Shelf Life
Eye Spy

by Erin Finnegan,

So I went to Japan... Highlights of my trip included accommodations in one of Tokyo's top three slums (so many hobos!) and nearly being trampled by porno fans in Tokyo Big Sight's East Hall on Day Three of Comiket. On New Years Day we made the mistake of visiting Asakusa Shrine, where we were nearly crushed to death a second time in an even larger sea of people. Nevertheless, I found a doujinshi where Evangelion characters review whiskey, so it was totally worth the virus I contracted after crowding together with more than 520,000 people.

For some reason I thought I could get ahead in my Shelf Life duties, but this proved demonstrably false. I blame, in part, the ancient Delta planes we flew on, which didn't have power outlets (or even monitors in the seats); as such I could only watch a sad laptop's battery worth of One Piece on the flights.

This set tested my patience for Shelf Worthiness, particularly in the second half.

This second part of the Skypiea arc is roughly the equivalent of sixth set of the Albasta arc. A lot of players are moving through the jungle with different motivations; the Iroquois-looking Shandorian Warriors are trying to win back their homeland, the Straw Hats are looking for the City of Gold, their angel friends in exile are trying to help out, and the self-appointed God Eneru's goat-like high priests are trying to kill everyone.

I popped in disc one over Christmas and my brother said something like, “Is this show always so insane?” It was too difficult to explain the exploding “Dial” shells, the physics of the island in the sky, and the Devil Fruit conceit all at once and the show proved totally inaccessible to outsiders in the middle of the arc.

The second disc was patience-trying (maybe because I was watching it at 30,000 feet). Shandorian leader Wyper, Nico Robin, Zoro, and Gan Fall face off with Eneru, but instead of attacking him together, they attack one at a time, like goddamn plucky ninjas. The pace of the show gets dragged down to a transponder snail's pace as everyone reiterates their reason for fighting in lengthy repetitive speeches.

So far, all of One Piece's conflicts (like so many Shonen Jump conflicts) have been solved by punching the bad guy(s) in the face. Although the Skypeia arc doesn't resolve in this set, it's pretty obvious that the show is heading towards more of Luffy's face-punching brand of justice. There's nothing wrong with that and I still love this show, but when it gets too predictable it can be a little tiring.

There are two saving graces in this particular DVD set. First, the characters are in real danger. Eneru outright kills people with a pillar of light from the sky, and temporarily puts others out of commission by hitting them with bolts of lightning. Many of the protagonists are left charred and unconscious. I don't think we're even allowed to do that in American cartoons anymore. Second, we get to see the characters' decisions in moments when their situation seems the most dire. Namely, Nami's true character is revealed when she's forced to face Eneru totally alone and hopelessly outmatched.

J. Michael Tatum does a nice job in the dub as Eneru, in all his megalomaniacal madness. I keep missing the dub commentary tracks because they're not listed in the Extras menu, which is usually where one expects to find them. There are never any other extras in these sets, but the content of the show usually makes up for it.[TOP]

Hetalia, on the other hand, is the opposite. The extras far outweigh the content.

If you like Hetalia, it's painfully obvious you should buy this set. It comes with a handkerchief, there are loads of Japanese extras, and the dub is outstanding. Even the American dub actor commentaries are quite good.

That said, I just can't bear to give this a Shelf Worthy. I've been on the fence about Hetalia for a while (Bamboo likes it, though), but by now I can safely say I don't like it. I agree with one of the dub actors, who says in a commentary track that Hetalia episodes are five minutes long because it's like a fried Twinkie at the state fair; you can only eat one per season.

Don't get me wrong, Hetalia contains elements of things that I like. I like that certain "WTF" factor anime often contains, and Hetalia is 60% "WTF". I enjoy the cross-cultural exchange and seeing my own country through some other country's point of view. I'm interested in history. I've been known to enjoy yaoi.

And yet… after the millionth joke about the Holy Roman Empire not realizing that Italy as a kid is actually a dude in a dress, or how Italy and Germany are BFF's and maybe something more… I start to feel like I've eaten a fried Twinkie at the state fair, which is to say kind of icky and filled with nauseous regret. (Just not enough regret to give this a Perishable, because I did laugh out loud several times.)

