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Shelf Life
The Idolmeister

by Erin Finnegan,

I So I've been reading Bakuman. (as it comes out from Viz), and although I was put off by the first volume, by volume three I was hopelessly hooked. It's a story about artists pitching manga series to Shonen Jump, which turns into a thinly veiled true story of what goes on behind the scenes at Jump. Every series in the magazine struggles, first to survive and then to keep ranking highly in the weekly reader surveys to keep surviving (I can't imagine the surveys are accurate). The series gives wonderful insight into why Jump titles are formulaic crowd pleasers (not to mention the shattering disillusionment that comes with achieving your "dreams"¹).[TOP]

I also started watching Blue Exorcist this week, and I can't help but picture the manga artists behind it living out a Bakuman.-like drama. Of course, Blue Exorcist runs in Jump Square, but it happens that the Jump Square editor makes several appearances in Bakuman.

You could do worse than Blue Exorcist. I read a couple preview guide reviews saying that it was generic, but when it comes to Jump titles (or Jump-like titles) , they take a long time to get started. Naruto was no good for the first 30 episodes, and Bleach's first season didn't impress me. Blue Exorcist starts off on shaky ground, but seems to be slowly improving over time. Don't get me wrong, this isn't the sort of show I'm going to run out and recommend to all my friends… it's more like, if you told me you were a Blue Exorcist fan, I could respect that. At the very least, I would reserve further judgment.

The pitch is pretty good: Rin Okumura is literally the son of Satan. Now 16, Rin was raised by a priest who performs exorcisms. Or, more accurately, he performs exorcisms until his untimely death in episode two. Rin vows revenge, saying he will beat up Satan, and decides to become an exorcist himself. I was on board for the story that far.

Starting with episode three, Rin goes to exorcism cram school, and I started to mentally tune out. As a reviewer, it's hard to stay enthusiastic about school shows (three out of the four shows I watched this week are set in school). I also have a pet peeve about anime series where characters fight invisible demons. Fortunately, since the setting is a demon-filled school, most of the characters can see the demons.

Usually in this sort of fighting series the supporting cast is more interesting than the protagonist (or at least there is more room for originality in side characters), and as Blue Exorcist moved forward, I wasn't bored by Rin or his friends. Shiemi may be a little generic as the super-nice girl with plant powers, but she gets extra points in my book for using her powers to protect everyone early on despite being new to the exorcism trade. I also liked Izumo, the fox-spirit-summoning mean girl who has to learn to rely on others more. Even if that's an anime cliché, I liked that both girls are decent fighters from the beginning.

I was a little disappointed starting with episode 12, when a bikini babe is introduced as a regular character. She's tough too, but the bikini doesn't leave much to the imagination… unless you're imagining how physics manage to keep that thing on during sword fights. Maybe Blue Exorcist was falling in the reader surveys the week she was introduced.

In any case, the nice animation of Blue Exorcist caught me off guard, and I was often surprised by the competent writing. For example, the appearance of a baby Kraken made an otherwise ordinary beach episode more entertaining than it had any right to be.[TOP]

Watching Blue Exorcist is somewhat compelling and not, say, painful. Not like Idolmaster. An "Idol Master" in Blue Exorcist might worship (or fight?) a golden calf, but in this case the term Idolmaster refers to pop idol singers like AKB48. Or in the case of Idolmaster, it's more like AKB13.

Note to aspiring animators; the more characters you have on screen at the same time, the harder (and therefore more expensive) it is to animate a scene. Idolmaster has 13 aspiring idol characters (a baker's dozen, if you will). They rarely appear on screen all at the same time, but it's clear this show's budget is nothing to sneeze at.

Idolmaster's first episode is a lot like the first episode of Hetalia. Forced to introduce a giant cast, it's confusing, awkward, and off-putting. Especially off-putting are the first person POV camera angles from the headless male protagonist (he's not a dullahan; rather, he's shooting a documentary). I've mostly seen that kind of camerawork in hentai. Fortunately, they do show the cameraman's face at the end and he becomes slightly more real character and less of a blank slate by the end of episode three.

