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Shelf Life
The Polar Express

by Erin Finnegan,

So Otakon 2012 happened. I had a good time, seeing old friends, giving panels, cosplaying, and eating at Baltimore's finest restaurants, including but not limited to Pabu, at the Four Seasons.

Right before the Anime News Network panel (the first panel of the day on Friday), a Shelf Life reader spotted me and said, “You're Erin Finnegan?! I thought you'd look way older!” That was kind of a back-handed compliment, young man. It was certainly a strange way to start the con.

That said, I do sometimes feel like a crusty old bearded dude. I mean, neckbeards and I share a nostalgia for laserdiscs, a love of Bubblegum Crisis, and fiercely defend the original Dirty Pair series over Dirty Pair Flash.

Rounding out their recent Dirty Pair re-releases, the Right Stuf has given us this set of Dirty Pair Flash. I first watched an episode of Flash circa 2002, and I thought it looked old back then. Time has not been kind to this 1994 “update” of the 1985 original. It's painted on cels, which looks insanely dated in this day and age (like watching season one of Dexter's Lab). The colors look either faded or pastel, and I can't tell if it's intentional.

All of the things I liked about original Dirty Pair are destroyed by Dirty Pair Flash. I loved the curvy old '80s character designs, replaced here with angular '90s designs (now also hideously outdated). I loved the episodic nature of the episodes, and Flash has worked in a series of season arcs. I loved that Kei and Yuri had no backstory, you never knew why the 3WA hired them. Flash is a prequel, and explains that the 3WA had a recruiting problem.

I love that the old series took place in the future. Flash includes a six episode arc on a planet that re-creates Earth in the 20th century. I love that Dirty Pair is guaranteed not to take place in a high school (like 90% of the last decade of anime), and in episode eight Kei and Yuri are forced to go undercover in a girl's high school. While it works for this series because the girls are only 17 years old, I liked that the original starred adults (even if they didn't always act that way).

Before my entire review turns into a bulleted list of stuff I didn't like, I'd better cover the parts I did like. I like that Dirty Pair Flash is an adventure series. Kei kicks some serious butt in fights, despite her slight stature. As one might expect from a Dirty Pair title, there are plenty of explosions as well as a ton of collateral damage and property destruction.

The budget is nothing to sneeze at. Different episodes take place in different locations (expensive), including well-populated cityscapes (which are time consuming to draw). The effects animation is extremely competent during the aforementioned explosions.

The dub isn't great. Yuri sounds screechy and whiny at times. In the second season (from episode seven) Kei sounds miscast. Sue Ulu is trying hard, but she just sounds too old for the younger version of Kei. It's not bad to the point of being un-listenable, but it's pretty bad.

Eventually I found that as long as I could pretend this wasn't Dirty Pair, I could reasonably enjoy the show. I do wonder what younger fans think of Dirty Pair Flash, because it looks so old at this point.[TOP]

Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt, on the other hand, looks as new as any show on the Disney Channel. Funimation had a P&S stripper pole set up at Otakon…

Man, Zac was totally down on Panty and Stocking in this episode of the ANNCast. Bamboo didn't like it either, comparing it unfavorably to Super Milk-chan . (Incidentally, I liked Super Milk-chan, although I liked the localized dub they didn't show on Adult Swim and the original Japanese version better.) When it comes to other ANN writers, Brian “Answerman” Hanson and I may disagree about Casshern Sins, but we agree that if you skip the first four episodes, Panty and Stocking is surprisingly good.

I disagree with Zac's assertion that P&S is a “a bunch of dick and poop jokes, and that's kind of it.” I think that statement misses the subtlety of the show. After an initial flirtation with booger-based humor, P&S turns into a clever parody of American animation. The two part episodes, the flat-flat-flat 2D designs, the style of humor, and even the story credits on the title cards all strike me as a send-up of/tribute to everything from Kim Possible to Ren and Stimpy. Any shock value of the grosser parts of P&S has long since been overshadowed by Adult Swim fare such as Metalocalypse, or even some of the sicker episodes of Aqua Teen Hunger Force (like “Diet” from season three).

I think if you like P&S and your friends can't get into it, have them watch “Chuck to the Future” in episode ten, wherein Chuck goes on a series of solo adventures in a tribute to old Warner Brothers cartoons, or “Nothing to Room” from episode eleven, the “capsule episode” where Panty and Stocking are waiting for dinner the entire time.

“Vomiting Point” from episode five is still my favorite, because it's drawn in such a serious style. I don't think the drawn-out vomit joke is funny because it's “offensive” or in poor taste, I think it's funny because of the classy presentation. It looks like the entire thing was drawn by Studio 4°C. I feel bad for the poor salaryman who lives in an old house at the end of a crowded train line with an unappreciative family. When he pukes, I feel the pathos.

