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Shelf Life
Dantalian Wine

by Erin Finnegan,

Last Friday I saw the Punchdrunk production of Macbeth, called "Sleep No More" and I've been obsessed with it ever since. It was like a videogame and theater and a haunted house rolled into one, but with all of my pet peeves of each removed. Sure, it was expensive (although less than a Broadway play), but I'd pay twice as much to have half as many audience members in my way while I chase actors up and down the stairs.

While I highly recommend "Sleep No More" and can't stop talking about it, I totally forgot all of the titles of the series I watched this week when my coworkers asked what I was reviewing. In two of the cases I couldn't recall the Japanese titles, but after only six days I utterly forgot I'd watched The Mystic Archives of Dantalian.

"Stream Worthy" is such a difficult rating because it's a binary choice. Dantalian lies somewhere in the middle of a range of recommendation. So far it isn't terrible enough to advise against, but it lacks the socks-knocking-off factor I look for in recommendable anime. This series is somehow connected to Gosick, which I've never watched.

Sometime in early 20th century in Europe, blonde hottie Hugh Disward inherits a mansion from his bibliophile grandfather, complete with a giant library of some very rare mystical books and a non-human Goth-loli girl named Dalian. Disward can unlock Dalian's magical-girl-like powers when they fight monsters which relate to various mystical tomes (known as Phantom Books) that contain information man was never meant to know. The series references Borges "infinite library," which is super cool.

The show is mostly style-over-substance, complete with clothing design by Baby, the Stars Shine Bright. Gloomy backgrounds add to the mood, and the end credits look like a tribute to the Quay brothers, which certainly earns this show some style points. But how much you enjoy Dantalian might directly depend on your love of vintage clothes, old castles, and English tea service. My love for those things isn't exactly zero, but I also like to take my scones (or buns, in this case) with more story if you know what I mean.

The series gets bonus points for using "real" demons and magic systems with real research behind them. Texts appearing so far include the Epic of Gilgamesh, and, apparently, the Sefer Yetzirah, or Jewish "Book of Creation".

The show loses points for relying too heavily on anime tropes. I hesitate to call Dalian the "T" word based on past experience in our forums, but she is a bit too hot-cold in my humble opinion.

The early episodes are fairly self-contained, and episode three even has an A and B story like an American cartoon. Episode six opens up the universe a little by adding more characters. I'm curious to see where this is going, but my curiosity is mild.

For the most part, Dantalian is slow enough that I left the Niconico comments on. The commentary wasn't nearly as verbose or as funny as the commentary on Uta no Prince-sama, but occasionally there is a good joke. The peanut gallery is clearly more enamored of the nearly-personality-free Dalian than I am.[TOP]

Somehow it proved to be a week of people inheriting magic items from their grandparents, as I also happened to watch some Natsume Yūjin-Chō.

Crunchyroll lists Natsume Yūjin-Chō as if it were an ongoing series, but according to our database, it's three separate series with different titles. I've been too intimated by the high episode count to start reviewing this show for Shelf Life, but pickings were slim this week so I thought I'd give it a try. Besides, the last time I was in Japan I picked up a gachapon toy of the cat character without even knowing what it was from.

If "Stream Worthy" is a loose way of recommending something, I do recommend Natsume Yūjin-Chō; I recommend it to kids watching anime with their grandparents. I recommend it to people with long hospital stays who aren't allowed to get too excited. I'd recommend it to my mother, who likes stress-free entertainment.

High school kid Takashi Natsume has inherited the ability to see yokai, and more than that, he's inherited his grandmother's magic notebook filled with yokai names. Takashi could control a yokai army with the notebook, but instead he chooses to give back the yokai names one at a time because he's such a nice guy. This is a show about relinquishing power, and forgiveness, and kindness. (Perhaps it is the exact inverse of Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan.) If it were a little more educational, it could be on PBS Kids.

That isn't to say there is no excitement in the show. Takashi's life is often in danger thanks to the yokai he encounters. He gets help from a cat he calls Nyanko-sensei, who is also a demon. Nyanko's grumblings about Takashi's adventures often come in the form of practical advice, as in "this is dangerous," or "you shouldn't help this guy." Takashi calmly ignores much of the advice to do the right thing and help out ungrateful yokai, even if it means endangering his own life. Nyanko may complain, but he acts as Takashi's bodyguard, frequently bailing him out at the last minute. Nothing ever gets too dire, and most of the episodes are stand-alone, so I began to count on Nyanko rescuing Takashi every time.

