Shelf Life
The Sound and the Fuuri

by Bamboo Dong,

Jump to this week's reviews:
Super Sonico the Animation
Unlimited Psychic Squad

On Shelves This Week

Free! Season 1 DVD
Eastern Star - 280 min - Sub - MSRP $39.95
Currently cheapest at: $24.38 Rakuten

Synopsis: Four boys from Iwatobi High School have their eyes set on an ambitious goal—resurrecting their school's swim team, and competing in the regional meet. However, they'll have to go through their biggest rival, Samezuka Academy, home to an old friend with a complicated past. Along the way, they face other challenges, like overcoming a team member's traumatic experience, and the fact that one of them doesn't even know how to swim.

Thoughts: I've written extensively about Free! over the years, both on The Stream and on Shelf Life, and it remains one of my favorite series from that season. The characters are immensely likeable, and the bond between them provides the framework for a solid sports comedy. You can check out both seasons on Crunchyroll.





Natsume's Book of Friends Season 4 BD+DVD
NIS America - 315 min - Sub - MSRP $59.99
Currently cheapest at: $44.99 Right Stuf

Synopsis: Natsume continues to spend much of his time helping yokai remember their names. As he forges stronger bonds with his new friends and Nyanko-sensei, he starts facing pieces of his past, confronting memories from his childhood that he's long since buried.

Thoughts: This is the regular edition release of Natsume's Book of Friends season four, which received a premium edition release in 2013. You can read my review of the set here. While I enjoyed all of the seasons of this series, I thought this final season was one of its strongest. If you haven't seen any of it, it's well worth checking out. You can watch the entire series streaming on Crunchyroll, or just season four.





Patlabor: The Movie BD, DVD
Sentai - 99 min - Hyb - MSRP $39.98|$29.98
Currently cheapest at: $24.48 Barnes & Noble|$17.52 Rakuten

Synopsis: Ocean levels are rising, and Japan is in danger of flooding. To combat this threat, the government has launched a massive initiative called the Babylon Project, a land reclamation project that uses construction mechs called Labors. However, this has led to a rash of criminal activity that takes advantage of the technology. To combat this, the police have their own unit of Patrol Labors. Now they must contend with a new challenge—large numbers of Labors that are mysteriously going berserk. But just what, or who, is behind this outbreak?

Thoughts: A classic from 1989, Patlabor: The Movie is the first of three movies that followed after the 1988 OVA series. It's directed by noted legend Mamoru Oshii, who's helmed works like Ghost in the Shell, Urusei Yatsura: Beautiful Dreamer, and many more, including the recent The Next Generation -Patlabor- project. You can read one of our previous reviews here. If you'd rather stream it, you can watch it on The Anime Network or Hulu+.




Pokemon: Adventures in the Orange Islands - The Complete Collection DVD
Viz Media - 760 min - Dub - MSRP $26.95
Currently cheapest at: $18.93 Rakuten

Synopsis: After making a stop in Pallet Town, Ash, Misty, and Brock head out to find a rare Pokeball for Professor Oak. Their mission takes them to the Orange Islands, where Ash decides to compete in the Orange League Tournament.

Thoughts: This throwback release compiles the entire second season of the late 90s Pokémon animated series. If you want to take a trip down memory lane first, you can check out synopses of all of the episodes on Pokemon.com, which also has a few stray episodes available to stream for Free!.







Solty Rei DVD (S.A.V.E. Edition)
Funimation - 615 min - Hyb - MSRP $29.98
Currently cheapest at: $17.26 Rakuten

Synopsis: Bounty hunter Roy Revant lives in a worn-down city that has been ravaged by an unexplained disaster. It's run by a shadowy organization named RUC that manufactures replacement limbs. One day, a girl named Solty falls from the sky, and takes a liking to Roy. But she's not your average, everyday girl—she's a robot with a mysterious past and a bad case of amnesia.

