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Shelf Life
Digital Love

by Erin Finnegan,

Unintentionally, it's famous director week here on Shelf Life. (Perhaps “at” Shelf Life? Is Shelf Life a place, a show, or a state of mind?) I've got some Shinichiro Watanabe, some Leiji Matsumoto, and even a Yoshiaki Kawajiri re-release. Enough with the preamble, let's get on with the "show."
Demon City Shinjuku is hardly Yoshiaki Kawajiri's finest hour, although admittedly I have not seen Kawajiri's entire catalog. Your money is certainly better spent on Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust. Demon City Shinjuku is mostly interesting for historical reasons; I think everyone watched it back in the day. I'm fairly sure I rented the VHS from my local video store circa 1998, but on re-watching it, I didn't remember a single thing about it. It just isn't as memorable as Ninja Scroll (I still can't forget the bees-in-the-back thing – believe me, I've tried).

In terms of story, pacing, and the horrific dub, DCS is almost certainly Perishable. High school student Kyoya gets the call to adventure when his missing father's martial arts teacher spiritually projects into Kyoya's dojo and warns him of the impending apocalypse. He learns that a demon named Rebi Ra killed his father and now it's up to him to defeat that demon and stop demons from generally taking over the world. Kyoya impudently turns down this task, and is promptly confronted on the way home by a pretty girl who introduces herself as the daughter of the "World President" who also begs for his help with demon extermination. Kyoya snubs her just as bluntly, and she says she's going to try and stop the demons on her own.

You see, in this particular alternate universe, Rebi Ra has overturned Shinjuku, and it is now the titular “demon city”. In 1998, I'd never been to Shinjuku, but now that I've spent a fair share of time in Japan, I can't help but think how much losing Shinjuku to demons would totally mess up the transit system. Shinjuku is supposedly the busiest train station in the world (according to Wikipedia). How would people on the Keiō line and the Odakyū line get home? Unfortunately my practical transit concerns are beyond the scope of the film.

One of many problems with DCS is that Kyoya doesn't have much personality, and the girl, Sayaka, has even less. They meet up with Chibi, a miniature thug on automatic roller skates who's accent in the dub is essentially a bad Speedy Gonzales impression. If Rebi Ra has a personality, it is expressed in his character design, which is fantastic, but I'll get back to that.

DSC feels simultaneously too rushed and too slow. The action unfolds over awkward chapters, as if you can feel yourself paging through the two volumes of manga it was based on. Sometimes too faithful of an adaptation is a bad thing, Japan.

The dub is heinous; it's bad to the point of being funny. A few of Chibi's lines go entirely undubbed in a way that's clearly a mistake (it's amazing this happens more than once). Many of the characters have superfluous accents (let's give this one a Texas accent! Woo!). Sayaka has an odd hoity-toity faux-English voice that doesn't work to the point of distraction. Fortunately you can just turn off the dub at any time. On this disc, there are four Japanese mixes to choose from.

I like the character designs and the production quality of DSC. I think some anime fans on the internet frequently mistake good character design for good animation, but here both the design and the movement are high quality. I particularly like the design of Rebi Ra, who looks like he could easily be an 80's New Wave pop super star. All of the characters are drawn with a lot of lines, and you have to consider that in animation having to draw more lines means it cost more money, since you have to spend more time on each cell, and time is money. Television animation is restrained heavily by limits of time and money, but this OVA clearly had the budget and schedule to be indulgent.

It's too bad DCS is so gosh darn forgettable. I watched this last Monday, and as of Saturday I've already forgotten the monster designs. It's easy to confuse DCS with its more memorable cousin Wicked City, which features unforgettably overt rape scenes. [TOP]

DCS is Rental Shelf largely for historic reasons. Samurai Champloo, on the other hand, is ridiculously Shelf Worthy any day of the week.

I never bought Champloo on DVD because I thought it was too expensive at the time. Somehow, I missed the first Blu-ray release, so I picked up this one. Unfortunately, because I don't own the previous BD set, I can't compare the two. That said, I didn't notice any particular video problems here. Once in a while there's a shot that reminds you that this series probably wasn't animated with HD in mind, but those shots are the exception and not the rule. I've had some trouble in the past explaining what I mean by that, so I photographed my TV to get examples. Certain character artwork just wasn't meant to be seen in such fine detail. You'd never notice if you watched it on DVD or on cable on a standard TV. But never mind that stuff; the opening credits look spectacular on BD, and the background art often looks flawless.

When Samurai Champloo first aired, I remember breathlessly showing the first (fansubbed) episode to friends. I desperately wanted to love Shinichiro Watanabe's latest, but my friends were too quick to snobbily dismiss it. They found the flutter-cuts unforgivably offensive and weren't sure what aesthetic the show was going for. It takes a couple episodes to understand the old/new Edo-hip stylings of Samurai Champloo. Re-watching it now I'm even more angry over these friends' (and my own) past snobbishness. This is one of the greatest anime series ever. How could I (or anyone else) have been so hesitant to love it?

