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Shelf Life
Bod Squad

by Erin Finnegan,

At Genericon I went to several great panels run by the “Con Artists” group. I particularly enjoyed the “Bad Anime, Burn on Sight!” panel. One panelist named Sue gave a presentation on her method of psychological escape from bad anime series, using detailed charts. She outlined how she could save sanity by attaching to one good character, or a good plotline. I immediately saw the brilliance of this method and started thinking about ways to use it as I watch titles for Shelf Life (it was too late for this week's titles, however).

Sue came up to me after my “Unusual Manga Genres” panel and said she'd liked it, and she reads Shelf Life every week! I was thrilled because how awesome is it to find out a cool person you just met already knows who you are?! That was my favorite Genericon moment. I mean, I also shared the stage with Johnny Yong Bosch at opening ceremonies, but he didn't know who I was beforehand (I think, based on how he read my bio in the con book in front of me).

Thumbs up to Genericon! And thumbs partway up to Rosario + Vampire Capu2, which is a huge improvement over season one.

When it comes to ecchi shows, I seem to have developed a reputation of rating them Perishable, since the harem/boob/panty genre is not my forte. You might ask, what would it take for one of those titles to be Shelf Worthy? Like any other genre, it'd have to be re-watchable, or come with some sweet extras, or be a title I'd loan to friends. Ranma ½ and Urusei Yatsura are, to date, the only harem (or harem-like) comedies I've seen that are Shelf Worthy (I'm on the fence about the original Tenchi Muyo! Ryo Ohki OAV). All the 2000's harem series I've seen, including Rosario + Vampire, are a glut of claptrap generic titles with cookie-cutter characters.

That said, Capu2 is much, much better than Rosario season one. The budget has at least doubled for Capu2. Nothing grosses me out more than low budget, off-model boobs, which put season one in the gutter, but the season two budget is high enough to keep the breasts and panties on model almost 100% of the time. The monetary improvements are most obvious in the elaborate opening credit sequence of season two, featuring a ludicrous rotoscoped CG disco dance number.

The writing has also significantly improved. I suspect the higher budget allowed the crew to hire better writers, or at least allowed the writers more freedom. Or, perhaps after the formulaic requirements of the first 13 episodes, the writers were allowed to branch out with a few new ideas. Season two features many episodes that take place refreshingly off campus, like a school trip to Kyoto and even a ski trip. Season one was all more budget-friendly on-campus fare.

I was put off, at first, by the edition of a new character, Moka's violent redheaded twin-tailed younger sister Kokoa. “The last thing this harem needs is another girl,” I grumbled, but the new screenwriters made Kokoa tolerable, even funny at times. The show won me over enough that when it introduced protagonist Tsukune's heretofore unmentioned cousin-raised-as-his-sister Kyoko, I was OK with that (instead of disgusted). At least Kyoko doesn't rub herself all over him...

I haven't seen such a huge turnaround in a show since Girls Bravo. Girls Bravo season one was a mess, but season two was shockingly watchable, like a modestly budgeted sitcom. As with Girls Bravo season 2, I was able to ignore the panty flashing and laugh at some of the jokes in Capu2. When it comes to comedy, I tend to rate things that got a few laughs Rental, zero laughs Perishable, and lots of laughs Shelf Worthy. Capu2 did make me laugh a few times.

I laughed especially hard at episode six, which featured an old-school yanki motorcycle fight coupled with some old-school “burning passion” animation with thick lines (you might remember this sort of thing parodied in Lucky Star). There was even an extended Sukeban Deka reference. I also liked episode eight, wherein the girls are briefly forced to wear long skirts (also like Sukeban).

Of course I'm annoyed at Yukari, the pre-requisite AA-cup witch who's 11 but also an academic genius allowed to attend high school, but it's hard to maintain my anger at the sexual exploitation of minors when every single show like this has a character like that. Eventually they really do start to wear down your resistance. Nevertheless, Monica Rial puts in a cute and funny dub performance as Yukari.

In general, the dub is OK unless you're sick of Todd Haberkorn being in every Funimation release lately. Almost every episode features a brief song-within-the episode that's been dubbed, which left me reaching for the remote to switch back to the Japanese audio.

Both season one and two of Rosario were released on the same day. I loathed part one so much I put off watching Capu2. I'm sure if you kind of liked season one, you'll love season two.[TOP]

If Capu2 was a pleasant surprise, I was even more pleasantly surprised by First Squad.

Few moments in history are more depressing than the Battle of Stalingrad, and I'm hard pressed to think of a topic more depressing than child soldiers. Despite the subject matter, this Studio 4°C movie about a teen soldier at the battle of Stalingrad is far from depressing.

Nadya used to be just your average Russian circus performer in a family of trapeze artists until she was orphaned by the war and thrown into a super-secret psychic training program in the army. Her fellow teen circus performers/soldier squad members all died in their first battle, leaving Nadya alone with some powerful precognitive powers and a nasty case of survivor's guilt. Our story takes off as the Russian government needs Nadya back to fight one last battle, as the Nazis try to resurrect dead armies to fight the Soviets.

