Shelf Life
Shafted

by Bamboo Dong,

Jump to this week's reviews: Nisekoi: False Love Vol. 2 BD and ef: a tale of memories & melodies BD.

On Shelves This Week

Comic Party - Complete Original Series Collection DVD
Eastern Star - 300 min - Hyb - MSRP $39.95
Currently cheapest at: $24.38 Rakuten

Synopsis: Kazuki doesn't know anything about doujinshi or how to make it, but luckily—or unluckily—for him, his friend Taishi is a huge otaku who knows all about the process. Taishi ropes Kazuki into creating comics for him, and the two set off on a whirlwind adventure of trying to draw, produce, and sell their own comic at an upcoming convention.

Thoughts: Like Shirobako, Comic Party tells an insider's tale of part of the otaku industry. Only, instead of an animation studio, it's more about the fan side. So in that sense, it may be best described as a little Genshiken (see below!), a little Otaku no Video, only with more focus on printing presses and book binding. Either way, it's a fun little show, and those who like the mockumentary style of anime series will likely have a good time with this one. It is an older series—it was first aired in Japan in 2001 and released in the US in 2004, but some things never really change, and otaku passion is one of them. Check out our 2004 reviews of the series here and here. When you're done with that, you can check out its sequel, Comic Party Revolution, streaming online at Funimation.


Genshiken: Second Generation - Complete Collection (Premium Edition) BD
NIS America - 308 min - Sub - MSRP $64.99
Currently cheapest at: $47.99 Right Stuf

Synopsis: This sequel of Genshiken follows a new semester for the members of the Society for the Study of Modern Visual Culture. The older members have moved on to join the workforce, which means the club must focus on recruiting new members. With BL-loving fujoshi, hardcore otaku, and cross-dressers now sitting around the table, club president Chika Ogiue needs to make sure her members are getting along.

Thoughts: Second seasons are always a little scary, especially when they're spaced ten years apart. Fortunately, Genshiken: Second Generation lives up to the challenge, and brings the same good-hearted charm and subtle self-deprecation that made the first series so delightful. Those ten years means it had a lot of time to evolve and mature, too. The series has been updated to reflect a new paradigm of fandom, with unabashed fujoshi, and those unafraid to tackle gender issues head-on. You can read some of my thoughts on Genshiken 2 here and here. You can also check it out streaming online at Crunchyroll and Hulu.


Golden Time Collection 2 BD, DVD
Sentai - 300 min - Sub - MSRP $59.98 | $49.98
Currently cheapest at: $34.49 Amazon | $29.20 Rakuten

Synopsis: Relationships can be difficult, but it's especially hard for Banri, whose memories are returning for the first time since his accident. It's reminding him of his past feelings for other girls, and it's resurrecting parts of himself that he's long since buried. It throws a wrench in his relationship with Koko, and no matter how much he tries, he can't help but sabotage himself. This collection contains episodes 13-24 of the series.

Thoughts: You can check out Carl's review of episodes 13-24 here, which he gave an A-. If you'd just like to watch it for yourself, the series is streaming on The Anime Network, Crunchyroll, and Hulu.


Gurren Lagann Vol. 4 BD
Aniplex of America - 150 min - Hyb - MSRP $59.98
Currently cheapest at: $49.98 Right Stuf

Synopsis: Seven years have passed since the fall of Teppelin, and humans are now thriving on the surface. Simon is the Supreme Commander of the New Government, and he's happily engaged to Nia. However, the population soon hits one million, sending the world once again into a spiral of destruction. The moon is falling out of orbit, and both Simon and Nia find themselves central to it all.

Thoughts: You can read Theron's thoughts on some of these episodes here, or you can check them out for yourself on Crunchyroll and Hulu.


