Shelf Life
Vlad to the Bone

by Bamboo Dong,

I wasn't expecting Thanksgiving to sneak up on us so fast. I was planning on getting a lot more done this year before the holidays, but they are nigh upon us. And before we know it, the year will be over. It's crazy how fast time flies.

In any case, I will be taking next week off for the holiday, and will be back the week after that with another installment of The Stream. Enjoy your breaks, fellow Americans, and enjoy your gigantic meals.

Welcome to Shelf Life.

Aria the Scarlet Ammo is about two parts cheesecake, one part humor, one part blockbuster action, and ten parts ridiculous. The latter ingredient is what made me roll my eyes the most, especially as the premise of the story got more and more inane, and the characters more and more outrageous. Wouldn't you know that all of the main characters, in addition to being gun-wielding high school student / armed detectives called butei, are also the descendants of such notable figures like Sherlock Holmes, Arsene Lupin, and, yes, Vlad the Impaler? That's why these characters are always fighting amongst themselves, to handle rifts from generations ago and to settle the familial chips on their shoulders.

Our major characters all go to a school for butei, who are kind of like super cops, in that they have essentially unlimited jurisdiction and power. Some of them are super hackers, some of them are crazy marksman, but all can run around town blasting their firearms without fear of repercussion and responsibility for collateral damage. At the center is Kinji, your normal average dude with two major features—one, when he gets aroused, he turns into a suave playboy with incredible survival and fighting skills; two, all the ladies are piled on top of each other trying to snag him for their dream hubby. The most egregious one is the local shrine maiden Shirayuki, who on top of fretting over making him meals and cleaning his bathroom, is also insanely jealous of every other woman in his life. Notably, Kinji is also a royal dick to her, rolling his eyes and complaining whenever she makes him a meal, but eating it anyway. The other two ladies are Aria, the lady whom Kinji's heart flames for, and Riko, the sexually aggressive one who tries to kill dozens of students but gets away with a slap on the wrist. Aria, despite being the titular character, is also the one who most often punishes Kinji for doing just about anything, whether it's accidentally landing on her, accidentally looking at her, or sneezing in her general direction. Right, she's that character. There are some other ladies to be added to the bag, too, but those are the three who most wanting to jump on Kinji's hapless groin.

The fanservice and bullet-flying action aspects of Aria—those are fun, I guess. And in fact, the former is tame. There are your typical shots of down-shirt bra glimpses and a boob squish or two, along with some swim suit and maid uniform modeling, but that's about it. And as far as the action goes, it's over-the-top, but it's entertaining enough. It's nothing revolutionary—Aria the Scarlet Ammo is hardly the next in the Die Hard franchise, but it fills its twelve episode run reasonably enough without slowing down. Bullets fly, blades clink, and if that's the kind of thing that rocks your boat, then you will be happy as a clam watching the fights zip by.

Mostly, it's the goofy character backgrounds that gave me pause. I bought the whole school-full-of-super-detective-butei thing. I bought the boy-who-turns-crack-operative-when-aroused thing. I even bought that Riko had supernatural, prehensile hair. But really, everyone's a descendent of all these famous (fictional) figures? By the time the story whipped out Vlad the Impaler, I had just about had it to my eyes. It seems to me the same story could've been told without this ludicrous posturing, and just been as interesting. I'd argue that it was actually a detriment to a perfectly fine, albeit cheesy, story about generically attractive high schoolers blasting each other with guns. Let the characters have centuries-old family drama, but don't let everyone be a descendent of someone. One of the girls was descended from Jeanne of Arc! Preposterous! What would happen in the sequel? Cleopatra? Rasputin? Santa Claus?

Mostly, the shtick of having the girls be descendants of various characters and historical figures feels like a bandaid for the fact that none of the girls otherwise have personalities or traits that make them stand out on their own. Aria, for whom the series is named, should be the most well-developed character, but she isn't. Her driving motive in the series is to help clear her mother's name, who was framed for a series of murders and incidents, but it makes next to no sense. Even knowing who's responsible for everything seems to not matter, reducing the entire premise about her mother to a watery, forced contrivance. Aside from that, she really doesn't have anything else going for her. She keeps referring to Kinji as her slave, but if it's meant to be cute, it doesn't really work. She threatens to pump everyone full of holes, but she does it so often that it just becomes irritating. And let's not even get into the appalling dynamic between crazy/needy Shirayuki and jerkoff Kinji, which is borderline abusive.

Look, if you like cute girls and action, then you could whittle away a few solid hours of your life watching Aria the Scarlet Ammo. It's just neither outstanding or original, nor does it appear to try very hard. In the genre of cute girls kicking butt, there are better avenues you could take than this one.[TOP]

Speaking of Vlad the Impaler, which by the way, would be a great nickname for a dude's junk, he makes another appearance this week. This time, though, he arises as a mustachioed Alucard, and looks vaguely like a cross between a homeless man and Lea Dunham's character's boyfriend in Girls. It's not a good look.

