Shelf Life
You Da Bomb

by Bamboo Dong, Dec 9th 2013

December always sneaks up on me. I spend all year trudging along, only to suddenly realize, "Oh crap, this year is almost over." And then I realize, "I accomplished exactly zero of the resolutions I set for myself." This year, I think I'm going to adjust my resolutions list, so that it's just a shorter "To Do" list. And maybe filled with more concrete things like, "Eat a burrito" or "Buy some shoes," so that they're easier to accomplish. Then I'll win.

Alright, welcome to Shelf Life.

Bless whomever decided to rename this series as Good Luck Girl! because never in a zillion years could a show with a clunky name like "Binbogami ga!" fly off North American shelves. In fact, bless whomever in general then took that name, and with some slick typesetting and vibrant cover art, gave this series one hell of a good-looking cover. I know you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, yada yada, but considering that this series was one of the surprise hits of its season, it deserves this type of impulse-buy-worthy packaging.

Good Luck Girl! is not without a slate of flaws, but it is one of the most surprisingly fun and charming shows to have emerged from the wacky-hijinks-and-screwball-otaku-humor camp of comedies in the last couple of years. In its setup and execution, it feels almost like a romantic comedy... only instead of boy-meets-girl/boy-falls-in-love, it's more like... god-meets-girl/they-fight-for-eternity.

The premise is simple, yet efficient. Sakura Ichiko has always had luck on her side. She's great at school and sports, she's gorgeous and has giant tits, and she comes from a fabulously wealthy family. As one might also guess, she's also spoiled and shallow, mean and insufferable, and in general, kind of an intolerable bitch. Luckily, someone has come to sort that out—the dirty and scrappy Momiji, a poverty god whose job it is to make sure good and bad luck are evenly distributed in the world. In classic anime fashion, she decides she's going to move into Sakura's place and even ends up transferring into her class. From there on, it's a screwy madcap comedy, as the two girls chase each other around in a never-ending cat-and-mouse game. After all, one of them may be a god, but the other has fortune on her side.

Comedy-wise, Good Luck Girl! has moments of genius, but like many slapstick, high-energy comedies, it also has a few too many moments of repetition. While its hilarious seeing Momiji trying to use old-timey classics like the ol' heavy-object-balanced-on-top-of-a-door trick, the series does invariably run out of ways for the girls to harangue each other. The addition of several supernatural sidekicks and visitors helps, but they too are a little one-note. For those who enjoy anime references in their anime, Good Luck Girl! is rife with them, borrowing from hits like Dragon Ball Z, Prince of Tennis, and others. To its credit, rather than just being the quote-and-dump type of nerd-pandering humor that referential humor shows tend to be, this series actually takes the extra step in working them into the series so they're relatively standalone. For instance, even if you'd never watched a minute of, say, Fist of the North Star, you'd still get the joke of girls' faces contorting into hyper-masculine men and scowling at each other. (Though if you've never watched a minute of Fist of the North Star, this is a malady that should be remedied.)

However, despite the million jokes a second that are constantly being fired out of the series, it's the slower moments that are the best. There are several episodes that take a much-needed break from all the energy and focus more on the softer side of things. We finally see why Sakura is such a terrible person, and granted, even though the flashback is kind of dumb, it adds an extra dimension to an otherwise flat character. It's that character trajectory of Sakura from shallow snob to caring friend that makes the series so rewarding to watch, and while it's not exactly groundbreaking story telling, it is the only reliable way to positively elevate a show whose go-to gag is watching a girl trying to ram a humungous syringe into someone.

Good Luck Girl! is perhaps not the kind of show you'd find yourself desperately wanting to watch every year. Its jokes are good enough to make the first (or second) run funny, but I'm not sure their novelty would last much longer than that. And while the dramatic aspects of the series help carry the show past the finish line, it's not exactly life-changing enough that it would hold up to repeat viewings. However, it is one of the most amusing comedies I've seen in recent times, and I can't help but urge everyone to check out an episode or two at some point. [TOP]

Likewise, I enjoyed the next series as well, which also does a good job of writing itself out of an initial vacuum of terrible characters.

At first glance, BTOOOM! is not only generic, but it's also a little annoying, thanks in part to characters that are almost impossible to like. Lay-about Ryuta Sakamoto is a little shit who is 22, but still mooches off his mom and refuses to get a job. The only thing he does with his time is obsessively play a computer game called BTOOOM, a survival game where players defeat each other using only bombs. And isn't it sweet? He even has an in-game wife, although surely she'd leave him if she realized his primary source of sustenance was whatever his mom brought to the door.

In a bizarre twist of happenstance, Ryuta goes to the convenience store, only to wake up on a jungle island. As contrivance would have it, he learns that he's somehow been whisked into something resembling a real-life version of BTOOOM, where the only way to leave the island is to be the last man standing. To use an easy comparison, it's like Battle Royale, except everyone has to fight using only specialty bombs. Fortunately for Ryuta, his in-game bomb-throwing skills correlate enough with his physical ability to throw, making him a natural at this nightmare he's woken up in.

Along the way, we meet several new characters, some of them good (like sexy fanservice-bait Himiko, who bears a striking resemblance to Ryuta's e-waifu), but most of them bad. In fact, so many of the characters on the island turn out to be manipulative, untrustworthy psychopaths that 90% of the tension in the series is just waiting to see whether or not each new addition to the cast can be trusted. It's a solid platform for built-in tension, and before you know it, you realize you're a lot more worried for the characters' safeties than you ever would have anticipated.

