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Shelf Life
The Lonely Hearts Club

by Erin Finnegan,

Noah and I were on the ANNCast last week (my husband Noah, and not the hooded utilitarian Noah). Be sure to check it out if you haven't already. I talk about some of the shows below, but with even more attitude!

How is your President's Day so far? I have today off from work, but not off from Shelf Life, instead, I'm taking Monday the 27th off to recover from MangaNext and prepare for Genericon. Be sure to check out my panels at those conventions and say hi if you read this column!

Last week I watched a lot of One Piece.

This collection ends right where I started reviewing and watching One Piece, with episode 78. Having now caught up with the English language DVD releases, I'm going to say that this set is when One Piece starts to get good. More precisely, I think the story takes off during the Loguetown Arc in Collection 2, around episode 48. But Loguetown includes Buggy the Clown, whom I dislike, (I'm scared of clowns and don't think they're funny, thanks in part to Doctor Who episode 151).

In this set, One Piece stops being about goofy reaction shots so much as down-and-dirty adventuring. Each mini-arc begins with Luffy and crew pulling up to an island, splitting up, getting kidnapped and/or losing the ship, solving all the problems on the island, rescuing everyone, finding/restoring the ship, and leaving for the next adventure. (The ship is not in peril as much here as on later islands.) It's a little like the oldschool Doctor Who formula, wherein the Tardis lands on Planet With a problem, the doctor and his sidekick(s) split up, lose the Tardis, solve the problem, rescue each other, recover the Tardis, and take off again for more adventures.

The “log pose” method of island navigation is set up in this collection, establishing why the crew must island hop and setting up their ultimate goal. Most episodes of One Piece are not terribly important, but five minutes of episode 63 set up the entire Grand Line.

This set kicks off the Baroque Works saga, but none of the arcs in this collection are as long as the drawn-out Alabasta arc. They talk about Alabasta a lot, but won't make it there for a while yet. And speaking of “drawn out,” I love One Piece, but I'm not a One Piece apologist. I would love to see a fan re-cut (or, given infinite time, do one myself) aimed at fans watching the series as a marathon. Even the Funimation “marathon mode” isn't efficient enough for my purposes. I appreciate the fact that One Piece was meant to be watched one episode per day, or even per week, and in that context, the amount of recap and dramatic tension per episode makes sense. But that just isn't the reality of how American fans in 2012 are consuming this show.

For example, I did not want to go to bed last night before ending the Little Garden arc. Nami, Vivi, and Zoro are being turned into wax statues by a particular villain, and Luffy is continually delayed in his attempts to save them. The situation is recapped before the title card in each episode, but the characters also re-state their predicament via repetitive dialog multiple times. That's fine for viewers tuning in every day after school, but I'd like to see a more succinct creative re-edit for fans like me, catching up on 300+ episodes.

Complaints aside, this set includes pirates hunting dinosaurs. How awesome is that? Dorry and Broggy are the two most charming giant Viking warriors in all of animation. I couldn't get enough of their endearing laughter in the dub. I was also enamored of the giant scarred whale guarding the Grand Line entrance, as well as the crew's suspiciously warm welcome to Whiskey Peak. The introductory Baroque Works numbered agents didn't seem like a tired idea to me here; probably since I've already seen the end of the Alabasta arc, I know Luffy's not fighting numbered villains forever.

Now that I'm more caught up, I'm looking forward to episode 206 and beyond.[TOP]

I can't say the same for Kobato. I watched Collection 1, but I'm not sure I'll make it to Collection 2…

Title character Kobato is a cute girl who arrives on Earth magically, and it's hinted at that maybe she's not quite human. She's on a mission to heal/mend a set number of broken hearts to fulfill her wish, a wish that's kept secret from the audience throughout collection one. Aiding Kobato on her quest is Ioryogi, a cantankerous talking stuffed dog toy magic thing/guy. He clearly wasn't always a stuffed animal, but his past is a mystery until episode 12.

I was not into this show. Kobato is unrelentingly nice and innocent, and gee whiz, she sure loves to help people! Most of the characters Kobato meets are also nice, and even the mean characters seem like they have hearts of gold. Coupled with Kobato's lack of intellectual prowess and physical grace, this show ends up having only slightly more conflict than say, the game Animal Crossing. In one episode she helps find a home for a kitten!

I'm exaggerating a bit; there is some conflict in the show. Kobato gets a job at a kindergarten whose previous owner racked up some debts with shady lenders. I couldn't bring myself to care about kindergarten potentially closing. I've seen the anime trope before wherein the hero must save an orphanage (Kitchen Princess, Tiger Mask), but these kids aren't even orphans. They'll probably end up attending the flashy new kindergarten elsewhere in the neighborhood.

Sorry, but giant Vikings dueling on an island populated by dinosaurs was a little more my speed. It makes me sound bloodthirsty, but at least lives are at stake in One Piece. Save for some stuffed animal fighting in episode 12, this show would be more at home on the Disney Channel's pre-school block (if Kobato learned more lessons about sharing). I suspect your enjoyment of Kobato. depends on how much you buy into the conceit that Kobato herself is cute (I think she's annoying), or how much Ioryogi's antics are funny (I think not at all). I found myself continually siding with Ioryogi, who is grumpy and annoyed by Kobato's naivety.

