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Shelf Life
Star Power

by Erin Finnegan,

How was your holiday? If you're reading this, I'm alternately in Michigan or just getting back. You would think, since I receive so much anime to review, I wouldn't ask for any for Christmas, but there were a few titles on my wishlist (like Dan Doh!! and Animal Treasure Island). It's a sickness, I suppose.

Noticeably absent from my wishlist was any incarnation of Dragon Ball Z, since Funimation is kind enough to send me every single set (I can't tell if they think I'm naughty or nice).

I listened to Zac rave about this cleaned-up re-re-release on the ANNCast, so I expected my socks to be knocked off when I popped this in the PS3. The opening credit sequence certainly impressed me; the picture is so much cleaner! The colors are so much brighter! Then when the episode started I was thrown for a loop. What was up with all the color noise? Isn't that the “Noise” filter from Photoshop? I flashed back to some Bolex techs I'd given at work; the texture of the screen noise looks like the grain of the lens when you focus the camera's diopter on before loading the film. Was I literally seeing the lens grain or is that just digital distortion? Either way, the dancing color noise was so distracting that I nearly made this Rental Shelf.

For comparison's sake, I took some photos of my screen of equivalent scenes from the Dragon Box and the 1.1 BD. When I lined my "screencaps" up to make the graphic I just linked to, I could see the major improvements in color between the two releases. It turns out 1.1 really does look amazing! If you're a Dragon Ball Z fan, you've probably already bought the series more than once, so I hate tell you to this, but I think you're going to want to buy it again. Most people probably aren't going to get distracted by the color noise like I was.

That said, I think if you truly are a DBZ fan, it is still worth holding on to the Dragon Boxes (I gave the first set Shelf Worthy for presentation over content). I absolutely adore the little hardcover books the come with the Dragon Box. I've used them to look up specific episode numbers and character names to write these reviews. They're also extremely helpful for looking up your favorite episodes (more so than Wikipedia).

The Dragon Box defaults to the Japanese audio, whereas 1.1 defaults to English. This volume comes with a nice collectable postcard featuring Vegeta, with a bio of Christopher R. Sabat. 1.1 also has a handy marathon mode that the Dragon Box lacks.

I'm starting to think of it this way; DBZ Kai is for more casual fans of DBZ who are short on time, or it's for new fans who aren't completists. The Dragon Box is the nice set you hang on to in order to watch it with your kids (or just revisit for nostalgia). The 1.1 BD is what you get if you're obsessed with picture quality and want to make the most use of your home theater.

I'm often hard on DBZ in my reviews, but I honestly love the pantheon of characters. There may be no "universal" anime that all anime fans have watched, but perhaps DBZ comes the closest to being such a title. It's usually the common denominator I have in conversations with other fans.[TOP]

On the other hand, certainly not everyone has seen Darker Than Black.

Recently I raved about Darker Than Black Season One, as I watched it to get ready for season two. Season two isn't as good as season one, but I felt it was still very strong. I ended up liking it for different reasons than season one.

Season two begins two years after the events in season one, in Siberia rather than Japan. We follow the life of 13-year-old Suou, a half-Russian, half-Japanese girl whose life is deeply affected by contractors. Her father is a scientist studying contractors, her fraternal twin brother is a contractor, and Suou's best friend at school suddenly becomes a contractor, only to be instantly recruited by the (Russian) government. The plot takes off as Suou's family is put in danger, and she runs away with Hei. Suou herself turns into a contractor shortly thereafter (or does she?), and this is all in the first two episodes.

Something was always a bit off about Hei's contractor abilities in season one, and here in season two he's become much more Batman-like. For various reasons, he's turned into an alcoholic bent on training Suou to be a badass. In fact, season two is a very good "how I became a badass" story.

Season one was more about diverse contractors with weird powers, but season two sticks with only a handful of characters. Mao returns as a flying squirrel (instead of a cat) and he becomes a mascot-like character to Suou. Her power is summoning a gigantic anti-tank rifle from her chest, which appears in a Rose-Bride-like magical girl sequence. Between the alcoholic coach and all the killing, Darker Than Black S2 could be the darkest magical girl show ever. I felt a lot of sympathy for Suou, so I enjoyed the entire season.

