Shelf Life
True Luv

by Bamboo Dong, Paul Jensen,

Jump to this week's reviews: Muv-Luv Alternative: Total Eclipse Complete Series BD and Engaged to the Unidentified Complete Series BD.

On Shelves This Week

A-Channel Complete Collection BD
Sentai - 300 min - Sub - MSRP $59.98
Currently cheapest at: $19.99 Amazon

Synopsis: Toru and Run have been best friends since elementary school, even though Run is a year ahead. When Toru is accepted into the same high school, she's more than excited, but she finds that Run has already made friends with two girls named Yuko and Nagi. However, the four of them quickly become close friends, even though Toru is a little protective of her longtime friend. The series was originally released in North America on DVD in 2012, and is getting a Blu-Ray re-release now.

Thoughts: As far as "cute girls doing quirky things" comedies go, I found A-Channel to be a little lacking in originality and punch for the majority of the series. The jokes were a little too repetitive and bare-bones for my taste, but I did really enjoy the last few episodes, largely because of the strong friendship between Toru and Run. You can read my thoughts on the BD release here. Or, if you'd rather check it out for yourself first, you can watch the series streaming on The Anime Network and Hulu.

Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade BD
Eastern - 105 min - Hyb - MSRP $29.95
Currently cheapest at: $18.28 Rakuten

Synopsis: Set in an alternate version of Japan, where a totalitarian government rules the country, the film follows a man named Kazuki Fuse, a member of the Capital Police's Special Unit. He is on a mission to stop a demonstration by the anti-government group Sect, but fails to kill a young bomb courier, who commits suicide. Fuse is blamed and punished for the incident, but later meets a woman who claims to be the dead girl's sister. The two develop a relationship, but things are not what they seem. Along the way, Fuse also meets members of the Wolf Brigade, a secret unit within the Capital Police.

Thoughts: Many will tell you that Jin-Roh is a must-see classic, and it's hard to argue with that sentiment. Written by Mamoru Oshii, whose impressive resume includes directing works like Ghost in the Shell, Patlabor, Urusei Yatsura, and more, this 1998 film showcases some of the best animation that Production I.G has ever put out, and will stay with you for days. We've reviewed the film a few times over the years, though we missed out on Bandai's 2007 Blu-ray. However, it is being release yet again, so if you've never had a chance to watch it or own it before, there's no better time than now. Incidentally, the movie is streaming both subbed and dubbed on Hulu.

Log Horizon Season 1 Collection 2 BD, DVD
Sentai - 300 min - Hyb - MSRP $69.98 | $59.98
Currently cheapest at: $40.29 Amazon | $35.04 Rakuten

Synopsis: Collection 2 contains episodes 14-25 of the first season. Shiroe meets a mysterious man who seems to know a lot about the world, its inhabitants, and the magic that governs it. In the meantime, the characters are surprised to see an increase in the number of Goblin attacks, and realize that their preoccupation with fixing Akihabara has allowed the Goblin King's armies to grow unchecked.

Thoughts: I like Log Horizon a whole lot, and I had positive things to say about this collection of episodes. Those who enjoy world-building and picking apart the intricacies of MMORPG mechanics will enjoy this series, which sets itself apart from the other "people trapped in a video game world" series by focusing on the characters' attempts to set up a structured quasi-government. If you liked Maoyu, you'll probably enjoy Log Horizon as well, which was adapted from a light novel series written by the same author. You can catch the series streaming on The Anime Network, Crunchyroll, and Hulu.

Lupin the 3rd: Napoleon's Dictionary DVD
Eastern - 90 min - Sub - MSRP $24.95
Currently cheapest at: $15.22 Rakuten

Synopsis: One of the dozens of Lupin III TV specials that have aired in Japan over the years, Napoleon's Dictionary dates back to 1991 and follows the misadventures of Lupin as he enters a classic car race in an attempt to nab the first prize—a dictionary that supposedly belonged to Napoleon Bonaparte. He's not after the book for historical reasons, though—it actually contains a set of directions to Lupin's grandfather's treasure. Lupin must race against cars, and time, to retrieve the treasure's location before everyone else, including Inspector Zenigata.

Thoughts: Of all the Lupin III I've watched over the years, this isn't one of them, but it's nice to see it finally getting a stateside release. It is one of five specials directed by Osamu Dezaki, whose other credits include directing Golgo 13: The Professional, Dear Brother, Black Jack, Ashita no Joe, Space Adventure Cobra, Nobody's Boy Remi, and a giant list of other series that old school fans have been telling everyone to watch for years. While ANN doesn't have a review available for this particular special, you can check out Mike Toole's Lupin column from a few years ago, which is a fantastic read. (He also provides commentary for this DVD, alongside Otaku USA's Daryl Surat.)

