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Shelf Life
London Calling

by Bamboo Dong,

This week is all about cute girls doing cute things, with a heaping slice of macho thrown in. So I guess it's three slabs of the expected, with scant few surprises thrown in. It's just one of those weeks.

Welcome to Shelf Life.

The K-ON movie is exactly what you'd expect from a K-ON movie. It's cute, it's a little bit heartwarming, it's peppered with antics, and the girls look bewildered a lot. If you're already a big fan of the show, then you'll probably like it just fine. Compared to the series, though, it's much more superficial, but that's hardly a surprise. After all, this is a theatrical project tacked onto a fairly long series, and since it's targeted pretty much exclusively for K-ON fans, this send-off is little more than just fun, charming fluff, with the exception of the touching ending.

As the girls (sans Azusa) start preparing for graduation, they decide to plan a graduation trip. Now here's where most high school girls living in the real world would think, “Gosh, except I'm not just pissing money left and right, so let's find an amusement park or local attraction to go to.” Nope. The girls immediately start throwing out wild locales, like Hawaii, London, and the vague, “Europe!” Fortunately, their pet turtle chooses for them, and the girls decide to pack their bags for a five-day trip to London. In the real world, here's where their parents would say, “Hold on, we're not paying for you to go to London for five days, especially when it's a group of young girls, and especially since none of you speak a lick of English.” But it's anime, so real world logistics don't really apply, and everyone who lives in anime world is filthy rich anyway. So there you have it—the K-ON girls go to London.

Once they're actually in London, it's fairly charming, if a bit shallow. The girls don't speak any English, so most of the humor is squeezed out from them trying to interact with locals (who mercifully, do speak good English, and with proper accents, to boot). First they go to the wrong hotel, and then when they wander into a kaiten sushi place, they're mistaken for a visiting Japanese band (I won't spoil who it is!). They also spend a lot of time goofing off in their hotel rooms and eating snacks. In a way, those scenes are the strongest part of the London segment. After all, we've all seen dozens of shows and movies set in London; we know what Big Ben looks like, we know what a handful of other prominent landmarks look like. As the girls buzz through them, we realize that ultimately, the trip is less about London, than just being together in a new place. Still, the trip feels forced, and it isn't until they get home that the movie feels like it really finds its footing.

The last segment is, by far, the most satisfying. Throughout the entire movie, the girls talk about writing a song for Azusa. When they finally play it, it's perfect. The energy is high, the melodrama is low, and the straightforwardness really lends to the idea of time continuing to move forward. For long-time K-ON fans, it might be a bittersweet moment, but I think that scene is worth more than all the London shenanigans combined.

It goes without saying that you probably shouldn't bother watching this movie unless you've seen the series. There's just no point. After all those years of watching the K-ON girls forge emotional connections and bonds of friendship, the movie is their last hurrah. And yes, it's a little on the shallow side. Even though there were plenty of spots in the series where not much happened, the movie especially meanders at times. But if you love these characters, you'll love seeing them goofing off and trying to have fun on this trip, and that probably makes it worth it. For a standalone movie, it's not great. For a franchise movie, it's good enough.[TOP]

Continuing my viewing of cute girls, I popped in Right Stuf's re-release of Sound of the Sky, which many fans might recognize better as So-Ra-No-Wo-To. It contains the series in its entirety, including an “alternate” version of episode 1 (which just has the opening credits instead of the opening sequence), and episodes 7.5 and 13. Perhaps if I could go back in time, I would've told myself to just watch the last three episodes, and not bother with anything prior. All of the previous episodes are cute, I guess, but border on tedious.

Sound of the Sky is set in a post-apocalyptic world where human technology has been reverted back to the early 1900s, so everything looks vaguely World War II-ish... if all the armies had tanks that looked more like AT-ATs. The countries have been renamed, as well, resulting in a cultural mishmash that is parts old European, and parts Japanese. Our heroine is the fresh-faced, 15-year old Kanata, who joins the 1121st Platoon to be a bugler. She soon befriends the other gals of her platoon: the strict, elder sister-type Rio; the friendly, mother-type Filicia; the bratty firecracker Kureha; and sleepy, genius engineer Noel.

The setting of the series might be the most interesting part of the movie. The girls are stationed in the border town of Seize, Helvetia, which Wikipedia tells me was inspired by Cuenca, Spain. Judging from a cursory Google search, it looks incredibly charming and old-timey, and indeed, that's what much of Sound of the Sky feels like. Its borrowing of various European (and Japanese, incidentally) cultures makes it a unique place to plop five cute girls, although it doesn't necessarily make any of their interactions more interesting. In fact, I was dismayed to find that the series couldn't help but use old fanservicey clichés—already in the second episode, we get a scene where Kanata looks at everyone's breasts enviously. Later in the series, there's a few good breast grabs, because that's what all girls do all the time. And of course, a scene where a girl really has to pee but can't, which is a bizarre thing for male viewers to get excited about, but hey, to each his own.

