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Shelf Life
The 2.22nd Coming

by Erin Finnegan,

So I'm taking next Monday, April 25th off. April 21st is my birthday. Normally, my husband and I would go to Anime Boston, which is April 22nd-24th , but this year we have a friends' wedding to go to on the 23rd. Don't worry, Bamboo will cover Shelf Life while I'm away.
This week I tried to balance my schedule so I could watch Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood parts three and four. Bamboo reviewed part three back in January, but I couldn't reasonably watch part four without catching up. Besides, I would watch Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood regardless of my Shelf Life duties.

I watched the last two parts of FMA on Blu-ray and found this switch back to regular DVD unpleasant… like going back to VHS tapes after watching DVD for the first time. (OK, maybe it wasn't that bad.)

Unfortunately, part three was far more memorable than part four. Part three humanized Hohenheim, which was interesting and more thoughtful than the original series' portrayal of Ed and Al's father. I also love Olivier, Armstrong's older sister. I have a weakness for ice planets (Hoth, Rura Penthe, etc.) and tough ladies, so I was totally into the cold-weather arc. I found the interactions between Armstrong and Olivier to be genuinely funny (as opposed to jokes about Ed being short, which are so constant I'm no longer aware of them as jokes). Part four takes Olivier out of her mountain fortress and moves her to Central. Although she's still a strong character, it's less interesting to watch her as a hostage or a spy instead of kicking butt.

The first episode in part four is a vital flashback that explains a lot, and then the rest of the set is devoted to moving the huge (and still growing) cast of characters into place for a final showdown with the forces of evil. I am in awe of the character design work that goes into this show. Even though many of the characters are blond and wear the same State Alchemist uniform, you can still tell them apart. With a minimum of design detail, we know who's who. Plus, the writing is good enough that each character is unique, loveable, and seems to have a life that extends beyond the boundaries of the series itself.

Although I've been enjoying Brotherhood so far, the pacing is starting to frustrate me. For one thing, I'm a little disappointed that everything is building to a singular Promised Day (sometimes called "the Day of Reckoning" in the translation). So far, the astrological reasons for why the Promised Day is important to the bad guys has not been explained in detail. There hasn't been much astronomy (or astrology) in the show up to this point (outside of the Sun Worshippers in Lior), so it seems a little incongruous to have major events hinging on astronomy. (Plus it's reminiscent of Avatar the Last Air Bender, which gave better reasons for its Promised Day but had even stranger pacing throughout.)

The Promised Day dawns around episode 50, and the action begins to follow dozens of protagonists split up into small groups getting into a variety of skirmishes. Suddenly it seems as if everything in the FMA world has been building up to a series of awesome fights between supernatural monsters, martial arts masters, and magic versus non-magic soldiers. That's certainly very cool (and still Shelf Worthy), but I can't shake the feeling that something has gone wrong with the writing in this part. It's not that bad, it's just a little off in a way I'm having a hard time putting into words.

In previous parts, changes to the dub cast didn't bother me, but for some reason in this set it started to bother me that Greed has been played by so many different actors. It's not that any of the Greeds have been bad, but I suddenly find it jarring and I don't know why. I was into Maxey Whitehead as Alphonse, but in this set, she suddenly started sounding like Crona in Soul Eater.[TOP]

Brotherhood wasn't the only franchise reboot title I watched this week.

Evangelion: 2.0 You Can (Not) Advance is how a series reboot should be done. It sets a new high watermark for all remakes. I was upbeat about the first new Evangelion movie, but Eva 2.0 quickly proved to be a new favorite anime film that I will watch again and again. Although the DVD is titled Evangelion 2.22, I'm just going to call it Eva 2.0 here for the sake of clarity.

Eva 2.0 fixes problems with the original story and expands the world of the film in an addictively interesting way, all the while using eye-popping visuals. Beyond the dazzling array of new CG angels, there are a series of striking revisions to the character's emotional lives. The second scene has Shinji talking about his feelings with his father, in a heart to heart conversation the two men desperately needed in the TV series but were too broken to actually have. Asuka and even Rei are far healthier than they were in the TV series (although they still have problems). If Hideaki Anno wrote Evangelion when he was depressed, Eva 2.0 is a rebuild by a man who is now self-satisfied and has learned something about dealing with emotions.

A new Eva pilot, an American named Mari, is inserted into the franchise. Her character probably exists for fan service (she complains one Eva suit is too small in the chest area) and new merchandise, but she is hardly dead weight. I suspect Mari has been added to the film in response to Eva's popularity Stateside, but that could just be my own personal conspiracy theory. Her first scene introduces us to a prototype Eva in an American base similar to Nerv's headquarters, and we are updated about the global situation with the Angels; far more frequently than in the TV series. The prototype Eva also gives us a wonderful visual timeline of the Eva's development.

The animation is spectacular. I hate to use the phrase “cutting edge” (or worse, “bleeding edge”), but this is it. One of the included extras splices together a reel that shows how they did it. Without any text or interviews, this feature demonstrates the work of the animators and storyboard artists; scenes are shown from the black and white animatic, which has been partially animated as paper cut-outs, and then there is a pass of rough CG work, finer CG work, and a final “beauty pass” of the same scene with lighting effects. Also included are some very rough scenes that were cut from the film. You can get a real feel for what went into making this film from watching the roughs. If you're an animation student, I can't recommend watching these enough.

The other Extras are mostly trailers and TV spots. There is also a “Noguchi" version of the ending and a commentary track by the dub cast.

