Shelf Life
Designated x Diver

by Bamboo Dong,

Revisiting old classics is sometimes a little scary. There's always the slight fear that you'll dislike something you previously cherished, whether it's because your tastes have changed, or things just aren't as good as you remembered. I have a long list of shows I used to love that just don't hold up (Lost Universe, I'm looking right at you), as well as a list of shows I refuse to watch again, because I'm worried they'll stink (SaiKano, this one's for you). With the first title in this week's column, I never really quite felt the passionate love for the series the first time around as many did, but I am infinitely glad that I had the chance to watch it again.

Welcome to Shelf Life.

Like many great series, Cowboy Bebop gets better with age. It's not that anything has changed, per se—the colorful cast of characters is still just as we remembered, and the playful soundtrack is as brilliant as it ever was. But over time, you – the viewer – have probably changed. And as you change, reflecting of all of your life experiences, so does the series. Over 15 years later, things that didn't really stand out to me as a teenager, as I whooped and grinned at Spike's cool-as-ice bravado and Ed's eccentricities, now resonate a lot more deeply. Spike's emotional hang-ups with figures from his past, for instance. Or the gruff way our motley crew of bounty hunters interact with each other, pretending not to acknowledge how deeply their bonds run. These are the kinds of things that are cerebrally easy to understand, but perhaps not felt in quite the same way until you've experienced enough love, loss, heartbreak, and meaningful personal connections for yourself. And in that sense, Cowboy Bebop is a show that will always get better, and always unveil new truths.

It's not just with the heroes, although I certainly found myself discovering things about them that I didn't pick up on before. But take the bad guys, for example. The more time you spend with them, the more clear and sorrowful their motivations become. As a teenager, I didn't really think about "Asteroid Blues"' Asimov and Katerina, beyond the surface-level pick-up that Asimov was a drug dealer and Katerina was his accomplice. "Oh, her baby is actually drugs," I thought. And even then, I thought it was a cool episode, and hell of a way to kick off a series. Now, though, the characters feel different. Katerina's emotional pain and hopelessness is more acute; Asimov feels less calculating, more desperate. You begin to understand why they did the things that they did, and when the episode goes out with a bang, you can't help but mourn for the lives that they could've had, if only they could've escaped their situations sooner.

I could go through the series episode by episode, but it's not necessary. My emotions watching Ed reunite with her friends, or watching Jet restlessly fix things, may not be the same as yours. But because Cowboy Bebop is intensely personal, these scenes will evoke different feelings and memories. More than just an action-packed, hijink-filled romp about cool dudes and bad-ass ladies, Cowboy Bebop is a scattered collection of stories about "real" people (the brash V.T., whose eyes in the last scene can't help but betray her emotions; Faye, in all her complexities), whose lives will touch you in different, but possibly significant ways.

I think there is a universal-ness about Cowboy Bebop. Whether you first watched it at the age of 10, 20, or 30, I am certain that there is value in re-watching. The characters of Cowboy Bebop are complex human characters, each with unique pasts and heartaches. You feel it every time they dodge a question about themselves, and every time they risk their lives to chase after an intangible dream. They're worlds apart from your stereotypical Stock Anime Character, and it's one of the main things that makes this series so relatable and endlessly appealing.

After more than a decade of voraciously consuming anime of various genres, I also can't help but be amazed all over again by the visuals in Cowboy Bebop. From its stylized aesthetic to its dynamic animation, it reeks of the "cool" that anime has been trying in vain to recapture ever since. Blessedly, it looks great on Blu-ray, so fans are free to sit back, admire the vibrant colors and splendid action choreography without having to think about the video transfer. In a way, that's the best that anyone could ever hope for—video that looks its age, but doesn't demand to be recognized. You can pick out the imperfections if you want to, but they're relics of hand-drawn animation, not modern-day video problems. Most of the time, I found that I wasn't even thinking about the video at all, which is how it should always be.

This release of Cowboy Bebop may be about as close to a definitive release as we're going to get, or that we even need. It looks great, it sounds great, and it's sleekly packaged for a new era of home video collectors. The limited edition version comes with a wide array of bells and whistles, but if you just want the series itself, the standard edition is perfect. It's unassuming, it's slim, and it has a throwback vibe that will instantly transport you into the gritty pseudo-future streets of the series. Even if you've seen the series before, it's worth picking up, just to watch again.[TOP]

Next up on my list was something completely different, but likewise fun.

These Fatal Fury releases that Discotek has been putting out are absolutely marvelous. Campy and ridiculous, they're time capsule keepsakes that perfectly capture the essence of "1990s Anime." Fatal Fury: The Motion Picture is no exception. It was made in 1994, still squarely within that magical era of the 1990s that looked like everyone's exaggerated memories of the 1980s. Terry Bogard rocked his mom jeans, Joe Higashi spelunked in a Speedo like it was no big deal, and everyone's faces looked like they were carved from rocky granite. Characters are off-model more than they're on, faces morph every time they look any direction that's not straight ahead, and even color palettes change depending on the scene (Sulia, Terry's new squeeze-destined-for-a-tragic-ending, has hair that's either teal, slate gray, cobalt, or purple depending on the whim of the in-betweeners).