Thoughts: It looks like it's shaping up to be a year of re-releases and rescues. Solty Rei actually turns 10 this year, although it was only re-released just six years ago. It was directed by Yoshimasa Hiraike, who previously worked on the excellent Kaleido Star, and has since directed Wagnaria!! and AKB0048. You can check out our reviews of the entire series back when it was released in individual volumes: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6.


The World God Only Knows: OVA Collection BD, DVD
Sentai - 100 min - Hyb - MSRP $39.98|$29.98
Currently cheapest at: $23.62 Rakuten|$17.52 Rakuten

Synopsis: Keima Katsuragi get roped into being part of a band with Chihiro, Elsie, Ayumi, and Miyako. Later, he gets a surprise visit from a childhood friend. Also, Kanon must become a real magical girl if she has any hope of saving Elsie and the other girls who've showed up to an audition.

Thoughts: The World God Only Knows OAV collection is made up of three OVAs, Four Girls and an Idol, the two-episode Tenri Arc, and Magical Star Kanon 100%. Four Girls and an Idol was actually the second OVA to be made, and was bundled with volume 14 of the manga in Japan; it came out shortly after the second season of the anime series, and was also directed by Shigehito Takayanagi. It was followed by the two-part Tenri Arc, which predates Goddesses Arc, both of which were directed by Satoshi Ōsedo. You can check out our reviews for seasons one and the Goddesses Arc. You can watch the TV series on The Anime Network, Hulu, and Crunchyroll.





Yakitate!! Japan - Part 2 DVD
Nozomi Entertainment - 625 min - Sub - MSRP $49.99
Currently cheapest at: $28.78 Rakuten

Synopsis: Baking prodigy Kazuma Azuma is headed to France, but the challenges aren't over. He'll be representing the South Tokyo branch at the Monaco Cup, competing against the best bread artisans from around the world.

Thoughts: We'll have a review of this box set up for you soon! In the meantime, check out my hungry praise for season one.




Yu-Gi-Oh! Zexal Season 1 DVD
Cinedigm - 1080 min - Dub - MSRP $44.99
Currently cheapest at: $28.51 Rakuten

Synopsis: Young Yuma Tsukumo is still just an amateur, but he dreams of becoming the Duel Monsters champion. One day, he meets a spirit name Astral, who tells Yuma that he is looking for his lost memories. In order to regain his memories, the two must find the 99 monster cards.

Thoughts: Yu-Gi-Oh! Zexal, as well as the rest of the series, is currently streaming on Hulu.






Shelf Life Reviews

it's a "meh" kind of week on Shelf Life, with reviews of Super Sonico The Animation and Unlimited Psychic Squad. First up, my "meh" approval rating of Super Sonico, everyone's favorite headphones wearing mascot who refuses to take off her headphones (does she even have ears?).

Ask anyone to describe the Super Sonico character and they'll probably give you a list of three traits. One of them would be her signature headphones, while another would be her pink hair. The other… well, you know. But she was specifically designed to promote an event and sell merchandise, so it makes sense. And a cursory Google search will tell anyone that there is a lot of Super Sonico merchandise out there. Not all of it is pervy, but the stuff that is, certainly is. That's why it's kind of surprising that Super Sonico The Animation is so… bland. It feels like the writers were constantly being pulled in different directions, like they wanted to provide a sweeter, more innocent look at Sonico, but without the loss of merchandising dollars that would result from dialing down the eye candy. The end result is something that accomplishes almost nothing at all.

The series is downright tedious at times, and we spend untold minutes watching Sonico go through her daily routine. It's a slice-of-life, structured into one-shots, some of which are entertaining, but many of which aren't. Most of the things that Sonico does every day are fairly banal—going to class, going to work, going to band practice. But because of her appearance, she gets perved on a lot, all for the audience's benefit. Although complaining about Super Sonico is like complaining about the editorial content in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition; no one's buying that magazine to see what's on trend that summer, or to read what the women have to say.

