Shelf Life
Let the Wet One In

by Bamboo Dong,

This past weekend is the first weekend that I've spent home in a while. It was nice just being able to wake up on Saturday without knowing that I had to be somewhere at a specific time. I love convention season and everything that comes with it—the people, the locations, the panels, the costumes—but sometimes a weekend at home is the best. Plus, it let me catch up on some anime.

Welcome to Shelf Life.

When you look at the credits for any of Makoto Shinkai's works, you'll see one name over and over and over again—his own. He's usually the director, the writer, the storyboarder, the original creator, the director of photography—here is a guy who brings his own vision and his own stories to every work he directs, and the result is usually a film stamped with something that is unmistakably “Shinkai.” Garden of Words is, in two words, “very Shinkai.” It's a little melancholy, a little wistful, a little bittersweet, and yet still hopeful. It celebrates the wisdom of youth, and the follies of young, foolish love. It's also beautiful and awe-inspiring, in that detailed, almost-cluttered kind of way that Shinkai likes to depict his worlds.

Clocking in at just 46 minutes, Garden of Words is a magnificent feat. It manages to tell the complete story of two people and their relationship together without feeling the least bit rushed, and without feeling like there's anything that was left unspoken. In true Shinkai manner, the entire work is also slammed full of metaphors, so it behooves one to either watch it a few times, or use a cheat sheet, like this Q&A he did at Anime Expo earlier this month.

The story features two people, Takao and Yukino, who have a penchant for ditching school/work on rainy mornings. Takao is a high school student who is keen on becoming a cordwainer. He finds himself drawn to Yukino, a 20-something woman who's unhappy with her life. Her breakfast consists of beer and chocolate, and even though she owns fabulous shoes, we get the sense that they're perhaps not that comfortable (yet another extended metaphor; thanks Shinkai). Through their mornings playing hooky together, the two get a chance to learn about each other's problems and aspirations, and help each other along the way. Takao is keen on making the perfect pair of shoes for Yukino, and even inspires her to switch over to homemade meals and coffee. Eventually, though, their bubble is inevitably shattered, and the catharsis that follows is enough to yank on anyone's heartstrings.

Notably, Garden of Words is also absolutely beautiful. It plays with reflection and light in ways that took my breath away. It also makes good use of clever camera angles, allowing shots like rain-soaked streets or Yukino's feet as she absent-mindedly dangles her shoes. One shot in particular of rain drops splashing off a pond rendered me speechless, and I replayed the scene again and again, because I had never seen such beautifully animated rain before. In true Shinkai fashion, the music choices are lovely as well, using the same soft ballads and piano tunes that have marked so many of this previous works.

I haven't loved every single thing that Shinkai's done—I wasn't keen on Children Who Chase Lost Voices, for instance—but as a whole, I tend to love what he brings to his films. Even in his most tear-jerking films, he's always added an element of hopefulness, and in that sense, I think Garden of Words is one of his most uplifting films yet. Everything about it speaks of hope and new beginnings, and it's wonderfully touching. I highly recommend checking it out, and if you can, watch it on Blu-ray. It's worth it.[TOP]

To balance out the new and shiny Garden of Words, I popped in Right Stuf's re-release of part one of the Dirty Pair TV series, which I had never watched sequentially before (not… that it matters), so it was neat little experience for me.

Let me preface this review by saying all anyone really needs to know in order to gauge where I'm coming from on this—the Dirty Pair TV series is the same age to me. So, suffice it to say, I don't hold any prior nostalgia for this show, and I certainly never watched it with my old anime club (back in my day, we watched Lost Universe, so I think we got the short end of the stick). That having been said, I think Dirty Pair is a fascinating slice of our historical anime pie, and I absolutely acknowledge and respect its place in the greater pantheon of old-timer classics. But you know, if you've seen a few episodes of Dirty Pair, you've seen them all.

Dirty Pair strikes me as a “pop in.” You know exactly the kind of show I'm talking about—the kind of show you just “pop in” when you're not really doing anything, and you're not in the mood to watch your three-month old Netflix rental of Schindler's List. You want something that will make you chuckle, maybe, or smile, but you don't want to invest a lot of energy into following the action. So you pop in Dirty Pair, and before you know it, you can let your eyes glaze over with the madcap adventures of Kei and Yuri, who 28 years later, are still some of the most bad-ass chicks to ever graze the medium.

That's the key, defining characteristic of Dirty Pair and what will forever (in my mind, anyway) make it worth partially watching at least once. The titular Dirty Pair are complete babes, and they could break any man's femur in half just by looking at it. Rambunctious Kei has poofy 80s hair, chats about going on dates and loving pro wrestling, while Yuri thinks of herself as a little more refined, and enjoys chatting up cultured men. They don't really give an F about what people think about them, and that's kind of hot and awesome. It's like this sweet spot where they own their femininity, but they're not completely defined by it, and they're sexy without oozing with it. You watch the show for them, because they are the show.

