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Shelf Life
The Rose Garden

by Bamboo Dong, Lynzee Lamb, Paul Jensen,

Jump to this week's reviews: Fantastic Detective Labyrinth Complete Collection DVD and Rose of Versailles Part 1 DVD (Litebox).

On Shelves This Week

Digimon Fusion - Season 1 DVD
Cinedigm/New Video - 660 min - Dub - MSRP $44.99
Currently cheapest at: $28.92 Rakuten

Synopsis: Made in 2010, Digimon Fusion is the sixth installment in the Digimon franchise, and follows Mikey and his friends as they get transported into the digital realm and team up with their new Digimon friends to take down the evil Bagra Army. It was released in Japan as Digimon Xros Wars.

Thoughts: This is the dub release of Digimon Fusion that aired on US TV, which you can check out right now on Netflix, with familiar voice talent like Vic Mignogna, Patrick Seitz, Mary Elizabeth McGlynn, Bryce Papenbrook, and more. If you're keen on checking out the original Japanese version, both Digimon Xros Wars and its sequel Digimon Xros Wars: The Young Hunters Who Leapt Through Time can be watched streaming on Crunchyroll.

Engaged to the Unidentified - Complete Collection BD | DVD
Sentai - 300 min - Sub - MSRP $59.98 | $49.98
Currently cheapest at: $34.49 Amazon | $29.20 Rakuten

Synopsis: Kobeni is excited to celebrate her 16th birthday, but she receives some shocking news—she's engaged to be married. Not only that, but her fiance is moving into her house, along with his little sister. And they'll both be transferring into her class, even though the little sister is clearly not old enough to be in high school. Something seems a little out of place, but nobody seems to mind, especially Kobeni's older sister, who loves having a new girl to dote on.

Thoughts: For as generic as the premise sounds, Engaged to the Unidentified is surprisingly funny and charming. It helps that the characters have a never-ending supply of gags to react to, thanks to the series' four-panel comic roots and the comic timing that it inherited from its source. You can check out my Shelf Life review here, or read Theron's review of the first six episodes. Or, you can just check the series out for yourself; it's streaming on The Anime Network, Hulu, and Crunchyroll.

Reideen - Collection 2 DVD
Sentai - 325 min - Sub - MSRP $49.98
Currently cheapest at: $29.20 Rakuten

Synopsis: As the Mechanical Beasts increase their attacks, the mystery surrounding Earth's enigmatic robot hero only grows. High school student Junki isn't sure why he was chosen to pilot Reideen, and he can't be sure of how it even came to be. What he does know, though, is that he's facing the dangers alone. With threats from aliens and humans alike, Junki must find answers before it's too late.

Thoughts: If you've never heard of Reideen, you might not be alone. A remake of the 1975 Yuusha Raideen, it came out all the way back in 2007, but despite its pedigree (it was produced by Production I.G; directed by Mitsuru Hondo of Outlaw Star, Shin-chan, and World Trigger fame; and co-written by Mashiro Yokotani, who's gone on to write The Devil Is a Part-Timer! and Free! - Iwatobi Swim Club), it never saw the light of day in the US until the first 13 episodes were released by Sentai last year. Mike Toole mentioned it briefly in one of his older columns, but it was never reviewed on ANN. If you're curious, though, it's streaming on The Anime Network. If anyone has seen it and can offer any commentary about how good/not good it is, let us know in the forums!

Sailor Moon - Season 1 Part 2 BD+DVD | DVD
Viz - 510 min - Hyb - MSRP $69.99 | $44.82
Currently cheapest at: $52.80 Amazon | $27.63 Rakuten

Synopsis: Sailor Moon, Sailor Mercury, and Sailor Mars are joined by two new Sailor Guardians: Sailor Jupiter, the Guardian of Thunder; and Sailor Venus, the Guardian of Love. This set covers episodes 24-46 of the series, which encompasses the last half of the series, and the final encounter with Queen Beryl.

