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Shelf Life
(114) Minutes of Summer

by Erin Finnegan,

I tried to make this recipe for yam risotto last weekend, and I learned that regular rice is not the same thing as Arborio or Carnaroli, which my local grocery store doesn't seem to carry. Consequently, the rice came out crunchy. I substituted kale for collard greens, which was probably a mistake. And I made a lot of it, since it was supposed to by my lunch for the entire week, but it turned out kind of disgusting.

So I crunched on half-cooked rice while I watched the equally half-baked Disgaea last Saturday. It was not a great weekend.

Finally! Another example of bad anime that I can point to when I say “this looks like cheap animation.” Disgaea is so appallingly bad that it looks like nobody who worked on this show cared about it (except maybe the CG department). I know this is based on a good videogame that I've never played, but I don't think anyone drawing or writing this show liked it or the game.

Flonne is a trainee angel sent to the demon realm to assassinate King Krichevoskoy (why were the bad guys Polish?), who actually died two years prior. Instead, she ends up encountering his son Laharl and releasing the young demon from a magical slumber. The awakened Laharl asserts his right to rule and Flonne follows after him in an attempt to curb his evil tendencies. Later episodes introduce hot pants demon girl Etna, a former retainer to the king. The show is largely episodic and purportedly a comedy, but I don't remember laughing at it even once.

The demons are assisted by a servant class of footless penguins wearing backpacks called Prinnies. I've heard the Prinnies are a highlight of the videogame, but in the anime series I just ended up feeling sorry for them.

The backgrounds through many of the early episodes are generic Road Runner-like quarries. The characters are frequently drawn off-model and with minimal shading, which makes them look just plain bad. Many of the talking monsters the characters meet have mouths that don't move when they speak. In short, this show looks downright shoddy…. except for the CG sequences. Someone bothered to make the CG elements look nice, so I assumed they were imported from the game. The CG in this show easily outshines the 2D, which seems like the opposite of most anime from 2006.

There is one shining ray of hope in the dub. Michael McConnohie plays Gordon, a campy space captain who is functionally a member of Disgaea's own Team Rocket. McConnohie's performance is consistently amusing, like a hammed up Buzz Lightyear (who was already hammy to begin with). For some reason his sidekick robot, an obvious knock off of Robbie the Robot from Forbidden Planet, is male in the dub and female on the Japanese track.

Meanwhile, the third member of Team Rocket, Jennifer, wears only a bikini top and miniskirt, but she's drawn off model so frequently that she isn't sexy at all. Truly nothing could be less sexy than deformed boobs bouncing in a creepy way.

At least this show is over in 12 episodes. Surely this is a mark of a truly Perishable title that I am praising it for being short. Bamboo also thought this was Perishable when it was released in individual volumes.[TOP]

Where Disgaea is a shining paragon of all qualities of a Perishable title, Gun X Sword proved to be the equivalent in the Rental category.

There's some good stuff in Gun X Sword but you have to dig for it. It definitely shouldn't have been 26 episodes long. There are maybe 11 episodes of solid content and the rest is a waste of time.

At first glance, this show appears to be a strange Trigun retelling starring a lethargic Spike Spiegel named Van who uses a floppy sword to summon a giant robot that gets launched from a satellite to the planet's surface for fights (the robot returns to space off-camera). Vash Spiegel is quickly joined by a pigtailed girl named Wendy, who is looking to save her kidnapped brother from the evil Claw (no, not Dr. Claw, that's Inspector Gadget). It so happens that the Claw killed Van's fiancée, so Van and Wendy team up and set off across the strange planet called "The Endless Illusion" to find and kill the Claw. (The series never provides a satisfactory explanation for the planet's lame-o name.)

Much of the early series consists of Van moping around, dumping condiments on his food, and once per episode there's a giant robot fight. Around episode 11, we start to learn more about Van's past, the planet they're on, and so forth. After the season finale, the show launches into an unlikely and over-the-top swimsuit episode followed by some more mucking about and a drawn-out conclusion.

Unlike Disgaea, Gun X Sword looks well-funded. Between action heavy episodes, Van (and sometimes Wendy) needs time to recover in a cave or an abandoned building. Take note! Two characters hanging out in a cave with one unconscious is a real money-saver. That said, the cave's campfire certainly threw some nice artistic lighting effects onto the walls.

Basically, Gun X Sword is a sci-fi Western with nods to classic robot series (a team of old men pilot a very '70s mech), with some fanservice on the side. That is too many things at once if you ask me, and there is too much fanservice for my tastes. The swimsuit episode is a stretch in more ways than one (imagine industrial grade elastic in a Ninja Warrior-like water sport). The Extras disc contains the censored-for-TV version of episode 17. I wonder if the fairly explicit sex scene later in the show was also censored in the TV broadcast. After that, one of the bad guys pilots her mech by dancing on a stripper poll. Somehow I'm able to laugh at antics like that from Panty and Stocking, but in this show, it rubbed me the wrong way. The boobs distracted too much from the sci-fi.

The dub is perfectly acceptable. Van is played by David Vincent, who sounds a lot like David Lucas's Spike Spiegel. I liked Takanori Hoshino better as Van, since his voice was deeper, and more put-upon, more Van-like. Kirk Thornton does a good job sounding freaking creepy as the Claw. And I mean creepy like a sociopath, not like a cartoon villain.

