Shelf Life
The Little Princes

by Bamboo Dong,

I received my tickets last week for the upcoming World Cup (US v Ghana). It's probably the coolest thing I've ever held in my hands, next to like, puppies and hedgehogs. I'll be spending most of my time in Rio and Natal/Pipa, so if any of you have any suggestions for things to see, eat, or do, let me know. This is my first time in Brazil ever, and I'm looking forward to it.

Okay, anime time.

You know those TV shows and movies about high school students that are played by actors and actresses in their mid-20s? You know that unsettled feeling you get halfway through the movie when you realize, "These people are way too old to be in high school." That's kind of how I feel about the character designs for Uta no Prince Sama, with their chiseled chins, their painstakingly styled hair, and their searing, gemstone eyes. Especially Ren. He's supposed to be 17, but he looks like he's 30, at least, or maaaaybe 29. Either way, he's no teenager.

But then again, reality isn't really the goal of many of these adapted-from-otome-games shows, whose primary motive generally just include trotting around smoldering hot dudes who are romantic, but sexually non-threatening. It creates the illusion of a stable of ab-crunching men who totally want to bed you... but only if you're ready, and after a night of wining, dining, and watching your favorite shows off the DVR.

Uta no Prince Sama is wildly entertaining, but just as ridiculous. The story's main protagonist is a girl named Haruka who dreams of someday composing music for her favorite idol, Hayato. She gets into the prestigious Saotome Academy, a school that churns out pop musicians, and is immediately surrounded by an adoring collection of beautiful men who love her for a variety of reasons. Not only is Haruka as sweet as fresh-churned butter, and capable of unlocking even the most tight-lipped of aloof men, she's a very talented composer, in that she has a terrific knack for writing what can only be described as mediocre, but presumably marketable, pop tunes (see: "Maji Love 1000%").

Because the show takes its cues from an otome game, the overall narrative isn't always the smoothest. Since every boy needs his moment in the spotlight, the episodes crank through the individual backstories like the reels are on fire. One moment, stiff rich boy Masato Hijirikawa is dumping his heart, the next, they're all on a lush private island so plucky, but adorable Otoya Ittoki has a tropical locale to dump his heart. One episode dreams up a treacherous concert-in-the-rain scenario, just so the usually adorable Natsuki can lose his glasses and transform into an aggressive glam rocker.

As with most such shows, though, the boys are always just two hip thrusts short of sexual, and mostly peddle platonic love, similar to real-life boy bands and teen heartthrobs. Even the setup is innocent—rather than picking a boy to take home and voraciously make out with, you're picking a boy to sing your song. The side effect of all this long-glances-and-almost-kissing means that their graduation/debut song (spoiler: it's the opening theme song) performance is extra weird. The beefcakes take their turns moaning, "Are you ready?" to a screaming crowd of fangirls, and break out into a well-animated but completely awkward dance routine that involves dance moves like "drawing hearts in the sky," "driving while thrusting my hips," and "lathering my naked body in the shower." It's not unlike the nagging awkwardness that every teenage girl felt when a 17-year-old Nick Carter crooned, "Am I sexual?" on the 1997 mega-hit "Everybody (Backstreet's Back)."

You do have to give the folks at A-1 Pictures a lot of credit, though. There are only a couple of dance sequences in the first season, but they look great. The movements look natural, and the usage of waist-up shots and single-person shots to eliminate extraneous animation works great. It doesn't make the dance choreography itself any less cheesy, but the animation at least doesn't detract from the performance. '

Visually, the boys are (almost) never the problem with Uta no Prince Sama, with the exception of them looking 29 and their predilection for terrible clothing. The only thing jarring about the whole production is Haruka, whose creepy lime green pupils make me wonder if she can even see at all. It's really hard to focus on any scene involving her because one can't stop staring at her vacant, citrus-colored eyes. If I ever met someone in real life with eyes like hers, I'd call the CDC.

In any case, Uta no Prince Sama is a ton of fun, although not exactly quality entertainment. I certainly had a blast watching it, but it's not without the typical problems associated with such adaptations—archetypal characters, jerky character development, and an absurd story. It's a bummer the series didn't receive a dub, either, as I think it'd be a hit with plenty of folks. Still, if you like pretty boys, it doesn't get much prettier than this.[TOP]

Next up was fanservice in the opposite direction.

Ikki Tousen is absolutely fantastic for people who like action shows where clothes are vaporized on contact. If the franchise had a calling card, that would be it. Punch! -fwam!- Kick! -bshhooo-. Sword swish! -pkhuuuu-. In fact, I'm pretty sure this conversation has happened billions of times: "Hey, I watched Ikki Tousen this weekend." "Which one is that?" "The one with the exploding clothes." "Oh, yeah!"

