Shelf Life
The Valley of Machine Dolls

by Bamboo Dong, Paul Jensen,

Jump to this week's reviews:
Madoka Magica the Movie -Rebellion-
Unbreakable Machine-Doll

On Shelves This Week

D-Frag! Complete Series BD+DVD, Limited Edition
Funimation - 300 min - Hyb - MSRP $64.98|$69.98
Currently cheapest at: $37.84 Rakuten|$40.21 Amazon

Synopsis: The Game Creation Club needs one more member for their roster, and they have their eyes set on Kazama, a delinquent who'd rather be out trying to take over the school. A showdown between Kazuma and club president Roka gets a little crazy, and before he knows it, Kazuma is arm-twisted into joining. Now he must survive the wild antics of the four girls who make up the club.

Thoughts: Most of the reviewers gave the first episode pretty good marks when it first came out, but we'll have a full review ready for you soon. The series is directed by Seiki Sugawara, who is also directing this season's Kyōkai no Rinne. The series is streaming on Funimation and Hulu.

Fushigi Yugi TV Collection
Media Blasters - 1300 min - Hyb - MSRP $69.98
Currently cheapest at: $40.89 Rakuten

Synopsis: Junior high school students Miaka and Yui find a strange, glowing book in their school library. When they open it, they're pulled inside and transported to ancient China. Miaka becomes the Priestess of Suzaku, and is tasked with gathering seven protectors who will help her summon the god Suzaku. Meanwhile, her friend has become the Priestess of their neighboring enemy.

Thoughts: Fushigi Yugi was actually my gateway anime, so I have many fond memories of this series. I'm beyond happy that it's getting a re-release, if only for nostalgia's sake. We have a smattering of reviews on ANN, but some of them are pretty ancient, so I hesitate to even link them. Instead, I'll direct you towards pictures of the cast from the new Fushigi Yugi Japanese stage play, as evidence that I'm not the only person who still holds fond memories of this series.

Hayate the Combat Butler: Can't Take My Eyes Off You BD, DVD
Sentai - 300 min - Sub - MSRP $59.98|$49.98
Currently cheapest at: $34.49 Amazon|$29.20 Rakuten

Synopsis: The third season of Hayate the Combat Butler has the characters headed to Nevada to to pick up some of the items left behind by Nagi's late father. Meanwhile, Hayate keeps getting further entrenched in the Sanzenin family's drama, especially when a strange girl shows up, claiming to be Nagi's little sister.

Thoughts: Hayate the Combat Butler has never been the most intellectual of shows, but it's decently entertaining for those who like their otaku action comedies on the sillier side. Personally, I don't like Hayate's character, but hey, to each his/her own. You can find some earlier reviews of the first series, or check out what some of our reviewers thought about Can't Take My Eyes Off You during the 2012 Fall preview guide. You can check out the series on The Anime Network and Crunchyroll.

Kill la Kill Vol. 5 BD, DVD, BD+DVD LE
Aniplex of America - 150 min - Hyb - MSRP $49.98|$39.98|$74.98
Currently cheapest at: $39.98|$29.98|$59.98 Right Stuf

Synopsis: Kill la Kill comes to an end as Ryuko tries to come to terms with the truth about her origins. She charges into Honnouji Academy by herself, where she battles against Nui but is captured. There, she's approached by Ragyo, who tries to counsel Ryuko about her next steps.

Thoughts: Kill la Kill really is one of the most exciting series to come out in the past few years, and the finale is nothing short of awe-inspiring. You can check out our reviews of volumes 1, 2, 3, and 4, or Carl's review of the last cour. Or, you can watch it streaming on The Aniplex Channel, Hulu, and Crunchyroll.

Legendary Armor Samurai Troopers Complete TV Series DVD
Eastern Star - 860 min - Sub - MSRP $59.95
Currently cheapest at: $35.97 Right Stuf

Synopsis: After a thousand years of being in exile, the evil Emperor of Doom has returned. The only ones who have a chance against him and his horrendous armies are five young men, each bolstered by mystical armor said to grant strength and special powers.

