Shelf Life
Heart of Bored

by Bamboo Dong,

My car started having transmission problems over the weekend, which is a delight. I haven't gotten the diagnosis or the estimate back yet, but I'm not looking forward to the damage. More than anything, though, it makes me shake my fist yet again at how cumbersome and inconvenient public transportation on the West Coast is. It's nigh impossible getting anywhere in Southern California without a car, so this will be a fun few days of begging friends for rides and staring at my dwindling grocery supply. Hooray, automobile dependence!

Welcome to Shelf Life.

Adolescent love is a difficult thing. It's already a time of awkwardness and social turmoil—adding love into that mix only makes for a time of life I'm sure many adults would sooner rather forget, with the exception of a few who actually managed to navigate those waters with dignity and aplomb. Such is the general setting for Sweet Blue Flowers, a tender but somewhat forced series based on a yuri manga by Takako Shimura. The series stars a fairly large cast of characters, but mostly showcase two childhood friends recently reunited—the outgoing Akira and the sensitive, prone-to-tears Fumi. Even though the girls go to different high schools, the close proximity of the schools gives them the same commute, and allows them to share social lives.

Most of the drama in the series, though, is romantic. We realize early on that Fumi is a lesbian, having first fallen in love with her recently married cousin. Eventually she strikes up a tentative relationship with older classmate Yasuko, the popular older girl who's gifted both in acting and drama. Of course, nothing's that simple in anime—Yasuko is also the object of affection for another gal named Kyoko, who is engaged (by name[?]) to a man, but even Yasuko herself is still in love with a former male teacher, and onwards this web of relationship entanglements go. While the seemingly endless combinations of unrequited loves skews Sweet Blue Flowers towards the more melodramatic side, there are aspects of the series that are still remarkably earnest and genuine. The pangs of love that the characters feel, and their attempts to pick themselves up after heartbreak, hit close to the heart. Also commendable is the series' (albeit half-hearted) effort to address the social stigma of homosexuality; in one scene, Fumi comes out to Akira, and immediately crumples into tears, sobbing, “do you think I'm revolting?” While she has a blessedly strong support group, her crush Yasuko doesn't have the same. When she introduces Fumi to her family as her girlfriend, her sisters wave it off as a passing fad.

Unfortunately, all of these scenes feel watered down by the love triangles (hexangles? heptangles?) It never really feels like enough time is devoted to each character's side of the romance. Still, the emotions are still well-crafted, and easy to relate to: the awkwardness of still having to spend time around a crush who's rejected you, the pain of seeing your crush with someone else, the insecurity that comes with seeing others showering your partner with adoration. All of these fit well into the series without going overboard.

Visually, Sweet Blue Flowers is beautiful, and lends well to the quiet and dreamy atmosphere of the series. The character designs are simple but effective, giving particular attention to the girls' hair. Yasuko's hair is never rumpled without a specific reason; Fumi's braids are given special treatment as a conscious fashion decision, making her more human and relatable. Particularly noteworthy are the backgrounds, which are beautifully painted with soft, muted colors. It gives everything a quiet, idyllic vibe, which matches the mood of the series well.

Sweet Blue Flowers is certainly not for everyone—the series is largely character-driven, and its pacing is a little on the slow side, but because of its romantic entanglements, it's a little more story-heavy than your typical slice-of-life show. For those wanting a series that highlights the ups and downs of awkward teenage love, though, this show hits the spot.[TOP]

What didn't hit the spot so much was the new Rurouni Kenshin OVA. My expectations were too high going in, and I was burned as a result.

Like hundreds of thousands of other anime fans in their twenties and thirties, I am a huge Rurouni Kenshin fan. The series came out at the right time in my life, around the age when I voraciously gobbled up any action show involving swords and samurai. And, like most Kenshin fans, I fell in love with the Kyoto arc. The fights were intense, the characters were cool, the music was amazing, and Himura Kenshin was a certified badass. It was the high point of the animation franchise, up until they released the critically acclaimed and universally beloved Trust and Betrayal OVAs, after which everything Kenshin just kind of sputtered out.

Imagine, then, my delight when they announced that they'd be rebooting the Kyoto arc. My expectations were sky high, and although I was a bit apprehensive when they announced that it'd be a two part OVA, I still had hope. Wouldn't you know it, Rurouni Kenshin: New Kyoto Arc is absolutely terrible.

The problem is two-fold. First, anyone who tries to reboot the Kyoto arc is already fighting an uphill battle. That thirty-some episode chunk is lauded by the show's legion of fans, and anything that attempts to retell that story is under immense pressure to be damned near perfect. Secondly, trying to condense some 700+ minutes of story into ninety minutes is a fool's task. To the OVA's credit, everything is completely reanimated and rewritten… but it's not written particularly well. Cramming an entire, lengthy arc into two OVAs leads to the inevitable—poorly developed characters, slipshod plot development, and unsatisfactory fight scenes.

The entire OVA is mostly told from Misao's point of view. From then, we meet some of the characters we're all familiar with—the usual Kenshin crew, Aoshi, Broomhead, Soujiro, a few others, and of course, everyone's favorite mummy man, Shishio. I don't remember if the original series ever showed him making love to Yumi, but the new OVA certainly does, and it's unpleasant. Here is a guy who's covered in horrible burns—look, no one wants to think about what it looks like when he's making love. Especially because the rest of him stays unwrapped. Does he just unwrap the one appendage, or is there a general cross-section that needs to be bared? It just raises too many unhealthy questions.

