Shelf Life
Four Your Eyes Only

by Bamboo Dong,

This may sound like an insignificant thing, but a few years ago, I turned off the notification sound on my iPhone for new emails. Leaving it on was driving up my stress to unbearable levels, with each *ding* making me wonder if it was an urgent email from my graduate adviser, or some kind of chastising remark about my latest work. 90% of the time, it was a piece of advertising mail from Groupon or some other nonsense, but it didn't ease the anxiety any more. I bring that up today because I've been finding myself anxiously refreshing my email for an important piece of news, which may or may not make me throw up. Now I'm reminded why I sometimes like to live in peaceful denial that email even exists. What about you guys? Have you made any adjustments in our perpetually internet-connected worlds to decrease your stress? Asking for a friend, of course…

Welcome to Shelf Life.

Meganebu, an anime series devoted to an after-school club about guys who wear glasses, is really fun and delightful for about four or five episodes. While you're watching those episodes, you almost feel as though this show could be the runaway hit of whichever season it came from, with its eye-popping colors, eccentric design choices, hot boys, and silly humor.

But, as the series wears on, it dawns on you—nothing ever changes. The boys don't really change one way or another, nor do their relationships or the jokes that they crack. The normal, everyday, often-banal situations that stirred laughter eventually fade into a monotonous hum, and even the "they love glasses!" bit wears off. By the time the series trudges to a creaky close, the only thing that's carrying it past the finish line is the still-amazing, still-neon-colored animation, making the last few episodes more of a feverish Hell dream where you can't escape from the suffocation of ordinary that these boys exude.

It is a tremendous travesty that this series can't sustain the momentum that it has coming out of the starting gate. The idea is quirky and delightful, the boys are ludicrous and lovable, and the visuals…! But at the end of the day, what really can be said about boys who love glasses that can't be stuffed into a four-episode OVA?

But first, the positives, of which there are actually a few. The series revolves around the semi-ridiculous members of the Glasses Club, a club full of hot dudes who wear glasses, obsess over glasses, and are determined to create a pair of x-ray glasses that can see through women's clothing (one of them would prefer to be the object of peeping). They love glasses so much, they take careful notes about the tensile strength of their glasses frames, do tedious research about the history of eyeglasses (honorary member Hayato wears fake glasses, but he's permitted to stay because his ancestor was gifted the first pair of eyeglasses in Japan), and can even spout trivia about limited edition glasses at a glance. Their friendship is basically cemented by their maniacal devotion to the aesthetics and functions of glasses. Incidentally, the club president is also a talented tinkerer, creating flying robots and other creations, but his inventions are generally shuffled under the rug (after all, x-ray glasses are the Holy Grail).

As with many [quirky group of (gendered) high school students join a (silly club) and have adventures] series, the Glasses Club has their fair share of goofy moments. One of the best episodes involves botched x-ray glasses that lets them see ghosts. (That same episode has a stunt where all of the boys replace the clocks in the school with 55-minute clocks, just so they can start their club activities sooner—again, an example of the genuinely funny jokes the show is capable of.) Even the commercial break eye-catches are great, with a capella riffs and eye candy for the ladies.

But you just can't fill 12 episodes with four episodes worth of material. Try as you might, you just can't. By the tail-end of the series, the episodes are empty and lifeless, trying desperately to squeeze even a morsel of laughter out of a joke horse that's already decaying. The last episode is your requisite school festival episode, and the Glasses Club has set up a scavenger hunt that requires the donning of glasses to complete. It's sort of a cute episode, but it feels out of character for the club members, who've shown nothing but contempt for "normals" up until that point. It seems that even the writers ran out of steam by that point (though had they planted this "let's get normals to wear glasses" seed with more fervor earlier in the season, it could've given the show an extra breath of life).

Meganebu is an example of a show where it starts out great, but just loses too much steam far too quickly. If you do end up trying to watch the whole series, don't do what I did, which is try to marathon it. It won't work. All you'll end up doing is falling asleep and wish you were doing anything else.[TOP]

In some respects, Sentai's (much better, in my personal opinion) other offering, Sunday without God, has the opposite trajectory. It starts out a little on the iffy end, but it gets better and better with each passing episode.

I confess that part of the reason I was so hesitant about Sunday without God at first is because the premise reminded me too much of Torchwood: Miracle Day, which is probably one of the worst TV series to ever air on British and American television, next to Fox's The Swan. Fortunately, it got much better, and it turned out to only be the groundwork for a series that developed substantially further than its watery premise.

