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Shelf Life
Field of Wings

by Erin Finnegan,

I'm currently planning a two year anniversary party for our zero gravity wedding that's a sort of “reception lite” for our New York friends since we used up our money on the (crazy) ceremony. As such, I'm taking June 27th off from Shelf Life, so Bamboo will be covering next week.

This week I pushed through the testosterone of 40 episodes of Dragon Ball Z, so I tried to balance it out with other more estrogen-filled titles. With some success!

I know this came out a couple months back, so consider this another installment in a series of columns catching up with Sentai Filmworks releases.

Taisho Baseball Girls just barely slides into Shelf Worthy. That is to say, I probably won't re-watch it anytime soon, but I would gladly loan this to friends.

I'm a sucker for sports anime/manga, even though I'm not a fan of watching real life sports. I am a fan of training montage sequences, and Taisho Baseball Girls delivers on this front! I don't know that much about baseball, but fortunately, like Eyeshield 21, the sport gets explained to new players within the series.

Since this takes place in the Taisho Era (1912 - 1926) when the notion of girls playing sports was scandalous, there is no reason for the players to have much knowledge of the sport. Women's rights were still a relatively unknown concept in 1925 Japan. This point gets hammered home in the first episode when our protagonist, Koume, is scolded for running to school. Running, she gets told, is un-ladylike. Heaven forefend she participate in even more athletic activities.

Koume's headstrong classmate Akiko is inspired to start a girl's baseball team when her fiancé coldly remarks at a party that “a girl's place is in the home.” Akiko bets she can bring together a girl's team to beat his and sets out to recruit her classmates, starting with Koume.

The series could also be re-titled “Everybody Loves Koume.” Our chubby-cheeked protagonist seems unremarkable; she's good-natured, un-glamorous, and relatively un-athletic. A boy from the opposing team falls for Koume, and she's even cast in a film shooting locally in a later episode. Koume comes into her own as a competent catcher on the team (I had no idea the catcher was so important!), but other than that, I thought Koume was rather bland. She never raises her voice or becomes melancholic like the other team members. Although she gets into a fight with her parents, Koume handles the situation with grace and profound maturity.

Baseball teams have nine members, but there isn't time to flesh out all nine characters in this scant 12 episode series. Taisho Baseball Girls seems a tad rushed at this length. I felt like the aforementioned film shoot episode in particular wasted precious screen time, even if it did lead to an important plot point.

We're thankfully able to avoid the usual Cultural Day and Sports Day episodes, but the girls do manage to make it to a hot springs during training camp. That's about as racy as this demure series gets, save for one moment when Kyouko (the outfielder) briefly fantasizes about her girl-crush Tomoe (the star batter) nearly kissing her.

I myself participated in high school sports, and I'm a strong advocate of athleticism for girls; it makes girls more confident and healthy, etc.. I'm also interested in Japan on a historical level, so I found all of the Taisho Era details extremely appealing (a tin toy drummer beats out the end credits). In short, this show pushed my buttons (much in the same way that Prussian history pushes Walter Amos's buttons).

The show is filled with a lot of very nice baseball animation, and clearly a lot of money went into designing nice historical backgrounds and props. (Granted, this is no Victorian Romance Emma...) That said, there are absolutely no DVD extras (besides trailers) and I'm sad there is no dub. This is a series that could appeal to a wide audience, and I think a dub would widen that broad appeal.[TOP]

Between the good clean fun and the ample budget, Taisho Baseball Girls is the polar opposite of We Without Wings.

This show is a total mess! It's terrible, but not for the reasons you probably think that I think it's terrible.

We Without Wings is obviously based on a game. The first five minutes are about a boy attending a high school with super-cute uniforms where all the girls want his sweet ass. Post opening credits, the show flips back and forth through different fuzzy TV channels, introducing an ensemble cast. We never get back to that high school until episode four, so at first I wrongly assumed the opening was a parody.

I liked the non-high school characters in this show. Shusuke is an obnoxious freeter who starts working at a maid café. Meanwhile, he's assigned to write a review of a book by one of his coworkers, Eriko. Meanwhile again, another, more down-beat freeter named Hayato takes on the odd job of finding high school girl Naru's lost bicycle (or did she actually hire him to go on pseudo-dates?).

Shusuke and Hayato are lousy dudes, and they inhabit a city with a seedy street life. I am interested in Japan's underbelly, like in Durarara!!, but in We Without Wings (I'm going to abbreviate Ore-tachi ni Tsubasa wa Nai as ONTWN from here on out), the cool stuff is counterbalanced by irksome game-like scenarios. For example, there's a gang fight in episode three, but you have to suffer through crap like the eternally annoying Naru needlessly stripping at a manga café first.

This is a show with surprising multiple personalities; episode four contains a long (and humorous) sequence set in a fantasy world complete with orcs. As we learn, some of the male protagonists are knights in a crazy alternate dimension where everyone is named after birds. Eventually all of these crazy arcs come together, but it's a spoiler to say how.

Our high school hero, Takashi, is occasionally sucked out of school to save his kingdom. That may literally be the case, but I prefer another reading of this show; perhaps Takashi is addicted to online RPGs and skips school to go on raids. Maybe Shusuke works in an ordinary restaurant and only imagines the waitresses as hot young things. Hopefully Naru is a figment of Hayato's imagination.

Regular readers of this column familiar with ONTWN will naturally assume that I found Alice, the goth-loli kid, offensive. Alice is a foreign girl with an elementary school backpack who continually draws attention to her age, saying things like, “the guys in this country are generally pedophiles.” Indeed, I'm glad Alice said that, because I'm exactly the kind of foreigner who has started to raise an eyebrow about characters like Alice. I suspect Alice is a tongue-in-cheek attempt by the creators of ONTWN to address my concerns. I find Alice easier to take than most underage girls included as stock characters in a cast of female stereotypes (she lacks subtext).