This being a CLAMP series, there are plenty of cross-over characters with other CLAMP titles. Confusingly, Kobato moves into the apartment complex from Chobits. The series predates Chobits somehow, and none of the characters appear to be robots with the robot ear things. I did not love Chobits (although I understand it better now thanks to Shaenon Garrity). The cross-overs not only failed to interest me, but actively repelled me.

As much as I begrudge Kobato., this is a competently made show. Just when I was about to ask “Why doesn't she just break hearts and then mend them?” Ioryogi mentions that possibility as a joke. Just when I was about to throw the remote in frustration, an angel bunny tells Kobato she only has one year to complete her mission. Individual episodes center around one-off character problems, and some of the problems are decent; in one episode two childhood best friends are drifting apart in high school. I could identify with that story, and as such it was legitimately emotionally affecting.

The pacing of Kobato. drives me batty. It's so slow… This is a 24 episode series, and by the end of episode 12 Kobato is not even halfway to her goal. Plus the characters continuously restate Kobato's mission, without clarifying her goal. It's clever, because I half-want to keep watching to find out what her goal is, but I dislike Kobato and suspect it's probably something dumb and selfless and cute and touching.

Kobato. is only for CLAMP completists. It would be Perishable, but it fails to offend me like Chobits, nor is the plot a mess like other Perishable titles.[TOP]

To cleanse my palate of pirates and super-cute things, I watched Chihayafuru.

Bamboo can't get enough of Chihayafuru in her new column, The Stream, so I had to check it out.

I tend to like sports anime, and Hikaru no Go is one of my favorite series, so I was willing to give a show about the poetic competitive card slapping game karuta a solid chance, despite my husband comparing it unfavorably to competitive cup stacking. I also happened to watch a manga awards ceremony in Japan where Chihayafuru won, so I was all cool and heard of this before it was an anime series.

The show gets off to a bit of a Slow Start as there's a three episode long flashback to protagonist Chihaya's childhood. This sets up Chihaya's friendship with sports-loving Taichi and karuta-loving Arata. The three friends all vow to go pro, but flash forward to high school and not all of them are still playing the game. I like the realism of that reveal; Hikaru in Hikaru no Go may progress smoothly from beginner 6th grade player to pro, but Chihayafuru is more realistic. A lot of stuff can happen between 6th and 10th grade to change one's interests.

Another stroke of realism comes in around episode 12; even though the karuta club is doing well, they have trouble gaining recognition from the school or respect from their club advisor. I had that exact problem with a high school sports team once.

Although I get the basics of karuta from watching the show, the finer details of the game still elude me. My enjoyment of the show doubled during episode six wherein Chihaya recruits a girl who loves the history behind the poems on the cards. I learned some actual Japanese history and poetry interpretation in one 30 minute episode! It's tough to be simultaneously entertaining and educational.

Chihayafuru is very good at getting across that enthusiasm is contagious. Chihaya starts to love karuta when she sees Arata's passion, and in turn, she inspires others to play the game, or play the game again after they've long since quit. In general, the show excels at emotional beats. I felt every player's loss in my gut. The moments when Chihaya realizes she's failing to empathize with her team are likewise well played.

I love that the music is slightly over-the-top. Every minute of gameplay is underscored with well-orchestrated inspirational sports music, reminiscent of Olympic themes or (my favorite) the opening theme to the 1984 Olympics. Such inspirational music seems a little incongruous with a card game, as if Aaron Copland composed a theme song to open ESPN poker championships.

There is a lot of impressive 2D CG animation in this show, especially in the opening credits. The CG blends fairly well into the 2D compared to most anime. It's much more subtle than, say, the CG in mahjong shows like Akagi.

Unlike a lot of other card playing anime meant to sell TCGs (looking at Yu-Gi-Oh! here), Chihayafuru is 100% class. OK, maybe it's 80% class, and 20% tears and sweat. Much like how Hikaru no Go is all about tears on a go board, the characters in Chihayafuru cry (and sweat) onto the tatami mats (and everywhere else) frequently and copiously. After five episodes I wanted to see a precipitation measurement of the number of inches of water shed in this show.

After the first six episodes, Chihayafuru moves along at a steady clip, especially for a sports series. I'm looking forward to the second half.[TOP]

Alright, I'll see you guys in two weeks! I've got some Princess Resurrection to watch on the road…

This week's shelves are from Mary and her brother Thomas:

"I'm Mary and this shelf belongs to my brother Thomas and I. It started eight years ago with only two Rurouni Kenshin books and has exploded into this over the years. There are 361 books, 26 dvds, 10 cds, 25 figures and 6 plushies. We work really hard on it and clean it a lot and every couple years we need a bigger shelf. This shelf is only a year and a half old and we're going to need a bigger one soon!

Thanks for checking out our shelf!"

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