Shelf Life
Modern Magica

by Erin Finnegan,

Anime Boston was a lot of fun. I met more Shelf Life readers. I attended the formal ball, which was totally classy and awesome. I cosplayed as Sonoshee from Redline, but not one person recognized the costume (granted, I wore her dress and not her racing outfit).

Meanwhile, I watched some anime. Sometimes watching three anime series per week is like pulling the lever on a slot machine. Sometimes I get three cherries, and other weeks I lose. Maybe it was a mistake on my part to have any expectations at all for Sekirei: Pure Engagement.

What happened Sekirei?! I gave season one a Rental Shelf and a fairly positive review, which was a ringing endorsement on my part; I think Sekirei was the first “boob” show that I didn't rank Perishable. I remember the animation being good, and the plot, although bizarre, was at least somewhat compelling.

The first four episodes of Pure Engagement look terrible. The animation quality has dropped precipitously. Granted, I didn't watch season one on Blu-ray. BD is not kind to this show. You can really see the seams. The production quality finally crawls up out of the garbage around episode six or seven, and starts to get back into form. More so than other shows, the competent animators were clearly saved for the fight scenes, making for some extreme vacillations in quality. The final few episodes and important fights are so different that they look like they were done by famous guest animators. The OVA episode is particularly well animated, which makes me suspect that episodes 1-4 were given $20 each so the remaining $99,920 per episode (a wild estimate based on Justin Sevakis's articles) could be used for the OVA.

The plot flops around like a fish on land for the first half of this set, dying and gasping for air. Eventually the game master forces some weird Battle Royale scenarios on the sekirei fighting teams, but for the first five episodes he just kind of hangs out, on a clock tower, waiting for some more sekirei to emerge. Or rather, I think that's what was happening. I was so bored it was hard to tell.

As the characters yammer on and on about their Pokemon-like masters, you've got a lot of time to think about their breasts, because they are right there, taking up most of the frame. Eventually it occurred to me that Sekirei may actually use breast size as a shorthand to characterization. After a while, I got really preoccupied thinking about Matsu's (the hacker) nipple shape design. Her areola is raised, so her nipples are like a two-stage rocket. There are bath scenes of course, but I'm talking about her nipple profile as seen through her clothes. (Believe it or not, there are bras in the Sekirei universe, but I think clothing physics are just totally different.) Sometimes Tsukiumi's (the one who talks in presumably archaic Japanese; her best dub line in this set is “thy jig is up,”) and Kazehana's (the drunk) nipples are also drawn like missiles sometimes, but other times they look more normal. I suspect the weird nipple shapes come straight from hentai doujinshi trends, but I'm not exactly an erotica expert.

The final arc for this set winds up in the same series of scenes that a lot of anime and Japanese media conclude with nowadays. Without spoiling it, (is it possible to spoil a cliché?) the hero and his/her friends go into enemy territory, and one by one friends stay behind to hold off the bad guys in a heroic sacrifice so the hero can keep going. Dear Japan, I'm getting tired of this ending.

Did you know the original manga was by the same artist as Sensitive Pornograph? That means Sekirei was penned by a lady who normally draws yaoi! Knowing the characters were designed by a lady added another weird level to my viewing experience.[TOP]

After that, I watched something much less extreme. Modern Magic Made Simple has much more realistically shaped nipples.

This show screams “based on a light novel!” It's difficult to nail down an exact reason why that is, but if you were making a list of light-novel-like qualities, start looking for examples in this show (and then share your list with me).

Koyomi is a klutzy short girl who decides to attend a magic school to improve her life somehow. Her only magical ability so far is to summon wash basins, and/or turn other people's spells into wash basins. She befriends Yumiko, a practitioner of traditional magic, and Misa, a practitioner of “modern” magic who uses computers to cast spells.

At the very least the original concept distinguishes Modern Magic from other otaku-centric series, I mean, at least it doesn't take place around the Japanese school year. Unfortunately, I'm against the premise on two counts. First, I hate midichlorians. That is to say, I liked Star Wars better before Lucas made The Force based in “science;” generally, I guess you could say I'm against explaining magic systems with science, and this show makes magic less magical.

Second, I think this series glorifies programmers as wizards. A lot of the spells are just programs. Even in the show they're called “scripts”. I'm not sure if how many Japanese anime otaku are programmers, but if it's a significant number, this is truly “fan service” of the highest order. Imagine if this were a series aimed at a demographic of accountants; the girls would probably do magic using math.

The other type of fan service in the show, i.e., panty shots, are handled awkwardly. Yumiko goes commando for a few scenes and it's neither funny nor sexy. A demonic rogue “daemon” (har har) steals someone's panties in another scene that seems oddly out of place in this otherwise cutesy show.

The first plot arc spans six episodes and involves time travel. Jumping back and forth in time to the characters at different ages isn't the best way to introduce them. I found the first plot very difficult to follow. Why not start with another other, simpler story from one of the other novels first?

Yumiko shows off a lot of cleavage in her default outfit as an adult, but thanks to the time travel she spends a lot of the first arc as a kid. I half-suspect the time travel was just an excuse for viewers to get the option of choosing which bra size they like Yumiko in best.