Nothing really important happens until the last few episodes, but by then, it has to cram so much substance into a few short episodes that everything feels rushed. It's also set up from a mile away, so before the conflict is even set up, we already know how it will end. I know I'm being intentionally vague about the actual story, but since it's the only time in the series something serious happens, I don't want to give it up. Maybe if the series had spent less time showing the girls mindlessly putzing around town, it could've created something special.

It's not that Sound of the Sky is bad, per se. It's not. It's perfect watchable, and it's perfectly endearing. The girls are sweet, Kanata is lovely, and the series finds unique ways to showcase both Kanata's perfect pitch, as well as the girls' emotional ties with “Amazing Grace.” There are elements of the show that tie together wonderfully, but there are also a lot of elements that are just plain boring. Perhaps if the girls themselves were more interesting and broke out of their archetypes more, the series would be infinitely more interesting. As it is, it's merely pleasant, and while it's a relatively low-key and delightful way to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon, it's not something I'd ever be in a rush to watch again.[TOP]

Shifting gears completely, I popped in the fourth volume of Toriko. I guess if “cute girls doing cute things” is a genre designation, then, “manly men punching manly things” should be the cartoonishly macho equivalent.

As I was watching this volume of Toriko, I realized that this show is best when none of the characters are fighting. It's just not good enough to be one of those shonen action series that can spend twelve episodes on a fight. It tried doing that in the previous volume, and it felt like eternity. Toriko shines best when it's just endless food porn, and endless food puns. From the prologue segments (which are undeniably the best part of each episode) to Toriko's quests for new ingredients, the show is littered with awful puns and food portmanteaus, that just slam animal and vegetable/fruit names together with food names to form insane concoctions. I'd hesitate to make the cheap, throwaway joke about Toriko being written for stoners, but it's kind of true.

Maybe it's not a good sign that the best parts of Toriko are the filler episodes, but Volume 4 was much better than the one preceding it. Komatsu has finished his Century Sooooooooooooooooooooooooupuuuuuuuuu, and Toriko has inexplicably regrown his left arm. Now the two are zipping around the world collecting more ingredients, sometimes to help feed a sad dragon, sometimes to help Toriko train for the Gourmet World, which is this Hellish half of the world that is home to the Earth's most delectable creatures. Although we've been watching the bromance between Toriko and Komatsu grow for a while now, it's pretty darned adorable to see them finally cement their partnership in words.

At this point, I'm vaguely aware of the fact that I may be one of the few Toriko fans in this world. I am very aware of its downsides—as an action show, it's honestly not that great. The fight scenes are absolutely ludicrous and very poorly paced. It has a tendency to stretch out the most inane plot points, and gloss over others (Toriko, for instance, only takes about five minutes to figure out how to regulate his breathing to adapt to low oxygen conditions). If there was anyone more scared than Toriko at his prospect of having to fight another GT Robot, it was me, because I didn't want it to eat up six precious episodes of runtime. On the other hand, there are some great things about Toriko, and it's its gluttonous mentality towards food. I get giddy every time I get a new volume of this show in the mail because I can't wait to see what dumb foods we'll be introduced to. Berries that taste like milk and honey? Beans that are filled with miso paste? It's like the ultimate fantasy land for people who can't stop eating, and maybe that's why I'm so quick to forgive Toriko for its glaring flaws.

I am facing the rest of the series with some trepidation, though. There's no way that we're going to get many more episodes without landing ourselves in the middle of one of those six-episode fights, and I'm just not looking forward to it. Bring on all the magical carrots and succulent salmon in the world(!), but another series of fights like the Ice Hell arc? Well… let's just say I'm not looking forward to it.[TOP]

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

This week's collection is from Jarin:

" My name's Jarin and I live in Northwestern Ontario. I've been into anime for about 14 years, starting with Pokémon, Digimon and the like, then moving on to older fare when my cousin introduced me to Trigun. I've been collecting manga for about 7 years, starting with, of all things, One Piece volume 2. In addition to my shelves, I have a big trunk full of series that I don't care enough about to leave out but don't dislike enough to actually get rid of. Since a lot of manga series I like have ended, I've gone on to collecting DVDs and Blu-Ray more regularly as of late. Though I forgot to take a picture, my Black Butler DVDs were signed by J. Michael Tatum and Brina Palencia at Anime North last year. Due to the size, my collection of One Piece DVDs is elsewhere. But my favourite collectibles are my Portrait of Pirates figures, which has grown a lot in recent months now that I've grown more accustomed to finding them. I don't normally keep them out like this (they usually stand in their boxes on various shelves), but I just had to make a group shot. I'm anxiously awaiting the release of the Trafalgar Law and Kalifa figures coming out later this year."

I love this! And I love those green walls. I want to photoshop myself into the picture so it looks like I'm ogling your shelves.

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

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