Shelf Life
Paradiso Lost

by Bamboo Dong,

If I could make one wish, I would wish that every single anime company in the entire country of Japan would stop writing that dumb bit where a guy looks in the direction of a gal, and then gets punched for it. Can we stop with this joke? Has it not been written enough times? Can we move on? Thanks.

Welcome to Shelf Life.

The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky is another victim in the long tradition of video game-to-anime adaptations getting hopelessly lost in translation. To condense a franchise-based game into a couple of OVAs is a nigh impossible task, and like with so many before it, Trails in the Sky suffers the same problems. Namely, for viewers unfamiliar with the detailed backstories patiently introduced throughout the game and sidequests, the anime makes little sense. We're thrown in the middle of a world we're already expected to know, with rich histories we're already supposed to be familiar with, and exposed to shady organizations and characters that are supposed to be like old friends. It's a bit like inviting a friend to go to a mid-season Game of Thrones viewing party who's neither read the books nor seen previous episodes. The resulting viewing experience can be momentarily engaging—after all, things are happening on screen in a sequential order—but one can't help but feel bewildered and lost, and ultimately unsatisfied.

With this particular work, we're asked to take at face value a conflict that presumably has much deeper roots than we're exposed to. A set of Bad Guys have been causing artificial earthquakes by using Some Kind of Technology. Our group of young and scrappy Heroes have been tasked with investigating this, but they quickly come face to face with an Organization of Numbered Bad Guys, each with different powers and abilities. Amongst them is Joshua, the adopted brother of heroine Estelle, who has infiltrated the organization in the hopes of taking it down from the inside. Now, with his hesitant help, Estelle and the rest of the Good Guys must take down the Bad Guys, all while the OVAs allude to backstories and events that presumably viewers would know about if they were familiar not only with the Trails in the Sky RPG, but also the franchise from whence it came.

For fans of the original source material, this might be a fun way to watch the gameplay on your PSP come to life. Instead of fiddling with buttons and having to deal with mini-boss fights, you can just watch all the characters do what they're supposed to do, while you sit back and enjoy famous voice actors do their thing. But for everyone else, watching The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky is like scratching at the surface of a story you'll never fully understand. None of the characters have any backstories, be they good or bad, none of the technology is explained, none of the past wars and conflicts are described, and at no point does the movie even bother saying, “By the way, this is what's at stake.” What's left is a vaguely generic story about Good Guys vs. Bad Guys (the good guys get more screen time, the bad guys get less screen time), with a vaguely defined sense of danger.

The great misnomer about adaptations is that they are created for the pre-existing fans of a product. While that may be true to some degree—something with a large fanbase guarantees a certain number of automatic product/ticket sales—I think most adaptations strive to take the popularity of something and amplify it for a larger, more mainstream audience. For instance, the number of fans of the Avengers (and related) movie, versus the number of people who've actually read the various iterations of comic books. One shouldn't need to be at all familiar with the source material to enjoy a successful adaptation. And that's why The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky completely fails as a an adaptation. For anyone who isn't already a fan, or who hasn't already played the RPG that it's based off of, it's zero fun at all. Nobody wants to feel left out, and that's exactly how this movie makes you feel.[TOP]

Wanting something a little more slow-paced, I decided to reach for Ristorante Paradiso, a series that I enjoyed much more than I thought I would.

There is something sleepy and comforting about Ristorante Paradiso, a series whose feelings of warmness and happiness could only come from a very fictional anime world. It's a series that espouses love and acceptance, though I imagine that if it's premise were recreated in the real world, it could only fuel anger, depression, and resentment. The series stars a 20-something-year-old girl named Nicolette who's come to Rome to confront her mother, a woman who abandoned her fifteen years ago to marry a man who didn't want to be with anyone who had children. Obviously, she's a terrible mother, and a selfish one at that. When Nicolette arrives in Rome, she goes to her mother's husband's restaurant, and quickly falls in love with its food and ambience. The place is staffed entirely by older gentlemen with glasses, an aesthetic that her mother prefers. Soon, she decides to become an apprentice in the kitchen, partially because of her desire to learn how to cook, and partially because she falls in love with one of the waiters. All the while, she's agreeing to present herself as the daughter of a friend of her mother, who doesn't want to let the cat out of the bag, lest her husband reject her.

In the real world, all of this would likely cause drama and a whole lot of visits to a psychotherapist. Somehow, in the idyllic world of Ristorante Paradiso though, this just provides the backdrop for lots of food porn, wine swirling, and charming chamber music. It's a relaxing show that embraces you with warmth and cheer, and as long as you completely reject the voice in your head that screams, “how is there not more drama?” it's easy to lose yourself in its scenes. I found myself enraptured in this series, engrossed in the histories of the men who served in the restaurant's walls, and wishing that I, too, could sample the food on those plates. Older men with glasses is not my thing, but even I got swooped away by the idea of a place where negative thoughts never seemed to reside. Somehow, it felt like enough to just watch events in the restaurant unfold, and although things with Nicolette and her mother are eventually resolved (completely unrealistically, I have to add), I never really felt like I needed a resolution. I suspect that the characters could've entertained me just as easily with an extended scene of them stacking chairs at the end of the night.

