Shelf Life
Dead Leaves

by Erin Finnegan,

It's been super busy for me here at work as the students complete their final projects. The animation computer labs are abuzz with activity.

The undergrads might not have found the time to watch anime this week, but I did! I started with Blue Exorcist volume three.

This set starts off with episode 14, which is great timing since it happens that I already reviewed episodes 1-13 streaming.

Blue Exorcist is a sort of low-commitment show in the Shonen Jump style. So far there are no tournament arcs, and even the regular story arcs are short and digestible. Among the few other brief arcs in this set, Rin and his friends go on a two episode school camping trip that doubles as exorcist training. They fight some decently cool monsters and solve a decently difficult puzzle.

In fact “decent” is the perfect word for Blue Exorcist. This is a decent show with decent animation and decent character designs. The show even manages to be decent without an ounce of originality, save for the fact the protagonist is the son of Satan.

In one far from innovative episode, the characters begin planning a surprise birthday party, and the guest of honor grows wary of her friends' suspicious behavior. I've seen this plot in what feels like a half dozen of other anime series (and MyScene: Masquerade Madness, a Barbie cartoon I worked on) yet Blue Exorcist pulls the same old plot off in a way that I didn't hate. It was totally a funny and cute episode, despite being generic.

In another episode a character reminds Rin that's he's not alone. “Don't forget you have friends! We're all here to help,” she says, reassuring Rin that even though he has a ridiculous super power, he doesn't have to rush off on his own to defend everyone in every single life or death battle they come across. Surely that dialog has been used two dozen times, almost word for word, in other shows, and yet, here it seemed to fit. On the Cringe-O-Meter, I only rolled my eyes a little. (Note to self: design a Cringe-O-Meter graphic later.)

That's the redeeming quality of Blue Exorcist. We've seen these character types and plots before, yet BE somehow manages not to be boring. Of course, it's not particularly compelling either, and that's why it's ultimately Rental Shelf. I didn't regret it when I stopped watching the streaming episodes.

The DVD comes un-dubbed, but it includes a (decent) double-sided mini-poster.[TOP]

Remember my Shelf Worthy criteria? If I want to re-watch it, loan it to a friend, or if it comes with great extras, it's Shelf Worthy. This week I bought House of Five Leaves specifically so I could loan it to a friend. Then I re-watched it, since I've been reading the manga series as well. Turns out I like the anime better.

Man, why was I so bored when I watched this streaming? Was I having a bad week? Re-watching it I wasn't bored at all.

Since I first saw House of Five Leaves I read through a lot of Natsume Ono's comics, in part so I could interview her (not for ANN, and I don't think the interview was published online…) I've read almost all of her comics that are available in English. In all of her books, Ono likes to have characters gather over meals and chat. Action important to the story has happened in the past and is only revealed towards the end. House of Five Leaves is no different; major characters converse over dango, pickles, and sweet potatoes. We learn Yaichi the criminal's heartbreaking backstory only in the final few episodes.

Generally I like the NIS box sets and the books they come with, but not all of the books are created equally. This particular set doesn't have quite the intense number of background sketches that I would've liked, but it does have some nice reprinted paper cel sequences. You can get a good feel for how they did some of the animation.

Watching this in HD I started to appreciate how nice this show looks. Everything is very well animated, as Ono's unique character designs stay meticulously on model. Nothing ever looks cheap or out of place. I also loved the music, which alternates between European-sounding accordion pieces and funky shamisen tracks.

My box also arrived with a formal note from TRSI about the House of Five Leaves disc recall program. It turns out I did get discs with an audio problem, but I could only tell on a couple of the episodes that something was a bit off. Perhaps because I don't have a fancy stereo set-up I didn't notice it too much. I've actually never participated in a DVD recall program before, so I'm curious to see how this works.

I wish this show could've gotten a dub, or a single behind-the-scenes interview, but we don't always get what we want. Mostly this series made me want to drink sake and snack on dango, which is more within my budget than providing an English dub.[TOP]

I wonder if I'd use a Madoka Magica wish on something stupid like dubbing anime series like House of Five Leaves…

Two weeks ago I started to feel as if everyone in the world had seen Puella Magi Madoka Magica except me, and liked it, so I blind bought the cheapest version available.

My initial reaction to the series was, “Man, somebody watched Yellow Submarine (1968)!” The first striking thing about the show is the psychedelic inspired mixed-media animation when the characters fight bad guys. I assume the modern-day cut-out collage look was achieved in After Effects. Consequently, if you love the look of those effects, rent Yellow Submarine! If you hate the Beatles, watch it with the sound off! (Also related, I have another paper cut-out collage animated feature, Twice Upon a Time (1983) on laserdisc in my office, and I've been meaning to watch it.)

Just in case Shelf Life is your only source of anime plotlines, here's the summary: Madoka is a not-so-special 14 year-old girl, living in a near future with cool architecture. One day a creepy, unblinking, invisible magical girl mascot turns up and offers to grant Madoka a wish (any wish) on the condition that Madoka becomes a magical girl and fight witches. The decision is not to be taken lightly; as Madoka soon learns, this is a serious contract. She doesn't have a particular wish in mind, at least, not a wish potentially worth the cost of her life.

I wasn't that impressed with the first two episodes, but by episode three I was hooked. Madoka and her friend Sayaka meet Mami, a real, live magical girl who they think is totally cool, and who quickly becomes a role model. Yet the girls' relationship starts to feel uneasy, like that of a high school student and an army recruiter. The military offers free college tuition, exotic travel, and the chance to use awesome high tech weaponry… but the downside could be dire. Madoka's instinct to carefully think this through is the right one. I haven't seen a series before where the “Call to Adventure” is so quite so thoughtful and weighty, or one where I could so readily side with the protagonist in trying to refuse the call.

I love watching anime with deep, meaty themes. I'm not sure yet if I'd show Madoka to a non-anime fan, but I'd certainly watch it again after I find out how it ends, and I plan to loan it to friends who haven't seen it yet. I almost regret not buying the BD, but the DVD didn't look bad at all on my HDTV. I suspect I'll just pick up a cheaper BD bundle eventually and use the DVDs as loaners.

Next week I'll hit up volume two.[TOP]

Actually, I watched the first two episodes of Madoka Magica at New York Comic Con, but the experience was tainted for me when, just before the screening, two twenty-something men (or perhaps teenagers) wrestled each other to the ground in a drag-out fight over a T-shirt toss. The guy who won ended up sitting next to me, and kept dabbing blood off his hand with a Kleenex during the show. Was it worth scraping flesh on the Javits Center's cement floors for a free T-shirt? Also disturbingly, neither the industry guests who threw the shirt nor con security made a visible move to stop the fight… even as it dragged out inappropriately long and started to look dangerous. Ultimately it was someone else from the press who shouted enough to break up the fight. Then I felt guilty, like, could I have stopped them by sounding authoritative? I just sat there.

And then I awkwardly watched the first two episodes of Madoka Magica.

See you next week!

This week's shelves are from Serrin:

"I've been meaning to send pictures of my collection in for a while but I've been lazy. Been collecting since the turn of the century but my collection's exploded since I graduated from uni and started working full time. I started off as just some DVDs of shows I really liked, then I started buying manga to read on the bus to and from uni, now I'm buying it faster than I can read it. Not a big figurine collector, but I buy a few whenever I'm holidaying in Hong Kong or Japan. I always keep a few sitting in front of my computer to play with when I get bored. I have a few artbooks as well, but my biggest regret was buying a Honey and Clover artbook for a friend and then later realising I should have bought one for myself :(. Oh well."

Awesome shelves!

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

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