Shelf Life
Bloody Sunday

by Erin Finnegan,

How excited am I for Anime Boston? So excited. Drop by my panels and identify yourself as a Shelf Life reader if you're there. My panels are: Unusual Manga Genres, Alcohol and Manga (and Anime), and Culinary Manga, and I'm also on the Post-Apocalyptic Anime & Manga panel. And remember, there's no Shelf Life next Monday because of it.

I spent the last week savoring Sengoku Basara: Samurai Kings 2 like so much fine wine.

I really liked Sengoku Basara Samurai Kings season one, especially on Blu-ray, so I was totally stoked to watch season two.

Season two opens with Nobunaga dead, and the remaining lords fighting it out. Date Masamune (aka The One Eyed Dragon) and Sanada Yukimura (the spear-wielding tiger cub of Kai) are no longer fighting together, and are less strong because of it. Several characters I thought were dead at the end of season one seem to be back for season two. I guess they were only “Shonen Jump dead.”

Season two introduces Toyotomi Hideyoshi, a giant samurai, ten feet tall if he's an inch. He fights entire armies with just his tremendous fists, and even has a Hulk-like long distance jumping ability. At first I took Hideyoshi as the mech of Basara (or as the Gasaraki), but later scenes humanize him. Hideyoshi's fight against the hunky pirate captain Chosokabe Motochika is extremely memorable, but I won't spoil you by saying how.

Making a real historical figure like Hideyoshi essentially into Paul Bunyan seems like an attempt on the part of the game's creators to mythologize history. A lot of “facts” about George Washington were fictionalized to spice up history, back in the day (ironically, the whole cherry tree thing was a lie). You could say Brad Neely has Hideyoshi-ed our first president in his famous “Washington” music video .

I can't get enough of Basara's great character designs. Yes, it's ridiculous to put handlebars on a horse, but the designs are good from a cartooning standpoint because the silhouettes are so distinct. Mr. Warburton always used to tell us interns how important distinct silhouettes are to animation, and Basara's are some of the most unique samurai silhouettes I've ever seen. Sure, Lady Matsu's hair is ridiculous, but there's no mistaking her for any other character. Despite the massive cast, every single character has signature colors and a signature weapon.

I love some of the fine texture details on the show. In Hideyoshi's palace there are golden screens featuring sakura that look like real screens from a real museum, yet it isn't jarring as a photograph might be. The screens seem to belong in both the cartoon in and in real life. The same goes for the many tatami mats in the show.

I love Sengoku Basara, but my Japanese geography and history are weak enough I have a massively hard time following the dialogue. Season one had more arrows and maps, and while season two still has maps, the arrows are lacking (especially early on). I suppose if I were a Japanese person trying to follow an American Civil War recreationist's conversation, I would be equally as lost. I mean, I know where Osaka and Tokyo and Shikouku are, but I have no clue where Kaga or Satsuma are without Googling for it. I wish there was a DVD feature I could turn on with a little map of Japan that lights up whatever place the characters are talking about, accompanied by an icon of the person they're talking about (as I'm also bad with names).

I don't think I mentioned last time how much I love this soundtrack. Mid-way through, I started looking for ways to buy the soundtrack. It's all very epic, with powerful vocals and full orchestration. If there's one way to spice up animation, it's ditching the cheap synthesizers. (I heard from a reliable source that Steven Spielberg refused to put his name on Tiny Toon Adventures unless there was a full orchestra.)[TOP]

Basically, Basara is a class act all around, with it's action-history-romance combination. I'll re-watch it and loan it to friends. Too bad I can't say the same for Fairy Tail, which is more of a watch-it-once-and-forget-it affair.

Once again, in volume three, Fairy Tail makes me appreciate Naruto more and helps me uncover new pet peeves about anime. To wit, on ANNCast Zac often mentions this or that wasn't “earned” in a film or TV series (I can't remember a specific example of this, unfortunately). I haven't been using the word earned in my reviews… I started to get self-conscious about it after a while. Maybe if things are earned in anime I just don't notice it. Perhaps I can only detect unearned things... Then I watched this season of Fairy Tail. I was hit in the face with all kinds of examples of what it means to “earn” a feeling in drama.

You know how in Hunter X Hunter, there are lots of adventures and tests on the way to taking the Hunter exam? Even in the new series, it takes quite a while for Gon to encounter any hunters, let alone begin to take the hunter exam himself. Mid-way through Part 3 of Fairy Tail, Natsu, Gray, Lucy, and Erza's group is said to be the strongest team in Fairy Tail. What? Really? When did that happen? I don't think they've earned that yet, after a scant 30 episodes.

This set wraps up the big fight against Howl's Moving Guild (surrounded by Dementors). In one scene Erza encourages Natsu to unleash his inner powers. This feels totally unearned. When Jiraiya broke Naruto's seal so he could fight, we knew it was a big deal because there were 50+ episodes setting up what Naruto's powers are, why he has them, why they're dangerous, and how the seal works. I don't even think Natsu has a seal! (I could be wrong.) Plus, it doesn't seem like that big a deal when Natsu "unleashes his powers." I find myself complaining Fairy Tail is too short, yet it seems to take a long time to watch… Arg!

