Shelf Life
Zet Dance

by Erin Finnegan,

All three titles this week turned out to be weird somehow. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy anime in part for a certain weirdness factor that I don't get from American cartoons (probably because I'm American and grew up on the stuff). And yes, I complain when anime series are too much alike… I guess what I'm trying to say is that you've got series that are derivative, series that are original, series that are eccentric, and then there's just plain weird. Case in point: Psychic Squad.
Psychic Squad is such a weird show. From the bright colors and spunky kids, you'd think it was an after school cartoon from the 1990s (I thought of Gaogaigar's time period). Outwardly, Psychic Squad appears to be a fun adventure series, maybe even a series for kids. In a future where psychics are known to society and classified by power level, three powerfully psychic 6th graders work for a government agency that manages psychics and are assigned to special elite squad called “The Children” to stop psychic criminals.

On the surface, the show reminds me of The Powerpuff Girls. Our trio of pre-teen protagonists get along well and work to save the city, with some comical destructive mishaps along the way. In the third episode, they come to live in the apartment of Kōichi Minamoto, their young field leader who reminds me favorably of Professor X. Inasmuch as The Powerpuff Girls was a nostalgic throwback to older cartoons, I suspect that Psychic Squad is meant to be a trip down memory lane for 30-something Japanese viewers who grew up watching ESPer anime in the 1980s. (Mai the Psychic Girl fell into the tail-end of that wave of psychic stories.)

That said, Psychic Squad quickly moves from good clean fun into more Adult Swim territory (although this could never succeed on Adult Swim). That is to say, the bad guy in the first episode might be a send up of Hard Gay, and more importantly, one of the girls, Kaoru Akashi, has a “pervy old man” personality type. I mean they literally say that in the show. Akashi seems to say whatever any pervy viewers might be thinking in a given moment.

I continually wondered if real life children would get Akashi's jokes, or if Child Protective Services would come after me if I let kids watch this show. What I mean to say is, as I watched this, I couldn't help but think I'd enjoy Psychic Children more if I were the same age as the protagonists. It's nice to see elementary school kids save the day, and if I were in elementary school, I might like this show. As an adult I'm less interested and slightly worried. I mean, I'm worried about the team's doting boss, Kiritsubo. Is he a creeper or a helicopter-parent figure? I can't tell.

The show has impressed me so far with its lively cityscapes. A lot of animation went into this, and even if it was rushed or a little on the cheap side, I suspect the crew worked hard and enjoyed what they were doing. There's a sort of fun, happy quality to everything in Psychic Squad, from the brightly colored palettes on up.

There isn't a dub, and there aren't extras. I can't imagine this being a commercial success in the U.S. thanks to the borderline sexual content, but for some reason, Sentai Filmworks has put out two sets of this already. Since there's almost no demand for it from the rental company I use, it was easy to get a hold of. It isn't a bad show, and it's not boring by any means, but everything else aside, it's not compelling either. There are little mini-arcs or one-off episodes, but I'm not drawn from one episode into the next with any urgency. Sometimes this kind of low-commitment level is nice, but in the case of Psychic Squad I'm not particularly attached to any of the characters. [TOP]

Unlike The Powerpuff Girls, Psychic Squad doesn't pay tribute to costumed super heroes. You know what does? Zetman.

Zetman is such a weird show. I'm sure it's trying to say something about super heroes, I'm just not sure what the message is, nor do I care enough to stick around long enough to find out.

I started watched Zetman because I was enticed by the dark aesthetic. The realistic-looking characters live in a gritty, near-future city with a lot of unemployment and a big gap between the rich and the poor. An orphaned boy, Jin Kanzaki, lives in a shack with an old man. Jin is the product of some weird scientific experiments which have granted him super human fighting abilities.

In the first few episodes, the scrappy Jin meets a pair of sibling rich kids, Kouga and Konoha Amagi, during a mugging. The rest of the series flashes forward to the characters as teens. Kouga is a star athlete who decides to use his parents' money to make himself into a hero (like Ironman, or Batman without the revenge). Jin is acting heroic using his super-strength when the scientists who created him approach him to help him refine his mutation-fueled powers that turn him into a creature called a “Zet.”.

The show's seems to be a kind of Highlights for Children, Goofus & Gallant lesson about costumed super heroes. Kouga likes praise, public attention, and wearing a flashy suit (Goofus, apparently). Jin wants to remain anonymous for his good deeds, and his “suit” is literally just his skin, and he doesn't care if he looks flashy (Gallant). I think Kouga is selling himself short and should just be Jin's sidekick. They make a great team, after all.

Zetman also asks you, the (male) viewer a classic action movie question: “What would it be like if hoodlums captured the women in YOUR life?” Although in the case of Zetman, the hoodlums are mutant humanoid creatures called Players and Kouga is fighting to save his sister. Somehow in the first two episodes bad guys are able to seemingly kill Jin's adopted mother at least three times. Basically if you're female in this serious you're going to get kidnapped and threatened with rape eventually. Girls are ultimately a liability to Jin and/or Kouga, or possibly a strength because they want to protect the ladies they love.

