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Shelf Life
I, Robot

by Erin Finnegan,

Last weekend I went to unlimited champagne brunch at Harry's, a famous steakhouse in the financial district. It turns out there really is such a thing as too many mimosas. Mistakes were made! Remember folks, alcohol lowers your inhibitions and impulse control.

When I recovered the next day, I revisited Casshern Sins, this time on Blu-ray, in a dual pack.

My reviews of parts one and two of Casshern Sins were some of the most reviled I've ever done on Shelf Life. The ire was probably warranted, since Casshern inspired such ire in me. I actually punched another reviewer in the arm when he said he'd been recommending this to people. I didn't mean to punch him. It was an involuntary reflex.

I like the concept behind Casshern Sins, but not the execution. Dying robots want to kill Casshern (also a robot) for causing the robot apocalypse. That's alright. Everyone wants to see two robots fighting. Casshern is a lithe little robot fighting big, clunky, rusty robots (the big bad guys are also lithe), but for my money if I want to see little robots fighting big ones, I read Battle Angel Alita.

If you took the top three robot fights from this show, and left out the others, I'd be happy with that. I think Casshern Sins could be a great three episode OVA, but this is 26 unmerciful episodes long. Case in point: almost every line of dialog is repeated eight times. What if it were just a feature length film? (There is a live action version, but I was creeped out by the one clip I watched…)

I read all of the counter-opinions in the forums, and people who like this show often claim to be fans of the “art”. I'm not a fan of the artwork, and I'll tell you why. First, the character designs are all piggybacking on the success of the original designs from the 1970's. I'd rather watch the '70s version of Casshern, when the designs were fresh instead of retro.

Second, everything is blurred. Specifically, a lot of lines are blurred using the same effect we used to use on one of the cartoon shows I worked on. I don't know what the effect is called in Toon Boom, but when we shipped shows to Korea we'd label it “Gaussian Blur” on the model sheets. You, too, can find this effect in Photoshop. I took an old Casshern drawing and put some Gaussian Blur on it, and now it's nearly as arty as Casshern Sins.

Several people specifically decried my critique of the show's backgrounds. Casshern Sins is alternately set over a vast, gray, post-apocalyptic landscapes, or, on occasion, fields of flowers. The gray empty landscape is blatantly symbolic of death, and the fields of flowers, where children and/or pregnant ladies hang out is blatant counter-symbolism for life and abundance. This is overly instructional cinema. In case you can't tell what the backgrounds mean, the characters are careful to say “kill” and “live” about 10,000 times. I like my symbolism a little less didactic. I was unimpressed by the somewhat burred gray landscapes and flowery field, but the Blu-ray certainly lets you see some of the finer details of the blurred brushstrokes.

I listened to the editor of the magazine I write for praise Casshern Sins in an interview on the ANNCast. Later, on this episode of Anime World Order, he cops to watching anime not for the plot so much as an atmospheric thing. Having watched anime before the days of fansubs, he's always had low plot expectations. In light of this, I tried watching Casshern Sins raw, without subs. The orchestral music is very nice for a gloomy mood, and my smattering of Japanese made the infuriating plot much less accessible and the repetitive dialog far more tolerable. Nevertheless, I was still annoyed before the end of episode one.

In the first episode, mentally-four-year-old Ringo collects pretty seashells on the beach. She encounter Casshern and calls him pretty. Then she picks up one of the shells, and holds it in front of Casshern's face, and says “pretty,” just in case you might've missed it. There is nothing else on screen or in the scene to distract you from this metaphor; just two characters on a gray landscape and the only props are pink shells. You could understand what was happening with the sound off, even if you were drifting in and out of sleep.[TOP]

I'm done with Casshern Sins. I had a better time watching Hetalia, and I'm not even a fan of Hetalia.

I attended Walter Amos's Hetalia and History panel at GeneriCon 2011, and he changed my mind on Hetalia. The show is filled with subtle, well-informed history jokes, many of which are so throw-away it takes a Prussian history enthusiast to get the Punch Line. I can respect that! I learned more reading the history notes on this DVD than I have in some history classes. (Though he did the notes for the series, the notes on this disc are not by Amos.)

Paint it White is essentially a parody of Independence Day. Faceless aliens called “Nonpera” (non-persons, perhaps based on traditional no-faced Japanese ghost, mentioned in the notes) have arrived on Earth, and are rapidly transforming the population into bland beings like themselves. They're also turning famous landmarks into black-and-white 2D renditions and stealing them.

You might think outright alien invasion would unite the nations of Earth… but you would be wrong. Everyone wants to do things their own way (except Italy, who wants to surrender – is Italy known for surrender more than France, historically?). America is ready to lead the charge, but the rest of the countries are hesitant to follow him. (For another comedy about countries doing a bad job of repelling alien invaders, check out The Monster X Strikes Back: Attack the G8 Summit, a kaiju send-up with plenty of jokes about G8 member countries.)

