Shelf Life
Boys to Men

by Bamboo Dong,

Recently, on one of my runs, I discovered a small stretch of neighborhood in Long Beach where the leaves are actually changing color. It made me immeasurably happy. In most of the places I've seen in Southern California, leaves don't change color. They just die one day, leaving entire trees of dull, yellow-brown leaves. It's perhaps the least spectacular autumn display in the entire country, but I'm happy knowing that there are pockets of gold and red.

Welcome to Shelf Life.

For as many slice-of-life shows as there are about cute girls doing weird or goofy things, the guy side is sorely lacking. I don't mean that anime doesn't have its fair shake of male protagonists—of course it does—but there are a lot less shows about high school boys aimlessly goofing around than you would think. That's the void that Daily Lives of High School Boys fills. It's a comedy about three guys—Hidenori, Yoshitake, and requisite straight man Tadakuni—who do absolutely nothing, yet talk about everything.

In a way, a show like Daily Lives of High School Boys absolutely needs to exist. It's the perfect counterpoint to the endless barrage of girl-centric gag comedies that come out every season, and even though some of those shows are funny and wildly successful, Daily Lives is simply different. It's high school shot through the hazy lens of puberty, albeit in a fictional world much more innocent than reality. Characters like the wannabe tough guy hooligan wear their virginity like a badge of honor, not because it's cherished per se, but simply because in an all-boys school, you have to stick together. In one great scene, our main trio of boys are walking home when one of them finds a stick. Suddenly, they launch into an impromptu RPG, dreaming up scenarios and theme songs not unlike a child and his action figures. Later, when the hooligan group find the same stick, they too strike up their own make-believe RPG. It's a rollicking celebration of male adolescence; naturally, the second a girl shows up, they play it cool like nothing just happened.

Part of what makes this series so fun is its willingness to poke fun at all-girl gag comedies. In one scene, the student council of a nearby all-girls school visits the student council of the boys school. They expect the boys to be vulgar and apish, but are shocked to find them not only well-mannered, but also clean and proper. It's not just a comment on gender stereotypes, though—the visiting student council president is dismayed to realize that in their room at the girls school, it's filled with food and garbage, a nod to the myriad of gag comedies about messy, unrefined girls.

The show takes it further by sprinkling in vignettes titled “High School Girls Are Funky,” which are laugh-out-loud hilarious. These shorts star three loud and boisterous girls. They're foul-mouthed and prone to fighting, and absolutely self-aware of their role as the stand-in, stereotypic girls gag comedy. In one scene, the leader of the group tells the guy next door that teenage boys in anime are just the leftovers of high school girls. In another scene, the neighbor is weary of their insults and tosses them a bag of snacks. Instantly, the girls' personas transform from gruff into mega-genki, pouncing on them with squeals of, “Yay, snacks!!!” It's genius.

Of course, the series has serious moments, too. After all, it is a show that's ultimately about friendship and having each other's backs. One standout scene is a flashback in which we learn that Hidenori used to be bullied a lot as a kid; years later, he finally learns the identity of the masked boy who was always there to help him out.

Much of the versatility in Daily Lives of High School Boys is delivered by the stellar voice acting. In particular, Tomokazu Sugita (Kyon from Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, Hideki from Chobits) kills as Hidenori, and he absolutely makes the scenes work with his comedic timing. He does one particular bit during the impromptu RPG scene where he introduces himself as a lone wolf fighter named Jack which made me rolling in laughter.

These days, I'm increasingly jaded when it comes to gag comedies, but I found myself laughing out loud at least once in every vignette. Daily Lives of High School Boys is a riot, and I recommend it to anyone who feels like they need some variety on their comedy shelf. The hardcover artbook included with NIS America's release is great as well—rather than your standard art booklet, it's presented as a “manual for boys and girls.” To give an example, the front cover has this snippet next to character artwork of Hidenori: “Vacancy—This look indicates that you are dead inside. This is the proper expression for any high school boy during and after school hours.” It's a fantastic accompaniment to the release, and one that will be appreciated by fans.[TOP]

Taking a vast departure from the quirky (and daily) antics of high school boys, I popped in a not-so-quirky and not-so-charming title.

25 years after Katsuhiro Otomo's Akira was released, Funimation has released a "25th Anniversary Edition" that includes both the BD and DVD of the iconic film. If you don't already own the movie, this might be The release to get. Mostly, it just has almost everything you could possibly want in an Akira release. Whether or not it's worth double- or triple- or quadruple-dipping really depends on how much you love Akira (obviously) and how you like watching it.

This release is a bit better than the 2009 Bandai BD release for a couple of reasons. For starters, even though it uses the same video (yes, it still looks good on BD, and yes, despite the remaster job they did in 2001, there are still occasional grains and flecks), the picture-boxing is gone. In that respect, it looks much better. Since the release is a BD and DVD combo, you can also pop in the DVD version for kicks, or take it with you on trips. And—and this is a big And—it includes not only the 2001 Pioneer dub, but also the “original” Streamline 1988 dub, which is a huge bonus. Arguably, the 2001 dub is the better dub in terms of translation (more on that later) and fidelity, but for many of us who used Akira as one of our gateway anime, the 1988 dub is the One True Akira Dub. And now, they're together.

