Shelf Life
QB of the Year

by Bamboo Dong,

It has been almost one year since I started managing the interest feed at ANN. Over the past year, I have learned many things. Amongst them is the lesson that anything and everything will eventually cycle back to boobs. VR headsets will inevitably be used to grab boobs, everything with a typically flat surface can be redesigned to have 3D boobs, and even if something already does have boobs, they can be made larger. As far as takeaway lessons go, I guess this isn't the worst.

Welcome to Shelf Life.

There are a handful of episodes of Attack on Titan that I've actually watched several times, although not always on purpose. There are some that I've seen both simulcast, and that I've caught on TV, and then I've watched again when I got the Blu-ray, and then maybe again at a friend's house. And yet, even though I've seen them a number of times, I never end up changing the channel or skipping past it. If anything, it just speaks to the sheer popcorn entertainment value of the show. It may not be the best show, and it may not come close to being the prettiest or the smartest—and let's face it, the pacing is really choppy at times—but it's very, very entertaining. And as far as brainless media goes, Attack on Titan is one of the most endlessly enjoyable.

This second set contains episodes 14-25, which includes all of the episodes shortly after Eren reveals his "other" form, all the way up to his fight with the female titan. Which is to say, it includes some of the best episodes to date, although some of the earlier episodes in which we have to deal with a skeptical military are pretty frustrating to sit through.

Of course, when I say "best," I don't necessarily mean stand-alone quality. These episodes are rife with problems, including the way that they waste an inordinate amount of time on trivial character interactions, while at the same time rushing past important exposition and world-building. For instance, I wouldn't have minded seeing more of Hange, as I think her treatment of the captive titans is important thematically within the context of the series. Similarly, I feel like more time could've been spent on both Eren's discovery, acceptance, and embracement of his nature, as well as the female titan. The end effect is a set of episodes that feels like it's poking around at times, but barreling forward at others. It's almost as though the show's creators are just as eager as the rest of us to get to the goodies and find all the answers. If there's one thing that Attack on Titan is not, it's patient.

Still, it's really difficult to not have fun while watching Attack on Titan. The show channels momentum at every step, from its breakneck fight scenes, to its gruesome revelations. Those who have had a hard time embracing Eren as a main character (read: people like me) because of his endless platitude vomiting will like him much more in these episodes. For the first time in the series, he's given an extra dimension besides just being endlessly idealistic, and for once, his heroism stems from a place that's more visceral and courageous than merely dumb bravado.

Appropriately, the cover of the BD and DVD pack shows off an image of the female titan storming through the city, with Mikasa waiting in calm anticipation. Adventures with Eren aside, the female titan is undoubtedly the star of these episodes. Not only is she cool with a capital C (or as "cool" as a man-eating, city-destroying, traitorous monster can be), but she is probably the most interesting enemy that the series has seen since the colossal titan. Exposition-wise, she's a great leap forward towards our communal understanding of the titans, and she's a good rival for Eren, whose transformation necessitates a more challenging foe.

Even though it's been quite a while since the series first simulcast, it's still just as exciting now to go through these episodes. Fandom hasn't really seen such a universally beloved blockbuster in a long time, and it's a rare treat to be able to talk to people for whom Attack on Titan is the one and only anime series that they've seen. These episodes are certainly some of the more exciting of the bunch, and the more gracefully edited, and this set a definite must-collect for fans of the series.[TOP]

Departing from giant monsters for a bit, I had the chance to revisit the first two Madoka Magica movies this week with Aniplex's two-fer Blu-ray and DVD boxset release of Beginnings and eternal. Packaging-wise, the set is gorgeous, with a shimmery, pearlescent box that features a spoiler-y image of Madoka on the front (although I question if anyone is buying this boxset having not seen the series—likely not). The discs also come with a full-color booklet of background and character illustrations, which is appropriate, given that Madoka Magica is one of the most beautiful properties that Shaft has ever produced.

Like it, love it, or hate it, Madoka Magica is one of the most gorgeous and visually captivating pieces of animation that you'll ever set your eyes on. The sheer creativity and finesse with which the animators handle the mixed media components is worth the price of admission alone, and it single-handedly makes the witch battles as fantastical as they are. The films, despite their necessarily (but unfortunately) fast pacing, make beautiful usage of these moments. Every time witches appear and the series theme starts playing, it is a visual and auditory experience that makes your heart soar. Even as the fights get increasingly dark and depressing, their beauty is unparalleled. When tragedy strikes, you can't help but still admire the surroundings.

But with any film condensation of material, though, things are left out. With the first two Madoka Magica movies, this means that a lot of the emotional impact is ripped out of the story. The scene with Mami and Charlotte lacks any emotional punch (although it's still quite beautifully animated), the scene with Sayaka lacks gravitas, and even the entire relationship between Homura and Madoka, which is the crux of the series, feels impotent. While I can appreciate and admire the existence of Rebellion in the overall arc of the story, the first two movies feel like a paper-thin imitation of what the series represents.

That's not to say there aren't still some good moments. As I mentioned above, the movies are absolutely visually stunning in a way that few anime movies are (although in this case, it can thank the series for the source material and inspiration). And, as far as what to leave in or take out, Beginnings and Eternal make smart decisions. The small tidbits that make the series what it is are still there, just merely watered down. There's one conversation in particular that I love, which takes place between Madoka and her mom. Her mom mentions that as people get older, it's harder to make mistakes, because they have more responsibilities. It's a poignant message that would otherwise get buried between the witches and magical girls, but in a cumulative 231 minute run-time, it stands out perfectly. It fits in wonderfully with the themes of self-sacrifice as well, which permeate throughout the movies and ultimately clinch the story.

