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Shelf Life
Chaos Theory

by Erin Finnegan,

Last week was rough. A lot was going on at work, I caught a nasty cold, and to top things off, there was a death in the family. I'd like to think that me being in a bad mood doesn't affect my reviews, but I can't pretend outside forces have no influence.

Maybe in a jollier week, Chaos;HEAd and Glass Maiden wouldn't be Perishable… or maybe not. I try to save “Perishable” for titles that are offensively bad, but in a looser definition of the category, I can't even recommend renting a Perishable title. (I've tagged my Perishable titles here.) One thing was certain this week; if I gave Rental Shelf to Chaos;HEAd I'd have to give Rental to Glass Maiden as well. Both are equally bad, albeit for opposite reasons.

Chaos;HEAd loses points for starting off promising and then getting worse until it is no longer watchable. The show winds up severely disappointing rather than staying consistently mediocre. The rate at which Chaos;HEAd declines could probably be expressed using a mathematical curve (I'd like to see an equation representing this curve, which is neither exponential nor linear – perhaps cubic?).

Takumi is a nerdy otaku high school boy who mostly skips school to hang out with his delusional fantasy girlfriend in his rooftop storage container apartment in Shibuya. His already loose grip on reality starts to slip further when he inadvertently opens a link in a chat board message that shows a gruesome murder that seems to have already taken place – in the future.

You can get all of that out of the Funimation trailer for Chaos;HEAd, and I would've been perfectly happy if the show stopped plotting from there. Takumi has serious problems. Maybe he has multiple personalities. A teen detective at school thinks Takumi committed the murders. If this were just a schlocky teen-detective-serial-killer-story, I could still go with it.

But no, that's not enough for Chaos;HEAd. The story starts to spin out of control; a potpourri of conspiracies are dumped into the plot. A Goth star attending Takumi's high school writes lyrics that might relate to the murder and it happens she can also pull a sword from thin air. Uneven gravity in Shibuya may be why teens are buying ugly frog charms for phones. An evil corporation is committing conspiracy on a grand scale. Characters start trying to convince Takumi that he has godlike psychic powers which can affect reality.

The show stops making sense about two layers in. Each additional conspiracy makes Chaos;HEAd less and less coherent and more laughably bad. (As in The Simpsons episode 2F07, “…the Rand Corporation, in conjunction with the saucer people -- under the supervision of the reverse vampires…”) I suspect all the layers might work well in a visual novel, but in an anime series they come off more like bad later seasons of The X-Files or the end of Lost. (And I liked the Lone Gunman!)

My biggest problem with the show is that once you introduce a nearly omnipotent character, it raises too many plot questions. It's hard to discuss without excessive spoilers, but when the show introduces a class of character that actually can manipulate reality, all further plot actions by the villains seem pointless. Why don't the good guys just rewrite reality however they see fit?

The plot's ambitions are far beyond the scope of the budget. This was clearly a mid-to-low budget production, yet the script calls for scenes of city-wide Armageddon. It's the best the animators can do to keep the major characters on-model. Perhaps because this was based on a visual novel, the complex character designs weren't simplified enough to do big action scenes. Takumi in particular starts to look unintentionally ugly in the second half of the show as, I assume, the budget for retakes was exhausted.

At least there's a dub. Overall, the dub script makes it easier to understand the massive conspiracy network. Plus Brittney Karbowski puts in a good performance as Takumi's sister Nanami. In Japanese Nanami sounds like a stereotype of a sister from an eroge (perhaps a dateable character?), but in the dub Karbowski sounds much more like a realistic sibling.[TOP]

At least the character designs were halfway decent. Glass Maiden suffers from a distinct lack of good designs.

Glass Maiden has some of the worst character designs I can remember since I started writing Shelf Life. I may have once complained that the characters in Neo Angelique Abyss were unmemorable, but at least they were sharp-looking. The characters in Glass Maiden are generic to the point of being instantly forgettable, and I think that's a cardinal sin for anime, where so much of the appeal of the medium is in the character design.

The plot centers around a “we do anything” detective agency (picture an unfunny Gintama, a more age diverse Sket Dance, or an un-sexy non-alcoholic RIN - Daughters of Mnemosyne - I am so sick of “do anything” companies!) who stumble upon the mysterious case of the glass maidens. Shady underground medical experimentation (…or something) has lead to a scourge of glass bodies turning up around town. The agency meets a real live one of these urban legends and starts sheltering her from the mysterious men who would kill her.