After the fight, the guild gets hit with a lot of paperwork and an investigation for fighting another guild. C'mon! It was an evil guild, and it clearly wasn't Fairy Tail's fault. Fairy Tail is supposed to be one of the strongest guilds around, but having them to bow and scrape to a Magic Council undermines the image of not just the supposed greatest guild ever, but of magic guilds in general. Guilds aren't as strong as the government in this universe?

After the paperwork is done we're given some super-wacky side adventures I could've lived without. I complained a little last time about Mashima's drama, but honestly I did laugh out loud at some of his jokes. In one scene, a character in love with Gray makes a chara-ben (character bento box) of him. She fantasizes that Gray will open it and say, “this lunch is so good I'd marry the cook! Will you make me lunch every day?” to which she replies, “Yes, and we'll have thirty-three babies!” In the subtitles it's “some number,” the dub specifies 33. (I laughed, mostly remembering this Nutrigrain ad.) The dub also ads a good line as Happy exclaims, “Whoa! Your face is totally edible!” Maybe Mashima should stop trying to do adventure and just do a gag manga (translated by the same person who adapted the script for this dub).

Once again, I got more entertainment out of a dub commentary track. In this set the sound designers go into a lot of detail about how they do their jobs, and it's really interesting. They make Fairy Tail sound like a lot of fun to work on.

Fairy Tail is probably much more fun than to sound design than it is to review. Anyway, if you've never seen Naruto, you can probably enjoy Fairy Tail more than I can.[TOP]

For a change of pace, I watched the total opposite of Fairy Tail, a horror series called Another.

Kōichi transfers from Tokyo to a small countryside school, but misses the day of class due to a collapsed lung. He meets a mysterious eye-patch girl at the hospital, who he thinks is in his class, but she never seems to show up. Class 3 of the 9th grade is cursed, or so Kōichi's classmates say. Everyone refuses to tell Kōichi about the curse and it's legacy and whatever the Countermeasure Committee does, even after mysterious deaths start happening.

After two and a half episodes of Another, I was prepared to make it Flushable. It starts off incredibly slowly, with lots of Japanese horror clichés. Kōichi winds up visiting a mysterious doll museum filled with ball jointed dolls on the edge of town. Periodically the show just cuts to random dolls, even before the museum is established. The dolls are like a sign pointing to the idea of creepiness without actually being creepy.

Likewise, Another bends over backwards to establish atmosphere. The hospital is poorly lit. The school's rooftop is badly rusted (the rust even looks like bloodstains). It's always overcast. There are always crows around. The music is always soft and brooding. Kōichi is frequently reading horror novels. It's a little over the top. I think better horror comes from contrast, like it'd be more shocking if creepy things were happening in a cheerful and clean hospital, or on a sunny day.

The slow pace of the first two episodes is probably also meant to establish atmosphere, but instead it just comes off as cheap. An excessive amount of dialog plays out over still images of backgrounds early on. So much so that Another starts to feel like it's based on a radio drama.

Around episode six, the series finally picks up. After five episodes of characters refusing to tell Kōichi anything, and excessive amounts of dialog is devoted to talking around the issue, the show starts to make some serious progress and get compelling. Up to that point however, I hated this show so much it was a bit of a relief when the characters started dying. At least something was finally happening! Another winds up on my short list of anime that needs a fan edit to be more watchable by Americans (along with Steamboy and One Piece).

As much as the still life scenes look cheap early on, the character design is quite good. Everyone is very cute, with shiny hair and slightly chubby chipmunk cheeks, a bit like the characters in K-On!. (Super-cute K-On characters getting involved in brutal murders is appealing to me, which makes me sound sick.) The backgrounds are also quite good, especially viewed in HD, I could see the brushstrokes that make up the oil-paint gray clouds.

As Another stops trying (and failing) to creep you out with dolls, it finally starts getting good. After episode six the show is more about stopping the curse instead of not talking about the curse. Episode eight is a beach episode that surprised me with its tasteful restraint. For once it makes sense to see characters doing something normal junior high school kids might do, precisely because they are trying to bring some normality into their frightened, traumatic lives. That, and after seven episodes of overcast weather, it's nice to see the sun.

Another is worth checking out if you can make it through the first five episodes. [TOP]

A friend introduced me to a hilarious, yet spoiler-filled meme wherein pies are digitally inserted into murder scenes from Another. Good times.

I'll see you guys in two weeks with Sekirei: Pure Engagement.

This week's shelves are from Steven:

With a friend's input, Laura Bailey's voice acting, and appendicitis, I somehow found myself sitting on my parent's couch watching TV with a tube attached to my stomach. I stumbled upon the Funimation channel and recognized Soul Eater, due to creepily watching every Laura Bailey (I play a lot of JRPGs) interview on youtube. A few hours later I became an anime fan! Fast forward a year later and here's my collection so far. It's a good thing I interned over the summer for some money. But I made sure to ask for a crap ton on my birthday and Christmas.

A few things to note, yes I have two volume 4's of Ouran High School Host Club. I must have sneezed on the keyboard when I ordered volume 3 and got two volume 4's instead. I usually lend out anime left and right to friends, but I think in this picture everything is there. I also have a squid girl figure that should be arriving soon, but I decided to take the pictures now since I think all my anime is back in my possession temporarily. The three Sailor Moon volumes are going to be a gift for a friend. But I'll make sure to read them before I pass them off permanently.

I think Led Zeppelin, Anime, and a good beer is a perfect combination.

Bummer it took appendicitis to kick start everything, but these are some sweet shelves!

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

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