Maid Sama! Complete Collection BD, DVD
Sentai - 665 min - Hyb - MSRP $99.98 | $79.98
Currently cheapest at: $57.49 Amazon | $46.73 Rakuten

Synopsis: Misaki Ayuzawa is the headstrong, no-nonsense student council president at a formerly all-boys high school. She has a big secret, though. Her family is actually completely broke, and to help pay the bills, Misaki has to work part-time at a maid cafe. Her secret is discovered by Usui Takumi, a handsome and popular classmate who strikes a deal with Misaki in exchange for keeping his mouth shut.

Thoughts: Despite the questionable name, Maid Sama! is actually pretty delightful. It's adapted from a shoujo manga that ran in Hakusensha's LaLa, and largely follows the blossoming romance between Misaki and Usui, and their days at the school. The first episode received largely positive reviews during our Spring 2010 preview guide, and you can also see my review of the 2012 DVD collection. The series is available streaming on The Anime Network and Hulu.

Nisekoi: False Love Blu-ray 2
Aniplex of America - 125 min - Sub - MSRP $64.98
Currently cheapest at: $49.98 Right Stuf

Synopsis: Things between Raku and Chitoge are as dicey as ever, with the pair still constantly bickering. After Chitoge confesses to Ruri and Kosaki that their relationship is fake, the latter decides to reveal her feelings to Raku. Things are further confused when a new student transfers to their school, a hitman whose target is Raku.

Thoughts: This volume is currently sitting near the top of my "to watch" pile. I enjoyed the first volume quite a bit, and found the contrast between the brash Chitoge and mild-mannered Raku to be pretty charming, especially with the added push of absurdity that the gangster backgrounds bring. I'm a little wary about the addition of more women to the mix (Team Chitoge!), but I'll keep an open mind. Has anyone finished watching the series? What do you think about the way the episodes progress?
By the way, if you want to catch up, the series is streaming on the Aniplex Channel, Hulu, Daisuki, and Crunchyroll.

Shelf Life Reviews

This is the first week that we'll be joined by Paul Jensen, who will be a regular contributor to Shelf Life from hereon forward. You can follow Paul's journey through some of this season's daily streaming reviews, and check out his list of last year's favorites. I'm very excited to have him here, and I'm pleased to welcome him to our growing Shelf Life family.

Making a serious mecha series can be tough. When you've got teenagers using giant robots to fight aliens, things can get silly in a hurry. A lot of shows in this genre tend to devolve into a weird mix of swimsuit episodes and technobabble, at which point things usually go off the rails in spectacular fashion. Maybe it's because of this tendency that Muv-Luv Alternative: Total Eclipse feels the need to constantly remind the viewer that it's being super duper serious. Of course, the writers could just be trying to compensate for having the phrase “Muv-Luv” tacked onto the title.

As a production, this series has a pretty convoluted backstory. It's based on a series of novels, which in turn were based on a series of dating sims. Compared to that web of adaptations, the show's premise is pretty simple: aliens have invaded the Earth and humanity is using giant robots to fight them. American test pilot Yuya Bridges is assigned to an international project to develop a new, more awesome giant robot. Epic battles and bloody death scenes ensue.

To its credit, Total Eclipse does a lot of things right. It has the good sense to feature a cast of adult soldiers who actually seem competent enough to be doing what they're doing. This spares the writers from having to come up with a plausible reason for putting some random teenager in charge of saving the planet. The show also puts some real thought into its battle scenes, rather than simply having the heroes stroll into battle and throw special attacks at everything that moves. There's still plenty of shouting and gratuitous explosions, but you get the sense that someone actually sat down and planned out the battle scenes before writing them.

When it's not blowing things up, however, Total Eclipse starts to trip over its own ambitions. Much of the plot revolves around the rivalries between competing superpowers, which is a tough sell for a show that leans so heavily on national stereotypes. The Italian pilot is an obnoxious yet likable playboy. The Russian soldiers are loyal to their country, but their commanders are corrupt scumbags. The Japanese officer takes her job too seriously, and on it goes for just about every featured nationality. A lot of this lazy characterization would be able to fly under the radar in a goofy action show, but Total Eclipse puts it front and center. The show ends up screaming, “People from different countries don't trust each other!” over and over and over again. After a dozen episodes, the theme starts to wear out its welcome.

Things get a little better when the international intrigue takes a back seat and the characters get to act like people again. Yuya and Yui can be a bit tiresome when they butt heads over the prototype project, but we at least get some plausible explanations for why they're both so stubborn. The other pilots in Yuya's unit are easily the most likable characters in the show, and the script is at its best when they get to banter back and forth. On the other hand, the show's occasional efforts at setting up romantic tension are pretty poor. The two deserted island episodes represent an hour of my life that I'll never get back.

