Shelf Life
Magic Users Club

by Erin Finnegan,

Watching Fairy Tail last week suddenly reminded me of one of my favorite skits on the Upright Citizens Brigade TV show. In an infomercial parody for a “New Brain,” a power marketer says, “Eight years ago, I weighed 500 pounds. I was getting high every day, and I was washing my dishes in the bathtub.” More than one tearful character in the Fairy Tail Guild espouses how terrible their lives were before Fairy Tail. It's much more amusing to contextualize the unearned waterworks this way. I could forgive it if it only happened once or twice, but it keeps coming up. OK, OK, Fairy Tail is a family, blah blah blah. Surely it's the greatest freelance agency of all time…

For the second time in this series, old man Makarov suffers a near-fatal injury and the succession of Fairy Tail is on the line. How many times can this happen before he actually dies? It was much more dramatic the first time. Part four of Fairy Tail reminded of the recent documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi, wherein 85-year-old Jiro refuses to retire, even after he collapses at the Tsukiji Fish Market.

Most of this set is the “Battle of Fairy Tail” arc. Members of Fairy Tail are manipulated into fighting each other under a “Thunder Palace” spell (think Thunderdome) so a bad guy can find out who is the strongest. The Battle of Fairy Tail had me rolling my eyes and thinking back on my brief time playing HeroClix. I quit HeroClix with the simultaneous realization that the player with the most expensive collection tends to win, and that I don't care which Marvel or DC super hero is strongest. Fairy Tail has never made me care about a single character, and besides, I thought it was a given that Natsu is secretly the strongest.

I don't mind tournament arcs, as long as they're done well. I really liked the World Martial Arts tournament in the original Dragon Ball, but I hated the World Martial Arts tournament thrown by Cell. It was more fun when the characters voluntarily entered a tournament. Likewise it's no fun that Fairy Tail members are being forced to fight. The entire arc was handled so badly that I started to appreciate straight-up tournaments all the more. For example, the characters are walled off around town by a series of invisible walls, so they can't actually watch the fights happening. Instead, they're updated on the fights by a magic rune text crawl on the invisible walls. When I fist started watching anime, I was frustrated by cutaways to audience members explaining the fight to me. Just show me the fight! Eventually I got used to it, dismissing the technique as a cost saving measure. Plus, in ninja-based shows the fight observers explain the ninja magic rules to the viewer. The disconnect between the characters of Fairy Tail and the fights going on is incredibly frustrating. They can't even have the same emotional connection to their friends fighting that King Kai does as he clairvoyantly watches the fight in DBZ. Now I appreciate how important that emotional connection is, thanks to Fairy Tail.

This set concludes with a downright bizarre homage to (or rip-off of) Disney World's famous Parade of Lights. I know Japanese people love Disney World, but the entire elaborate sequence is weirder than it is funny or technically impressive. Maybe the problem is that the appeal of the Parade of Lights is that in our world magic isn't real, and Disney Parks make spectacles that look magical. In the world of Fairy Tail, magic already exists, so who cares?

The frustrating fights culminating in a confusing parade had me tearing my hair out. What is with this show?! It even ends with an unearned tear-filled salute that rips off One Piece episode 129.

If Fairy Tail pisses me off any more, I'll make it Perishable. The only thing saving this set is a cool fight scene where Erza uses her toes to wield swords. I rewound and watched that scene twice. There are several good Erza moments in this set, but my list does not include a scene where she holds a dying character and wails “Noooooo!!” as the camera zooms out in the rain. (“Finn, if I came across your lifeless body, I'd clasp you dramatically for a kajillion years,” Jake says in Adventure Time episode 12B, before hopping away wailing "Whyyyyyyyy?!!!") [TOP]

If anything, the characters in Legend of the Legendary Heroes should probably join Fairy Tail, so they could give endorsements like, “Before Fairy Tail, I was a war orphan, stripping corpses for valuables on the battle field and being beaten up by strangers…” These guys could use some levity…

I never watched this show streaming, assuming that Legend of the Legendary Heroes would be a mediocre fantasy comedy in line with something like Slayers NEXT. Maybe the title sounds cooler in Japanese (like Phantom ~Requiem for the Phantom~). Note to Japan: In English, repeating a word in the title makes it a comedy.

Granted, LotLH has comedic moments. Ryner Lute would rather nap than fight wars with magic in this high-drama fantasy land. (He reminds me of Snoozer from Hamtaro.) As a standard anime protagonist, Ryner is gifted with horrible powers that, if unleashed, make him the baddest dude in the room. Ryner gets teamed up with Ferris Eris, a lady knight who appears to be on a dango-only diet (we never see her eat anything else, that I remember) and together they are sent looking for ancient relics, long forgotten but once wielded by the legendary heroes of the title.

The humor, especially in the first few episodes, is handled poorly. Ferris continually accuses Ryner of being a corrupt pervert (yawn). Eventually it's clear that Ferris is the one with the problem, but up to that point, the accusations and her brutal beatings come off as tired old anime jokes.

At episode three, the show takes a turn for the brutal. How many massacres before it counts as “a lot”? Because there are a lot of massacres in this show. Like Fullmetal Alchemist and other dark series, it's necessary to include completely evil knights doing very bad things to the peasants, so when the hero disintegrates the evil knights, there is no question that his or her actions are totally justified. But when you were expecting a comedy, the stream of beheadings and bloodspray is rather unsettling.

