Shelf Life
That's So Ravens

by Bamboo Dong, Gabriella Ekens, Paul Jensen,

Jump to this week's reviews:
Rose of Versailles Part 2
Tokyo Ravens Part 1

On Shelves This Week

Denki-Gai Volume 2 BD+DVD (Collector's Edition + CD)
Ponycan USA - 100 min - Sub - MSRP $89.98
Currently cheapest at: $71.98 Right Stuf

Synopsis: Sensei wonders whether the perfect panty shot reveals the whole panty, just a glimpse, or none at all. Also, Hio and Kantoku's relationship is challenged when Kantoku's ex-girlfriend shows up. Later, the staff of Umanohone visit the onsen.

Thoughts: This release includes episodes 5-8 in an oversized package. Rebecca reviewed the first set a little while ago. At $90, it's a little hard to swallow, but to get a taste of what the episodes are like, you can read Lauren's episode reviews for this series. Or, you can watch the series streaming on Crunchyroll.





Darker Than Black: Season 2 + OVAs BD+DVD (Anime Classics)
Funimation - 400 min - Hyb - MSRP $49.98
Currently cheapest at: $28.78 Rakuten

Synopsis: It's been two years since the events of the first season. Hei is headed to Russia when he meets a girl named Suo. Her life hasn't been the same since a meteor crashed nearby, an event that turned her twin brother into a contractor. Hei must now keep her safe, all while he looks for clues behind Yin's disappearance. This set also includes the four-episode Darker than Black OVAs, Gaiden, which take place between seasons one and two, and follows Hei and Yin as they run from the Syndicate.

Thoughts: This is the second re-release for Darker than Black season two and the OVAs, with the DVD edition being released back in 2011. You can check out Theron's review of the original boxset here. You can also watch the series streaming on Funimation and Hulu.




Digimon Tamers - Season 3 Volume 2 DVD
Cinedigm - 374 min - Dub - MSRP $19.99
Currently cheapest at: $14.06 Rakuten

Synopsis: Takato, Henry, and Rika are doing their best to battle against the evil forces in the Digital World, but their group is split into two after a fight against Meramon. While they fight to reunite, the fate of the Digital World lies in jeopardy.

Thoughts: Need your Digimon fix? You can watch all of Digimon Tamers, as well as the other seasons, on Hulu.






The Familiar of Zero: "Rondo" of Princesses - Complete Collection BD, DVD
Sentai - 325 min - Sub - MSRP $59.98|$49.98
Currently cheapest at: $35.44 Rakuten|$29.20

Synopsis: Saito and Louise head back to Tristain, only to find that the runes that bind them have somehow faded away. But now that they've tied the knot, it may not matter anymore that Saito is no longer contracted to be Louise's Familiar. However, things get sticky when Siesta is appointed as Saito's maid, and the Tiffania returns to Saito's side.

Thoughts: We haven't posted any reviews yet of this particular season, but you can read our thoughts on the original series, as well as Familiar of Zero F when it was streaming. If you're eager to check out Rondo of Princesses or catch up on the entire series, you can watch it streaming on The Anime Network or Hulu.




Michiko & Hatchin - Complete Series BD, DVD
Funimation - 320 min - Hyb - MSRP $39.98|$34.98
Currently cheapest at: $23.02 Rakuten|$20.15

Synopsis: Hana is an orphan raised in miserable conditions by a priest and his abusive family. Her life is irreversibly changed when she's rescued by an escaped criminal named Michiko, who bursts through the windows of Hana's home with her motorcycle and whisks her away. They embark on a wild adventure to find Hiroshi, Hana's father, but they'll have to keep an eye out for Atsuko, a policewoman always two steps behind.

Thoughts: Michiko & Hatchin is one of the shows I wish more people would sit down and watch. It's not without its problems, but it's energetic and fun, and the characters are just the coolest. You can read my thoughts in Shelf Life or Carl's review of the original boxset. You can also check out the series on Funimation.com or Hulu.




Muv-Luv Alternative: Total Eclipse Collection 2 BD, DVD
Sentai - 325 min - Hyb - MSRP $69.98|$59.98
Currently cheapest at: $40.89 Rakuten|$35.04

Synopsis: The Soviet Command orders the destruction of the Kamchatka base. Yuuya decides to stay behind to fight, but the unexpected arrival of the Zhar Battalion and laser-class BETAs changes the outcome. Later, the base is engulfed in chaos when a group of mysterious men arrive, claiming to be contractors.

Thoughts: I was pretty entertained with Muv-Luv Alternative: Total Eclipse when it was streaming, although I always felt like the drama felt a little forced, and the series was a little too messy. Paul enjoyed the first half too when he reviewed it earlier in the year; we'll be posting his review of the second half soon. In the meantime, you can check the series out for yourself on The Anime Network or Hulu.