The forward action of Paint it White is continually stopped dead in its tracks by cut-aways to jokes from the TV series. This is slightly infuriating, since the action is occasionally quite dramatic. Cutting back to a one-off joke you've seen before is practically coitus interruptus. About 30% of this 61 minute film is recycled content!

There are three reasons this isn't Perishable. First, it is hilarious that America is best friends with a Roswell "Gray" alien, and they communicate exclusively in a genuinely funny shared language. Second, the dub outtakes are quite amusing. Finally, this limited edition comes with a handkerchief. I guess you can't rent the handkerchief, but I always appreciate a physical extra.

Being a summer movie, more effort has gone into the animation than in the TV series. CG is employed to great effect, as the Nonpera are duplicated digitally thousands of times. Some of the black-and-white effects during the invasion border on the artistic, although I hesitate to take the movie quite that seriously.

Oddly, the menus on this standard DVD look a little pixilated on my HDTV, but the content of the film itself looks fine. Some of the history notes are in a font so small I wonder if you could really read it in SD.

The dub can get weird at times, with at least one super-harsh anti-American slander delivered by Americans (for Americans). (That line got the biggest reacation at the Otakon press screening.) I just can't get behind Christopher Bevin's Japanese accent. As he says in the commentary, he's mostly imitating Cooking Mama.[TOP]

I watched this movie primarily to balance out 26 episodes of Darker than Black.

Apparently I'm a little late to the party with this one. I was listening to Adam Sheehan say how well Darker than Black has been selling for Funimation. I bought the Classic Collection version to catch up with it before checking out season two. If you're not on the bandwagon yet, this is an affordable way to get up to speed.

Honestly, one reason I didn't watched Darker than Black sooner was because of the trailers on other Funimation discs, which promoted a Batman-looking masked hero (complete with Bat Utility Belt) that I just wasn't interested in. I got into manga specifically because I dislike superheroes. The trailers ought to have advertised a more sci-fi based, cop adventure.

In the near future, a forbidden zone has been walled off from the rest of Tokyo, and the night sky has been replaced with false stars. Some humans have transformed into “Contractors,” who get one superpower at the cost of their conscience as well as one quirky “price” they must pay every time their powers are used. For example, one guy's price is eating a lot of eggs after using his psychic power.

These non-masked non-costumed characters are usually villains; our protagonists work for a secret organization known as 'the syndicate' that constantly puts them at odds with other contractors. The masked agent, Hei, is just one of a large ensemble cast of characters. Heading another team is Misaki Kirihara, the beautiful yet straight-laced daughter-of-a-cop career police officer. She's always just one step behind and a little short of information, since a larger conspiracy is keeping her in the dark.

All of the characters are appealing and well-written. The character designs are a tad simplistic, but that fits well in this show. Perhaps the simple designs also put me off; I thought this was a B-ranked anime, but it's more of a prime time drama series. It could even be a live-action series, save for the sci-fi elements (and perhaps the talking cat). Basically, every episode is action packed.

All of the intra-anime joking and reference is pushed into some comedic episodes about Gai Kurasawa, a bumbling detective with a cosplaying assistant. This works well as a sort of stop-gap for keeping otaku elements out of the regular show. I think this makes Darker than Black infinitely recommendable to anime-curious friends who don't tolerate more hardcore otaku titles. In fact, easily I'd watch this with my mom, who was a big fan of The X-Files, Alien Nation, and even liked Night Raid 1931.

Everything about this show is solid, including the dub. I like Kent Williams as the cat, although Ikuya Sawaki has a much deeper voice (which is therefore sexier). Troy Baker has a British accent that I don't think would convince actual British people, but it works well enough here.

Season one comes to a fairly conclusive-feeling ending, so I'm curious to see how season two will pan out.[TOP]

Tune in next week to find out!

Over the next seven days I have no fewer than four Christmas parties to attend. As I discovered last year, it's also possible to walk into other departments' holiday parties here at the university to collect free cookies, and there are residual cookies all week long. No joke, last year the Cinematography Department had a chocolate fountain. No wonder Christmas is so tough on my waistline. Wish me luck!

"I would like to please submit my "shelves" for a shelf life. These photos were taken during the summer when sunlight is more plentiful in the areas north of Detroit.

If you need a little text to go with my collection, let me regale you with my descent into collecting. ;-)

Although I had been watching anime back back when shows like Star Blazers, Speed Racer or Battle of the Planets was on TV, I didn't know it was anime per se, just that it was different and quite exciting to watch. It wasn't till I moved to Michigan in 2001 to be geographically closer to my brother when we started making me watch shows like Please Teacher! or Sorcerer Hunters. I was really impressed with the stories we were watching and started trying shows like Scrapped Princess or Noir on my own and was hooked. There really is no logic of organizing dvd's on the shelves, it's more like items purchased at a certain time period get grouped together. The genga is from Simoun and the cel is from You're Under Arrest. Hope you like the collection!"

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