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Shelf Life
The RideBack Diaries

by Erin Finnegan,

My highlights of Otakon were definitely meeting the Answerman (Brian Hanson) and hearing a couple of friends ask Makoto Shinkai great questions after his new film. The action-packed Hoshi o Ou Kodomo is easily my favorite Shinkai feature film, although it was very Ghibli. Prior to Hoshi, I was lukewarm on Shinkai, but from now on I'm looking forward to his movies.

Before Otakon, though, I managed to make it through all 28 episodes of Yū Yū Hakusho's first season on Blu-ray.

The right time to watch Yū Yū Hakusho was after school, on television, in 1994. I don't mean to disparage this Blu-ray release - far from it! Watching Yū Yū Hakusho on BD is essentially like watching the Betamax broadcast master tapes in your living room. I don't think there is any way YYH could look better. You can see every little line, and I was surprised at the high quality of the animation, despite the series' age.

That said, I have problems with the rambling premise of Yū Yū Hakusho. Brawlin' high school punk Yūsuke Urameshi gets hit by a car (a leading cause of death in anime) and dies in the first episode. He is given a second chance at life as a “spirit detective,” except maybe it would be more accurate to say “yokai pro wrestler,” because instead of “solving” cases, Yūsuke and his friends end up squaring off against yokai (demons in the dub) in a series of fighting arcs, some of which— this being a Shonen Jump title— involve tournaments.

I'd seen some episodes of YYH on Cartoon Network back in the day, but I never seemed to watch enough of it sequentially to know what was going on. Even in 2002, Yūsuke and his bully friend Kuwabara had incredibly dated hair. I know that's a shallow criticism, but you get a lot of time to contemplate Yūsuke's highly reflective widow's peak as the show goes on.

It takes about four episodes for the first plot arc to get started. After eight episodes, I started to suspect that Yoshihiro Togashi created a bunch of characters and a premise, and then started writing the plot based on reader popularity polls. Otherwise, YYH is impossible to explain. For example, episode 14 kicks off like a Dungeons and Dragons campaign. Yūsuke, Kuwabara, and their new fighting pals have to dungeon hack a tower in another dimension to stop a demon from releasing zombie-creating bugs on Earth. How is that detective work? Yūsuke “solves” the case by fighting yokai one-on-one.

Even if the plot of YYH is total nonsense, it is fun spending time with the characters, who have appealing personalities and unique fighting styles. Hiei is fast and angsty, pretty boy Kurama fights with a rose whip, and Kuwabara can take a serious beating. Hiei, Kurama, Kuwabara, and even Yūsuke feel as if they're based on someone's friends in real life. Sitting down to watch YYH is suspiciously like participating in a weekly gaming night with your buddies.

The dub is the same dub from the old CN days. Christopher R. Sabat as Kuwabara sounds totally ridiculous, but the Japanese actor also sounds looney. Cynthia Cranz affects a weird semi-British accent for Yūsuke's spirit guide Botan that doesn't really work, but you eventually get used to it.[TOP]

The YYH dub is occasionally tongue-in-cheek, but nowhere near as much as the Guin Saga dub.

The dub of Guin Saga part two is so bad that I almost gave it a Rental Shelf. As in the Golgo 13 TV series dub, the actors take the series seriously part of the time (more so in the first half), but at other times they purple up the already purple prose. Jokes are made at the show's expense, but instead of being amusing like in Shin-chan, the jokes are inconsistent and unfunny (for example, the subtitle script uses the word "scallywags" to refer to some pirates early on, but the dub actors repeat the word "scallywag" a half dozen times in that scene). Guin Saga isn't a comedy like Sgt. Frog or a throw-away show like Ghost Stories that needs a silly dub to sell copies. The folks at Aniplex should have tried hard to honor this adaptation of the late Kaoru Kurimoto's beloved 126 volume fantasy series. If I were a bilingual Japanese licensor, I would be pissed off.

My review of Part 1 covered the sword and sorcery premise of Guin Saga. Here in part two, the characters are out of the desert and on to the royal court. The super-tough lady general Amnelis of Mongaul is to marry Remus and Rinda's calculating, pretty boy uncle Aldo Naris to unite the countries of Mogaul and Parros, but not everyone is happy about it. Spies and magicians are plotting for and against the royals. Meanwhile, Istavan is falling for Rinda, causing the now snide and potentially evil Remus to see Istavan as a threat to the crown. If it all sounds a little fantasy soap opera-ish, it totally is, but unlike in (American) daytime soaps, you get poison sword fights as a payoff.

This set includes a long (one hour-ish) interview with Kaoru Kurimoto, filmed a year or so before her death. She goes into great detail about how she came up with Guin, which of the characters she'd like to have as a son, her writing process, and even her life story. Kurimoto talks very fast, and considering she averaged five books a year for Guin Saga, she must've written quickly as well. It's worth owning this set for the interview, even if the dub is horrible.

It's a tough call to say that the dub is Perishable but the content is Shelf Worthy. Things don't get redubbed very often, and ultimately I think Guin Saga is an appealing show that fantasy fans won't want to miss.[TOP]

I really struggled with the ratings this week. Many of you might flip-flop these two; perhaps Guin Saga part two is only Rental while Rideback is Shelf Worthy.

