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Shelf Life
NY Noir

by Erin Finnegan,

A friend visited from out of town a couple weeks ago, and we checked out the Occupy Wall Street protest at Zuccotti Park, where we happened to see this guy who had been on Conan only three days prior. It's a good thing we saw it when we did, since the protestors were evicted last week.

After that, we went down to actual Wall Street, which was blocked off for a film shoot with 1100 extras staging a fake riot. It turned out another friend actually was one of those extras – we found out it was totally the new Batman movie. How cool is that? Our weekend was infinitely interesting, too bad I can't say as much about this week's anime.

It's difficult to tell where my hang-ups about super assassins come from. I can't tell if my hatred for amnesiac assassins started when I watched the first disc of Noir back in 2003. I love Golgo 13, but Kōichi Mashimo's girls tend to annoy me.

Having watched Phantom ~Requiem for the Phantom~ earlier this year, I now have a greater appreciation of Noir. Mashimo worked the awkwardness out of his story about music box/pocket watches and secret societies training unlikely young assassins by the time he got to Noir. He also made the story more commercially appealing and somewhat unique by turning the male love interest into a chick. I'm sure the suggestion that Mireille and Kirika might be lesbians was enough to intrigue a large number of viewers despite super-slow pace of the show. It just wasn't enough to keep me watching.

In case you've never gotten around to Noir, here's the plot: blond daughter-of-a-mafia-family Mireille teams up with amnesiac super-marksman/Japanese high school girl Kirika and they go around assassinating people, calling their team-of-two "Noir." About midway through the series, a cultish ancient legend is brought in to explain, via what I suspect is retroactive continuity, that a team of killin' girls named “Noir” has existed for a thousand years or more.

I think the story behind this series could easily be told in about half the time. The pace is so snail-like that even the voice actors mention it; on one dub episode's commentary track, the actors discuss relying on non-vocal utterances to set the mood. The Japanese seiyuu, Houko Kuwashima (Kirika) also says in one of the handful of Japanese extras that her character has very little dialog.

I know Noir had a solid fan base in America back in the day, but on re-watching it this week, I'm convinced that everyone was fooled by the soundtrack. Throw some Italian operatic vocals over a gunfight and apparently you can make nearly-still pictures look really cool to a wide audience (or a very small and vocal specialty audience). Don't get me wrong, I like Noir's soundtrack. If it had a crappy soundtrack, I'm convinced Noir would be unwatchable.

I can only see the long pauses as money-savers and not thoughtful mood-enhancing pauses. Maybe it's because I worked in animation, but I look at Noir more as a handbook on how to save money than as an entertaining piece of work. Slow pans over one or two well-painted background scenes in Europe get a lot of “bang” for your animation buck. You can learn a lot from Noir, and none of the lessons are about contract killing.

This time through, I was excessively irritated by Mireille's flashbacks to her childhood. That re-use footage comes up so many times in the first half that it must've saved at least two grand in production costs. After the mid-point of the series, there's a twist involving the flashback that I absolutely couldn't buy. The reveal seemed so outlandish that I could swear the director was just making up the story as he went along.

Back in the day I was a total subs-snob and refused to watch the dub. Watching it now, I'm surprised at the quality of this grand old dub. I'm impressed with Monica Rial as Kirika (for her few lines). That said, the cult characters in the second half have some hackneyed Irish accents that kind of reminded me of The Wicker Man (the original movie, not the Nicolas Cage bastardization thereof).

For the most part, the show looks dated, yet acceptable in HD. Only the opening credits seem to suffer from the passage of time. Oddly, I couldn't get these DVDs to play at anything other than 16:9, whether I used my PS3 or my Mac Mini. I thought it might look better at 4:3, I mean, wasn't it in 4:3 originally?

This release also includes an ADV-produced sock puppet short and some better-off-forgotten video interviews with the dub actresses. The videos are low res, and not expertly shot (the girls sit at an ugly folding table in one of them).[TOP]

The week wasn't a total bust; by reader request, I finally finished watching Steins;Gate.

A Shelf Life reader, Masahi, wrote in responding to my review of Steins;Gate episodes 1-7 :
Recently you were kind of 'meh' about Steins;Gate, and for the first six episodes I felt the same. You can feel events start building up around episode 8, and suddenly you get slapped in the face... grabbed by the throat... over and over, and then you're hooked… Stick with Steins:Gate and you'll feel the same!

Well, Masahi, thanks to your request I decided to finish watching Steins;Gate. I did like it more than I did at first blush, but after the ending I still had some reservations.

The main problem with time travel films and/or television, is that long explanations of how time works can be boring. Dozens of Doctor Who writers over 30 years have managed to avoid the problem in many creative ways, such as including super-human Time Lords, and by restricting time travel to between episodes, rather than within episodes. Steins;Gate is prone heavily to the problems Who avoids; our non-advanced humans characters are struggling as beginner time travelers, and they wind up time traveling within the course of a given episode, sometimes more than once.

I think Steins;Gate winds up suffering from the same problem as the 2004 film Primer insomuch as that both are low budget affairs where a lot of screen time is devoted to “telling” and not “showing.” Let it be known that I have never been officially diagnosed with attention deficit disorder, but I had a very hard time following this overly talky show.

I was impatient with the very-otaku-based series at the start, so when the characters accidentally change Akihabara via time travel mishaps, it was eerily as if the show was responding directly to my concerns. Indeed, the series hits its stride about three quarters of the way through when the writers throw in a few dramatic twists starting with episode eight. The plot begins is no longer strictly about cat-maid cafés at that point, and briefly, Steins;Gate stops feeling like Okabe is the protagonist of the dating sim/visual novel wherein the viewer can “unlock” additional girls.

