Shelf Life
Fool's Gold

by Bamboo Dong,

Jump to this week's reviews: Eccentric Family Complete Series BD and Bubblegum Crisis Ultimate Edition BD Set.

On Shelves This Week

Little Busters! Refrain Complete Collection BD, DVD
Sentai - 325 min - Hyb - MSRP $69.98 | $59.98
Currently cheapest at: $40.89 Rakuten | $35.04 Rakuten

Synopsis: A direct sequel of the Little Busters anime that adapts the last route of the visual novel, Little Busters! Refrain brings Riki Naoe and his teammates back together again after the loss of their first baseball game. However, things are unusual. Riki realizes that he is reliving the same day over and over again, without acknowledgement from anyone else. Later, the Little Busters are reunited, but something doesn't seem right. As Riki uncovers the reality behind his narcolepsy, other truths begin to come to light.

Thoughts: While no one at ANN has thus far reviewed Little Busters! Refrain, Carl reviewed the first six episodes when it was streaming. If it helps sway anyone's decisions, though, the franchise is based on a visual novel developed by Key, which has developed other properties like Air, Kanon, and Clannad, all of which have received anime adaptations. If you're skittish about throwing down the money right away, you can check out both seasons on Crunchyroll and The Anime Network.

Muv-Luv Alternative: Total Eclipse - Collection 1 BD, DVD
Sentai - 300 min - Hyb - MSRP $$69.98 | 59.98
Currently cheapest at: $41.35 Rakuten |$35.04 Rakuten

Synopsis: Humanity quickly crumbles after the hostile invasion of aliens known as BETA. Fortunately, the development of mecha known as Tactical Surface Fighters (TSF) gives mankind a fighting chance, but it's an uphill battle. Cadet Yui Takamura manages to survive, but not without trauma. Years later, however, she's still in the Imperial Royal Guards, supervising an international group of pilots whose goal is to continue finding ways to fight the BETA. Amongst them is Yuuya Bridges, a headstrong Japanese-American pilot who has issues with his new situation.

Thoughts: Admittedly, I was not entirely fond of the series when it was first simulcasting, largely because I thought some of the character conflicts felt a little forced, but I found the action scenes pretty riveting, and I liked some of its explorations of race issues. Rebecca liked the show a lot more, calling it "surprisingly good" and praising its depth and early potential. The series is streaming on The Anime Network and Crunchyroll.

Naruto Shippuden DVD Box 21
Viz - 300 min - Hyb - MSRP $44.82
Currently cheapest at: $27.94 Rakuten

Synopsis: Containing episodes 258-270, this next volume of Naruto Shippuden picks up where it left off in the Fourth Shinobi World War story arc, launching the war to end all wars.

Thoughts: Sadly, while we don't have any reviews for Naruto Shippuden for the first few hundred episodes, fans who are keeping up with the simulcasts can follow the weekly streaming reviews from Amy McNulty starting from episode 374. While it would certainly be daunting for a new fan to catch up on the entirety of Naruto up until this point, you can give it your best try—the entirety of Naruto and Naruto Shippuden is streaming on Crunchyroll.

Valvrave the Liberator - Complete 2nd Season BD
Aniplex of America - 300 min - Sub - MSRP $149.98
Currently cheapest at: $119.98 Right Stuf

Synopsis: The second season of Valrave the Liberator continues shortly after the events of season one, with the students of Module 77 heading to the moon to declare their independence and establish New JIOR. However, the students are far from safe, and Haruto and the other Valvrave pilots must continue to fight for their school and new country. Along the way, he resolves to learn more about the Valvraves and the truth behind their existence.

Thoughts: Theron gave overall positive reviews to the first season of Valvrave when it was still streaming. I personally enjoyed the camp of the series, with the caveat that you can't take it too seriously. However, my interest waned after the events near the end of the first season, and eventually fizzled. What did you all think of the second season? Did you like it as much as the first season? Let us know in the forums! (For those of you who haven't seen it yet, you can check it out streaming on Hulu and Crunchyroll.)

