Shelf Life
Stratos Update

by Erin Finnegan,

I'm back! I had a restful enough vacation, seeing old friends and attending BBQs in different locales.

I spent a lot of time over Memorial Day watching my best friend spoon-feed her infant child, because that is what you do with infants. You never spoon-feed adults unless they're missing limbs, or, apparently, you're a character in Infinite Stratos.

There's a running gag in this show wherein the male protagonist is continually asked to spoon feed the various female characters. I know having your crush feed you the bento they made is an anime standard (even in the classic Project A-Ko, which I love), but it started to creep me out in this show. I didn't find it funny or titillating, and I'm not sure which the creators were going for. My mind immediately went to John Waters' Pink Flamingos. Maybe it's supposed to be more wish-fulfillment than titillating (“Man, I wish three girls would sit in front of me at lunchtime with their mouths open like goldfish waiting to be fed!”).

Anyway, sometime in the future, a genius inventor has created an advanced powered armor called Infinite Stratos, or IS. There are two restrictions on IS use, first, the nations of the world have banned it from combat and only use it in kendo-like sports games, and second, for unknown reasons, only women can operate IS.

That is, until a young man named Ichika Orimura discovers he can operate the armor. Ichika is sent to an elite international IS training high school, where he is the only male student. At this point, the show already has two strikes against it. First, part of the fun of mech series (particularly Gundam) is the balance of world power set off by the creation of mechs. Stratos has neutered that aspect from the get-go. Granted, if the series was a future-kendo sports series with powered armor, I might like it more, but this isn't a sports show or even a robot show. No, this is a standard harem comedy (strike two).

Ichika is tremendously popular at school, and he has a talent for the IS that no one seems to share. Even the girls who pretend to hate him, such as obnoxious blonde Brit Cecilia Alcott, are secretly in love with him. At first his roommate in the dorms (why couldn't he get his own room? Geez...) is a childhood friend character. I'm starting to suspect there's a broadcast bylaw that 80% of all anime must include a childhood friend. All of Ichika's newfound friend-zoned girls are immediately (and creepily) territorial about his sister, who also teaches at the academy.

The show is extra disappointing in part because it's so good looking. The effects and animation are done well enough, as IS units fly across pretty painted skies. The occasional use of CG for the armor blends with the 2D elements in a way that it is noticeable without being hokey. I didn't spot many low-budget moments (save for an understandable montage of stills during a summer festival). The production values actually made me angrier; why not put this decent budget to use on something a little less mediocre?

I didn't care for the dub. The international cast winds up sounding a little too much like Hetalia, although in the Hetalia dub the accents are bad on purpose. Tiffany Grant affects a semi-comical German accent (I'm not sure it's supposed to be funny) as Laura Bodewig , a very violent German character/stereotype. I don't buy Shannon Emerick's French accent, although Dunois may be the only halfway interesting character in the show (for spoilery reasons).

Nevertheless, this is Rental Shelf instead of Perishable. Stratos comes with the show's soundtrack, which is a nice touch. Plus, the BD looks sharp and includes the Japanese extras, which is always a plus.

The premise might be original enough to keep some of you hooked, but I couldn't take the stereotypical characters and plotlines. Your mileage may vary.[TOP]

Your mileage may also vary with the generic-to-the-max fantasy series Tales of the Abyss.

I could not get into this show until episode 13 (I'll get back to that). Certainly I have not played the game; perhaps that would help. Until episode 13, I didn't care about any of the characters, let alone the plot.

Luke fon Fabre has led a sheltered life as a noble of the Kimlasca Kingdom. When he was seven years old he was kidnapped and returned with for-reals amnesia (unlike anime amnesia, he had to re-learn to walk). Afterwards, his parents didn't let him leave the castle. Now a stereotypical hotheaded teen with appropriately stereotyped red hair, Luke's world is blown apart when he's transported to a far off place after a woman singing hypnotic hymns invades the palace.

To be clear, this is not a slow-paced show. The action cuts from one scene to the next fairly rapidly. It's not like the camera lingers on objects or the scenes are long and contemplative (think Andrei Tarkovsky). But then… why is this show so boring? Perhaps in the absence of an over-arching goal the series lacks the urgency of other serialized stories. Many of the missions and quests in Tales of the Abyss last for only one or two episodes at a stretch. As such, the mini-plots lacked gravitas or consequence. How is it that even the A and B plots of a single episode of Adventure Time seem to have more weight than this show?

Suddenly episode 13 is excellent, as if a new writer joined the staff. Episodes 11 and 12 establish a complicated geography of the fantasy world, wherein essentially entire towns can fall into giant sinkholes and melt in lava below. Meanwhile, large scale warfare has broken out. Our heroes rush back to the palace with news that could stop the fighting, only to find a villain plotting against the princess's claim to the throne.