Thoughts: Having only freshly re-watched the first 23 episodes a few months ago, I have a new-found enthusiasm and love for this series. It's amazing how well the themes hold up after all these years, and I find myself appreciating them even more now that I'm a little older. I am curious how this boxset holds up, though, video-wise. The first half was riddled with problems, and while I loved certain aspects of the release (the new dub is fantastic), it was far from perfect. Has anyone gotten their copy of Part 2 yet? How is the release?
If you're hankering for some Sailor Moon now, you can check it out on Viz and Hulu.

Shelf Life Reviews

We're joined this week by another contributor, ANN's Lynzee Lamb, whom readers may recognize from the News and Interest sections, as well as The List. While I've certainly loved being the sole voice of Shelf Life (I'll still be contributing!), I've really been enjoying and cherishing having different opinions in the column, and I hope that you'll enjoy the fresh voices, too. This week's reviews feature thoughts from both Lynzee and Paul.

First up is Lynzee, with her take on The Rose of Versailles Part 1 Litebox recently released by Right Stuf/Nozomi.

Riyoko Ikeda's classic manga and subsequent anime adaptation is considered hallowed ground, a deserved reputation given its profound effects on the medium. Without Rose of Versailles, there might very well be no Revolutionary Girl Utena. Oscar François de Jarjayes was shojo manga's first genderbending heartthrob. She's dashing, noble, and up for out-sparring her childhood friend Andre at any given opportunity. Her rank in the King's royal guard is the result of her father's dedication to raise her as a man. All of this laid the groundwork for Ikuhara's pink-haired princess who decides to become a prince 25 years later.

Its historical legacy aside, the anime is very much a product of its time. Its depiction of the French Revolution, its scheming characters, and even the swoon-worthy Oscar cannot save the fact that The Rose of Versailles is barely animated. The impact of characters' personal dramas are hindered by voiced-over art stills, long pans or zooms, and animated effect shots. The latter might be two characters staring at each other, but the only animation is swirling flames or lightning to signify the emotion on-screen. Characters exiting the room, going up stairs, down stairs, or really doing anything will be cut in place of stills. The only thing consistently animated are horses and sword fight scenes, the latter of which are regularly recycled from previous fights.

The series is, first and foremost, a character drama. If viewers can move past the obvious budgeting shortcuts, there's a soap opera-like story waiting to suck them in. In the first half, the audience is introduced to the innocent Marie Antoinette. The new queen-to-be struggles with the formalities of French court, a well meaning but neglectful new husband, and constant plots by scheming nobles to overthrow her. It's a humanizing take on a historical figure who is usually labeled as frivolous and selfish. It's Oscar, though, whose character steals the show with her struggles for “womanly desires” (love) and “masculine expectations” (duty to country). Her role in the Imperial Guard routinely gets Oscar wrapped up in the catty inner workings of the court, paired with the frustrations of guarding her naive charge whose innocent disposition is often taken advantage of by other nobles looking to improve their station.

Anyone familiar at all with the time period will know how the story plays out in the end. That isn't to say that the anime's narrative doesn't regularly spoil its sense of tension for no particular reason. The show's narrator (voiced by Kakuko Motoyama) is tasked with introducing the setting and players in the story. This is initially helpful for viewers unfamiliar with the time period, but it continues throughout the first half and outright spoils any backstabbing or plot-twists before they happen. The narrator will reveal Madame de Polignac's true nature the moment she's on screen, as well as Robespierre's role in the Revolution, and even lets the cat out of the bag by revealing Rosalie's mother's identity (a plot point taking up several episodes) in the episode preview. It's a frustrating experience when an interesting story is lying underneath the surface, but the narrative presentation continually drops any tension.

The 11-year-old Charlotte's plight is one of the few occasions where a drama is allowed to play out naturally without the interference of spoilers. Hands down, it was one of the most emotionally impacting moments in the first half. The precocious girl falls victim to an arranged marriage by her mother, and her soon-to-be husband is the 42-year-old Duke of Guiche who states he prefers them “the younger, the better.” Charlotte's fate as she laments the upcoming loss of her innocence is deeply moving, and notably one of the better animated bits in the show. The audience can feel her overwhelming fear when the Duke corners her alone in a dark room, and a simple kiss of the hand takes on much more sinister connotations. If only the entirety of the 20 episodes received the same treatment, the show would be a more engaging experience.

