Shelf Life
Vanilla ICE

by Erin Finnegan,

“I watched Five Numbers!,” an old friend and fellow anime fan to me said the other day over tea, “boy, what went wrong there?” Having reviewed it recently I happened to know the answer. In the extras, the writer said he only had a week to come up with the a script. I loved that there was such a coherent reason for the plot's failings. I've been thinking of that explanation as an excuse for other anime series ever since. It has replaced, in my mind, my previous favorite entertainment-explanation, from The Simpsons episode 8F24: “They drove a dump truck full of money up to my house! I'm not made of stone!”

I would like to think that such a logical excuse exists to explain the totally insane writing in ICE.

In many ways, ICE is a pleasant throwback to the days of crazy sci-fi OVA anime. It's dark and well animated, it's just three episodes long. Too bad the script is totally insane, but hey, I'm on board for the sci-fi goodness. This is a title that's trying way too hard and tripping over itself, but I'd rather see a big elaborate mess than a low-budget half-assed yawn-fest any day of the week.

In the somewhat distant future, a horrible disease has wiped out all men on Earth, and the remaining women are fighting each other in weird armies in the twilight of human civilization. Genetic engineering has left some monstrous creatures on the mostly uninhabitable earth, but it doesn't seem to have solved the infertility problem. In fact, there are only about 20,000 ladies left, and they mostly live in Shinjuku (truly a nightmarish future – why not Shibuya?). Also they fight with gun-swords, because aggressive men ruined the world with guns, and they believe in using less efficient weapons.

ICE is much more Children of Men or Ōoku than say, Geneshaft. I've seen the “twilight of civilization” theme elsewhere, in titles like The Children Who Chase Lost Voices from Deep Below and the Future volume of Tezuka's Phoenix manga. Some of the crazier genetic engineering stuff reminds me of the end of Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind manga.

With Japan in post-crisis mode and the declining birth rate, watching ICE now makes it seem even more relevant and poignant than it must have felt in 2007 when it came out.

That said, this show is truly a hot mess. Episode one opens inexplicably in the 1980's, during Japan's economic bubble, and it looks like anime from that time period. The next three scenes all seem to come from different series, possibly with different writers. This bizarre montage of time periods is repeated at the end, but nothing ties together, as if scenes from a previous script were animated before massive rewrites and then shoe-horned back in to the final product.

Character design styles clash throughout, as if costumes have been borrowed from other series. Sometimes the clashing styles seem intentional, and other times they seem like mistakes. Most of the action follows Hitomi Landsknecht, a badass with a Vincent Valentine-like outfit and her friendship with Yuki, a younger girl with a princess-like outfit from some other, happier show.

A lot of the animation is high-quality stuff, complete with a lot of lines and details that look like a lot of work. At other times it flies off the rails. One CG ballroom dancing scene looks laughably bad, coupled with totally inappropriate music.

Nevertheless, I'm willing to put up with a few CG soldiers with foot sliding problems if it's in exchange for a meaty plot. There seems to be too much plot here, enough plot for a much longer series, or a handful of books, all rammed together into the first two episodes. Unfortunately, the last episode totally falls apart. Guess what? The hero rushes in on a nearly suicidal mission while her buddies throw themselves in harm's way as sacrifices for the mission. (Seeing as how almost every anime series ends that way, I don't think it's a spoiler.) I almost made this Shelf Worthy, but the last episode is a disappointing series of textbook bad endings that don't explain the plot. I still don't know what ICE was.

I suspect the high animation budget came out of some AKB48 deal, since they sing the opening song and dub some of the voices. In fact, I suspect there are no men in this title in order to cast more AKB48 members. I'm not an AKB48 fan, but if cutting a deal with the band means more high budget sci-fi anime, I'm for it. There is a decent English dub with only minor script changes (additional swear words) but I suppose if you watch that, you're missing the AKB48 vocals.

I watched the OVA, but a movie version just came out from Seminal with a slightly longer running time. Maybe I'll check it out.[TOP]

ICE is over-designed, unlike Fairy Tail, which needs help in the design department… but I complained enough about Fairy Tail's designs last time.

Part two of Fairy Tail is at least an improvement on part one. We get Gray's backstory, a little more information on Lucy, and even something about Elfman Strauss, who I had assumed was more of a background character.

The more I watch Fairy Tail, the more I appreciate Naruto. Is that weird? I didn't even like Naruto until episode 26, and now it's been so long since I've seen it that I can't remember when, exactly, I started to feel sympathy towards the characters. Maybe flashbacks to Naruto's sad early childhood won me over… I keep thinking about this because I absolutely don't care about a single Fairy Tail character.

I keep thinking of Gray as Sasuke, since he's Natsu's moody best friend/rival. Gray's backstory is revealed around episode 15, in Naruto you don't get Sasuke's story until episode 84. Rather than Sasuke, Gray's story is more like Nami's from One Piece, insomuch as his adopted parent confronted a big bad guy who messed up an entire town. Nami's story had more melodrama and although I thought all the crying was a bit much at the time, melodrama may be what Fairy Tail lacks. I appreciate the show is trying to keep things light, but somehow that means the characters lack warmth. (Natsu setting things on fire is not what I mean by “warmth”.)