Guilt is the feeling that you've done something bad and shame is the feeling that you are bad. Episode three had me feeling both guilt and shame. The idols get their first gig in a rural town at essentially a state fair, but they pack the wrong costumes and end up performing in street clothes. I felt ripped off at this turn of events. I mean, when it comes to idol singers, they don't play instruments and they're not original, so the colorful matching costumes are a huge part of the act. Robbing the audience of a costume change just seems cheap and kind of cruel. And I immediately felt bad about feeling that way.

Despite my internal struggle, episode three is surprisingly decent for a show based on a game that I am totally uninterested in. It is a night and day difference between episode one and episode three. By episode three the generic characters are all fairly well established, and the show can relax into the plot, and thankfully, it has a plot. It is something like watching a very well animated Josie and the Pussycats but with more career-mindedness, less mystery solving and no snickering cat (although there is a hamster).

Nevertheless, Idolmaster isn't a show I'd watch if I didn't have this job, especially not after the first two crumby episodes. (Episode two features three of the younger flat-chested girls trying to look sexy by putting a variety of fruit into voluptuous dresses to look more grown up. Silly girls! Your child-like bodies are already sexy for some audiences! I would laugh if I weren't throwing up in my mouth.) I hesitate to recommend Idolmaster to anyone just yet. Maybe it will turn around. Someone else will have to let me know if it suddenly gets good.[TOP]

By coincidence, I ended up watching both of the new idol shows that are being simulcast this season. The equivalent garbage for girls is still garbage.

After the first episode and a half of Uta no Prince Sama I had high hopes. This series is so ludicrously over-the-top that it feels bold somehow. It's as if the show is saying, "I bet you didn't think I'd go there. I just did! And now I'm going to one up that."

Straight out of the gate, Haruka, our pretty yet naive girl protagonist is late for her entrance exam to get into a music high school. Not one, but two bishonen help her talk her way past the strict guards: "This girl is late because she was helping a lost child," our second long-haired blonde prince charming exclaims. After Haruka's inevitable admittance, she is surprised to find a boy who looks exactly like her idol crush attending the school, and I was equally surprised that I could guess why he was identical. The explanation is, of course, ridiculous. This show should be re-titled "Ridiculous Bishonen Singing," since that would be more to the point. (On second thought, maybe that is exactly what the Japanese title implies.)

At this extra-ridiculous rich school with no less than four hedge mazes out front, students are either idol song composers or would-be idol singers. Dating is strictly forbidden, by the way, so none of the six gorgeous guys who sing the cheesy closing song ("1000% Love!") can ever truly claim Haruka as their own.

All of the cute guys look like cute guy types from other shows, and even Haruka reminds me of Yukino from Kare Kano, save for her freaky yellow eyes. Like in Brother, Dear Brother, Haruka quickly falls into the shojo cliché of getting bullied at school, and by some strange coincidence Haruka's best friend Tomochika is suspiciously like Tomoko from Oniisama E...… . Uta no Prince Sama seems to assume that you like this kind of thing, and they've super-sized it to give you more of what you like. But more of a good thing isn't always good…

In another note to future animators, plaid is freaking hard to animate, even with today's high technology. I suspect that we almost never see the characters from the waist down because of the plaid skirt uniforms. That aside, though, the visuals are striking. The characters, cliché as they may be, are all as sparkly attractive as Twilight vampires. An amazing amount of detail has been worked into their elaborate hairstyles and pinstriped blazers. Dance scenes are rotoscoped, although they still look laughable somehow.

