Shelf Life
Meat Market

by Bamboo Dong,

This week's anime selection was remarkably pleasant. Often, I have at least one title that feels like a chore to get through because of its staggering mediocrity, but this week was great. I had a good time with every show, and I even got to laugh a few times. It's weeks like this that make me hopeful as an anime fan. I should soak it in.

Welcome to Shelf Life.

Don't let the nondescript title fool you—Silver Spoon is not only one of the most entertaining series to come out in the last few years, but also one of the most thoughtful. Even if it is about a farm.

Adapted from the Silver Spoon manga by Fullmetal Alchemist's Hiromu Arakawa, it's a fairly standard coming-of-age story. But what sets it apart from all the others is its setting, and the amount of time and care that it spends thoughtfully musing about food, food production, and the ethics of eating. The story follows a teenager named Yugo Hachiken who failed the entrance exam for his high school of choice. Thinking that enrolling in a pushover agricultural school would leave him with ample free time to prep for college exams, he decides to go to Oezeo Agricultural High School (or Ezono, for short). Once he gets there, though, he learns very quickly that the daily life there is anything but exciting. Mornings entail courses in practical livestock management, with hands-on lessons that leave him pining for the detached convenience of supermarkets.

Humor-wise, the show is hilarious. The old "big city dweller lost in the rural farmlands" premise is one that's been done extensively over the years, but it always provides plenty of good fodder for laughs, whether it's common slapstick like getting kicked by a horse, poop jokes, or just the look of squeamishness that students get when they see a calf get tugged out of a birthing cow. Silver Spoon provides plenty of unique farm-centric humor as well—one of the best gags comes when members of the Heifer Club are gathered around a calendar, making lewd comments about the pictures. We only see later that they're talking about actual heifers, and their lustful comments are little more than just appreciation for a sturdy, beautiful cow. Another great episode has the students plotting to sneak out of their dorms at night for a glimpse at a mysterious event, leading Hachiken to jump to the conclusion of alien visitors and little green men. The reveal is anything but what viewers might actually expect.

While the series excels at these types of jokes, though, where it really excels is its careful pondering of food issues. Hachiken, like many people in the real world, doesn't really think about where his food comes from. For him, food comes pre-packaged in a grocery store. Cheese comes wrapped in cellophane, and meat comes pre-butchered, ready for cooking. It's not until he starts raising a little piglet that he becomes aware of the reality—that all meat comes from living creatures, whether we want to think about it or not. And while the series certainly doesn't advocate vegetarianism as an answer to the moral ramifications of eating meat, it does ask its viewers to think carefully about the food they're consuming, and the relationship that we have with our food. Near the end, when the students are shown a video presentation about slaughterhouses, Hachiken watches with open eyes.

Of course, not everyone wants to face the reality of their dinner table, especially when they just want to kick back and enjoy a fun show. In that respect, Silver Spoon manages to entertain on multiple levels. Those wanting to just laugh have plenty of opportunities to do so, while those wanting something a little more substantial (that still doesn't require thinking about slaughterhouses) will find a relatable hero in Hachiken, whose first year at Ezono is just as much about finding his path in life, as it is making cheese and gathering eggs. And certainly, who amongst us hasn't felt envious of our friends, either for seemingly already having their lives figured out, or at least knowing their next move. It's that sense of aimlessness in Hachiken that makes him a sympathetic character, and one worth rooting for.

Silver Spoon may seem like a departure for those expecting another Fullmetal Alchemist, but it's engaging, funny, and surprisingly earnest. If you're looking for a unique anime experience, definitely give this series a shot.[TOP]

Next on my list was another series that I enjoyed quite a bit, although it's rather different from the previous title.

Stella Women's Academy, High School Division Class C3 is a cheeky take on the girls-with-guns genre, and one of the early adopters of the "girls playing survival games" shtick. While the DVD cover certainly alludes to a trigger-happy cast, the show itself does a great deal to mention that while there are fun aspects of Airsoft (you get to admire pretend guns, and have the satisfaction of plotting a strategic attack that may or may not involve re-enacting sweet moves you see in movies), there are real safety concerns as well. For those worried that the girls might sensationalize Airsoft too much, they're always shown wearing safety glasses and protective gear.

Perhaps the best way to describe the vibe of Stella is with the set-up of the first episode. New student Yura has plenty of hopes and dreams for her first day of school at Stella Girl's Academy. The campus is beautiful and idyllic, with well-landscaped walkways and gardens, and populated with pink buildings and cascading waterfalls. She pictures a frilly life full of white horses and fairy tales. When she walks into her dorm room, though, she's surprised to find a gun, and subsequently, a closet full of protective gear, and shelves full of action movies. As it turns out, her roommate is part of the C3 survival games club, and is keen to recruit more members.