For those who really care about Extras, this release also has most of the extras that were on the 2009 BD, and certainly at least all the good ones. In particular, there's a multi-part featurette on the music used in Akira, and if you haven't watched it before, it is both educational and riveting (and for those interested, the music collective that performed all the tracks still exists). There's also an interview with Otomo, a special about the remastering process, an interview with some members of the 2001 dub cast, and more.

It's actually been a while since I've had the chance to conveniently compare both the 1988 and 2001 English dubs. For nostalgia reasons, I love the 1988 version, but if we're being honest, it's not very good. Translation-wise, it takes a lot of liberties with the script that change the meaning of the dialogue (although it introduced me to strange insults like “slugwart” and “fishface). For instance, near the front-end of the movie, there's a scene where creepy old kid Takashi vanishes into thin air. In the original Japanese script and in the 2001 dub, Louie Anderson-looking Masaru says, “He's to the west,” whereupon the colonel says, “The west? He's in the old city.” Now, this makes sense. Where did the creepy old kid go? Oh, he's went west. But in the 1988 dub, Masaru says, “This chapter's finished,” and the colonel says, “Very well. Let's get out of here.” This makes no sense.

In any case, debating the ins and outs of 25- and 12-year old dubs now doesn't do much good. We could debate the merits of either dub for forum pages on end, but that's one of the great things about this release. You can watch both without getting up to change the disc. Whether or not that convenience is worth buying the release again is up to you, but at an MSRP of $34.98 (Right Stuf has it for $20.99), it's certainly not the heinous $50 wallet-blow that the 2009 release was.

Naturally, it almost goes without saying that if you haven't seen Akira at all, then there is no better time than now. There's a reason why it's hailed as a classic, and why so many people list it as being amongst their favorite movies. Stylistically, nothing can compare to its grit and grandeur, with grotesque images that will sear themselves onto your brain for life, and clouds of smoke and debris that are as lovingly animated as if they had a life of their own. Thematically, it's a post-apocalyptic epic bursting with imagination and chaos, chiding dangers from bullying to scientific hubris. It's a Must See for anime fans, and with this astonishingly complete Akira re-release, available in the most definitive collection yet.[TOP]

Up next, a bundle that I put off for as long as my guilt would permit. And no, that's not a pun.

It's a good thing that Guilty Crown is beautiful and full of explosions, or else little would keep viewers' attention from one episode to the next. Throughout the series' 22-episode run, there are moments of brilliance and eye-opening plot twists (mostly in the second half), but for the most part, it's a yawn-inducing soup of cliches, punctuated with outrageously silly scenes, but mercifully topped off with truly exciting fight scenes.

At some point somewhere in the near future, Japan has been hit by a deadly virus. Generic United Nations-appointed bad-guys-masquerading-as-good-guys-who-are-not-so-subtly-mostly-Chinese-and-American international coalition GHQ has stormed in, contained the outbreak, and now holds Japan under its evil, freedom-suppressing thumb. Flash-forward ten years and a resistance group called the Undertakers is now waging a violent campaign to retake their freedom.

Enter Shu, your average weak-willed, lonely high school male protagonist, who through a series of tried and true formulas ends up cohabitating with the hot, but emotionally unavailable lady protagonist Inori. Inori is pretty cute, but she's also an empty soul vessel, so their romance is both slow and weird. So it turns out Shu has this power to extract "Voids" from people, which in a mind-boggle of pseudoscience and shenaniganry is actually the physical manifestation of teenagers' psyches. Sometimes he pulls out sweet weapons like swords and guns; sometimes he pulls out refrigerators, because sometimes people just really love to eat, am I right?

Guilty Crown has spurts of interesting moments, but too many are chopped up by ridiculousness. It's so hard to take awkward scenes of teenage wooing seriously when they're terminated by someone yanking an object out of a girl's chest. The show makes use of several would-be serious and dramatic scenes, but doesn't quite figure out how to walk that fine line between suspense and cheese. As a result, many scenes meant to shock or command merely dissipate into a vapid mist of nonsense, while others end up not capitalizing on their full impact because the series can't stick its landings.

This is a title that I begrudgingly watched half of while it was streaming, and while it was somewhat entertaining simply because of its pretty visuals and thudding soundtrak, always felt like a chore to watch. After staring at the complete series boxset in my To Review pile long enough that guilt set in, I finally finished watching it. It's an okay time. The visuals almost carry it the entire way. And some episodes are monumentally better than others, which mostly just results in a jerky viewing experience that is sometimes hard to put down, and sometimes just too hard to care about. It's worth watching once, I suppose, if only for some of the visuals, but I can't imagine myself ever feeling the need to revisit it ever again.[TOP]

That's it for this week! Next week, the One Piece movie, a movie that touts magic as "the breast defense!" (haha, get it? Best defense?), and Wolf Children!

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

"Hello my name is thiemer Ive been collecting anime since 2010, I love most anime, and will buy the american release almost the day of release if I havent pre ordered it. I only really dislike the shows that are larger then 60 episodes. Mostly cause they very quickly lose any sense of a set ending and plot. But if its slice of life, action, drama, comedy, horrer.ect ill atleast watch it."

Good use of space!

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