And yet it is a highly entertaining viewing experiences, provided they either have a predilection for old fighting game franchises or a hearty appreciation for camp. Everything about the movie is over-the-top, but not necessarily intentionally so. Laocorn's quest for the fabled "Armor of Mars" is as ludicrous as the actual finished armor; Mai's wardrobe is impossible to take seriously (strange rope bikini/thong included); Terry's soliloquies are the perfect blend of "lone wolf tough guy" and Patrick Swayze circa Roadhouse. If you were throwing a party where alcohol was involved, Fatal Fury: The Motion Picture playing in the background would be a runaway hit.

As far as video game adaptations go, it's one of the most enjoyable, and the easiest to consume as a standalone property. Like the OVAs, it wisely decides to focus on only a handful of characters. It's mostly the Terry Bogard show, with his friends providing muscle and screentime when needed. Each story is focused and streamlined as well, with this entire movie focused solely on a bad guy named Laocorn's quest to round up armor pieces. Its narrative fits in with the OVAs, convenient for people who want to experience the saga of Terry Bogard but have no interest in sifting through a dozen games. And for those who are familiar with the games, it provides a new story, with enough old characters to make it still feel cozy.

In general, it's just a nifty little release. I had an insane amount of fun watching it, and Discotek did as good as they could with what they had. The video looks good, and as a bonus for repeat collectors, comes presented in anamorphic widescreen.

I wouldn't say that Fatal Fury: The Motion Picture is necessarily a must-buy for a general audience, but those who are into this kind of thing will be pleased with how it's presented, and how lovingly it's been preserved. It's 90s in a box, and that alone may be worth it.[TOP]

Last on my list: High School DxD New.

The "New" in High School DxD is written in such a way that it looks like breasts. Or maybe it's a butt. I'm not sure. Either way, it's apt, as the series is kind of like softcore porn, except that the only object-in-hole insertion is fingers in mouths.

As far as boob shows go, I vastly prefer the in-your-face (literally, I guess) fanservice in High School DxD to the more gropey fanservice in Yu-sibu or the perpetual-upskirts-of-unsuspecting-teenage-girls fanservice in other shonen series. I think if you're going to do it, you should just go all out. It goes a surprisingly long way in making the series more accessible to a wider viewer base—I may not really want to see tentacles writhing their way around a woman's breasts as they squirm in agony, but if Rias and Asia want to slam their tits in the camera, that's fine. It creates the illusion of consent, even though I know, and we all know, that they're fictional characters with no say in the matter. It also tips the scales solidly into the "comedy" category, which again helps expand the show's appeal to more demographics.

And boy, are there tits (as well as a variety of other body parts). Everything is a loving excuse to showcase breasts. Trips to the hot tub are celebrated with water droplets clinging onto a nipple, fantasies of naked rock-paper-scissors are hilariously shot as two pairs of opposing breasts bouncing in harmony, and basically every time someone starts taking off their clothes, she is joined by one or two more eager gals. Even fight scenes are laden with breasts, either from ripped clothes (there is at least one goofy shot of a bare breast being healed mid-battle) or special attacks (bless Issei's perverted heart for choosing a clothes-blasting spell as his ultimate attack). Half the time the characters aren't fighting, they're standing around naked. And half of that time, the camera is invariably zeroed in on their breasts. It's so over-the-top, it becomes inescapably hilarious.

Story-wise, this season is a little on the standard size, though one doesn't really go in expecting Hemingway. The characters learn of something called the "Holy Sword Project," which invariably leads to a number of showdowns and run-ins with people who have extremely powerful, devil-slaying swords. It paves the way for a few serious scenes, with Kiba revealing his past and his involuntary role in the project, and some somber meetings between various members of the supernatural community. In the end, there are some fierce battles, with multiple characters learning to unleash their powers, and Issei getting a pretty sweet upgrade. If there was a paint-by-numbers book of supernatural anime plots, this might be one of the pages. It's not earth-shattering, nor is it particularly unique or noteworthy, but it's tidy and it wraps up nicely at the end. It gives all of the characters something to do, and it gives the series a chance to throw in some of its usual, flashy fight scenes.

Of all the fanservice-centric action shows out there, I think High School DxD New (and original) does a pretty solid job of balancing a reasonable storyline, action scenes, and copious fanservice. If one were to take out the fanservice, it would still be an entertaining series (if perhaps a little on the generic side), which to me is always the mark of a good fanservice show. It enjoys the breasts, it celebrates the breasts, but it doesn't necessarily need them to keep viewers entertained. Instead, it throws them in for laughs, which works well to break up the darkness of the serious scenes and keep the atmosphere light.

High School DxD New is certainly not for everyone. If you need an indication of what the show is like, the second ending theme is a dance compilation of the girls in bikinis and fabric shards, interspersed with photographs of lips that are supposed to also look like vaginas. Basically the whole show is like that, except with less clothing, more boob-squishing, and also some fun fight scenes. It's really all you need to know to inform your decision of whether or not you would like this show, with an added note that even those who may not find this titillating will likely still find the series funny. I certainly had a fun time watching it.[TOP]

That's it for now. See ya next time!

This week's shelves are from Andrew, who wrote: "Been collecting for about 5 years now. I'm gonna need to build more shelves soon since I'm almost out of room."

Ah, the perennial problem of the collector.

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

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