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Shelf Life
Neo Toyko

by Erin Finnegan,

This January 16th marks the 10th anniversary of my first date with my husband. Back in January 2002, manga and anime were about to boom in the U.S. I'd hardly seen a thing, aside from Sailor Moon, Kare Kano, and Cowboy Bebop, but I was thirsty for more. At the time, I was looking for a man who liked both anime and Doctor Who (rare in those days), and who could quote The Simpsons seasons 3-6. I would've settled for two out of the three, but Noah hit the trifecta, so I married him. Of course, it's not what you like, but what you're like that matters (thanks, High Fidelity). Nevertheless, I'm lucky to be with someone who continues to share so many of my common interests to this day. We've watched both new and anime old series together for ten years in ten formats.

I'm almost sure I watched some original Bubblegum Crisis with Noah nine or ten years ago, but I'm having a hard time remembering much about it. ¹

Ever ordered a mixed drink at a bar, only to have the bartender hand you some kind of watered down joke in a tiny glass? That's Bubblegum Crisis 2040. It's a whiskey sour prepared at a dive bar with cheap sour mix. It's a pale imitation of the real thing. (Younger and teetotal-ling readers are invited to picture the taste of store-brand generic macaroni and cheese.)

There are at least three major problems with 2040 that dump you out of the action of the original OVAs. First, the zeitgeist just feels wrong. The original series was made in 1987, during Japan's economic bubble. 2040 was produced in 1998, well after the bubble burst. There's a grad student essay to be written here, but a lot of bubble-era Japanese sci-fi felt energetic and expansive, like a logical extension of the dense, futuristic urban centers Japan was building at the time (naturally extended into space). 2040 tries to hearken back to that era, but feels less sincere. As a sequel, maybe it just can't feel as fresh, inherently.

The second problem is digital paint. The original was cel-based animation, and I think hand painted cels give a real, gritty feeling to Akira-era anime. 2040 wants to give an '80s feel, but just looks too new to do so. By 2012, it's also aged enough to look a little old (one character wears a very 1990s choker, for example). So 2040 winds up being the 90s version of the future of the 80s. (Confusing!)

The third major problem is Lina. Lina moves to Tokyo and decides she'd like to join the Knight Sabers, a super-secretive group of lady heroes in "hard suits" fighting to protect the metropolis from Boomers (which are cyborgs) that go berserk. It seems absurd that just anyone could up and decide to join our heroes. And how does Lina happen to know about the Knight Sabers if all the security cameras filming them get erased? I remember caring about angst-y pop star Priss in the original, as well as the bubbly hacker Nene, but I can't bring myself to care about Lina because she's a new character. Plus Priss is drawn off-model in some scenes to the point of looking ugly. It's a double whammy that the show stars a character I don't like and makes my favorite character look bad. To make matters worse, Lina wants to be Priss's rival. I can't cheer Lina on, and hoping for her to fail isn't compelling, either.

Some of the plots hang together in solid, prime time episodic scripts, but other episodes end abruptly in awkward demi-cliffhangers. There is a season arc, but I could guess the plot a mile away, which made this a bit of a chore to watch.

I can't seem to get into the music of 2040, either. Maybe no song in the entire world can shine in the shadow of "Konya wa Hurricane". The songs are dubbed, here, but they don't sound great. The rest of the dub is acceptable. Hilary Haag sounds a little shrill as Nene, but I think that's in line with the Japanese performance.

This isn't Perishable because it's still watchable and somewhat entertaining; it just isn't terribly recommendable. 2040 struggles to live in the shadow of the original BGC in my mind. It's probably a lot better if you've never seen the original and you like science fiction. Alternately, if you liked Dirty Pair Flash better than the original Dirty Pair, you might enjoy 2040.[TOP]

I wonder if I would've enjoyed One Piece more or less if I'd started properly from episode one instead of beginning in the middle with season two part three. I think I like One Piece more having started from a good point and then going back to the beginning.

This just barely scrapes by as a Shelf Worthy collection. I definitely wouldn't have called every set in the previous equivalent release Shelf Worthy. Together, the whole is more than the sum of its parts, which may very well be the key to loving One Piece.

Here's what I'm looking for in any One Piece collection: Did I laugh? Was there a cool fight? Did it make me cry (or almost cry)? If the collection accomplishes all three, it's reached my high level of One Piece quality assurance standards.

Admittedly, there are some comedy-only episodes in this set that failed to make me laugh, specifically episodes 46 and 47. I never liked Buggy as a villain (I hate clowns), and I was annoyed to see Buggy's return in a pair of slap-stick episodes that appeared to parody old Loony Tunes fare. Buggy walks some middle line between a formidable villain and the butt of a bad joke, and I wound up rolling my eyes whenever he was on screen. The real laughs in this set are all from Luffy, usually when he's smiling in the face of death.

The bulk of this set, at least in my mind, is about Nami's return to her home town, Cocoyashi, which has been under the thumb of a fish-pirate-mutant gang for eight years. As with the later Skypeia and Alabasta arcs, it's the flashback that's touching; Nami's adoptive mother Bellemere has an interesting life story to be told. Episode 44 brought a tear to my eye for sure.

The Loguetown arc, episodes 48-53, were more worth my money. The crew visits the town where the great age of pirates began, and the entire arc is like the beginning of a Dungeons & Dragons campaign (minus the tavern). Zoro shops for two new swords, Usopp buys some questionable equipment, Sanji fights in a quick one-episode cook-off, the crew makes some fierce new enemies, before finally setting sail for the much built-up Grand Line, all the while pursued by the Marines and a huge storm. Finally, after 50 episodes, an epic adventure begins.

