Shelf Life
Space Case

by Bamboo Dong, Paul Jensen,

Jump to this week's reviews: Space Brothers Volume 1 BD, My mental choices are completely interfering with my school romantic comedy BD, and Maid Sama Complete Series BD.

On Shelves This Week

.hack//SIGN - Complete Series DVD
Funimation - 700 min - Hyb - MSRP $39.98
Currently cheapest at: $23.02 Rakuten

Synopsis: Tsukasa wakes up one day, only to discover that he's trapped inside The World, a fantasy MMORPG that he routinely played in real life. Unable to log out, he eventually befriends a handful of other players, including a girl named Subaru who leads an organization dedicated to fighting in-game injustices like player killing. Together, they try to figure out the truth behind their situation, and find a way back to the real world.

Thoughts: Would you ever have believed that we'd see .Hack//SIGN back on shelves again? Dating back to 2002, this series is the prototypical "gamers stuck in a game" series that legions of fans have cited when talking about its thematic successors like Sword Art Online, Log Horizon, and even Btooom! (which is more like a video game-inspired Battle Royale). Directed by Koichi Mashimo (Tsubasa: RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE, Sorcerer Hunters, The Irresponsible Captain Tylor), with character designs by Yoshiyuki Sadamoto (Neon Genesis Evangelion, FLCL), a script by Kazunori Ito (Ghost in the Shell, Patlabor the Mobile Police), and an incredible soundtrack from Yuki Kajiura (Madoka Magica, Sword Art Online), it kickstarted a multimedia franchise that included OVAs, manga, and video games. Despite its star-studded production team, it's not a perfect series, but it holds a special place in the hearts of many fans, who likely still remember Bandai's original hexagonal box and the splash that it made when it was introduced stateside. I was a little surprised to stumble upon an old review that I had written back in 2003, when the series first came out. I don't know if the show really lives up to the nostalgia, but if you're curious, it's streaming on Funimation and Hulu.

Diabolik Lovers - Complete Collection BD
Sentai - 180 min - Hyb - MSRP $39.98
Currently cheapest at: $22.99 Amazon

Synopsis: Yui arrives at a new home, not knowing that the six brothers she's about to meet are actually vampires. As she adjusts to her situation, she uncovers secrets about her family life, and realizes the perils of rooming with six men who all have their own dangerous agendas. The series is based on a visual novel franchise developed by Rejet.

Thoughts: I find it difficult to recommend this series personally, though it seems I'm not alone—the user ratings on ANN average 4.8 out of 10. Blessedly, each episode is only 12 minutes long, though the short run-time doesn't do much to help the series' threadbare storyline and non-existent character development. If it helps, the opening theme is titled "Mr. SADISTIC NIGHT," while the ending is "nightmare." Both are shockingly accurate descriptors of the series, both quality- and content-wise. Silver lining: hot dudes. Bonus level: the series is streaming on The Anime Network, Hulu, and Crunchyroll.

Flame of Recca DVD
Eastern Star - 965 min - Hyb - MSRP $69.95
Currently cheapest at: $40.88 Rakuten

Synopsis: High schooler Recca has always felt a kinship witih ninjas, believing himself to be one. He claims that the person who defeats him will earn his faithful services, but he finds himself swearing his allegiance to a girl named Yanagi, who possesses healing powers. Recca soon discovers that he, too, has powers, and can manipulate fire. Not only that, but he's the sixth leader of the Hokage, a ninja clan demolished by Oda Nobunaga.

Thoughts: Eastern Star/Discotek is killing it these days with their old school re-releases, and Flame of Recca is just another entry on that list. Dating back to 1997, it oozes late-90s Studio Pierrot, from its character designs by Mari Kitayama (Tokyo Mew Mew and Yu Yu Hakusho, both great Pierrot shows) to its affable shonen charm. Kids these days have likely never even heard of this series, but it's one worth revisiting, just for old time's sake.

Kill la Kill vol. 4 BD, DVD
Aniplex of America - 125 min - Hyb - MSRP $49.98 | $39.98
Currently cheapest at: $39.98 Right Stuf | $29.98 Right Stuf

Synopsis: Satsuki goes face to face with Osaka's Kaneo Takarada, but will his wealth help against the Elite Four? Meanwhile, Ryuko arrives to duke it out with Satsuki and retrieve Senketsu's last piece. While the two are battling, Nonon attacks the Nudist Beach HQ. Later, Satsuki is making plans for the Cultural & Sports Grand Festival with her mother, the academy director, as the honorable guest, but she'll have to deal with Ryuko and the others first.

