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Shelf Life
The Prince's Bride

by Bamboo Dong,

To all my fellow Americans, happy Memorial Day! I hope no one has to work too much, and everyone eats plenty, and suffers no more than five mosquito bites. Hopefully none at all, but I've always heard that mosquitoes preferentially bite some and not others. For instance, they absolutely love me, but they won't touch my roommate. It's not fair at all.

Welcome to Shelf Life.

Forgive me as I gush over this next title.

I rushed to write this review the second I finished watching The Princess and the Pilot, before my intense brick of emotions faded away—and so I could force myself to stop watching the last scene on repeat. Having not really heard much about this film before, I was completely blind-sided by how good it was, and just how darned good I felt afterwards. Here is a movie that is technically excellent, efficiently written, and so emotionally pure that you can't help but feel like you're soaring by the end of it.

To be completely honest, I had zero expectations going into the movie. The synopsis sounded trite as hell, and I figured it'd be a one-note action movie. Boy, I was completely wrong. The story focuses on two incredible characters—a mercenary pilot named Charles, and a wealthy soon-to-be-princess girl named Juana. Charles is constantly harassed and insulted for being a “bestado,” someone born to the lowest social caste in the fictional kingdom of Levamme. Meanwhile, beautiful noble Juana has lived the plush life, and will soon marry the prince of Levamme. Unfortunately, Levamme has been embroiled in a long and costly war with the Amatsukami, and after they try to kill Juana, a plan is hatched to smuggle her past enemy lines into the arms of her future husband. As a talented pilot, Charles is tagged for the job, and together, the two must fight for their lives.

Sounds simple, doesn't it? In fact, maybe the simplicity of the story is what helps make the movie so great—after all, it's a straight shot from Juana's home to the capitol (with some fights along the way), so the movie can spend its energy focusing on the characters. They are, simply put, Good People. Juana is gentle and big-hearted, and eager to shed her life as a pampered rich girl, while Charles is kind and optimistic, despite the prejudice he's faced his entire life. In one well-crafted line, he tells her why the mission is so important to him (paraphrased): “This time, my mission is to save someone's life, instead of being asked to take it away.”

There are several key moments like that scattered throughout the film, which are able to succinctly propel the characters' arcs forward. It's efficient writing, and each memorable scene feels weighty—the one where Juana cuts her hair, the one where Charles is acknowledged by an enemy pilot. They all manage to be significant without being overdone. Nothing quite compares to the final scene, though, which not only shows how far Juana has come emotionally and mentally, but also provides a catharsis that is both uplifting and liberating. I dare not spoil how the movie ends, but it's beautiful yet effective in its simplicity. Combined with a powerful music score, it made me weep with happiness. At the same time, it's a little bittersweet. Here is an ending that is magical and heartwarming, but we can only infer that the happiness is fleeting. Because no matter the experience both protagonists went through, and no matter how much they bonded and changed, society doesn't. At the end of the day, Juana is still trapped in a life of arranged marriages and social obligations, while Charles will forever be treated as a low-born. Still, in that one instant, all is right with the world, and it makes one's heart soar.

Technically speaking, The Princess and the Pilot is absolutely wonderful. Considering that most of the movie takes place over water, it does a great job of making things visually interesting. Clouds and sunsets are lovingly rendered, and technology is reverently juxtaposed with nature. The Santa Cruz is never far from flocks of birds or schools of fish moving freely through the sky or sea, something that feeds into one of the movie's central themes of social boundaries as a land-bound, man-made construct. The animation is lovely as well, and one appreciates the care that went into the dogfights and aerial scenes. Though I don't usually mention it, the sound design was impeccable too, and lends an air of realism to the movie.

I realize this review is overly gushy, but I highly encourage everyone to check out The Princess and the Pilot. Going in, I was about as excited as going to the dentist, but I was blown away by how emotionally moved I was by this simple movie. Yeah, the story is predictable—you can telegraph the ending without even watching the movie—but the actual journey is a treat. It's probably not going to change your life, but it was so uplifting and so pure that I was blown away. This is definitely a movie that I'll be rewatching again and again in the future.[TOP]

Now, to finish out something I started last week.

For as much as I complained about Kenchi while I was watching the first half of Tenchi Muyo! War on Geminar, I found that he was actually my favorite part about the last half. He lent a silliness to the abruptly more serious atmosphere, and when he wasn't on-screen, I missed him. Let that be a lesson learned, then, about green grass and what not. While the first several episodes spent a good amount of time setting Kenchi up as this fabulous, flawless dude (we of course know that he picked up all his combat training and culinary know-how from his life in the Tenchiverse), we learn that there's another reason why he's special, and why he's been summoned from his world to Geminar. And actually, it works pretty well within the context of the series, whose last several episodes to a good job of trotting out plot twists at a fast, but reasonable pace.

If I'm to be a picky eater, though, I wish the series was ultimately more balanced in terms of action, humor, and plot advancement. The first half felt fluffy and a little silly at times; the last half was exciting, but rigid, and although it was packed with mech fights and crazy revelations, I relished the times when Kenshi was allowed to be a goofball. At one point, after the main characters are decompressing after a fight, an SD-Kenshi is chased around, meowing. It's really goofy, but it's refreshing, and it wasn't until I sat through these episodes that I truly appreciated Kenshi's mild nature. As one character comments, “He's not good with these serious moments.” At the same time, I understand why a series like War on Geminar needs to have its action loaded near the end. I mean, nobody's at war all the time, and we need time to establish Kenshi as this super great guy who's freakishly good at everything, and charms all the ladies. But, what makes sense in the real world doesn't always make for the best entertainment, and as a result, felt dissatisfied while watching both halves. If the main conflict had started even a few episodes earlier, it would've felt less rushed as well, and we could've actually learned more about Kenshi's revealed identity.