We learn that Shishio has put into action some kind of sinister plan to basically take over Japan. Part of his scheme involves using a battleship, which opens the door for plenty of battles on a boat. Sadly, these fight scenes are just not fun to look at. They're too short, for starters, and they're just not animated in a fashion that's fun to watch. The camera angles are disappointingly static, and because the OVAs are trying to fit in a dozen fights into a 90-minute time span, they're all over with a few quick chops of a sword. Because the characters are so poorly developed, the fights barely have a reason to exist. Someone walks up to someone else and says, “I'd like to fight you.” Chop chop. Done. Because of time constraints, the OVAs barely scratch the surface of Kenshin's character, who undergoes a massive transformation in the manga and series when he has to face his past. Here, there simply isn't enough time to visit any of those changes, and it does the story a great disservice.

Typically, I don't spend too much time writing about dubs because I find that fans are generally set in their ways about their viewing preferences, but I have to say something about the New Kyoto Arc dub. It's just not good. Not that Rurouni Kenshin has had a good track record with dubs in America. But this particular dub just makes some bizarre casting choices. All of the actors used are new to the franchise, but whether it's a conscious directorial choice for everyone to be “stoic” or simply poor directing, the line delivery for all the actors is incredibly wooden. Men and women alike intone their lines with the enthusiasm of a funeral, with the exceptions of when Kenshin is acting “goofy,” at which point his voice shoots up two octaves. The casting is questionable as well, with young Yahiko sounding like a raspy smoker, and villain Usui being given a mysterious Spanish accent. Why is he Spanish? I don't know. Nobody knows. Also, on my PS3, I found that once I selected a language and started playing the OVA, I couldn't just go into the menu and change the language or subtitling options, which is a giant pain in the ass for people who change their mind halfway through about which language they want to watch an OVA in.

If it's not obvious from my writing, I was very disappointed with the Rurouni Kenshin: New Kyoto Arc. I just don't know why it exists. It's not fun for preexisting Rurouni Kenshin fans, who hold the Kyoto arc in high esteem, and it's not fun for new fans, because there's so many characters slammed into it that it barely makes sense. Basically it just makes everybody sad.[TOP]

Lastly, though, was a show that seems to divide viewers between loving it and hating it. I speak of Toriko, an over-the-top Shonen Jump show about Gourmet Hunters, who sacrifice their lives and ridiculous powers to hunt down delicious animals and harvest dangerous, man-killing vegetation.

While the first thirteen episodes of Toriko largely introduced new characters and set up title character Toriko as this superhuman fighter, the next chunk of episodes starts introducing the main villains. Known as the Gourmet Corps, these bad guys are basically trying to take over the world. Only in the outlandish world of Toriko, that means trying to evolve their powers by going after rare ingredients like the Jewel Meat (a pearl-like chunk of meat that exists inside a giant striped mammoth), or the most delicious ingredient in the world, “God.” Along the way, they cause trouble for Toriko and his buddies, trying to suck him up with oversized mosquito needles, or whatever other crazy power each villain has.

My unbridled enjoyment for this series seems to rest on two things—the sheer ludicrousness of the battles, and the sheer ludicrousness of the make believe food. It's just really fun. I like that one of the heroes has sentient hair that can dive into someone's body and give them microsurgery. I like that Toriko can slice things with his hands. I like that the chef has a magic spice grinder that beams deliciousness out of a robot hand. I like that there's a forest with skyscraper-sized corn that explodes into a shower of popcorn. I like that there's a fish that dissipates into bubbles if you don't eat it on time. These are all things that tickle my imagination bone, and I love the series for it. I know none of the food in this cartoon are real, but I can't help but gawk, wide-eyed, when the introductions talk about seas of red bean paste populated by swimming taiyaki fish, or trees that grow éclairs.

As the series progresses, we also get to see just how great of a team Toriko and chef Komatsu are, and watch their mutual admiration for each other grow. While at the beginning of the show, Komatsu was more of a nuisance tag-a-long, he's developed into a much stronger person, and the dynamic between the two has blossomed into more of a buddy cop duo. With the introduction of the Gourmet Corps, too, comes also longer mini-arcs. Instead of episodic missions, each ingredient quest feels more substantial, and it allows the series to settle into a more comfortable pace.

Toriko is awfully silly and plenty cheesy, but I'm having a really good time with this series. [TOP]

Alright, folks, that's it for this week. Thanks for reading, and now I get to finish the rest of Penguindrum!

This week's shelves are from Justin, aka HelterSkelter01:

"Greetings. My name is Justin. I am a long time viewer of animenewsnetwork, and have an account with it by the name of HelterSkelter01. These are some pics of mine that I was hoping would be considered for display on one of the site's Shelf Lives. It displays a large amount of anime on dvds and bds. It also features a moderate manga collection, and two imported cds at the very end. There is an interesting story behind the size of this collection. While it was considerable beforehand, it gained a great deal after the announcement that Bandai Entertainment was closing down. Having worked out a wish list of these things I wish to collect in my life, I was eager to buy as many of the Bandai titles that I could get my hands on before they became unavailable. That is why much (but not all) of the Bandai titles are on these shelves. The majority of these were bought by me, but several of them were gifted to me. My collecting first began when I was about eighteen, and has gotten quite large in the last seven years."

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

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