Hellsing Ultimate gets another four episodes, this time with the crazy Nazis in full blitzkrieg mode, and everyone in England with any kind of weapon at each other's throats. This series is pure, undiluted entertainment. Everything about it is sheer fun. It's exciting, it's action-packed, it's gory, it's crazy, and the humor is totally bizarre and off-the-wall. When the first episode started, I thought I had accidentally stumbled onto an omake—Alucard is having a vision featuring his gun's... persona? a bulky dude named Jackal Willis who is supposed to invoke allusions to Bruce Willis (kudos to the English actor who got to rasp these incredible lines), and cameos from other depicted actors including Christopher Walken. For obvious reasons, you should watch this scene in its English dubbed form; it's fantastic and truly, truly weird. But then things get crazy again, and we're prepped for a bloodbath. Shortly afterward, there's another great scene with the bag-of-nuts Nazi commander who's rattling off lists of London landmarks that he wants torched down. When he's done, his various officers ask, “What about Trafalgar Square?” “Burn it down!” “What about the Picadilly Circus?” “Burn that down!” and so forth. It's hilarious in the same vein that undoubtedly inspired Funimation to release the first volume with a karaoke-version of his speech.

In the first half of this OVA series, I wasn't entirely sure how I felt about the humor in this series. I thought it off-putting and a little out of place, and entirely too distracting from the otherwise serious atmosphere of the series. Since then, I've grown to really cherish it. Hellsing Ultimate simply strives to entertain, and in that, it completely succeeds. There's something about the frantic, bizarre humor in this show that gives the jokes a surreal edge. If it were just fight after fight, vampire after vampire, it might eventually stagnate in its appeal, but the inclusion of weird characters and strange jokes makes it more nightmarish. At times, it's just plain silly—when Alucard/Vlad the Impaler emerges, Seras pops up and asks, “You have a moustache?”

Action-wise, these episodes of Hellsing Ultimate are a feast for the eyes. They bring out a tingle in everyone who enjoys fictional bloodshed, and they do not hold back. The scenes range from gory and disgusting, to outright cool, with limbs being torn off, eyes being punctured, and a crazy finale where waves of the undead wash onto the streets. In a final standoff between Alucard and Alexander, blood/spirit/wiggly things splurt from their bodies like a sea of anemones. It's so, so cool, and so, so weird.

These discs also come packed with a ton of extras, although some of them I'm not so sure I'd ever have the occasion to watch, like old convention panels. But, it also comes with an episode of Hellsing: Dawn, a prequel to the series that follows Walter as a young boy. It's subtitled-only, but it's a nice addition, and I'm astonished that Funimation didn't make a bigger fuss about including it as an extra. All in all, though, Hellsing Ultimate has been a really great ride. It's been exciting and visually grand, and I am really glad I finally got to sit down and watch it all.[TOP]

Stepping away from the parade of Vlads, I went to another set of historical figures.

Anime has a fascination with the Sengoku era that is absolutely unparalleled in anything else. Sure, the Hollywood film industry makes a lot of World War II movies, but to their credit, the vast majority of those stories merely use the war as a backdrop, or only focus on one battle, or one player. It's nothing like what anime tends to do with the Sengoku era, which is barrel through every major event and run through every major historical figure like it's a scavenger hunt. Amongst them, Sengoku Basara is one of the more entertaining ones, taking its roots of inspiration from CAPCOM's games, the majority of which never saw American shores. It's not historically accurate, but given the gameplay, it at least makes sense to have a plethora of leaders and lords squabbling over territories.

With Sengoku Basara - The Last Party, many of our favorite historical figures and characters meet again at the Battle of Sekigahara, which in history marked the turnaround point and perhaps the beginning of the Tokugawa shogunate. In The Last Party, it serves more as a Who's Who for characters, culminating in a giant matchup between too many characters, all with too many special attacks and too many supernatural elements. The back of the box describes the movie as, “one of the most over-the-top battles in history” and indeed it is. When all of the troops gather at the main battleground, they are all greeted by a giant hot pot. Literally, a giant, gargantuan cast iron pot, filled with multi-story vegetables harvested from a land of Brobdingnag proportions. Because this is a work of fiction, already populated by pretty boys with crazy attacks, no one stops to question the daikon the size of the Chrysler Building.

Sengoku Basara - The Last Party is an “eh” movie. It's entertaining, especially for those who have enjoyed the Sengoku Basara franchise, but it's hardly a work of art. And yet, it needed to be included in the franchise. For a series that loosely follows the events in the Sengoku era, this battle needed to be fought, and The Last Party makes a good effort of it. It also makes sense for it to be a movie, and not a mini-series or OVA, because the entirety of it really just relies on the final all-out battle between a dozen characters. No lead-up is necessary, no aftermath is needed—just a giant battleground (sans the large radish, perhaps) and enough people pummeling each other to fill an hour. It goes without saying that with a work like The Last Party, no one is watching it expecting a work of historical finesse. They're watching it so they can see their favorite characters make cameos and rush at each other screaming. It's mindless entertainment, not unlike watching friends play a video game. It goes without saying that if you haven't played the games or at least watched the series, it doesn't make much sense for you to watch the movie. But if you've fulfilled the prerequisites, then you may as well give this movie a go. It's plenty fine.[TOP]

Alright folks, that's my time here. Send me your shelves, seriously. Or if you haven't seen your shelves, send them again. Bonus points awarded if you snap a pic of a pet lounging in front of your collection, because I am a big softie for things with paws.

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