Shelf Life
The Haunting

by Bamboo Dong,

For the most part, I don't really eat candy anymore. I love sweets, to be sure, but candy just doesn't fascinate me as much now as it did when I was a kid. This doesn't stop me from pillaging Target a week after Halloween, though. I think I have consumed more candy in the past week than I have all year, and I can feel my health declining with every Milk Dud that I eat. At this point, I'm just convincing myself that it's okay to keep scarfing it down, because the sooner I finish all of the candy, the sooner it will stop being a temptation. Sometimes it's fun to be an adult.

Welcome to Shelf Life.

For as much hype as Sailor Moon gets, it's always nice to confirm once in a while that, yes, it's all deserved. And yes, after all these years, the series still holds up. In fact, the same social trends that made the Sailor Moon episodes so interesting all those years ago are still relevant today, adding an extra dimension that goes beyond just the marketing blitz of color-coded Sailor Guardian merchandise and endless stationery sets.

In fact, well over a decade after the first time I watched Sailor Moon, I realized that there were things I appreciated more the second time around that I hardly noticed the first time. As a young teenager, Sailor Moon appealed to me because the characters were fun. Usagi was clumsy and ditzy, but she had a lot of spunk. She made goofy faces. She wailed every time something didn't go her way. She was a little thunderball of energy, tempered by cool, beautiful, and competent Sailor Guardians who were as badass as they were all different. They always outsmarted the one-trick-pony villains, even if it mostly just meant being in the right place at the right time. (Usagi, for all her crying and pouting, always showed up when it mattered. Like the Cowardly Lion learns, fear is natural; true bravery is facing your fear.)

But there's more than just shooting bubbles at a monster, and throwing a tiara at a spider lady. The villains may have been one-trick in the way they executed their plans, but they (and Naoko Takeuchi) understood human weaknesses and societal problems more than I gave them credit for as a teenager. Our obsession with body image, for instance, which still feeds into our slavish desire to go to the gym. Our broken educational system that pushes more and more students into higher education every year, with no guaranteed return on investment (more relevant now than ever before). Our consumerist culture that drives us to purchase jewels, pets (on credit!), and even luck en masse. Every episode of Sailor Moon peers into the dark cracks of society, and exposes our most vulnerable parts.

It seems so obvious now, but as a teenager, I barely noticed. And as Sailor Moon celebrates its 20th anniversary, it's surprising how well it's made the transition into 2014. With the exception of floppy disks, unitards, and big hair, nothing has really changed. Unlike some childhood favorites that crumble under the test of time, Sailor Moon is still as captivating and entertaining now as it was when we were younger.

That having been said, this Blu-ray release sadly does not do the property justice at all. I'd been hearing whispers across social media of video problems, but I dismissed them. After all, Sailor Moon is 20 years old. Expecting magic would be foolish.

But unfortunately, the problems are not artifacts of time. Something went horribly wrong in the production process, and somewhere along the way, new problems were introduced. Whatever "remastering" was done was done by an algorithm that churned through 530 minutes of video and spit out a flawed product that's inconsistent across the discs. Sure, the final video is largely grain-free, and the colors are smooth, but the color contrast is messed up. High contrast colors like flesh-tone and black survived the process—faces look about as sharp as one can expect. But pinks and reds are overblown, so everyone's school uniforms have smeary bows, and backgrounds have unexpected splotches where texture once was.

And yes, there is ghosting. Not all the time. And not in all the episodes. But there's no reason for it to be there at all.

But the most succinct way to summarize these issues for yourself is simply to look at the opening sequence of any episode, and then watch the clean opening in the extras. The clean opening, which appears to have escaped the remastering process entirely, is vibrant and crisp. The text in the books that Usagi walks across can be clearly read from across the room. The first scene is unambiguously monochrome, in shades of blacks, greys, and whites. The next scene is bright and cheery. When Luna and Usagi's silhouettes are shown against the moon, they're crisp, and the animation is smooth.

In contrast, the opening sequences on the third disc are dark and blue-tinted. The opening shot is shades of dark, murky blue. The next scene is muted and drab, including the logo. The silhouettes have weird static-y ghosts that lurch across the moon. The text on the books is less legible, with the pinks in the first harder to read than the greens in the next. And it seems to be disc-dependent, too. The static-y silhouette shadows are still present in the opening sequences on the first disc, but the brightness of the colors is more akin to that of the clean opening.

It's a shame, because Sailor Moon deserves a fantastic release. And by all accounts, this should've been it. It's easy to see how much love is in this release, but it's dragged down by its video problems.

Everything else about this release is fantastic. The booklet that comes in the boxset is wonderful, and gives concise, helpful summaries of the episodes. The box itself is sturdy and beautiful, and has a pearlescent sheen that reflects the light.

The new dub is wonderful, and Stephanie Sheh is perfect as Usagi. She hits every emotion on the nose, from Usagi's blubbering outbursts, to her more deadpan moments. And my nostalgia for the old dub doesn't prevent me from admitting that Michelle Ruff is a great Luna, who nails the cat's exasperated delivery perfectly.

At the end of the day, this release just isn't what it could be. It's almost there. It's obvious that the people who worked on this release poured their hearts and souls into it, from the box design to the new dub, but the video issues are downright distracting. Something as iconic as Sailor Moon leaping into a beautiful, full moon shouldn't have to be mired with jittery shadows.[TOP]

Next up is another release that I really wanted to like, but just couldn't bring myself to love.

The Ghost in the Shell franchise has always been beautiful, both visually, and in its philosophical examination of technology, information, and human rights. The latter has on occasion become unnecessarily dense, but it's always just been part of what makes the franchise.

