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Shelf Life
Revolutionary War

by Erin Finnegan,

Hooray! One of my panels, “Unusual Manga Genres” got accepted for Otakon. I'm super excited. Right on the heels of that victory, Anime Weekend Atlanta accepted all three panels I applied for, and then scheduled them immediately. Crazy!

I heard there are two anime series about economics this season, and I want to check them both out for my Unusual Manga Genres panel, where I talk a little about economics manga. One of them is Moshidora, where a baseball team takes lessons from Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices by Peter Drucker. The other is [C] – Control, which is at least economically themed in principle (no pun intended).

At least at first, Control appears to have little to do with real-world economics. Rather, it overlays financial terms on a YuGiOh-like battle show that is presumably aimed at adults.

A thrifty college sophomore named Kimimaro is chosen, apparently at random, to take part in duels played out in a magical city in a parallel dimension called the Financial District. Here, the battling monsters/sidekicks/Pokemon/business partners are called Assets, while the duelists themselves are called… wait for it… Entrepreneurs (or 'Entre's' for short). Kimimaro's Asset is a cute demon-ish girl with long horns named Mashu. The duels are fought with money that translates into money in the real world; riches won in the game appear in one's bank account the next day. But losing duels also has real-life consequences, as Assets are symbolic of the player's future. A lost duel in the Financial District could mean your house burns down in real life. Or worse.

The richest players in the game use their fortunes in the real world to run companies, contribute to charities, or even sway global politics. Kimimaro quickly finds himself pitted against both close acquaintances and high rollers in duels with very painful outcomes.

It's not clear yet whether one can learn anything about economics from watching this show, but at least it's a thoughtful series that blends some smart ideas with an otherwise standard anime fighting show. The series' contemplations on money and power fall somewhere between Speed Grapher and Eden of the East in terms of pessimistic outlooks versus hope for the future of Japan. Control, like the aforementioned shows, seems to have grown thematically out of a fear of the current financial crisis (and/or Japan's ongoing lost 'decade'). That's kind of a weird theme for an anime series, but then, I like weird themes.

That said, so far I'm digging this show primarily for the designs. The Financial District mixes CG and 2D with bright surreal colors in an appealing way. I love the pointy-eyed Asset girls (Mashu and the similar-looking Q), who look a bit like fairies. Other Assets have some creative and creepy monster designs. Masakaki, a character who explains the game, looks like either a cracked out Mad Hatter or The Hitcher from The Mighty Boosh. The character design is so inspiring that I can't wait to see people cosplay as Assets.

I'm also enjoying the soundtrack, which lends a cool techno beat to the battles, and the opening and ending songs are quite good as well. Time will tell if this series dissolves into a lot of nonsense or if it wraps up with some healthy lessons on the economy, but for now, I'm adding it to my Hulu queue.[TOP]

This week turned out to be all about duels. I was thrilled to re-watch Revolutionary Girl Utena, re-released by The Right Stuf.

I field-tested this Utena re-release with a fangirl who owned the previous Central Park Media DVDs to see if you, the reader, ought to buy this again. My test subject drooled over the included color booklet, filled with production art and lengthy interviews, then she raved that the new DVDs have much brighter colors, so she would have to buy them. The results of this experiment lead me to conclude that this should be a re-buy.

For those of you who've never seen it, Utena may have aged just enough that it's going to be a little off-putting at first. Low budget cel animation can't stand up to today's shinier productions, after all, and the character designs with eyes that can be seen through transparent hair has always been a hurdle for newbies. But if you can stick with it, Utena is definitely worth the ride.

Utena is a rare anime series where the brilliance of the director shines through. Kunihiko Ikuhara expertly stretches his low budget to get the most bang for his buck. Pans over still frames and re-used footage are employed to great effect. Silhouettes and shadow puppets save animation dollars while simultaneously adding to the series' appealing graphic design. I've even heard the anime is better than the manga, in part because of Ikuhara's direction.

But, what is it about, you ask? Utena Tenjou enrolls in an elite high school in hopes of finding the “prince” who saved her during her childhood. Somewhere along the line, Utena's wires got crossed and she's become princely herself; she wears a modified boy's uniform and is the Takarazuka-like athletic star of the student body. Utena quickly finds herself entangled in the Student Council's strange after-school activities. You see, the Student Council regularly fights sword duels for the privilege of dating one Anthy Himemiya, otherwise known as “The Rose Bride.” (If you can call it dating…)

So, five minutes into high school, Utena is mixed up in a pseudo-lesbian relationship with her oddly submissive new roommate. It keeps getting weirder from there. The Student Council regularly receives letters “from the End of the World”. The duels are fought in an abstract Forbidden Forest. A freaky unexplained upside-down CG castle hangs in the sky above the dueling field. It's all very “WTF.”

Utena is awesome precisely because of that extra level of abstraction missing from most anime. For example, the student Council repeats this phrase a lot:

"If the egg's shell does not break, the chick will die without being born. We are the chick; the egg is the world. If the world's shell does not break, we will die without being born. Break the world's shell! For the sake of revolutionizing the world!"
Is that symbolic of adolescence or what? Well, maybe… much is left up to the viewer's interpretation. Multiple grad student thesis papers have been written about the symbolic gender politics of this show.

Of course, Utena isn't all lofty philosophy. We're guaranteed one cool sword fight per episode. And did I mention the bishōnen?

By the way, the soundtrack is a must-own. The songs change during the duels, and the music used over the re-use footage before each fight is so weird and wonderful I end up watching it every single time without the desire to fast forward.

