A Gluten For Punishment
by Bamboo Dong, Paul Jensen,
We've got three reviews for you this week. I sank my teeth into the delectable Yakitate!! Japan, while Paul tackled Place to Place and the third season of The World God Only Knows.
Jump to this week's reviews: Place to Place Complete Collection BD, Yakitate!! Japan Season 1 DVD, The World God Only Knows Season 3 BD.
On Shelves This Week
Gingitsune Complete Collection BD, DVD
Sentai - 300 min - Sub - MSRP $59.98 | $49.98
Currently cheapest at: $34.49 Amazon | $29.20 Rakuten
Synopsis: Makoto Saeki is the successor to the Saeki Inari Shrine, but in addition to her duties, she also has a few gifts. She inherited "the sight" from her mother, a power that lets her interact with the kami who serve as the intermediaries between humans and gods. Amongst them is Gintarō, a fox spirit who can see into the future. Together, Makoto and Gintarō enjoy everyday life, while helping those around them.
Thoughts: Personally, I enjoyed Gingitsune quite a bit, but then again, I also enjoy slice-of-life shows, which are on the slower end. This series shines in those quiet everyday moments, all while delivering some good laughs. But don't just take it from me—Gabriella reviewed the Blu-ray last week on Shelf Life, and also gave the title a "shelf-worthy" rating. You can check it out for yourself on The Anime Network, Crunchyroll, and Hulu.
Magi - The Kingdom of Magic Volume 1 DVD
Aniplex of America - 325 min - Hyb - MSRP $79.98
Currently cheapest at: $64.98 Right Stuf
Synopsis: Following the events of Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic, Aladdin heads to Magnoshutatt to study magic, while Alibaba travels to the Leam Empire to batte the coliseum's gladiators. While in Magnoshutatt, Aladdin hopes to learn more about Al-Tharmen, the power that lies behind the "Abnormalities of the World," and sets his mind to training at the academy. Meanwhile, trouble is brewing in the Kou Empire when the throne is passed to someone unexpected.
Thoughts: This set covers episodes 1-13 of the season, which was reviewed during its simulcast run by Carl. You can watch both seasons of Magi online at Aniplex Channel, Hulu, and Crunchyroll.
Nisekoi: False Love Volume 3 BD
Aniplex of America - 125 min - Sub - MSRP $64.98
Currently cheapest at: $49.98 Right Stuf
Synopsis: Raku gets the courage to ask Kosaki the one question that's been nagging at him the entire time—whether she's the girl that he made the promise with ten years ago. But after Chitoge's birthday party, she too confesses that she has a key. Things are further complicated when Raku finds a photo of the girl from ten years ago, and another girl is added to the mix.
Thoughts: I'll have a review for this volume up on Shelf Life soon, but boy, are things getting complicated. Who knew there were so many stray keys out in the world? For now, you can check out reviews of volume 1 and 2 from Theron, or my thoughts on the same volumes on Shelf Life. The series is streaming online at Crunchyroll and Hulu.
Sankarea: Undying Love Complete Series BD+DVD
Funimation - 300 min - Hyb - MSRP $59.98
Currently cheapest at: $34.49 Amazon
Synopsis: Furuya is obsessed with zombies, even to the point of trying to resurrect his dead cat with a strange re-animation elixir. He meets a girl named Rea, who's miserable because of her abusive father. She tries to kill suicide by drinking Furuya's elixir, but instead turns her into a zombie... after she falls off a cliff. It's a strange situation, but perfect for Furuya, who finally has a beautiful zombie girlfriend to call his own.
Thoughts: Macabre as the series premise sounds, Sankarea is actually really fantastic. It has great characters and solid writing, and does a lot to keep viewers invested in the story unfolding on screen. You can see my review of the original BD boxset here, or read Rebecca's thoughts here. The series is streaming on Funimation and Hulu.
One Piece Collection Box 3 DVD (Amazon Exclusive)
Funimation - 2350 min - Hyb - MSRP $89.98
Currently cheapest at: $80.98 Amazon
Synopsis: This box is the third in the Amazon-exclusive series of One Piece collections. It contains episodes 206 through 299, which contain the Long Ring Long Land Arc, the Ocean's Dream Arc, the Foxy's Return Arc, the Water 7 Arc, and much of the Enies Lobby Arc. Or, if you're following along with Funimation's collections, it compiles collections 9 through 12.
Thoughts: You can check out Rebecca and Carl's reviews of those episodes as they showed up in the "Voyage" boxsets from Season 4 Part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5; and Season 5 Part 2 and 3. Or, you can barrel through the series on Funimation, Hulu, and Crunchyroll.