Thoughts: This volume covers episodes 15-19 of the series, which are as tumultuous, weird, and exciting as the ones preceding them. You can check out Carl's review of the last half of the series, but be forewarned that the review also covers episodes on the fifth and final disc. You can stream the series right now on Hulu and Crunchyroll, or watch it every week on Toonami.

Koimonogatari: Hitagi End BD
Aniplex of America - 150 min - Sub - MSRP $74.98
Currently cheapest at: $59.98 Right Stuf

Synopsis: Kaiki receives a phone call from Hitagi with a request—"There is someone I'd like you to deceive"—one that would end up saving her and Koyomi's lives. Kaiki begins to research his target, Nadeko Sengoku, but uncovers a secret. With time running out, he works to save Hitagi and Koyomi as promised.

Thoughts: This mini-series is the fifth arc of Monogatari Second Season, and encompasses episodes 21-26 of the season's original numbering. This release is not cheap, and basically boils down to $12 an episode at retail, but if you want an indication of what Aniplex's other Monogatari releases are like, you can check out reviews of Nekomonogatari White, Kabukimonogatari, Otorimonogatari, and Onimonogatari. You can also catch the series streaming on Hulu and Crunchyroll.

Space Brothers Collection 1 BD, DVD
Sentai - 325 min - Sub - MSRP $59.98 | $49.98
Currently cheapest at: $35.44 Rakuten | $29.20 Rakuten

Synopsis: Mutta is fired after he headbutts his supervisor at work. Meanwhile, his younger brother is getting ready to be the first Japanese man to set foot on the moon, an accomplishment that Mutta has mixed feelings about. As Mutta languishes at a dead-end job, he receives a surprise: his parents have submitted his resume to the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, and he's been selected for the first round of astronaut selection interviews.

Thoughts: I really cannot recommend Space Brothers enough, as you will see in my review this week. It's a bit of a bummer that the series isn't being dubbed, as it is truly one of the best series to come out in recent years, but it's understandable, considering its length and slow pace. This particular collection includes episodes 1-12, which you can read Carl's thoughts for here, or jump to the review below. Check out the series streaming on The Anime Network, Hulu, and Crunchyroll.

Tiger & Bunny: The Rising BD+DVD, DVD
Viz - 94 min - Hyb - MSRP $29.99 | $19.98
Currently cheapest at: $21.28 Amazon | $13.81 Rakuten

Synopsis: Following the events of the Tiger and Bunny TV series, Kotetsu T. Kaburagi is fired by Apollon Media's new owner, who moves Barnaby Brooks Jr. into the First League and pairs him with a new hero named Golden Ryan. The two are sent to investigate a string of strange, super-powered incidents which are somehow tied to the city's Goddess Legend. Will Tiger and Bunny be able to reunite before it's too late?

Thoughts: Although The Rising is a chronological sequel to the series, it's more of just an add-on. Even so, you'll be hopelessly lost if you try to jump into it without having seen the series first. Luckily, you can watch the series dubbed and subbed on Viz and Hulu. You can also read David's review of The Rising here.

Violence Jack DVD
Eastern Star - 150 min - Hyb - MSRP $24.95
Currently cheapest at: $14.58 Rakuten

Synopsis: After a crippling natural disaster, Japan's Kanto region has become chaotic and lawless. The place is ruled by the despotic Slum King, and only one man can stand up to him—Violence Jack.

Thoughts: This is another one of those releases I'm surprised we don't have a review for, but then again, it was first released in the US back in the days when people had to choose between buying subbed or dubbed VHS tapes. It was birthed from the delightfully weird and creative mind of Go Nagai, whose list of classics include Devilman, Getter Robo, Cutey Honey, Kekkō Kamen, and basically an entire list of shows that would be fun to watch in a party setting. It's not for everyone, but if your ears perk up at "1986 Go Nagai" in a sentence, then this is for you.

Shelf Life Reviews

We have three reviews for you this week, which run the gamut from astronaut selection tests to shirtless teenagers racing down a hallway. First up, my thoughts on the first twelve episodes of Space Brothers.

Welcome to Shelf Life!

Over the years, a lot of people have asked me, "What anime would you recommend to people who don't watch anime?" And since 2012, my answer has always been the same: "Space Brothers." It's not just that it has a low barrier of entry—its quiet, almost documentary-style presentation could easily be envisioned on American evening TV if it were live-action. But from a storytelling perspective, it's truly wonderful. Its characters are engaging and complex; its narrative manages to weave seamlessly between past and present and through multiple locales; and somehow, despite its leisurely pace, it manages to keep viewers on hook from one episode to the next. Above all else, it's a love note to space—not just space exploration itself, but the pioneering spirit of those who risk their lives to chase a dream in the stars.

