Shelf Life
Apples and Ogres

by Bamboo Dong,

The closer I get to my moving day, the more I seem to find little odds and ends that need to be moved. Those are the items that you can't just throw in a box without them getting damaged, and you can't shove them in a bag without them getting mangled. You know, those bits and pieces. I hope that someday, human kind can get to a point where all our belongings are just square-shaped, for easy moving.

Welcome to Shelf Life.

Normal, everyday dude Kyohei is enjoying the Tokyo bachelor life—he goes out drinking with his buddies, hits on chicks, finds dead bodies in elevators—woah, what? That didn't last long. He's soon visited by his sister Utao and her floating, wooden, mind-controlled god buddy, and she lets him know that his old friend Aki has broken out of jail and is here to visit. We learn that they're all from the same rural village, one of those creepy little villages that you hear about in anime where everyone has dark secrets and there are mass murders all the time. In this village, certain people have the power to summon and control kakashi, lumpy robot-esque entities that can either be used for good, or to kill people. Guess which philosophy violent madman Aki prefers?

Herein lies both the good and bad part about the series. The story itself, and all the little side tendril stories (of which there are many), is… not that interesting. Because we know from episode one that Aki is Really Evil and Really Violent, it takes away a lot of the mystique surrounding the series and the character. It's not until the middle flashback episodes that any of the characters are fleshed out at all, but that's also the only time they're developed. Just about every character, even the new bad guys that flit into and out of the series, gets their own special village flashback. It certainly gives them a ready backstory, but it's a little formulaic, especially considering that once they're back in the present again, they rarely grow or change.

Still, of the thirteen episodes in this series, the flashbacks are amongst the most interesting. We learn why Aki is the maniacal, psychotic killer he is, and we learn why Kyohei has such a disdain for the kakashi. Sadly, because character development is constrained purely to these village flashbacks, we absolutely don't learn anything else about any of the other characters, including big-breasted girlfriend Hibino. Every hero needs one of those. As mentioned., there are a handful of other minor antagonists—but the highlight of the series, if there is one, is really Aki and Kyohei. Their backstories are better developed than most of the plot lines, which tend to drag a little. There are also just one or two characters too many—even near the end, new micro-villains are still introduced, which further takes away from the main conflict.

It doesn't help that only one season was ever made of this show, so there are a lot of loose threads that remain untied at the end of the series. There's an ominous, “NEXT SEASON…!” teaser, but to my knowledge, no second season has ever been announced. So if you're hoping for a full and satisfying conclusion at the end of the series, you will get none. Then again, nothing about the series is really that satisfying, so your baseline is pretty low. You can't have any cliffhangers if you're standing out on the plains. And that's kind of what Kamisama Dolls feels like. The show is entertaining enough if your only goal is to pass the time. Otherwise it comes up a little empty.[TOP]

Likewise just as blasé, sadly, was the new Appleseed XIII series that was first released in Japan a couple years back, but is now available as a combo DVD and BD pack from Funimation.

I wanted to like Appleseed XIII. I tried really hard to like it. I like robots a lot, I like Briareos a lot, and I like the bioroids they have because their reason for existence reminded me a whole lot of the robots in Asimov's Robot trilogy. Only… fleshier, since the bioroids are actually just cloned humans, but hardwired to serve and please. So like Daneel Olivaw with a 100% more meat. But here's the thing with Appleseed XIII—it's just not that fun to watch. Sure, there are people with guns, and soldiers with crazy armor, and terrorist plots, but it never fully gets off the ground. The main conflict surrounding the utopic Olympus and those who seek to destroy it feels muddy. It gets lost in its attempts to philosophize, and it's weighed down by how many gunfights are required to drag the story forward half an inch.

Taking place after a deadly worldwide war, the story takes place in a so-called "Paradise" known as Olympus. It's supposed to be a haven of peace, but it's rife with racial (does it count as race if it's natural-born humans versus clones? Flesh-folk versus cyborgs?) tension and political conflict. A large part of that tension comes from mixed feelings about bioroids, which are clones engineered to serve humans. Look, I'm no human-clone relations expert, but even I could've told them this would be a terrible idea. Fifty years from now, when the government decides it wants to clone "superior humans" and make them serve us, I'll be sure to write a letter to my senator.

Anyway, all is not well in paradise, and there's lots of problems. Appleseed franchise staples Deunan and Briareous are called upon to quell all sorts of issues, like when a bunch of bioroids are seemingly killing themselves, or when greedy politicians and corporations are getting too big for their britches. And of course, human and bioroid conflicts, and the terrorists who oppose the mere existence of the latter.