The contrast of Yura's rose-colored fantasy of a stereotypical girls school versus the C3 Club girls is one of my favorite things about the series. Although the girls proclaim themselves to be weirdos, it does throw a wrench in typical anime archetypes—one that's neither all flower petals and white horses, nor sexed-up girls with a gun fetish. (The girls of the C3 Club do enjoy cake and tea, because after all, there's no reason the girls can't like cakes and guns.) And in fact, Stella C3-bu is remarkably tame, as far as fan-service goes. While the girls do their fair share of running around in skirts, there are never any panty-flashes, and certainly no skeezy butt shots (although there is a requisite beach episode).

For the most part, Stella C3-bu is just light-hearted fun. The girls enjoy each other's company, and they learn plenty about teamwork along the way. It isn't until the latter half of the series that things step into a slightly darker territory. As Yura suffers from lack of self-confidence, her blood-lust grows, increasingly putting her teammates in danger.

While I appreciate that the series doesn't want to be just an endless stream of survival games, the transition into this character arc is pretty sloppy. It marks a huge tonal shift in the series, and although this is eventually restored with an incredibly touching scene amongst the girls, the series never quite feels the same again. It's also the backdrop for a few of the more ridiculous scenes in the series, which require viewers to stretch their imaginations a little more.

Those who have been enjoying this influx of survival game shows will certainly find Stella C3-bu appealing, though. The characters are variegated enough to present a well-rounded cast of characters, and the series is smart enough to only focus on a few of them, so we still get decent character development for the main girls. With its emphasis on safety and strategy, it's also amongst the more realistic of the bunch. If you want a less lust-driven girls with guns show, give this one a peek.[TOP]

Last but not least, the infinitely adorable Tamako Market.

Without a doubt, Tamako Market is one of the cutest, sweetest shows you'll ever see that combines the laid-back charm of a slice-of-life story, with enough fantastical charm that still delivers a fat, mochi-eating, talking bird.

Those seeing Tamako Market for the first time might recognize its wide-eyed characters and soft charm. Produced by the fine folks at Kyoto Animation, it also sticks the talented Naoko Yamada (K-ON) back in the directors' seat, along with help from character designer Yukiko Horiguchi, and a number of other K-ON alumni. But, while the humor may be similar, Tamako Market is a significantly different show.

It follows a sweet girl named Tamako, whose biggest love in life is helping her father make mochi. When she's not making these sticky treats, she's happily spending time with the other merchants and shopkeepers who call the Bunny Mountain Shopping District home. Her peaceful routine is interrupted one day when she meets a talking, video-projecting, womanizing cockatoo named Dera Mochiyucky. He's looking for a bride for his country's prince, but his journey is abruptly stalled. Unlike his surname, he finds mochi to be positively delicious, and eats so much that he becomes incredibly fat, and can no longer fly home. So instead, he just hangs around town, mucking up Tamako's formerly quiet life.

As far as slice-of-life shows go, Tamako Market is a bit on the shallow end. It's endlessly pleasant and delightful, but it rarely goes anywhere. The moments that do have some impact—the budding romance between Tamako and the son of the rival mochi maker is adorable and heart-warming—are not long enough. It's not necessarily a bad thing, though. If anything, it just makes the show a little more forgettable than it should be. Having already watched it previously, so little of it sticks that it's just as entertaining the second time around (thanks in large part to Dera, who is undoubtedly the star of the show).

There are plenty of folks who like this kind of meandering, lackadaisical show, though, and Tamako Market is a good fit. At the very least, it's a good way to unwind after a long day, with its easy-on-the-eyes character designs, beautiful animation, and charming (if not wholly notable) score. On several occasions, I found myself quietly envious of Tamako's life. It lacks drama, but she and the people in her life are so perfectly happy and content that it's hard not to wish you could visit, at least for a day. As the title implies, the series revolves around the market that Tamako calls home, and it's best to not expect anything else.

As this is the only title reviewed this week that actually has a dub, it should be noted that it's pretty darn good. I really like Margaret McDonald as Tamako, whose cheerful, bubbly delivery makes even Tamako's most banal comments about mugwort mochi adorable. Jay Hickman plays a great Dera, as well. His tone is simultaneously sassy and haughty, and his dry, sarcastic delivery is perfect for the role. Considering that Tamako and Dera's interactions absolutely make or break the show, McDonald and Hickman pull it off as well as anyone could expect.

Tamako Market is not one of Kyoto Animation's star shows, but it's a perfectly serviceable number that would do well on the shelf of anyone who enjoys a relaxing piece of fluff.[TOP]

This week's shelves come to us by way of Germany, from reader Andreas:

"my name is Andreas and I live in Germany.

This is only a small part of my collection, because I have the same problem as everybody else (no room and to much things to store).

I started watching anime in the beginning of the '90s (they showed "Miyuki" and "Queen Millennia" at that time on German tv), but only started to collect manga and anime ten years later. My first manga was "Magic Knight Rayearth", but since then the collection grew a lot.

Today I have way to much manga, anime and games (the pictures only show the shows, manga and games, I always want to have available).

As you can see from the pictures I import a lot.."

Don't we all have that problem! We all need one of those expandable Harry Potter tents. That would solve our problems.

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

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