Trina Nishimura does a good job portraying the nearly-psychotic Mari, (coincidentally the only character I had no prior expectations for). J. Michael Tatum sounds like he was born to play Kaji. I found this dub far more tolerable than previous Eva dubs I've tried to watch, although I can't get over John Swasey as Gendou; his voice just isn't deep enough.

Much to my delight, the already wonderful soundtrack is augmented with a generous number of musical pieces from His and Her Circumstances, which is another of my favorite anime series of all time. The Kare Kano pieces used in this film all seem to fit perfectly. [TOP]

Most of the week was revisiting old favorites, but I also checked out Vampire Knight, which I've never seen. (Coincidentally I've never seen or read Twilight

I decided to watch the first season of Vampire Knight because Vampire Knight Guilty has been coming out on DVD this year. Before Guilty, I figured I needed to catch up, so I rented the first DVD to check out the dub and then watched the rest streaming on Hulu.

I tried to read some of the Vampire Knight manga in Shojo Beat (I loved Shojo Beat), but I just couldn't get into Vampire Knight. The wispy doe-eyed characters all looked alike and the backgrounds were so scant I could barely tell the locations apart. The anime happily fixes these problems, and I found the first few episodes easy to follow, if not over-loaded with repetitive explanatory dialog.

So there's this school where the day shift students are humans and the night shift students are vampires(a fact which is unsurprisingly kept secret from the humans). Protagonist Yuki knows the school's secret and works on the security committee with her crush/adopted brother Zero. To the day students, the night students just look like hotties, so Yuki helps hold back the fan girl crowd at the red carpet each day during the shift change.

Vampire Knight follows its own brand of internal logic, but the minute you start to question anything, the entire premise seems to fall apart. Why are there only two students on the security committee? The only way the school could be more hazardous is if the day students were all girls and the vampires were all boys (like the old Far Side gag, Trouble Brewing). When Yuki goes to a nearby town in early episodes, she's attacked by crazed vampires every single time. How can any human survive in such a dangerous place?

I don't like Yuki because she's so bland. She's a good girl in a generic way, a bit naive, and somewhat sweet, but she's not memorably sweet like Tohru from Fruits Basket (I thought Tohru was compassionate on a nearly Saint-like level). Yuki is forgettable, and ultimately defined by her relationship with Zero. I like my shojo heroines a little more feisty, like Momo from Peach Girl or Makino from Hana Yori Dango.

Platinum-haired Zero is in love with Yuki (as you could guess from episode one) and competing for her is a brunette vampire who was also a childhood friend. (It's important that love rivals have opposite hair colors.) Eventually an interfering hussy from Zero's past appears to manipulate everyone, which is just the sort of thing one might expect from a shojo template.

It's more fun to watch Vampire Knight if you consider vampirism a direct metaphor for carnal lust, and think of blood drinking as a sexual act. Zero burns to drink Yuki's blood, and can barely contain his appetite. Later in the season, vampires drink each other's blood in titillating same-sex pairings. Unfortunately, even such a literal reading of the show doesn't save it from very talky, soap opera conversation scenes midway through.

Although the vampires are cute enough in higher-budget episodes, the show crumbles when the characters are drawn off-model. Episode eight in particular suffers from a precipitous drop in quality.

The dub is adequate if not a little lackluster. One particular crowd scene early on sounded suspiciously short-handed, as if the sound engineer looped one actresses' voice dozens of times without much variation in pitch or walla dialog. (Maybe only I would notice something like this; on As the Wrench Turns I performed a lot of un-credited walla myself.)

I know Vampire Knight is fairly popular, but it was too middle-of-the-road for me. I'm so disinterested in vampires that I can't even say "If you like vampires, you'll like this". That would be a cop out anyway.[TOP]

There has been some chatter on Twitter lately (I'm @erinf on Twitter) likening me to different film reviewers. One reader has been trying to compare me to Armond White, but the more I read up on that guy, the more unsettling that sounds.

Anyway, I'll leave you with two of my favorite jokes from The Critic, and see you in two weeks with FLCL on Blu-ray.

This week's shelves are courtesy of Julian:

"Hey my name is Julian and I've only been collecting for the last 4-5 years or so. I'm proud to say that despite being 17 everything in my collection was purchased with my own money. I have around 150 DVD's (and some BD's and VHS's) as of right now. I try and buy all the series I love but I also impulse buy cheap anime or anime with nice artboxes sometimes as well, especially when some of my shows have expensive or not very good packaging (ie. Clannad). Also want to point out that I bought Galaxy Angel solely because it was recommended by a certain Mike Toole on one of his Anime Jump videos on this very website. (Anyone want to start a petition to get him to bring it back?) The smattering of posters and wallscrolls around my room come from a variety of places (con's, anime mags, etc). My all time favorite wallscroll is the Clannad one that hangs above my desk, I bought it on my first trip to Japan. I'm not a huge figure collector but I have a couple that I like alot. Most of my figures are either from Hong Kong or Japan, as I go to one of those places every summer now. I have alittle over 100 Manga as well as a few years worth of Shonen Jump, about a years worth of NewType and Megami and a shelf full of European comics such as Asterix and Obelix, Tintin and Snow, and The Adventures of Blake and Mortimer. I also play alot of games with another shelf being just devoted to them. My rarest game would probably be Blazblue Continuum Shift Limited Edition which I also bought in Japan. Thats it! Feel free to add me on PSN, XBL or MAL; my usernames is Jrittmayer. "

Pretty incredible, for only having started collecting 4-5 years ago!

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

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