Shelf Life
The Sound of μ'sic

by Bamboo Dong,

After sifting through some of the new fall anime simulcasts, I'm happy to be poking around Shelf Life again. I know that, especially over the last few years, we're once again getting more and more anime series licensed for home video, but there's still a pretty good quality filter in place. Every now and again, some really poopy shows make it past the filter and onto Blu-ray, but a lot more of the mediocre stuff is stuck at the gates. There's no such filter for simulcasts, which seems to adopt a Come One, Come All model for licensing. I've said it before, but I'll say it again—it's not the bad shows that make reviewing hard, it's the mediocre ones. They're the ones that you can watch over and over all day and not have anything to say about, because they just exist in a puddle of Meh.

But, things are slightly better in the world of home video. This week, especially, saw some lovely delights. Welcome to Shelf Life.

In general, I don't love anime movie adaptations. Often, I find that no matter how hard the studio tries, and no matter how elegantly the director wields the editing knife, things just get lost along the way. After all, when you're turning a 27-episode show into what basically amounts to ten episodes worth of time, a lot has to get cut out. It's great for ditching fluff and filler, but not so great for eking out the same amount of character development or human emotion.

The obvious upside is when studios add in new animation sequences and new scenes. Not only does it give fans of the TV series a chance to see something new, but done correctly, it can also bring something thematically or visually new into the production. This is especially true of the second Gurren Lagann compilation movie, Gurren Lagann the Movie – The Lights in the Sky Are Stars, which manages to take an already over-the-top and exhilarating final battle into even bigger, even more ridiculous territory. In a good way, of course.

But first, let's start at the beginning. Those who missed out on buying the Gurren Lagann movies separately can now own them as a double feature BD set. Packaging-wise, it's pretty neat. The box is sturdy, the artwork is simple and effective (it features the Team Dai-Gurren logo on the front, and a group shot on the back of the "early" years), and it just makes sense to have both collected together into one set. The first movie, Gurren Lagann the Movie –Childhood's End-, condenses episodes 1-15, adding new sequences to the end that reorganizes and reimagines the General fights into one fight. It adds some cool scenes, though it doesn't quite have the unforgettable flair that the second movie finale does. In part, one of the reasons why Childhood's End feels a little empty is because the addition of a few minutes here and there just can't make up for all of the [[Kamina]] that is taken out. He is inarguably one of the most important characters in the entire series, not only for the scenes that he's physically in, but also the impact that he has on Simon. Without Kamina, there would be no series, and certainly no post-time-skip events. So while he plays his due role in the first movie, because of the necessary timing of events, a lot of things are excised. His relationship with Yoko is diluted, as is his relationship with Simon.

The side effect is that one of the most pivotal scenes in the series is a lot less emotional, and almost shuffles Yoko out the door until the tail-end of the second movie. The montage bits that are scattered into the movie just don't make up for it. (They also feel a little out of place, and may confuse first-time viewers more than help. However, they're less out of place than the title cards, which have no business being in a feature-length film.)

The highlight of the double feature, in my personal opinion, is the second movie. Because regardless of the narrative compression issues that the movies face, they are quickly forgotten once the last half of The Lights in the Sky Are Stars roars into play. The time skip is clunky, especially for first-time viewers, but the end battle is something that stays with the viewer forever. It's for that alone that the double feature is Shelf Worthy for me, because while the series has always felt like a well-rounded story of courage and friendship and the human spirit, the movies feel like a build-up to this one amazing battle. Just being able to watch and rewatch the final battle over and over and over again feels like reason enough to own this set.

The final battle, which includes plenty of new footage and animation, is a breath-stealing ode to the animated medium. From the very first trickles of the fight, to the galaxy-flinging, soulfire-burning climax, it is beautiful, bright mayhem. Brilliantly supervised by Hiroyuki Imaishi (who has since directed the equally visually infectious Kill la Kill), it is glorious and cool and ridiculous all at the same time, with improbably giant robots attacking each other with drills the size of multiple galaxies, powered by the fighting spirits of humanity, and bursting with vibrant cyans and magentas. It looks amazing in HD. The energy pulsing on the screen is almost palpable, and when it transitions to a raw depiction of two dudes slugging it out in hand-to-hand combat, it is truly magnificent.

