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Shelf Life
Making the Band

by Erin Finnegan,

Hello Shelf Life readers. How was your week? I applied to grad school. (I won't find out if I get in until March.) Turning in the application was a huge load off my mind.

Afterward, I relaxed by watching some Fairy Tail.

Oh, Hiro Mashima! You want to have weekly shonen series so bad I can taste it! (I ought to have run this review in the same column with Bakuman., which also hit DVD recently.) Rave Master (the manga, anyway) struck me as all shonen-tropes and no character. Fairy Tail is at least a giant improvement on the uber-blandness of Rave Master.

In generic fantasy land, Lucy wants to join a wizard guild called Fairy Tail, 'cause it's the greatest and most famous guild ever. Fortunately, the eponymous Fairy Tail is easy to find and easier to join (they just stamp your hand!) than say, becoming a Hunter in Hunter x Hunter (where there are three tests on the way to the test site). Along the way, Lucy meets Natsu, a fire wizard who was raised by a dragon. He's the free-spirited, hot-headed, overpowered Luffy/Naruto protagonist. Lucy is the overachiever/Sakura of this show. Gray, an ice wizard, is our Sasuke. He shows up to start having comical fights with his new best friend/rival Natsu.

I hate it when people call entertainment “stupid fun.” I take entertainment seriously. I refuse to “turn my brain off” for a “popcorn movie”. And yet, even I have to admit Fairy Tail is stupid fun. It doesn't demand your full attention for every episode. So far, it is light entertainment without the heavy baggage of actual emotion (like Naruto or One Piece). It doesn't take itself too seriously, and I probably shouldn't take it too seriously either.

It's going to sound shallow when I say that a lack of fashion sense is holding back this show. I mean, it isn't just fashion, the problem here is design. The thing about big epic shonen works like Naruto, One Piece, Dragonball, and Soul Eater is that the designs are memorable. In Naruto, Masashi Kishimoto makes up for his run-of-the-mill figures with well designed outfits. Naruto, Sakura, and Sasuke all have simple, bright signature colors on strong silhouettes. In 12 episodes of Fairy Tale, Lucy has rotated outfits several times, and I can't remember a single one.

Gray has even more boring clothes, and his “schtick” is that he keeps taking them off. The other characters may complain about Gray's partial nudity, but he's still wearing more than a surfer. Erza is introduced around episode five, and her schtick is that she gets new magical girl/fanservice armor in every episode… but none of her armor is as memorable as a single Claymore outfit.

The best designed character in the show is Happy, a talking cat with wings. The second most memorable character design in the show so far is Makarov, an old man in the guild. He's very short with a big head and a giant, day-glow jester's hat, which gives him a strong profile. That said, the most memorable character ought to be Natsu.

Don't get me wrong, I believe Hiro Mashima can draw, I just don't think design is his strong point. At first glance, I thought Fairy Tail looked a lot like One Piece, but the more I watch the show, the less I'm reminded of Eiichiro Oda's art.

The plot was totally forgettable in this set. Maybe the series will take on bigger arcs later. At least the dub was decent. Tia Ballard does a great job saying “Aye” a million times in a million ways as Happy. I pictured Sgt. Frog whenever I heard Todd Haberkorn as Natsu. Haberkorn does his best to create a new character, but his voice is so distinct it's distracting.[TOP]

While I have some hope that Fairy Tail will get better, I didn't think Dragon Ball Z could get any worse…

Admittedly, I am watching these episodes for the first time at the wrong time in my life. I should've watched this as an eight year old boy as it aired after school. Dragon Ball has an 8-year-old logic that I respect, and Akira Toriyama's genius is capturing that logic.

Consider: The strongest person in the entire universe (living or dead) is obviously going to be a combination of previous title holders. This part of the Majin Boo Saga brings us Vegetto, a combination of Vegeta and Goku. I'm calling shenanigans on this, because we've already seen a combination of fighters. Besides the Trunks and Goten fusion (Gotenks), Cell combined DNA from all of the Z Fighters. It is totally repetitive to have Boo not only fight combined fighters, but also to absorb fighters and gain their powers.