The target audience for Ristorante Paradiso is likely women with a similar fetish as Nicolette's mother—older gentlemen with salty hair and glasses—but I imagine its vibe would appeal to a much wider audience. Once you get past the utterly ridiculous notion that Nicolette would so quickly and graciously forgive her mother's wrongdoings, it's easy to get lost in the lackadaisical pacing of the series. Helped in part by the character designs, which make heavy use of smile lines and receding hairlines, the characters all appear wise and mature, which is a nice break from so many anime that have token brats. And, with the exception of the occasional use of awkward CG inserts (swirling wine, sparkling sauces, weird “crane” shots of narrow corridors), the series is pleasantly drawn, with food so lovingly drawn you could almost smell it. Overall, Ristorante Paradiso is exceedingly pleasant, and I wish it was longer. By the time it drifted to an end, I felt sad that I had to leave the characters, just as we were beginning to befriend them.[TOP]

If there is one downside to Ristorante Paradiso, though, it's that it will inevitably make you wish you had a bottle of wine. And if the only wine you have in the house is a cheap, terrible bottle you bought for three bucks… well, that's enough to put a damper on your day. It did help with the next show, though.

Watching The Sacred Blacksmith is a little bit like trying to replace a cheeseburger craving with some celery sticks. It fills up space, but it mostly tastes like water and just leaves you wishing you had something more substantial. I watched the entire series thinking, “Maybe in the next episode something important will happen,” but it never does. The series keeps hinting that something big and scary is lurking right around the corner, but it never materializes. After the last episode trickled to an end, I sat back and realized I had basically just watched an entire season worth of filler.

Our lady protagonist is Cecily Campbell, a peppy gal who radiates gumption, and who has sworn to follow in her father's and grandfather's footsteps and be a noble knight who will forever protect the town. Only—and this is something that drove me nuts for well over half of the series—she's super klutzy and fairly incompetent. As far as “heroines” go, Cecily is essentially useless, needing to be saved by enigmatic blacksmith Luke at every turn. In fact, aside from her go-get-em attitude, Cecily really has nothing going for her, save for her large breasts which are mentioned every episode. Never mind that 98% of the time, we only see them encased behind molded steel armor, which is an absolutely ludicrous thing to ogle. It'd be like staring at a guy's jockstrap and assuming what lies underneath is some kind of python. But regardless, she mostly just stands around making bombastic speeches about wanting to protect people, while waiting for dreamboat Luke to show up and save the day. Some heroine.

Anyway, it's eventually revealed that Luke has dark secrets of his own, and is also responsible for crafting some Sacred Sword that will save the entire world from certain destruction. Also, there's a big giant evil bad demon of Satanic proportion who is capable of wiping out all of humanity, but he's only ever referred to by name, and makes only one cameo via a shadowy flashback. Basically, a whole lot is alluded to, but nothing ever really happens. The finale showdown can, at best, only be described as a mini-boss battle, leaving behind not so much a cliffhanger, as a sense that we've just watched an entire season of anime for nothing.

In all fairness, though, I didn't feel that crushing sense of disappointment until the last episode. For eleven out of the twelve episodes of the Sacred Blacksmith, I was fairly entertained. Ultimately, that's what saves this series from the Perishable bin. I know, after three paragraphs of complaints, it's hard to understand why I'd still recommend this show to anyone, but while I was watching it, I did find myself curious enough to keep wanting to see what happens next. In hindsight, I should've realized that nothing does happen next. Alas, I was naive.

At the end of the day, that's my warning to you. The Sacred Blacksmith is entertaining enough to warrant a single watch-through, but don't get your hopes up. There's nothing at the end of the line; it's just a carrot on a stick. The characters are pleasant, but they don't really change. The bad guy is sort of fought, but he turns out to be more of a pawn. Sinister revelations are sort of made, but they're eventually swept under the rug. Worse, the series is also riddled with hackneyed, generic anime humor, like girls going nuts over each other's breast sizes, or that ol' shtick where some girl punches a guy for looking in her general direction even though he has zero interest in her. Of course. BUT, hey, there are worse things out there you could be spending your time on, which is less of a positive endorsement as it is a tepid comment that while you'll be fairly amused watching this show, your life won't be any better for it. Or worse, I guess.[TOP]

That's it for this week. Thanks for reading!

This week's shelves are from Glenn, who wrote:

"I've been collecting since 2000, with my first anime dvd being a present of Ranma 1/2 ova collection from my parents. I've bought most of it, but a few were gifts. The video games have to be stored in strange places, because I've long since run out of room. I had to recall all of the anime I've loaned to my friends to be able to do this. I apologize about the file size."

Really nice!!

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