Sentai's release date falls at a good time. It happens to coincide (completely by accident) with recent news regarding ongoing astronaut selections for a planned one-way trip to Mars. It's a happy alignment for several reasons—for starters, Space Brothers is set in 2025, only one year after the first proposed Mars One mission. Secondly, it's the initial end goal for main protagonist Mutta, who always strives to be one step ahead of his younger brother Hibito, who is in training to be the first Japanese national to set foot on the moon. The third reason is not so much a real coincidence as it is just a personal footnote—ever since the series started, it's reminded me a lot of Mary Roach's fantastic book, Packing for Mars, which gives vivid details about JAXA's astronaut selection process. Imagine my surprise when the series (and the manga on which its based) followed those steps to a T, including a prolonged stint inside a sealed chamber where applicants are tasked with a seemingly arbitrary set of tasks, intended to test their strength, endurance, intelligence, patience, and response to stress and anxiety. The first volume of Space Brothers ends shortly after Mutta and his fellow applicants enter the testing facility, but even by then, the JAXA mind games are already going strong.

I mention this latter point largely to illustrate how impeccably Space Brothers is researched. It's one thing to tell a gripping story about the day-to-day experiences of a would-be astronaut. It's another to go the extra mile and present a story that virtually doubles as a learning experience, one that will tickle anyone with a profound interest in space programs. It's not just the JAXA end of things—Space Brothers has done its homework, from thoughtful recreations of NASA training exercises, to the placement of every darned rocket and shuttle outside the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center. If there's anything that can re-spark that desire to be an astronaut that every child of the 90s had, it's likely Space Brothers.

But real-life details aside, Space Brothers is also a fine piece of character-driven fiction. Mutta's character alone is worth the price of admission. From his quirky habits and offbeat behavior, to his insecurities of being the underachieving older sibling, his character is incredibly three-dimensional and well-crafted. His listlessness at the beginning of the series is one that many people can identify with. He goes through the movements of trying to fix his life, but he doesn't dare reach for his dreams; it's his parents that end up pulling the trigger. They submit an application to JAXA on his behalf, and even when Mutta is accepted for the next round of interviews, he hesitates. There's everyday life, and then there are dreams. When he meets the other applicants, he's bowled over by their ambitions. Unlike him, they have clear visions of their futures, and clear reasons for pursuing their goals. In comparison, Mutta goes with the flow, sometimes to his detriment.

Even if you don't find yourself identifying fully with Mutta, as I did, there is just so much to chew on with Space Brothers. The dynamic between Mutta and Hibito forms much of the basis for the series, even when Hibito is off-screen. And even with a generous serving of comedy to keep viewers amused, Mutta's struggles to tackle his dreams is nothing short of inspiring. It's often difficult to convince people to start watching a 99-episode series about the space program, but it's one of the best series to be released in the past five years, and I highly recommend that everyone give it a try.
- Bamboo[TOP]

Next up, Paul's thoughts on My mental choices are completely interfering with my school romantic comedy (NouCome).

My mental choices are completely interfering with my school romantic comedy is a dumb show. It's a rude, crude one-trick pony that relies almost entirely on shock value to make its jokes work. It revels in taking the low road to cheap laughs, and was clearly not made to suit all tastes. Even so, it managed to do the one thing that all comedies absolutely need to do: it made me laugh. A lot.

The show's premise offers a pretty good idea of what to expect. Its teenage protagonist Kanade has been placed under a mysterious curse that he refers to as Absolute Choice. At random times throughout each day, a disembodied voice presents him with two options, both of which are usually humiliating, dangerous, or just incredibly unpleasant. Refusing to choose an option results in horrible pain, so he needs to pick the lesser of two evils as quickly as possible. It's essentially a game of “would you rather” with real-world consequences.

As absurd as the Absolute Choice gimmick is, it's kind of a brilliant comedic device. Each new dilemma gives the show several chances to make the audience laugh. There's the initial shock of how terrible the choices are, followed immediately by Kanade's horrified reaction to his predicament. He then has to go through with one of the options and find a way to convince the people around him that he's not a complete lunatic. Nine times out of ten, at least one step in the process ends up earning a few laughs. The fairly low episode count (ten plus an OVA) is actually beneficial here, as it keeps the gimmick from wearing out its welcome. Even in the later episodes, Absolute Choice manages to remain the show's greatest asset.