Overall, I found the unapologetically blatant nature of ONTWN refreshing. I hate it when pornography is too softcore; ONTWN has panty removal before the first commercial break. Ketchup and mayonnaise squirt suggestively from episode one. Episode nine features an actual sex scene (albeit censored heavily).

In the end, this show is flushable on three fronts: it's incredibly low budget, it's tasteless (shooting female characters from the neck down for a whole scene…), and I could never re-watch this or sanely recommend it to anyone. Episode three is one of the cheapest things I've seen in a long time, with as few mouth movements as possible and Xeroxed-looking black and white city shots thrown in that look more budget-friendly than artsy. The editing attempts to cover up weak writing, but the first half of the show winds up a jumbled mess. As secrets get revealed, the show becomes more coherent, and even endearing… well, it might be endearing if it weren't for Naru's wretched whining.

ONTWN is a glorious failure on so many fronts. Once in a while, there's brilliant comedy (episode seven at about 5:45), or an interesting concept, or a character I actually like, but it's all caught up in an uneven web of crap. I can't even imagine what it must be like to play the ONTWN game.[TOP]

But never mind all of that, let's get back to some good clean children's entertainment: Dragon Ball Z.

I still can't believe Cell decided to start a fighting tournament. That's ridiculous. More ridiculous still, Cell stands around in his arena for an entire week before the fight. A week in DBZ equates to an entire disc in this DVD release, so there is an entire DVD of everyone getting ready for the fight, celebrating Gohan's 11th birthday, (futilely) building shelters before the apocalyptic battle, and otherwise killing time.

The show throws us for a loop by having Goku fight Cell first, so at least we don't have to watch Cell kill the dozen other “Z-fighters” before the main event. Afterward, we're treated to an insufferable arc where Goku fights aliens. It's insufferable because literally nothing is at stake.

Episode 200 takes a radical shift for something new (with a new theme song); suddenly we're following Gohan's high school life in the city! And he's a costumed super-hero with a secret identity! Personally, I got into manga because I don't like flying and tights, so I hated these episodes when I first saw them on Cartoon Network. But now, a dozen years later and after reviewing the previous 100+ episodes of DBZ, I'm more tired of muscled titans standing around on ravaged landscapes powering up. I found Gohan's high school life a refreshing change of pace.

I can't stand Mr. Satan, he seems like a one-episode joke who survives for 99 episodes too long. I do like his daughter Videl, however, who plays an angry martial arts version of Lois Lane (in love with Clark Kent and Superman?). Her romance with Gohan is incredibly cute, and I love that he teaches her how to fly. I like that there's some attempt to put a few of the romances in DBZ onto at least a slightly more even playing field (unlike "Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex", let's say).

This particular DBZ set really highlights the soap opera-like nature of the show. A week in show time is to seven episodes in our viewing time. This lead me to do some impromptu reading up on soap operas, and what defines one. I think the heavily serialized format with arcs the fans call “sagas” lead me to say it's feels “soapy”. Some twists and drawn-out fights make the story feel infinite (Goten? Really? Really?). Maybe I'm just panicking, because I remember the Majin Buu saga being really, really long. I mean, I don't mind martial arts soap operas in principle. In fact, I think daytime soaps could probably use more martial arts.

Switching back and forth between the English and Japanese audio is a huge shift in sound quality. The Japanese track sounds ancient and almost mono compared to the dub. It is amazing to watch this dubbed with the subs on; the dub adds about 25% more dialog and subtly changes things. For example, in the dub, Trunks talks about how Vegeta truly cares for him, but in the subtitle track, Trunks merely says he was happy to have spent time with his father in the hyperbolic time chamber. Those are two very different sentiments, and I think that take on Trunks' dialog changes their relationship.

In any case, the highlight of this set is Cell getting blown to pieces. I rewound and watched that sequence at least three times to see the nice animation of Cell's head disintegrating in an almost Akira-like way.

By the way, I couldn't convince my friends at last weekend's BBQ to watch DBZ with me. Although they'd seen it before, they acted like it would be too big a chore to re-watch it.[TOP]

Anyway, I'd like to recommend ONTWN to pop culture commentator Roland Kelts, because I think it would blow his mind. I mean, I think Kelts might get something out of the way games interact with real life in that show. But I hesitate to hit him up with the suggestion on Twitter because ONTWN is largely pornographic. He'd remember me as “that writer who suggested I watch some weird porn.”

In any case, I'll see you in two weeks with Allison & Lilia. May peace prevail in the world!

This week's shelves are from Thomas:

"Hello, my name is Thomas. I celebrated 10 years of collecting anime last April and took these photos shortly afterward. It all started with Princess Mononoke (currently out on loan along with Ninja Scroll) and Trigun. Since these pictures were taken, I've also added Sword of the Stranger and the next Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood, One Piece, and Soul Eater sets. Also shown is my fledgling blu-ray collection.

Next is about 2/3 of my manga collection; the rest are spread all over the place. They're not as organized or housed in nearly as nifty of shelves as my anime collection, but it's a nice assortment of titles.

I have a few wall scrolls, but wall space is limited. That space is currently used by the prizes of my collection. 1) Trigun poster signed by Satoshi Nishimura and Yasuhiro Nightow, complete with Kuroneko doodle. I got this one when the two were doing signings at Anime Expo. 2) Paprika poster with Paprika drawing drawn and signed by Satoshi Kon. This poster was donated by Sony Pictures to a raffle shortly before Paprika opened in theaters in the US. Yeah, I bought a lot of raffle tickets. Totally worth it!"

Happy 10th!

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

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