Our “wacky” ensemble cast includes Manami, the spunky teen sleuth who wets her pants on the first adventure (and far too many jokes are made of it); Akira, a young man Manami calls “mini-boss” who is subjected to the most unfortunate forms of sexual harassment; a grizzled world-weary ladies man named Shun; a perverted old doctor running a clinic with a sexy nurse named Monica; a muscular drag queen who runs a bar; and Ayaka, a personality-free Marcy to Manami's red headed Peppermint Patty. They name their glass maiden Sara (plain and tall, perhaps).

The plot unfolds in a fairly predictable way. The last couple of episodes have some action stunt scenes that won't dazzle anyone, but at least it's written in a partially believable way, unlike Chaos;HEAd. Chaos;HEAd's ambition outstripped its budget, but Glass Maiden's director and writer seemed to know exactly how much money they had for what they could get away with. As such it plays like a second rate cable series (I picture The Net, or any other USA Network action show).

I did not metaphorically flip the table over Glass Maiden in part because it never showed any promise at all. It was certainly a paycheck for somebody. No one was counting on this show to make their name in the industry. It has the air of a series that was created to keep a late night time slot open, or to keep a production pipeline going for the next series.

Glass Maiden has the feel of a light novel adaptation, but I can't find any evidence of this. I want to believe that the show's original creator/writer pictured his characters less generic than they were ultimately drawn, and the production just couldn't afford a better character designer (or someone was granted the position out of favoritism or nepotism, which are my favorite explanations for lousy entertainment). Glass Maiden was OK, but if it had an ambitious character designer or a crazy art director (like Cowboy Bebop or Jojo's Bizarre Adventure or Soul Eater or Tatami Galazy), it could've at least been slightly memorable.[TOP]

You can't win them all. I tried forgetting the rest of the week with the brain bleach that is K-On!.

You could do worse than K-On! volume four. I wonder, with the end of Bandai, if we'll ever see K-On!! (season two with its extra exclamation point for extra tea time excitement, I presume) or the movie in the U.S.. Regardless of future release prospects, I feel the ending of season one is fairly final without leaving me wanting more; it's a satisfying conclusion.

Granted, there are only three episodes on this disc, which harkens back to the bad old days of anime buying. Episode 12 concludes the season one story line, wherein the band plays the school festival (again). Episode 13 takes place over winter break, and in episode 14 the girls play their first “live house,” which is to say they play at a club (or music venue, we don't really have the same term in the U.S.).

I had some quibbles about the character animation on previous K-On! BD releases but I think the animation is totally solid on this final BD. I assume it's because the budget was saved up for the last episodes and the bonus episode is more of an OVA deal. I may not have cared for the lackadaisical plot of episode 13, but I did feel the cold as the characters exhaled in the wintery outdoors. Kyoto Animation can really pull out the technical/animation stops sometimes (as in The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya, which also featured convincing winter days).

If you haven't seen the live action movie Linda Linda Linda but you have seen episode 12 of K-On!, or episode 12 of Haruhi Suzumiya (strange that it's 12 of both series) it's worth checking out all three. I think Linda Linda Linda does a great job of portraying Japanese school festivals and that sentiment of wanting to play the Budokan. “This is our Budokan!” Yui says, and although that's a cop-out, I also believe her. Episode 12 of Haruhi is some of the finest television-budget animation I've ever seen (at least since episode 49 of Fist of the North Star, adjusted for inflation). I think you need episode 12 of K-On to fill out that triumvirate.

I loved episode 14, and I think that's mainly the reason to buy this disc. You get a detailed behind-the-scenes look at what it's like to play a live house, and even it's more detailed than in Beck. I've had friends who've played venues with their bands in the U.S., and it's such a different scene in America that it's too big a topic for Shelf Life. In any case, I was totally transported back to high school, when my friends wanted me to play bass and I suggested the band name “Lizard Queen” (Simpsons episode 9F11). (Lizard Queen made one self-released single, and I was not in the band.) I hated high school. K-On! must be a force to be reckoned with if it made me remember those days fondly.

The rest of K-On! might not really “be about the music , man!” (8F12), but the last disc is worth checking out. This is complete conjecture on my part, but with Bandai coming to a close, it may be quite some time before we see a complete series collection.[TOP]

Next week I'll take a look at how the U.S. Redline BD differs from the Japanese BD.

This week's shelves are from Gundam fan Ryan, who hails from Texas:

"Hey, I've seen so many awesome collections so I thought I would show off my otaku dungeon to everyone! I've been an anime for around 15 years and it's obvious seeing all the Gunpla littered throughout my room that I'm a huge fan of Gundam. "

Nice models!

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

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