Shelf Life Reviews

First, a bit of news. Starting next week, Paul Jensen will be joining the Shelf Life family, and will be contributing to the capsule reviews that you see down here in this section. He is one of our daily streaming reviewers, and I'm very happy to have him on board. Nothing will be changing about the Shelf Life format, other than having multiple contributors, so please look forward to it.

For a show that plays up the mischievousness and foolishness of tanuki, it is also deeply and profoundly sad. I don't mean to imply in the slightest that The Eccentric Family mis-characterizes its characters or its subject—in fact, it's the opposite. That contrast between what's said about tanuki, and how they actually go about their daily lives, makes the series one of the most emotionally engaging projects that P.A. Works has ever produced. It deftly combines whimsy and humor with heavy themes of loss, guilt, and filial responsibility, weaving a story that's never entirely too heavy on the latter, nor too shallow to make an impact.

Every episode starts off with the same narration—that humans have co-existed in Kyoto with tanuki and tengu for thousands of years. And indeed, we're privy to sights that could only exist with the help of the supernatural—transformations, flying, booze-fueled floating tearooms, storm-summoning fans. But despite the obviously fantastical elements in the series, everything else about The Eccentric Family is exceedingly normal. The problems that the characters face are similar to those that anyone could face. Yasaburō and his siblings grieve the loss of their father, despite his unfortunate end as a hotpot dinner. When truths are revealed about the circumstances surrounding the event, characters openly display their regret and their life-changing guilt. In the meantime, there are other character narratives that swirl through the series. Big brother Yaichirō is consumed with the idea of taking over his father's role as the leader of tanuki society. Reputation is of utmost importance to him, and he can't help but be upset at his family for their deficiencies, like Yasaburō's irresponsible attitude, and his middle brother's sad existence as a frog. Their old and disgruntled mentor Akadama frets about the loss of his tengu powers, refusing to succumb to old age.

In a way, it almost reads like a fairy tale. After all, what kind of death involves being stewed in a hotpot? But that's the magic of The Eccentric Family. It's wholly relatable and believable, even without any surface semblance to the reality that we know. Instead, we're left with the emotions and everyday situations that do allow us to get closer to the characters. That they happen to be tanuki, with tengu and half-tengu friends, is simply their eccentricity. That, and the handful of issues that make up any troubled family.

I first watched The Eccentric Family when it was streaming and already loved it then. I was surprised by how much more I loved it the second time through. Somehow, it was even more melancholy. Afterward, there was one image that kept popping back up in my mind. It's of the tanuki family cuddling together in the shelter of a shrine. It manages to be endearing and sad at the same time. Endearing because it ultimately involves a huddle of cute tanuki, but sad because of the fragility of the scene. Despite their great transformation powers and positions of respect in the tanuki world, here is a family that at the end of the day, only has its own members for comfort.

If you haven't watched The Eccentric Family yet, you can still catch it streaming on Crunchyroll. If you do go with the NIS America release, though, it's well worth the money. The video itself is beautiful, and perfectly showcases P.A. Works' breath-taking artwork. The packaging is on point, with stunning reversible covers and a gorgeous artbook. And considering how much better The Eccentric Family was already for me after a second viewing, I can only assume that it will keep getting better with time. This is one series worth the investment.[TOP]

The other set I ended up reviewing this weekend is also something that I think is worth the monetary investment, especially those with a love for older series.

For those who missed out on the Bubblegum Crisis Kickstarter, you can still buy it online, either in a basic set (which is what I have) or a premium set. That the project hit its initial crowdfunding goal in just four days should shed some light on fans' continued love for this old cyberpunk favorite.

Even to those who didn't contribute to the Kickstarter campaign (and thus didn't receive the many, lengthy emails detailing every minute step of the BD production process), it should be immediately obvious that this video set is a labor of pure love. Everything about it reflects the pride of those who worked on it, from its smart packaging decisions (glossy box art, art-only covers), to its copious mountain of extras, to its crisp and beautiful video, to its extensive library of subtitles (English, Japanese, Finnish, French, German, Italian), available in both multi-color and greyscale. And it's not surprising, considering almost every step of the project was open to input from fans.

