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Shelf Life
Settlers of Canaan

by Erin Finnegan,

I've had a busy but fulfilling week! I interviewed Natsume Ono, author of Ristorante Paradiso (I'll share the link when it's online) and at my day job the students put on their annual animation showcase. A lot of students thanked me in their films! I'm flattered, although a little unsure what I did to be thanked. One of my favorites from the festival is online already.

Amidst the chaos, I also managed to watch anime for Shelf Life.

I haven't reviewed a Sentai Filmworks title in a little while (except Guin Saga). I guess I've fallen a bit behind on a their releases. Frustratingly I can't seem to find their stuff on Netflix, so I usually rent them from rentanime.com. However, one Sentai Filmworks series did happen to arrive in the mail this week.

I was just going to review the first disc of Canaan, then the second disc showed up in my mailbox on Thursday. I wrote a glowing review of episodes 1-6, before finishing the series. Canaan was so awesome I felt blindsided; why hadn't I heard of this?

Canaan was so smart and sexy it was making me think twice about some of my pet peeves. I usually can't stand super soldier assassin girls from the near future, but Canaan made me eat my words. The titular super-soldier assassin-girl fights in a very action-movie-like Shanghai, in a very bouncy Prince of Persia style (like the most recent games, not the film). It's no wonder, as this is the sequel to a video game. (This show, and When They Cry – Higurashi, are exceptions to the "no show based on a video game can possibly be good" rule.) I loved the slick CG vehicles and the very well animated Shanghai cityscape courtesy of Production I.G., similar to the studio's work on Eden of the East and Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex.

At first, the plot is like a good Hollywood action blockbuster with a sci-fi twist; a hapless magazine reporter looking for a scoop ends up embroiled in a terrorist plot involving biological weapons. The reporter's partner, a ditzy photographer with some amnesia (I usually hate amnesiac characters, but I didn't hate her), happens to be friends with Canaan, a genetically altered synesthete and one-girl army, who is trying to take the terrorists out. It's quite the scoop, so much so that a large crime organization starts trying to kill them.

The “science” in this anime is, let's just say, questionable. Synesthesia is a real condition where one's senses get crossed; synesthetes sometimes feel colors and see smells. I'm not sure if actual synesthetes would feel offended or empowered by this show, where synesthesia gives Canaan superhuman abilities, like an X-Gene. Fortunately, Canaan is such a fun ride that I didn't have time to push my nerd glasses up the bridge of my nose with my index finger and make factual corrections beginning with, “Actually…” At least not until the second half.

By episode seven, the action ramps up even more. The stakes are raised crazy high, and Canaan seems like a damn good suspense series. And then it starts to break down. The characters go on a silk road trip (they've still got my attention) and end up in an abandoned science lab in the desert for most of the rest of the show.

You know what's expensive in animation? Cityscapes and crowd scenes. You know what's cheap? Doing close-ups of a small number of characters in identical hallways. This show falls apart in the second half, which is too bad. Nevertheless, I'll give it a Shelf Worthy since I gave X the TV series a Shelf Worthy for a great first half. I'd still recommend this show, with the added suggestion that you don't have to finish watching it if you never get around to it. I don't want to throw the baby out with the bathwater; I'll re-watch the first seven episodes someday.

The dub is pretty good. Jessica Boone captures the chaotic evil villain Liang Qi with panache. Ditzy reporter Maria could be annoying, but Hilary Haag hits just the right notes to make her endearing. The script changes are light enough to work well.[TOP]

I'd recommend the first half of Canaan to anyone (age 13 and up, anyway) with a caveat about the second half. Likewise, I can only recommend Junjō Romantica (Season Two) with caveats like, "are you OK with man-love?"

I reviewed season one of Junjō Romantica a while back, and I am much less enamored of this show in season two. I'm also starting to second guess myself. Was this show really ever Shelf Worthy? I do like the colorful box with a nice booklet and the fully translated credits, but…

I've heard it said that the opposite of love isn't hate, it's indifference. The second season of Junjō Romantica was much milder than the first, in that it didn't make me raise an eyebrow in righteous indignation over offenses like "non-con" sex, or a love story about elementary school boys (I am always worried about the dread specter of shotacon, you can call me paranoid). But because it was less controversial, season two was also less compelling.

Part of my indifference stems from the decision to follow several different couples (who sometimes pass each other on the street). As I said of season one, I didn't really care about any characters besides Misaki and Akihiko. Nevertheless, I have to admit that episode six was very dramatic. Hiroki comes home to find his lover naked asleep on the floor with another dude. Although the situation is ultimately resolved in a calm discussion, that episode clearly transgressed the boundaries of what would otherwise be a “hilarious” romantic comedy misunderstanding.

I found season two a little repetitive, as different members of Akihiko's family take turns falling in love with Misaki. I couldn't bring myself to see the Akihiko family as a serious threat to the happy couple's relationship, although Misaki certainly felt threatened. Every emotional twist in the show is handled very well, but people sitting around talking about their feelings doesn't always make for great entertainment. Indeed, there is almost no dramatic tension from one episode to the next in Junjō, so I rarely worried about Misaki.

There is one good gag in this series. Misaki receives an eyesore gift, a wood carving of a bear catching three fish. I take it from context that a wooden bear with two fish is a typical chintzy Hokkaido souvenir. The characters drolly remark that they've never seen a bear with three fish. This is a running joke throughout the season, as more and more tacky bear carvings are introduced. It was so effective that I kind of want one of these bears now.

