Shelf Life
Quantum of Solace

by Erin Finnegan,

I just watched A Letter to Momo, which was playing as part of the New York International Children's Film Festival. I was interested in it after reading director Hiroyuki Okiura's impressive pedigree of films. It was extremely technically competent and enjoyable and I'm looking forward to more from Okiura, but the final third was basically a re-telling of My Neighbor Totoro. (Granted, Totoro is my favorite anime feature of all time.) Japan needs script doctors.

Script doctors couldn't help Heaven's Lost Property, though. It was doomed from the outset.

This is Perishable, but not for the reasons you think. I mean yes, the DVD cover alone is insulting to my gender; a slave-girl with dead eyes and giant breasts is already “anti-Erin”. But worse, the first episode gave me hope that this was going to be a much better series.

Amidst a deluge of Greco-Roman pillars, a cybernetic-angel-looking girl falls from the sky and starts living in protagonist Tomoki's house. Ikaros says she's a “Pet Type Angel” who will grant his every wish. Alien technology allows Tomoki to wish for money, invisibility, and the sorts of things you'd expect from a lonely teenage boy.

If HLP had proceeded to be about an omnipotent boy and his hapless jinn, (think I Dream of Genie), it could've been an interesting series. Instead, the usual tropes hit hard in episode two as Ikaros starts attending Tomoki's school.

HLP is more of a comedy than an ecchi series. The “punch lines” are usually nosebleeds as Tomoki is punched into the sky for his perverted behavior. I am not opposed to nosebleed gags (heck, I own a cel from Golden Boy), but I prefer jokes to be funny, and a tad more sex positive. Tomoki is constantly punished for his healthy adolescent interest in sex.

Early on Tomoki's neighbor-with-a-crush-on-him, Sohara, periodically karate chops him for misbehavior. The first few episode cut to a very well animated bit of a karate master chopping through boards during her blows. The scenes look like they're from another show, and I'd rather watch that show. The end credits of episode eight set up a “Wild Seven” parody show, one that I'd also much rather watch.

The animation throughout HLP vacillates widely from low to high budget. To me, every well animated sequence is a promise of quality, and every low budget scene cruelly breaks that promise.

In some of the most well-animated scenes, Sohara's panties magically fly off and take to the sky. I joked that they ought to migrate like birds, and to my surprise (and delight), they actually did. (One classic animation test involves animating a sack of flour to look lifelike). But it's not long before Tomoki is flying around again in limited animation, super-deformed mode.

Another angel named Nymph shows up eventually (she's angry, but secretly nice!). The flashbacks to Nymph's abusive past are thematically and tonally jarring for a comedy series.

Ikaros spends half the show worrying that Tomoki will learn that she is a powerful weapon, (Tomoki said something about hating weapons), but her fears are (predictably) misguided. Shouldn't Tomoki hate the race of beings who are creating WMD's in the form of cute girls? Was there some kind of cute girl arms race on distant worlds (or in Earth's distant past)? We'll never know, because HLP is only interested in answering questions about panties.

Why bother taking a completely non-human protagonist and attempt to humanize her? Much of the series dwells on Ikaros's inability to smile, and a lot of dialog calls her “doll-like”. Plus there are the larger philosophical problems of Greek proportions. What is a slave? What is a human? What is free will? Indeed, the show's imagery includes some Grecian sandals and architecture. I'm more interested in philosophy than T&A.

So, why is Ikaros, a non-human slave robot with severe emotional problems a better romantic choice than Tomoki's childhood friend, a human girl who is capable of loving him back? These are all elements that the genre dictates, but it's ridiculously easy to point to HLP as an example of why Japan has negative population growth.

Mostly I'm angry that HLP is nearly a good show. It's almost watchable, it's almost funny. It's almost good, on a surface level, and I bet it has a lot of fans in America and in Japan. HLP is an apple that looks shiny and delicious, yet is rotten to the core. It also revels in its rottenness, snickering “aren't I a naughty show?” There is a way to be crass in a way I can respect and laugh at, but this isn't it.[TOP]

I also watched the much more tasteful, more humanizing Amagami SS last weekend.

Amagami SS is perhaps the most blatant dating simulation game adaptation I've ever seen. The series is broken up into four-episode arcs where the protagonist chooses a different girl to date each time. I rented the DVDs through a rental service, so I only watched the first two story arcs.

Our high school boy protagonist Junichi is still smarting after being stood up on a Christmas Eve date two years ago when he falls for Haruka, a hyperactive upperclassman. Junichi gets points in my book for asking Haruka out by the end of the first episode. After so many series where the protagonist just wants to be friends with a group of girls, it's refreshing to see romance progress so quickly.

Junichi also gets high marks for not being a blank slate. He uses some creative thinking to seduce Haruka. In the next arc, he manages to provide his date with sincere emotional support while she's going through a tough time at home. I also liked that the girls weren't 100% archetypes (rather, they were 75% archetype and 25% attempts at characterization).

Amagami SS is also easy on the eyes. I'm not sure if Kisai Takayama is a brilliant character designer, or if it was Hiroaki Gohda who made all the girls look great. These are some of the best “anime eyes” I've seen in years. The girls' eyes are exceptionally expressive. It's as if you can tell these are (relatively) intelligent, mischievous girls just by looking into their eyes (Haruka and childhood friend Kaoru, anyway). The school uniforms manage to look elegant, despite their realistic designs and understated colors. With the exception of Haruka, most of the girls even have realistic hair colors and haircuts compared to other anime series.