Shelf Life Reviews
Yakitate!! Japan Season 1 DVD
Place to Place Complete Collection BD
The World God Only Knows season 3 BD
Nothing this week
Place to Place doesn't have much of a plot, but what little story content there is follows Io and Tsumiki, the show's central quasi-couple. Tsumiki has a crush on Io, but is entirely too shy to tell him. Io seems to enjoy being friends with Tsumiki, but is too oblivious to notice her feelings. Their friends have a pretty good idea of what's going on, but the awkward romantic tension is just too entertaining to ruin by pushing the relationship forward. Instead, they all just hang around and have reasonably amusing misadventures.
Between that summary and the blobby, adorable character designs, you should probably have a pretty good idea of what to expect from Place to Place. The cast shuffles amiably through all four seasons, covering most of the slice of life standards. Midterm study sessions, school festivals, and some dangerously creative Valentine's Day chocolate all drive the plot at one point or another. The main characters all settle nicely into their comedic roles, though everyone except Io and Tsumiki tends to be pretty one-dimensional. Most the show is merely adequate, though there are few memorably entertaining episodes.
The romantic half of this romantic comedy doesn't really go anywhere, apart from a few sweet moments sprinkled throughout the series. Instead, Place to Place is content to keep Tsumiki and Io in an awkward but cute middle ground between staying friends and admitting that they like one another. The chemistry between the two of them is pretty low-key, but it works. What it lacks in outright fireworks, it makes up for with large doses of warm fuzziness.
The cute stuff is all right in limited doses, but what kept the show interesting for me was the consistently well-timed slapstick humor. Rather than the tired routine of dorky guys getting punched into orbit for seeing girls' underwear, Place to Place breaks out some refreshingly old-fashioned physical comedy. The show seems to revel in creating opportunities for the characters to knock one another out cold, whether intentionally or by accident. It's comedy at its most basic, but it's executed surprisingly well and manages to avoid falling into a predictable pattern. Sometimes we can see the hit coming from a mile away and the appeal comes from watching a character dig his own grave. In other cases, the show goes for shock value by dropping a joke out of nowhere. Both approaches work, and it helps that the series spreads the injuries around instead of dumping everything on just one character.
While some of the comedy works quite well, there are other routines that simply fall flat. One of the most common gags in Place to Place is Io's tendency to give Tsumiki and the other girls gushing nosebleeds every time he says something charming. I've never really understood why anime directors are so attached to this particular sight gag, but I'll admit that it works once or twice per season. When you break it out four or five times per episode, however, it gets a little tiresome. Where the slapstick routines offer some variety here and there, the nosebleed jokes are more or less the same every time. There's no sense of escalation or unpredictability, just a bunch of anime girls with red stuff gushing out of their noses. It starts out funny, gets a bit gross, and eventually loses its impact altogether.
Place to Place is a fun little series, but it doesn't quite have enough substance to merit a second or third viewing. It's the kind of show that's comfortable doing its own thing instead of trying to outdo the big names in its genre. If you like your comedies cute and silly, it's worth your time. If not, you'd be better off looking elsewhere.
Next on deck was a show that I marathoned in one sitting, and found it nearly impossible to pause even for a dinner break. After this, I think I love carbs even more than ever.
The series, produced in 2004, is adapted directly from Takashi Hashiguchi's 2002 manga of the same name. So while it does have that certain early 2000s look—all the characters have big dopey eyes, big hair, and bizarre haircuts—the content is timeless. After all, bread has not changed much since a decade ago, and if there are genius innovators like main character Kazuma Azuma, their products haven't quite made it onto mass-market bakery shelves yet. But there are things that the anime can do that even the manga can't. So much of the bread reveals rely on the tasters' reactions that seeing characters' hallucinations come to life is much of the magic. (For a handy Western comparison, it's a lot like the scene in Ratatouille where the critic is transported to his childhood memory of his mother's kitchen.) Whether it's the characters finding themselves in different eras or countries, unleashing a menagerie, or trying to take their pants off, it's that burst of action that contrasts so beautifully and hilariously with that first bite.
Many of those first bite reactions are courtesy of our hero, 16-year-old baker extraordinaire Kazuma, who is single-mindedly devoted to creating the perfect Ja-pan, the fabled "national bread" of Japan. See, it sounds like Japan, but also has the Japanese word for bread (pan, pronounced not dis-similarly from the French pain). The show is littered with puns (my favorite being the Pantasia name itself) and cheesy dad jokes, for those who like such things. Anyway, Kazuma has always dreamed of creating a bread that all Japanese people will like, and is continually creating prototypes of this "Ja-pan." We learn along the way that most of these breads have already been created—Kazuma was never formally trained, after all—but it serves as the groundwork for the first two arcs. Namely, his employment exam for Pantasia, and his meteoric rise through the Pantasia Rookie Battle. And like any shonen hero, he also has a secret weapon... his Hands of the Sun, unnaturally warm hands that allow faster fermentation. Combined with his natural-born talent for bread-making, his breads are so good that no character can contain their emotions after a single bite.