Even with all these stories to pick and choose from, every episode just feels the same. Sure, the settings change and the people at the end of the scope change, but there are no highlights or lowlights in this sea of turmoil. One rare exception is this kind of heartbreaking episode where a little sick girl makes friends with a robot, and they have a lovely time plucking dandelions. He is soon disposed of and reprogrammed, and the last shot of a dandelion will have your heart cringing just a little bit. I would gladly rewatch this episode again and again, because I feel like it's a wonderful vignette, but that's the exception . The rest of the series just doesn't live up to standard. For characters who've been around for quite a few iterations, Deunan and Briareos are woefully underdeveloped. We see the pain and guilt that Deunan feels regarding Briareos, but with the utter lack of chemistry and meaningful interaction between the two, it doesn't go anywhere. Briareos is less of a character in this series than a prop, and Deunan seems to be there just to have a familiar face. She also spends a lot of time wallowing in Greek mythos (I mean, the city is called Olympus), but whatever lofty goals the series set out for itself regarding its philosophies and ideals gets lost in a jumble of run-of-the-mill fights.

We can't talk about Appleseed without talking about the visuals, though. The style of CG animation they use in Appleseed XIII takes a while to get used to. It kind of looks and feels like a video game, like you'd expect Deunan to just bob back and forth while you decide whether or not to buy a potion. I learned from the extras (which are actually pretty fascinating, for those of you who actually watch DVD extras) that a different production company was tasked with making each episode. The end result is that each one is made with remarkable care, and it comes out in the way the characters' mouths move, and the way their eyes express subtleties. It's a little eerie, but it's strangely beautiful, and I found the animation to be one of the most striking aspects of the show. Now, if only any of the actual storytelling felt the same way. [TOP]

To round out my week, I checked out Dusk Maiden of Amnesia, which has some cute girls, and a whole lot of creepy townsfolk.

A lot of times, the phrase, “there's something in it for everyone!” is a throwaway that just means, “I like this, but I can only express my feelings in overused statements!” In Dusk Maiden of Amnesia, it's a little more accurate, although I guess in this case, it's because the series plays out more like a clever amalgam of different genres all slammed into one. I know this because I really wasn't terrible fond of the first few episodes, but loved it towards the end. It wasn't the show—it was me. I have a limited tolerance for gag comedy, and a very picky sense of humor, so I just didn't love the style of humor in the first bit of the series. I do love horror, though, and once Dusk Maiden of Amnesia went full bore into Creeptown, I was all in. And… I love me a good sappy romance, so I was definitely on board for the bittersweet dash across the finish line, even if the final scene had me rolling my eyes a little.

High school boy Teiichi spends much of his extracurricular time witih the school's Paranormal Investigations Club. It's one of the more interesting clubs at the school... but only because the president, Yuko, is a ghost. Only two of the students know this, though—Teiichi and rival love interest Kirie—and it makes for some good laughs involving fourth club member Momoe, who's constantly at the butt end of Yuko's pranks. While Yuko herself has always been a bit of a campus urban legend, there's not too much actually known about her or how and why she died. Hence the Paranormal Investigations Club. What they eventually uncover is absolutely heinous and grim, and the episodes that deal with her backstory are a far cry from the goofy jokes that predominate the first few episodes. They're dark and depressing, and crescendo leading up to the death flashback are rife with suspense. You wouldn't guess that after this plunge into horror, the series would finish its run as a romance.

It sounds like a mess, but it works surprisingly well in execution. Like I said, I have a strained tolerance for certain brands of comedy, but I love a good twist. I was not prepared for the hand of cards that Dusk Maiden of Amnesia was holding, and while I was lukewarm about the series until the halfway point, I was absolutely riveted by the time it dove headfirst into bloody waters. By the time the main story is hurtling down its tracks, it's difficult to stop watching.

I would argue that Dusk Maiden of Amnesia is much better enjoyed as a series boxset than week to week. Momentum is crucial for series like this, especially once it hits the halfway point. It helps the seemingly disparate chunks of the series fit together, and it helps weave a narrative that absolutely needs cohesion in order to be compelling. Watching it a second time, knowing what was coming, made me appreciate the series a lot more. If you want a dark story with horror elements as the primary building block for a series, I would recommend this series. Just be prepared for a heavy dollop of fluff in the beginning.[TOP]

Okay, that's it for this week. Thanks for reading!

This week we have shelves from Michael:

"Hi, I'm Michael, I'm a 25 year old anime fan, and have been collecting anime for something like 12 years. I started off watching Dragonball Z on TV, and discovered through the magic of the internets that I was watching something called "anime" and that I could get DVDs of it. I guess it's all continued on from there... having a job has probably made it even better/worse.

I'm from Australia, and my collection is kind of a mix of locally released stuff and US imports. The incredible world of international shipping sure does help when something only comes out in one country.

You may note that I've got all my gainax stuff and all my ghibli stuff separated off and sorted in order of original release. This is because these studios are both mostly awesome and I'm kinda completionist about them."

Thanks for sending those in!!

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