You know what else is repetitive? Super Saiyan may have been an original concept, but now that's not enough, so this Saga levels up with “Super Saiyan 3,” which involves even longer, more outlandish, mullet-like blonde hair. This is Axe Cop levels of logic. (A quick google search suggests that Super Saiyan 4 and 5 exist in episodes I haven't seen. Great.)

In fact, this arc was once breathlessly summarized to me by a six-year-old boy in 2002, “Do you remember when Boo turned everyone into candy and then they had to fight their way out of Boo's stomach?” I hadn't seen that yet.

I didn't think the budget could get any more frugal than Goku fighting Freeza on Namek's sparse landscape. I was wrong. In this set, Boo spends half an episode fighting Vegetto transformed into a coffee candy. Boo is fighting a dot against an empty sky. What's next? A flea circus arc?

I didn't mind Boo as a childlike malicious force (even if I found his laughter grating). But even that tiny bit of enjoyment is sucked out as Boo gets smarter and just straight-up regular evil. Innocent evil was more interesting; we've already seen intelligent-and-evil Frieza and Cell.

What really drives this set into the Perishable is that everyone in DBZ has been killed and wished back to life so many times that when the Earth blows up, there isn't any dramatic tension. Normally, I'm at least a little sad when the Earth blows up on film.

Fortunately the dub re-writing manages to add a little more depth. In a couple of scenes after Boo absorbs someone, dub-only lines have Boo throwing out weighty insults (“Your trainer, Piccolo, thinks you're weak and is disappointed in you!” (not an exact quote)). There are also some good dub-only jokes as the re-cap narration works in some creative prose: “… in this funhouse of evil!” Toriyama may have gotten tired of the story, but the dub rewriters hit their stride here.[TOP]

Nevertheless, it's not enough to keep me interested. Speaking of repetition, I also watched K-ON! volume three on Blu-ray this week.

The first time I watched K-On, I was upset by the introduction of Azusa, the new freshmen member of the band, who is immediately forced to put on cat ears and say “Nyaa!” for the gratification of the other members. On this re-watch, I found myself much more sympathetic to Azusa, who has more musical experience than the other members of the as-yet-unnamed-band (they get a name in this set). Azusa is frustrated by Yui, who doesn't realize her strings have rusted, and has never even seen a guitar tuner. Azusa is also upset that the band is more interested in tea and cake than practice. It's tough to be the only serious student in any club. I have certainly been on both sides of that conflict myself. (One Yo-yo Club member was very critical of my tardiness as President…. I mean, President of Yo-yo Club.)

That said, everything else on this disc was a rehash of the first half of the series. We've already seen one beach episode (episode 10 is even titled, “Another Training Camp”). We've already seen Tsumugi not have to pay much at the music store in the mall. Speaking of which, “rich” is not a personality or characterization. It might be part of writing a real character, but you've got to add some other traits!

The extras include more interviews with the English voice actors, and a “music video” of a new song cut together from the show. It's the English dub of the song, which isn't bad. I suspect the dub cast was chosen at least partially on singing ability. Otherwise, I have a hard time distinguishing between dub cast characters.

As with my previous K-On reviews, I'm not sure you should be buying K-ON! on Blu-ray, but for some reason, this time the character art flaws bothered me less.

The end of episode eleven that advertises the next episode is the last, which is odd, since volume four has episode 12, 13, and an OVA. I haven't kept up with K-ON!, so I'm a little surprised to find there are 26 episodes in season two, (and a movie). Hopefully they won't be released at three episodes per disc.[TOP]

I'll see you next week. When I'm done having nightmares about Majin Boo, I'll take a look at the DBZ Blu-ray.

This week's shelves are from Ellie:

"Here's some pictures of my shelves. I've been collecting manga and anime for about 7 years now, and as you can see, the manga far outnumbers the anime (Blame the crappy UK anime market for that, although it's been getting better lately.) At the last count there were nearly 700 volumes. No prizes for guessing my favourite authors... Apologies for the blurriness of some of the pictures, I am a terrible photographer."

Yikes! So much manga the shelves are bowing!

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

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