Thoughts: Long-time anime fans may better remember Samurai Troopers by another name, Ronin Warriors, which was broadcast in the US in the mid-90s, and again in 1999. The show itself dates back to 1988, around the time Sunrise was making other fun titles like The Five Star Stories, City Hunter, and Original Dirty Pair. Younger fans might be fascinated to know that one of the directors, Masashi Ikeda, later went on to direct a couple seasons of Inu Yasha and Gundam Wing. Meanwhile, the other director, Mamoru Hamatsu, later directed the remake of Glass Mask and the original The Heroic Legend of Arslan OVA. Sadly, I'm not sure you can find the series streaming anywhere, but perhaps that will change someday.

Nobunaga the Fool - Collection 1 BD, DVD
Sentai - 325 min - Hyb - MSRP $69.98|$59.98
Currently cheapest at: $40.29 Amazon|$35.04 Rakuten

Synopsis: Long ago, the world was split into two planets, the Eastern Star and the Western Star. Once connected by a bridge, the two became separate, and over time developed their own cultures. After many years of war, the Western Star is finally united under King Arthur, but the East is still divided. Jeanne d'Arc is approached by Leonardo da Vinci, who tells her about Oda Nobunaga, the Savior-King that she has been dreaming about. Along the way, they also meet Julius Caesar, Himiko, and others.

Thoughts: If the premise seems a little difficult to picture, you can check out some of our previous reviews of the series, including one of episodes 1-6 and 7-12 by Rebecca. The series is streaming on The Anime Network, Hulu, and Crunchyroll.

Saiyuki Complete Collection
AEsir Holdings - 1250 min - Hyb - MSRP $49.98
Currently cheapest at: $29.20 Rakuten

Synopsis: Demons have begun attacking humans again, with the ultimate goal of resurrecting the evil Gyumao. But first they'll have to get past four unlikely heroes—a priest, the monkey king, a water sprite, and a demon who was once a man.

Thoughts: Perhaps another title no one expected to get re-released, the Saiyuki TV series first hit US shelves back in 2003. It's an adaptation of Journey to the West, except with 2000s-era "bishonen" who enjoy smoking and drinking, and have a dragon that turns into a Jeep. You can read some of our older reviews, or just check it out for yourself; the series is streaming on The Anime Network and Hulu.

Samurai Pizza Cats - Complete English Language TV DVD
Eastern Star - 1200 min - Dub - MSRP $49.95
Currently cheapest at: $29.97 Right Stuf

Synopsis: Speedy Cerviche, Guido Anchovy, and Polly Esther run the hottest pizza joint in Little Tokyo, but when the ovens aren't on, they're busy with their real job—fighting crime. Led by Big Al Dente, the Pizza Cats keep the streets safe from Seymour Cheese and his goons.

Thoughts: Talk about a nostalgia release. This particular set contains only the English dubbed version of the series, but those who want a taste of the original can still get their hands on Discotek's 2013 release of the uncut Japanese version. Readers who want to read up on some of Studio Tatsunoko's other hits should check out this great installment of The Mike Toole Show.

World Conquest Zvezda Plot DVD
Aniplex of America - 325 min - Sub - MSRP $74.98
Currently cheapest at: $59.98 Right Stuf

Synopsis: When junior high schooler Asuta Jimon runs away from home, he ends up meeting a little girl named Kate. She reveals herself to be Lady Venera, the leader of an organization called Zvezda which has plans of taking over the world. She convinces Asuta to join their cause, and he soon finds himself fighting against a mysterious government-contracted group called White Light.

Thoughts: I liked the first few episodes of Zvezda Plot that I saw, and I'm looking forward to reviewing the whole series for Shelf Life. Theron called it his most bizarre series of 2014, so I'm eager to see what the series has up its sleeve. If you want to check it out for yourself, you can watch it streaming on Crunchyroll and Hulu.

Shelf Life Reviews

I was happy to get the chance to revisit the third Madoka Magica movie. It's definitely one of those titles that's worth revisiting, just to catch some of the things you might have missed the first time, and I was pleased that the visuals were just as mind-blowing as I remembered.

When Madoka Magica The Movie -Rebellion- premiered in Los Angeles, SHAFT president Mitsutoshi Kubota participated in a Q&A where he was asked how the movie trilogy came to be. The answer was simple: "[Akiyuki Simbo] wanted to make a movie using the five magical girls again." And while the first two movies were straight-forward and simple enough to execute—plenty of anime series have been re-cut and re-tooled into feature films—following up with a third story would've required some kind of twist. After all, even though both Urobuchi and Simbo wanted the band back together, it simply couldn't happen without some narrative finagling. As Kubota delicately put it, by the end of the second movie, "some of the girls... 'retired.'"

