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Shelf Life
Radio City Rockets

by Erin Finnegan,

Man, The Right Stuf's 12 Days of Anime sale gets better every year. I highly recommend the Club 9 bundle. Club 9 is like a Japanese version of Li'l Abner drawn by the artist of What's Michael. Here's an old review I wrote. It's good times.

I'm also highly recommending the following title for your Christmas list consideration. (Maybe it will change your life…)

Holy crap, this show is great! I was grossly mislead by Funimation's annoying trailer for this title, and I thought it would be a mediocre comedy at best. Instead, Oh! Edo Rocket is absolutely delightful, and the most thoughtfully written anime series I've seen this year. From the first episode, it was an instant hit with my husband and I (for obvious reasons; you'll recall we got married in zero gravity because we're space enthusiasts). This is a show about raising the human spirit by sending a rocket to the moon, set in Edo-era Tokyo, with two aliens, seven ninjas, and plenty of samurai.

Edo Rocket is different from every other show out there because it's based on a stage play. If all Japanese theater has this depth of character, wow, I need to see more Japanese theater! Instead of populating Edo with anime stock types, Edo Rocket provides a cast with plenty of original characters with complicated back stories and complex motivations.

Granted, the protagonist, Seikichi Tamaya, seems like a Shonen Jump stereotype at first. He wants to be a great fireworks designer, and even has a goofy firework-like hairdo. His life changes when a mysterious girl commissions him to build a firework that will fly her to the moon.

A lot of good television is set in a town or community (from Cheers to The Wire); Edo Rocket examines the Furai row house, where a bunch of supposed “wacky” neighbors live in a warm-hearted working class neighborhood. As the show progresses, we find out more about each member of the row house and how it isn't just a coincidence that the lodgers all seem to have a screw loose.

Before I get any further, I ought to note that the character designs are bound to turn some people off. About half of the characters have normal anime-ish designs, but many of the minor characters are drawn in a simplified comedic way that looks like a cross between My Neighbors the Yamadas and Peanuts. Specifically, one character, the nagging wife of the neighborhood tile-maker, has teeth all the way around her circular mouth like a lamprey. At first the designs are a little jarring, but after just one episode ,I totally understood how they reflected each character's role in the story. I admire this show for going out on an artistic limb by pushing the edges of design. Not every anime series needs to look like K-on!, after all!

The music is great, too. The incidental themes riff on 1930's big band sound, which suits the show's retro-feel without being contemporaneous. This is just perfect, since there are a lot of anachronistic jokes (the characters even point out the historical contradictions). The opening and ending themes are fantastic, too (so much so that I'm looking up the singers right now).

To top it all off, the dub is fantastic. Some of the jokes have been edited for an American audience, but it's done with just the right touch, like the jokes in the FLCL dub (well, they take things a little a further than FLCL). When a famous Japanese historical figure is mentioned towards the end of the set, the dub encourages us to Google for him, which is both appropriate and hilarious. Kudos to Chuck Huber and Jamie Marchi on the English script.

As the show moves on, the focus shifts from Seikichi to Ginjiro, an older locksmith and ladies' man with a complicated past. Jonathan Brooks does a great job with Ginjiro in the dub. Brooks brings a lot of life to the character and his joke delivery is spot on.

Don't miss Edo Rocket, especially if you're looking for something new and different to watch.[TOP]

On the other hand, you can skip the 20th Century Boys movies… they're just not worth it.

I love the 20th Century Boys manga, but the movies leave a lot to be desired. Since I'd seen the first two, I felt like I had to watch the third one. Maybe that was a mistake. (After Attack of the Clones, why did I bother to watch Revenge of the Sith? It's that sickening feeling like, “I'm so full, but there's only one donut left in this box, I guess I'll eat-BIG MISTAKE.”)

In case you've never heard of it, 20th Century Boys is a thriller about a washed-up 30-something almost rockstar loser named Kenji Endo. Kenji is stuck working in his family's convenience store and minding his disappeared sister's baby, Kanna, but his life changes when his elementary school classmates start getting murdered. Someone from Kenji's group of childhood friends has started wearing a mask and calling himself “Friend” and leading a cult that's fulfilling a “prophecy” Kenji made up when they were kids. In 1999, as the prophecy goes, a giant robot sprays a biological weapon in the streets of Tokyo. From the second film on the story jumps from the late 1990s to a dystopic future where Friend rules Japan, sort of like the second Back to the Future movie where McFly's antagonist Biff becomes rich and powerful.

The first movie's saving grace were the flashbacks to Kenji's childhood in 1970. All of the child actors are incredible, and their scenes steal the show. As the trilogy goes on, fewer and fewer scenes take place in 1970. The 1970 scenes in the third film seem less and less relevant to the plot.

Halfway through the second movie, I started to have doubts about Naoki Urasawa's storytelling. Kenji's childhood notebook containing the prophecy is unearthed, and missing pages with new parts of the prophecy get revealed as the movies progress; or, more likely, Urasawa invented new pages as the manga was extended. I found each new missing page less believable than the last.

