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Shelf Life
C+C Anime Factory

by Bamboo Dong,

After the Super Bowl, I spent some time reading statistics online regarding the amount of food that Americans consume on this day. It would surprise no one to learn that, yes, we are pigs. Super Bowl Sunday is the great American holiday of eating, and in fact, it's the second highest day of food consumption, right after Thanksgiving. As a nation, we eat around 1.2 billion chicken wings, 3.8 million pounds of popcorn, and 50 million cases of beer. I should be ashamed of our national excess, and right now there are probably readers from other countries sadly shaking their heads, but Super Bowl Sunday has become a source of pride for many of us. It's the one day we're allowed to crawl home at the end of the day, overflowing with nacho cheese and stuffed to the gill with grilled meats, and not really feel bad about it. Even as I write this intro, I'm regretting everything I ate today as I head into my fifth consecutive hour of a stomachache that seemingly won't go away until death. I don't regret anything I ate, though. That'd be un-American.

Welcome to Shelf Life.

At first, I was going to put Blood-C in the Rental Shelf bin, because I genuinely enjoyed the middle five episodes of the series. But then I thought about how much I disliked the first five and loathed the last two, and realized that if I actively disliked over 50% of the show, that it would be ridiculous to really recommend this to anyone.

Blood-C is yet another in the Blood anime franchise, following on the heels of Blood+, but unrelated. Co-produced by Production I.G and CLAMP, what it has going for it is pretty visuals, featuring the latter's trademark character designs. All the characters have lanky limbs and beautiful faces, regardless of gender or age. Unfortunately, that's about all the anime's got going for it, minus a chunk of episodes in the middle where it hits that sweet spot of pacing and intrigue.

Main character Saya is clumsy and adorkable, hitting her head on anything with an edge, and tripping over anything raised. She's sweet and empty-headed, loves her father deeply, and is clueless about most everything. When she skips to school, she makes up chipper songs about things she had for breakfast, the chores she's done, and gets distracted by dogs along the way. At night, though, she becomes a deadly monster hunter, wielding a sacred sword given to her by her father, and slaying human-eating creatures called Elder Bairns. Seemingly, she has an endless supply of school uniforms. For the first five episodes though, I'd wager that while the monster fights are pretty cool, they only make up about 5% of the runtime. The rest of the time is spent watching her skip around, pet dogs, sing songs, drink coffee, eat marshmallows, blush at her dad, and tilt her head and go “huh?” every time the class president implies that he has a crush on her. She's as cute as a button, and about as bright as one too.

For action freaks, things definitely speed up in the middle of the series. The monsters arrive with higher frequency, and their targets get a lot more personal. Everyone's getting mangled and/or decapitated left and right, and this series gets downright gruesome. I don't want to spoil all the goods, but there are scenes where girls get their legs ripped off, or their heads popped off like pop caps. It is some dark and twisted stuff. Blood everywhere, death in every corner, and it's pretty hard to stop watching.

Wouldn't you know it, though, everything is thrown away in the “twist” revealed in the last two episodes. It's like the creators just climb onto your shoulders and poop all over your head, laughing at the fact that you've just spent a good five hours of your life watching what you thought might be a show with a decent, non-garbled ending. But no, it's very much garbled, and if you're not shaking your fists in rage at the screen by the time episode eleven rolls ends, then you've accidentally purchased the wrong DVD set. It is a colossal middle-finger to the audience. Without giving too much away, the writers pretty much just stand up and say, “JUST KIDDING!!!” and everything you thought you knew or felt about the series up until this point is thrown into the wind. Importantly, this also includes Saya's emotional reactions to the events in the series, which does a great deal in building her character. But if those are negated, then what has been accomplished? Nothing. It's all a gigantic waste of time.

Blood-C had its moments, but the first five episodes are excruciatingly dull, the last two episodes are a steaming pile of horse crap, and all the goodwill you build enjoying the middle is thrown in your face like a handful of pig slop. Watch this at your own risk.

After my experience with Blood-C, I wasn't sure what else to watch. I wanted something light and fluffy to wash away the visions of limb-rippage from my brain, but not so light that I'd be reminded of Saya skipping to school singing songs about laundry. So, I decided to check out Strike Witches 2.[TOP]

Strike Witches 2 was everything I expected, but ultimately I was let down by the same reasons I was let down by season one. Namely, it didn't answer any of the questions I had about the Neurois. In essence, the second season feels a lot like an attempt to milk a little more money out of the brand name. All the characters from the first season are back, but none of them really do anything of importance. They spend a lot of time twitching their butts, wiggling their magic animal ears, laughing at each other's cutesy-tootsie antics, lounging in underwear, and shooting at aliens. In all honesty, if what you're looking for is a nice, relaxing, fanservicey way to spend six hours, then Strike Witches 2 is fine. It's senselessly cute and brainlessly fun, and the butts/cameltoes/nips are at that level where it's a little ridiculous at times, but still enjoyable.

Damnably, though, they don't dive into any of the issues they raised in season one about the Neurois, which is the very reason I was looking forward to season two. In the first season, towards the end, we were led to believe that there was something a lot more complex and possibly misunderstood about these giant alien creatures. They could mimic human forms, communicate with the witches, and even play back songs from their memories. There was communication within the hive and possibly a reasoning behind the timing of their attacks. And then, as abruptly as it all began, it ended. Naturally, I thought, “Oh, that's disappointing, but surely they'll cover it in season two.” No. In season two, any interesting questions that were raised about the Neurois were erased and forgotten, seemingly flushed into a void, never to be spoken of again. Now there is a new Neurois hive, and these guys are bent on destroying Europe. Apparently this hive didn't get the memo from the Gallia hive. Instead of really addressing this, Strike Witches 2 focuses mostly on Miyafuji being super powerful, and Sakamoto struggling to cope with losing her ability to fight.

