Shelf Life
Student Bodies

by Erin Finnegan,

Classes have finally wrapped up at NYU for the summer, so I am free from students (which is fun for about a day, and then crushingly lonely for weeks), just in time for the dog days of summer. I'm hoping to use my nagashi somen slide machine before Labor Day. Maybe I can try this recipe from my favorite Japanese culinary web series (involving a poodle), “Cooking with Dog.”

Last weekend, after a delicious summer brunch, I watched Tales of Vesperia: The First Strike with friends.

I've never played any of the Tales games, but once again, I watched this movie with friends who were familiar with the franchise so they could fill me in on the details.

This prequel film is a significant improvement over the Tales of the Abyss TV series. However, the lack of game knowledge still held me back a little. Thankfully, this is no Unlimited Blade Works in terms of confusion to newcomers. And although Tales of Vesperia is also a lot better animated than Tales of the Abyss, it's no Unlimited Blade Works in the animation department, either. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

The pseudo-science of this particular fantasy world involves “aer,” a mysterious substance that the characters crystallize into “blastia” and use to boost their magical abilities. Unfortunately, something has gone wrong with the aer outside of the city of Shizotania, and it's attracting monsters and causing the regular animals to attack. Fortunately, the city is protected by a magic force field, as well as troops of the Niren Corps.

Not content to sit on their laurels while the monster attacks get closer and closer to the city gate (and seriously disrupt shipping routes) the knights venture out into the forest several times to find the cause of the mysterious aer-gone-bad. Our protagonists' troop consists of Flynn and Yuri, childhood friends reunited; Chastel and Hisca, a pair of sisters identical in every way except breast size (why, Japan, why?!); Niren, a grizzled older general everyone loves; and team mascot Repede, who is a puppy in this prequel and an adult dog in the game.

110 minutes doesn't seem like enough time to explore that many characters. I mean, this is no Robert Altman ensemble film. A lot of the characters are new, so even if you've played the games, there are a lot of people to introduce. Or perhaps a better movie could've gotten to the heart of all those characters if it used its time more wisely. Like the Abyss TV series, Vesperia contains a lot of standing around and talking, which is too bad after the strong opening action sequences.

The film throws around some themes about what it means to follow orders versus doing what your gut tells you is the right thing. According to my friends, this theme is further explored in the game. While I appreciated that the film asked serious questions, I think they could've dug a little deeper with it, instead of relying so heavily on the game to give context.

A lot of the movie builds up to forming a fighting party to attack a fortress on a lake, the presumed source of the bad aer. It sounds appealingly like a traditional Dungeons & Dragons-style dungeon hack, but the movie wastes so much time on talking that the actual raid on the fortress is disappointingly short. Even the final climactic castle attack scenes in King of Thorn were more exciting (and that wasn't such a great movie, either).

The film is easy enough on the eyes; the magic effects look nice on BD, and the traditional animation is handled well. The dub is adequate, too. Does J. Michael Tatum always play villains? What is up with that?

This was a fine movie for a lazy Sunday afternoon whether or not you're familiar with the games. It's just not that memorable. Of the two friends we watched it with, one had completely forgotten she'd seen it. Even having watched it only six days ago, I found I'd forgotten chunks of the plot by the time I wrote this review.[TOP]

Even Medaka Box in more memorable than Tales of Vesperia… just not in a good way.

Medaka Box teeters precipitately on the edge between Stream Worthy and Flushable. It's basically like Sket Dance with boobs. If fact, I almost gave this Stream Worthy, but now that I remember Sket Dance, (which I panned) forget about it, Medaka Box is Flushable.

The problem with Medaka Box is Medaka. Our XL chested heroine is so charming that she's won the vote for Student Council President in a 98% landslide. She's also a star athlete, a math genius, an armchair psychologist/goddess, and a nice person to boot. In other words, I can't stand her. I hate it when people are multi-talented and really nice at the same time. It makes me crazy jealous. Medaka is like a surreal, big-breasted Haruhi Suzumiya with a better personality. Perhaps because Medaka is too good to be true, I don't trust her at all. She's almost like some Mary Sue character, or worse, an over-powered NPC inserted by a precocious Game Master into his tabletop RPG.

Our protagonist (more or less) is Zenkichi, Medaka's childhood friend. Forever living in her shadow, he's emasculated but not totally defeated. He wants to “protect” Medaka, which apparently in Japanese means “love and/or marry,” (I swear I could write an entire doctoral thesis on the complex use of the word “protect” in anime.) This being a somewhat equal-opportunity anime, Zenkichi is totally built because of his endless athletic pursuit to keep up with Medaka, and he appears shirtless several times. Episode three adds another frequently shirtless bishonen, Koike.

I found myself cheering for Medaka to lose in every episode. Instead, she wins over her opponents with her bizarre psychoanalysis as she surreally inflates to goddess size (“I bet you had a tragic childhood…”). I also found myself cheering for Zenkichi to come out ahead, although by episode four, Koike becomes his rival more than Medaka.

And then there's Hansode. This pint-sized self-declared know-it-all is constantly eating snacks and never gains an ounce. Several times she refers to other characters as “humans” leading me to believe that the she's actually an alien made of sugar. She has a signature laugh, and I suppose that seemed so funny to the manga (or anime) writer that he (or she) added another self-obsessed character with a signature laugh; the green-haired Nekomi, who uses underhanded methods to win at judo. Nekomi's signature laugh is a lot like Sgt. Frog's.