As far as spinoffs go, I think Tenchi Muyo! War on Geminar is not bad. Creating this entirely new world of Geminar gives the series a lot of room to stretch its legs, without confining it to any of the previous storylines, timelines, or character relationships. As such, it's also completely accessible for fans who've never watched any of the preceding Tenchi works, although they'll miss out on some of the gags along the way. By the same token, if you're a huge fan of the Tenchi Muyo franchise, I guess your mileage may vary. It lacks much of the hijinks and wild characters that made the original so charming, and the harem aspects of War on Geminar feel more forced. It's like Tenchi Lite, in that it's spirited away one of the characters, but then let a writing team run wild with their imaginations.

Still, I'm glad that I finished the series. A lot of what I felt was missing in the first part showed up in the second (mainly, the actual conflict), and a return to the mechlord fights that we sampled in the first series. And in the end, Kenshi did end up growing on me.[TOP]

Rounding out this week was the last season of Maria Watches Over Us , which has been a consistently pleasant and lovely journey.

The curious thing about series like Maria Watches Over Us is that if you were to pick up the fourth season at random, having never seen any of the previous seasons, I'm not sure it would really make an impact at all. None of the girls' relationships would feel that meaningful, and one wouldn't be able to pick up on the significance of the older girls trying to find a petite soeur. None of the Toko story would likely make sense either, having not been present for her introduction in Printemps and the rift that she caused between Yumi and Sachiko.

And yet—seen as a whole, Maria Watches Over Us is a magnificent work, full of nuances and tender stories. If you've been steadfastly watching the first three seasons of the series, the fourth season just clicks. Yumi may still look the same (and personally, I don't think she'll ever be as elegant or cool as Sachiko), but she's grown tremendously. She's much more sophisticated and even-keeled now, and she handles situations with much better finesse than in her first year. Her relationship with Sachiko has gone through multiple stages, and now, there's a level of mutual respect and understanding that puts them on more equal footing. I once talked to a wise old man who told me that mother-daughter relationships would always be uneven until both parties could accept each other as independent adults. And in a way, that's where those two characters are now, even if there is still a starry glimmer in the younger sister's eyes when she's invited on a date by her older sister.

Of course, this season doesn't solely focus on those two. We learn a lot about the other girls as well, including Yoshino, who's feeling pressured to find a petite soeur of her own. It's fascinating to see the girls go through this process—while many of the girls we've met thus far have met their sisters naturally, the older gals suggest an audition process. Naturally, there's some hesitation. It's understandable—we've watched these girls' strong, emotional bonds for so long, that holding an audition for a petite soeur feels crass. After all, these sisterly bonds are something that can only really be grasped after observing them for four seasons. At times, they're familial; at other times, they're romantic, but always, they're complex.

So if someone were to wander into the last season of Maria Watches Over Us blind, I wouldn't be surprised if they didn't like it terribly much. Even reading pages and pages of synopses wouldn't quite fill in the gaps well enough to appreciate the show. For starters, not much actually happens in Maria Watches Over Us. Sure, the girls put on plays, or get into fights, but nothing really happens. Except they change over time, and you don't really notice until one of the upperclassmen says something wise, and you think, “gosh, she was never this level-headed as a first-year.” In short, I think fans of the series will absolutely love this last season. And for everyone else, I can only recommend that you watch it from the beginning, because it's a series that needs the cumulative effect of all the episodes to be as strong as it is.

By the way, if you're easily charmed by cute things, the eleven short specials contained in this boxset will win you over. They all run maybe 45 seconds or so, and are goofy gags of the girls in SD-form doing nonsensical things. It's pretty impossible to not crack a smile when you're watching. [TOP]

Alright guys, thanks for reading. Next week, we'll be back for more of The Stream!

This week's shelves are from Carlin, who wrote in the following:

"My name is Carlin and I'm 21-years-old and love anime. I loved watching Pokemon and Digimon when I was a kid, and as I grew up I started watching Zoids, Outlaw Star, and Transformers. But, about 10 or 12 years ago, I just stopped watching anime altogether. Then, in May of 2012, I was going through Netflix like usual, and a show titled "Rosario+Vampire" showed up on the list of shows that Netflix suggested I should watch. Well, I just passed by and ignored it, but, after a week of it staying on the suggestions list, I decided to watch it to see what it was. That is what "re-ignited" my love of anime. Ever since then I have been watching many different anime and enjoying it.

I only really started buying anime DVDs a little over a month. I already had a bunch of old Pokemon VHS and Speed Racer DVDs, as well as Transformers movies and books, but, in just over 1 month, I greatly expanded the size of my collection to what it is now. Even though I am only recently buying anime, I liked how older anime series were boxed, so I decided to use my artistic ability to make my own art-boxes for anime series that I really liked and that I ended up buying as a set instead of as a complete series in a single box. Though the two that I have actually made so far didn't go exactly as I had planned, I still love the way they turned out, and if I will probably remake them once I get proper materials to make the box out of.

I have a large amount of non-anime DVDs in my collection, I just keep them stored in a different location because the amount of space it takes to store them makes it impossible to have them displayed."

Impressive! Beautiful shelves, too.

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

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