If this were a lower budget show with poor designs, it would be insufferable. Fortunately the lush backgrounds and delicately drawn characters pair well with a large cast of creatively designed yokai. It's easily a must-see show for yokai lovers. (Heh heh… yokai lovers.)

There are some interesting thematic currents under the surface. Takashi's grandmother, Reiko, was kind of a jerk. She messed up more than one yokai's life by taking its name, and Takashi is essentially going around cleaning up her messes. He's also motivated to feel closer to his grandmother this way. He lost his own parents at an early age he doesn't know much about Reiko. A show about feeling closer to your grandmother is a very sweet concept, so forgive me for rolling my eyes right now. (I'm reminded of this ancient Penny Arcade comic.)

I skipped ahead to episode 36 to see if any continuity kicked in. From the looks of it, episode 36 begins a very Inu Yasha-like arc (searching for lost shards) and involves more friend characters.

I can accept that there are TV series to help people unwind and relax, to calm down after a stressful day, but usually I'm looking for more adrenaline from television (I prefer strong coffee to chamomile tea). I accept that this is a decent series, but I just couldn't get excited about watching the next episode.[TOP]

I thought a show about forced gender reassignment surgery might be more exciting. I was wrong.

I was wrong about Kasimasi - Girl Meets Girl on several counts. For one thing, I thought this "Vocal Collection" might be different from the regular DVD release of the series. After all, why put "vocal" in the title if it was just a series collection? I still don't know because it was just the regular series, released in one box. I rented it.

I concur with Bamboo's 2007 take on the first couple volumes. This is a very sweet show, with (mostly) nice characters who are honest about their feelings going through a few cliché scenes at the beach and local festival.

The premise is befuddling, to say the least. Hazumu has the bad luck to be accidentally killed by an alien spacecraft, and the aliens feel guilty enough about it to resurrect him, but they can only bring him back as a girl. Hazumu goes about his new life happily enough, since he was never very "manly" to begin with.

One must assume this show takes place on an alternate Earth where gender reassignment surgery doesn't exist. Otherwise, Hazumu probably could go back to living as a man thanks to some surgical technology and hormone therapy. There is no acknowledgment of this kind of surgery in the show, and along with it, no nods to any real-life LGBT issues or community at all.

So when Hazumu's number one crush ends up in an all-girl love triangle competing with his former best friend (a girl) for his attention, not one of them struggles with gender identity or being a lesbian. And maybe the show is less "messy" for it. After all, by now I am accustomed to a total lack of gay discussion in yaoi. Kasimasi seems to be going for straight forward school fantasy.

While LGBT discussion is glaringly absent, there are quite a few things Kasimasi could do without. Hazumu's father is creepily attracted to his new daughter in a total gross-out way that's played for laughs. The alien and his spaceship (in the form of a cute girl) take up residence in Hazumu's house, but wind up as more unfunny dead weight in the series. A subplot about Hazumu's 30-year-old-virgin teacher also goes nowhere.

The animation is utterly run-of-the-mill stuff, with simple, low-budget looking designs and somewhat restricted movement. The dub is no good. Although Stephanie Sheh is convincing as the girl version of Hazumu, the rest of the cast sound to old to be teenagers.

Ultimately, only the very sincere final episode and the show's big heart keep it from landing in the Perishable bin. [TOP]

This week was unsatisfying. I mean, these Stream Worthy titles would probably be Rental Shelf on DVD (unless Natsume Yūjin-Chō came with an awesome Nyanko toy). Fortunately I just got a big box of screeners in the mail, including Night Raid 1931, which looks promising.

This week's shelves are from Jennifer:

"I know compared to some people my collection is small but I'm working on it. I'm especially excited that so much anime is coming out on BluRay now. The jewel of my collection is my Revolutionary Girl Utena box sets. I got them a long time ago, and am surprised how rare they've become. This is by far my favorite anime of all time. Very recently I have started buying Manga as well, and as you can see I am a Kaori Yuki fan. Her artwork is top notch.

The wallscrolls are actually hanging up in the living room to the left of our TV. My husband is such a good sport letting me put them there, especially since he's not a fan of anime.

Since everyone likes to see furries, I also included a picture of my two chihuahuas sitting on the couch in front of the shelves. You can guarantee that when I sit there watching my anime, they will be planted firmly in my lap. :)"

Aww, cute dogs!

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