If you start watching season two in hopes of getting some closure about the Gates and the origin of contractors, you'll be disappointed. You're better off reading the short story "Roadside Picnic" by Russian science fiction authors Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, which was probably a huge inspiration for DTB. Personally, I've stopped expecting Hollywood to know how to end films, let alone anime. So few anime endings are satisfying that I did not expect much from DTB. That said, I was a little disappointed that the series managed to throw in an unlikely "I will romantically wait for you" ending. That ending seems to be becoming the norm for all anime, no matter how inappropriate.

Even the final four OVA episodes (which cover the time span between seasons 1 and 2) raise more questions than they answer. I recommend simply enjoying Darker Than Black as fine television. I love the interplay between characters over an interesting setting.

I watched season two with my brother, who hadn't seen season one. He liked it enough, but I had to pause and explain things several times. Watch season one first, and if you're satisfied with the S1 ending, stop. If you want to see more of Hei, watch season two. It's not bad, but not perfect. The dub continues to be high quality.[TOP]

Star Driver was far less coherent and less accessible to mainstream fans.

Somewhere between Code Geass and The Girl Who Leapt Through Space (Sora Kake Girl) you've got Star Driver. I think Code Geass is a relatively accessible mech show, whereas Sora Kake Girl is an incomprehensible, yet charming, take on the same genre.

When I say Star Driver is like Code Geass, what I mean is that it looks like it was meant to appeal to girls. Takuto is a cute boy who washes up on the beach of Southern Cross island, where the elite teens at school fight it out in mech battles in a pocket dimension of some kind. Takuto quickly decides he will "protect" Wako, a shrine maiden who is unofficially betrothed to Sugata, a pale princely guy. That's kind of a shojo-ish love triangle, but the real nail in the coffin is that Takuto is actually the "Ginga Bishonen," a galactic pretty boy whose mech has a feathered cap and rakish boots (his robot has higher heels than I can wear).

The first half of the first episode features some astoundingly low-quality animation, to the extent that I wondered why this was on Blu-ray at all. Suddenly, when the mech battle breaks out, everything looks very Gurren Lagann. That is to say, the animation quality shoots through the roof and Takuto wears a long, white, star-decorated coat. The mech battles take place against a dazzling, yet inexplicable, background of stars that looks stellar in HD (har har). I'd recommend watching at least one of the mech battles, just to see this craziness, even if you're not interested in the show.

Meanwhile, almost all of the characters are types and the plotlines are a series of tropes. It's hard to care about anyone in this show, and if you're not already familiar with the genre the plot won't make sense. Somehow, I missed the detail that the Glittering Crux organization is trying to sell the ancient mech technology to the outside world. I was probably distracted by their BDSM-inspired outfits. That said, the character designs are a lot of fun. The school-by-day designs are nice, but several characters look like rip-offs of characters from other shows. (Did I just see Aoki from Bakuman?).

I think it's worth checking out one episode (but not necessarily the sub-par first episode) to see if this is the kind of thing you'd like, but it certainly isn't worth owning. Star Driver isn't totally without merit; I could see clips from it included in, say, a panel about the evolving history of mech anime. In fact, that is how I pictured this show while watching the show. It's just another step in the "evolution" of mech shows… It's probably not a good sign that I had time to think about things like that. If there were a dub, I think it's the kind of low-attention show you could have on in the background while doing something else, at least up until the fight scenes.[TOP]

Next time I'll check out the latest Utena box, among other things.

This week's Shelf Obsessed is from Annelisa:

"I'd like to share my small collection with everyone.

I bought everything in the photo with my own money over about five years now, except for Nodame Cantabile and Magic Knight Rayearth season 1. Those were gifts from my sister. This isn't everything I have, since this is only what I brought to school with me. I also have Princess Prince, Peach Fuzz volume 2, and the Hana-Kimi Art Book. I'm very proud of my Hana-Kimi collection, since I don't see it in stores anymore, and it also took me about two years to get them all with my extremely limited income. I am slowly buying GetBackers, and I'm only getting two volumes at a time from every convention I go to, since they're cheaper than bookstores. It's not massive, but it's mine, and I love it :3"

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

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