I love the premise of Rideback, but I think it falls short in the delivery. Rideback is a good show to recommend to non-mech fans (or the mech-curious); it has the feel of an "indie" film or "alternative" band (back when that once may have meant something). When your friends ask you to recommend an anime series that's a little different (but not, like, Kaiba different), hand them Rideback.

Rin Ogata suffers a career-ending ballet injury just as she's about to go pro. She enters college having given up ballet, and a chance rain storm lands her in the garage of her college Rideback club. You see, in this alternate near-future, a military organization called the GGP has introduced freakish standing motorcycle robots to the world. The war they were used in is over, but Ridebacks aren't street legal yet.

Rin's ballet balance and dexterity make her an excellent Rideback rider, and soon she's challenging seasoned veterans on the racing circuit. Unfortunately, everyone is more than a little touchy about terrorism in this militant future. Although politics weren't part of Rin's world before, controversy over Ridebacks suddenly push Rin onto the national stage.

There are a lot of interesting plot threads in Rideback, but the TV series fails to tie up any of them in a satisfactory way. Twelve episodes doesn't seem long enough to cover the political intrigue, Rin's feelings about ballet, and cool race scenes, yet the show still feels poorly paced. A little bird told me the anime went into production when very few chapters of the manga had come out. After the first four episodes of the TV series I would be more interested in following the manga (which runs in IKKI magazine).

The Ridebacks are all CG in the anime series, and sometimes they look cool. Other times, I'm stuck wanting to laugh at the very idea of a motorcycle having arms and hands. I initially watched some episodes of Rideback streaming, and I have to say watching it on Blu-ray made the CG far more impressive.

The dub didn't knock my socks off, but I enjoyed J. Michael Tatum as a deep voiced politician and Stephanie Young as his sultry sister. Trina Nishimura as Rin's cheerleading fangirl friend Suzuri was a little grating at times. The dub actors do a commentary track of one spoileriffic episode.

The limited edition set comes with a keychain that just says "Rideback" on it. Just a logo? Really? It'd be better if it was Rin's ride, Fuego, instead. To be fair, Rideback is certainly not a show that screams "character goods".

Indeed, Rideback is one of those shows that is Stream Worthy but not necessarily worth owning. If you do stream it, you might miss some of the nice CG, so I recommend renting the Blu-ray discs if possible.[TOP]

After watching a classic like Yū Yū Hakusho and some shows from last year, I thought I would liven things up by checking out something from the new season of streaming anime. I started at the top of the alphabet.

I hate to make platitudes like "everything I dislike about anime lately," or "this show had nothing for me," because A Dark Rabbit Has Seven Lives did have one thing in it that interested me; an offhand reference to Alexander Crowley. I think I've only heard his name before in D. Gray Man, but Rabbit had me reading his Wikipedia page. Crowley sounds like a hilarious turn-of-the-century troll and I definitely want to learn more about him.

Instead I wasted my time watching A Dark Rabbit Has Seven Lives. It's such a hardcore database show that I can't imagine what it would be like if this was your first anime series. It is nigh on incomprehensible unless you're sitting at your computer with your otaku checklist open in another window, and that checklist reads:

  • Striped panties
  • Crying girl(s)
  • Childhood friend(s)
  • School Swimsuits
  • Tentacles
  • Gradient hair colors
  • Master/servant relationships

I might like striped panties, but not on the crotch of a demon girl with not-quite-cat-ears shaking her butt at the camera and begging her student council president slave-master to kiss her and break her magic seal so she can fight. I might enjoy this new trend in anime characters with gradient hair colors, but not on magic girlfriends who transfer into their betrothed's class, because I am totally sick of magical transfer students.

Rabbit has school swimsuit camel toe in episode three, and all I could think was, "how restrained of them to hold back until episode three with this, and wait until episode four to bust out the rape tentacles!" And at the same time, "well, at least she's in high school." (I wonder if my mother is reading the column this week…)

As of episode four, it's still difficult to explain the plot. (I've heard certain fans say 'if you want a story, read a book!') Taito has a sad vampire-like childhood girlfriend, and sometimes they fight demons from another dimension. I do like the demon design in this show. I do not understand the magic system, beyond the fact that Taito gets six lives every fifteen minutes, like some kind of videogame character.

I'm done with this show. I'm not going to hang around in hopes of more Alexander Crowley.[TOP]

Work has been kind of quiet, so lately I've been trying to beat Anime World Order to 100 podcast episodes by posting my backlog of audio. If you missed my Otakon panel, I put it online, along with loads of other material.

See you next week, maybe with Sound of the Sky.

This week's shelves are from Jared!

"First off, I just wanted to say sorry that some of the pictures are blurry. I really suck at taking pictures. Anyway, I've been an anime fan since I was five years old when I saw My Neighbor Totoro. (Not that I knew what anime was at the time...) I've been collecting heavily for about two years now and unfortunately, I'm running out of room. As you can see, I had to double up on some of my manga shelves. I also collect cels, as you can see in one of the pictures. Most of my cels are in my cel book, that particular Tenchi one is the only one I have framed. I also like to transcribe anime sheet music for piano under the name "Nekobaron." Thanks for looking at my shelves."

Awesome collection! And double awesome for the sheet music transcriptions!

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

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