It's all over the place in terms of writing quality, but I still enjoyed the first half of Total Eclipse. It does a good job with its action scenes and is usually at least competent at everything else. One thing to be aware of is that the final episode in this set ends in the middle of a major storyline. If you can't stand cliffhangers, it might be best to wait for the second half to come out before watching the first.
- Paul [TOP]

Last on deck this week are my thoughts on Engaged to the Unidentified, which has one of those titles that makes zero sense until you get to the middle of the series, and then it's like a giant light bulb that makes you feel dumb for not guessing earlier.

Earlier this week, I had the challenge of trying to explain to someone what the plot of Engaged to the Unidentified was. After only a few sentences, I found myself apologizing for the series, promising, "No, I know it sounds dumb, but it's actually really cute and funny." I imagine anyone who's tried to do the same probably knows what I'm talking about. It's not a slam on the show. If anything, it's affirmation that execution is everything, and you can't really knock something until you've tried it for yourself.

The series centers on a kind and warm-hearted high school girl named Kobeni who's excited to turn 16. She admits that 16 isn't a huge deal, but is exhilarated to know that she's now old enough to get married. Almost on cue, her mother informs her that they will be hosting a guest in their home—a boy named Hakuya, who just so happens to be her fiancé. Kobeni is stunned, but it's too late. Hakuya is already there (and has been sitting in the room unnoticed the whole time) and is already on-board with the whole plan. He's soon joined by his little sister Mashiro, who declares that she's not giving up her brother to anyone she doesn't deem fit to be his wife, and decides to move in as well. Both end up transferring into Kobeni's class, even though Mashiro's only 9.

While the set-up sounds ridiculous, the humor works fairly well because of it. The characters accept some of the absurdities at face value, which allows the story to move forward into increasingly strange territory, but reject others, so there's never a dearth of situations to react to. Take the character of Benio, for example. She's Kobeni's oldest sister, and probably the most outlandish character in the series. She not only fulfills the siscom, lolita-loving stereotype to a T, but she also has the dual task of playing the perfect-older-girl-that-everyone-at-school-admires. She's so popular that the school's newspaper even publishes articles about how cool she is. It's a total caricature, but only two parties are aware of it—Mashiro and the viewer. The result is an infinite number of scenarios in which Benio is allowed to behave badly, much to our and Mashiro's chagrin, or act as the obsessive object of someone else's affection, with only the punch line at stake.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention at this point that Benio's character might be a little hard to handle for some, myself included. Her actions and infatuations are pretty gross—that's the joke. But knowing that they're played for laughs doesn't really make them any less unsettling, especially when she often tiptoes over the line of "weird anime stereotype" to "creepy person whose actions are tacitly approved by a few too many people." I think there's a fine line for this kind of humor, and I'm not entirely sure the writers always knew at which point laughter would fade into uncomfortable throat-clearing.

While Benio-related humor seems to encompass a large majority of the screen time, the other chunk of time generally revolves around the relationship between Kobeni and Hakuya. Mercifully, it's free of the "Does she? Doesn't she? Should I call her by her first name?" angst that pollutes much of modern romcoms (when it veers close, Benio interjects with a hyper-aware, "it stinks of romantic comedy"). There is a good amount of anxiety relating to Kobeni's amnesia and her poor health, though, as well as the "Unidentified" part of the title. It's sort of interesting on the surface, but the high frequency gets a little tedious. Blessedly, the writing never wallows too long in its own secrets.

By far, though, the best parts about the series are the characters' reactions to every situation. While everyone seems to have accepted the absurdities of the main premise, individual characters never fail to react exaggeratedly to other characters' shenanigans. Whether it's Mashiro's terror at Benio's antics, Kobeni's incredulous stammers at always being on the butt-end of happenstance, or the classic screen-shatters of shock, the reactions steal the show. Considering the series' four-panel comic roots, it's not surprising, and it's nice to see that the writers have been able to retain that punch line-driven humor even in a long form series.

I wasn't expecting too much from Engaged to the Unidentified, but what I got was a sweet and oftentimes funny (and… sometimes creepy) comedy that hit more than it missed. The romance was a little on the boring side, thanks to the show's insistence on drawing out Kobeni's past and her guilt as long as possible, but even that managed to redeem itself near the end. I don't know that all of the pieces always worked for me (your mileage may vary with Benio), but I had an enjoyable time with the series.
- Bamboo[TOP]

That's it for this week. Next time, we'll be reviewing Nisekoi volume 2 and ef- a tale of memories & melodies. Thanks for reading!

This week's shelves come to us from Credibility6, who wanted to give us an update on his collection:

Color me continually impressed.

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

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