Slam Dunk Season 1 DVD Set 1
New Video Group - 322 min - Hyb - MSRP $19.93
Currently cheapest at: $13.44 Rakuten

Synopsis: High school punk Hanamichi Sakuragi doesn't know the first thing about basketball, but he's willing to learn when a cute basketball-loving girl named Haruko tells him he has the potential to be a good player. As he learns more about the game, he realizes that not only is he starting to like it, but he's pretty good at it, too.

Thoughts: If this feels like R1 déjà vu, you're not wrong. Slam Dunk was originally released in North America back in 2005, but it's getting new life this week, and at a good price, too (surely the $19.93 MSRP is not a coincidence for this 1993 show!). This 90s gem is adapted from the manga of the same name by Takehiko Inoue, who also penned Buzzer Beater and Vagabond. The manga is so beloved around the world, there's even a collection of official Nike Slam Dunk sneakers. For a crash course, you can check out Carl's review of the first 26 episodes, or try and watch all 101 episodes on Funimation.com and Crunchyroll.




Sword Art Online - Aincrad Part 1 BD, Part 2 BD
Sword Art Online - Fairy Dance Part 1 BD, Part 2 BD
Aniplex of America - 175|175|125|150 min - Hyb - MSRP $74.98
Currently cheapest at: $59.98 Right Stuf 1|2|

Synopsis: The development of "NerveGear" has made it possible for gamers to fully immerse themselves in their gaming environments. During the official launch of Sword Art Online, however, the players are told that they will be unable to log out of the game until every level has been cleared. It's up to strong players like Kirito, Asuna, and their companions to help save everyone in the game. Later, Kirito finds himself heading back to the virtual world, this time inside ALfheim Onlin, to save Asuna from her prison.

Thoughts: As one might expect, we have a heap of Sword Art Online material on ANN, including Erin's review from Shelf Life, a dozen installations of The Stream, full-length reviews of the simulcast, and even Blu-rays 1, 2, 3, and 4. My love for Sword Art Online ended rather abruptly, but if you're one of the few that hasn't seen at least an episode yet, you can catch the series on Aniplex Channel, Hulu, Crunchyroll, and Netflix.



Shelf Life Reviews

Our reviews for this week are provided by Gabriella and Paul, who take us to the French Revolution, and a magical school in Tokyo.

It's time for the second half of this masterful adaptation of Riyoko Ikeda's classic manga. As Osamu Dezaki takes the reins, Rose of Versailles' scope both expands and turns inwards. While the first half mostly consists of the scandals that Marie Antoinette gets into as a fledgling queen, the second is all about the protagonist – the cross-dressing noblewoman Oscar de Jarjayes – and her role in the rising tide of the French Revolution. Oscar's innate sense of justice makes it difficult for her to combat the oppressed working class as an agent of the Crown. She also struggles as a liminal figure between masculinity and femininity. Oscar excels at her masculine profession in the military, but repeatedly fails to find personal satisfaction through romantic love. Love between women is too illicit for the show to address, while possible male partners are intimidated by Oscar's success in “their field.” Biologically female but raised as a man, Oscar is the prototypical bifauxnen – the tall, handsome, stoic woman with a noble demeanor and physical grace. Her influence can be seen on Sailor Moon's Haruko Tenou, Le Chevalier D'Eon's D'Eon de Beaumont, Revolutionary Girl Utena's title character, and many more.

Rose of Versailles is extraordinary well paced. There isn't a dull second in this show, but it also isn't overstuffed. It's divided into a couple of distinct arcs – the Affair of the Diamond Necklace, the Black Knight, etc. – that also manage to sow the seeds for what comes next and even tell their own mini-arcs. While this show is known for its canonical status within the history of anime, it feels underrepresented as an eminently compelling story. I downed the whole thing in a week and still wanted more – an impressive feat in this era of 13-episode seasons. Oscar is a poster child of anime feminism with good reason. She's an attractive portrayal of the angst that comes with not fitting into what society deems a woman must be. Marie Antoinette was also surprisingly great. She's an idealized fantasy princess put into the real-life political role. This critical mismatch between the individual and the position leads to much of the show's tragedy, so it's impressive that she never becomes unlikeable. I understand why people were so eager to swear loyalty to Marie Antoinette in Rose of Versailles ¬– she's a profoundly innocent and unpresuming person in a world full of two-faced schemers. When placed over the lives of millions of people, however, that innocence (or ignorance?) becomes a liability, and she's ultimately responsible for people's suffering. Rose of Versailles sides with the people and against the Princess, but it never makes her evil, just a person living her life in the only way she knows how.

