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Shelf Life
Vampire Diaries

by Erin Finnegan,

I spent Superbowl Sunday avoiding the Superbowl, as usual. I love my current neighborhood, where I was able to find at least two bars with no TVs. There are also a lot of sports bars around here, including a soccer and a pinball bar. I guess there are a lot of bars in general…

In any case, last weekend I also watched the first season of Rosario + Vampire.

Imagine if Nura; Rise of the Yokai Clan was a harem comedy starring a human -- complete with panty shots every minute or so -- and you've got Rosario + Vampire. You know what? Forget Nura. Just because it includes every yokai variety that doesn't make it a fair comparison.

Tsukune is a human who fails every high school entrance exam and winds up in Yokai Academy, where all the students are Yokai (except him). In fact, most of the students want to eat humans.

Right off the bat, before even arriving at school the first day, Tsukune hits it off with Moka, a vampire chick. She starts treating him like a boyfriend - or maybe just breakfast. A succubus starts competing for Tsukune's “love” (or food source?) in episode two. There's also an elementary-school aged witch and a Yuki-onna who may or may not be in love with Tsukune. Maybe they're all just friends. You know the drill.

At the very least, Rosario tries to give us something a little different along with all of the elements that are exactly the same as other database shows. There is one fight scene per episode and an energetic bat (think Babbit from Kodocha) tells us how long, in seconds, each fight scene was. I'm sure that was a funny inside joke to someone at some stage of the production, but I didn't laugh.

I think Rosario was trying hard to entertain with some humor, some bouncy boobs, some monsters, and the aforementioned fights. Unfortunately I wasn't amused, I wasn't titillated, and the fight scenes didn't impress me. I spent most of my time watching the series thinking, “Rental or Perishable?” alternating with “what should I eat for dinner?” At least Magikano made me laugh, and I was somewhat interested in the fights in Sekirei. Rosario isn't as bad as say, Needless, but it's just bad enough that I can't really see recommending it to anyone. I'd rather be watching Rental-worthy KenIchi the Mightiest Disciple any day of the week, where more thought and care went into the fight scenes.

I have several deep problems with Rosario. Here's just one: Moka can transform from a cute, somewhat klutzy vampire into a sexier, more powerful vampire. This seems pointless, as she only gets a little cuter, and only slightly more powerful. Maybe it's a reference to Dance in the Vampire Bund (another favorite). I can't take Moka and Tsukune's relationship seriously because it reminds me of this Hezog quote from the movie Grizzly Man:

“What haunts me, is that in all the faces of all the bears that Treadwell ever filmed, I discover no kinship, no understanding, no mercy… And this blank stare speaks only of a half-bored interest in food.”
Maybe a vampire can love a human as more than just breakfast. Maybe supernatural romance isn't my thing. Maybe I haven't met a breakfast sandwich good enough to date. Rosario touches on anti-human racism (species-ism?) but as a comedy series, it never gets too serious thematically.

In the later half of the season, Tsukune's motly crew of would-be girlfriends join the newspaper club, and even compete against another rival student newspaper on campus. I would've been pleased if the papers competed by one-upping each other using high journalistic standards, but instead the two clubs attempt to give away more papers by wearing increasingly sexier outfits. Bikinis don't really interest me as much as actual newshounding (I'd prefer better fact-checking to more breasts, but one sells better than the other).

The show has a better dub than it deserves. This set comes with a chipboard box with room for season two.[TOP]

Having had enough of panties, next I watched some serious anime. Maybe a little too serious… surely there's a middle ground between yokai babes and Gasaraki's homely characters.

I regret that I've never seen Armored Trooper Votoms, which I suspect is the Ryousuke Takahashi's fan favorite work from the old days of watching raw VHS anime and reading photocopied episode summaries in video viewing rooms at Sci-Fi cons.

In a world of otherwise realistic mech battles using “Tactical Armor”, the Gowa clan has the key to an ancient bipedal super weapon, the titular Gasaraki. Around a third of the series is about a war between the U.S. and the fictional Middle Eastern power of Belgistan, a third covers star pilot and Noh dancer Yushiro Gowa, as he struggles with his fate, and another third is about extremist right wing politicians trying to fix the price of wheat on the stock market.

I liked Yushiro's storyline, but the longer the series went on, the more empty he seemed as a character. The war with Belgistan's mustachioed dictator at first seems to eerily predict the Iraq War, save for the fact that in reality, the Iraq War turned out to be a far more complicated than an arms race. As for the old men arguing about the price of wheat… in my “Unusual Manga Genres” panel I may celebrate the existence of manga about economics, but that doesn't mean I want to subject myself to hours of anime about the it. (It terms of economics, Gasaraki is the opposite of Spice and Wolf.)