I liked Hansode and Nekomi more than the protagonists, but I couldn't derive enough enjoyment from these side characters to compel me to keep watching the series. I don't care for the episodic premise in the first place; Medaka vows to solve any problem placed into her suggestion box, day or night, no job too big, no job too small. When she succeeds, she adds some flowers to the office. I think that's supposed to be cool or elegant or sweet or something, but I think it's lame.

I self-identify as a Gainax fan, but sometimes it's hard to back them up, (Petite Princess Yucie, for example). In any Gainax show you're guaranteed to find some solid animation, and Medaka Box is no exception. Some scenes are very well animated, probably by famous animators (whose names I don't know off-hand). Several of the characters are dead ringers for Gurren Lagann characters.

Ultimately I think the Streamworthy/Flushable rating boils down to whether or not I'd recommend watching the show. I think you can safely skip Medaka Box if you're short on time. Maybe it will get good down the road, but I wasn't impressed by the first eight episodes.[TOP]

I got more laughs out of The World God Only Knows than Medaka Box.

I'd been avoiding this one, and so it fell to the bottom of my DVD rental box. It turns out this dating game parody series is surprisingly charming and watchable! I mean, it's no Cat Planet Cuties, but it's not bad at all.

Because I don't play the kind of games that The World God Only Knows parodies, I am forever getting the terminology wrong. Galge? Dating sim? Visual novel? No matter what the term, protagonist Keima is a master of that kind of game (he calls them “dating sims” several times, in my defense). One day he accidentally makes a contract with a real life demon to help hunt lost souls on Earth by making girls fall in love with him. The trouble is that Keima thinks, in the language of 4chan, that “3D is pig disgusting.” The translation being that Keima has no interest in real life girls, he only likes the virtual kind.

Usually, when romance games are adapted into anime I complain that the characters aren't “real” enough. TWGOK skirts the problem, as Keima himself is a real character. I like that he blatantly plays games in class, much to the dismay of his teachers. His sedentary lifestyle has left him humorously bad at sports. He's a huge jerk to Elysia, his demon sidekick. The girls that Keima seduces seem to be to be parodies of girls in romance games. The first episode features an athletic girl, the second a poor little rich girl with a bad personality, and later episodes focus on a pop star and a bookworm.

The crux of the show's humor is that in real life, under normal circumstances, Keima could never (nor would he want to) seduce a lady. In TWGOK, Keima exclusively encounters girls who behave as girls in games do. Keima acts impassively in front of them, as if he is still playing a game, yet the girls react in an emotionally favorable way. I found the lack of an emotional connection between Keima and his women funny every single time.

I laughed more than once per episode, which sometimes is enough to make a comedy Shelf Worthy for me. That said, I can't really see recommending TWGOK to people the way I would Cat Planet Cuties. I would conceivably watch Cat Planet Cuties again, but not TWGOK. Particularly the three episode arc featuring library girl Shiori started to try my patience. Although Shirori is an interesting character, I think that should've taken one or two episodes, tops. That said, I did like the final episode of the season, wherein Keima catches up on games by playing six dating sims at once.

I suspect that fans of this sort of game have already eagerly consumed this title, and in that case, there's no need for me to call their attention to it. In fact, if you're a gamer like Keima, I'm interested in hearing what you thought of it. I assume that TWGOK closely parodies the dating sim genre with an expert hand, but I could be wrong, and nothing is more irritating than a half-assed parody of a genre that the makers weren't in love with (which is why I loved Megas XLR and hated Perfect Hair Forever).

TWGOK even has a nice dub. I enjoyed Chris Patton as a believably jerky Keima. As usual, Luci Christian delivers a terrifyingly believable non-human performance as Elysia. The songs go entirely un-dubbed, even if the characters are only singing a line or two, which I appreciated but simultaneously found a little jarring. (I guess they could've sung the shorter phrases… or there's just no pleasing me.)

I recognize TWGOK is a quality show, but I can't bring myself to give more than a half-hearted recommendation for it. It's more like, I understand why people like this show, but I don't think everyone needs to own it.[TOP]

Next week I'm checking out Shiki on BD.

This week's shelves are from Kate, who says:

"I was part of the generation swept into the fold by Toonami/Sailor Moon/Pokemon when I was in my late elementary and early middle school years, so I've stuck to this hobby for quite a while! My collection may not be super-duper big for someone who has been a fan for about 13 years, but this is stuff that has survived my increasingly-picky collection acquiring/culling process.

As you can probably guess, I'm a HUGE, HUGE, HUUUUUGE fan of Naoki Urasawa. I even have the Japanese-only supplementary novel Another Monster. I'm also a big fan of Legend of the Galactic Heroes, as seen by my poster for the movie “Overture to a New War”, an artbook for one of the LoGH manga, and a few miniature ship models of Free Planets Alliance vessels. You can also see a couple of volumes of the Baccano! light novel along with the artbook for that series. The Hetalia items are all gifts from friends who like to tease me about my interest in the Cold War. I never really got into the series, but now I've got all this Russia and America stuff as part of a strange joke.

I'm not an avowed yaoi fan or anything, but there are a couple of Japanese-only BL titles in my manga that I want to mention because they were just so damned odd that I had to buy them when I was in Japan. One is very tame and is about a centaur who works in an office. The other is several volumes of a series that involves scientific/corporate conspiracies and corruption bubbling beneath the surface as a global pandemic arises, unexpected hermaphroditism, and a secret society of people who can turn into dinosaurs. Yes, really.

But far and away the pride and joy of my collection is my 12 inch figure of Friend from 20th Century Boys. He's incredibly poseable and fun, and as he's a rather limited special edition figure, his set includes a BONANZA of extras. Hands down the favorite nerdy thing I own. And let's not forget: friendship is magic."

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