Maybe other people can watch this show in a vacuum without an awareness of the fan foofarah surrounding the franchise, but I saw the 780+ Hetalia fan circles in East Hall on day one of Comiket. This show is way bigger than Himaruya's webcomic.

Three different Japanese voice actors talk with the series director "Bob" Shirohata in a series of more-amusing-than-usual DVD extras. Bob is charming, and explains how he came to be called Bob despite being Japanese. They spend a lot of time hyping up season three and the movie. I don't know if I can eat any more Hetalia[TOP]

By now I'm sure everyone has at least heard of Hetalia, if not seen or read some of it. To balance out such a well-known series, I watched a show that's probably been overlooked.

The Third seems like the kind of show that would get overlooked. I mean, I avoided it for ages. The character designs look boring, and nothing I've read about this series over the years has ever peaked my interest enough to watch it.

It turns out The Third is worth watching, at least once, especially if you like science fiction. Unfortunately the show is tragically flawed, but if you can bear with it, it's well worth renting. In fact, if you run a library this is worth picking up; at the very least it's both thoughtful and unobjectionable.

On a post-apocalyptic desert-covered future Earth, regular humans live under the law of the Technos Taboo, unable to invent new technology on penalty of death or exile. This law is enforced by "The Third," a race of pale machine-psychic overlord elites who have the titular third eye in the middle of their foreheads. The humans are allowed to keep some fairly advanced tanks to caravan through the deserts, which are filled with giant insects and sandworms straight out of Dune. Meanwhile, whatever wars destroyed the planet have left behind some pretty nasty super-weapons floating in space that The Third try to keep tabs on.

Enter Honoka, a scrawny tomboy chick with a defective third eye who's handy with a sword. You can tell this is a series based on light novels because her character design is utterly dull. I think 90% of the reason I've never watched this show is because I'd look at art of Honoka in magazines and yawn. I don't mind that she's unglamorous, it even suits her character, but her clothes and hair are just so totally "meh".

But never mind that, the real problem with this show is the hideously cheesy voiceover. It's worse than the narration in the original cut of Blade Runner. The narrator needlessly dictates Honoka's thoughts and/or the situation at hand, and it's horribly distracting and unnecessary. I know it's hard to work background detail about an expansive sci-fi world into a show, but this narrator's expository dialog is cringe-worthy and utterly superfluous. Fortunately there's less narration as the show goes on.

The series unfolds in mini-arcs, some of which are pretty cool sci-fi stories. Honoka has to stop rogue AIs and nanotech-powered immortal vampire-like dudes. Honoka's sword skills are incredible, but she ends up using compassion and empathy to stop most of her foes. Eventually the series takes a hippy turn towards a freaky plot about a fairy and the planet crying. For a show with a badass swordswoman and so many cool weapons, it seems a little contradictory that the central theme is "make love, not war".

Not every story arc is a winner, and a handful of the episodes are drawn off-model. But when The Third is good, it's quite good. Honoka's tank is lovingly rendered in CG and the desert skies are beautiful at night. The dub is nicely done, it carefully matches the Japanese performances on a tonal level. Patrick Seitz sounds particularly sexy as Honoka's bishie employer Joganki.

This thinpak collection comes on six discs with as many extras as Right Stuf could cram on each one. The character bios are a little spoiler-y if you haven't watched the episodes first. There are seiyuu interviews and some half-assed music videos using clips from the series.

I wish this could've been a better show, but at least it's likeable. Sometimes you've gotta get your sci-fi hit wherever you can find it. If nothing else, a thinpak is a nice release for this series, since it's too mediocre to spend a ton of money on. Oddly enough, you can get the larger box for almost the same price as this set at the moment.[TOP]

Speaking of mediocre sci-fi, we watched the Space Battleship Yamato live action movie (without subtitles) while we were in Japan. It was dreadful, sort of like if you made Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan without including Khan except as some weird CG dude towards the end.

Oh well! I'll see you next week with more Birdy and Dragon Ball Z.

This week's shelves are from Kara:

"I started collecting anime stuff about two years ago. It's cost me a lot of money. In the DVD rack with the anime there are some empty spaces because I let people borrow anime from me. And yes, I like Naruto. And I have some x-rated stuff, but I decided not to post that."

It's true, anime is an insanely expensive hobby!

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

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