This is streaming on Niconico.com, which has a feature that lets fans add comments over the picture. I never understood how that wasn't annoying on videos from the Japanese site, but after my initial charm with Uta wore off, I turned to the commentary for entertainment. This made the show 75% more watchable, which is undoubtedly a bad sign. The commentary track is essentially like the internet performing a stream-of-consciousness unfiltered MST3K/Rocky Horror Picture Show treatment. Or, alternately, it's like watching the show with an incredibly obnoxious anime club.

That said, the top 10% of the commentary is laugh out loud funny. The viewers constantly hate on Haruka's bizarre golden eyes (my favorite joke: she's a basilisk). There are sheep in the Arcadian green hills around the school, and I probably wouldn't have given the sheep much thought, but the Nico Nico viewers overwhelm the screen with unrelenting sheep jokes. For example, as one of the emo bishies looks over the pasture: "Oh sheep, only you know my pain."

If I keep watching this show it's primarily because the comments are funny. Otherwise, the hollow characters would be indistinguishable from the cast of Uraboku or Neo Angelique Abyss.[TOP]

For my final boarding school series of the week, I revisited Soul Eater, this time on Blu-ray.

I liked Soul Eater, remember? Well, except for part three, which was pretty weak, but the ending sort of brought things together, even if it was a so-called "gecko ending" (an ending that doesn't follow manga continuity).

Looking back on it, the DVD releases were a long, slow, and presumably expensive way to collect this series. I mean, it is 51 episodes long, but this two part Blu-ray release seems a lot more economical. If you didn't watch Soul Eater the first time around, this is a fine way to pick it up.

I compared a couple episodes on Blu-ray to the old DVD release. Watching the old DVDs in 16:9 didn't cause any aspect ratio problems like it does with older shows. The colors are certainly brighter on Blu-ray, which seems crazy a show that's already very brightly colored. The picture is sharper, which makes some of the CG look nicer. I say "some" because sometimes a glowing effect done in CG on the standard DVD looks more magical, but on Blu-ray the CG effects are more obviously CG, which can sometimes look a little lame. This wasn't frequent or distracting, though. Most viewers are probably not watching CG effects and thinking of how they might do that in After Effects at home.

The fight scenes do look extra-flashy on Blu-ray. I had forgotten how good the fight choreography was in this show. I also terrifically enjoy the punk (or ska?) influenced end theme songs. Is there a Soul Eater soundtrack I can buy…?

I was again reminded that this show has a great dub. Laura Baily was basically born to play Maka, and Brittney Karbowski is dead on as Black Star (that was a chick?!). I think Cherami Leigh as Patty sounds even better than the Japanese voice actress (granted, if I was bilingual I might think otherwise). However, I'm only distracted by Todd Haberkorn as Death the Kid, because Mamoru Miyano sounds so much sexier than Sgt. Frog.

I suppose, in conclusion, you need not rush out and buy Soul Eater on Blu-ray, but you might start thinking about putting your old DVD sets on eBay, especially if you're trying to free up some shelf space.[TOP]

I need to free up some shelf space soon, too! You'd be surprised how quickly one's shelves can get clogged with review copies. Maybe I'll start reading more digital manga… perhaps starting with the English translation I least expected to see, Ekiben Hitoritabi. Thanks, @Toukochan, for telling me that was online after spotting it in my Culinary Manga panel.

See you next week with the new Utena set!

¹ Not that I would know anything about that.

Our shelves this week come from Peter, of Holland:

"Hi! I'm Pieter Dijkstra, an anime fan from Holland. My collection consists mostly of anime DVDs (which i've been collecting for about 10 years now), but i also own a few figures, manga, plushies, dakimakura covers(which i use as wallscrolls) and various other anime-related collectables. A fairly recent interest of mine is original anime production art (original cels and sketches actually used in the production of anime), of which i've included 2 photos showing a few examples. Eagle-eyed viewers may be able to spot which series/scenes these are from. "

Nice shelves!

Want to show off your stuff? Send your jpgs to shelflife @ animenewsnetwork . com. Thanks!

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