When Kanade isn't sprinting shirtless through his classroom while screaming his head off, the series becomes more hit-or-miss. The missions that he's forced to take on in order to lift the curse are the driving force behind the plot, but not all of them are created equal. When the missions are truly ridiculous and the comedy is free to go all out, the results are usually entertaining. When the series plays it safe or tries to inflict some genuine emotions on its cast, things tend to go downhill in a hurry. There are a couple of sweet moments between Kanade and the lovably deadpan Furano, but most of the other characters lack the depth to sustain their own story arcs.

The biggest problem this series has is that most of its best content only works once. The strength of the Absolute Choice routines lies in their sheer unpredictability. The first time you see Kanade presented with an absurd option like spending the rest of his life as a sink drain, the element of surprise makes it hard not to laugh. Watch that episode a second time, though, and the joke loses its punch because you know what to expect. All comedies have this problem to some extent, but it becomes a major issue when a show relies so heavily on its ability to shock the audience into laughing.

My Mental Choices is absolutely not for everyone. It's loud, raunchy, and shameless, but it takes full ownership of those qualities. If you can enjoy its particular brand of humor, then it's easily worth your time. If not, then you're better off staying as far away as possible and finding something saner. If you're not sure where you fall on that spectrum, it's probably best to stream an episode or two before going all in on the complete collection.
- Paul[TOP]

Last up, one more review from Paul, who tackles the complete series of Maid Sama.

Maid Sama! is the kind of show that sounds a lot trashier than it actually is. The series stars Misaki, the straight-laced student council president at a school full of obnoxious delinquents. She works as a waitress in a maid café to help her family pay the bills, a fact that she'd prefer to keep secret from everyone at school. It looks like the cat's out of the bag when she runs into Usui, the school's resident heartthrob, in her work uniform. Usui agrees to keep Misaki's secret, but he also starts frequenting the café and driving her completely nuts.

That premise sounds like a breeding ground for dumb and sleazy story arcs, but Maid Sama! manages to turn it into a respectable romantic comedy. Despite their clashing personalities, Misaki and Usui develop a grudging respect for one another. It's a pretty standard case of opposites attracting, but Misaki and Usui manage to generate a lot of laughs as they butt heads. Misaki's angry rants are crafted with care, building steadily from a small flame to a white-hot inferno of rage. That nuanced delivery helps make some predictable situations feel fresh, and it's replicated well in the English dub. Monica Rial does a great job of spitting out Usui's name like a curse word.

Misaki makes for a solid heroine, but the show's biggest strength lies in its supporting cast. The student council is amusingly helpless without Misaki, which creates a nice contrast with the generally competent staff at the café. Misaki and Usui also attract a group of eccentric friends, most of whom eventually develop beyond their initial comic relief roles. From cross-dressing idol Aoi to the “Three Idiots” who frequent the café, many of the minor characters end up being far more interesting than they first appear.

Unfortunately, the well-rounded supporting cast also draws attention to my biggest problem with this series: Usui is a pretty weak leading man. He has some good comedic chemistry with Misaki, but that's about as far as his appeal goes. The issue lies in his characterization as a mysterious cool guy. In order to maintain that sense of mystery, the show stubbornly avoids giving the audience any kind of sense of who Usui really is. All we really learn is that he lives by himself in an expensive apartment and has a crush on Misaki. As far as his family, backstory, interests, fears, and weaknesses go, we get zilch. Usui is a closed book that the script never gets around to opening.

That failure to develop Usui as a main character hurts the show, especially when it tries to transition from comedy to romance. Apart from his habit of rushing into danger to help Misaki, there's really not much of a reason to like the guy. As a result, it's hard to care about whether or not the two of them end up together. This problem gets exponentially worse when a childhood friend of Misaki's shows up to act as Usui's rival. Despite not appearing until the final third of the series, Shintani quickly becomes a more well-rounded and compelling character than Usui. I could be wrong, but it seems like a bad sign when a romantic comedy makes me root for the heroine to dump the hero and hook up with his rival.

Maid Sama! hits all the right notes as a comedy, but it struggles whenever it tries to take a more serious turn. An underdeveloped hero and some uninspired recurring villains keep it from being as good as it might have been. It's a fun show, but I don't think it merits a second viewing.
- Paul[TOP]

That's it for this week. Thanks for reading!

This week's shelves are from Logan, a.k.a. Rhys2753:

"I've been collecting anime for the better part of 6 years now though more heavily in recent years(thanks anime club) and I started collecting manga 3 years ago."

Thank you for sharing! That is a crazy collection.

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

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