Gun X Sword is the most frustrating type of mediocre show, because it's almost good. (Let the record show that I loved GaoGaiGar so I'm not like I'm opposed to robot shows.) Gun X Sword also suffers from a weird timing problem. The characters are in a big hurry to catch up to the Claw, but they seem to have a lot of time to eat in restaurants. Basically, watching this show is like hanging out with a friend who has some annoying bad habits. If it weren't for the filler, the boobs, and the all-too-obvious mech nostalgia, this would be good, but that's half of the show. I feel like I rolled my eyes through half the show.[TOP]

Why couldn't you be better, Gun X Sword? Why couldn't you be more like Summer Wars?

I pre-ordered this blu-ray. I may buy a DVD to loan to friends. Summer Wars deliciously combines two reasons I love anime into one convenient film: the plot can be enjoyed by adults as well as children, and it has kick-ass fight scenes. I'll even forgive the slightly uneven blend; half of Summer Wars is a compelling family drama set in real life, and the other half is solid action set in the film's futuristic version of the internet, called OZ.

OK, so the plot is slightly implausible. High school Math Olympian Kenji is hired by classmate Natsuki Shinohara to pretend to be her fiancé at her grandmother's 90th birthday party. Soon Kenji finds himself dragged out to the Ueno countryside, where he is quickly embroiled in the drama of the Shinohara clan, whose history dates back 300 years.

One night, while staying in the Shinohara's traditional Japanese castle, Kenji cracks an incredibly difficult code sent to him via anonymous email message. Kenji's solution allows a malicious hacker to steal his OZ identity and break the internet using his avatar. OZ is even more essential for daily functions than our current internet, and soon traffic is jammed while emergency service workers are sent on fake calls. Kenji is nearly arrested.

In one of the extras, director Mamoru Hosoda (The Girl Who Leapt Through Time) explains that the film was inspired in part by his recent marriage. Hosoda relates a moment when he realized a room full of strangers were suddenly his relatives. Hosoda perfectly conveys this feeling on film, especially in an extended sequence at the dinner table, where the camera places you squarely in Kenji's uncomfortable seat.

I love this movie because it's densely layered with meaning and commentary on the present. Kenji thanks the Shinoharas at one point, saying that his parents rarely have time to eat dinner together. Kenji, like many of us, has never been a part of a huge and merry family like the Shinoharas.

Summer Wars is a gun loaded with traditional Japanese imagery; the film's only dog is a Shiba Inu, the Shinoharas play a Hanafuda card game called Koi-Koi, their castle hosts samurai armor and weapons like the naginata. Hosoda seems to address contemporary Japan's low birth rate by filling the film with happy children and pregnant ladies. Japanese men are called "grass eaters" in the media lately, and although nerdy part-time code monkey Kenji seems passive, he is welcomed with open arms by the Shinohara men-folk, who are manly firefighters and winning baseball pitchers. When the Shinoharas come together in real life and in OZ to stop the monstrous evil avatar, they use their samurai ancestors' battle tactics.

By the end of the film, I was cheering on Japan, despite a few anti-U.S. sentiments. Wabisuke, the black sheep of the family and a shades-of-gray villain, has been working on a shady project for the U.S. Defense Department. He's also the only iPhone user in the film (everyone else uses Japanese-looking phones). Wabisuke's complicated relationship with his family could be symbolic of Japan's relationship with the U.S. J. Michael Tatum has just the right sound as Wabisuke in the dub.

Not knowing the rules of Koi-Koi makes the climax of the film a little bewildering and YuGiOh!-like, although the film seems self-aware enough to be a loving parody of that sort of anime trope.

I could go on and on about how much I love this movie! The attention to detail, like the beautiful stacking summer clouds in the background and the ubiquitous mosquito nets emanate a real sense of summer. I loved the gorgeously realistic traditional-looking 2D animation as well as the futuristic CG scenes in OZ, which have the white-background look of Takashi Murakami's "Superflat Monogram."

I think there's something for everyone in this film. For younger kids, the dub is nice, and even manages to handle a hard-to-translate keigo scene with finesse early on. The grandmother is a major character who kicks butt, so I think this is a rare anime film that you could even watch with your grandparents. Well, maybe.[TOP]

Ending my week with Summer Wars was a terrific improvement over the bad start with Disgaea. Summer Wars is successful as art because it made me feel everything the director was trying to make the audience feel. Disgaea is a failure because all I could think was "Is this supposed to be funny?"

Anyway, I ordered some proper Arborio to cook with next week. Maybe I'll eat it while watching The Sacred Blacksmith.

This week's shelves are from Akiko:

"Also known as Akiko or Ayame, here are my shelves! For around 5 years, I've been collecting manga. It was a stress reliever after Hurricane Katrina. Due to the hurricane, one of my manga volumes is missing, and another is just MIA because it felt like it (curses!) After counting all of my manga, I got this number.

477 Present Manga Volumes, 2 MIA manga volumes, 5 Japanese Language Manga Magazines, 23 Light Novels, 5 Art Books.

For a total amount of 512 books (150 or so are in Japanese). I also have a little anime collection on my shelf and lots of games. :3 Every year, we have a tradition of getting a few anime figures for my birthday, so my figure collection is also nice.

Well then, happy collecting!"

Very nice!

Want to show off your stuff? Send your jpgs to [email protected]. Thanks!

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