For the first time in the series, I felt sympathy for Princess Natalia. Also by this time, Luke's personality has turned around after the revelation of his backstory (and a dramatic haircut, as pictured on the DVD cover).

Until episode 13, my primary source of enjoyment from the show was the pseudo-science lectures. I laughed every time the characters mentioned “Fonons” and espoused on the physics and science thereof.

Early on I struggled to come up with reasons why Tales of the Abyss isn't Perishable. The production values are decent; this certainly isn't a bad looking show, with its intricate fantasy backgrounds and baroque CG land-ship things. It doesn't look quite as well funded as Infinite Stratos, but the characters travel a lot, which is more expensive than something set in a school (traveling creates more backgrounds, props, and characters). The show isn't poorly animated by any stretch of the imagination, but episode 13 “turns it up to 11” with nice animation on the battle scenes (crowds are expensive to animate).

I was going to give up on this series, but if episode 13 represents such a huge turn in quality I just might check out the next two volumes.[TOP]

Tales of the Abyss getting good was like a turning point for my entire week. Afterword I indulged in some Princess Jellyfish.

I loved this show when I watched it streaming, and I covered the plot in my previous review so if you're unfamiliar, catch up there. I was super-stoked for the DVD release, and I would've bought this even if I didn't get a screener.

If you only watched this streaming, there are a bunch of extras that make the physical media worthwhile. There are four character-centered shorts drawn in the usual style of the show that are quite funny. Then there are several weird jungle-expedition skits drawn in a cutesy coloring book style. In an extended segment, two of the Japanese voice actors take a trip to an aquarium and learn about the jellyfish featured in the show. The real life jellyfish are very beautiful, and it's easy to understand Tsukimi's obsession after the documentary segment.

Confirmation bias is a powerful force. The first dub actor commentary is basically a bunch of people agreeing with me about how great this show is. I like the dub well enough, but it's hard to get the Japanese voices out of my head. I'm on the fence about Josh Grelle as Kuranoske, but I was on board for Mariela Ortiz as Banba, Leah Clark as Jiji, and Monica Rial as Mayaya (my three favorite characters in order).

After this show was simulcast, I listened to an ANNCast where Zac reviewed it. He was disappointed that none of the plot threads resolved, and didn't see why so many reviewers had fallen for it head over heels. Then he talked to a female friend, who emphasized that it'd be hard to “get” this show if you're not a girl. That made me reexamine why I like Princess Jellyfish so much.

At the show's core there's a message about make-overs that I can stand behind. Kuranoske makes over the girls from the Nunnery so the neighborhood advisory board will react to them differently. Tsukimi and her roommates are still nerds inside, but dressing like the Stylish gives them instant acceptance by society. I wouldn't believe it, if it hadn't happened to me. At a junior high dance, and during senior prom I gained sudden (and alarming) acceptance from my peers simply by being made over. In my adult life, I've found that even strangers treat me differently if I'm wearing high heels and a skirt (a man once gave me his seat on the train when I was dressed for a job interview, among other instances). I suspect this kind of differential treatment is even more exaggerated in Japan, which has struck me as more fashion-conscious than America every time I've visited the country.

Re-watching Princess Jellyfish, I enjoyed the scenes where Tsukimi and her roommates group together to do a lot of work on last minute projects. In a couple of episodes, they ink and tone their manga artist's roommate's late pages. Sometimes they sew jellyfish dolls for the local flea market. That kind of last minute hard work at arts and crafts reminded me of getting ready for the artist alley at anime conventions with my nerdy female friends. Of course, none of my friends are as hardcore otaku about their interests as Jiji or Mayaya, but my friends are nerds. It's especially appealing to see a representative of myself and my gender on screen, except slightly nerdier, so I can laugh at their antics.

In short, I strongly identify with the characters, and the makeover thing has totally happened to me. I'll admit that having two rich brothers fall in love with a girl nerd, one of whom can makeover the protagonist and all her friends (for free, with an expert hand) is pretty much wish fulfillment as comedy. Kuranoske is kind of a prince and fairy godmother rolled into one convenient character.

If I have just one complaint about this show, it's that there is no season two (at this time, anyway). It was made when the manga was ongoing, which is why none of the plot threads resolve. But it didn't leave me feeling unsatisfied in the end, I just wanted to watch more.

I liked Princess Jellyfish so much, I thought I could show it to non-anime fans, so I tried to watch it with my aforementioned high school friend as an experiment. “She looks just like you did in high school,” my friend said of Tsukimi, and then she stopped paying attention. (Today's experiment… Failed.)[TOP]

I'll see you next week. The Right Stuf sent me a disc of Dirty Pair features, so that's what's up next.

This week's shelves are from Hajji, who didn't write in anything about the shelves, but will hopefully respond in the forums!

Thanks for sending in your collection! If you want to show off your shelves, send your jpgs to [email protected] Thanks!

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