Going into Ghost in the Shell Arise, I'm not quite sure what I was expecting, but I think I was expecting too much. As a reviewer, I try to go into every show with zero expectations, but of course, it's impossible. Sometimes I get my hopes up too much. I can't articulate why exactly, but I think I was expecting Ghost in the Shell Arise to be a little mind-blowing. I wanted it to be a visual punch in the face, and I wanted the story to be new and surprising, but filled with musings about humans, cyborgs, and our age of information. With some minor differences in character backstories, though, Ghost in the Shell Arise is really just more of the same.

Taking place two years before the events in the first movie, Ghost in the Shell: Arise introduces us to a young(er) Motoko Kusanagi, before her days at Public Security Section 9. She's still a talented hacker, but she's a little more emotionally vulnerable now. When her body and mind start glitching, she's visibly afraid. She's not any less bad-ass—there's a great fight scene where we get a demonstration of just how useful a cyborg body can be—but there's a certain tenderness in her character that works as a subtle indicator of youth. In the first episode, she's hired by Aramaki (who is himself a little less gruff and tough... again, two years really can change a person) to investigate the death of her former supervisor, who was suspected of corruption. Through the events, she meets Togusa, Paz, and Batou, all of whom we're familiar with at this point.

But the series (or at least these first two episodes) doesn't really feel the need to go into unknown terrain. Beyond the interactions with the characters, Arise is less of a prequel than it is just a rehash of old ideas. Things and people get hacked, things and people get counter-hacked, but at the end of the day, it's just another day on the (new) job.

The upside is that it allows Arise to be thematically in-line with the rest of the Ghost in the Shell franchise. There are great scenes scattered amongst these episodes that really let the staff play with the blurred lines between man and machine. Even the aesthetic choice of mobile land mines to be cutesy gymnasts seems like an interesting reflection on our tendency to personify and market-ize everything.

But the episodes don't really feel necessary, especially after all the hype. Sure, it looks cool, but even that is subjective to personal tastes. The backgrounds and visual effects are stunning—the light-rendering is fantastic, and really stands out in night scenes, whether it's floodlights or airport landing strips. The action scenes are a rush to watch, too, and look amazing. But in between high-impact scenes, when characters are just getting from Point A to Point B, it's a little more lack-luster. When the characters aren't fighting, they feel disconnected from its environment. Their bodies look weightless when they're walking, and gravity is only implied because of their proximity to their visual surroundings. If money was skimped somewhere, it was in these scenes. At first I thought maybe it was only because Kusanagi was a cyborg, but it wasn't confined to her.

The first two episodes of Ghost in the Shell: Arise are perfectly serviceable, but they probably won't light anyone's fire. They're a neat addition to the universe, but they don't really add anything new. On principle, I'm interested in seeing the rest of it, but if I don't, I'm not sure I'd remember.[TOP]

I rounded out the rest of my week with A Certain Scientific Railgun S.

I confess that I intended to review this weeks ago, but I found myself stalled after I couldn't fully bring myself to keep watching after the explosive Sisters arc finale gave way to an episode of filler. I actually wish that Railgun S ended after episode 16. There is a conceptual reason why the Sisters arc necessarily has to come first, but it's just kind of a bummer to start with the best story in the series (and probably the entire franchise), and then fizzle out with a small, derivative pop.

The first few episodes in the second half round out the story started in the first boxset, culminating in Misaka attempting to take on Accelerator herself, despite the grave dangers. I don't want to spoil how it ends, but for those who've seen A Certain Magical Index (which you probably have, because it would be strange to start at Railgun S, of all places), the ending is already known. A character comes to Misaka's aid, and the rest is history. Similar with the first half of the series, though, we're treated to a much more fully-fleshed out examination of the events. The character motivations are more clear, the depth of the character relationships is more clear, and all-around, this is simply a better version of what I think is the best arc in the franchise. In the last two episodes alone, we get a much more complete picture of who Misaka is as a person, which works in great contrast to the very abridged version of her that we get in Index. The finale of episode 16 alone makes this set worth buying, despite the lopsided rest of the series.

The issue is that after watching the Sisters arc, the last arc in the series, which involves a mysterious child named Febrie, feels a little underwhelming. In many ways, it is a structural mirror of the first, although the pieces have been moved around a little bit. However, we see that this time, Misaka herself is changed as a result of the fight with Accelerator. This character growth is appreciated—after all, the entire spinoff is about her. Whereas Misaka would have previously tried to solve the problem on her own, she has since realized that she can count on those around her. It may be a classic message that is repeated time and time again in anime, but it works well here.

Still, as I mentioned previously, coming down from the first arc is difficult. As fun as some of the action scenes are in the last several episodes, it feels like eating an appetizer after the entrée has already been served. It's great for fans of the franchise—but those who are more invested in Railgun than Index may not be as dazzled.

Overall, though, it's hard to give the set anything but Shelf Worthy simply because that first arc is so much fun to watch. It's creepy yet uplifting, and I think those who enjoy Railgun for Misaka alone will not be disappointed.[TOP]

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

"Hi, my name is David and I'm a graduate student from Michigan. I'm originally from Taiwan, growing up there and watching anime such as Doraemon, Saint Seiya, and Mazinger without knowing that they were 'anime'. After moving to the US, I continued to watch anime on Cartoon Network and Adult Swim and various channels without knowing that they're 'anime' until 2005 at 25. Yes, you read that correctly, it took me nearly 2 decades to find out that the wonderful stuff I've been consuming for so long is called anime. Then I started immersing myself in the fandom with collecting and con-going and don't plan to stop anytime soon.

In one of the pics, I have a pile of anime, like many fans, that needs watching.

The pride of my collection is an autographed One Piece poster that I won at a charity auction at Ikkicon 2009."

Thanks for the pictures!

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

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