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Shelf Life
World's Greatest

by Erin Finnegan,

I feel like I've been in a bit of a Shelf Life slump lately, so it's time for a great Shelf Life revival! It's time to get my groove back! It's time to leap from tree to tree as they float down the mighty rivers of British Columbia… (cough cough, sorry…) I mean, I need the enthusiasm of a lumberjack to write this column, because if I haven't got that, who will want to read it?

I need the heart of the greatest mythical lumberjack of all time—Paul Bunyan. Hitch up the blue ox, 'cause I'm reviewing some Toriko this week.

Half Paul Bunyan and half Ted Nugent, Toriko is a gigantic muscle dude with a tiny chef, Komatsu, as his sidekick . Despite his skill with a paring knife, Komatsu is mostly there for his eyes-bulging reaction shots (a la Beauty from Bobobo-bo Bo-bobo)… and there are a lot of reaction shots, because Toriko is truly outrageous (although not in the same way as Jem).

I love the theme song of this show, which explains the premise like oldschool TV theme songs used to. Like any Shonen Jump protagonist, Toriko has a goal, but unlike more serious heroes who want to be the very best (like no one ever was), Toriko is eating his way across a fantastical edible landscape to make his ultimate menu. That is essentially the same plot as Oishinbo the Gourmet (I've reviewed some of that manga), except Toriko's alternate earth is populated with super-dangerous, super-delicious animals like three-story tall monster crocodiles (the older they get, the tastier their meat becomes) and gigantic four-armed gorillas (who guard the location of the most succulent fruit imaginable). Enter a danger zone in the world of Toriko and your life insurance is automatically void.

Toriko is an ugly, ugly manga. Our hungry protagonist's face is drawn distorted, or even grotesque as he displays his powerful battle aura. The monsters look like doodles straight from the margins of a 7th grade boy's notebook (or Otto's tattoo). The anime is thankfully a little more restrained with the ug-mo factor than the manga, but it does use one of the ugliest color palettes I've ever seen in anime. Everything is a bright primary shade, to the point of looking garish (a hot pink and florescent green gorilla? Really?).

Volume three of the manga is disappointingly devoted entirely to a stadium battle between two animals (in excessive Roman tradition), but thankfully, the anime seems to have a more even pace so far. It may only take two episodes to defeat a Devil Python, which is pretty restrained for a Shonen Jump title. The anime has also lightened up Toriko's drinking habits. In the manga, Toriko is introduced downing an entire bottle of Maker's Mark by cracking open the bottom. He still hoards all the liquor on a train in episode three, but they have toned it down for kids.

Disappointingly, my favorite panel from the first volume of manga was not included in the anime. I think that panel hilariously illustrates Toriko's eat-or-be-eaten world. I mentioned Ted Nugent above because I'm literally from Nugent country, where a significant part of the student population of my rural high school (Nugent's kids went there) took the opening day of deer hunting season off. Although I'm too squeamish to go hunting myself, I can respect Toriko's hunting ethics; Toriko eats everything he kills, and only paralyzes other animals.

My mom always said I had to try everything on my plate, and I didn't have to finish anything I didn't like. The same goes for streaming anime. With no money at stake, you may as well try it, but you don't have to finish it. The jury is still out on Toriko, although I have been collecting and enjoying the manga series (I reviewed volume one here.) And when I say “enjoy,” I mean I bought Toriko doujin at Comiket. We'll see where the anime is going, but so far I'm happy enough with the adaptation. [TOP]

Sometimes I wish I could rate things Stream Worthy with a question mark, especially Sekai Ichi Hatsukoi. Stream Worthy? And maybe an exclamation point: Stream Worthy?!

When Ed Chavez got back from working with Kodansha in Japan, he was filled with stories of manga editors pulling all-nighters, negotiating with printers for last-minute jobs, and even pasting text in word balloons when time was short. Sekai Ichi Hatsukoi (World's Greatest First Love) confirms Ed's tales of manga editing. This is a show I'd easily recommend to hardcore manga fans or artists who want to learn more about the business, in a war-from-the-trenches perspective mirroring Bakuman. That is, I'd heartily recommend it if it weren't for just one thing… the homosexual romance.

At this point, I picture the readers of this column with slot machine eyes (like Supermilk-chan); some of you hit three cherries, but others just hit all “BAR” (or whatever symbol means bankrupt). If you want to learn more about manga and also happen to be a yaoi fan, apparently Spring 2011 is your lucky season. If you can't stomach some guy-on-guy kissing scenes… (insert joke about waking up in Vegas here).

