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Shelf Life
Culture Club

by Erin Finnegan,

Last Saturday night I saw “House Hunting” and “Mon Mon the Water Spider” at Carnegie Hall as part of the JapanNYC Festival. Normally you can only see those shorts at the Ghibli Museum, and even then, you can't pick which short you want to see. Remember, if you ever go to Japan, be sure to buy your Ghibli Museum tickets in advance (as well as your Japan Rail Pass) because it's easier to get tickets from outside of Japan.

Ghibli films tend to rise above my meager criteria for Shelf Worthiness (rewatch-ability, loan-ability, and cool extras/packaging). They are films which make me proud to be an anime fan. You can recommend them to anyone – in fact, they are more than recommended, they are required viewing for all anime fans. There was a time when I tried to watch some of everything Hayao Miyazaki ever worked on, but I never finished Dog of Flanders. The only Ghibli features I haven't seen yet are Pom Poko and The Borrowers (which just came out).

Nausicaä is one of my favorite films of all time.

You need to own Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. Maybe you haven't seen it yet, and you've been meaning to get around to it. Now is your chance! This Blu-ray comes with a DVD as well, so if you haven't upgraded yet, you can hang on to it until you get a Blu-ray player.

To give some perspective on my tastes, here are my top five favorite Miyazaki films in order:

  1. My Neighbor Totoro
  2. The Castle of Cagliostro
  3. Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind
  4. Laputa
  5. Porco Rosso

In the only green valley in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, princess Nausicaä leads a tribe of peaceful people. The valley is constantly under threat of falling to poisons from the Sea of Corruption, a jungle filled with deadly giant insects and deadlier mushroom spores. Also bordering the valley is an acid lake, and beyond that, warring tribes of humans inhabit the rest of the world's barren deserts (consider: Hayao Miyazaki's Fist of the North Star). Nausicaä flies around on her “mehve” glider to research the bizarre plants and animals, but when an airship with a super-weapon crash lands in the valley, war falls upon Nausicaä's people. Fortunately for the valley of the wind, their princess is one of the greatest anime characters of all time. She is the perfect leader, an empathetic and charismatic scientist who knows how to fight, but advocates peace. (I recently learned about Frederick the Great, who kept a terraced garden like Nausicaä's for similar reasons.)

Nausicaä represents the highest possible technical achievement in cel animation, and it was made in 1984! All of the flying war machines and giant pillbug-like Ohmu move as background elements, without the aid of CG. Perhaps Nausicaä and Akira (1988) are the very highest high points of Japanese animation, created at the height of Japan's economic bubble. Maybe it is appropriate that both stories have apocalyptic visions; the bubble was about to burst.

I popped in the previous release of Nausicaä to compare extras. The 2005 disc had a “Behind the Mic” featurette with the English voice actors and a “Birth of Studio Ghibli” piece from a Japanese TV show. The new Bluray edition drops these in favor of "Behind the Studio - Creating Nausicaä" which cuts between an interview with Miyazaki and comments from animation historian Charles Solomon. Hilariously, all three of these featurettes contradict each other in the details. The “Birth of Studio Ghibli” tells us that Miyazaki began writing the Nausicaä manga in Animage only after the film pitch was rejected. But Miyazaki says on the Blu-ray that he started drawing the manga and at some point was given the opportunity to make the movie. (For more on the manga, read Jason's column about it.)

I learned a lot more from the Japanese featurette on the old release. For example, did you know that Hideaki Anno animated the God Warrior after he answered an ad in Animage magazine looking for more animators?

The new release includes a French dub and French subtitles. I tried watching some of the French dub, and the French voice actors are more energetic than the English dub, which sounds a bit flat. Not that there's anything particularly bad about the English dub… I love Patrick Stewart as Lord Yupa, but Chris Sarandon as the sneering Kurotowa sounds more sarcastic to my ear in English than he does in Japanese. Alison Lohman is merely adequate as Nausicaä.

Both releases include what I call the “animatic” (some people call it the “story reel”), which is the storyboard cut to the soundtrack. For animators, this is a vital tool for timing out the film. Miyazaki's storyboards (which you can buy as books from the Ghibli Museum) are terrifyingly well drawn. [TOP]

As long as I'm raving about things you should buy, another one of my all-time favorites arrived in the mail last week.

Although this DVD release was slated for release on August 24th, 2010, I didn't receive my order (fulfilled by the Right Stuf) until February 15th of 2011. I'm not sure if the DVD was on back order or the release was delayed.

Genshiken is one of my favorite anime TV series of all time. I know Bamboo has reviewed it in the past, but this new collection (finally) includes episodes 13-15. Previously, you could only get episodes 13-15 as extras in the Kujibiki Unbalance TV series release. The Genshiken OAV series are not typical OVAs in terms of continuity– that is to say, they aren't bonus episodes that occur after the TV series continuity. Rather, episodes 13-15 are mid-series continuity that introduce Ogiue, who is a major character in the second season.

