Shelf Life
Beast Wars

by Bamboo Dong,

If there's one major sign that I'm getting older, it's that my body no longer rebounds from all-nighters. Back in college, I could stay up all night, and be back on top of my game with a nap. Nowadays, the groggy effects of sleep deprivation seem to chase me for days, and even naps seem to only recharge me for an hour. I used to scoff at people who went to bed anytime before 2AM, but those days are over for me.

Alright, anime time.

If there is one major grievance to air about Heaven's Lost Property the Movie: The Angeloid of Clockwork, it's that it is a feature length film, and not a longer work. It's a story that would greatly benefit from being told as a 13-episode season, or at the very least, a six episode OVA. Instead, it tantalizes viewers with tidbits from the Hiyori arc of the manga, without allowing enough time for any one scene to sink in comically (first half) or emotionally (second half).

The movie opens on an incredible scene—Tomoki and the rest of the New World Discovery Club are up to some unusual hijinks, in which a giant, Godzilla-sized chicken is stomping around the city. It's quickly dispatched when one of the girls is transformed (via magic) into a gigantic version of herself. Once this random puff of comedy is over, we get a quick rundown on what Angeloids are, and then the story switches to high school gal Hiyori Kazane. For reasons not entirely understood by her friends, she has a big crush on Tomoki, and longs to be part of his fun-loving group. Eventually, she also joins the New World Discovery Club, after being forced through a gauntlet of Tomoki's pervy antics, but before she gets a chance to enjoy her new surroundings, things go haywire. For reasons I don't want to spoil, Hiyori's true existence is revealed, in the meantime causing most everyone to also lose their memories of her. In a final act that's much more serious than the ones preceding it, we see how Tomoki and his friends deal with Hiyori's awakening.

For the most part, The Angeloid of Clockwork is entertaining, but it's just too short. There are plenty of scenes that evoke the TV series—there is still plenty of goofy shenanigans involving the New World Discovery Club, and plenty of fun, pervy humor (at some point, Tomoki gets up on stage during a school Battle of the Bands and sings a song about nipples—wearing a shirt with holes cut out around the nipples—but these scenes feel fleeting. Often, they feel more like reminders to fans that the TV series is indeed a slapstick comedy, rather than genuine efforts to instill humor in this movie. The effect is a mostly serious movie that has laughs thrown in, seemingly at random. This is great while those scenes are happening, but they almost always end too soon.

It goes without saying that this movie is aimed squarely at viewer who are already fans of the Heaven's Lost Property franchise. Or, at the very least, viewers who've seen the first season, or read some of the manga. Otherwise, it simply wouldn't make any sense. That having been said, it delivers on some of the work's more notable offerings—the fanservice is fun and plentiful, and Tomoki's lasciviousness almost always elicits a smile. From a storytelling point of view, though, it's too jumpy, too scattered, all because of the time constraints. The Hiyori arc deserves more screen time than it has to fully tell the story. As a result, The Angeloid of Clockwork feels more confusing than entertaining. If you're already a fan of the manga, and want to see this story brought to life, then the movie is a good idea. Otherwise, you might find yourself a little disappointed. [TOP]

After the surprisingly serious conclusion of the Heaven's Lost Property movie, I wanted something that would cheer me up a little. Eager to repeat my enjoyment of the first season, I reached for Baka and Test: Summon the Beasts 2.

Whereas Baka and Test: Summon the Beasts is a fun, campy, and unique take on arena battles, its sequel, Baka and Test: Summon the Beasts 2 is a disappointment. It takes everything that made the first series enjoyable—the creative Summon Wars that pitted students' avatars against each other using stats reflective of their test scores—and turns it into little more than a gimmick. Instead, it chooses to focus on mindless filler. The students find themselves on a beach vacation, in which considerable time is spent watching the boys learn how to smooth talk girls, and watching as the girls trade various insecurities over their bodies and crushes. After a couple episodes of this, the first main arc transitions to a school training camp. In an effort to snatch back some blackmail evidence, the boys of Class F launch a multi-class effort to invade the girls' bath, unifying in their desire to peep. This is when the Summon Wars gimmick is brought back, but instead of being the entertaining strategy-driven War of season one, it's little more than an excuse for the characters to summon their avatars. Whereas it was deeply interesting in the first season to see how the disadvantaged Class F students would defeat students ranked higher than them, the second season just uses it as a cheap way to infuse the story with action. Aside from a few moments when the students exclaim, “Agh! I can't believe his/her score is so high!” the guts of the battle system barely matter.

