Shelf Life
Baked Apple Tartaros

by Bamboo Dong,

Tomorrow is my birthday; I turn 29. I don't really remember at what age I stopped really caring about my birthday, but I feel like maybe 21 was the last time it felt like a milestone. These days, I just want to watch TV and drink wine and maybe order pizza. My birthday present to myself is not forcing myself to be social, which sounds better and better the older I get. By the time I'm 50, maybe my birthday present will just be me sleeping all day.

Welcome to Shelf Life.

I freely admit that I enjoyed the Girls und Panzer OVA collection much more than I liked the actual TV series. It had the right mix of humor (there's an entire episode dedicated to the Angler Fish dance), the right amount of world building, a good amount of character exposition—and for those who are interested, there's a solid chunk of pure fanservice.

While I liked the TV series for the tank battles and the strategy sessions, I was never fully on board with the show because I never really felt like I was immersed in the world, or knew the girls as more than just game pieces on a giant Axis and Allies board. Yeah, I liked how the different schools represented different countries, which allowed for some not-so-thinly veiled geopolitical power fantasies, and I thought Miho's struggle to find her own place within the context of the sport and her family was interesting, but there were too many unanswered questions. Basic ones, too, like the very logistics that ruled the playing of sensha-do in occupied cities.

Ultimately, that's why I found myself enjoying the Girls und Panzer OVAs a lot more. I felt more involved with the characters and the world they live in. And, because it's more character-focused, and barely has anything to do with tank battles at all, I felt like it let me take a step back and actually meet the girls I was rooting for.

One of my favorite episodes in the entire OVA series in the one in which the girls take a tour of their school/ship. Not only does it answer some basic questions (Why are the schools on ships? Who operates the ships?), it's also just a really fascinating episode in terms of fleshing out the world the characters live in, and giving viewers a glimpse into the way the schools are structured. It might not have anything to do with tanks, but it's a new chunk of information to chew on, and it gives viewers a fun little glimpse at what the girls were trying so hard to protect.

Most importantly, these episodes are just fun. I even appreciated the episode where the girls try on bikinis, because a) I get it, that's your bread and butter, and b) I have to give the series props for making that episode fun and engaging by finding a way to shoehorn in the girls' love of military history. There's another goofy episode I loved where the girls put on a talent show. It's just gauche enough that it's hilarious, and I enjoyed every minute of the nonsense.

Without Girls und Panzer, these OVAs obviously wouldn't exist or make sense, but given the choice between the two, I would watch these OVAs again. They're lacking in gravity or real substance, but the execution of the humor is really sharp, and I found them to be much more entertaining overall. [TOP]

I'd also honestly watch the Girls und Panzer OVAs over the second season of Wagnaria!!.

In general, I really like slice-of-life shows. I like the lackadaisical pace, and the chance to really know what makes certain characters tick. I like being able to peer inside someone's life, and get to know the people around them. In some respects, Wagnaria!! worked. I enjoyed watching the characters slowly change over time, and work through their difficulties one day at a time. On the other hand, though, I felt like the series had a tendency to keep falling into the same comfortable rut.

Whereas most of the characters in the series have fairly complex personal issues and relationships with one another, the second season of the series had a tendency to push them aside in favor of humor. Take Mahiru, for instance. She has a deep-rooted fear of men, stemming from her father conditioning her since childhood to think that all men want to harm her. Despite her continually using Sota as a punching bag, he's still willing to help her work through her issues and take the time befriend her. And yet, I'm not really sure the series really explored their relationship enough to create anything meaningful from it. Instead, Mahiru's tendency to punch men is used as a bad humor crutch, and Sota's desire to help comes off as more sanctimonious than genuine. Likewise, his penchant for petting Popura on the head and inadvertently disrespecting her is also played for straight laughs, rather than as a launching point for either character to explore their issues.

What it amounts to is a series that has occasional blips of something better, but relies too much on old jokes and patterns. I absolutely respect the series' desire to be a light-hearted comedy about an oddball assortment of restaurant workers, but when the characters are written to have more complexity than what's shown on the screen, you end up with a series that feels wooden, and that falls back on the same four bits over and over again.