Some of the dating scenarios and relationship moments are also very realistic, which actually made the more game-like moments feel bizarre. Early on, Junichi guides Haruka to a shack just beyond the school's property during lunchtime. I was suddenly launched out of an almost-real romance and thrust squarely into the end stage of a game. Honestly, what is this shack? It's not an equipment shed… it's not clear what it's there for at all! If such a shed existed just beyond a real school (through a hole in a fence) wouldn't it be the make-out spot for the entire school? It seems that somehow only Junichi knows the place. Then in one shot, Haruka appears off-center in what looks like framing taken directly from the game. In my mind's eye, I could almost see conversation choices popping up on the bottom of the screen.

Further ruining the moment, Junichi decides to kiss the back of Haruka's knee because “that's what a dog would do”. He also barks at her. This was a sweet story about two nice teens in love, but suddenly the dynamics switch to some freaky hentai-like thing. What gives?! The second story, starring my favorite girl Kaoru, was (mostly) free from such creepy moments.

Despite one or two more hentai-game-like moments Amagami SS is surprisingly easy watching. I was continually worried that Junichi might date his doting little sister in another arc (perhaps it's a secret unlockable extra?) but according to Theron Martin's reviews my fears aren't realized in the anime series.

I wouldn't loan this to friends who weren't already familiar with dating game tropes. The animation is surprisingly high quality, especially in the reoccurring “White Christmas” scenes in the first two arcs.[TOP]

Coincidentally, .hack//Quantum also contains some well animated snowfall, as it takes place in Aomori (a northern city with more snowfall than Tokyo).

I happened to watch the .hack//Quantum OVAs before getting the BDs in the mail. I thought the CG effects would look much better on Blu-ray, but I was wrong. The CG probably blends better in standard definition than it does in HD, where the CG bits are out there, waving hello, saying, “oh hey, this element was done in CG.”

Anyway, I saw some .hack//SIGN on Cartoon Network back in the day, and I think I got the gist of it. I never saw a conclusion to that series, and I heard an internet rumor that you'd have to play the related game to see the ending. I prefer my media-mix titles to stand alone a little more than that. In that respect, .hack//Quantum at least stands alone fairly well.

Protagonist Sakuya's high school life more or less hinges around playing “The World,” the MMORPG .hack is based around. Alarmingly, Sakuya doesn't have real plans for college or anything beyond continuing to play The World. Plus, she's the Leeroy Jenkins of her party, and her habit of picking up random objects gets her teammates in trouble. The other members of the group are Tobias, an elegant knight in the game who dresses like a slob in real life, and Mary, who wasn't a gamer, but learned how to play on Sakuya's insistence.

It is ironic, then, that Mary is the character who falls into a mysterious coma in real life. Sakuya feels super bad about it, and she and Tobias work in game and out to solve the mystery of gaming-related comas and why players are being transferred to a hospital owned by the same company that owns the game.

Maybe this would be a better plot if it weren't the plot of every iteration of .hack. The believability is lacking, I mean, doesn't this take place several years after the original series? Why is anyone still playing this dangerous game that's so easily hack-able? Why aren't there more lawsuits against the Cyberconnect Corporation?

The core story of this OVA works, and we learn the “villain's” motives and powers clearly enough. However, individual scenes just don't hold together well. Especially in the last episode… I'm not sure what the raid or the giant gun have to do with stopping the bad guy. Characters move from place to place, but I have a hard time telling why. That's poor direction and/or poor writing, even if my confusion comes from a lack of experience with the rest of the .hack franchise.

Fortunately, it's well-animated. Despite my quibbles about the CG, this OVA is miles beyond the animation quality of .hack//SIGN, which is now ten years old, and I'm sure was limited to a stingy TV budget.

I found the characters very charming, and I would've like to spend more time with them, going on raids. It's almost a shame that the OVA is so short. The only character I didn't care for was Shamrock, a sort-of-FBI-like agent investigating the same mystery. In game, she's a 10-year-old gothic Lolita, but out of game she's a voluptuous office lady. I didn't care for her hollow characterization, but I liked Stephanie Young playing her in the dub.

If a single thing stood out about this OVA, I think it was the way hot springs were seamlessly incorporated into the plot. The girls live in Aomori, and it's established early on that they sometimes chat in an outdoor bath. The story takes place in winter, and the snow is beautifully rendered. At the end, it snows on the characters in the hot spring, and it looks incredibly pleasant. Rather than being annoyed at yet another perfunctory opportunity to gaze at anime protagonists in the nude, I was filled with a sublime longing to return to Aomori (I went once, on vacation) and visit some hot springs myself.[TOP]

I'll see you guys next week with more Fairy Tail, but then I'm taking April 9th off for Anime Boston. So far, I'm doing three of my own panels: Unusual Manga Genres, Friday at 10:00am, Culinary Manga, Friday at 01:00 PM, Alcohol and Manga, Saturday at 09:00 PM. I'm also a co-panelist on Post-Apocalyptic Anime & Manga, Saturday at 05:15 PM. (Those times are subject to change, of course.)

This week's shelves are from Brandon, who says:

"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."

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

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