There is one arc, though, where the Summon War gets a fresh makeover, and that's during the Haunted House storyline. For whatever reason, the students' avatars are transformed from their usual chibi selves into more ghoulish entities, like vampires, horse-headed warriors, and sexy cat women. In general, I'm pretty sick of anime jokes about flat-chested girls, but even I laughed out loud when the flat character's avatar turned out to be a giant granite slab with limbs. Granted, the Summon War that follows still doesn't have the oomph of those in the first season, but the change of scenery and avatars at least provides something new.

Luckily, what Baka and Test: Summon the Beasts 2 does retain from its predecessor is the pretty visuals. The artwork in the series is great to look at, using textures instead of traditional shading, and pleasant watercolor backgrounds. Unfortunately, there is only so far a series can be carried on visuals alone, and this season simply doesn't inspire repeat viewings. Fans of the first season can surely be entertained by this sequel, but they'll be disappointed if they're expecting it to have the same strength of writing. It has moments of laughter and creativity, but for the most part, it's all mindless fluff.[TOP]

Toning it down a bit, I ended my week with Right Stuf's continuing re-release of their Maria Watches Over Us catalog.

For fans of shoujo-ai, Maria Watches Over Us is almost a gold standard. It carries itself with a quiet dignity and elegance that fans adore, and its refusal to ever become too melodramatic or too cheesy gives it staying power. There's one exception in the second season, Maria Watches Over Us: Printemps, in which a character's feelings of abandonment and angst almost tip the series too far over its delicate balance of platonic and romantic love, but for the most part, the episodes carry on the tradition of the franchise well. Like the first season, the various episodes follow different pairs of soeurs in different snippets of their school lives, but something weighs heavier in Printemps-- one school year is ending, and with graduation means the leaving of a few of the characters.

All too often as entertainment consumers, we get comfortable with the idea that the characters we've come to know and love will never leave. It comes rooted to us in long-running series in which characters never seem to age or move on with their lives, like the Boxcar Children who are perpetually celebrating the same birthdays and going on an endless summer vacation. In Printemps, though, time is inevitable. The Third Years must graduate, and the Second Years must take their place. This gives a chance for the series to spend time on the transitions—preparing for the Third Year sendoff, as well as preparing for the welcoming of arriving First Years, but once those episodes are finished, the result is the same. Old characters leave (and sometimes find a way to appear in later episodes), new characters take their place. For a series that follows the delicate high school years of girls just coming into their own pre-adulthoods, that change is absolutely necessary, and it lends a gravitas to the series that would be absent if it dwelt on the same timeline for too long.

Everything about this series is “pleasant,” and really, one's level of enjoyment in the series may hinge on how much they enjoy things that are merely… pleasant. Like any slice-of-life series, not much really happens in this series. Sure, girls occasionally fall ill, or suffer personal tragedy, or join a new club, but there is no overarching narrative other than the passing of time. The muted visuals, with its airy backgrounds and its subdued character designs, feed into the atmosphere of the show. The unobtrusive background music adds mood to the series without taking it over. In this idyllic oasis of adolescence, the girls learn to rely on each other, forming strong sisterly bonds that are easy to push into more romantic realms if the viewer chooses to. That's one of the nice things about this series—its shoujo-ai overtones are as muted as the rest of the show, and it seems to be almost entirely up to the viewer how to interpret the relationships.

There is one exception, though, and it's in the final few episodes of the season. Yumi (who started off as one of the “main” charaters) is increasingly jealous of first-year Toko, who's a distant relative of soeur Sachiko. She begins to fear that Sachiko has replaced her, with that anxiety growing as Sachiko cancels “date” after “date” to go to the amusement park. In the end, we discover that there's a reason for Sachiko's behavior, but not before we're privy to a range of embarrassing actions from Yumi. While these episodes have a big emotional payoff, though, they drag the series a little too close to romantic drama. Yumi's insecurity strays a little too close to that of a jilted lover, and even though the series calls her out on being childish, it breaks the spell of the series a little bit.

Despite that, Maria Watches Over Us: Printemps is engaging and yes, pleasant. For fans of the first season, it will most definitely please. With the Litebox re-release, too, it gives collectors another chance to purchase the entire season for cheap. I would recommend this to anyone with an interest in slice-of-life shows.[TOP]

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

This week's shelves are from Giovanni:

"Here's some assorted pics of my collection. Not the most beautiful of rooms to put everything in, but it makes for a nice cozy anime room."

I myself swear by the ol' stacking method. Loving that space under the stairs!

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

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