That, and, I mean, every episode is kind of just a variation on the same thing. Crazy stuff happens (a supercomputer goes haywiere, a dead guy launches some auto-murder program), the girls are dispatched, and they eventually save the day, leaving blocks upon blocks of collateral damage in their wake. The only difference is in the details, so it's kind of like going to a pizza place and getting different toppings. I guess in this analogy, the Lovely Angels (i.e. Kei and Yuri, i.e. “the Dirty Pair”) are maybe the cheese or something, because cheese-less pizza is ridiculous and wrong.

What I'm saying is, I like the idea of Dirty Pair a lot. I would pop it in if I had nothing else to do, and I wanted to be mindlessly entertained by super cool chicks. I maybe wouldn't go out of my way to marathon the show, but it's worth seeing at least a couple episodes once. I suspect that the most fun way to watch a show like Dirty Pair is with a group of friends, like the old anime club days, so if you can make that happen, you should.[TOP]

Finishing off the week was some good ol' spit anime.

I've often wondered if Mysterious Girlfriend X would have been much better if the spit had simply been less viscous. Like maybe if you could still identify it as a liquid substance, but it wasn't gooey and drippy, like the kind of mayonnaise that you can buy in the squeezy-tubes, or honey from a jar. The viscosity of the saliva in Mysterious Girlfriend X is especially perturbing, because every time one of the kids sticks their nubby little fingers in someone's mouth, and pulls out a big, wet glob of drool, I can practically feel it in my own mouth. That's a big hurdle to get over when you're watching the show. It's not really something you can just turn away from either, because those long, silky spit strands (like Wrigley's gum stretched halfway between your shoe and the pavement) are a big component of the show.

Still, if you can somehow move past it, Mysterious Girlfriend X has its merits. Beyond this strange… spit thing is a show about awkward first love, the exploration of intimacy, and that first rude awakening that everyone gets when they first discover that a real relationship is nothing like what they've seen on TV shows or movies. When Akira asks mysterious girlfriend Mikoto for a picture of herself smiling, he's dumbfounded when she says no. When he tries to call her by her first name, he can barely get the words out.

But let me back up a little. The girlfriend in question is Mikoto, a weird girl in Akira's class who doesn't care all that much what others think of her. She carries scissors in her pants and she often erupts into random fits of laughter. She often falls asleep in class, too. One day, Akira sees this and can't help but notice a large puddle of glistening drool (like the quivering top of a chilled flan) under her mouth. Inexplicably, he sticks his finger in it and tastes it (like warm, unsalted congee). This is kind of the catalyst for one of the most bizarre relationships I've ever seen in an anime. The two end up dating, but rather than kissing, she allows him to eat her spit off his finger (like a carrot dipped in cheese fondue). Somehow, her emotional state is also transferred along with her saliva, though if it's really true, or if this whole show is one extended metaphor is never quite clarified.

Their relationship is a little more awkward than most, but then again, Mikoto is a little more strange than most (and definitely not your typical anime girlfriend). She cares, but she doesn't really show it, and you can't help but feel a little bad for Akira, who's totally out of his element. When I first watched Mysterious Girlfriend X, I absolutely loved the Japanese casting choice of newbie Ayako Yoshitani for Mikoto. She has a maturity in her voice that suits Mikoto to a T, and I don't think I'd be wrong in saying that the series would have been completely different if they'd given the character a higher pitched, girlier voice. The English choice for her is spot-on as well, and Genevieve Simmons (Horizon in the Middle of Nowhere) shines in the role. If it weren't for the unfortunate choice of Josh Grelle as Akira, who I think injects too much wobbly haplessness into the role, my preferred viewing method for this series would always be the dub.

I don't know that I'd actively recommend Mysterious Girlfriend X to too many people. I think the series is kind of interesting as an allegory for teenage sexuality and intimacy, but it's not always clear in its message, and some of the later female characters drive me up a wall. And yeah, it's hard for me to get past all the drool (like condensed milk, bubbling from a can). I tried to not get hung up on it, but it just kept making me a little sick.[TOP]

This week's shelves are from Ida, who sent in the following:

"Hi! My name is Ida, I have started my collection back in 2009, but that was just an odd title here and there, starting with Simoun (and I actually have 2 copies of it now, because they look so good together). Now that I have a job, I have been completely obsessive, with 90% of everything in here purchased within the last year or so. I'm about half way there before I "catch up" with everything I've seen already and want to have in my collection before I can focus exclusively on the new things."

I'm jealous of some of those taller shelves! It makes those non-standard boxsets look great!

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

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