Leviathan: The Last Defense - Complete Collection BD, DVD
Sentai - 325 min - Hyb - MSRP $69.98 | $59.98
Currently cheapest at: $40.29 Amazon | $35.04 Rakuten

Synopsis: Aquafall used to be a beautiful, peaceful paradise until disaster struck. Meteors started falling from the skies, bringing with them terrible monsters bent on destroying the world. Luckily, a plucky fairy named Syrup is ready to fight back, but she needs to find help, first. She recruits a special team of magic users: the strong Jörmungandr, the fire-conjuring Bahamut, and the water-manipulating Leviathan. But are they ready to defend their home against aliens?

Thoughts: Despite its serious-sounding plot, Leviathan is on the fluffier side of things. The magic users are actually cutesy dragon girls, if you couldn't tell by their names, and they take their long, sweet time goofing around until the storyline grudgingly kicks in. I could only make it four episodes, but Carl managed to last all 13. You can read his thoughts here. The series is also streaming on The Anime Network, Hulu, and Crunchyroll.


One Piece - Collection Box 2 DVD
Funimation - 2525 min - Hyb - MSRP $99.98
Currently cheapest at: $89.98 Amazon

Synopsis: Another Amazon-exclusive, this collection box includes episodes 104-205 of One Piece, which corresponds to the individual collections 5 through 8, or Season 2 Voyage 5 through the end of Season 3. For those who like to categorize their One Piece into arcs, that contains the bulk of the Alabasta Arc and the entirety of the Sky Island Arc.

Thoughts: Considering each "voyage" DVD set retails for $49.98, you're getting a pretty good bang for your buck with these Amazon sets, especially for a series that seems infinitely long like One Piece. That's less than a dollar per episode. If you have the time and energy to marathon the whole thing (at current count, there are 680 episodes available), you can stream the series on Funimation, Crunchyroll, or Hulu.


Rose of Versailles - Part 1 [Litebox] DVD
Nozomi - 480 min - Sub - MSRP $39.99
Currently cheapest at: $29.99 Right Stuf

Synopsis: This is the Litebox release of The Rose of Versailles, a now-classic shoujo series set in the years before the French Revolution. It centers around two main characters, Marie Antoinette, who is freshly engaged to the future king Louis-Auguste, and Oscar François de Jarjayes, a woman who was raised as a boy by her father, General Jarjayes, and now serves as the Commander of the French Royal Guards. Her main task is to protect Marie Antoinette, but it's not an easy task, as everyone seems to have their own dangerous agendas.

Thoughts: The Rose of Versailles is really a must-see for fans of shoujo, or just fans of strong female characters in general. It stars an incredibly rich cast of women characters, who play every role from the damsel to the hero to the villain, and there isn't a single one that could be described as one-dimensional. Lovers of history might also be amused to see the rumblings that eventually escalated into the French Revolution, though it is colored in the melodramatic reaction shots of late-1970s shoujo. This Litebox release is a barebones re-release of the series, but you can check out my thoughts on part one, as well as Rebecca's. You can watch the series streaming on Viki, Crunchyroll, and Hulu.


You're Being Summoned, Azazel - Complete Collection DVD
Nozomi - 338 min - Sub - MSRP $39.99
Currently cheapest at: $27.99 Amazon

Synopsis: Sakuma works part time for a detective named Akutabe. Things have been going smoothly for a few months, but one day, Akutabe lets her in on a little secret. He's actually a devil-summoner, and often uses devils to help solve the troubles of his clients. One of those devils is Azazel, a not terribly competent, dog-faced lust demon, who keeps screwing up his jobs. Naturally, he ends up contracted to Sakuma, who finds that she needs to keep Azazel on a very tight leash. This collection contains the entirety of You're Being Summoned, Azazel and You're Being Summoned, Azazel Z. Each episode is roughly 12 minutes long.

Thoughts: We don't have a full review of the series, but you can check out everyone's thoughts in the Spring 2011 Preview Guide.