Takahiro Sakurai shows a lot of range as Misaki, and delivers a very believable and heartfelt performance. Hearing Misaki's thoughts moves the plot forward, especially when he's not telling the truth about his feelings to Akihiko. I'm normally not a fan of seiyuu, but Sakurai truly carries this entire show with his voice.

I love the liner notes from Right Stuf, where they've taken the time to explain difficult puns and their translation choices for Japanese idioms. I'm also glad those features are on the DVD and not just in the booklet, which is great if you do happen to rent this series.

My ratings are starting to hinge more and more on how I feel about watching the next episode (and the next, and the next) of a given series. If it feels like a dreadful chore or some kind of punishment, it's probably Perishable. If it feels like a delight and a privilege to get to review a series, it's Shelf Worthy. If I'm merely indifferent to my duties, as in the case of the most recent set of Junjō Romantica, it's a Rental. For the stark pass/fail rating I have to give streaming shows, it's sometimes harder to make a determination. For instance, I waffled a little about Rio – Rainbow Gate!, which proved more compelling than doing laundry but less interesting than cooking dinner.[TOP]

Ladies and gentlemen, I am shocked, shocked, I tell you, that I did not hate this show. In fact, it teeters on the very brink of being Stream Worthy. If this were a DVD it would be Rental Shelf and not Perishable. That said, Rio – Rainbow Gate! never managed to cross that fine line; if it wasn't part of my job to watch this, I would've never made it past episode two.

My expectation bar was set low for an anime based on a character from a pachinko/slot machine game, and I heard the show was universally panned in the Winter Preview Guide. Indeed, the first episode was a wreck. 10-year-old Mint wanders innocently (and unrealistically) around a casino on a resort island, when suddenly a jumbled hot mess of exposition pans leads our gaze to the fair protagonist, a dealer named Rio, bouncing and jiggling her way through the casino. Her lucky aura causes nearby gamblers to win, thanks to her “Goddess of Victory” powers.

During the climax of episodes one and two Rio engages in surreal, magical, and heavily After Effects-laden CG psychological battles with men of dubious character. First a deck of cards is realized as a forest, then in episode two a male casino patron envisions numbers on the roulette wheel as beautiful ladies.

I would've been happy if the show continued with a gambler-of-the-week for Rio to battle, but it abandons these sequences in favor of unusually large-scale games (think Double Dare physical challenges in revealing outfits). The grinning, cigar-chomping, gold-suited casino owner forces Rio to play these games against other female card dealers, a number of which (unsurprisingly) involve Rio losing articles of clothing.

One such game is a bizarre waterslide race. The camera zooms crazily in and out on Rio's crotch throughout the wild, wet ride. That kind of camera movement is hard to do in animation, and it speaks to the high budget (and priorities) of the series. Throughout the show, the use of passable CG and shiny backgrounds points to a sponsor with deep pockets.

Rio proved to be an interesting take on a database show. Although a new girl is introduced in each episode at first, and the girls fulfill types like “the criminally dangerous klutz,” this show's harem has no guy at the center. Instead of ladies forming a make-shift family in some blank-slate high school boy's house, they are all (or mostly) casino employees (or regulars) who are (or become) genuinely her friends. I found this far less irksome than usual.

But let's say for just a minute that this show was actually about Rio, the best blackjack dealer in the entire world. If Rio was to gambling what Eyeshield 21 is to football, I'd gladly ignore the excess cleavage. In point of fact, Rio is like a shonen sports title as-is; after all, Rio's mother was one of the greatest card dealers of all time. Furthermore, Rio is a keeper of one of the thirteen magic “gate” cards (lame!). Other gatekeepers keep challenging her. Whoever gathers all the gate cards can open the mysterious “Rainbow Gate”.

Rio drags a little towards the end, as the “Goddess of Victory” gears up to fight the ultimate showdown. I could've done with one or two fewer dramatic episodes building up to the climax. Nevertheless, although I thought the “Gate” premise was totally stupid, I was pleasantly surprised by the last episode. I have to admit the ending was very sweet.

Originally I hoped to intersperse watching episodes of Rio with episodes of Kaiji, season two, but it didn't work out. I do like to think that Rio is the flip side of Kaiji, a show about a man addicted to gambling and hounded by the yakuza for his debts.[TOP]

Tim Maughan mentioned on the ANNCast that Rio was a show he was continuing to watch. At the time I thought that sounded crazy, although now I sort of understand. He also went on to extol a bunch of other wild-sounding judgments on shows I like, which is weird, because I assumed from Maughan's Twitter feed that we shared some tastes in anime. Maybe not? Or maybe it's like this recent Answerman column; maybe everyone's tastes in anime seem crazy to everyone else. Including mine! I'll see you next week with more incomprehensible opinions.

This week's shelves are from Ikus, from VA:

"anime and manga collecting have a big part of my life. I started my collection in 2002, and i have been steadily try to finish each series before moving on to the next, sadly with the economy the way it is, some series are going to be unfinished for a long time. i try to collect the series that i thing is good and most of the show that i have are from 2003-2005 which i think was the golden age of anime in America. "

Nice shelves!

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

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