With how much anime I consume on a weekly basis, I don't often find the time to rewatch many series except for review purposes. And to be honest, I'm ambivalent enough about the Gurren Lagann movies that I wouldn't go out of my way to rewatch them too often—with the exception of the final battle. That's something I could watch time and time again and never get bored, and it's the reason why I think this set is worth having on your shelf.[TOP]

Next on my list is something that I have been dying to talk about for a while now, but I wanted to wait until more people had a chance to actually purchase it. I'm talking about Love Live! School Idol Project, which has been sold out pretty much since it was available for pre-order, but it is now back in stock.

It is impressive how a story about nine high school girls turned into the massive multimedia and merchandising juggernaut that it is today. It may not seem like it stateside, where the only mention of Love Live! that anime fans hear is probably through cryptic messages on their social media feeds about the Love Live! rhythm game app. But in Japan, it is massively popular, with live concerts, merchandise galore, themed pop-up cafes, and enough singles to make a real idol group jealous. And while anime series about idols certainly aren't new, there is a certain something about Love Live that makes it as successful as it is, and have as much cross-demographic appeal as it does.

Otonokizaka High School is on the verge of shutting down due to low enrollment. It will stay open long enough to allow all of the currently-attending girls graduate, but once the last diploma is handed out, it will close for good. The news upsets many of the students, but it hits especially hard for spunky Honoka. When she learns that other schools have their own idol groups, she decides to set up her own in the hopes that it will boost enrollment at the school. She recruits her friends and a few other girls to form μ's with the goal of entering the Love Live! Tournament.

There are a lot of things that make Love Live! School Idol Project the fun, enjoyable product that it is. Chief amongst them is the charming cast of characters, which does the double-duty of filling out enough character types that every viewer can identify with (or crush on) one of the girls, and providing ample opportunities for the girls to forge friendships. It helps that once the group is formed, there is virtually no inter-member strife or bickering, something that populates a large number of American properties of a similar nature and can get kind of exhausting. Instead, the girls work together to write songs, drum up publicity, and pull each other through moments of insecurity. It's a show that champions friendship above all else, and if ever there was a mood-booster, it's Love Live.

For fans of pop music, it's also a great source of fun, peppy tunes. Those looking for tracks off the beaten path may have to search out the group's B-sides, but for your typical, major-key, harmonized girl-band riffs, the show is filled with them. The series doesn't cycle through them as quickly as Glee, but that's a good thing. We're given the time to watch them go through the process from start to finish, from scratching their head over lyrics, to making costumes, to struggling over choreography. It invites you to witness the preparation as well as the finished product, which prevents the series from just being a churn 'n' dump of iTunes-ready singles. When the girls finally do perform each song, it really feels as though they've accomplished something. Sure, the rotoscoped dance choreography is a little awkward to watch (some sequences more so than others [looking at you, "Susume → Tomorrow"]), but it's easy to forgive when the songs are as catchy as they are.

Above all else, though, Love Live shines because it so gosh-darned wholesome. While there's a time and a place for fanservice (even the Love Live franchise is not blind to the fact that many of its paying customers are single young men), there are certainly times when it is does harm rather than help. Love Live chooses the innocent and cute route, holding back from the panty flashes, up-skirt shots, and popsicle-eating that so many female ensemble shows tend to have. It may be a symptom of the creepy real-life idol industry which values chastity and fan loyalty above all else, but it works well in the context of the show. After all, while real-life idols may be selling a fictional version of reality, Love Live is just pure fiction, and the girls are just high school girls who want to dance, sing, and save their school. It helps make the series more appealing to various demographics as well, because nothing is more universal than love, friendship, and hard work. Whether you're a 23-year-old single man, a 16-year-old girl, or a 54-year-old dad with two kids, there is something that can be gained from Love Live. It's peppy, it's uplifting, and entertaining without being skeezy.

That's not to say that all of Love Live is sunshine and roses. Some of the scenes are a little stilted, given the season is trying its damnedest to try and get audiences to care about nine girls at the same time. This means that some of the characterization is distilled into bite-sized chunks like, "this girl likes eating this kind of food!" Luckily, so much of the series is about the girls as a unit, rather than individuals, that even with a limited amount of time, the characters are still able to grow.

It's always a little difficult to convince people to watch a show like Love Live because many turn away at the mention of idols, but this series really is a delight. It strips away much of the seedier aspects of idol anime and the idol industry, and repackages it in themes more stereotypically found in sports anime, like working together for a common goal and reaching for your dreams. With its happy music and cheerful cast of characters, it's also a great cure for the blues. Check it out.[TOP]

The last DVD on my pile was a big departure from dancing school girls, but I loved it nevertheless.

