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Shelf Life
Spring Awakening

by Erin Finnegan,

Last weekend (two weeks ago by the time you read this) at Genericon, a boy wearing a hat with cat ears came up to me after one of my panels and said that he loves reading Shelf Life. Thank you, mysterious stranger! You might think this happens all the time, considering the number of conventions I go to, but it doesn't. Outside of the ANN panel at New York Comic Con, I run into very few people who read Shelf Life at conventions.

On the train back from Genericon, I watched the end of the Skypiea arc in One Piece.

As you can tell from previous columns, I am loving One Piece. I love it a little more when an arc wraps up neatly at the end of the set, like this one does.

In this release, Luffy confronts the evil, lightning-wielding “God” Eneru at the top of a giant beanstalk. After the first 200 episodes of One Piece, I assumed Luffy would punch Eneru in the face. Instead, Luffy shifts his goal to ringing a giant bell which will not only bring peace to the Skypieans, who are evacuating a rapidly crumbling homeland, but it will also tell the people on the planet below that Skypiea actually exists. The dramatic scenes of Skypieans fleeing in the wake of apocalyptic disaster are very affecting, especially knowing about Japan's history of devastating earthquakes. The "we are here" message the golden bell will send is wonderfully human. (It made me think of the Voyager Golden Record.)

Of course, Eneru doesn't make it easy for Luffy; he uses his electric powers to melt a giant golden ball onto Luffy's arm. As you might imagine, this arc raises a lot of questions about physics, the density of gold, and momentum. Fortunately, the writing is strong enough, (or perhaps my knowledge of physics is poor enough) that I was able to suspend disbelief. I believed everything that happened, just on the edge of believability, and never once called out “bullshit!”. Isn't that the best one can hope for from entertainment in any medium?

The first disc breaks the beanstalk-climbing action for a four-episode arc featuring the backstory of Noland the Liar and Calgara, the famous Shandorian Warrior Chief (who reminded me of the Tiger of Kai from Sengoku Basara, with his long red headdress). In any other series, I might have been annoyed by such a long digression about incidental characters. But One Piece kept the action going, and I was never bored (despite being sleep deprived!).

Love it or loath it, the design team has settled into a wonderful groove by this point in the production. I get the real feeling that the designers, storyboard artists, and animators internalized Eiichiro Oda's style. Out there somewhere are maybe one hundred people who can perfectly draw like Oda, and I think that's cool. It looks like they had fun drawing this show.

Colleen Clinkenbeard does a great job as Luffy. She's like Nancy Cartwright playing Bart Simpson; you can't tell she's a girl. If I have just one complaint about this dub, it is that Usopp sometimes sounds a little shrill and whiny.

In the commentary track, J. Michael Tatum talks about how Eneru was his first major role, and jokes about using the Eneru voice at a drive-through. This particular commentary provides some insight into the careers of voice actors and the production, which is fairly interesting, (although not nearly as intense as this recent episode of the ANNCast).[TOP]

Just one episode of One Piece gets a commentary track in this set. If you simply can't get enough of dub voice actor commentaries, the Tsubasa OVAs have one for each episode.

This DVD includes both Tsubasa Tokyo Revelations and Tsubasa: Shunraiki, a.k.a. Spring Thunder, which are three and two episodes each, respectively.

I'm going on good faith that this DVD is Shelf Worthy. I've only seen the first episode or two of Tsubasa and the Tsubasa movie included in this CLAMP double feature set. I assume that if you've seen all of Tsubasa, these OVAs make some kind of sense, and they are not filled with shenanigans that would cause fans to see red and throw the DVD case against the wall. (Well, the ending might, but I think if you are a Tsubasa fan, you probably already know why, so you're prepared for it.)

This is Shelf Worthy because the animation is gorgeous. CLAMP's character designs are fantastic, (especially if you like tall skinny boys). The backgrounds are lovely, the movement is fluid and always on model. The effects animation looks as magical as you could possibly hope for. The music is excellent, with some choral pieces that reminded me of the original Ghost in the Shell movie soundtrack. There are only five episodes on this disc, but I think you get your money's worth out of the feature film quality animation.

Bonus points to anyone who can explain what happened. As in the Tsubasa TV series, Syaoran, Fay D. Flourite, Kurogane, and Mokona are sliding between CLAMP worlds to collect features to restore Princess Sakura's soul. That much I understood. The Tokyo Revelations episodes take place in a post-apocalyptic wasteland from sometime after X (which I loved), and Spring Thunder takes place in a traditional Japanese castle with a huge cherry tree out front.

