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Shelf Life
How to Train Your Dragon

by Bamboo Dong,

Erin claims she's at Anime Weekend Atlanta, but I bet she's just there to visit the Coca-Cola factory. Apparently you can get various Coke products from all around the world, which just sounds absolutely fantastic. About as fantastic as those sweet new freestyle Coke machines that have been invading the country. Now if only I could make one that dispenses mixed drinks. I'd be a millionaire in about three days.

Unfortunately, nothing this week really jumped off the page, but hopefully there's something for everyone. Welcome to Shelf Life.

After becoming rapidly enamored with both the Eden of the East TV series and the first film, Paradise Lost—the second film and finale to the franchise—can only be described as a disappointment. Originally, when I first fell in love with the series, I loved its concrete ties to the real world—countless references to real movies, detailed snapshots of real cities, mentions of real events. It grounded the series and made it feel more real, instead of having the characters eating at McPonalds and talking about fake TV shows. Eden of the East took contemporary social problems and addressed them in unique and controversial ways. It was the driving force behind the whole Save-The-World-With-This-Cellphone-And-Personal-Concierge mystery. Who were the other Selecao? What were their purposes? Who was going to win the game?

Turns out, none of it mattered at all. After a fast-paced end to the first movie that showed all the Juizes as an envoy of computer parts, Paradise Lost putters around, half-assedly answering questions that it raised along the way. And then it flips everyone the finger, and then a bunch of NEETs get jobs. Hey, cool, I'm glad I invested all this time in this franchise only to be rewarded with the most unsatisfying ending ever written.

It's almost impossible to describe my frustration with this film without spoiling everything in it, but I'll try. Rather than the thrilling cat and mouse chase in the series, Paradise Lost meanders around, idling on characters who were never developed enough to be considered interesting. Even revelations about Takizawa's past (the identity of his mother, for instance) are dulled, because both the movie and the characters can't be bothered to really care. The chess pieces that were set up in the first movie are scrapped during the course of a 30-second phone call, and essentially, the entire franchise is written off with another phone call. It's like spending hours baking and decorating a three-layer cake, only to have your birthday guest say, “Oh, let's just go to Del Taco.”

Perhaps the most disappointing thing about the movie is the lost potential. The series raised grand ideas that demanded careful thought and further inquiry. It simultaneously scolded the young and the old for the problems facing Japan. It warned the older generation of being too bullheaded, and the younger of being too apathetic and sticking their hands in the sand. And yet... the ending to this series was the most apathetic of all. Every single interesting idea in the series is met with an apathetic shrug. The ending is so haphazardly written off that it almost feels like the writers said, "Well, we don't really know what to do. You deal with it." And at the end of the day, nothing was really resolved. A flea market was opened. A handful of bureaucrats fessed up to being bad leaders. But there was no changing of the guard, no passing of ideas. So in a series that so pressingly requested change and dialogue, all that resulted was one big shrug. It's a hollow ending, and a slap in the face at that.

At the end of the day, I don't regret watching the series, but I do wish that the series had gotten canceled mid-season, like in American television. That way, we could keep talking about what could have been, instead of what was. Which was a big giant waste of time.[TOP]

To wash away the disappointment in my empty heart, I checked out a film that promised some dragons. Or at least one dragon.

As more and more anime titles are released on Blu-Ray, the more one comes to appreciate the tiniest details in the backgrounds. Sony Pictures Home Entertainment's latest BD offering is Legend of the Millennium Dragon, a tale that follows the classic formula of a modern-day Japanese student that gets whisked back in time to command some kind of creature, and win some kind of war. What it lacks in creativity and originality, it makes up for with gorgeous backgrounds. Longtime readers know my fondness for detailed, well-drawn backgrounds, and this is no exception. Every surface texture is cleanly rendered, with grime in all the right places, and the appearance of natural wear and tear on every object, from bike racks to shop signs. It's a bummer when the setting shifts to ancient Japan, because there's suddenly a lot less cool stuff to look at.

Directed by Hirotsugu Kawasaki, best known for directing Spriggan, the film rarely breaks any ground, but is perfectly consumable as Saturday afternoon entertainment. The intro to Legend of the Millennium Dragon is a familiar one. Hapless middle schooler Jun is the omega dog that winces at every loud noise. One day, he's chased into a temple by an oni, and before you know it, he's tumbled into ancient Japan (of course) and hailed as a savior. Now he's supposed to unleash the power of some kind of multi-headed dragon and save the empire from the evil oni.

Oh, but here's the twist. Turns out, the oni are actually really nice people. They're the downtrodden masses of Japan, forced to fight for justice in oni masks. I wish I could say, “Not everything's black and white!” but the second we realize the oni are Good Guys, it becomes black and white again. Almost the second they take off their masks, Jun decides, “Hey, these are the good guys.” It must be refreshing having such a simple world view.

