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Shelf Life
Dueling Djangos

by Erin Finnegan,

I wrote the last column in 2011, so I consider this my first 2012 column. I think it's going to be a big year, what with a presidential election and Olympics and such. But setting that aside, let's flash back to first 1997, 1984, and then 2010.

I never caught the end of the Utena TV series back in the day; I skipped from renting the Black Rose Saga straight to watching the Utena movie. Sure, there were parts of the movie I didn't "get" from what I'd missed, but I loved it nonetheless. I even screened the movie to unsuspecting friends and my future husband in early 2002, as soon as I bought the DVD, so it has a very nostalgic place in my heart. Both my friends and Noah were interested in the series afterward. The Utena movie is still one of my favorite anime movies of all time. I could never forget the roses falling off the dueling platform; it's powerful imagery that burns itself into your mind's eye forever.

I'm more than a little surprised that the movie is included in this box set rather than sold as a separated release. I'd like the Utena-curious to have the cheaper option of checking out the movie before shelling out $50 for a box set. In for a penny, in for a pound, I guess, as this set also come with a super-sweet rose seal ring, previously only available as a fan-made item in the U.S.

There is some interesting role-reversal in the last arc of the TV series; Anthy now pulls the sword out of Utena. Every challenging dualist gets his (or her) own "rose bride" partner who rides along the side of the dueling arena in a physics-defying car. An elevator takes Utena to the arena instead of stairs.

The final few episodes are fairly abstract. A provided commentary track from manga artist Chiho Saitō and director Kunihiko Ikuhara doesn't do much to provide insight, but it is amusing. "Why roses?" an interviewer asks, "Why cars?" and Ikuhara either doesn't remember or else basically says "I thought it would be cool." It's a little disappointing not to know Ikuhara's secrets or intentions, but I think I like it better this way.

It's absolutely worth buying every single set in this TRSI re-release for the full color booklets and restored picture. Even if it's a little pricey, other anime fans will respect you when they see this on your shelf (they'd better!), even if you owned the previous release, even if it will take you years to get around to watching it, Utena belongs in every perfect anime collection.

That said, I tried to watch part of this at home over Christmas, and my non-anime-fan brother was unimpressed. Season three isn't a great place to start, and Utena is a hard sell for non-fans. I don't expect anime outsiders to understand, but Utena is a deal-breaker anime for me; if you don't like it, we can't be friends (although I'm willing to hear your reasoning…).

My brother was more tolerant about watching Fist of the North Star.[TOP]

I had low expectations for Fist of the North Star 2 after the end of Fist of the North Star Collection 3. This fourth collection exceeded my expectations, at least at first. Any non-manga-canon episodes in earlier seasons were more or less intolerable, but the entire first half if FotNS 2 is extremely watchable, to the point of being shockingly entertaining. The second half… well… not so much.

Several years after the end of the first season, Bat and Lin are no longer incredibly annoying children, but tolerable adults leading a rather kickass North Star army. The first villain of the set is a somewhat un-intimidating fellow with a fear of the dark piloting a mobile city that falls somewhere between the mobile fortress in Macross and Parliament Funkadelic's Mothership. Kenshiro re-emerges, un-aged somehow, and the gang encounters a fellow named Ein who's clad in stars and stripes (as per the cover image – is he supposed to be an American?). The entire arc is far more amusing than it has any right to be.

The plot takes a somewhat hackneyed turn as Lin is kidnapped to the land of Asura, where big tough evil dudes are supposedly bigger, tougher, and more evil than previous villains, which is a tall order for FotNS. Nevertheless, the show is still more amusing than it ought to be; the regular (regular-ish?) folks in Asura are all praying for Raoh to come and save them, with no knowledge for Kenshiro and Roah's battle from the previous season. There are a few interesting episodes about failed salvation, but then everything falls into a lame soap opera for the last three discs.

In one amusing trilogy of episodes, glam-rocker-looking Shachi drags a coffin in a potential homage to Django, a famous Western. A few other episodes look Western-y as well, but unfortunately most of the second half is long lost siblings and soap-opera-style reveals.

Oddly in the first two episodes a few lines go glaringly un-subtitled; fortunately the mistakes don't continue further into the set. There are no extras, and there hasn't been a dub since collection one. The animation quality is fairly consistent throughout, with only a handful of off-model moments and foot-sliding. Mostly, the limited animation is impressive on such detailed muscle-men, especially if you compare it to equivalent American cartoons from 1984.

If nothing else, it's worth sticking around for the awesome theme song alone. "No boy, no cry… We still fight, fighting in the nineties!" I usually skip the theme song after the first few episodes, but with FotNS2 I was determined to learn it for karaoke. [TOP]

Too bad Bakuman.'s theme song was totally unmemorable. I skipped "Blue Bird" every time…

I love the Bakuman. manga, (volumes 2-7 anyway), because it's a very detailed look into the inner workings of Shonen Jump magazine. Protagonists Takagi and Mashiro are junior high kids who make a wager to get a manga series serialized in Jump before they turn 18. Mashiro is an artistically talented yet heretofore unmotivated kid, and top student Takagi volunteers to write the stories.

For my money, Bakuman. is best around episode 25/volume four, when Shonen Jump editor Hattori starts breaking down the details of the serialization meeting to the boys. Infuriatingly, the Bakuman. anime is so slow-paced that every episode is just one chapter of the manga, so you don't get to any of my favorite parts in this set.

As a manga series, Bakuman. is well drawn, as one would expect from Death Note's Takeshi Obata. As an anime series, Bakuman. is shockingly low budget. Obata's designs go off model in unimportant episodes, and besides, the subject matter just doesn't lend itself well to animation; there are a lot of drawing and writing montages.

Nevertheless, if you absolutely must watch TV instead of reading books (even comic books) there are some important lessons in Bakuman. The series is careful to show the protagonists getting rejected and failing to reach their goals, over and over again. Takagi and Mashiro are tremendously talented, but they're forced to work extremely hard to catch up to their equally (or more) talented rivals, like Eiji Niizuma (one of my favorite characters, who rarely appears in this set). I like Bakuman. best when it's about the horror of achieving one's dreams (maybe I'm a masochist, and/or I have some experience in the area of broken dreams).

Media Blasters' dub is unimpressive. If I were casting, I'd switch Kevin T. Collins and Michael Sinterniklaas's roles. Even then, I think they both sound too old for their parts.

Ultimately I wish that the Bakuman. anime was about making anime, since the manga series is about making manga. If you want to learn more about anime production, watch Animation Runner Kuromi or episode ten of Paranoia Agent.[TOP]

I'll see you guys next week with some Bubblegum Crisis 2040.

This week's collection is from Juno, he wrote this about his collection:

"This is my manga collection in full, including both English and Japanese manga, as well as a few light novels mixed in. The 4-section photograph is made up of manga by CLAMP. CLAMP is my biggest influence as an artist, and I collect their manga out of a sense of passion and willful duty. The 3-section photograph is made up of manga I am holding onto for artistic reference and future re-reads. The 2-section photograph is made up of manga I am going to be selling this upcoming summer. ***A friendly note to my fellow collectors: Don't let your collections overload your personal space! Try to stick to your biggest passions and let the rest go. Less distraction means better productivity--and bigger personal worth for each individual product! =)

And yes, I am a guy who likes shoujo manga. Particularly, the art in them is fascinatingly different than most other genres..."

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