The plot is a tad convoluted, as multiple flashbacks play out to get us up to speed. Nadya has the ability to tell how people will die as the story opens, but a head injury stops her from using psychic powers in a turn that seems more like a writing mistake than a well-planned plot twist. Indeed, the plot careens forward like some out-of-control car. It's not as much of a mess as say, ICE, or as half-formed an idea as Five Numbers! but it does seem like someone had less than a month to write the script.

Studio 4°C's animation is formidable. The action sequences are well done, complete with some well-incorporated CG elements. The character design doesn't look stereotypically “anime-ish” and based on the film's production credits, this appears some kind of Russian co-production between Studio 4°C and a handful of Russian authors and other creative talent. So that's pretty unique.

One sequence towards the end of First Squad punched me right in my childhood's heart. In order to travel between the land of the living and the land of the dead, some of the characters hop into carnival ride-looking cars. It looks almost exactly like the opening sequence of the 1983 Dungeons and Dragons cartoon.

Don't get me wrong, this is a very appealing, geeky, pulpy title. It features Teutonic Knights, an occult-filled Nazi adventure, a psychic teen story that doesn't end in “Nooooo!! BOOM” and some other details for history nerds. More importantly, I wasn't bored for a second.

The English dub seems fine (I can't comment on the Russian track authoritatively). The DVD I watched was cut into a film, without the “mockumentary” segments I've seen mentioned on Wikipedia.[TOP]

First Squad was something cool I'd never heard of, but Bodacious Space Pirates was something cool I had already heard a lot about.

Teenage Marika is as clear-eyed and good-natured as any great Shonen Jump protagonist (without actually being one), and like all Jump heroes, she is destined to follow in the footsteps of her great-yet-estranged father, who, in this case, (as you might expect from the title) was a space pirate. Upon the announcement of her father's sudden death, Marika more-or-less inherits a spaceship and crew.

Unlike most actual pirates (from the 1650s to the 1730s, who I assume were mostly poor criminals and ne'er-do-wells), Marika has, up until now, been living a swell middle-class life on a scenic, affluent planet where she attends what looks like a fairly reputable all-girls school and takes part in the space yachting club. It follows that Marika's middle class background is meant to appeal squarely to the audience of the original light novels.

We're given a whole load of background about space colonies at the beginning of episode one, but it isn't until episode six that we really learn what it takes to be a pirate in the universe of the show. Indeed, seems like piracy is mostly a joke at this point in the universe's history, as you have to get a certificate (well, a Letter of Marque, as was used in actual history) and keep renewing it in order to stay technically "legal". It's an accurate representation of what a Letter of Marque does, but it sends the show's tone off - after all, I thought we were talking about real, honest-to-dog pirates! Episode six left me wondering if the show should be relabeled Bodacious Space Bureaucrats.

But before that, episodes two through five are devoted to a somewhat tedious mini-arc where the yachting club goes out for a small cruise and encounters some space hackers. Despite the cool-sounding premise, there are a lot of super-detailed technical scenes that had me thinking back to the 1986 movie SpaceCamp, which is to say I was disappointed.

Eventually Marika gets so busy with her space pirate captain duties she starts flunking tests in school. I'm not even sure why she needs to graduate at that point, but OK, sure, maybe a high school diploma is important to her mom. More puzzling, Marika keeps working her after school job at a maid café. She throws out some dialog about how the maid café is relaxing, but I couldn't suspend disbelief. The waitress job is clearly an excuse to keep showing Marika in a maid outfit. I found that distracting in a show that otherwise passes the Bechdel Test with flying colors.

Still, I'm willing to let a lot of things slide for science fiction. The production values are high enough to keep me going and to keep recommending this to people. The opening credits alone were enough to get me hooked (especially the space suited figure watching an asteroid shower, which is gorgeous). One early episode features Marika's mother taking her out to a rocket junkyard firing range to use huge weapons and tell her about her father. That's super-cool escapist fantasy that I can really get behind.

I'm also extremely fond of the support cast, a mish-mash of people including a junk food junkie navigator and a huge cyborg tactical officer who looks like one of the Electromagnetic Space Karate Masters in Battle Angel Alita: Last Order. I hope we get to learn their backstories eventually.

On the whole, Bodacious Space Pirates reminds me favorably of another fun space-comedy-adventure, The Irresponsible Captain Tylor. If you're into one of these titles and haven't heard of the other, give the alternate a shot. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.[TOP]

That's all for this week. For next week I've started watching Hetalia: World Series Season 3.

This week's shelves are from Barbara:

"Hello, Barbara here with my shelves. As you can see, I still have a little room to breathe, but with my spending habits these will soon be filled. I have a...strange cataloging system. DVDs go box sets first, then "regular" collections, all done alphabetically. I just pile anime movies on the box sets. Manga I do by publisher with ongoing series first, then random volumes/uncompleted/completed. I've been collecting anime since the beginning of 2011, with manga being more recent. My prized pieces are the FMA tins, followed closely by my Tiger and Bunny figures. Thanks for looking! "

Nice shelves!

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

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