Bloodspray or not, this ought to be a better show. There certainly are plenty of political machinations and intrigue going on. After a lot of Berserk and Game of Thrones, I'm up for wars for the kingdom, but LotLH doesn't quite deliver.

Half the time I was watching this show I was distracted by the horrible character color palettes. Ferris wears all purple armor with a bright pink bow. One of the villains, Miran Froward, rocks a ridiculous feathered outfit that's all indigo. The bright colors reminded me in turns of Rainbow Brite and/or Fist of the North Star. Fist of the North Star was limited by cell painting technology of its time, but there's no excuse for such garish color choices today.

If you've watched the subtitled version and thought it was OK, it's worth checking out the dub for a very different experience. The dub script has been heavily rewritten. Without changing the meaning of the dialog, J. Michael Tatum seems to have added dozens of extra words to every scene. This isn't a criticism; a great deal of careful attention has gone into the script. Some characters speak in highly decorative, colloquial English, in sharp contrast to Ryner's modern slang (he says everything sucks). Ian Sinclair as Ryner brings a lot of nuance to the part. Personally, I don't think this show is good enough to deserve a dub (at least not based on the first half), but I appreciate all the hard work that went into this.

The first 13 episodes seem to set up a larger story, but it's one that I'm not particularly excited to see, so this lands right in the middle as a rental.[TOP]

Meanwhile, I can't wait to watch the next volume of Madoka…

I'm a little torn on how much detail I should reveal while reviewing Madoka volume-by-volume. I think it's so addictive that most people just marathon the entire thing immediately, so readers fall either into the seen-it or haven't-seen-it camps. Of course, I could be wrong.

Madoka Magica DVD volume two kicks off with Sayaka (I think it was obvious based on her wish, but some may call it a spoiler…) taking the magical girl deal. It's kind of gross to watch, so it's less of a surprise later in the set as Sayaka starts to learn more of the disturbing “terms” of her contract.

Things keep getting worse as the girls learn more about Grief Seeds. I can't help but think that if the girls of Madoka were American, they'd be slightly more litigious and at least ask to see the magic girl contract in writing. Or who knows, maybe not, maybe they'd click through it like South Park characters agreeing to the iTunes contract.

This set further experiments with different art styles. One fight takes place entirely in silhouette; a later confrontation on a train is depicted in grayscale with selective colors. Half an episode takes place in a giant abandoned church with stained glass windows. Just when I was about to complain about another anime series using a church for a fight scene (John Woo style, perhaps?) there is a very good plot-based explanation for the church.

In one scene, Madoka has a heart-to-heart with her salaryman-style mother after mom has a late night drinking with her co-workers. The scene draws a parallel between Madoka and her mother's lives. Her mother makes many difficult sacrifices for her work. If Madoka becomes a magical girl, she'll do the same. (Sometime I'm going to have to write an essay on the Japanese concept of “a woman's happiness,” but not this week…) It's a very thoughtful scene. Generally, I like Madoka's mother and I appreciate the presentation of Madoka's father as a house-husband, which I assume is more unusual in Japan than in the U.S..

A friend hit me up online with some Madoka conversation earlier this week, saying that he didn't think the show was well directed. That haunted me a little. I agree that some of the dialog goes on a bit too long in certain scenes. I loved Zoku Sayonara Zetsubō Sensei, and Akiyuki Shinbo and Yukihiro Miyamoto are listed as directors of both shows. I think it's difficult to pin down the directorial blame in anime most of the time. Does poor direction start with the storyboard artist? Is it the episode director's fault or is the series director to blame? In any case, I think the Madoka script is so strong that it's easy to forgive the occasional scene that drags. I think some of the occasionally lackluster character design is actually meant to make the girls look more pathetic, or more generic, but it's easy to read the poor design as unintentional.

I didn't mention the dub last time but I think Cassandra Lee is spot on as the cute-yet-creepy Kyubey. Overall, the dub is competent, but it's not mind-blowingly great or even particularly memorable.

I'm looking forward to the next volume, although the show is so dark that I'm also frightened of where it's going.[TOP]

This year, Cinco de Mayo and the Kentucky Derby were on the same day. I wonder how often that happens? I have seen some recipes for “Tequila Juleps” online. (Mint Juleps are the official drink of the Kentucky Derby. There's more than one drink called a Preakness.) As I write this, Noah and I are dressing up to attend a Kentucky Derby party at a bar that serves some very authentic mint juleps. Seriously, we even bought hats. I'm kind of a Kentucky Derby enthusiast. In fact, I've been to the Kentucky Derby Museum.

Next week I'll take a look at the Fullmetal Alchemist: The Sacred Star of Milos.

This week's shelves are from Matt B.:

"Hi there, wanted to share my shelves with ya, although I have more manga than anime. looking at it I have a ton and I wonder how I was able to afford it. I guess when you buy a bit at a time for 12 years it adds up. I also get a lot of used items from library sales so it helps out when every book and dvd is $.50. I have several photos so pick which ones you want to show. I did a few close ups of special parts of my collection including a mosaic of weegee I made out of old pokemon cards."

It's funny how all those purchases add up, huh? Nice shelves!

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

discuss this in the forum (57 posts) |
bookmark/share with:

this article has been modified since it was originally posted; see change history

Shelf Life homepage / archives