If you're a fan of sheer artistry, Rose of Versailles is also a must-see. Dezaki's direction lives up to expectations – it's expressionistic almost to the point of surrealism. It's most effective at conveying extreme emotions, so it's perfect for Rose of Versailles, where characters are always overwhelmed by bliss, plotting revenge, or lapsing into ennui. The hallmarks of his direction (freeze frame cliffhangers, split screen, contrast lighting, etc.) become so ingrained in anime that you'd probably recognize them as his, even if you'd never seen his work. At the same time, Rose of Versailles doesn't look like any anime that are getting made today. The character designs are lanky, the colors stark, and the compositions dynamic. Sure, it's making up for a lack of actual animation, but I'll take aesthetic sense over fluidity any day.

On the regular edition, extras are sparse but interesting. The most important one is a biographical interview with Dezaki. Strangely, it lays the English subtitles over the apparently hard-encoded French ones, which makes them quite hard to read.

Rose of Versailles is a necessary watch for fans of shoujo anime, historical melodrama, and the history of anime. Its canonical status is well-earned. It's a legend made by a staff of legends. Snap it up.
- Gabriella[TOP]

Next up, Paul's review of the first volume of Tokyo Ravens.

For the most part, I tend to prefer science fiction to fantasy. As far as I'm concerned, hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a giant robot at your side. I tend to be especially harsh on anything involving special schools for magic-users, so it goes without saying that poor Tokyo Ravens had a mountain to climb going into this review. As it turns out, climbing a mountain is a little easier when you've got a flying dragon on your side.

The series stars Harutora and Natsume, a pair of teenagers from the same family of demon-slaying mages. Harutora's a talentless slacker who's content to go to school in the middle of nowhere with his buddies, while Natsume's a super-serious honor student with the weight of the family's expectations on her shoulders. After some magical craziness goes down in Harutora's hometown, he reluctantly heads to Tokyo to join Natsume at her super-elite high school.

If that all sounds a bit generic, it's because it is. Tokyo Ravens isn't the most original thing under the sun, and that hurts its appeal early on. Like any light novel adaptation involving a magical high school, there's a lot of world-building to get through after the excitement of the first two episodes dies down. Harutora has to pull an awful lot of all-nighters to catch up with the rest of the class, and I shared his pain after a few episodes. The good news is that despite all the jargon and backstory that gets dumped on the audience, the action scenes are written and directed well enough that it's easy to follow what's going on. The show even looks good apart from some poorly integrated CG animation.

Once the raging torrent of exposition slows down a bit, Tokyo Ravens turns into a fun little series. The characters are generally likable, and they represent a wide range of common teenage dilemmas. Stressed out over family expectations? Natsume's got that covered. Grappling with the darker parts of your personality? Touji's your guy. Trying to reinvent yourself after a series of bad decisions? It takes a while, but Suzuka eventually deals with that. Sixteen year-old me would've absolutely loved some of these character arcs. The core cast is fairly well-developed and has plenty of chemistry, which is something of a rarity in this genre. Everyone feels like a real person, rather than a stand-in for the viewer or a convenient mouthpiece for the writer's worldview.

Of course, having a decent sense of humor makes a big difference. The characters tend to be in over their heads every time an action scene breaks out, which leads to some entertaining banter about how utterly doomed they are at any given moment. When things aren't blowing up, the minor characters do a respectable job of providing comedy relief. Of special note is Kon, Harutora's feisty flying fox-girl familiar. She's the sort of character who could easily grow tiresome after a few episodes, but good writing and acting help make her one of the show's most likable characters.

Speaking of good writing and acting, it's worth noting that Funimation put together one heck of a dub for Tokyo Ravens. It struggles with the early info-dumps as much as the subtitled version, but it comes into its own once the story gets rolling. There are strong performances across the board, and the writing matches up well with each character's personality. If you don't have a strong sub/dub preference, I'd actually recommend watching this one in English.

I wasn't expecting much from Tokyo Ravens, but it ended up being a pretty strong title. It has a good sense of fun, and it manages to avoid most of the genre's usual pitfalls. With a stronger opening and some more interesting villains, I probably would've called it Shelf Worthy. If the second half can carry the momentum that this set builds up, it'll definitely be worth a look. Even if this isn't your favorite genre, there's a lot to like here.
- Paul[TOP]

Thanks for reading! We'll be back next week!

This week's shelves are from Lou G. who wrote in the following: "my shelves were featured in the March 5th 2012 article 3 years ago. Things have changed greatly since then. I've improved my collection quite a bit... take a look."

I need one of those glass cases for my figures. I'm always envious when I see people with one of them. Love your collection, Lou!

Want to show off your shelves? Send your jpgs to [email protected], or brace yourselves for the onslaught of dog pictures.


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