Frankly, I'm glad just to watch anime about characters working in an office, instead of going to Japanese high school again like an 11th year senior (although there are a couple flashbacks to school life in the beginning). Protagonist Ritsu Onodera confesses his love for an upperclassman. Cut to ten years later, Ritsu gets a job working for the same shojo manga magazine as his former crush, Masamune Takano. Masamune (with a new last name after his parents divorced) is now a chief editor, and kind of a demonic editor at that. Ritsu is apprehensive about the job, since he wanted to work in literature. He doesn't recognize Masamune at first, but Masamune recognizes Ritsu right away, and soon enough he vows to make Ritsu fall in love with him again. It's a clichéd romance premise, to be sure.

This show looks uncannily like Junjo Romantica (I reviewed part one here) from the pastel colors to the green-eyed, short-statured, easily flustered protagonist. It's no coincidence; the original manga is by the same author, Shungiku Nakamura and the Junjo anime was also directed by Chiaki Kon (there are so few female anime directors!).

Despite the title World's Greatest First Love, the romance story is handled with a lot of bitterness. This isn't wide-eyed innocent first love at all. The title must be either sarcastic, or a reference to a manga series being edited by the characters in the show.

Sometimes I wonder if workplace sexual harassment laws in Japan are even remotely similar to the ones we have in America . Ritsu gets harassed by Masamune at work (let's do a kissing pose for this author I just insulted!), and Ritsu calls it harassment, so he's at least aware of the how inappropriate some of Masamune's shenanigans are. I suspect workplace sexual harassment is probably a porn trope (consider Boku no Sexual Harassment), but it's kind of jarring if you're not familiar with that cliche database. As this is TV anime, there is some falling-on-top-of-each-other but no pornographic scenes so far. Frankly, this show just barely escapes being unwatchable for most audiences by including so much real world manga content. [TOP]

What can I say? It was a sexual harassment kind of week. In Chrono Crusade, a perverted church elder/mad scientist builds demon killing weapons for an international religious order. He then flips up the nuns' habits, exposing their bloomers.

I know a lot of people loved Chrono Crusade back in the day, so before you flip out over my “panning” this with the equivalent of a “B,” hear me out; I bet dollars to donuts that if you love Chrono Crusade so much, you probably already own it, and in a nicer box than this one. Even the 2005 Complete Collection had a meatier, prettier spine than this box, which is just standard DVD-width. A quick search on eBay turned up some volume one with artbox sets still available for not too much money. If I wanted to own Chrono Crusade, I might fill the artbox with a cheaper set.

I don't hate Chrono Crusade… I just don't plan to re-watch it or care to own it (which by definition puts it on my rental shelf). I could never have finished watching this in 2004 because I just couldn't get into it. I had a hard time getting into it this time around, too. Admittedly, the last episode is, as I'd heard, a total tear-jerker. Even with my heart of stone about this show, I have to admit my tears were totally jerked.

Basically, if you think a nun with thigh-high socks wielding a holy gun and riding a motorcycle with her demon sidekick through the roaring 20s in America sounds pretty cool, and you haven't seen this already, you're going to want to buy it. But for me, Chrono Crusade is like a long, bumpy dirt road leading to a worthwhile destination. Too rough of a road can destroy a car before it gets where it's going. I still had a lot of questions after the ending that should've been answered in the show.

The terminology was a serious problem for me. Chrono Crusade has show-specific definitions of “Apostles,” “Sinners,” and even “Pandemonium.” The Extra features include some explanatory shorts which I watched all the way through, hoping they'd help clear things up.

I suspect Chrono Crusade lives and dies on your love of the characters, since the plot starts to seem nonsensical as the show goes on. A long explanation extolled in episode 20 was so murky that I watched it twice – once dubbed and one subbed – to double-check that, indeed, it didn't make sense.

I liked Rosette (our protagonist nun) and Chrono (her steadfast devil sidekick with a heart of gold) enough, but I couldn't buy into their platonic love friendship that bordered on romance (she is a nun, darn it!). It was the side characters that really killed this show for me. Azmaria, one of the series' apostles, is a cute young girl with a singing voice that is literally heavenly. Azmaria's powers wax and wane as the plot demands. In my book, Rosette is already plenty kind, unintentionally destructive, and innocent. Adding an even cuter, younger, more innocent, and klutzier member to their fighting party is kinda like eating the rose made of frosting on a cake. Azmaria's high pitched voice in the dub started to wear me down by the third DVD.