This exchange reveals a lot about the movie—its structure, its surprises, and even its existence. The scenario was concocted long after the TV series had ended, and long after it had become a merchandising powerhouse. And it was driven by one solitary question: how can we make it so that these five girls can be together again? The answer was Rebellion, a movie that is simultaneously thoughtful and original, yet pandering. Although "pandering" may not be the correct word—can we help it if we want the same thing that Homura does?

In a lot of ways, Rebellion is simple wish-fulfillment. At its most cynical, it's a chance to milk the Madoka Magica cash cow one last time. It's a chance to take the franchise's five characters and give them one last ride on the merry-go-round; to put their faces on pens, and mugs, and deluxe multi-cloths; to print more Blu-rays and sell more figures; to stay relevant. At its most innocent, it's a refusal to say goodbye to the characters that the creators and the fans have grown to love.

And then there's Homura. Rebellion is Homura's story. Her wish is our wish, except perhaps even more obsessive and selfish. One driven by a love so crazed and consuming that it becomes insidious. One so haphazardly hatched that she doesn't even remember its conception. As a result, she and the viewers spend half of the movie watching frivolous dance scenes, cutesy character interactions, splashy cuts, and an unbearably long song about cake that would work as delicate foreshadowing and character analysis if it weren't also incredibly tedious. We're meant to contrast this fluffy, rose-tinted fantasy (the Madoka pun is only half-intended) with the sinister reality rumbling beneath it. And we're supposed to be intrigued and terrified when the façade finally starts to crack (the bus scene with Kyoko and Homura is a thing of beauty, both visually and atmospherically; the dawning realization that something is horribly, horribly wrong is downright oppressive). But despite the writers' best intentions, it doesn't prevent the first act from feeling like it's catering too hard to fan wallets. It drags on for too long, and some of the pluck is just too gratuitous. Even for a idealized fantasy, it's a bit much.

That's not to say that it lacks substance—the first act, especially upon repeat viewings, does a lot to foreshadow the truth that's revealed later, and pulls a lot of visual and thematic references from the TV series—it just feels like it wallows in its imaginary construct a little too long. One has to give credit to the creators for being meticulous with their symbols and artistic cues, but try as it might, it can't escape the tedium of some of the scenes.

Where the movie really shines is when that dollhouse begins to break. The cracks are small at first—our dubiousness and mistrust is mirrored by Homura's thoughts—and the writing does a good job of misdirecting viewers. But then the things that started out as just strange quirks become more and more unsettling. By the time the walls come down, the mood has completely shifted. Madoka Magica has always excelled in its exploration of dark and morbid themes, and the latter half of Rebellion is no exception.

And while the entire movie is filled with stunning animation and beautiful imagery (the movie is comprised of over 2,300 cuts), the latter half is particularly eye-popping. I've always loved the mixed media animation style that Madoka Magica uses, and there are some great scenes in this movie. The confrontation between Kyubey and Homura is especially worth watching several times, dubbed, if only to drink in the artistry. Between the bloody figures that rain from the skies, to the chalky objects that dot the scenes, to the canvas and lace textures that are used intermittently throughout the cuts, something new is revealed every time. The fight that follows is visual bliss, with spliced-in milkshake videos, and a wonderfully bizarre shot of a clear Bebe cup being filled with milk. Those who love picking apart symbols will have a field day analyzing the parallels between Rebellion and The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, and deciphering the red spider lilies that appear on a certain figure's head. I even tried to figure out the musical notes that Sayaka was gliding on, but the staff was flipped and reserved, and it was a little too much bother just to scratch a curious itch.

Unfortunately, it's difficult to talk about the ending without completely spoiling the entire film. But it's a clever enough ending, considering what the creators had to work with. Having only recently re-watched the series and the movies again, I appreciate it more now than I did when I first watched it in theaters. It is not a happy ending, but I don't think a happy ending was ever possible or desired. That this movie even exists is perhaps the happy ending for those who like such things, provided you stop watching about 20 minutes in.