From a character development point of view, Sakamoto's arc is the most interesting. That comes with a caveat though, which is that “most interesting” is in relation to the other character arcs, which I would mostly qualify as, “not interesting at all/non-existent.” Sakamoto's struggle is that of a life-long soldier, confident only in her abilities to fight and her desire to protect, and petrified by the idea of returning to an ordinary, civilian life. Unfortunately, the season only scratches the surface of her thoughts, and the viewer is left wanting a bit more (unless, of course, the viewer just wanted to see her butt a lot, which Strike Witches excels at). Miyafuji is the only other character that's given the time of day, but her development is driven mostly by… hand-waving, mostly. She faces a mini-crises halfway through the series when she thinks her magic has stopped working, but then a whisper from her dead dad saves the day. If only all problems in life were so easily solved.

I imagine, though, that the vast majority of people watching Strike Witches and Strike Witches 2 are not watching it for gripping developments on the Neurois. That's mostly just a gripe about the loose storytelling. In terms of fun, flirty fanservice, Strike Witches is enjoyable. Sure, it's a little ridiculous that no women in this alternate world wear pants. But, to the show's credit, the few men that do exist in the series don't leer at them, or look down on them. It's mostly for the benefit of the viewer, and it's fairly innocuous to that end. It's senseless fluff, but I found myself having a good time while I was watching it. And ultimately, that's what one strives to get out of entertainment anyway.[TOP]

Rounding out my selections this week was C – Control, a show that should be applauded for trying very hard to be unique, even though it falls short in its execution. It envisions a type of world in which the national financial markets can be used as the basis behind epic fights involving avatars ranging from cute, horned girls, to giant monsters. It's like your typical fights in which humans control entities called Assets to fight for them, say Persona 4 or Pokémon, except the thing you're controlling is a supernatural manifestation of your future, and your HP is the amount of money you have in your alternate universe bank account.

It's a messy system, to say the least, and it doesn't seem as though C understands it any more than we do. Our hero is a college economics student named Kimimaro. Because his parents are no longer around, he needs to work a part-time job in order to make a living and pay for school. He's invited to participate in an alternate universe “Financial District” in which he's asked to do battle once a week with other users, with his future as collateral. Together with his Asset Mashu, he quickly gains respect in this world, thanks in large part to a mysterious financial mentor named Mikuni, whose goal in life is to try and control the effects that this Financial District has on the real world. As it turns out, losing in the Financial District can have a profound effect on one's life in the real world, from erasing aspects of their past, to bankrupting entire companies.

It's an interesting idea, but the execution is incredibly sloppy. The show wants badly to tie in economics with this style of avatar fighting, but doesn't quite know how to bridge the two together. The end result is a shaky analogy that sort of raises some dark ideas about society's reliance on money, but doesn't quite capitalize on them. For instance, it's scratches at the idea that one's future is intimately tied to their net worth, but leaves the viewer to decide the significance. It also teases a bit at vague concepts like inflation and market stability, but lest anyone get the wrong idea, C isn't a show about economics—it just uses economics buzzwords as plot devices. It plays with the idea of money as weaponized power, but it mostly seems like a fun gimmick.

When you think about the analogy that the series poses, though, it's a bit weak. The fighting system doesn't seem that thought out, and actually seems more structured on a trading card game than anything actually tied into finance. A lot of details are hand-waved, and if it seems as though our hero is extraordinarily strong, it's because he has the money to blast off high-level attacks. He has a lot of money simply because the right people thought he was the right guy to invest in.

Unfortunately, with such a threadbare concept, most of the series runs a little on the dull side. Once you realize that the show doesn't really know what it's trying to say, all that's left are the fights. And because the fighting system is so poorly thought out and sparingly explained, all one has left to enjoy are the visuals. As far as the Assets go, they vary in visual excitement, from humdrum, generic monsters, to more complex and ornate ones. Once again, though, because the fight system feels so improvised, it doesn't leave much room for suspense. Assets hurl a variety of things at each other—floating orbs, glowing beams, lightning bolts—but since they don't mean anything without the implicit knowledge that the attack level is tied to one's net worth, the fights don't really show anything.

C – Control has some good ideas buried somewhere inside, but it might have been a little too ambitious. It's still interesting enough to watch a few episodes here or there, especially if the only thing you're expecting to get out of it is some generic monster fights, but don't be surprised if you find your attention span wandering.[TOP]

Alright, everyone, have a nice week! I hope your stomachs don't hurt as much as mine.

This week's collection is from Chad, who wrote in the following:

"Hi, my name is Chad Matich, and I first got into Anime in 1985 when "Macross" started airing in the U.S. via "Robotech". I've been a huge collector over the years starting back in the days of VHS (they're big clunky tapes with Anime on them for the kids that don't know). As technology improved I upgraded to DVD and Blu-Ray, but still have a small collection of VHS and Laserdiscs that I either haven't gotten around to picking up on newer formats, or are out of print. As you may have noticed, I have a pretty fair Manga collection as well. I'm also a huge Star Trek nerd, and my collections intermingle with each other to some extent in my office, where my shelves are double stacked due to limited space for all the Anime and Manga I own. I also have an 11 year old (about to turn 12) son who is growing up in an Anime household with me and my wife. It's not uncommon for him and I to be vegged out in the living room watching Soul Eater or Slayers on a weekend or summer afternoon. Hope you enjoy my collection..."

What a delightful place!

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