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Shelf Life
Personal Demons

by Bamboo Dong,

It finally rained in SoCal today, which is the answer to the internal prayer I chant multiple times a day. I hope that for at least one day, it won't be scorching hot. Say what you will about beach weather and sunny days, but this much heat in September is a joke.

Welcome to Shelf Life.

At some point in Yuyushiki, one of the characters says, "I wonder if other people think our conversations are stupid." It's probably my favorite line in the entire series, and the entire reason why I like this series as much as I do. The answer is "yes." Yes, people think your conversations are stupid. Just like people think my conversations are stupid, and just like I think other people's conversations are stupid. But that's the beauty of conversations—they're stupid to everyone except the people having them, which in that case, they're the best, funniest, and most amazing conversations ever. Yuyushiki invites you into the circle, including you in all the in-jokes, assuring you that while their chatter might be pretty pointless and meandering sometimes, it can still be a lot of fun.

I'm always a little weary of going into shows like Yuyushiki, because while some of the series that fall into the narrowly specific genre of "quirky girls doing quirky things" can be searingly funny, others can fall flat. It is, after all, an increasingly saturated premise, and there's only so many wacky things that fictional high school girls can do or say before everything starts folding in on itself.

Yuyushiki, though, is pretty great (though as all comedy goes, your mileage may vary), and it's all about the comedic timing. While the things the girls talk about are hopelessly banal—conversations range from calling each other bread-eaters, to their overwhelming desires to sometimes karate chop each other, to bad anime puns—their reactions to each situation makes them funny. Each conversation is filled with dead air and priceless facial expressions, allowing viewers the time to soak in each moment or recognize the absurdity of the situation—something that increasingly few of these shows allow viewers to do. After all, few of the girls' lines are inherently funny by themselves; it's only in context that they work.

While there are plenty of side characters, the show largely revolves the antics of the primary cast—goofy, hyper Yuzuka; sweet, but kind of flighty Yukari; and straight-man Yui. They form the Data Processing Club, an afterschool club that seems to largely revolve around endless Wikipedia spirals and random Google search strings. (It would be a lie to say that you don't accidentally learn some neat trivia along the way.) Again, timing is everything. What can read on paper as mindless trivia and aimless non sequiturs, comes off in actuality as clever one-liners, so-bad-they're-good puns, and barbed humor.

It's of course worth mentioning that the series has plenty of yuri elements. There are girl crushes galore, and some puzzled chest stares on occasion, but it's never lewd, skeezy, or voyeuristic. The latter is important, as the show would be vastly different if it were (and vastly less appealing). And in fact, it helps provide the backdrop for a lot of surprisingly sweet and sensitive scenes, be they fledgling puppy crushes or just friendship.

The humor in Yuyushiki is very transient. Everything is funny in the moment, but only in the moment, much like every day, real-life conversations. Watching the series a second time, there were large swaths of jokes that I completely forgot existed, but since most of the humor is situational and not punchline-driven, I was able to enjoy them a second time. Not all of the jokes hit—sometimes you feel the dialog, and sometimes you just don't, but I rarely found myself bored. If anything, I actually enjoyed the series much more the second time around because I found myself more familiar with the girls and their personality quirks.

Dub fans will note that Yuyushiki is notably missing one, which is a bit of a shame. Humor always works best in one's native tongue, but at least in the case of this series, I still found the show enjoyable. If you're getting weary of "quirky girls doing quirky things" shows, consider giving this one a shot.[TOP]

Transitioning from cute girls to flesh-eating demons, next up is a show that's currently simulcasting.

Monsters and men have battled for centuries, filling our imaginations with tales of battle and nightmarish cruelty, and filling our libraries with tales of dread and heroism. And then there are the stories which ask us to feel sorry for the monsters, to side with the vampires and the werewolves and the minotaurs, and everything else in between.

At first glance, Tokyo Ghoul seems like the latter, but it's also not actively asking for sympathy. Rather, it gives viewers the options to decide for themselves. It certainly doesn't shy away from the terrible things that Ghouls do— they kill innocent bystanders for food, they munch on people while their bodies are still wriggling, and quite frankly, they're pretty gross looking. If Edward is the poster boy for vampires, then these Ghouls are more like what you'd see at a zoo, tucked away in a "Creatures of the Deep!" exhibit. They attack using deadly extensions of their body—meaty scythes, pulsating centipede-esque whips, prehensile tongue-wings the color of expired chicken meat.

But not all Ghouls, and certainly not the ones at Anteiku, a coffee shop that acts as a safehouse and gathering point for a small cadre of local Ghouls, who help each other out, protect each other, and watch each other's back. (Blessedly, while Ghouls can't stomach the taste and smell of human food, they can still drink coffee, the true nectar of the gods.) We're given access to them through Ken Kaneki, a college freshman and book nerd whose life is irreversibly changed when his date goes horribly awry, he's attacked by his date-who-is-actually-a-powerful-serial-eating-Ghoul, and he's implanted with her organs after they're pummeled with steel beams from a construction site. Now he's half-human, half-Ghoul, and although he loathes himself for his desire to eat human flesh (as the others tell him, though, it's simply just in their nature and nothing to be ashamed of; isn't it the same as eating livestock?), he is taken under the collective Anteiku wing.