To say that most of the characters overreact is an understatement. But watch even one episode of Yakitate!! Japan and it makes sense. All of its characters are ludicrous and delightful, from the mask-wearing, feather-dropping Meister Kirisaki, who always enters to the quiet opening strains of Ravel's "Bolero"; to exam taste-tester Kuroyanagi, whose Gordon Ramsay-esque outbursts and extreme reactions help glue together much of the Pantasia Rookie Battle arc; to the afro-wearing, hairy-chested Ken Matsushiro, whose horse even steals the scene a couple of times. Some of the characters do get the short end of the stereotype stick, though—noodle-master Liu Laomian's surname literally just means "old noodle," and he's every Japanese stereotype of a Chinese person bundled into one person. And rival baker Mokoyama (whose last name might also be a double pun, essentially "fluffy/bulging mountain") is little more than a stereotype of a macho but effeminate man, who loves salon appointments, flamboyant clothes, knitting, and his harem of hunky bakers.
Still, the characters are 60% of the show, which is otherwise pretty simple and straightforward. Much like a shonen tournament series, our protagonists meet one foe after another, with their nemeses forever on the horizon. But because it's about bread, it never gets old. Instead of simply leveling up or fitting more punches into one blow, characters simply find more ways to innovate with bread. Whether it's adding new ingredients, or altering the baking temperature, the finishing blow is always just bread. And unless you've already read the manga, it's almost always unpredictable, so stopping halfway through a marathon is just not an option.
These days, I rarely encounter shows that give me as much excitement as Yakitate!! Japan. It may be my weakness for over-the-top comedies, but this show had me gesturing wildly at the TV and rolling around in glee. It's fun, it's stupid, and it's exciting, all in one. And the food porn-quality bread images are second to none. By the time the first season was over, I was ready to take on the world of high-stakes baking. Instead, I just settled for a bagel.
Last up, Paul's review of The World God Only Knows: Goddesses Arc.
The old rules of Keima exorcising loose souls by making girls fall in love with him are tossed out the window by a demonic rebellion and the arrival of half a dozen goddesses. The goddesses in question are hiding inside a group of Keima's previous paramours, and their powers are preventing the girls from forgetting about Keima like they're supposed to. A cult of old-school demons are trying to kill them and take over the world, so it's up to Keima to save the day by going back through all of his previous conquests.
Mixing up the old formula is all well and good, but the series runs into a problem right out of the gate. In order to get to this story arc, it has to skip over several “Keima saves girl from loose soul” stories from the original manga. That would be fine if it weren't for the fact that several of this season's key players come from those omitted storylines. If you're coming in straight from season two, you'll find that half of the goddesses are hiding in girls you've never seen before. What's supposed to be a trip down memory lane for Keima leaves the audience asking, “Who are you and why should I care?” on a regular basis. The show tries to fill in the gaps with a truckload of flashbacks, but it still feels like the narrative is struggling to catch up with itself.
The good news is that even with the baffling time skip, most of the story still works. I'm not fully on board with requiring Keima to juggle several girls at once, but there are moments where this season manages to pack a far greater emotional punch than the first two. Chihiro of all people ends up playing a major role in the story, and she absolutely steals the show. I'm loath to spoil too much in this review, but there are a few conversations between her and Keima that will pound a rusty railroad spike into your heart. Forget all that nonsense about demons and goddesses and give me more of those two.
As much as I appreciate the dramatic content, I still can't help thinking that some of the old magic is gone in this season. With most of the characters on apocalypse prevention duty, there's very little time for the show to be funny. Keima's rants about reality and Dating Sim 101 speeches, formerly a comedic staple of the series, are limited to a handful of passing comments. Many of the other characters, especially new girl Yui, manage to play off of Keima reasonably well when they're alone. Unfortunately, the need to have everyone around at once on a regular basis puts a damper on each character's individual charms.
Fans of the first two seasons will probably enjoy this one, but it'll ultimately come down to a matter of personal preference. If you're familiar with the missing story arcs and enjoy the show's more dramatic elements, then it's an easy sell. If the comedy was your favorite part of the first two seasons, then it's more of a mixed bag. In either case, it's worth noting that Sentai Filmworks has an OVA collection coming out in a few months that supposedly covers at least one of the skipped character introductions. If you can stand the wait, it might be best to watch that first instead of trying to step around all of this season's plot holes.
That's it for this week. Things got shuffled around a little bit, but next week, Space Dandy, Outbreak Company, and more!
Our shelves this week are coming from Switzerland, courtesy of Anthea:
"It was nice seeing a Swiss shelf in the column two weeks ago, so I thought I'd share mine as well. I know the owner of the local comic book store, that's how I got my hands on the store shelf in the first two pictures. I use it for manga as well as DVDs. The third picture is the rest (or most of it) of my collection, along with my video games. I own mostly manga in German, but there's a great shop in Zurich that sells imports from the States, so my collection of English manga is growing steadily."
Fantastic! I love these international shelves. Keep 'em coming, folks!
Want to show off your collection? Send your jpgs to [email protected] Thank you!
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