Shelf Life Reviews

This week feels like it's all about coincidence. I was surprised to see that Comic Party and Genshiken 2 were both being released this week, especially since it's hard to talk about the first one without mentioning its better-known, and perhaps more critically acclaimed genre predecessor. I was also tickled to see that both Paul and I reviewed SHAFT series this week, although the two titles definitely drum up different emotions in the viewer. The internet being what it is, though, there's probably crossover fanfic in some niche corner of the community. I would read it at least once.

Nisekoi has always managed to tight-rope the line between fresh and hopelessly generic. On the one hand, it has all the trappings of a standard harem romcom—there's a collection of women who are vying for Raku's attention, and at least one of them is barely more than a chewed-up archetype (sorry Kosaki, I'm looking at you). The other two, at least for now, have a few elements that bump them out of total cookie-cutter territory, but still come from specific molds. Chitoge is definitely the gruff tsundere, but at least the set-up gives her an excuse. After all, she's the daughter of a gangster boss. Why wouldn't she be rough around the edges? Plus to the show's credit, she doesn't really like Raku (or at least she gets to play the "it's not like I'm into you or anything!" role), and Raku certainly doesn't think he likes her.

And then there's newcomer Seishiro, who plays another narrowly-defined archetype that's strangely prevalent in a lot of anime—that of the girl who was raised as a boy, and is thus more comfortable in men's clothing, but looks super adorable in a dress and gets a case of the blushies when someone points it out. Seishiro's so clueless about love that when she first starts feeling the pitter-patter of a crush, she asks everyone she knows to diagnose her symptoms. It'd be adorable if her sole reason for liking Raku didn't seem to stem from him telling her she was cute. It just seems uninspired. Seishiro is certainly a welcome addition to the cast, and she provides a lot of grins with her gun-toting hijinks, but in terms of the harem soup, it just makes the whole thing rather bland.

But while Nisekoi has a whole slate of all-too-familiar and all-too-tired elements, there's an outlandishness about Nisekoi that keeps it from being too stagnant. It's like adding hot sauce to a boring meal—it keeps you distracted from the more tiresome elements and diverts your attention elsewhere. In Nisekoi's case, the series really does get a lot of mileage out of the whole gangsters and yakuza bit. It's a joke that never gets old, because the series is able to use it effectively in a comedic way, whether it's watching supposedly-tough gangsters fawn over their boss' children, or pulling jealous shenanigans. Claude's ridiculous hot springs gender switcheroo may have been cheesy, but there was something about the sight of a spa basket scuttling across the water that tickled my funny bone, and I enjoyed the scene a lot more than I typically would.

That's not to say the series gets a free pass just because of a handful of gangsters. The locket and key business is much more tedious than it has to be, and the characters' refusal to communicate with each other makes me want to strangle them. But the series also has the advantage of fun visuals, which helps to pick up any slack that the script leaves.

SHAFT does a good job of taking the manga's character reactions and bringing them to life, giving us plenty of squiggly mouths, cartoonish wide-eyes, and hatch-mark blushing that seemingly hover on top of the characters' faces and hair. Each reaction is as exaggerated as possible, and the animators milk each and every interaction for everything it's worth. Chitoge gets several great moments in the "Lottery" episode, starting with her beak-mouthed yelp at breakfast time, to her Grinch-like grimaces when she's alone in the forest. Scenes like that win me over every time, and they do a lot to set Nisekoi apart from other shows of its kind. It also helps that the rest of the art in the series is pretty. Buildings are beautiful and detailed, and the patterns that sometimes stand-in for backgrounds are bright and dramatic.

But even with all this, it's hard to avoid the elephant in the room., which is that Nisekoi is very much a collectors' show. It's five episodes to a disc, for prices that don't get too much lower than $50. At $10 an episode (subtitled-only, minimal extras), you're paying essentially $20 for every hour of entertainment, which I guess makes it more expensive than a movie, but cheaper than a night of big city drinking. Personally, I don't know that I'd make the investment. I like Nisekoi well enough to be entertained, and the characters make me laugh, but I don't know that I'd find myself reaching for this series enough times to justify the price. So really, that's the big decision you'll have to make. Until then, you can check it out on Aniplex Channel, Hulu, Daisuki, and Crunchyroll.
- Bamboo[TOP]

Next up, Paul's thoughts on ef: a tale of memories and ef: a tale of melodies.