Modern Magic Made Simple also raises some serious questions about morality that it fails to address. In several scenes, spells are used as marketing tools to work consumers into a buying frenzy. It's eerie to watch such invasive marketing tactics. Misa seems to operate by her own moral marketing code, but the show glosses over larger, worldwide implications of spell-marketing in order to cut to what you've all been waiting for: the pool episode! (I knew I wouldn't have to wait long…)

And seriously, what's going on with wash basin summoning witches? It's incredibly weird that both Rosario X Vampire and this show have a cute witch who can only summon wash basins. Is Rosario parodying this show? Are wash basin witches some hot new trend?

Other than the awkward moments, Modern Magic is more bland than horrible. If the plot was a bit easier to follow and the fanservice was less clumsy, I'd give this Rental based on the somewhat unique concept.[TOP]

I was less bored watching Inu X Boku Secret Service than Modern Magic, but I was more angry.

I am shocked that this series ran in a shonen magazine, because the plot of Inu X Boku Secret Service is a total shojo manga cliché. Actually most of the plot is built on clichés, but that's true of most anime…

Ririchiyo is a super-rich girl, sent to live in a special super-secure apartment complex for rich people while she attends high school. She's never had any real friends, in part because her coping mechanism for stress is mouthing off and saying overly mean things to people. Then she writes long heartfelt apologies later. (Then she verbally denies she meant any of it.)

Turns out Ririchiyo isn't just a rich girl, she's also some kind of yokai descendent with some yokai powers, as are the other residents of the very special building. After Natsume's Book of Friends, Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan, A Letter to Momo, and Rosario X Vampire, frankly, I'm getting sick of yokai. I hope they go out of style again soon.

The “Inu” in the title is Soushi, a multi-fox-tailed-yokai guy who vows to be her security guard, even at the cost of his own life. For a moment, it seems like it's going to be pleasantly Black Butler-like, but the plot doesn't go in that direction. Instead it's more like the Iggy Pop song “I Wanna Be Your Dog”.

The romantic tension between Ririchiyo and Soushi is both immediate and a little creepy. How old is he supposed to be? This show doesn't hold back when it comes to sexuality. Ririchiyo's school uniform isn't just thigh highs with a generous zettai ryouiki (absolute zone), her garter belt straps are totally exposed.

Then there's episode five. Ririchiyo's so-called fiancé, Kagerou, shows up. The ever-masked figure goes around accusing everyone in the building of being either a sadist or a masochist. Eventually he also starts labeling inanimate objects “S” or “M”. It's a pretty funny episode, and the end credits specify S or M for the entire staff. Unfortunately Kagerou does not appear again for several more episodes. (What age group was this manga aimed at, exactly?!)

Inu X Boku never seems to decide what kind of show it wants to be. Sometimes the yokai powers come up, sometimes they don't. Sometimes the show is a romance about Ririchiyo and Soushi. Episode four seems to play up the friendships between the male characters, as if this was a show for fujoshi. The building's other residents are all excessively “wacky” characters, (sort of like how everyone is extremely eccentric in Arakawa Under the Bridge) so sometimes the show is straight up comedy.

Eventually, the pig-headed Ririchiyo realizes that she's probably in love with Soushi, but it takes her a few episodes. She has to go through the extremely cliché “Why is my heart beating so fast? Am I sick?” scene that we've all read before in shojo manga. If nothing else, Inu X Boku helped me identify and two new pet peeves; the former heart beating scene, and also the “I've never had any real friends” trope from the second paragraph.

This is the most frustrating type of show for me, because I like some of the characters and part of the premise, but most of the actual minutes felt like a waste. For example, I like the spaced-out always-hungry Karuta, but I hate the super-pervy Nobara. This show is already plenty perverted without Nobara pointing out all the fetish outfits and saying how fetishy they are.

Why did I keep watching this?! Was it because I liked the character designs? Was it because I thought it really was shojo?! Inu X Boku encapsulates that moment of regret when you reach for an Oreo only to realize the package is empty, and you're about to be sick because oh my god, I just ate an entire box of Oreos.

I watched episode nine just to see Souji and Ririchiyo's coffee date, and it never happened. It's like the show fooled me just enough to get me to keep watching it. I regret giving this show extra minutes of my life. Even so, I was nearly compelled to finish it just for the sake of being completist. (Give me another Oreo.)[TOP]

That's all for this week. It was basically the bottom of the box of review copies, but there's a new box in the mail. Hopefully I'll have better luck at the anime slot machine next week!

This week's shelves are from Angie:

"Hello, I'm Angie and I wanted to show off my current anime collection for the readers of Shelf Life.

I've been collecting anime since about 2001, but I haven't really been a serious collector until a few years ago when I started getting an income. My personal favorites in my collection are probably the official Sailor Moon sets and the new Utena boxsets. But I (usually) love older magical girl anime, so I try to get as much as I can for my collection. The pictures I included aside from my DVDs (which, I want to point out that I don't normally have them stacked. They're usually on another shelf, but I thought this would be easier for the photos), are my manga, anime figures, and the small amount of anime VHS that I haven't replaced yet.

Hope you enjoy them! Thank you"

Nice figure collection!

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

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