Sonico herself is likeable enough as a character. She's not particularly bright, except when it comes to the topic of whales and dolphins, and she's never mean or boastful. She treats her part-time modeling job as just that—a part-time job, and never lets it go to her head. I suspect, given her naïveté, that she might not have the slightest clue why she was scouted to be a model, and why she continues to get jobs. She certainly doesn't bat an eye when she's coerced into increasingly skimpy outfits. Were it not for her protective manager, her gigs on the show may well have turned into the types of shoots that real-life Super Sonico merchandise seem to be modeled after. Though as far as lusting over fictional characters goes, it's at least a nice change of pace to see a protagonist of her age and her body type. This isn't to insinuate the show is wildly accepting of all body types—one episode shows a horde of chubby characters slathering on a magical weight-loss cream and turning into hungry zombies—but anyone familiar with the Super Sonico family of characters knows it has more diversity there than the figures you typically see on store shelves.

But while Sonico's humility makes her endearing, it's the other characters in the show that turn it into a negative. They prey on Sonico's ignorance and earnestness, taking advantage of the sex appeal she herself is too dim to recognize. Even one of her band mates tries to play up her features, like commissioning a candy-inspired costume that's supposed to melt off her body as she sweats. All of this changes the tone of the series, forcing the viewer to be complicit in their horny gaze. I don't mind the boobs shots and the butt shots—let's all be real here and remember that they made an anime based on a doodle made to sell t-shirts, pillow covers, and figures where Sonico is perpetually covered in liquid foodstuffs— but I wish they made it so that Sonico was just a little more aware of what was going on.

There are some good episodes in there, though, and many carry the personal stamp of whomever was the episode director. My favorite is the one where Sonico takes a solo trip to Niigata (episode directed by Naomi Nakayama). Nothing really happens, but a lot comes of it. During her bus ride, she meets a woman who offers her macarons. In exchange, she gets a glimpse inside that woman's life, from her relationship woes to the happy reconciliation. Later, when Sonico is stranded in the rain, she befriends a glassblower who teaches her to how to make a glass bead. Her adventure culminates in a spontaneous visit to a hot springs inn and a night of stargazing. The events aren't particularly exciting—not for us, anyway—but Sonico has a wonderful time experiencing the beautiful Japanese countryside, the kindness of strangers, and documenting her trip with her camera. This is perhaps the true Sonico that we're meant to see, one who gets lost in her thoughts and isn't afraid to take risks, and one whose existence isn't defined by ogling eyes and swimwear. But the fact that this episode stands in such stark opposition to some of the other episodes is another example of how conflicted some of the writing is.

By far, though, the best part of Super Sonico The Animation is actually the ending animation sequences. That's when the animators get to let their hair down and have fun with their ideas. Every sequence is different, both thematically and in terms of animation style. Some of my favorites include the one featuring a Godzilla-sized Sonico rampaging through a city, the one where it's just Sonico on a pogo stick (hey, go big or go home), and the zombie episode ender, which features Sonico doing the "Thriller" dance.

As for the dub, it's just fine, although the English cast kept pronouncing Fuuri as Fury, which I found a little distracting. Then again, the subtitles, end credits, and back of the box couldn't quite agree on whether to Romanize her name as Fuuri or Furi, so I guess she just pulled the short straw. And as far as Sonico herself goes, Jessica Nigri does an admirable job, especially for a first gig. It's not a perfect performance—there are scenes that betray her inexperience, but it won't really detract from the show's offerings. Nigri does the best when she's allowed to be goofy and excited. In comparison, the softer, more pensive moments of Sonico don't come through as well; rather than reflecting a change in tone, it just sounds like someone's turned the volume knob down to 70%. There is a lot of nuance required to differentiate between emotional soft, and volume soft, and it's one that comes with additional time in the booth. As a result, some of the scenes feel muted and awkward—the Niigata episode, especially—but overall, the dub is serviceable, and Nigri fans will likely be pleased.