Still, it's hard to watch the movies and not think, "I wish I was watching the series instead." They're lovely to watch, to be sure, but they do lack the emotions of the series. So many of the characters' decisions are driven by their relationships with the people around them, that without those relationships, their actions are meaningless. As a deconstruction of the magical girl genre, it's not enough to merely have dark imagery and death (this is something that many copy-cats don't seem to understand). Without the impetus behind the girls' decisions, and the delicate balance between selfishness and selflessness, and the many elements that ultimately lead to the consequences of the girls' actions, the movies feel flat and empty. Incidentally, in their desire to create succinct movie adaptations, the creators have removed much of what made the series so groundbreaking.

At the end of the day, it really depends on why you would want to buy a particular piece of media. If you already have the series, I don't really see a reason to buy the first two movies, unless you're a completist. If your intention is to share Madoka with the world, though, I think the movies do serve as a tantalizing primer that might inspire your friends to ask to borrow the whole series. (In that case, though, I would only show the first movie, as having the "spoilers" from the second movie greatly damages the impact that watching the second half of the series would have on a viewer.) For me, personally, I could do without these first two movies. They're beautiful, to be sure, but they just don't quite encapsulate enough of the series to serve as an adequate replacement.[TOP]

Last, but certainly not least, I wanted to check out Monthly Girls' Nozaki-kun, which I think is this season's sleeper hit that not enough people are talking about.

We've all seen the premise before—an anime series about a high schooler who moonlights as a mangaka in his spare time. We've even all seen the premise of the mangaka's assistant, who has to field all of the strange orders that the mangaka throws their way, from inking panels, to buying supplies at the corner store. What Monthly Girls' Nozaki-kun does, though, is take those elements, and use them as the skeleton for a funny and adorable series about love, the utterly confusing and baffling aspects of finding love, and a mild skewering of the absurdity of shoujo romance manga.

The series starts when sweet Chiyo Sakura tries to confess her love to her crush Umetarou Nozaki. She blurts out a mangled declaration of admiration, and thanks in large part to Nozaki being just as dense, receives an autograph instead, and a job offer to be his manga assistant. She's shocked to discover that not only is Nozaki a mangaka, but a well-regarded shoujo writer, said to understand the hearts of women everywhere. Through the two of them, we're introduced to an eclectic cast of characters—accidental playboy Mikoto Mikoshiba, whose defense mechanism against nervousness is spouting corny romance lines; Yuzuki Seo, a thick-headed tomboy with an unexpectedly beautiful singing voice; Yuu Kashima, a princely girl who's completely clueless when it comes to interacting with men, despite her popularity with women; and Masayuki Hori, the short-tempered president of the drama club who can't communicate his feelings for Kashima.

In print, it sounds like just a laundry list of characters, but in the series itself, they all play a cohesive and colorful part in the overall story. One of the greatest achievements of the series is its ability to juggle such a large cast (there are yet more big players that I didn't mention), while still making them feel well-rounded and necessary. None of the characters ever sink to just being comedy fodder, and despite the sheer number of them, no one character really feels like just a standard archetype. In fact, it's the play on archetypes that makes the characters work so well. Mikoshiba, for instance, is your classic womanizer—at times. He spouts ridiculous lines and winks at gaggling hordes of blushing girls, but is overcome with humiliation and remorse every time he does so. It addresses the cheesiness of such characters in an amusing way, but at the same time, makes him infinitely loveable.

Incidentally, almost all of the characters have some trait or another that counters their usual anime archetype, but although this sounds like a fairly simple shtick, its smart execution within the series keeps it fresh and funny. Despite the bits that they're constantly playing, we get a good chance to really know the characters, and for once, it's nice to see a series where everyone is so immediately likeable and melodrama free. It allows the series to poke fun at shoujo stereotypes as well, for an end experience that manages to combine both the laughs and the sparkly-eyed cheese that we typically associate with the genre.

Sadly, the series ended this past weekend with no current plans to continue, but it makes it a perfect one season bite for anyone looking for a charming, outside-the-box romance series. Plus, it's all simulcasting on Crunchyroll right now, so you've got absolutely nothing to lose. As far as this season's offerings go, this is one of the most surprising and delightful.[TOP]

That's it for this week. I'll see you in two weeks with some Toriko and school idols.

This week's shelves are from Crystal, who wrote in the following:

"Hey! I'm Crystal, a recently-finally-graduated-from-grad-school non-student living in Kansas. I've always meant to submit my shelves to Shelf Obsessed, but I somehow never got around to it, and the photo of your dog was what finally pushed me over!

I've been collecting anime and manga for about fourteen years, I think, and it all really started when I saw Cardcaptors on TV back in the day and then realized there was an uncut version of it out there called Cardcaptor Sakura. Since then, I've come to appreciate anime for different reasons, but I've continued to collect as much of the good stuff as possible. Some notes: any missing manga volumes are on loan with my sister; the sideways manga volumes at the bottom are Wandering Son, Nausicaä, and Moto Hagio books; and you can't see my Ghibli, Mamoru Hosoda, or Satoshi Kon films in these photos because they're mixed in with my other movies. :)

Finally, here's a picture of my dog, Rosie, looking goofy with her cone on after getting spayed last week. She surprisingly doesn't mind it at all!"

Cute pup! I always love pet pictures!

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

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