This set collects ef: a tale of memories and its sequel, ef: a tale of melodies, into one convenient plastic case. As it turns out, that's a whole lot of drama to cram into a few marathon viewing sessions. This is a show that can really wear you out if you take on more than a few episodes in one sitting.

Each season tells a pair of love stories, and all four plotlines converge to some extent by the end of the series. The show's first half is the less ambitious of the two, and ends up being stronger as a result. It takes a close look at some common character archetypes: the childhood friend, the charismatic girl with a troubled past, and the girl who struggles with memory loss. They're the sorts of heroines that show up all the time in anime, but they're rarely treated with the kind of gravity they receive here.

What sets ef apart from similar shows is its willingness to treat these hooks seriously. Chihiro's shortened memory span isn't just a gimmick to make her a more memorable character; it's a major emotional obstacle that affects both her and the people around her. By the same token, the romantic rivalry between Kei and Miyako isn't treated as a source of harem comedy punchlines. Hearts get broken, people get hurt, and characters are forced to make tough choices. The show earns the happy endings it offers, rather than simply handing them out as a matter of routine. The storytelling can get a bit rough at times, but it makes for a compelling experience.

By contrast, the second season ends up collapsing under the weight of its ambitions. The script tries to connect people and events across space and time, all while upping the emotional ante with much darker storylines. These are admirable goals, but the execution ends up ringing hollow for me. The characters start to feel less like people and more like vehicles for presenting the script's worldview. The appeal of a complex take on a simple premise is lost as the plot delves into themes of abuse and mortality. These themes are almost always taken seriously, so the bar for pulling a meaningful story out of them is much higher. The series doesn't quite have the subtlety or insight to pull it off, and the second season quickly turns into a mess of cheap plot devices and blatant emotional manipulation. Before it's all over, the characters start breaking the fourth wall and lecturing the audience on the importance of following you dreams. The first season made my eyes tear up; the second just made them roll in exasperation.

Part of the problem lies in ef's visual style. Fans of the Bakemonogatari family of shows will immediately recognize this as a SHAFT production, complete with that studio's trademark artistic presentation. It works well in the first half, even if some of the visual gimmicks feel unnecessary. There's one particularly effective scene where a character leaves a series of increasingly desperate voicemail messages. Her words are paired with text that slowly fills the screen, making for a deeply disturbing and undeniably compelling experience. Not only does the second season recycle this particular trick, it uses it on multiple occasions. Each scene feels progressively less original, which robs some key plot points of their emotional impact. The approach is different each time, but the core gimmick is always the same. Once the audience knows what to expect, the trick loses its shock value. This is an older series, and it's obvious that the folks at SHAFT were still working the kinks out of their animation style when they made ef.

I really enjoyed the “memories” half of this collection, and can see myself watching it again to take it slow and really appreciate the high points. The “melodies” season is worth a single viewing just to see how everything ties together, but it strays way too far into soap opera territory for my tastes. Taken as a whole, the complete collection averages out to a rental. The highs are exhilarating, but the lows are exhausting. Give it a shot, but be prepared to swear loudly and often at your TV screen.
- Paul[TOP]

That's it for this week. Thanks for reading! Next week, we'll welcome Lynzee Lamb on board with her review of Rose of Versailles, and Paul's review of Fantastic Detective Labyrinth.

This week's shelves are from Patrick C: "Here's my modest anime and manga collection. I've been collecting almost 2 years now and for the first year I was mostly buying cheap and used stuff since I was broke and in school, but this past year I started buying more limited editions, imports, and even some hentai manga.

As you can see, my shelves are completely full, so I'm hoping to upgrade to something better soon. Otherwise, I won't have room for new stuff!"

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