Not that there's anything wrong with it. As far as exploding clothes shows go, Ikki Tousen is one of the best. It's rarely creepy (except Great Guardians... that season definitely had some creep), and all things considered, it's not prohibitively voyeuristic to the point where female viewers couldn't have fun watching it. In fact, Ikki Tousen: Xtreme Xecutor, lame name aside, is one of the tamest seasons. That's not to say it doesn't have the occasional nipple and crotch shots—of course it does—but it strikes a pretty good balance of action, fun, and fan-service.

I vastly preferred Xtreme Xecutor to Great Guardians, largely because it's a lot more good-natured, the narrative is a lot more streamlined, and the characters have much better rapport with one another. There's still some character exposition, but for the most part, all the fighters are old frenemies and no time is spent on stilted character development. Normally I love a good character arc, but it's so hit-or-miss quality-wise with the Ikki Tousen franchise that I'd rather the series just focus on giving the viewers a good time.

This season is especially great for Hakufu fans, as she gets plenty of time in the spotlight. Refreshingly, even though the writers still find time to tease her a bit, they don't bag on her intellect quite as much this time around. There is a good stretch of episodes, though, where she decides to take on a protégé, and laughs ensue. But of course, it's not Ikki Tousen without a fair amount of fighting, and this season gets to the conflict in due time. The fighters are invited to participate in a tournament, but when they get there, they discover it's a trap. They get split up and each group has to kick and punch their way out (minus Hakufu at first, who falls asleep on the train and misses her stop). It's about as straight-forward of an action romp as you can get, complete with an evil mask-wearing villain. I know Ikki Tousen fans will argue until the end of days about which seasons are better or worse than others, but I found Xtreme Xecutor to be pleasant. It's not exactly high-brow entertainment, but for what it is, it's pretty fun.[TOP]

Last on my pile this week was Cuticle Detective Inaba.

The first time I watched Cuticle Detective Inaba, I didn't make it past three episodes. I found the series exhausting, like watching a marathon of unfunny jokes. I still kind of feel that way about the series, but if you slog through it, there are some scenes that are worth the time investment.

Shows like Cuticle Detective Inaba traffic in wacky, crazy humor. That is the foundation on which they are built. Every inch of every minute is stuffed with jokes, and even the more serious scenes are book-ended with gags, lest the viewer be scared away by sincerity. But that having been said, there are some moments in the series that are pretty solid, and most of those involve Don Valentino, the mafia goat boss. Literally, he is a goat, and a pretty goofy one at that. I laughed louder at the scenes of him eating piles of money way more than I should have.

The series itself follows main protagonist Hiroshi Inaba, a private detective who is part human, part wolf. His "super power," if you can call it that, is the ability to glean information from tasting people's hair (gross). He can also transform into a quasi-werewolf and absorb powers from hair, depending on the color of the strands. He gets most of his help from his cross-dressing secretary Yuuta, and his cat-loving assistant Kei. By far, though, the best scenes in Cuticle Detective Inaba involve the bad guys, led by Don Valentino. They're the silliest of the bunch, and have the added bonus of not having most of their jokes revolve around dog humor. They're like the ragtag, sloppy band of villains that would appear in an old 90s show, and it's great. Every time I saw Valentino's weird goat eyes pop up on the screen, I knew the scene was going to get about 100-times better.

What's nice about this series is that it really lends itself to episodic viewing. For starters, it helps break up the stream of jokes and slapstick humor into bite-sized chunks. And, without the constant barrage of wackiness, it makes each joke stand out a little better. You can just pop in an episode when you have the time, and you'll likely find something to make you chuckle before you zone out and OD on the mile-a-minute kookiness.

All 12 episodes are on one BD, but honestly, it looks great. The colors are vibrant, the lines are crisp, and I didn't notice any problems with any of the visuals. The release is sub-only, which might bum out some dub fans, but for those who just want their fix of hair-eating dog detectives, it works well.

I can't watch more than a couple episodes of Cuticle Detective Inaba in a row without getting exasperated by its torrential downpour of hijinks, but a little at a time goes a long way. Sometimes it's even enjoyable. So if you like slapstick, talking goats, and jokes about talking goats getting shot all the time, then this is your jam.[TOP]

Alright, that's my time. See you next week!

This week's shelf is from Matt B:

"Hello, I've been an avid anime watcher since about 2000. My collection started with DBZ VHSs and Ranma 1/2 DVDs and has expanded every since. I've even shown off my shelves about 2 years ago but since then I've moved houses and got even more. Lately I've been collecting anime on laserdisc and that is all new in the past half a year. I have a few shelves worth so pick and choose what you want to show.

Thanks -Matt B aka TheNix"

Those are some pretty fun shelves! Thanks for sharing!

Want to show off your shelves? Please send your jpgs to [email protected] If you sent them in over a year ago and I never shared your shelves, please resend them! Thank you!

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