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Shelf Life

by Erin Finnegan,

The Belmont Stakes, the third leg in horse racing's Triple Crown, was last Saturday. A horse named Shackleford won the Preakness, and strangely enough, he's the horse I picked to win the Kentucky Derby. He would've won, too, if it weren't for that come-from-behind jerk Animal Kingdom.

Once again, it seems the Triple Crown won't be won in my lifetime (is that so much to ask?!). And once again it's time for Shelf Life.

Sket Dance is like a thoroughbred colt with great parentage who keeps losing races. (Does that make me the trainer, the owner, the jockey in this metaphor or what?) Also, the title kinda sounds like the name of a race horse, don't you think?

Sket Dance is more disappointing than an average low budget show because it's originally from Shonen Jump, and I have high expectations for Shonen Jump. Sadly, the higher the expectations, the bigger the letdown. Admittedly, episodes four and six of Sket Dance are Streamworthy, but the rest of the show was a waste of my time.

"SKET” is an acronym meaning Support, Kindness, Encouragement, Troubleshoot, and our three protagonists make up the “Sket Dan” club, where they help students with problems in their high school. In the first episode, they also solve a mystery, which sets the whole series off on the wrong foot, as if this was going to be a teen mystery show. And a bad mystery show at that! It's more apparent after episode one that Sket Dance is supposed to be a comedy, but most of the episodes are dreadfully unfunny. The show is also painfully self-aware, especially in episode nine, which pokes fun at how the show's characters actually make for a weak manga series. Ridiculing the poor quality of your own characters? What gives?!

The introduction of a transfer student in the first episode also threw me off. I assumed he would be the protagonist (although he didn't sit second desk from the back by the window). For several episodes, I couldn't shake the feeling that Sket Dan were background characters, and the series needed a real protagonist.

Our lackluster stars are Bossun, who literally has a concentration cap as well as goggles that allow him to concentrate super hard (which is simultaneously lame and charming). Himeko is the muscle of the group, she's a girl from Osaka who fights with a street hockey stick that she doesn't get to use nearly enough. A geek named Switch rounds out the team. For some unexplained reason, Switch opts to generate an electronic voice on the laptop he wears everywhere like a hot dog vendor's concessions tray (couldn't he just use a smart phone for that?), instead of actually speaking.

Sket Dance is a fine example of the difference between drawing well and good character design. I can't speak for Kenta Shinohara's original manga since I haven't read it, but I like the way the humans are drawn in this show (I know that sounds weird). Manabu Nakatake is listed as the character designer, and according to ANN's database, Nakatake usually works as a key animator. I'm going to infer from this that it is Nakatake who excels at drawing the human figure. The characters in Sket Dance are exemplary when it comes to proportion and posing; they're realistic in a favorable way, like Takeshi Obata's art style. The trouble is with Shinohara's designs; slapping a red hat or a laptop on a character hardly makes for a memorable character. In fact, it seems kind of half-assed.

The entire concept of the Sket Dance club seems half-assed. Kindness? Encouragement? Really?

In short, my problems with Sket Dance are conceptual. I think there is hope for this show, since comedy writing for cartoon shows often improves over time, but I don't think these first few episodes are worthwhile. Fortunately, the episodes stand alone well enough that I didn't feel a desperate need to watch all of them in order. In fact, I want someone to just give me a list of the best episodes so I can skip the rest. (Even then, I wouldn't watch more Sket Dance with Shelf Life duties upon me…)

I will admit I laughed at some of the recurring gags, like the dreadful-sounding Pelolin candy Himeko likes, and Switch's favorite anime "Futari wa Nervous," a Pretty Cure parody with a pregnant character.[TOP]

Sket Dance parodies manga tropes, but it's a much more restrained parody than Needless, which is an excessive parody of anime excess itself.

I reviewed Needless Collection 1 a couple weeks ago. A self-identifying Needless fan popped up in the forums, saying that there are, in fact, fans of this show, but they probably feel no need to defend Needless from the likes of reviewers like me who panned it. I totally could see where someone who is not me might like Needless. (Unlike some shows, where I wonder if the creator's mother could even be proud…)

Needless is a giddy celebration of anime tropes, it just happens to be celebrating the tropes that I don't enjoy. I do appreciate the fact that parodies are done best when they are done with love. For example, compare Kappa Mikey with Megas XLR; one show was an anime parody done by people who didn't know much about anime (as I heard from a staff member), and one was made by people who love anime but also wanted to poke fun at it. Needless parodies fighting shows with videogame logic and cartoonish villains, all-girl schools and underage panty shots (as the show says, "there's always room for more panty shots"), but since the parody is done with love, I can respect it.

I can also respect that Needless is a shockingly well animated show for such low-brow fare. The fights in the first half of part two are done with flourish. No joke, some of them look like they were handed to Gurren Lagann staff. Particularly in episodes 12 and 13, a few of the scenes appear to have been given to some famous animator who completed them in a radically different, scribble-y style. (And I liked those bits.)

Now that I've got my compliments out of the way… Good grief, this show had some serious pacing problems. It clearly should've been about 17 to 19 episodes instead of 24. A fight scene from the end of the previous collection gets stretched out over about six episodes, with a lot of very repetitive dialog and unnecessary recaps. To make matters worse, the 'needlessly' expanded fight takes place in an arena shaped like a giant version of a girl's bedroom. I could swallow that kind of silliness for an episode or two, but it made for a surreal fight arc.