Super Sonico The Animation is not something I'd really recommend to most people. I don't think there's much there in terms of substance, aside from justifying the existence of a character made to sell merchandise. But aside from a few gems here and there, there's just not much here to appeal to people who aren't already fans of the mascot. It's not a bad show, per se, other than its weird overtones (although there's no use in pretending there isn't a pre-established demographic), but it's not really a good show either. So what it comes down to is, if you're already a fan of Super Sonico the character or Jessica Nigri, or you're a cosplay enthusiast who can enjoy Sonico's envious wardrobe, then this show is worth checking out. Otherwise, it's better to move on.
- Bamboo[TOP]

And rounding out the week is Paul's take on Unlimited Psychic Squad, for back-to-back Rental Shelf ratings.

Unlimited Psychic Squad reminds me of Jormungand to some extent: both series feature morally ambiguous main characters who travel the world with a loyal crew of mercenaries. Both of these main characters have a pretty dim view of human nature and harbor some disturbingly violent ideas when it comes to saving the world. Heck, they both even have white hair. The easiest way to tell them apart is that Unlimited Psychic Squad uses supernatural powers instead of expensive machine guns. It's also, to my disappointment, not quite as interesting.

A spinoff of the similarly titled Psychic Squad (which I haven't seen), Unlimited Psychic Squad stars one of the franchise's recurring villains. Even going in blind, I can see why Hyobu Kyosuke got his own show: he's a pretty compelling character. He wants to provide a safe haven for people with psychic powers, which is all well and good, but he doesn't seem to mind killing huge numbers of normal people in the process. His plan seems to be going well until he recruits a double agent into his secret organization.

There are a lot of moving parts to keep track of, but I actually enjoyed the first eight or nine episodes of this show. The writing does a good job of having Hyobu walk the line between dark hero and genuine villain, and his motivations feel believable once we get a look at his backstory. There's also some solid tension between him and Andy Hinomiya, the agent who infiltrates his group. We're never quite sure which one of them has the upper hand, and Andy becomes increasingly conflicted about his mission as he gets to know the rest of the team. It's a dark take on espers and secret agents, but it's handled surprisingly well. I was genuinely unsure about whether or not Andy would double-cross Hyobu, and I wasn't even sure if I wanted him to.

Once the cards are all on the table, though, most of the spy thriller fun goes away. The last few episodes are a much more predictable “let's go save the world” affair, which isn't nearly as interesting. The ending feels completely out of step with the cloak and dagger stuff that precedes it, and is way too neat and tidy for a series about good bad guys and bad good guys. In the show's defense, it does have the unenviable task of fitting into an ongoing manga series that's apparently been running since 2005. Even so, it feels like a letdown to have a dark and complex story end without any major consequences.

On the positive side, Unlimited Psychic Squad at least looks good. Someone threw a generous amount of money at this series, and it shows in some of the action sequences. One particularly impressive flashback scene features some very slick choreography as Hyobu faces off against a Zero fighter plane. Solid animation goes a long way in an action show, and it helps keep the series watchable even after the plot runs out of good ideas.

Some parts of the story tie directly into the original Psychic Squad, but things are explained well enough that even an ignorant doofus like me was able to keep up without too much trouble. I'm sure some of it is more meaningful if you know the whole story, but I wouldn't consider the main series required viewing if you want to give this one a shot. For a spinoff, it's self-contained enough to hold up on its own merit.

I like quite a few bits and pieces of Unlimited Psychic Squad, but it's just way too easy to point to better examples of everything it does. If you want to see what happens when a criminal mastermind plays the hero, Jormungand offers a more compelling main character and a stronger ending. If you're looking for a dark, nuanced take on people with super powers, the first season of Darker than Black is better across the board and has a much less annoying talking animal. If you've already watched both of those, then this is a decent enough way to pass the time on a lazy weekend. It's entertaining without being exceptional.
- Paul[TOP]

That's it for this week. Join us again next week for more reviews!

This week's shelves are from Travis, who sent in these images of his collection:

Thanks for sharing! Want to show off your stuff? Send your jpgs to shelflife[email protected] Thanks!


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