15 years ago, God decided that Heaven had reached capacity and was no longer interested in saving the souls of humanity, abandoning the world and its inhabitants. As such, people can no longer die. Those who befall illness or severe physical harm just cease to "live," and instead, wander the Earth forever. The only way to truly die and attain some modicom of eternal peace is to be buried by a Gravekeeper.

Our main heroine happens to be her village's only Gravekeeper as a half-human, half-Gravekeeper. She doesn't quite understand her role, but she doesn't have much to go on, either. Her mother is dead, and she never knew anything about her father except for his name. When a strange man bearing that name appears in the village, she assumes he's her father. He denies it, but knows much more about the not-living than she does, upending her world and accompanying her on an adventure that introduces us to the world.

Although our cute little Gravekeeper is the main character of the series, she is less of a focal point, and more of a conduit through which we are able to experience the world. The series is laid out in two- or three-episode arcs, each with its own story. We see both ends of the living and non-living social spectrum—the ostracizing of the non-living versus a glorious city where only the non-living are permitted to live. We see a school where students are stuck in a time loop, doomed to forever relive the same events, and another that traps children with special abilities. None really resolve the questions of "why" and "how" as far as the premise is concerned, but we see that it doesn't really matter. The mechanics of God's decision don't matter so much as what humanity chooses to do in the aftermath, and those are the vignettes that we're allowed to see.

In the end, the finale is more or less just another ending to another chapter in a book. We've seen some of what this new, disturbing world has to offer, and we've been privy to both the optimism and the desolation. Life becomes less important in a world where there is no death. Instead, it's just another way to divide people as humanity has done for millennia.

At times, Sunday without God is poignant, but it doesn't have to be. Like any good series, there are many ways to enjoy this show, and none of them are more right or more wrong than others. It works as a collection of stories set in a supernatural world, and it works as a commentary about human nature. It's good for those of us who love to morbidly obsess over life and death, and those who don't want to think about death at all. In the end, it's a surprisingly good show set in a strange world, as long as you can push past the first episode.[TOP]

The last set of the week is a little more on the light-hearted side, and involves zero moe, and certainly no living dead.

Discotek's Dr. Slump movie collection includes five movies on two discs, great for a folks who want a bite-sized taste of Dr. Slump without wading through all the TV shows, comics, and video games out there. It includes Hello! Wonder Land, Space Adventure!, The Great Race Around the World, The Secret of Nanaba Castle, and The City of Dreams, Mechapolis, all on a bare-bones, subtitled-only release that contains only theatrical trailers as an extra. But really, that's all you need. Presumably you're already a fan, or you're buying this because you want to see an adaptation of an Akira Toriyama classic that isn't Dragon Ball Something, and because you want to see his humor as it was at the beginning.

For newcomers, though, it's best to keep your expectations in check. For starters, only one of the movies is feature-length. The total collection run-time is only 253 minutes, so many of them are less than an hour long. And secondly, even in the original manga, Dr. Slump is mostly just wacky, disjointed comedy fun. You won't find any overarching mega-arcs here, or glimpses into the secrets of life. You also won't find any scathing political humor, or anything terribly sophisticated.

What you will get is a motley collection of slapstick laughs and old-timey Saturday Morning cartoon fun, like discovering new places, fighting fantastical creatures, racing cars, attacking airships, scaling mountains, visiting far-off planets, beating up alien thugs, and breaking into Indiana Jones-looking temples. It's not exactly life-changing, but it is fun, in the purest sense of the word. The movies might be harder to appreciate at age 29 than 9, perhaps, but it does give you a nostalgic feeling of "watching cartoons," in the days before real life became saturated with responsibilities.

The movies aren't exactly a technical masterpiece either. All of the character designs are true to the manga and Toriyama's aesthetic, which means the faces are over-emotive and a little goofy. The colors are vibrant and imaginative, and while no one would ever mistake one of the backgrounds for a photo, they are teeming with life and creativity.

There is a certain charm that comes with titles like Dr. Slump. It is pure Toriyama in its glee and high-flying adventure, and while it may not exactly be movies that you'd recommend to too many friends, they are fun to bust out every now and again to remove you from the dreariness of everyday life.[TOP]

That's it for this week. Thanks for reading!

This week's shelves are courtesy of Adam, who wrote in the following: My name is Adam, and I've included in this email a set of photos of my anime collection. I've been collecting for 15 years, with my first DVD being Manga Entertainment's release of "Ghost In The Shell" back in May, 1999. In addition to anime, I've also been a collector of Japanese idol music, mainly from AKB48. Enjoy the pictures!

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

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