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Shelf Life
Regios Free

by Erin Finnegan,

Bad news keeps coming out of Japan, which has me in a gloomy mood this week. On the bright side, fans of Japanese culture in the States keep putting on cool fundraisers, like this “Dram for Japan” event organized by a friend of mine who reviews bad movies and also happens to be a whiskey enthusiast like myself. I am totally going to Dram for Japan next Saturday. Say hi to me if you're there.

That particular friend has been reviewing films longer than I have. He said recently that you haven't arrived as a pro reviewer until “…someone threatens to sue you or shoot you in the face for not liking something.” It got pretty brutal in the forums last week after my review of Phantom: Requiem for the Phantom. I was going to delay reviewing Phantom part two until next week, but instead let's pull off the whole Band-Aid quickly, hair and all.

After watching Phantom: Requiem for the Phantom Part 2, I understood why Funimation released it in two parts, although wouldn't it make more sense to release it in three sets? There are three distinct story arcs. It's hard to describe the plot machinations without spoiling major reveals, so if you want to totally avoid any spoilers maybe you shouldn't read this. I'll do my best…

The third arc takes place after a two year time jump. Zwei and Ein have given up the assassin life and are attending a Japanese high school, posing as siblings. Part three is a severe left turn, so much so that there's a new opening featuring Zwei and Ein getting up and getting ready for school in the morning. Up until the first commercial break of episode 20, this could be any romantic high school comedy. This last turn from a cliché action show to a cliché high school show was like a slap in the face. I am completely uninterested in watching super assassins attending an ordinary high school. That is more teenage wish fulfillment than I care to stomach. (I think it's wish fulfillment on the part of the creators, not necessarily the audience.)

The second arc introduced Cal, because as we know from watching Léon (a film worth your time), little girls sometimes live with assassins due to various circumstances. Cal returns in part three with a foxy new adult body that leaves us asking exactly how old she was before the time jump and wondering how her hair could have possibly grown that long in two years. She has also trained to be a super assassin and is plotting to kill Zwei for her own reasons.

If anything, Phantom teaches us that there is more than one database out there to draw story elements from. Although Phantom isn't working from Azuma's otaku database model, it is drawing from another oeuvre of clichés. One such cliché is the use of a music box or a pocket watch that is symbolic of a character's deep emotions… and, hey, guess what? Phantom brilliantly includes a pocket watch that is also a music box! The Book of John Woo dictates that there must be a shoot-out in a church. I was waiting for doves to fly through, but no luck there (sorry, spoilers).

I would recommend all of Koichi Mashimo's other works over Phantom, which is so far gone that it feels like Mashimo parodying himself. I would rather finish watching Noir any day of the week, and the thing is, I never liked Noir because it was too slow. I didn't hate Phantom because it was too slow. I hated Phantom because it was too tepid. It isn't quite bad enough to be funny, it isn't slow enough to be artsy, and it isn't original enough to bother sifting through the rest of it looking for gems.

The creative line changes continue in the dub of part two. “I'll feed your balls to my dog,” a thug says in a dub-only line. Later, in a very Byronic moment, Zwei laments “I'm too young to be this broken.” The Funimation dub walks a fine line between adding some pizazz to the script and making light of the original material. I think they handle it far better than Sentai Filmworks did in Part 2 of their Golgo 13 release. In particular, Shay Moore's lines as Lizzie are heavily re-written. I believe they are handled well, and Moore adds a lot of life to Lizzie's character, who seems flat subtitled.

The extras are a set of still picture-plays, perhaps lifted from a drama CD. The pans across still artwork are handled badly, and the art itself looks bad. Stills from the show would have been better.

In the final shootout, Scythe Master wears a very Cirque du Soleil outfit that made me laugh. But, hey, sometimes villains wear comical masks and ridiculous clothes. And sometimes they have very silly names, like Scythe Master. Or Full Frontal…[TOP]

I finally got the Blu-ray live features to work! When I watched part one and two of Gundam Unicorn, I apparently didn't wait long enough for the “Loading” screen. I left part three in my PS3 while I did something else for 20 minutes and lo and behold, the download finished and I could see the bonus content! I was a little disappointed that the extras were just a an audio track of a speech and a commercial for Part Four. Maybe it's because my wireless internet speed is slow, but accessing any internet content with my PS3 is effectively torturous, akin to using pre-Universal Century dial-up technology.

I thought Gundam Unicorn parts one and two were Shelf Worthy, but part three left me cold. To be fair, I half expected this OVA series to be over in three episodes, so one reason I didn't like it was simply that my expectations were shattered. Part three even appeared to be wrapping up the story, but then it ends on a weird half-cliffhanger without resolving anything…and part four doesn't come out for months!

During part three, the search for Laplace's Box comes to the forefront. Nobody knows what's in the box, but whatever it is, it's worth losing lives to acquire. As long as this mysterious object was in the background of the plot, I was willing to tolerate it. Bringing it the foreground ruined my ability to suspend disbelief and enjoy the show. Of course, you can just google "Laplace's Box" and get a reasonable explanation of what's in it, but that seems like cheating. A TV show ought to stand on its own. (Plus the whole concept reminded me of the intro to this episode of This American Life, “Contents Unknown”.)