The upside of having a generic storyline is that it really helps fill in some of the gaps. For as regurgitated as the story is, it's also not very well written and jumps from plot point to plot point. Characters change their minds (and personalities) about things at the drop of a pin, and viewers have to pick up the slack on the lazy writing. It's somewhat strange that Legend of the Millennium Dragon is even in Sony's library, as they've traditionally had a really solid track record of licensing hit after hit.

Visually, the movie is nice to look at… in parts. As mentioned before, the backgrounds are a treat for the eyes, and so are the monsters. The oni are animated in such a way that they look like paint splotches floating over the backgrounds, and aside from their demon masks, are hard to focus on. It's a shame they take off their masks, because the character designs more resemble those facial feature stickers you can put on pumpkins during Halloween. It makes it kind of hard to take them seriously.

Overall, Legend of the Millennium Dragon is consumable. It'll entertain you for the duration of the film, even if it's on the slow side. The fight scenes aren't spectacular, and the exposition drags. But it's interesting enough that you don't want to turn it off halfway through. Not exactly the world's most ringing endorsement, but then again, not Sony's best offering as of late.[TOP]

Also out is Trigun: Badlands Rumble, a film that resurrects the Trigun name over a decade after the TV series exploded into fandom. To this day, one can't walk through the halls of an anime convention without seeing some kid wearing a red duster and rousing crowds into the tired “Love and peace!” chant. Luckily, Badlands Rumble retires Vash's motto, although his boisterous personality is retained.

Then again… that's about all that really remains of the iconic Vash the Stampede. He's still as goofy as ever, and he still loves donuts more than life itself, and yes, he's still devoted to saving lives at all costs… but in Badlands Rumble, he functions a lot more like a celebrity cardboard cutout, the kind that teenagers ironically take to prom. He's in the movie, but more as a prop. He saves a life or two, but it's more backstory than anything else. In short, he's the name that sells the movie, but not the star.

It's not a bad movie, per se, but as far as a feature film goes, it doesn't make the loud bang that fans would've expected after nearly 13 years of silence. Instead, the film functions more like an extended episode, only one where the focus is mainly on two other characters—a robber named Gasback and a beautiful but deadly woman named Amelia. We learn that twenty years prior to the film's main setting, Gasback's bank robbery was foiled by Vash, who spared the man's life, but was then framed for the crime. Flash forward twenty years (presumably before Vash runs into Legato, for all you fans keeping track) and Gasback's still rampaging the wild west. This time, he's got his eyes set on a power plant (which does tie into the incident two decades ago). But lo, Amelia has her own revenge plans she wants to carry out, while Vash does his bit to prance around the screen.

The story is entertaining enough, especially for a 90-some minute movie, but it's nothing that really sticks out. It's your typical good guy vs. bad guy, and despite the mildly shady moral questions that are raised throughout the movie, it's not one that requires deeper thought to process. Even the slight twist at the ending is a feeble one, and does little to change the popcorn frivolity of the movie.

All in all, it's a slighty-above-mediocre film, one whose “Look, it's Vash! And Wolfwood!” splendor wears off quickly. There are certainly things to laud… but maybe not write home about. The new voice cast (minus Johnny Young Bosch, who reprises his role as Vash) does a good job filling the previous cast's shoes, especially Luci Christian, who lends a sass to Meryl that's delightful. But considering most of the returning characters barely get any screen time, it's a moot point.

It is worth pointing out that the Blu-ray doesn't seem to do the movie much good. The colors are grainy at times, and there are a few scenes that are just downright dark. Neither is solved by the standard definition version, naturally, but with the bar for high-definition anime set so high these days, anything less than perfect can be frustrating.

Badlands Rumble is a fun diversion, but ultimately it's just one long episode. If that's what you're looking for, then you'll like the movie just fine.[TOP]

Alright, that's my time. Thanks for reading!

"Hey there ANN! I've been collecting manga for about 5 years, and I've been collecting anime DVDs for a little less then one year. I'm really surprised how fast the DVD shelf grew. 15 months ago, I would have thought it would take forever to amass a shelf with this many DVD's, let alone some of the other collections you see in the column.

The manga has been slowly building up since I was 10, my first manga being Bobobo-bo Bo-bobo. I mostly stuck with shonen stuff, but within the last year I've been reading mostly seinen and Tezuka works, mainly due to discovering the wonderful podcast Anime World Order. My anime shelf had a few things added to it throughout the years, but it really started at youmacon 2009, where I bought the first season, OVA's and first DVD of the second season of Genshiken, mainly out of guilt for watching the first season on youtube. This sent me down a spiral of buying DVD's like crazy, spending all of my christmas money and most money I earned after that on anime, wanting to fill my shelf with the series I love! As well as DVD's, my family recently got a PS3, so I got a blu-ray of Satoshi Kon's "Paprika" and I'm sure I'll have plenty more blu-rays by next year.

I'd have to say my most prized part of my collection are my Korean Astro Boy 2003 DVDs, mainly because it's pretty much the only way to get the series with english subtitles and the original music. It's a shame I only have the first 3!

P.S. I figured I'd add some pictures of my pets. The one laying down is Murdock and the other one is Moxie."

Awww, cute dogs! They're like small sheep.

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

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