Ghouls, it turns out, have families just like everyone else. They love their parents just as much, they have just as loving of familial ties, and siblings fight amongst each other just as much as human siblings. That they happen to prey on humans does not change anything, and if one were to twist the words of such common literature questions like, "What makes us human?" one might be hand-held to come to the realization that, yes, Ghouls can be just as "human," while humans can be just as ghoulish. It's the obvious conclusion that viewers are led to believe, but the series is more than just an exercise in assumptions, stereotyping, and introspective musings on "humanity" (the series has plenty to say about the ethics of revenge). It's also an exploration of personal change, coming back after devastating events, and acceptance. It's not even until well over halfway through the season that Ken even thinks that he could have what it takes to mediate understanding between humans and Ghouls.

But, Tokyo Ghoul is not a feel-good story, and there are no scenes of humans and Ghouls joyfully shaking hands and sharing a meal. No one really gets to explain themselves, or sit down and talk. Even after a particularly brutal battle, the camera only has the chance to linger briefly on a human's hand, showing that despite how maniacal and blood-thirsty he is, he, too, has a family. And don't think for a second that all Ghouls are friendly—there are entire factions of Ghouls whose sole purpose it is to go around causing as much death and destruction as possible, targeting even Anteiku for their pacifist ways.

Off the topic of Ghouls for a moment, Tokyo Ghoul is particularly interesting, just from a visual standpoint. For those who like their anime dark and disturbing, this series is filled with nightmare fuel, from the actual battles themselves, to the twisted looks that appear on certain characters' ffaces. Credit also has to be given to the series for very creatively cutting corners when necessary. Television anime doesn't exactly have a bottomless pit of money, and this series finds imaginative ways to pull the camera away. The shots that it uses—focusing on characters' hands in their pockets, or the haphazard jaunting of their clothing, or the tumbling of objects onto the ground (or blood onto coffee mugs) does a great deal to enhance the atmosphere of each scene, all while saving precious frames.

As the series gears up for what the humans speculate is an all-out war between the two species, it's an excellent time for new viewers to jump in. The series is exciting and terrifying, all at once, and as far as sympathetic monsters stories go, one of the more morally ambiguous. It's one of the dark horses of this season, and definitely worth watching.[TOP]

Last up, a magical girl spinoff of a popular franchise.

As an unapologetic Saber fangirl, I pretty much love everything where Saber gets to look like a total badass. And despite a rough start, Fate/kaleid liner Prisma Illya manages to do just that, despite having a name that makes almost next to no sense. The series is a little reminiscent of Card Captor Sakura, only instead of a goofy, but strong-willed grade schooler protagonist, the leading lady in Fate/kaleid is a rich, but strong-willed grade schooler. Both are tasked with becoming magical girls, and both are asked to collect cards.

In the case of Fate/kaleid, though, those cards are legendary Heroes, familiar to Fate fans as the various Servants (including my beloved Saber). As for why newly-minted magical girl Illyasviel (Illya for short) is chosen, her sentient magic wand Kaleidostick Ruby and its sister are tired of their previous masters, amongst them, Rin Tohsaka.

It's a clunky premise, and one that feels like a watered-down rehash of a dozen other previous magical girl shows, but it starts shining halfway through. Until then, it's a little by-the-book. Even the frenemy relationship that Illya has with the other magical girl feels trite and contrived, as well as her own character arc—of course she's a natural at being a magical girl, of course she figures out how to do things with the cards that previous magical girls couldn't, and of course, she has a brief (but productive) meltdown where she comes back stronger than ever.

The latter half of the season, though, is a lot more interesting, and part of it is due to some seriously cool action sequences, and clever uses of the Heroes(/Servants). There are fight scenes that while aren't directly related to any of the Fate installments, are inspired by them, which is a nice treat for fans of the games or series. The mirroring of some of the rivalries means that the series can pay homage to its roots, without actually requiring any prior knowledge of the franchise. It's therefore a good show for both fans and not-fans of Fate alike... or jsut fans of magical girls in general.

It's the last half, too, that really kicks the cool-factor of the girls up a notch. Until then, they feel a little shallow and constrained by archetypes, but during the last few fights, especially, they'll likely gain some new admirers.

Of course, this means that the vast majority of the money in the show probably went towards the fight scenes. The rest of the series is okay. The animation is fine, and the visual effects are fine, but they're nothing really to write home about. The fight scenes, though, are an absolute blast. Thanks to clever fight choreography, flash effects, and exciting, Servant-inspired moves, the last several episodes are absolutely where it's at, and worth sticking around to watch.

Notably, though, while the series does feel like a typical magical girl show at times—after all, it does borrow elements from plenty of other successful magical girl shows in the past, and trumpet a message of Friendship! being the cure-all for any troubles and ailments, it doesn't seem to be made for the typical magical girl demographic. Too many scenes of Illya dreaming of kissing her adoptive brother or not-entirely-innocent shots of the girls imply that the show was targeted more towards a male demographic, but it's not egregious enough that it couldn't be enjoyed by all parties.

Overall, this is a show that feels a little forced in its existence, but it pays off in the end with a few good action sequences. It's certainly not the greatest spinoff ever created, but it's hardly the worst, either.[TOP]

This week's shelves are from Patrick, who wrote: "Here's my collection, it's in mulitple parts in multiple places. "

Click on each thumbnail for a properly-oriented image

The spines are pretty hard to see, but maybe we can play the "guess the title based on the spine design" game in the forums.

Thanks for sending those in! Those shelves don't quite look like Expedits; where did you get them?

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

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