Although much of the animation remains at the high level of technical achievement of parts one and two, some of the CG and 2D just doesn't blend in part three. Specifically, there a few exceptionally ugly digital pans over the surface of asteroids where the CG looks particularly gaudy.

I guess I like my science fiction series a little more immersive. Parts one and two made the grade, but part three distracted me with every weak CG pan, everything about Laplace's Box, and every time a character mentioned the “Hyper Mega Particle Cannon” or worse, “La+”. In the case of the former, there's no acronym for the Hyper Mega Particle Cannon? Really? And in the case of the latter, "La Plus" is spelled with a plus sign in the subs, like Black Star from Soul Eater, which is spelled with a star in both the anime subtitles and the manga dialog.

Nevertheless, I was still on board for the show's themes. Banagher shakes Audrey at several points and asks her “is this really what you want to do?” driving home one theme, which boils down to “decide for yourself who you are.” This is reiterated later in the episode when Banagher has a heart-to-heart with a soldier. Banagher is in the fortunate position of not being enlisted in either of the two fleets. With no orders to follow, it's up to Banagher to choose his own fate. That's a fine message for young people. You go, Banagher! Find that fate![TOP]

Speaking of career placement, I started watching Chrome Shelled Regios, which also features a protagonist who needs to talk to his school guidance counselor.

Chrome Shelled Regios might've been Perishable if weren't for the totally awesome premise. On a shitty desert wasteland planet inhabited by giant monster things (worm sign!), humans live in huge, mobile domed cities that walk the barren landscape. To survive the harsh climate, the cities are inhabited by large soldier populations who train with sci-fi weapons that borderline on magic. Helpfully, some of these people happen to have psychic powers.

Regios has a better setting for a video game than a TV show, and I was totally floored to find no evidence that this has ever been a game. Our protagonist with a secret past, Layfon, moves to a new city and enrolls in a school where he's quickly recruited into one of the fighting squads. His first capture-the-flag match is suspiciously like the training level of a video game. The squad seems to be divided into fighters and healers in a system that looks midway between Final Fantasy and an MMORPG.

Unfortunately, Regios stumbles right out of the starting gate. Layfon is a cliché transfer student, with secret super powers in the Shonen Jump tradition, all the girls love him (whether they admit to themselves or not), and, damning the show further, episode four is titled “Put on that Maid Outfit.” What happened to the super-cool domed cities and rad monster fighting?

Disc one of part one is particularly lame. Several episodes are devoted to Layfon and other characters figuring out what they want to do with their lives. I am in favor of career placement anime, but it probably doesn't belong in a show about civilization surviving the harsh realities of a bleak existence.

Queen Alsheyra also killed the show for me as the aggressive breast-grabbing-girl stereotype in the same sexual harassment gag we've seen a thousand times. I guess it's supposed to be sexy, but that trope always makes me cringe. Alsheyra is barely involved in the plot of part one and her scenes are dead weight.

At least Regios's score is interesting; the electronic music instrumentation oddly reminded me at times of the old late-night PBS show, Jack Horkheimer: Star Hustler.

Todd Haberkorn plays Layfon in the dub, and he sometimes hits Sgt. Frog notes with his performance (but if you've never listened to the Sgt. Frog dub, I'm sure you won't notice it). Monica Rial delivers such a super-flat performance as Felli (a goth-y Wednesday Addams character) that I would never have guessed it was Monica Rial.

There are two extra-weird elements to Regios. Sometimes the show cuts to another, seemingly unrelated show about three characters racing down a highway fighting monsters, drawn in a completely different style, more like Redline. It's not entirely clear for the first six episodes how this story ties in.

Second, the cities have weird little spirits, like the personification of the ship in Infinite Ryvius. The city's spirit in Regios is a little naked fairy girl that made me think of the fairies in Aura Battler Dunbine. The psychic powers and laser weapons don't seem very “magical” to me, so I thought the fairy-girl was an odd choice… but I guess from a Shinto perspective it makes sense that a walking city would have a spirit. (Everything in Kamichu! had a little deity…)

The Extras include the end theme sung by the different seiyuu. The box set comes with a cheap little plastic flag with the city's crest on it. Those aren't enough for me to shelf Regios permanently, but, as always, your mileage may vary.[TOP]

I hope no one takes my Rental Shelf rating of Regios personally. I'm not entirely sure why anyone would take a bad review of one of their favorite shows as a personal insult. I'm sure that no matter how much my tastes differ from yours, we probably have one or two favorite anime titles in common. Don't take my dismissal of one or two shows as though I'm accusing you of having bad taste.

One of my favorite movies of all time is My Neighbor Totoro. If I read a scathing review of Totoro where the reviewer claimed it was bland and clichéd compared to other similar films of the same genre (or by the same director), I would want to go and check out the movies Totoro was ripping off. So if you enjoyed Phantom, check out A Better Tomorrow Part 2.

This week's collection is from Rich, from New Jersey:

"Here's my collection of anime DVDs(not pictured is my fledgling Blu Ray collection of FMA:Brottherhood 1-4, and all 3 Full Metal Panic Seasons). Been collecting for almost 3 years now and don't plan on stopping anytime soon."

Thanks for the pictures!

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

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