In any case, Rebellion is an absolutely beautiful film, and one worth putting on your shelf next to the other Madoka Magica releases. I don't particularly care for the first act, and all the potential for analysis in the world doesn't make me want to slog through the fantasy any more than I have to. But I also found that I like this movie a lot better the more times I watch it, so if you also left the theater feeling a little cold, it may be worth your while to check it out again.
- Bamboo[TOP]

Unfortunately, Paul pulled the short straw this week, and had to work his way through a title that he didn't relish quite as much.

I went to renew my driver's license at the DMV a little while ago. It took me around 25 minutes, during which time I interacted with three pleasant and reasonably competent people. All things considered, it was a relatively painless experience. I bring this up because, if given a choice, I would rather go back to the DMV than watch another episode of Unbreakable Machine-Doll.

Like far too many shows based on light novels, the series takes place at an academy for magic users. The students are known as puppeteers, and they control powerful automatons that fight on their behalf. Our hero Raishin comes to the academy in order to track down and kill the person who murdered his family and burned down his house. Naturally, the automaton who accompanies him is a cute girl who really, really wants to jump his bones.

To the show's credit, it makes a decent first impression. The box it comes in has a cool steampunk aesthetic, and setting the story in London helps avoid the drudgery of yet another magical Japanese high school with vaguely futuristic buildings. Also, the first episode kicks off with a nifty runaway train sequence that hints at the potential for this to be a decent little action series. Sadly, once you open the box and watch the first twelve minutes, it all goes downhill in a hurry.

Unbreakable Machine-Doll's biggest problem is that it has no distinguishing features whatsoever. Once you peel off all the Union Jack stickers and steampunk decals, it's just a watered-down version of the same old story. The hero has the most powerful magical doodad in the world, but using it is slowly sapping his life away. There's a mysterious masked bad guy with a connection to the hero's tragic past. Before he can fight the bad guy, the hero has to win a magical battle tournament against all odds. Along the way, he runs into a variety of girls who all end up wanting to make out with him, and we're supposed to laugh at how irksome and inconvenient this is. Will Raishin succeed in getting his revenge? More importantly, who the heck cares?

Everything steals from something, though, and it takes more than just a boring concept to kill Unbreakable Machine-Doll. The show also suffers from uninspired action sequences that alternate between poorly integrated CG animation and quick pans across still frames. The fanservice feels like it was shoehorned in as an afterthought, and the script often interrupts scenes to shout, “Look! Boobs!” before picking up wherever it left off. Most of the characters are either bland or annoying, and an unlucky few are both. Raishin somehow alternates between being a test-flunking idiot and a tactical genius, and the show's supporting cast exists primarily to show off how cool he supposedly is. The dialogue is burdened with buckets of exposition and a surplus of self-important speeches about fighting for justice. Gratuitous blood and shouting take the place of any real emotional or thematic depth. Rather than coming to any kind of satisfying conclusion, the last episode simply kicks the audience in the shins and suggests that we should buy the books if we want to find out what happens next. This show somehow picks up all the bad habits of light novel adaptations without borrowing any of their strengths, which is a bit of an accomplishment in its own way.

In case it isn't already obvious, I'm not terribly fond of this series. You might enjoy it if you've never seen a show with magical battles and boob jokes before, but even an absolute newcomer to the genre should expect better. There's far too much good anime out there to waste your time with Unbreakable Machine-Doll. Its only value is as a cautionary tale about what happens when a series borrows too many ideas from popular titles and forgets to include even a single scrap of originality.
- Paul[TOP]

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

This week's shelves are from Davis, who wrote:

"My name is Davis. I'm 24 years old and I've been collecting Anime box sets for about 5 years, now. As you can see, I'm very keen on Mecha shows and Gainax shows, and I'm making an effort to collect as many as I can (although some of the Mobile Suit Gundam DVDs are long out of print and extremely expensive.)

I'm a college graduate, still living at home, working a minimum wage job and looking for full time work. I've been struggling with severe depression, anxiety and OCD symptoms for the better part of my young adult life, and Anime has been one of the best forms of escape from the real world and the best friend I never had. That also means I've accumulated a fair amount of debt from impulsively buying so many box sets. But I don't regret supporting the creators of things that inspire me, and I'm making slow efforts to pay it all back.

I hope you guys like my shelf, and I'm sorry that it's a bit low quality and theres no real order to speak of in my collection. "

Beautiful collection! I'm seriously jealous of some of those boxsets.

Want to show off your stuff? Send your jpgs to [email protected] Thank you!

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