The Galuna island arc wraps up with a comedy reversal that felt like a punishment for the viewer. It's followed by several filler comedy episodes, before launching into a more dramatic arc wherein the Fairy Tail guild is attacked viciously and directly. I'd like to think the direct attack on the guild equates to Naruto episodes 78-80 (the assault on Konoha), but by that point in Naruto I was far more attached to the characters. The Fairy Tail wizard battle features a bunch of characters I barely know and fighting some brand new villains I've never heard of.

I can't shake the notion that Hiro Mashima is making this up as he goes along. In One Piece, one gets the feeling that Eiichiro Oda has plotted things out years in advance (he's said so in interviews). Fairy Tail strikes me as an open story wherein Mashima can make up new magic systems and guilds as the story deems necessary.

Mostly, I'm getting sick of a something I'll call the “magic ninja battle”. The “magic ninja battle” is an open system, the opposite of say, real life baseball, which is a closed system. When a pitcher is facing a batter in real life, baseball has specific rules set in advance. There are a finite number of outcomes, and the spectators can predict those outcomes. In a “magic ninja battle” two characters face off in a vaguely defined battle where any outcome is possible. The author hasn't established the rules of ninja magic or the character's abilities and can just make something up. Readers or viewers cannot predict the outcome because the character's abilities are not known before the confrontation begins. The rules of the game are liquid, and are made up on the spot. Spectator characters must continually tell us all rules and possibilities as events unfold. Most anime falls somewhere between the two extremes of real sports and magic ninja duels. Fairy Tail is filled with magic ninja battles. At least in Naruto there are a few restrictions to the magic system, and early on Naruto only knows a few tricks. The more Naruto strays from the established villages and powers, the less I like it.

I found the dub actor commentary more interesting than many of the episodes. In one, Newton Pittman tells his life story, beginning with an attempt to become a pro musician in Los Angeles and ends with an impromptu song about Fairy Tail. (It's better than the CPM dub actor singing about Utena…) In another commentary, one dub actor complains that while Fairy Tail has an excessive amount of dialog, the dub rewriters get paid the same episode rate.

At least Fairy Tail has great incidental music. Full orchestras occasionally back scenes, making them seem just a little bit better. [TOP]

I can't get attached to the characters from Fairy Tail even knowing their backstories, but I was instantly attached to Kei and Yuri, even though their backstory remains a mystery.

I loved the Dirty Pair TV series, and if anything I liked these OVA episodes even more. These stand alone episodes are just a tad better than the TV series, and there aren't so many of them that I got tired of marathoning it.

The set kicks off well with some strong stories about a space prison riot, a Halloween heist adventure featuring a runaway robot super weapon (like the contemporaneous OVA Black Magic M-66), followed by an interesting episode set on a puritanical planet covered with corn fields where the dress code has Kei and Yuri in long, modest dresses (at least at first). The drastic costume change makes for a humorous break in the story. How much are Kei and Yuri's personalities tied to their signature outfits?

Episode six, “What? A Surprise Seaside Wedding Panic” is particularly memorable. Kei and Yuri visit a resort island run by a mafia, and Kei considers getting married. The episode opens with a montage of some of the most 1980's looking motifs possible; tropical drinks aboard a yacht, and a bright red convertible sports car zooming along a seaside highway. The episode cleverly parodies a few American films while simultaneously hinting at what could become of Kei and Yuri when they stop being Trouble Consultants.

Of course, not every OVA episode is a winner. In particular, episode eight “This Girl Is My Elder! Sleeping Beauty”, was rather weak, with at least one poorly written twist.

Several episodes feature copious amounts of implied collateral damage, such as the asteroid casino episode, “And Then No One Played” , so it's quite a twist in episode nine, “Slaughter Squad! Red Eyed Hell Signal,” when Kei and Yuri have to save a group of pre-teen hacker terrorists without a single casualty.

The music and effects track are different in the dub, no doubt because the masters were delivered with all the audio channels mixed down and everything had to be redone. The music seems a tad anachronistic for the 1980's at times, but it's not too distracting. I'd rather soak in the 1980's completely, given the chance, but I also enjoyed the dub. The dub script varies quite a bit from the original, but stays in the spirit of things. The dub only bothered me when minor characters had overly wacky accents. Although, who am I to say that the original didn't have a bunch of wacky regional Japanese dialects?

A few liner notes are included on the DVDs themselves, including a note about how the Lovely Angel's pet bear-cat, Mughi, is in fact a Coeurl, a creature originally created by early sci-fi author A. E. van Vogt. In the background of a science lab in one scene is a sketch of a sleek and handsome M.U.G.H.I., a far cry from the real thing. I couldn't stop thinking about the prototype sketch, and afterward every time Mughi appeared on screen I thought, “wow, Mughi has really let himself go! What's he eating while he waits on the spaceship for Kei and Yuri?”

Perhaps it goes without saying that if you're not into 1980's sci-fi anime you'll want to pass on Dirty Pair. If you like 80's anime, watch this back to back with Megazone 23 part one. [TOP]

Next week maybe I'll catch up on some more Sentai releases by hitting up Kobato.

Heads up, in two weeks I'm going to MangaNext. Stop by my panels and say hi if you're there. Consequently, there will be no Shelf Life on February 27th while I enjoy scenic New Jersey.

This week's shelves are from Brandon:

"Yo people I just felt like sharing my small collection of anime dvd's, figures and games. It's noting really to special by most standards but I figured why the heck not and let you all rate my collection. Thanks for any time/feed back."

What does everyone think?

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

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