I was attracted to Zetman because it looked serious, but annoyed when it took itself too seriously. The bad guys are, in order: a lizard man; a dude with fire powers; a hoodlum who fights with toxic foam abilities; and some crustacean brothers with the ability to birth shrimp from their arm sockets. I mean, this isn't The Tick, Zetman is dead serious at all times, and yet, I managed to get in a lot of great jokes about shrimp tempura.

Maybe it's not fair of me to throw out a bunch of super hero comparisons when Zetman is more obviously part of the mutant suit anime sub-genre, along the lines of The Guyver or (more recently) Towanaquon. It seems very important in shows like these for the hero to not be able to fully control their powers. As such, Jin is given “Zet gum” to help him reach his full “Zet” level, which again is a little too funny for such a serious show. It's also important, as the genre dictates, for Jin to have at least five fighting forms, even though they are probably not even his final form.

I'm not going to go around recommending Zetman like I would The Dark Knight Returns, X-Men 2, or the first Ironman (and to a lesser extent The Avengers), because I'm not much of a costumed hero fan. (That's why I got into manga in the first place.) [TOP]

Likewise, I'm not exactly a sucker for vampires (pun intended). Sure, I read Interview with the Vampire in high school like every girl in the 1990s (I liked the film better). I've never read Twilight, and I've never watched True Blood. However, I did take an Eastern European Folklore class at the University of Michigan, where I learned the true linguistic origin of vampires. I also read, and wrote more than one paper about Bram Stoker's original Dracula novel. I didn't care for the book. I'm not into vampires. I'm sorry, Shiki, I'm just not that into you.

Shiki is such a weird show. It awkwardly tosses together a Bram Stoker/Western European version of vampires with a half-hearted version of Japanese living corpse monsters, or “Shiki” folklore stories.

High school student Natsuno moves from the big city to a small town he hates, but he's not the town's only newcomer; an eccentric rich family recently bought a Western-style castle up on the hill, and they supposedly have a rare health condition that only allows them to walk around at night.

It's painfully obvious from episode three that the small village is being attacked by vampires, but it takes the characters many more episodes to come to grips with reality. I found it very frustrating, like in Treehouse of Horror IV when LiSA says, “They're wrong! The creature they seek is the walking undead: Nosferatu, Das Wampyr! … A vampire!” Although at first I took Dr. Toshio as a Scully-like character to the series' X-Files monsters, after ten episodes I started wishing he'd act more like Dr. House (from House) and set the townspeople straight (perhaps using a markerboard).

Every vampire story seems to put minor twists on vampire rules (some can go out in daylight, some can't, etc.), and I've been a bit disappointed in Shiki's take on vampires in the series so far. I wish they were more like traditional Japanese monsters and less like Western vampires. I want to be surprised and horrified by new rules, rather than feeling clever for remembering/knowing that vampires can't come in unless you invite them.

This time around I was particularly struck by episode 11, wherein the village shaman leads a band of locals with torches and pitchforks (more or less) up to the castle to attack the vampires. I have a lot of sympathy for the shaman, because she's an ugly character in a universe where ugly character design means you also have an ugly soul (and no one likes you). I mean, look at Masao; he's an ugly dude with and ugly heart who is also incredibly annoying. The craggily old mother-in-law who owns the clinic is just as grouchy as her appearance implies. No one plays against type in Shiki.

That said, the character designs are probably Shiki's high point. One nurse has a hairstyle that not only defies gravity; her hair looks like a nebula being pulled into a black hole. I spent entire episodes bored by vampires yet hypnotized by crazy old man eyebrows.

I did enjoy the dub. Todd Haberkorn plays an accurately irritating Masao. J. Michael Tatum plays a very convincing vampire lord, even if he's not Gackt. Although I like the art of the show, I don't think you need need need to watch it on Blu-ray. This is more of a buy-it-on-sale DVD title (if you buy it).

Despite my complaints, I'm interested in seeing where Shiki goes in part two. I'm less interested in seeing a doctor investigating mysterious deaths (that are obviously vampires) than I am interested in seeing a story about the survivors of a shrinking small town going to war against a growing troop of vampires. That sounds cool.

I was surprised to learn that Shiki was originally a series of light novels written by the same author as The Twelve Kingdoms. To me, The Twelve Kingdoms seems unique and fairly original, but then, I'm not particularly familiar with Chinese folklore and fantasy stories. [TOP]

I can't help but think that Fuyumi Ono was tired of writing elaborate old-timey politics and decided to go with a contemporary story about vampires next because vampires are somehow easier to write about. Maybe she was sick of making up complicated vocabulary words. Maybe it's more like in the aforementioned The Simpsons' “Treehouse of Horror IV” when Bart says, “We had a story to go with this painting, but it was far too intense. So we just threw something together with vampires. Enjoy!” (Treehouse of Horror V is my favorite. )

I'll see you guys next week with more Hetalia, and the Fractale dub.

This week's shelves are from Jeff!

"I'm making a photo submission to ANN's Shelf Life article. Incidentally, I am an active user of ANN's forums where I go by the name Tenbyakugon. The shelves go in order based on the order the seven-hundred books in the attached images are in. The images should be organized left-to-right by the file name alphabetically (just as I have them attached in this e-mail). "

That is a huge collection!

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

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