Shelf Life
Me, Myself, and Yourself

by Bamboo Dong,

Every time I go to an anime convention, I'm taken aback by how many costumes I don't recognize. I watch a few hundred different shows a year, and I still can't keep up with all the trends. It's starting to make me feel like an old curmudgeon who can't figure out kids and their music.

Welcome to Shelf Life.

Over the weekend, I was talking about Myself;Yourself with a co-worker, saying that I was in the middle of watching it (I had only finished four episodes at the time). She responded, "Oh, I think that's one of those shows where it's normal, but then crazy stuff starts happening." And in fact, that's exactly the type of show it is, and if you've seen one "normal, until crazy stuff starts happening," then you know exactly what that means. It so frequently appears in anime that it should be a genre by itself, perhaps called, "Just You Wait."

It's not that the "crazy stuff" in Myself;Yourself is actually bonkers, so much as it is just really horrible things that happens to everybody in the town, but it's all trotted out in such an ungainly, melodramatic way that it's hard to process any of the events seriously. You want to sympathize with the characters and understand their psychoses and hang-ups, but it's hard when the series relies too much on cryptic flashbacks, vague dialogue, and too many shots of wide-eyed, panicked characters. Most of the heavy stuff starts unraveling around episode six or so, but it's telegraphed early on when the characters take a trip to the riverside, and main character Sana freaks out at the sight of a knife bloodied with fish guts.

The story follows a group of high schoolers who've been close friends since elementary school. Sana moves just before middle school, but five years later, he comes back to his old hometown for high school. Naturally, his parents are away on business so he has an apartment all to himself, but soon enough, he's back to hanging out with his old buddies. Only now, things are a little bit different. His old (one-sided, of course; Sana is forever clueless) childhood love interest is now kind of perpetually jealous and angry, and has traumatic flashbacks whenever she sees fire. The two fraternal twins in the group live in an emotionally strained household, Sana is afraid of knives, and there's a creepy old grandma in the nursing home who does super creepy things. In general, everyone is either crazy, mean, traumatized, or just has a really horrible life. I bet Sana wasn't expecting that when he came back!

However, it's the stilted way that Myself;Yourself trots out these story elements that makes them laughable, rather than serious, pushing otherwise sympathetic situations (with the exception of the creepy grandma, and one of the girls) into melodramatic territory. If the characters just communicated with each other (unheard of in anime, I know) instead of being vague and cagey about things, then things probably would've been solved much earlier. Damnably, though, when the series isn't advancing these mysteries, the on-screen events are so mundane that the series is occasionally excruciatingly boring. Characters talk at length about nothing at all, or go about such generic anime activities, that it's nigh impossible to stay awake until the next ridiculous flashback occurs.

The end effect is a show that's almost farcical at times, inviting viewers to guess at whatever plot twist is around the corner, and diminishing the emotional reality of whatever it is the characters are going through. It becomes less about trying to understand the characters, yet still appreciating their friendship and emotional bonds, and more about trying to guess what kind of traumatic issue they have. Will she get murdered? Won't she?

As for whether or not Myself;Yourself is worth watching… I suppose it is. There are some genuinely good parts of the series. I think the scene of Sana running after the twins on the train is really sweet. It certainly offsets the scenes where Nanaka is jealousy-angsting over Sana, or the disturbing scene where he uncovers all of her secret letters to him. And as far as plot twists ago, Myself;Yourself certainly keeps you on your toes until the end. It's perhaps not the most elegant of friendship stories, what with its clunky execution, but it's certainly entertaining enough to warrant a viewing.[TOP]

I was similarly only sort of dazzled by the 2010 live-action Space Battleship Yamato [2010] movie, which is available from Funimation.

Perhaps one of the toughest things that any live-action movie adaptation of an anime has to do is figure out how to cram a lot of story into a feature-length film. It's hard enough to condense a 26-episode anime into one movie... cramming something the length of the epic Space Battleship Yamato is like asking someone to pack the contents of their home into a carry-on suitcase. For the most part, the live-action movie accomplishes this task decently enough. It manages to create a solid beginning, middle, and end, and weave together a story that both makes sense, and seems to hit the major thematic elements of the series, and still have enough time left over for an obscenely long captain's speech at the end.

Of course, nothing is perfect, and in the case of this movie, the side-effect of cramming all that story into such a small space is that the story feels a little choppy. There's absolutely no time for characters to really get to know each other, so romances are created at the drop of a hat, people get promoted to captain with nary a fuss, and nobody's actions are questions ever. Oh, space travel occurs much too fast. At the very least, though, the movie is entertaining enough to watch, and even those who've never heard of Yamato could still have a good time.

Leading the cast is SMAPper Takuya Kimura, a confident ex-pilot named Susumu who quit the force after a particularly nasty incident. He joins the Yamato's quest to travel to some far-off planet to retrieve an anti-radiation device, which is humanity's last hope to make Earth livable once again. Throughout the movie, the protagonists are pitted against Gamelins, hive-minded aliens who are Hell-bent on claiming Earth for themselves. While the man vs. Gamelin scenes are cool, none are better than the scenes where human or self-sacrifice is required. It's there that we get to see the gravity of the Captain position, and gives the movie some of the emotional punch that it needs. It's a theme that appears throughout the movie, and one that's admirably executed, in spite of the time contraints.

