everyone to act out at a hot spring resort. Unsurprisingly, Nagi is neither a great screenwriter nor a competent mystery writer by any stretch of the imagination. The cuts between scenes happen with increasing absurdity as the episode progresses. It's also not clear from the outset that the script was written by Nagi or why the murder victim keeps waking up and screaming at the other players. I'm not a huge mystery fan, so I didn't get all the jokes, but I enjoy absurdist comedy, so I liked this episode a lot (one of my favorite books is Daniel Pinkwater's Young Adult Novel).

This set continues with “The Great Butler War,” which loosely ties together some of the episodes. One of the better fights is against Nabeshin himself, and there is an excellent YuGiOh parody fight. In a few of the shows, the fights are tacked on the end without any tie-in to an otherwise self-contained episode. Two or three of the fights are fairly half-assed (it's always better to go whole-assed in my personal philosophy of comedy). Eventually Hayate admits he has no reason to fight; I thought that was a great parody of shonen fighting shows where characters continually state their reasons for fighting.

I wish Hayate had a dub with an adapted script so I get more of the jokes. In my dream release Right Stuf would package this show with extras and cultural notes (and translated credits so I know which episodes Nabeshin worked on) and Funimation would dub it (somehow). (I'll keep on dreaming.)[TOP]

It looks like you might have to read a review of Hayate volume six next week. I ended up buying Fist of the North Star on Amazon, but it didn't arrive before the Thanksgiving break. Even if I get FotNS on Monday (when you read this), I won't be able to review it until at least December 13th.

This week's shelves are from Kathy:

"Hello, This here is my anime/manga collection. I'm kinda proud of it. I have manga volumes from various countries :) Manga featured: Fruits Basket,Phantom Dream,Tsubasa:Those with Wings,After School Nightmare,X-Day CCS,X (Mexican Edition),Angel Diary,Cynical Orange,1001 Nights,Bring it On!,Beauty Pop,Nightmare Inspector,Game X Rush, NG Life, Honey Bitter (Not pictured. This one is the Italian edition) Kiss and Never Cry Japanese volume 1, Duklyon: CLAMP School Defenders (Mexican Edition), RG Veda, Tokyo Babylon, Legal Drug vol 1, Shout out Loud vol 1, Loveless, Earthian, Gundam Seed/Destiny, Kill Me, Kiss Me, Model, Zig·Zag (Had to finish the series w/ the Singaporean edition), Eerie Queerie vol 1, Sgt. Frog (1 volume), Boy's Love, MARS: Horse w/ no Name, Magical DoReMi vol 1 (Italian), Necratoholic, Once Upon a Glashma... I also have some light novels, mainly the Trinity Blood series and Boogiepop Phantom, My DVD collection is a lot smaller, consists mostly of Clamp series.... And I have a lot of anime pics on my walls and a few toys.... Oh and one of my cats just for fun :) Kathy"

Cute cat!!!

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

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