Back in the day, Bamboo reviewed volume six of Gasaraki very favorably. I can't say it holds up when there are so many other good shows to watch from the last decade of anime. I only enjoyed the extremely elaborately animated Noh dance sequences of Gasaraki, and could leave everything else in the show. I suppose I also didn't mind the flashbacks to the previous generation, which, in my mind, were free of recent history and political connotations.

What's striking watching Gasaraki now is how very 1998 it is, as if anime were just as trend-prone as fashion magazines. A lot of the themes in Gasaraki about awakening an ancient Japanese spiritual energy are similar to Shingu: Secret of the Stellar Wars or Neo Ranga. Entire scenes two-thirds of the way through Gasaraki look like riffs on Neon Genesis Evangelion. Everything about Gasaraki, from the dark colors to the moody politicians, seem to point to a dour time in Japan's recession.

Right Stuf's re-release uses better fonts, drops the dated DVD menu animations the ADV release had, and keeps Japanese on-screen text in the opening. All of the extras are intact, many of the extras are un-watchably boring. In one, a production staff member just flips through a paper design packet. The slim TRSI volume is just one DVD volume wide, which will save some shelf space if you're thinking of trading in the previous massive 8-volume box.[TOP]

The Twelve Kingdoms BDs are also space-savers, if you're consolidating shelves.

I have this crazy theory that if you saw the first episode of Twelve Kingdoms and hate-hate-hated Yoko as a character, you could start watching from episode 15 instead. I probably got this wild idea by reading the second novel in the series, The Twelve Kingdoms: Sea of Wind, which has absolutely nothing to do with Yoko, and focuses instead on a new protagonist; Taiki.

The anime series ties the two protagonists together a bit more than I remembered from watching the show on DVD. It kicks off with Sugimoto, (the anime-only frenemy from season one), now back in the real world, investigating another teen who is rumored to have been “spirited away”. Taiki, as it turns out, was almost born as a kirin in the 12 Kingdoms, but got swept up by a magic wind and born in our world in human form.

Only 10 years old, Taiki is taken back to the 12 Kingdoms and given a primer on the world politics; as kirin, he doesn't exactly vote for the next king of his country, rather, Taiki must choose the man already destined to be king as determined by the will the of heaven. Taiki isn't sure how he'll know the king when he sees him, and everyone keeps telling him it's just “in the kirin's nature” to know. He's also supposed to “just know” how to transform into his kirin form, and everyone on his home island is a little worried when he can't figure out how to shape shift.

I took Taiki's story as a metaphor for puberty, or some other natural developmental change to one's body, that when it hasn't happened by a certain age one starts worrying and obsessing over it. I could identify more with Taiki's worrying than Yoko's desire to return to a world where her parents hated her.

The final two discs introduce a third storyline about a new character, Suzu, who's path crosses with Yoko. Honestly, I had completely forgotten about Suzu. She's not as memorable as Taiki. By the time Suzu meets Yoko, Yoko is basically a badass with a sword.

In the first two episodes of this set, there's a lot of repeated dialog that might be off-putting to some viewers. “So I'm a kirin?” Taiki says a lot, and “I have to choose the King of Tai,” over and over. To be fair, this is a series is heavy on fantasy vocabulary and some of the terminology really is hard to remember. If you're not marathoning the show, it's probably less repetitive.

Twelve Kingdoms wasn't meant to be marathoned, anyway. I once heard this anime did well in the ratings with senior citizens in Japan, but now I can't remember my source. I could see watching this one episode at a time, maybe with one's (open minded) grandma, maybe on Sunday nights. I think it has a winding-down-the-week, relaxing sort of feeling to it. That isn't to say 12 Kingdoms is boring, it's just a little quieter than some series.

The character animation starts to look crappy in less-important episodes and scenes, and the Blu-ray release really brings out that crappiness. The finale episodes are much better off. This isn't a series you desperately need to own on BD, but the BD's are certainly a nice chance to pick it up if you don't already own it.

My copy of Sea of the Wind, The Shore of the Maze arrived in January, rather than around the October release date. A few of my followers on Twitter pointed to an Amazon.com mistake on the release date, but I haven't confirmed this.[TOP]

Next week I'll be reviewing the new Dirty Pair OVA set.

This week's shelves are from Michael:

"It may not be as big as some other people's, but I've amassed quite a bit of anime over time. The most expensive thing in my collection is the Wings of the Honneamise DVD/Blu-Ray set, which I got for Christmas a few years ago, not really expecting it. I recently finished collecting the DBZ Dragon Boxes, which is quite a feather in my cap. I also have more than a few singles in my collection. I used to buy anime as soon as it came out, in singles, but got spoiled by collections. This is actually not ALL of my collection. This is just as much as would fit into those plastic drawers! I've run out of room to put this stuff! Even more stunning than my collection is my Cowboy Bebop movie poster from 2002, signed by Shinichiro Watanabe, Toshihiro Kawamoto, and Yoko Kanno! "

Nice poster!

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

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