The pseudo-scientific explanations in this show get more and more ludicrous as it goes on. Mitochondria, nuclear fission, cloning, and the brain's unused potential are all called into play. I get that this is parodying another shonen staple, but instead of being funny, most of the graphs and scientific explanation come off as money-saving lip sync scenes between fights.

This isn't the kind of fighting I like in anime, either. I prefer punches with physics behind a fist over moves with funny names and energy beams (like the Tien Shinhan saga in Dragonball, or Birdy the Mighty: Decode). Although, yes, they are occasionally funny, the fighting move names were continually distracting. The "Little Boy" move made me cringe a little every time, and the "Fourth Wave" move just made me think of the different waves of the feminism movement. Coincidentally, the word "bitch" gets used more in this show than in any non-hentai anime series I've ever seen.

I'll mention again that this show has a great dub. Carli Mosier, the dub voice of Cruz's sister Aruka, turns in a stellar sultry performance as a villainess in collection two. I haven't heard her in too many dubs, and I look forward to hearing more from her in the future.[TOP]

At least this was a good week for dubs. The Funimation One Piece dub continues to be spot-on.

Auughhh! There aren't enough episodes in this set! The voice actors mention in the one commentary track that this "G-8 arc" is short, so why not include the entire arc in this set? I think it's just one more episode… and clearly this is designed to make me buy the next set, but c'mon guys. At this point in One Piece, there is no danger that I will stop buying it. A while ago, I rated a couple of One Piece sets "Rental Shelf" and I even gave away my screeners, but now I'm thinking of re-buying it so my collection will be complete. I'm even looking forward to Funimation's Collection One box that comes out later this summer, because One Piece is no longer something I merely want in my collection, it's something I need. If I have kids someday (or even grandkids), I plan to force them to watch this show with me.

Following their adventures in Skypeia, the Going Merry falls from the sky only to land smack dab in the center of the huge Marine fortress island, Navarone. Luffy and crew make a run for it, and disguise themselves as Navy officers, (except for Zoro, who isn't that clever). The Straw Hats quickly ingratiate themselves with the locals by doing what they do best: Tony Tony Chopper out-doctors the squeamish fortress Doctor and teaches her what it means to practice medicine; Sanji out-cooks the chef and teaches her the true meaning of cooking.

Our heroes are pitted against Jonathan, the wonderful mustachioed Commander of the compound. Commander Jonathan is a thoughtful strategist who employs chess (and fishing) metaphors to catch the pirates. His strategies are a hilariously brilliant counterpoint to Luffy's chaotic leadership.

Despite being pirates, our heroes are well-written characters displaying great strength of character. I think everyone else on the crew represents real-life personality types, with Luffy as the ideal Shonen protagonist. Unfortunately, the more I watch One Piece the more I compare myself to Usopp. Usopp continually worries and doubts, he fears for his life and complains when things seem impossible. Luffy, on the other hand, is endlessly cheerful (so long as he's not hungry). "They say no one's ever escaped?" Luffy shouts, delighted by the challenge of defeating Navarone. I wish I had Luffy's optimism. But I wonder how much of his confidence comes from his Devil Fruit powers? Chopper seems worried about life and limb, but Nico Robin, Zoro, and Sanji never seem overly concerned…

Eventually we meet Inspector Shepherd, a much more cartoonish villain than Jonathan (who is more of a stalwart opponent than a bad guy). Shepherd has his own plans for stopping the pirate menace. Interestingly, here's where the English track differs from the Japanese; in Japanese, Jonathan has a higher-pitched voice, while Shepherd sounds lower. In English, Shepherd has a high pitched voice while Jonathan sounds lower and more manly. Listening to both tracks gives an interesting reading on two different performances of the same character, and each interpretation seems equally valid.

When the content is this good, you don't really need a fancy box or a ton of extras. One Piece speaks for itself.[TOP]

This weekend I'm off to Long Island for a far-flung barbecue with old friends. It is seriously three hours by train. No joke, I could be to Philadelphia in two hours. I am not sure at the time of this writing which anime I'll be inflicting on my friends, but I suspect it's more Dragon Ball Z.

I'll be back next week, but I'm taking the 27th of June off, so look forward to a guest column from Bamboo soon!

This week's shelves are from Matthew:

"Here's my collection of games and anime I've been building for the past 3 years. I didn't start seriously collecting until I got a terrible job at McDonald's for around a year, and I've since been making purchases after doing odd labor jobs and web design projects. I prefer anime titles in the action and drama genres and that's probably obvious by looking at my collection. I'm not a fan of the brand of comedy that is most common in anime, which seems to me to be wacky animation and random screaming. The only anime I've found really funny are Desert Punk, Golden Boy, and Angel Densetsu.

I grew up with Pokemon and Dragon Ball Z as I'm sure many people my age have. I don't think I knew what anime was for a long time until I stumbled upon hentai in my shady download client and curiosity took over. After figuring out that one of my favorite movies (Princess Mononoke) was anime, I wanted to seek more, and that's when I became an anime fan."

Nice shelves!

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

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