Some readers have mentioned in the forums that “loan-ability” is never a factor in their anime purchases, but it's a major factor for me. Whenever one of my friends suddenly gets into anime, I immediately loan them a few good titles to get them started. Genshiken is something I have/do/will loan to friends (especially nerdy friends, and I hand them Otaku no Video at the same time). I didn't care for the Kujibiki TV series at all, so I never bought it. Not having three episodes from the middle of the series made Genshiken annoying to loan out. I didn't want to give friends pirated episodes from the middle of the series, especially if they were unable to play certain codecs…

Genshiken is great because it's like looking into a mirror and laughing. I wasn't in an anime club in college, but I was in the science fiction club (the two clubs met on the same night). Sci-fi club was like Genshiken insomuch as we had different types of nerd specialists, but instead of cosplayers and video game experts, we had comic book experts and table top gamers. Our levels of social awkwardness spanned the same Asperger's rainbow as the geeks in Genshiken. It's amazing how Shimoku Kio has captured some kind of cross-cultural, international nerd problems with his work of art.

I love how the Genshiken anime managed to adapt the humor of the manga to the screen. Genshiken is filled with scenes of amazing comic timing and hilarious awkward pauses. The show is so funny that it's easy to forget that most of it takes place in a single room with characters just standing or sitting around. Truly, Genshiken is an ideal of the situation comedy format, it just happens to be animated.

Since I watched the show subbed first, I have a hard time listening to Billy Regan as Madarame. Madarame's voice is so unique in Japanese, I'm not sure Regan's voice fits the character. Carol Jacobanis as Saki sounds too old for her part.

All of the extras from the initial DVD release are included in this set, like the Under 17 performance and Japanese commercials. Episodes 13-15 have a Japanese commentary tracks with two different seiyuu per episode. I actually liked the Kujibiki Unbalance OAV episodes included in the first Genshiken release, and they are included here as well.

Some fans might be waiting for a whole series Genshiken box, but I was worried about the future of Media Blasters, so I snapped up the DX collection just in case. Now it looks like Media Blasters might be around for a while longer.[TOP]

Honestly, I needed to revisit a couple of old favorites this week after witnessing the crushingly disappointing end of Chrome Shelled Regios.

Apparently, one of the worst things you can do, in Japanese culture, is to cause other people to worry about you. “You made me worry!” parents say in anime, just before slapping a child. This comes up again and again in anime. The second half of Chrome Shelled Regios works in a cycle; a character is injured in a fight, causing other characters to worry. Worry, fight, injure, repeat.

Like the Tolstoy quote about all unhappy families being unhappy in their own way, Chrome Shelled Regios is a bad show, but it's bad in such a unique way! I wish I could perform a post-mortem to find the exact cause of death. I suspect the writer(s). Everything else on this production was OK; the animation and the effects work were above average. The character designs are a little generic, especially the costumes, but the backgrounds were good; the monster design was fair. Even the director probably did his (or her?) best with what he had to work with.

The writers tried to adapt the light novels (and/or the manga series or the 4-koma manga) into an appropriate story, so where did they go wrong? The first half of Regios is bad because it's very derivative and unfunny, ( in my opinion, anyway). The second half is bad because the plot train wrecks spectacularly. The last three episodes attempt to bring everything to a climactic conclusion, but it's horribly rushed. A half-dozen barely established characters appear out of nowhere for a final showdown that doesn't feel final. I suppose all of the characters are from the novels, but having them make only brief appearances with almost no background in the anime is just befuddling. If I had read the novels, I would feel ripped off if my favorite character only got 30 seconds of screen time in the anime.

Meanwhile, the regular characters have occasionally been watching a movie featuring a different team of characters fighting demonic monsters. These scenes are not handled well over the course of the series; the show cuts to the movie scenes without any explanation in part one, as if you've mistakenly changed the channel and are watching some other anime series. At the end of Regios, one of the movie characters turn up in quasi-reality, and the reason for her appearance seems unclear, at least to me.

I am frequently surprised while watching bad anime to hear dub actors who manage to deliver a convincing emotional performance. Perhaps they are able to suss out the characters' motivations in a way that I cannot. J. Michael Tatum in particular delivers a good manly crying scene as Gorneo. That said, Gor's cat-like sidekick Shante, (Trina Nishimura) comes off a little screechy. Shante is always angry, and I was never sure why… and why was she so cat-like? Did she have a tail or was that just part of her costume or what?

And what was with the wolf mask cult, exactly? I guess we'll never know. I doubt such a bizarre anime adaptation will ever rally fans enough to bring the light novels to American shores. [TOP]

By the way, the chapters of the Regios light novel ran in Dragon Magazine in Japan. Speaking of nerdy magazines, I once appeared in an issue of Weekly Famitsu in a feature about Otaku USA writers. I submitted my Nausicaä cosplay photo to show my absolute devotion to the title.

See you guys next week with some men (17 CH) discussing pastry and a barbarian (18/85 STR) with a leopard head.

This week's shelves are from Travis, from Neptune (NJ)!

"Hey, my name is Travis and I'm from Neptune, New Jersey. Pictured is my growing collection of games, anime, figures, and manga that I've been amassing for most of my life. I'm 24 now and I don't plan to stop until I'm too old to get to conventions anymore!"

Nice collection!

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

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