I talked a lot about the content of the show when I reviewed it streaming, so here I'll take a look at the extras and the dub.

I enjoyed the dub, which includes such colorful turns of phrase as “I don't like this douchebag creeper.” The dub has added a lot of profanity to the script. Although I've had friends and writing teachers insist that profanity is not some shortcut to humor, I do think at the very least Panty is swearing in character.

The extras include a long documentary about shooting the live action ghost explosion scenes, which is surprisingly fun to watch. There are also a lot of extra shorts, including things like a hilarious 8-bit Super Mario Brothers parody starring Chuck.

I believe that P&S is very competently animated. It takes itself quite seriously considering the premise. I also see it as a cult show aimed squarely at a U.S. audience, which is flattering because I am that audience.[TOP]

And now for something completely different: Polar Bear's Café.

If you went back in time and asked my 10-year-old self what her favorite animals were, I might say, in this order: Penguins, pandas, and polar bears. (Note: This assumes you've discounted the following fictional animals: Pegasus, unicorns, and dragons.) It was inevitable that I'd get around to watching Polar Bear's Café.

This is an odd show. In a world where humans coexist with animals that are able to talk (and run cafes), a good-for-nothing young panda takes a part time job at the zoo. Panda is so lazy it's exhausting to work just two days a week, even though his “work” basically consists of being himself. He spends the rest of his free time hanging out with other animals (and one human waitress) at Polar Bear's Café.

Unlike in anthropomorphized animal shows (like, I don't know, The Goof Troop) the animals in Polar Bear's Café are drawn realistically. When the Llama character sits on a stool at the café, the animators have carefully drawn more or less how an actual llama might sit (if he was that flexible). Consequently, this means the animals in the show are all very cute in a realistic way.

I skimmed some of the preview guides and assumed Polar Bear's Café was all about cute animals being cute, but it turns out to be more clever than that. Three or four episodes in the writers hit their stride and the show starts to take off. Specifically, the series got to me in episode four, when Penguin gets a smart phone. As a real penguin, he is unable to pinch to zoom in on the weather report. I laughed out loud. Somehow Polar Bear is able to use his claws on his phone's screen, which prompted me to say (sardonically, and once in the first of many times) “this show is so unrealistic.”

Like any decent situation comedy series, Polar Bear's Café uses character-driven humor and simple, everyday life plots. In one episode, the characters go for a drive. In another, Penguin and Polar Bear visit Panda at work. Despite being animals, the characters have sitcom like personalities; Polar Bear is a nice guy who means well and loves puns; Penguin is dumb and kind of a jerk; and Panda is dumber still. I can't decide if the llama would be Cliff or Norm if Polar Bear's Café was Cheers.

It throws me for a loop every time that Panda acts vain. Pandas (in real life) are very cute, and I enjoy panda merchandise as much as anyone, but it's weird that Panda himself also collects panda merchandise. It makes me sound pedantic to say that I think in real life pandas probably spend most of their time thinking about bamboo. That said, it did strike me as hilarious when Panda went on a fishing trip with Polar Bear and Grizzly. I mean, Panda is a vegetarian! Hilarious!

The series is particularly well-suited to animation, because this would not be as good of a show if it used puppets or CG to depict the animals. Animation is so time and work intensive, one ought to be able to justify not making a cheaper live-action version of the same thing.

Polar Bear's Café is episodic enough that it doesn't hold up all that well to marathoning. In fact, I wish it was on broadcast TV, in English, and airing around the time I come home from work. The chatty humor would be fun to listen to while making dinner or doing dishes. If I was into knitting, I could see knitting while watching this show (again, dubbed), as it seems like you don't need to watch every second of every episode to enjoy it. Plus I bet that would be very a relaxing evening, knitting and watching Polar Bear Café.[TOP]

Next week I'm watching the less relaxing Tales of Vesperia: The First Strike, among other things.

This week's shelves are from Chris Bryce:

"Here is my ever growing collection, just starting out so there is not much but at least its something :) I first started collecting when I bought the Sayonara Memories single from my favorite band supercell! After that my first anime I ever bought was Tsubasa and the collection has been growing ever since. I really like collecting posters as well. Some I made myself, three are not shown here (which are Iron Man 2, Assassin's Creed: Revelations and Black Ops 2). I got the display for FF13-2 at gamestop. I went in to pay off my PSVita and they we're about to throw it out. So they asked me if I was a fan of FF13 and I of course said "YES!" then they asked if I wanted it and I took it without question :D My favorites out of all that I bought are my imported CD's I really cherish them, anime-wise my favorite is the Aria series or the EVA rebuild movies :D"

Very cool collection!

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

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