Visually, the movie is better than I expected, though not without some missteps. The battle scenes are well-rendered, and even exterior shots of the Yamato gliding through space are beautiful and detailed. The biggest complaints I have are the interior shots, largely because the set looks a little cheap. Despite the carefully-selected low lighting inside the bridge, everything feels very flat and plasticky, and many of the various dials and indicator screens lay glaringly dormant. Some of the editing choices are a little strange as well, leading to sequential shots where one has to stop and wonder whether a character is on the inside or outside of a pane of glass, or part of a group of people.

Still, making a decent movie out of such a long and beloved series is no trivial task, and the movie pulls it off. It has enough faithful story elements to please fans of the franchise (and the casting choice for Juzo Okita is spot-on), while still entertaining newbies and inspiring them to seek out more information about the series. [TOP]

Last but not least was the first half of From the New World, a series that I continue to have mixed feelings about.

It starts with an unforgettable scene—people's bodies are being ripped apart, showering the streets in blood. It's violent and messy and awful, and most of all, completely mysterious. But just as suddenly as it happens, it's gone. The series skips a thousand years into the future, and we're suddenly in a beautiful, lush countryside. A young girl is terrified because objects are whizzing around her room, but her parents are relieved to see that her telekinetic powers have finally arrived.

If you're hoping for a charming story about magic users, though, you'll be sorely disappointed, or at least very surprised. What follows is a creative and inventive (but sometimes utterly confusing) horror/adventure/supernatural show about magic users, that combines incredible world building with, unfortunately, some not-so-great pacing and storytelling. The story follows a group of kids who go to a local school where they can develop powers. It's lucky that Saki, the girl mentioned earlier, got her powers just in time, because there are some rumors floating around that kids who don't get their powers get snatched away by some cat monster. Whether or not that's true is hard to place right now, but there are other strange happenings that are just as unsettling. Kids mysteriously vanish and are never seen again. The elders in the village are a little… off. And then we learn what's going on, in an info-dump to end all info-dumps.

Back in the day (in the violent, exploding bodies days), people with telekinetic powers began showing up. Because they couldn't control their powers, they left blood and destruction in their wake. Eventually, the world fell apart, and when it was rebuilt, it was split into several societies, each who had their own way of dealing with these power-users. The one we're privy to figured out a way to control them, through generations of eugenics and brainwashing, and simply erasing those that don't fit into the mold. What previously seemed like an idyllic little village is now one that's seeped in centuries of social tampering and authoritarian control. All of this, by the way, is told through a gelatinous, rainbow-colored hippo-lizard, that looks a bit like an angry cross between a chameleon and a Rody. "Weird" is an understatement.

I'd actually be more than happy if the entire series was an in-depth look at how this world and society functions, but we're not given such an option. Shortly after the kids learn this whopper, they're on the run from Monster Rats, giant naked mole rat-looking creatures who play the role of Easy Aggressor in the series. They're much more complex than we're initially led to believe, with convoluted social structures and ideologies, but at their very basic, they're simply seen as the degenerate Other. They revere humans as gods, though when necessary for the story, provide bad guys in the form of rogue factions.

The mutant rats are an interesting part of the story, conceptually, but I don't like how they're used narratively. Take the rat chase that occurs shortly after the rainbow hippo info dump. Up until that point, we've been slowly expanding what we know about the world. Part creepy, part mysterious, it's been an exploratory journey into the dark corners of humanity. But the Mutant Rats are too easy. When they attack, the story turns into an extended chase scene, throwing away the world-building in lieu of a generic caper. Even when it ends, things take a while to right themselves again. Instead of properly digesting the information presented earlier, the kids are faced with another problem—having their powers unsealed. It's another entry in the how-does-this-society-function encyclopedia, to be sure, but it feels disconnected.

In fact, a lot of the parts of From The New World feel disconnected, like bits and pieces of information and world-building being strung together and tied with knots. It keeps viewers on their toes, certainly, but it makes for a slightly mangled viewing experience that's clouded with confusion and doubt. It also makes it nearly impossible to ever want to turn off the TV, so it succeeds in that regard.

If you're just looking for something "different," though, From The New World certainly fits that bill. From its dreary and secretive premise to its unique take on the old kids-with-telekinesis idea, the series is interesting and invigorating. I don't always have glowing words for the series while I'm watching it, but it's certainly worth watching.[TOP]

This week's shelves are from Jennie:

"My name is Jennie and I am a 26 year old anime fan and long time ANN reader. I have been collecting anime, manga and related merchandise since I was 15 but of course with the addition of a full time job in recent years, the collection has really blossomed. My only regret is that I don't have proper shelves to display my figures (glass to keep the dust out).

I know my collection is mostly manga and figures but I hope it's good enough and that you like it!"

Very lovely collection!

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

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