All of the cool fight scenes are in the last handful of episodes in this set. I might be biased, since I've seen cooler fight scenes from later in the show. I know Luffy is going to beat the evil pirates by punching them, and it's just a matter of time for each plot arc. Arlong's fish gang just wasn't as intimidating as Crocodile or Eneru. Arlong is at his most intimidating when he eats a cannonball the Marines fire at him early in the set.

I'm glad I saw the Arlong Arc (Nami's story), but I don't think I'd rewatch it anytime soon. I'd certainly watch the Loguetown arc again.[TOP]

I'm also up for rewatching The Girl Who Leapt Through Time any day of the week. I'm little late to the party on this next review, but I got the blu-ray for Christmas and needed something short to round out the two 26 episode sets above.

I first saw The Girl Who Leapt Through Time at the New York International Children's Film Festival several years ago. It wasn't dubbed, and some of the children had trouble following the plot. This is in stark contrast to the reception of Summer Wars, Mamoru Hosoda's next film, at the same festival a couple years later. Even the very young children appeared to enjoy Summer Wars (subbed), and at the end they burst into spontaneous applause instead of turning to their parents with questions. (Hosoda was also present for Q&A at the Summer Wars screening.) Nevertheless, I think TGWLTT is a good movie to show older kids, and a classy enough film to watch with one's parents.

Makoto Konno (the encyclopedia says she's 17? I thought she was in junior high!) is a bit of a tomboy and a bit of a klutz. She enjoys playing baseball with her two (male) best friends, Chiaki and Kousuke, but she gets bad grades and sometimes sets home ec class on fire by accident. One day, Makoto trips and falls onto a time travel device in the science lab, and gains the ability to jump back in time for short periods (a few hours or days).

She accomplishes time travel by literally leaping, thus the title. Time travel films can be notoriously difficult to set up and explain, but TGWLTT handles it with panache. The leaping sequences are often the most memorable and cinematic scenes in the film. Hard science may take the back seat, but believable time travel clearly isn't a goal of the film.

The leaping sequences are extraordinarily well animated, as is the rest of the film. When I say "well animated" I mean that Makoto's landings have a believable heft and physical weight to them. When she rolls into a garbage can, you feel the impact in your gut. When Makoto throws a baseball, her arm moves the right number of frames in a realistically drawn sequence. Stretch and squash, speed and gravity in the film are drawn by accomplished hands.

The character design is simple and realistic, similar to the realism of Ghibli films without looking like a Ghibli film. There are two commentary tracks, and in one, staff members point out that Hosoda requested shadow-less characters (which is to say the characters don't have color highlights or two or three point shading). It's an interesting choice, and as such the film has a different look than most anime. It also looks a little weird on Blu-ray, which can be unforgiving when it comes to character animation.

The second half of the film has lots of emotional weight and less schoolyard goofiness. The reason I thought Makoto was younger is because she doesn't seem aware of her male friends as boys; rather, romance has no place in her life yet, as if it hasn't occurred to her, or she's been denying it. Makoto is almost prepubescent in that sense. As the film continues, there are life-and-death-level problems, and Makoto is forced to grow up a little.

Hosoda's direction shines through as Makoto is a very likeable protagonist with a wonderful physicality. The film is a sort of sequel/updated version on an older novel, and I've heard the author, Yasutaka Tsutsui, say that the protagonist needed to be updated to be a more modern girl. I agree with Tsutsui that Hosoda did a great job making such an active, delightful girl protagonist, even if she's a bit of a "bonehead". Emily Hirst plays a perfect Makoto in the dub.

The BD's multiple commentary tracks play alongside the storyboards, which is fun for a rewatch. The film by itself is good enough to belong in any classy anime collection, but the extras are so exhaustive that if you're on the fence about the film they easily push it into the "buy" category. Personally, I might not rewatch this film a thousand times because it's a little emotionally exhausting in the end (in a good way), but it's the sort of thing I'll enthusiastically loan out to friends. [TOP]

Speaking of friends, I wanted to like Bubblegum Crisis Tokyo 2040 more in order to fit in with my cool podcaster friends who love Bubblegum Crisis.

¹ Fast Karate for the Gentleman has done so many Bubblegum Crisis episodes that I seem to have created false memories about the OVAs. Let that be my BCG disclaimer.

I'll see you guys next week, possibly with Glass Maiden.

This week's shelves come from Stephen, who's writing in from Germany:

"I'm from Germany and I am seriously collect Anime and Manga since 2008. Since then I am buying DVDs and BDs from Japan, the US, UK and Germany. It started with the german Platinum Tin Box from Neon Genesis Evangelion and Elfen Lied, back then still from ADV. My favorits in my Collection are the Kara no Kyoukai BD-Box (US-Version), the japanese Evangelion 2.22 BD, the japanese Carnival Phantasm BDs and my signed DVDs and BDs (Working!, Gurren Lagann, Gunbuster Vs. Diebuster and so on). Actually I am espacially looking forward to the Fate/Zero BD-Box. In Germany we have it good when it comes to Movies, for example Evangelion 2.22 which was released here in september 2010 and we also have the Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works Movie here in Germany. But with TV-Anime it is so, that without the UK and US there wouldn´t be much we could buy.

My first Manga that I buyed was Slayers, by now I buy my Manga from Germany and the US. My favorits here are Genshiken, Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei and the Haruhi Novel.

As you could see on the Pictures I also have some Artbooks, CDs, Figures and Dakimakuras, which are not in the Pictures.

It isn´t the biggest Collection but I love it and I like the Shelf Life feature so I like to share my Collection with the ANN readers!"

Awesome shelves!

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

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