Visually, I had the same problems with the show all the way through. Everything is gray and takes in place dark rooms, save for some outdoor scenes which are either a golden beige color during dusk or a greenish black at night, with little variation. Basically, I had a lot of time to stare at the color palette while the characters talked and talked.

Nevertheless, Steins;Gate is Stream Worthy. I liked the hooks in the middle, even if I couldn't explain the ending to you. I'm just glad some thought went into this show. It wasn't the same old anime series with the same old plotline(s). If you got into anime because of the science fiction, you'll want to watch it, too.[TOP]

There was more science fiction to be had this weekend. I also watched Loups=Garous.

Halfway through this new film from Production I.G I was on board. “This is almost Shelf Worthy,” I thought. The visuals are solid, with simplistic character designs that interact seamlessly with a pretty CG world. I was digging the sci-fi story.

In the not-too-distant future everyone relies on “monitors,” a GPS/cell phone/all-purpose device for daily life. (The creator of the light novels points out in the extras that he wrote this several years ago and many of his "predictions" have come to pass in smart phones.) The internet closely resembles the Net in Ghost in the Shell. Our setting is one near-Utopian city under strict surveillance. A group of teenagers gets involved in a grisly murder case and a serial killer is on the loose, despite the well-monitored parent-state. Did I mention that in this future everyone eats vat-grown meat. (Personally, I can't wait for the vat-grown meat future.)

Makino, the new kid in school, meets a super-hacker named Mio, a socially disaffected kid named Kono, and a future-deviantART-equivalent star, Yuko. Meanwhile, the school psychologist holds an important clue to the case, and Myao, a kung fu vigilante in a china-doll dress, is also somehow along for the ride.

Unfortunately Loups=Garous suffers from some serious script problems. It reminded me of this interview with Tom Stoppard on NPR. Twenty-three minutes in: “I'm a bit of magpie," Stoppard says, "I collect shiny bits of information…and start trying to use these… little shiny things and try to put them together so they make some kind of…narrative." There are quite a few good shiny bits of narrative in Loups-Garous, but they never come together into a coherent whole.

For example, Makino is introduced as having a social phobia; she'd rather interact with people online than in real life. But as soon as Makino is assigned some new friends her phobia instantly falls away. Further, Makino is a dull girl, easily overshadowed by her talented friends. I expected that in the third act there would be a reveal of something only Makino could do. Nope! She was totally useless all the way through.

There are two or three movies within this movie. I liked the teen sleuth mystery. There's a lot of blood, but the simplistic designs make this look like a children's film.

In another ill-fated plotline, Mio teaches her friends a dance for a music video project for school. During the process, Makino warms up to having real-life friends. The cheery dance number to a pop song seems out of place among the evisceration scenes (its actually a thinly veiled commercial for the real life pop group SCANDAL), but it's a likeable film within the film.

Later, two characters make a dramatic escape from the city, akin to a scene from No. 6. Or, I thought they were escaping, but instead they wind up at the bad guy's front door with no plan, and are faced with security robots that seem out of place in this world.

At least the movie has a good dub. Hilary Haag is convincing as the bubbly Mio, and Corey Hartzog is appropriately slightly creepy as Kono.

Wait a minute! Ayumi Kono was supposed to be a girl?! In the dub and subs, Kono is referred to as a "he". In the Japanese extras, everyone talks about the "four girls" in the film. I guess knowing that he was a she doesn't change my opinion of the film, but it is a bit of a shock.

Maybe you should watch this raw, or dubbed in a language you don't understand. You won't be disappointed in the plot twists that way. I hate that I have to say that, because this was on the train to Shelf Worthy town, before it slowly ran off the rails.

The ending is particularly disappointing. Someone romantically says they will wait for someone else, which is such a cliché lately, and it doesn't fit in with this film at all. In fact, it is downright disturbing in the case of Loups-Garous! [TOP]

I got a big box of anime in the mail! I'm not sure what I'll review next week just yet, but I'll see you then!

This week's amazing collection is from Conlan:

"My name is Conlan. My wife Sharla and I have been collecting anime and manga since early 2005. Sharla has been an anime fan since 1992 and got me into it in 2001, though we have both been fans of animation for as long as we can each remember. Due to the collection's size we've organized it into library stacks. We have no clue how many titles or individual disc/books/games we have any more – all we know is that there are a lot, and many of them are out-of-print.

Our DVD collection contains mostly R1 discs supplemented with official R2 and R3 discs as well as R4 artboxes. All of the discs are in mint condition, and while the artboxes are turned around, each one is complete and filled. We intentionally leave the plastic around the boxes to reduce shelf wear, cutting away only the plastic in front of the box openings. The manga is all in new condition and individually baggied. We also have a variety of North American cartoons and all the Mystery Science Theater 3000 currently put to DVD, as well as video games for many consoles, all mint and complete.

Some of the weird and cool stuff we have includes DVD boxes signed by Colleen Clinkenbeard, Todd Haberkorn, Monica Rial, Greg Ayers, and Brina Palencia. We also somehow acquired the AnimePlay DVD for Hideaki Anno Talks to Kids, featured on an old Buried Treasure (May 3, 2007). Our current infatuations are The Garden of Sinners blu-ray box, our complete Sailor Moon and Card Captor Sakura DVDs, and our mint-condition Four Shojo Stories manga. Not pictured is a closet full of anime-and-game-related crap included with special editions of all our stuff.

We designed our basement so that we could get the most out of our DVDs and games. The basement houses our video game collection, all of our consoles, and a great home theatre setup that includes surround sound and a 125-inch, wall-projected HD screen. To give you an idea of scale, enjoy the scene of Shiki eating ice cream from The Garden of Sinners blu-ray box!"


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