The third movie is a mess. The first film focused on Kenji, the second followed Kanna, but the third film doesn't have a central character. It seems scattered, following scenes of different groups of characters in disparate locations. A lot of the characters get a single scene to shine in part three, but none of their performances are good enough to be worth mentioning.

To make matters worse, you have to wait until after the end credits for a 15-minute flashback to 1970 to find out Friend's identity. It's like an admission on the part of the filmmakers that they couldn't figure out a way to work the answer the trilogy's key dramatic question into the rest of the plot.

If you're reading the manga as it comes out in English like I am, the movies are basically giant spoilers. These films have the unfortunate effect of making the comics seem less good. It's one thing to be a crappy adaption, but ruining the source material is just horrible.

I was going to give this a "Rental Shelf" rating, but if Wikipedia is to be believed, these films were a huge undertaking by the Japanese film industry. They look like a tremendous waste of money, which is more of a shame than when a low-budget movie fails miserably. (Can you image if Waterworld was a trilogy?)[TOP]

Birdy the Mighty: Decode kicked this movie's ass.

Birdy the Mighty is like Welcome to the Space Show, only more tightly plotted, and it stars a kickass girl hero instead of a talking dog (although, coincidentally, she is also from a planet with talking dog people).

Ordinary high school student Tsutomu's life changes forever when he's accidentally blown to bits by Birdy, an undercover galactic cop trying to catch a dangerous space criminal. While Birdy re-grows Tsutomu's body in a cloning tank on her ship, she shares her body with Tsutomu's consciousness. They can switch appearances back and forth as needed while Tsutomu goes to school and Birdy busts space criminals.

Around the same time, Tsutomu's parents move elsewhere for work, leaving Tsutomu and his college-aged sister alone in the house (Tsutomu's sister, as far as I can tell, proceeds to stay out drinking every night). Between sharing a girl's body (like The Man with Two Brains) and being home alone all the time, Tsutomu's life should've turned into something like Risky Business (the famous underwear dancing scene, anyway). Instead, Tsutomu is kind of a pansy and mostly complains about Birdy's abuse of his body (but not so often as to be annoying).

Birdy's cheesecake poses on these DVD covers are a little misleading. She could be just a sex object, and her undercover persona may be a fashion model, but instead Birdy is a great character. She kicks a lot of alien ass in nicely animated hand-to-hand combat sequences. For a fight scene to work, the protagonist ought to look like they're really getting hurt, and indeed, Birdy takes a lot of blows. When fight choreography is well animated, punches have real gravity behind them, and in this show we feel the impact of each hit landed on Birdy.

On the first disc some of the school scenes fall back on a sketchy, cheap-looking animation style that reminded me a little of “Kid's Story” from The Animatrix. This cost-cutting might turn off fans who are just in it for pretty anime faces, but I advise you to stick around for the second disc, when the producers stop penny pinching and bring in the big guns (er… good animators).

I've never seen the original OVAs of Birdy, although I totally want to see them now. I watched Decode at a friend's place and said friend had seen the OVAs and couldn't get interested in the first disc of Decode. He is totally missing out.

Several episodes take place in space or on Birdy's home planet, which is a nice sci-fi change of pace from the everyday school life episodes. The romance between Tsutomu and his "ojousama" classmate is a little hit-or-miss and stereotypical, but Birdy is interesting enough to make up for the generic stuff. After all, she used to be called "Birdy the Berserker".

The English dub is quite good. Luci Christian and Micah Solusod have a nice chemistry as Birdy and Tsutomu. The dub cast reads like a list of Funimation dub all-stars.

This two disc set wraps up the first narrative arc. I got Decode:02 in the mail as well, but I can't imagine what else could happen after this.[TOP]

Speaking of what happens after this, next Saturday is a holiday party apocalypse. Last year I got invited to five parties the Saturday before the Christmas (two friends have birthdays that weekend). This year I'm invited to three parties on the 18th. Fortunately, I watched Fist of the North Star last weekend to get me in the holiday spirit.

Editor's Note: Shelf Life will be on hiatus the week of Dec. 27th, 2010. The column will return Jan. 3rd.

This week's shelves are from Jonanthony, from Florida:

"Hi, my name is Jonanthony I live in Florida and this is my collection of my anime, manga, and videogames. I've been collecting about four or five years (anime and manga), (videogames all my life). I started slow but then I picked up the pace fast. I apologize that I don't have a shelf to display them but I'm working on that (besides I just moved to Florida City, FL). Anyway this is mostly all my stuff. There are a fews things missing though. I can't find my x-105 launcher and sword strike or x-103 buster. My anime is low because i always end up buying manga instead. But I plan to buy more anime soon. I love my tsubaki and kisuke hat, I wear them all the time and my geta's. By the way I do have yugioh cards like most people. There is one thing that you wont see, and that is my DBZ tapes with the picture on the side when you collect them all. I started from the android saga til the end of the series. The same with DBGT. Also i didn't put my ps1 games because i didn't think it's that important. If you look close you can see my psp games with my manga. All in all I'm glad even without a shelf."


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

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