Shelf Life
Psychic Reading

by Erin Finnegan,

Man! Last week was intense! With just 3 hours left before registration, I got into the grad program I applied for. Meanwhile, I was running an intensive T.A. training camp and finishing up software installation on our 50 new computers at work. On top of all of that, my husband started a new job (after an entire decade at his old job!). Basically it was a week of a lot of transitions… with more transitions to come.

It was perhaps not the best week to watch the heart rending Natsuyuki Rendezvous.

Ryosuke is some poor schmuck 20-something dude who's fallen in love with a florist named Rokka. He's bought so many plants as an excuse to talk to her that his apartment is beginning to look like a greenhouse. He gets a part time job at the flower shop to be closer to Rokka, and confesses his crush in the first episode, refreshingly preventing the sort of endless-wait, unsure-about-our-feelings teenage romances you may remember from shows such as Kimi ni Todoke.

Unfortunately Rokka's got baggage. She's eight years older than Ryosuke, and it happens that she's a widow. Severely complicating matters, her late husband's ghost, Atsushi, haunts the flower shop, but strangely only Ryosuke can see him. At first, I wondered if the ghost was just symbolic, or just inside Ryosuke's head, but it's quickly obvious that Atsushi is really there, and honestly messing with Ryosuke to stop him from getting together with his wife. .

First of all, it's straight-up shocking that a show like this could get made, especially as an animated series. Anime fans often lament the lack of shojo titles, yet this is based on josei manga. I cannot imagine a world where a series for twenty-something ladies would be animated in America, but I guess that's where Noitamina comes in.

Second, it was gut-wrenching to watch this with my husband. After every episode he turned to me and said, “promise me you'll never die” (I can't promise that!). There are a lot of flashback scenes to Rokka's relationship with Atsushi while he was in and out of the hospital over the course of his brief life. Perhaps nothing pulls on one's heart strings more than putting oneself in the shoes of the characters in that situation (i.e., visiting your fatally ill spouse in the hospital).

Having recently reviewed Ano Hana, I want to put out there that this is a totally different sort of show, despite the similar premise. Menma was a little too precious, but Natsuyuki Rendezvous has no such treacly characters. To boot, Natsuyuki Rendezvous happily avoids most anime clichés (however, episode eight flashes back to a time when Atsushi lamented he couldn't travel to an exotic locale, which reminded me of the drama series Crying Out Love in the Center of the World).

In episode five the story takes a crazy turn as Ryosuke goes on a spiritual journey with a tiny Rokka. Cute and funny things continue to happen, but it's a lot less cute and funny than the first few episodes. The series also ramps up the art, with some innovative sketchbook drawings as backgrounds.

I had an idea early on of writing this review as if I were reviewing a Scooby Doo episode, joking that Atsushi was just dressing up as a ghost to scare people away from the flower shop; that and I wanted to harp on his incessant spectral cockblocking. Ultimately I think that kind of humor is just my coping mechanism for getting me through Natsuyuki Rendezvous' emotional wringer. The show is so weighty that I'm confident I'll reach some kind of Aristotelian catharsis by the end.

Natsuyuki Rendezvous is a mature series for slightly older people that is certainly worth watching, if only for it's uniqueness among animated works (even if you don't reach catharsis).[TOP]

I also watched the other very unique, emotionally moving show from the summer 2012 season, Chōyaku Hyakunin Isshu: Uta Koi. Although I almost didn't watch it, because Crunchroll lists it as “Utakoi” and my mind went to “Futakoi,” which is pretty much the exact opposite.

Chihayafuru fans will know the “Hundred Poems” from the karuta game they play in that show. For the rest of us, the hundred poems were written by poets around 1000 years ago during the Heian period to decorate the walls of a rich nobleman's mountain villa. Chōyaku Hyakunin Isshu: Uta Koi, as a narrator explains in the beginning, tells the stories behind the love poems, which make up about 40% of the Hundred Poems. As such, I think a good alternate title would be “Saucy Poems from History” (somebody get Kate Beaton on the phone).

The episodes cover one or two poems each at first, making the series seem episodic. However, characters eventually start reoccurring, giving the series a loose continuity. I was going to write this review entirely in haiku, but I was short on time this week (besides, my preferred poetry form is the double dactyl).

Truly, this is a show for Japanese literature majors if there ever was one. I'll also extend my recommendation to Japanese history majors, poetry enthusiasts, and fans of The Pillow Book, as episode nine focuses on Sei Shōnagon. Every episode gives historical details about the politics of the day as well as enough background information on the players involved to build a strong narrative around each short poem.