The OVAs establish that certain characters are actually magical clones, and reveal a lot about an evil dude who may be manipulating our heroes' actions. Meanwhile, the characters continually pay high physical tolls to Yuko, the witch from xxxHOLiC in order to accomplish their goals (eyes, arms, blood, memories, etc.). The orchestration and wishes and goals and clones and vampires (?!) and why the clones have to fight each other all pool into this mishmash of a plot.

Mokona often squeaks her friends' names dramatically. This passionate name-saying happens all the time in anime, but it made so little sense in Tsubasa as to seem extra ridiculous. Mokona is hardly conversational in Rayearth, and it's still weird to hear her talk so much. Carrie Savage does a frighteningly convincing Mokona, as if she stepped out of an anime series into real life.

Perhaps this is Shelf Worthy due in part to my own bias; in short, I think Kurogane is unreasonably hot, in both the sub and the dub. It's as if everyone else has normal-sounding voices (except Mokona), but both Christopher R. Sabat and Tetsu Inada have been hired on from some other, much sexier show.

As I mentioned above, there is an American voice actor commentary for each of the five episodes. They even include a mixer and a director on different tracks. It's somewhat interesting to hear the mixer's (very technical) point of view. If you're interested in sound design, you might want to listen to the track to episode two. That said, these English bonus tracks are severely disappointing compared the Japanese extras on the CLAMP Double Feature: Tsubasa Chronicles and xxxHOLiC Blu-ray that included picture-in-picture of the seiyuu recording the track in the studio. At least Funimation went the extra mile to throw some extras onto the disc. I've got to give them credit for trying.

I was only sent the DVD edition of this release, and not the Blu-ray edition, so I'm not sure if the extras are different on the Blu-rays. If you have a Blu-ray player I assume you should opt for the BD version of Tsubasa, but since it's Shelf Worthy due to content, I don't think the DVDs should be on the Rental Shelf just because a BD version exists.[TOP]

This sort of BD/DVD release with similar price points and street dates raises strange problems for Shelf Life. I was sent Full Metal Panic! the Complete Series on Blu-ray only a few weeks after reviewing the DVD edition.

I've been holding off on reviewing this release so it wouldn't seem like repeated content. I'm starting to appreciate the number of re-releases Bamboo must have written about during her tenure.

As far as I can tell, the only difference between the Blu-ray discs and the DVDs in terms of content is that the Full Metal Panic! the Complete Series BDs include an interview with Koichi Chigara and Shouji Gatou from March 2008 that is absent from the DVD edition.

The menus have been redesigned, but everything else is technical. The sound mix is significantly different on the BD edition, which I could hear even on my lame TV set up. I'm sure it would sound great if I had proper 5.1 stereo (like I've dreamed of having).

The real question at hand here is are you going to replace the regular DVDs with Blu-rays of this series? I can't imagine why you wouldn't, if you like FMP and have an HD TV, a Blu-ray player, and a sweet stereo. This is clearly a nice upgrade.

I don't want you to feel shorted out of review content here, so I'll take this opportunity to mention that I have a strong aversion to Tessa. The 16-year-old white-haired super genius military Captain rubs me the wrong way. It seems like she ought to be a "strong female character," what with commanding a para-military force and all, but the series is careful to show that she is still very fragile. She chews her hair and cries more often than I would expect of either a military officer or a super genius nuclear¹ sub commander. I probably don't like her because she is presented as a very weak romantic rival for Chidori. Although Tessa is clearly in love with Sousuke, Sousuke is so totally oblivious to her affection (and Chidori's affection, and his own affection for Chidori) that I just can't take Tessa seriously as a romantic rival. If Tessa exists to agitate the viewer, her mission is accomplished.

Anyway, should you choose to give up your old FMP DVDs, you could donate your old DVDs to local anime clubs or a local library. Consider! If you bought a big fancy box set, you could just swap out the DVDs for Blu-rays. Although be careful, the Blu-ray labels don't say "Blu-ray" on them at all and are identical to the DVDs.[TOP]

And so it is with nuclear¹ submarines that we end a President's Day edition of Shelf Life. I'm spending my day off watching more anime for Shelf Life, just as our forefathers would have wanted.

¹ OK, nuclear-ish. In the world of FMP, I think having Black Technology is the equivalent of having a nuke.

This week's unique collection is from Seth:

"Hello! I have somewhat of an odd collection. It is entirely devoted to a single manga-ka, the one and only Shirow Masamune. I'm a big fan of Ghost in the Shell and Appleseed, and I thought I'd submit my collection to see if there are any other Shirow fan's out there."

That's pretty sweet.

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

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