The subject of Himiko is an interesting one. She's a smart girl and an obviously strong one, but it can't be denied that she's partly written into the series because a Sexy Girl was needed. She's scared of men because of past (and present) rape attempts, and while it's certainly heartening to see her defend herself from these situations, I can't help but think that these scenes are drawn a little too suggestively, and with no pretension of hiding why they're there. There's little reason to depict the scenes with the salacious, first-person POVs they're treated with, other than to scintillate. One could argue, “but she fights back!” but it's not transparent whatsoever why the scenes drag on as long as they do, or why they're drawn in the manner that they are.

BTOOOM! also suffers a bit from character development problems. Ryuta is a stock NEET-turned-badass-hero fantasy fulfillment character (who of course saves Himiko physically and emotionally), and never quite gets around to fully examining why he's such a pill. And, considering that everyone on the island was placed there for a reason, the characters that we meet are hardly more than just a running tally of the terrible dregs of humanity, like murderers and rapists. Even the ones with backstories are hardly more than just tools for shock and disgust.

At the same time, BTOOOM! is also deeply riveting, in the way that only action-soaked, bomb-blasted popcorn flicks can be. We can't help but be sucked into this survival story, not because Ryuta is a hero worth championing, but because we're distracting by all the beeping bombs, knife-fights, and weirdos on the island. It's a series that not only delivers the best when one doesn't think about it, but also completely falls apart when one does. Every single time the show even sort of tries to explain why people are on the island, it crumbles under the weight of its own horseshit.

Perhaps in a nutshell, that's the best way to encapsulate the appeal of BTOOOM! It's great and awesome, as long as you don't think about it. Is it incredibly fun to watch? Oh, absolutely. Will you have a good time? Undeniably. Is it a well-written show with three-dimensional characters and a thought-provoking story? Lord, no. The less synapses you fire, the better your enjoyment of the series. But sometimes, that's just what the doctor ordered.[TOP]

Another is one of the series that I enjoyed immensely when it was streaming, but I was hesitant to revisit it again so soon, hence burying it under my review pile under a mountain of procrastination. I was worried that watching it after knowing all the answers would render it boring and stupid, but actually, it was the opposite. Knowing what's going to happen at the end makes the second view almost like a game, picking up hints and clues that you didn't notice the first time through. It's kind of like watching the Sixth Sense again and noting all the times Bruce Willis' chair didn't move.

However, the problems that plagued Another the first time through are just as frustrating the second time through, sometimes even more so. Miscommunication abounds in the series, stringing viewers along for episodes on end, when everything would be solved time and time again if anyone just said, "so here's what's going on." It's the oldest trick in the book, but it doesn't make it any less aggravating for viewers. I can't count how many times I yelled at the screen some variant of, "JUST TELL ME, YOU STUPID [here is where the variations came in]" or, "WHY DON'T YOU JUST CLEAR THIS MISUNDERSTANDING WITH YOUR CLASSMATES." Alas in that case, the series would likely only be two episodes long.

The series follows two main characters, Koichi Sakakibara and the mysterious, eye-patched Mei Misaki. Having just moved to town, Koichi was supposed to start ninth grade with his new class, but because of health issues, missed the first month of class. When he does finally go to school, he realizes that something isn't quite right. For whatever reason, all of his classmates refuse to acknowledge Mei's presence, and they're all convinced that their class is cursed. When people start dying left and right, it seems more and more likely that something supernatural is occurring.

It helps that the series is saturated with atmosphere. The backgrounds are always just a little too dark to be comfortable, and the town has that sleepy kind of rural mountain charm that reeks of secrets. Characters' eyes are a little too blank to be genuine, and their voices are perpetually betraying their fake smiles. Of course, while the series starts off as just a supernatural horror chock-full of unsettling imagery (those who dislike dolls, such as myself, will not be pleased by all the soulless ball-jointed dolls that populate certain scenes), the latter half eventually turns into a gory blood bath. It's thrilling, although certain scenes (including death scenes) are ridiculous to the point of eliciting laughter.

What's so brilliant about Another, though, is that there are so many ways to watch and appreciate the series. It can most definitely be enjoyed at face value for its violence and horror. At the same time, it's also infinitely fascinating as a microcosmic slice of real world social problems. Faced with fear, the students are not only willing to throw one of their own under the bus, but even the slightest provocation is enough to make them set their sights on Another target. Cold-blooded murder is, perhaps, a bit of an exaggerated response to certain stimuli, but one can point to too many instances in history in which institutionalized scapegoating was implemented with success. As the series shifts from strange, eerie mystery to full-bore murder-fest, the reactions of the individual students become a riveting look at the darkest corners of our humanity and the way we treat our peers.

Another perhaps would've been a more fitting title to review around Halloween, but there is never a bad time to watch horror and suspense shows. Creepy and hair-raising, this series is does a good job of pulling viewers along until the very end, only leaving you to wonder how missed the clues the first time around.[TOP]

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

" I've been fan of various anime all my life, but I didn't begin collecting anime until 2007. I've built all the shelving in these pics (and I can see all my mistakes) but it's still not finished yet. I'm hoping to install some barn door rails in front of the current shelving and hang some more shelves from them so I can have all of my anime in one room. Right now, my anime books and my NISA series are in the closet until I can make some more room. It's a sad story, I know."


That is a lot!

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


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