Shelf Life

by Bamboo Dong,

The past few days, it's been dumping rain in Southern California. I saw several car accidents on the freeway, including one where the driver drove off the side of the road. As a Colorado native, the response of SoCal drivers to the four-day "wet season" has always baffled me. Maybe because I grew up learning the horrible treachery that is black ice, rain is nothing. My answer? Instead of the freeway signs that California has telling drivers how many minutes it will take to get to the next major highway, the signs should just say, "Driving faster doesn't mean you get out of the rain quicker."

Welcome to Shelf Life.

Love, Election & Chocolate is about as succinct of a title as I've ever heard. They all feature prominently in the series, in that exact order, and most certainly make for a better collection of givens than, say, death and taxes. Based on an adult visual novel by sprite, the series features an amicable, strong-willed chap by the name of Yuki Ojima. Then come the bevy of women, although the anime adaptation smartly removes most traces of romantic interest from the other gals, and narrows it down to only one mutually in-love pair. So while the series certainly has all the makings of a harem, it isn't the main focus of the series.

That's not to say that the series doesn't spend plenty of time wallowing in the usual romcom hijinks. If one were to tally all the scenes in which girls throw Yuki longing glances, or characters blush at each other, it would probably add up to a couple hours (not including the OVA, which is just an entire episode of two girls baking sweets for Yuki).

But, where the series shines is the "Election" part of the title (and to some respect, the "Chocolate" part—more on that later). Yuki and his friends are part of the Food Research Club, a useless club that spends all of its budget buying snacks. It, along with several other "useless" after-school clubs, soon comes under fire from a candidate running for student council president, who promises to fix the school's budget by cleaning out all the extraneous clubs. As a response, the Food Research Club nominates Yuki to also run for president, although none of them have any experience running a viable campaign, especially against two other candidates almost guaranteed to split the student vote. And so, they accept help from the incumbent Security Club, who have political reasons for making sure a "third party" candidate wins office.

I wouldn't say that Love, Election & Chocolate is necessarily a primer on elections and campaign strategy, but it is certainly a microcosm of our current political system. It runs through some of the numbers behind running a successful of campaign—both in terms of votes necessary at different stages of the election, the amount of money needed to pay for exposure, and others—but also dips a little into the more realistic side of running for office, like knowing how to pander to voters. There's an undercurrent of anti-class discrimination that runs throughout Love, Election & Chocolate, and although Yuki wants to announce his plans for an anti-discrimination policy, he's advised against doing so, for fear of losing popular support.

There are other more serious themes that trickle through the series as well, including a "Chocolate" sub-story about one of the girls' deceased siblings and the emotional scar it's left. There are political underpinnings, too, which involve kidnappings and secretive plots.

And… that's where the series crumbles and falls apart a bit. Given the nature of the series, viewers are asked to accept the school as an autonomous governing entity, in charge of everything from budget to security. It makes sense from a plot standpoint—it is, after all, meant to serve as a stand-in for a real world government—but it stretches the limits of believability. When students start getting kidnapped by secret spy rings and insinuating that they have any sort of direct control over someone's mega-bucks hospital care, then it becomes ridiculous. I'd believe it if a student council had the authority to ban pretzels from the cafeteria, but yanking someone from the hospital? Where are the adults in this situation?

I know that certain types of fiction require that one suspend disbelief, but Love, Election & Chocolate takes things a little too far in its last few episodes. It's a shame, because up until that point, it's a genuinely fascinating look at our modern two-party political system… sprinkled in with romcom nonsense and jokes about guys feeding each other "yaoi sticks."

It should be mentioned, though, that Love, Election & Chocolate is subtitled-only. I don't really agree with Sentai's decision to not dub this series, but I'm no marketing expert. All I can say is, this series is much better than I think I ever would have expected, or gave it credit for from reading plot synopses, and I hope the lack of a dub doesn't dissuade anyone from checking it out. The series is not without its myriad of problems, especially in the trainwreck of the last few episodes, but it's certainly worth checking out at least once. [TOP]

Next up on my list was the first half of Robotics;Notes.

If the mid-title punctuation doesn't already tip you off, Robotics;Notes is adapted from the same family of science fiction visual novels that includes Steins;Gate and Chaos;HEAd. For those who only liked (or disliked) one or the other though, rest assured—the only similarity that these series have are their questionable usages of semicolons.

Robotics;Notes is on the quieter side of things, at times feeling like a slice-of-life show about kids who are just super gung-ho about building robots. The series introduces us to a few key players—leading lady Akiho is the chairman of the robotics club and dreams of some day finishing building the giant robot envisioned by her older sister. The other character is Akiho's childhood friend Kaito, who's also a member of the robotics club, but much prefers to spend his time playing the robot fighting game Kill Ballad. As funding for the club becomes precarious, the school offers the members a deal—if they can win the next Robo-One champsionship, they'll be given the green light to continue with their giant robot project.

The first few episodes largely revolve around the daily ins and outs of the robotics club and the old-married-couple relationship between Akiho and Kaito, but it soon becomes evident that things aren't all just sunshine and robot parts. We learn that Kaito and Akiho suffer from strange side effects stemming from a childhood event—Kaito has uncontrollable flashes in which time slows down, while Akiho has moments where time speeds up.