There is no new dub on this set, which is a shame. The CPM dub is nigh-on-unwatchable. The dub actress playing Nanami (the villainess) in particular doesn't sound like she's taking her job seriously. However, this collection does include Japanese DVD promotion commercials and remastered (perhaps remade) commercial eyecatches.

This collection ends without the re-cap episode (13) that completes the Student Council Arc. I'm sure it'll be on the next set.[TOP]

Utena wasn't the only yuri I watched this week…

Honestly, I've never understood softcore porn. I mean, show the deed or don't! Why go halfway? Softcore is like a cruel joke. Along those lines, Koihime Muso is the biggest tease of all time. I kid you not. In episode four, just when a totally hot lesbian sex scene is about to unfold, ninjas attack. Talk about coitus interruptus! Later in the series, a steamy heterosexual kiss is rudely interrupted by another character. Arrgh!

Koihime Muso is sexually frustrating to watch. Between the high budget and nicely designed buxom characters, Koihime Muso would be one of the greatest hentai series of all time if it were hentai. Unfortunately, as ecchi, this series just serves as a long advertisement for a videogame (or visual novel or whatever). There is nothing in the world I want to watch less than a 325 minute commercial for a videogame I don't intend to play.

Notice I said I enjoyed the buxom character design; this show could do without the half-dozen flat-chested under-age young ladies. I suspect one reason this isn't hentai is because so many young looking characters would make this series contraband in several countries. Don't get me wrong, I think if you took the children out of this show (or made them older) and made the series more explicit, I just might give it a Shelf Worthy.

I liked the plot well enough (when there was a plot). In this very, very loose Romance of the Three Kingdoms adaptation, lovely fightin' female generals travel through a fantasy version of ancient China. The ladies are all awesome superhuman fighters, as one might find in a videogame. And there are a lot of ladies; the end credits are a chibi parade of the dozens of characters that appear in the show.

Most of the action follows Aisha, the Beautiful Black-haired Bandit Fighter, as she rolls into one town after another with her sidekick, Rinrin, who is also a formidable fighter. Like Xena: Warrior Princess, Aisha and Rinrin find out what's troubling the town, make some allies, solve some problems and move on to the next town. There is some continuity, but the show is fairly episodic.

One very important difference between games and traditional 2D animation is that game designers are at liberty to use far more detailed costumes than would be wise for television animation. Think of it this way: the more lines on a costume, the longer it takes to draw every frame. I feel sorry for the animators of Koihime Muso, who have gone to great lengths to reproduce every last fetish-y line on the elaborate costumes. Corners had to be cut somewhere, so a few would-be epic battles are reduced to still frames, which is too bad, because I want to see our over-powered fighters actually fighting. Fortunately, we do get at least a handful of good battles.

A lot of suspension of disbelief is required for this series, not just in regards to history, China, or the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, but also in terms of physics. Towels just don't drape that way. In the included OVA, the characters are in a contemporary Japanese high school, wearing physically impossible (yet ecchi standard) school uniforms.

I recommend skipping straight to episode four to find out whether you're on board for Koihime Muso or not. The evil young queen Sou Sou demands a younger-looking subordinate lick her sweat off after a battle, and keep licking in front of a general who walks in on the scene because, hey, humiliation is a fetish, too. If you survive that episode, your money is well spent on this show. The rest of the series isn't that bad or nearly that explicit.[TOP]

Setting Koihime Muso aside, I want to mention that Daryl Surat calls Utena “one of the single greatest anime titles ever made” in the August 2011 Otaku USA magazine that just came out, and I agree with him. Back in the day, I only made it halfway through the Black Rose saga before the DVDs went out of print. I can't wait to see how it ends. Set two comes out on August 2nd.

I'm not sure what I'm watching next week yet, but I'll see you in that uncertain future.

This week's shelves are from Stig Høgset, who had this to say:

"Please excuse me if my pictures look a little odd. (It's my camera's tendency to wide-angle it a little, which makes slightly angled shots look odd when there's so many straight lines.)

Aaanyway, here's my anime, manga and OST collection (as it is.. currently.) I've been a collector somewhere between 15-18 years, though most of the first third was spent collecting anime on VHS, which is a fairly sizable collection in its own right. (That Anime News Nina strip about the subject? Yeah, it hit home pretty well.) Now, I've taken quite a few of my DVDs and put the discs themselves into a container of sorts, so there's quite a few series you're not seeing on the shelves themselves. (Like pretty much the entire Inuyasha series, Stellvia, Outlaw Star, Midori Days and a lot more.) Also, for you eagle-eyed Ghibli-ists out there; my Whispers of the Heart movie is on loan at a relative of mine, so you don't have to tell me just how great that movie is. I already know.

The OST collection consists of the following: most of the Aria CDs and singles available (sans a few of the singles... and Aria the Box, which became out of print before I knew it even existed. Grrr.) as well as soundtracks and singles for Sketchbook, Umi Monogatari, Living for the Day after Tomorrow (Asatte no Houkou), the two Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou OSTs, Umi Monogatari, Le Portrait de Petit Cossette, Haibane Renmei (OST and image album), the Sora wo Kakeru Shoujo OST, the single for Natsume Yuujinchou ED and the OP and ED maxi-single for Petopeto-san.

If I may toot one of the non-anime fandoms of mine; I also included a picture of my Mystery Science Theater 3000 collection (which does include the original volume 9 and 10), and it's one of my favorite American shows."

Nice work!

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

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