Then there's Satella, the “jewel witch.” Apparently jewel witches summon monsters for Yu-Gi-Oh!-like battles. (I liked Adelicia, the equivalent character from Rental Magica better.) Satella is more of a boob witch than anything. Tiffany Grant's German accent sounds like a non-stop impression of Elsa Schneider in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

I would be interested in seeing a fan edit of this show in chronological order (and with a lot less Satella and Azmaria). Why not re-cut it to begin with Chrono's war in hell, when the story really started, and jump to the 1800s arc, followed by Rosette's childhood, and so on? I'm getting tired of anime series where the dramatic hinge of the story is some important past event that we get to see in a flashback three to five episodes before the series ends.

Chrono Crusade has plenty of action, and the production values are plenty high, but to me the structure is rotten, like a church with a bad foundation. It might look pretty on the outside, but that thing just ain't structurally sound.[TOP]

Frustratingly, this was not the only strangely structured title I watched this week.

Tales from Earthsea is a movie is structured in reverse. A sweeping, epic tale with lots of characters and a large world with a big plot slowly whittles its way down to an ending with three characters in one castle on an empty moor solving inner personal problems. Weird!

I think if you're in the mood for epic fantasy, perhaps after watching Game of Thrones, Tales from Earthsea is worth a look. Just don't set your expectations too high.

Prince Arren (which sounds like my name) stabs his father and more or less goes on the lam. He gets some help from Sparrowhawk (not to be confused with the chicken hawk), a wandering wizard with a staff like Gandalf the Grey, only younger. Arren and Sparrowhawk ride into a port city with a booming slave trade and some serious drug problems. To add to these social troubles, magic is draining from the land, as something in the supernatural realms has come unbalanced and dragons have returned.

Arguably the sequence before the opening credits is the most action-packed in the film and it's all downhill from there. The excitement drains away as the action is transplanted from a crowded city to a lonely stone farm house where Sparrowhawk can't seem to settle down and get together with Tenar, a motherly older lady who is looking after Theru, a mysterious and tight-lipped girl with a scar on her face.

The dub is, if nothing else, filled with celebrities. Timothy Dalton as Sparrowhawk occasionally sounds like he's doing a Sean Connery impression. I couldn't get enough of Willem Dafoe as the evil sorcerer Cob, although on the Japanese track, Cob is a witch played by Yuko Tanaka…! Somehow it works either way.

The film never gets around to solving the big problems from the beginning. It's based on a short story from a series of books I've never read, but I've heard of the major differences; all of the characters are supposed to be dark-skinned, and Theru's scars are supposed to be disfiguring rather than mildly pink.

The DVD extra serves up the same animation historian from the recent Nausicaa release. We learn that the character designs are from a Nausicaa precursor, The Journey of Shuna, which makes sense, since they seem to have the same fashion sense as the people of the Valley of the Wind. That said, some of the secondary characters and magic effects look like leftovers from Howl's Moving Castle. I like wizards and dragons and Nausicaa and Howl's, so I didn't mind revisiting these recycled realms.

The elephant in the room is that Earthsea was directed by Goro Miyazaki. I know Earthsea has been panned by other critics, and I feel bad for Goro. Hayao had the experience of working in TV animation for years before his film debut, learning the ropes of direction and every part of production before making his first feature. Goro trained as a painter and designed the Ghibli Museum. Even if Goro had worked in television, a lot of anime in-between work gets shipped to Korea (or China) nowadays, so he couldn't have learned the same things as his father. How could anyone expect this guy to fill the shoes of a giant?

I think Earthsea is just fine for someone's first film. But I wish Goro had gotten the chance to design a movie from the ground up, instead of working with his father's leftovers.[TOP]

I hope my reviews this week didn't seem too much like stale leftovers, found in the back of the fridge after a month of avoiding the grocery store. Next week I'll try to serve up more fresh releases.

This week's shelves are from Dennie:

"Hello ...my name is Dennie Angel. i live in Sanford, N.C. ive been collecting for about 2 years now. i try to stay organized but my collection is aways a mess. "

A little mess never hurt anyone!

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

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