I wasn't aware that Toriko has been out long enough to already warrant being re-released into collections, but I guess time really does fly. Collection One packages the first 26 episodes onto four discs, which includes the series until just after they head to Ice Hell to try and collect Century Soup. In my opinion, this collection contains some of the best episodes in the series, and also marks the last time that the characters don't spend a million hours punching bad guys.

I really love Toriko, but I only like the food parts. I think the multi-episode mini-boss fight episodes are tedious and take too long. I would much rather watch endless filler episodes of Toriko going around the world hunting, fishing, and eating giant vegetables than watch four episodes of him trying to power up his punches enough to beat some bad guy. While the food episodes are unique to Toriko and exhibit an extraordinary amount of creativity and cheesy puns, the power-up episodes are the same as any other Shonen Jump power-up show. Hell, they're even on the weaker end. Compared to a show like Hunter x Hunter, which is wildly creative in its fight scenes, super powers, and crazy enemies, Toriko only has a few tricks up its sleeves. The first mega-fight is fun to watch, the second is okay... but the more and more you watch, the more you realize they're the same. Toriko and his colleagues can finagle their cells to do different things, perhaps, but the fights all resolve in similar manners.

The food, on the other hand, is spectacular. Of all the food shows in existence, Toriko consistently makes me the hungriest. The food isn't even real, but it's described so vividly and drawn so lushly that I can't help but salivate at the very mention of the items. From the sweet custardy fruits to the tender, glistening meats, everything in Toriko's world sounds and looks like the greatest bite imaginable. And I don't doubt that it takes a lot of imagination to dream of these foods. Just the episode introductions alone with their childish fantasies of cake-bearing trees and chocolate lava pits are a wonder to behold. This collection of episodes is filled with food filler, and minus a few fights with the evil villains, mostly involve Toriko trying to eat things. (The fight scenes that do take place are still campy enough to be enjoyed, but aren't yet over-extended until they lose all meaning.)

It's also a great set of episodes to watch the blossoming friendship between Toriko and his chef buddy Komatsu. While Toriko only goes from Strong to Stronger, Komatsu starts out as a weak-kneed, insecure chef, afraid of adventure and a little tentative about his cooking prowess. As the episodes go on, not only does he shed his frightened shell, but he really starts to find his way in the culinary world. By the end of the collection, he's ready to assist Toriko as a true partner, and it's a joy to watch.

With the way that the Shelf Life categories are divided into increasingly archaic designations like "shelf worthy" and "rental," I know it defies logic for long series to be split up into different categories. After all, who just buys part of a series? In many cases, it's symbolic. Some episodes are simply not as interesting or fun to watch as other episodes. In the case of Toriko, most of the first 26 episodes are a blast (it's after this that the series starts getting increasingly tiresome). I think everyone should check out the first season, both for the mouth-watering food descriptions, and the not-yet-annoying-but-still-shlocky fight scenes. It's food porn and Shonen Jump ridiculousness all in one bundle, and it's great fun as long as you come with an appetite.[TOP]

This week's shelves are from Chantal, who wrote in the following: ""Hi there! My name is Chantal and I'm from Canada. I've been reading this column (and ANN) for many years now, and I'm finally going to send in some pictures of my collection! I began with collecting video games and fantasy novels in the early 2000s, and began seriously buying and enjoying anime/manga when the original Fullmetal Alchemist was released by Funimation in North America. I began my wallet-killing descent into figure collecting in 2010 when I bought a set of the Tales of Symphonia One Coin Grande trading figures. As you can see, I've fallen a bit behind on some of my manga series and anime wishlist due to prioritizing figures (can't stand when they rise in price in the aftermarket so I preorder a lot)! I couldn't tell you what items I prize the most, since I have a lot of things I love, but I'm so amazed that I was able to get a poster signed by the producer of the Tales series- Hideo Baba- at NYCC last year. I love my PS2 collection, all my DRAMAtical Murder stuff, and my newest monster artdoll- Zeppeli the Ghost (made by Miss Monster). The other artdolls are by Homemade Horrors. I've been really into DRAMAtical Murder and the Tales Of series for quite some time, but I love watching and reading almost every genre (but if I were to label myself, I'd be a fujoshi). Sports titles are especially great right now! For games, I mostly buy RPGs, and am currently playing Super Danganronpa 2. Anyways, I'll stop before I ramble on too much! I hope you enjoy the pictures! :) "

That is one incredible room! Thanks for sending in pictures!

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


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