I'm not much of a poetry fan, so I was drawn in by the artwork at first. The characters have kimono patterns done with a sort of cut-out animation a little like in Gankutsuou, but it's not used as frequently and isn't nearly as dizzying. A lot of scenes have a thick black outline around characters, adding a kind of storybook-like effect. Many of the introductory segments are set in the present, and convey Heian era history facts through present day media formats, like showing tabloid newspaper headlines, interviewing characters on daytime talk shows, and other fun “camera” set-ups.

I feel like I'm learning a lot about Heian Japan on an anthropological level while watching this show. For example, I've learned that dudes courted ladies back then by sitting on the other side of a thin bamboo curtain while the chicks hid their faces with fans. But this is no dry PBS documentary, you know things are really getting saucy if the couple holds hands under the curtain!

In all seriousness, I think Uta Koi does a good job of bringing the problems of past couples into the present day. Several couples struggle with whether or not they should get together and settle down or let the lady involved go work in the palace, which is a great career move but a cold shower for the gentleman caller (career or family? Can women truly “have it all?” Definitely not in the Heian era!). Great romance stories find believable ways to keep couples apart, and I totally believed the romantic tension in Uta Koi.

It's worth mentioning that episode six is extremely silly. The 95% anachronistic episode involves a Yu-Gi-Oh!-like card battle between and about classic poets. I couldn't follow it, but I bet if you're familiar with the poets it's wet-your-pants hilarious.

It's safe to say that not all anime fans are going to dig historical romance about classical poetry, but if that sounds appealing to you in the least, don't miss Uta Koi.[TOP]

I was running a bit low on physical media this week, so I rented the second collection of Zettai Karen Children.

I was not at all surprised to learn that Psychic Squad is originally by Takahashi Shiina, the author of Ghost Sweeper Mikami. That certainly explains the throw-back-to-another-era character designs. I haven't watched that much Ghost Sweeper Mikami, but from what I have seen, I think it shares the same light-hearted spirit of adventure as Psychic Squad.

I enjoyed Psychic Squad – Collection 2 even more than Collection 1. The amount of screen time devoted to Karou's “pervy old man” gags has been seriously reduced, which left me feeling less disturbed and/or confused about the series. That said, this set does include the girls dressing as sexy maids as a joke at one point, and in another episode they wear spy-like evening gowns that seem inappropriate for girls their age. Leaving that aside, I was far more disturbed by the antics of 16 year old Naomi and her adult handler, Ichiro, who keeps saying he's going to marry her, and it's treated like the punchline to a joke. (Weirdly Ichiro is a dead ringer for Lory, the President of L.M.E. in Skip Beat!.)

I was impressed early on by episode 14. It's revealed that Shiho, the team's psychometrist, is regularly recruited by her father, the Director of the National Police Agency, to touch murder weapons and solve cold case crimes. This alarms Minamoto, as Shiho is still only a child. Even if she doesn't mind solving murders, it just doesn't seem right to expose a kid to that stuff. Over the course of the episode, Shiho winds up in danger while solving a series of crimes committed by another psychic. There's real tension in this episode. I was genuinely afraid for Shiho, and found the episode's conclusion emotionally satisfying.

I was less impressed later in the set by the introduction of animal-powered characters Akira Yadorigi and Hatsune Inugami, although they did have some good gags. Episode 15 introduces a villain with sharingan-eye powers who teleports the entire 12-person B.A.B.E.L. team into a wall at one point which, by all rights, should kill them instantly; but it doesn't, harkening back to the practically-a-kid's show aesthetic that I like about this series.

Psychic Squad keeps getting better, to the point where I certainly don't mind watching it. However, it's not quite Shelf Worthy yet. I wouldn't re-watch any of it. Like several series I've seen, I would probably watch more Zettai Karen Children if I was expending zero effort to see it; like if it were broadcast after another show I actually liked. It's a very low commitment series for my money.[TOP]

I'm not sure how grad school will affect my Shelf Life schedule in the next month, but even before getting into the program I was planning on taking off a couple of weeks in October for New York Comic Con and a brief trip to Germany. I'll keep you guys updated!

Next week I'll take a look at Space Adventure Cobra - The Movie.

This week's shelves are from Joseph:

"I have been collecting for the past 8-9 years. The bulk of my collection is made up of DVD's and key chains I have bought myself. Right, now I have about 254 DVD's and 55 key chains. My very first anime DVD was Armitage the Third Poly-Matrix, bought at the Suncoast at the local mall. My most recent purchase was the complete collections of Otogi Zoshi, Mirage of Blaze, and Simoun for under $60 from Right My most unique item is the Excel Saga Menchi Grill. My sole volume of manga I have is vol. 10 of Rebirth in German(It was a present from my sister). On occasion I will get figures, like the three Bome figures I got at a comic convention for $5 each. My favorite anime series is Miami Guns and my favorite OVA is Golgo 13. This was the first time I had ever displayed my entire collection altogether. It took about 2.5 hours to find all the pieces and another hour trying to get good photos. "

Nice collection!

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

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