For those unfamiliar, the eight-episode OVA was released in 1987, and it shows in the best way possible. Those who love the quirky jittery-ness of old cel animation will feel at home watching Bubblegum Crisis, with its twitchy eyes, over-expressive faces, and sometimes silly hand-drawn "computer" fonts. Even now, the animation is impressive, simply for how ambitious it was. Background characters have independent movements of their own, with passers-by fiddling with their clothes, or putting their hands in their pockets. Action scenes are well-choreographed and generously animated, and even the copious dance scenes are given their due attention. Everything is hand-drawn, from the spinning car wheels to the fight scenes, and it looks good for what it is. The whole series is constantly in motion, and it's one of the main things that gives the show the energy and momentum that keeps it hurtling forwards.

I'm spending much of the review talking about the animation and the overall presentation because I think its aesthetics is one of the best things that Bubblegum Crisis has going for it. The OVA series (and the extensive franchise) has never really felt complete, and that doesn't change with a modern viewing. Its eight episodes are a little scattered. A big chunk of the episodes largely center around the shady GENOM as the primary antagonist, but it's never as grand as it had the potential to be. We're introduced to the Knight Sabers, bad-ass, hard-suit-wearing ladies who are specially trained to fight androids known as Boomers. They're cool, but they're still human, and we get the benefit of seeing them in vulnerable situations as they interact with those around them. But it doesn't necessarily go anywhere. For a variety of reasons, the original plan for 13 episodes was scrapped, leaving fans with just eight. It feels that way, too.

But it's less so about what could have been than what did result. And that's a property with so much sass and energy that it spawned a myriad of spinoffs and sequels, each trying to recreate the lightning-in-a-bottle that is Bubblegum Crisis. It had all the ingredients that make an entertaining series. The women were strong and independent, without being heartless machines concocted just to look cool in high-heeled robot suits. They had real personalities, and reacted to their situations in real, believable ways. They could have been fleshed out more had the series been allowed to run its course, but for a project that was born from a stand-alone episode and structured around nefarious corporations and androids gone bad, it has enough heart that one can't help but enjoy the ride.

I wouldn't necessarily recommend Bubblegum Crisis to someone as an example of a solid, impenetrable viewing experience. But I would recommend it to those who are looking for a hard slice of nostalgia and a beautifully-preserved memento from the days of 80s cyberpunk and cel animation. For that alone, I think the set is worth the $60.[TOP]

This week's lovely shelves are from Ashlee:

"Hello, my name is Ashlee. A few years back, I've submitted pictures of my collection to Shelf Life. So long ago, I really can't remember. But since my collection was featured in Shelf Life, I've lost a bookshelf (the weight of my collection at the time ended up breaking it in half in the middle of the night; no real damage done to myself or the collection, thank goodness!), bought three more, which you can see in these pictures, and another four or so sitting in a storage unit. I've also added more than 50 books and DVDs to the collection, as well as buying my first four figures. And the collection is still growing! My husband has even started his own collection, as seen with the Full Metal Panic! and Noir art boxs and the Is This A Zombie? and Highschool of the Dead books.

I've also became the owner of four beautiful Obitsu model dollfies, as seen in the very first picture. The black-haired girl is Ceraesa, the redhead is Seramye, the long, pink-haired girl is Yuki, and the smallest pink-haired girl is Ambellina. They like sitting on the shelf protecting my collection, as well as looking really pretty. Also, on my first bookshelf, I've started to collect a few series in Japanese. The series I have are Akuma to Love Song (published as A Devil and Her Love Song; I've started collecting the Japanese volumes before Viz announced they picked the series up) and Garasu no Kamen (Glass Mask in English; it's my favorite series, although I'm not confident in the manga ever being licensed for English release).

I do hope everyone enjoys viewing my collection!"

I'm glad you and your collection escaped unscathed! Having a broken shelf seems like a real pain, but I imagine some might find it slightly enviable. I'm very impressed with the current collection!

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

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