That's not to say there aren't some genius moments in the series. For as much as it reuses some of the same old jokes, it also has some flashes of absolutely genius comic timing. Izumi, one of Sota's older sisters, gets a lot of time in the comedy spotlight, and uses her frail body to great effect. There are lengthy scenes that just consist of Izumi silently crawling through a room that manage to hit that magical note of awkward-funny. Another scene deftly uses props and crazy angles to hide a character's reaction during a long, awkward pause until one can't help but laugh.

If there's one lesson to be learned from all of this, it's that Wagnaria!! is a lot better at being awkward than it is at slapstick. It just happens to place way too much emphasis on the latter. I appreciate the setting and the characters for the show a lot, but these episodes are just flat. [TOP]

Last but not least (okay, maybe a little least), I checked out Appleseed XIII: Tartaros & Ouranos.

With a run time of 168 minutes total, it's more compact than the Appleseed XIII series that it's remixed from, but it sure doesn't feel like it. It feels like a chore, start to finish, and while the compilation itself is remarkably smooth, the story it's telling isn't remotely interesting.

The problem with Appleseed XIII is that it's much too ambitious for what it's able to pull off. Cramming everything into two movies only makes it worse. And, to rub some extra lemon juice in the wound, it leaves out some of the best parts of the TV series.

The entire story takes place in a fictional Utopia called Olympus, which is watched over by a monstrous art installation depicting the Labors of Hercules. Each labor loosely influences the various stories and aspects of Appleseed XIII, which itself heavily borrows themes and lessons from Greek mythology. Underneath the shiny exterior of this new Utopia, though, lies a writhing nest of turmoil. From political conflict, to discrmination, to violent debates over bioethics, Appleseed XIII: Tartaros & Ouranos attempts to be a microcosm of everything that plagues human society. Only, it flies much too close to the sun, and burns out in a waxy heap of empty philosophizing. For as much as it tries to stay on message by repeating the same mythological blurbs over and over again, it doesn't have the actual chops to pull off its grand design.

Presumably, a large chunk of the movies' problems would be fixed if it just focused on one of the central themes, instead of trying to dabble in everything. For instance, if the movies just focused on the anti-bioroid sentiment taking root amongst humans. Or, if they just focused on the political uprisings. Or, just the unmodified bioroids that were committing suicide. Because the movies are culling their material from a pre-existing 13-episode OVA, it would be easy to gather enough material to pull together on-point features with a unified theme. But no. The movies are just as sloppy as the series.

Also, I don't know who decided on Appleseed XIII's animation style, but it looks like a bad video game. The characters' walk cycles are unnatural, their hair looks like dead worms, and some of the character models are so disproportioned that it's laughable. You know those ad sidebars that sometimes pop up where there are CGI chicks who are offering "Amazing! 3D Naked Girls!"? That's what Appleseed XIII looks like.

I was initially interested in Appleseed XIII: Tartaros & Ouranos because I thought that the movies would seize the opportunity to clean up the mess left by the OVA series, but I was wrong. Rather than making the messages more succinct, they're just as cluttered— if not worse— than the OVAs. Appleseed XIII has some amazing ideas, but none of them are able to shine through.[TOP]

This week's shelves are from Wynn:

My name is Wynn, and I just turned 20 last month. Since I was already taking a picture of my anime collection, I decided to send it to "Shelf Life" as well. I've only been seriously watching anime over the past couple years after watching/re-watching a few series that mean a lot to me. Then I decided that I would collect the anime that I think highly of. This is the fruits of my labor. This is by no means the end of it though! [Don't mind the films that are in the middle there, I was planning to watch those. Or the AVGN DVDs. I had nowhere else to put them.]

As a shameless plug, I"m going to mention that my brother and I compose classical and modern music, and if anyone is interested (possibly even have a project that needs music?), please check out our website.

Thanks for the pic!

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

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