In the intervening years, I've listened to the Champloo soundtrack a thousand times and learned a lot more about Japan (and visited thrice). Now that I know more about Edo, the parallels the narrator draws in the show make more sense. I also know a lot more about Japanese history in general because of Champloo. For example, I didn't know Japanese Christians were persecuted during the Edo period. Somewhere between the rapping and anachronistic break dancing, Champloo gives great history lessons in the middle of a great story. If there was a better way to learn history, it'd probably involve a time machine.

The animation is great, the fight scenes are high quality, the characters are loveable, and my fangirl heart (if I have one) aches over the love triangle between Mugen, Jin, and Fuu on their roadtrip journey to find the samurai that smells like sunflowers. I may not own the original DVDs, but I do own Mugen and Jin shot glasses. (I can't decide which one I love more, let alone who I want Fuu to be with.)

Again with the snobbery, I never watched the Champloo dub all the way through until this week. This has got to be one of the finest dubs of all time. Kari Wahlgren is perfect as Fuu, and Daniel Andrews (Steve Blum?) is even more perfect as Mugen. The script adaptation is also spot-on, with minimal line changes that carry a maximum impact.

If you don't own Champloo already and heard the last BD release was a little off, now's your chance. Listening to Funimation on this episode of the ANNCast I have a greater appreciation of how much they take customer comments into account when they master Blu-rays.[TOP]

Apparently, that's the total opposite of EMI, who have brought out a totally half-assed BD of INTERSTELLA 5555: The 5tory of the 5ecret 5tar 5ystem.

I rented INTERSTELLA 5555 back in 2003. I remember liking the film, so when I saw the Blu-ray was coming out I snatched it up. While my copy was in transit, I happened to listen to the ANNCast episode where Zac decries the video quality. By then it was too late to cancel my order.

Zac was right, this is a crappy video transfer. It looks as if something has gone wrong, as the lines often appear jaggy and there's an odd motion blur whenever the camera pans. Not every shot is terrible, but it's bad enough to make this otherwise Rental Shelf release Perishable.

If you've never seen INTERSTELLA 5555, it's an odd movie. Leiji Matsumoto character designs are recycled into a 65 minute music video for Daft Punk album "Discovery." The film forces a plot onto the album: a blue-skinned alien pop band gets kidnapped and brought to earth by an evil record executive who commodifies their music and forces them to play concerts under hypnosis (after making them look human in a high tech machine, of course). There are few sound effects and no dialog; almost 100% of the film's soundtrack is Daft Punk.

Watching Interstella in 2011, it strikes me that the evil record executive plotline feels incredibly dated. The big, "evil" music industry has more or less collapsed at this point, and (at least according to WYNC's Soundcheck) there are fewer opportunities or motivation for bands to "sell out" and most fat cat record executives (as pictured in the film) are out of work. It also strikes me as a slightly ironic plot for a movie based on an internationally best selling album. This dialog-free film must have been incredibly easy to market all over the world, since there's nothing to translate. But then again, maybe I'm thinking too hard about a film that features guitar-shaped spaceships. INTERSTELLA 5555 never takes itself too seriously, so why should I?

I like Leiji Matsumoto's character designs as much as the next guy, but I kind of wish he'd design some new characters once a decade. In this case, Hiroshi Katō gets the character design credits, but they're clearly based on Matsumoto's work (the drummer looks like Tochirō Ōyama, and so forth). The animation is impressive, but I am continually distracted by the lack of sound effects. Without diegetic sound it feels like the characters' actions don't have impact or meaning. The characters don't even get names outside of the art gallery extras.

Speaking of which, the extras menu has a totally annoying design where you choose between pulsating unlabeled icons and blindly click through to discover the character art or some music videos. Way to go, BD/DVD designers! The menu is so irritating I don't even care to explore all the extras.

INTERSTELLA 5555 hauntingly reminds me of the long-forgotten NBC cartoon Kidd Video (before the internet I felt like I was the only person who remembered Kidd Video). It also fits in with a tradition of other rock and roll films like Pink Floyd the Wall or maybe The Who's Tommy but with less of a plot. (Ken Russell is such a bizarre director!)

Having sat through it once, I was hoping to own this movie as something to put on in the background while doing other things (perhaps while sewing cosplay costumes?), unfortunately the video transfer is so poor I can't justify hanging on to this purchase.[TOP]

That's all for this week. Next week look forward to a re-release of Noir, and whatever else I've got laying around.

Please send in your collections! We're running out! Doesn't matter if you only have one shelf, four manga, or a whole room! Send your jpgs in to [email protected]. Thanks!

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