It's not terribly surprising, then, when things get a little thorny... and fast. Kaito finds himself interacting with a girl named Airi, an AI that lives within his tablet's augmented reality app. Through her, he's led through a maze of clues that hints at a global conspiracy and an impending catastrophe, all the while entangling himself in increasingly bizarre happenings like magnetic monopoles falling from the sky.

The two ends of the Robotics;Notes spectrum are a little clunky, to be sure. The scenes involving the club members configuring their Robo-One robot and working in the garage are a little too slow… while the supernatural elements that involve robot girls and monopoles feel a little too fast, as though none of the characters are shocked that they've suddenly been tossed into a science fiction series.

The more that I think about it, though, the more I've come to grips with these seemingly unrelated elements. Be it soldering robot parts or reading buried files, there's one thread that remains consistent throughout the series, and that's the idea of family. We see this not only with the strained and complicated relationship that Akiho has with her sister (one that manifests itself in an obsession with Gunvarrel that seems to extend beyond just being a fan), but also in the pivotal scene between club newcomer (and crack robot genius) Subaru and his father, the latter of whom would rather his son not waste his time on such trifles. Likewise, while Kill Ballad creator Frau seems like just a delightfully quirky NEET on the outside, she has her own slate of issues with her mother (the director of the highly popular Gunvarrel anime), something that figures into the series as well. The execution of these issues within the grander scheme of the plot isn't always graceful, but it does provide a necessary glue for the both the characters and the disparate elements.

While the series will likely try and connect all the dots in the second half of the series, the first eleven episodes does a fairly decent job of keeping viewers interested in what's to come. I don't know that every last aspect of the show will be a hit with every viewer—I myself found the robot-centric episodes to drag—but taken as a whole, I think it's an intriguing work. Robotics;Notes has definitely grown on me, and the more I think about it and chew over the characters' interactions with each other, the more I appreciate the series. This is a show that I think would benefit from multiple viewings.[TOP]

The characters of Robotics;Notes are certainly a little more deep than the characters of Jormungand, who struggle to find a voice in this ode to explosions and firearms.

Jormungand has things in it that I expect myself to like—explosions, grenades, people climbing out of cars with knives, rocket launchers, enough firearms to equip a small country—it's basically like taking all of the action scenes from the summer blockbuster movie season and cobbling them together into a show about black market arms dealers. And yet, I frequently found myself bored. Perhaps it was because the constant barrage of bullets eventually retreated into a decoupage of shoot-outs and action sequences. Perhaps it was because the show, despite its hearty embrace of its violent nature, couldn't quite decide if it wanted to be deep and meaningful or not. Instead, it made a few half-hearted attempts here and there, poking at a character's backstory when the thought came up, but otherwise burying everyone in a crowd of mercenaries and bodyguards.

The cast of Jormungand is large and diverse, although the series doesn't really benefit from it. The characters seem to revolve around arms dealer Koko, a kooky woman whose dangerous nature is obscured by her eccentric behavior. Everyone else, on the "good" side anyway, acts as her bodyguards, including child soldier Jonan, whose parents were brutally killed in front of him. Of all the characters, he perhaps has the most interesting story; despite his hatred of weaponry, he becomes a ruthless and efficient killer in the hopes of one day uncovering the identity of those responsible for his parents' deaths. At times, the series tries to expand on his childhood and the journey he took to get the present day, but it never really quite has the time or commitment to make much of it.

Jormungand is mostly just too focused on killing as many people as possible, in as many different ways as possible. To give credit where it's due, it's pretty creative in the types of scenarios and situations in which bad guys are dispatched. My only gripe is that not all of the stories are that interesting, as all are just variations on a simple theme—showcasing various arms deals, introducing bad guys, and watching both sides shoot at each other. There's a certain absurdity in watching the "good" guys killing "bad" guys, when both sides are plugging away at each other with black market weapons, but if the show is aware of the irony, it doesn't dwell on it.

I suppose the show accomplishes what it sets out to do, which is to provide violence to a gleeful audience. It's certainly satisfying to watch, in that sort of mind-numbing, popcorn-chomping way, but it doesn't really go anywhere. At times, I think the series feels guilty about not really relaying any sort of message, but it doesn't seem to be enough of a priority to matter. As far as action shows go, Jormungand is on the boring end of things, but maybe the second season shakes things up.[TOP]

That's it for this week; next week, girls with guns, who are also guns.

This week's shelves are from Drew:

"My name is Drew and I'm 26 years old. I've been collecting anime for about 11 years and it all started with .hack. Gungrave was the first complete series I bought back in 2006 when it retailed at $130. To me, expanding and improving my collection is the best part of being an anime fan…until I run out of shelf space. If I really want to see a series or movie, I always make sure I own it instead of watching it online. I also make it a point to always watch the dub unless it is unavailable. I prefer sitting back and enjoying the story without worrying that I missed something and need to rewind. My most valuable pieces of my collection is Vol 1 of Kino no Tabi on the bookshelf since it was the only volume to make it west."

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