For its undeniable influence on shojo, and manga and anime as a whole, Rose of Versailles is something that should be experienced at least once. The historical drama is not without its glaring flaws, however. Its narrative and artistic presentation don't quite hold up to its masterpiece reputation.
- Lynzee

Next up is Paul's thoughts on another Nozomi release, Fantastic Detective Labyrinth.

On paper, Fantastic Detective Labyrinth should work. It's filled with potential hooks: a brilliant kid detective, a handsome butler with hidden powers, and a mysterious criminal mastermind, to name just a few. The animation quality is consistent, the soundtrack is put to good use, and there's a rich backstory. Sadly, the series never quite figures out how to make all of these pieces fit together.

For the first dozen episodes, Fantastic Detective Labyrinth plods along as a reasonably competent mystery series. Its main character is your typical boy detective: a twelve-year-old prodigy with a penchant for solving mysterious cases and drinking expensive tea. Mayuki and his friends aren't the most original characters ever, but they're likable enough to carry a series of two-episode story arcs. The show relies on some pretty ancient genre tropes, including an unbelievably incompetent police force, but a few of the mysteries are unique enough to be entertaining. Armchair detectives will be a bit frustrated at Mayuki's tendency to pull key information out of nowhere, but it can be fun if you're not in the mood to think too hard.

About halfway through this collection, though, things start to unravel in a big way. Once the show's criminal mastermind reveals himself, the mystery-solving elements are thrown out the window entirely. The series takes a sharp and sudden turn into supernatural action territory, constantly bombarding the audience with fight scenes and questionable plot twists. It turns out that everyone is someone else's brother, uncle, sister, or mother's bodyguard's daughter. There are multiple ancient bloodlines and inherited superpowers to contend with, and new characters are occasionally tossed in to mix things up even more. Heck, there's even a “Luke, I am your father” moment near the end of the series. Even before pillars of fire start spewing out of the ground and sandworms start chasing people around the city, it's obvious that the show has gone completely off the rails.

The changes are so drastic, so sudden, and so universally bad that I find myself struggling to imagine what happened during the production process. It's almost as though the studio held a brainstorming meeting after episode twelve and used every single suggestion that was put forward. The script struggles to keep up with itself, often waiting to explain an event's emotional significance until after it's already happened. Characters regularly spout awkward expository dialogue as they pull secret techniques out of thin air, and the members of Mayuki's mystery-solving team fade into obscurity as the show struggles to find a role for them in the absence of any actual mysteries. Forced comedic interludes completely derail the pacing, and most of the punchlines are too predictable to provide any real comic relief. I wasn't in love with the early episodes' detective stories, but I would've given anything to get them back by the end of the series.

If nothing else, Fantastic Detective Labyrinth serves as a useful lesson in what happens when you try to fix something that isn't particularly broken. Had it simply continued on as an episodic detective show, it might have at least been enjoyable for fans of the genre. Instead, it devolves into a generic mess that offers the audience no tangible reason to keep watching. The only thing that I can genuinely praise it for is the packaging, which somehow crams five discs into a single DVD case without stacking or overlapping any of them. I can't think of a reason to watch this series over again, but it'll be pretty darn convenient if I ever do.
- Paul

That's it for this week! Tune in next week for more reviews, including Maid Sama! and Space Brothers!

This week's shelves come from JTDR in Zürich, Switzerland.

"Japanese mangas, printed in Germany, imported to Switzerland and put in swedish shelfs. Anime are watched on a 27". I hope nobody is going to say that we swiss people are isolated ;-)

By the way, I hope the ANN homepage on the screen dosen't count as product placement ;-)

Acutally, I wanted to show a pictue of Minato and Kushina but we saw that plenty of times in the anime.

From left to right: Naruto, Bleach, D.Gray-man, Gintama, Rock Lee SD (Rock Lee no Seishun Full-Power Ninden), Yu-Gi-Oh!, Fullmoon o Sagashite, Kamikaze Kaitō Jeanne, Murder Princess (english) and original japanese Sailor Moon, anniversary edition."

Color me impressed with how organized everything is! If only anything I owned looked as nice as this...

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

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