Shelf Life
Fight to Survive

by Bamboo Dong, Gabriella Ekens, Paul Jensen,

Jump to this week's reviews:
Mardock Scramble: The Trilogy
Knights of Sidonia - Season 1

On Shelves This Week

Tsubasa RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE & xxxHOLiC DVD (S.A.V.E.)
Funimation - 100 min - Hyb - MSRP $9.98
Currently cheapest at: $5.99 Rakuten

Synopsis: A double-feature including Tsubasa RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE the Movie: The Princess in the Birdcage Kingdom and xxxHOLiC the Movie: A Midsummer Night's Dream. Sakura, Syaoran, and their companions continue to look for the feathers that will help piece together Sakura's memories. Traveling through time and space with Mokona, they visit the Land of the Birdcage. Then in the xxxHOLiC movie, Yuuko is invited to an auction at a mysterious mansion, where visiting collectors keep vanishing.

Thoughts: If you've ever wanted to complete your CLAMP collection, or get an intro to either of these properties, now's your chance to do it for cheap. For those on the fence, you can check out our past reviews.




Hyperdimension Neptunia BD+DVD, LE BD+DVD
Funimation - 325 min - Hyb - MSRP $64.98|69.98
Currently cheapest at: $37.39 Amazon|$40.19 Amazon

Synopsis: The console wars have been raging for ages in Gamindustri, a fantastical world divided into four kingdoms - Lastation, Leanbox, Lowee, and Planeptune. The goddesses in charge agree to sign a peace treaty, promising to get their "Share" energy domestically. However, because Neptune, the leader of Planeptune, can't seem to stop playing video games, her Shares keep declining. Meanwhile, there are villains waiting in the wings to take the goddesses down.

Thoughts: Based on the game franchise, the anime is comprised of twelve episodes and one OVA, all of which are collected into this release. I never got too into this series, but you can check out Carl's review for more in-depth observations. You can catch the series streaming at Funimation.com and Hulu.




Knights of Sidonia Season 1 BD, DVD, LE BD+DVD
Sentai - 300 min - Hyb - MSRP $69.98|$59.98|$99.98
Currently cheapest at: $40.29 Amazon|$35.04 Rakuten, $57.49 Amazon

Synopsis: A thousand years ago, an alien race called Gauna wiped out the solar system. Some humans managed to survive, escaping the Earth on ships like the Sidonia. Enter Nagate Tanikaze, a young man who was raised deep in the bowels of the Sidonia. He enters into a training program to pilot giant mechs known as Gardes, and when the Gauna reappear, it's he and his fellow pilots that must defend the last remains of humanity.

Thoughts: The first episode was first streamed on Netflix, where it can still be seen. You can read Paul's review of this boxset below, or Theron's review of the series here.




Mardock Scramble: The Trilogy DVD, BD
Sentai - 199 min - Hyb - MSRP $39.98|$49.98
Currently cheapest at: $23.36 Rakuten|$28.79

Synopsis: After a vicious attack, Rune Balot finds herself with a second chance at life. Her primary objective now is to bring her killer to justice, but it won't be an easy task. As she works to find the proof she needs, Rune is aided by the doctor who brought her back to life, and Oeufcoque, an intelligent and sentient being that can take on the form of anything Rune requires.

Thoughts: For a look at the Mardock Scramble trilogy, scroll down for Gabriella's review. You can also check out some of the reviews that we've posted on ANN over the years, of part one, two, and three. All three films are streaming on The Anime Network and Hulu.




OniAo - Complete Series DVD (S.A.V.E.)
Funimation - 300 min - Sub - MSRP $24.98
Currently cheapest at: $14.35 Amazon

Synopsis: Akiko is excited to be reunited with her brother Akito, but she discovers with dismay that she has competition for his affection. Several other women are vying for his love, including three who end up moving into the same dorm. Akito is a little worried that Akiko will take her sisterly love too far, especially if she ever finds out that he's the real author behind all her favorite ero-incest novels.

Thoughts: Well, you can see my review of OniAi here when I watched it for Shelf Life. You can also check out Theron's review. If you're really keen on sludging through it yourself, you can stream it from Funimation.com and Hulu.




The Sacred Blacksmith - Complete Series DVD (S.A.V.E.)
Funimation - 300 min - Hyb - MSRP $29.98
Currently cheapest at: $17.99 Right Stuf

Synopsis: Cecily is determined to carry on her family's legacy of being a knight, but she finds her sword skills to be a little lacking. During a fight, she's saved by a blacksmith named Luke Ainsworth, and asks him to make her a sword to replace the one she broke. The two get pulled into a series of new threats, including a villain who's transforming people into demons.

Thoughts: I liked the series okay when I watched it, but it apparently didn't stick, as I remember next to nothing about it. You can check out Theron's full-length review as well. Those interested in watching it for themselves can watch it streaming on Funimation.com and Hulu.




Yuki Yuna is a Hero - Vol. 2 Collection's Edition BD+DVD
Ponycan USA - 100 min - Sub - MSRP $89.98
Currently cheapest at: $71.98 Right Stuf

Synopsis: Yuna and her friends continue to do their best to fight against the Vertex. Later, the girls head to the beach and the hot springs, but their relaxation is short-lived. When they return, it's business as usual, with each girl receiving another fairy.

Thoughts: You can check out our review of volume one, or all of the single episode reviews. The series is streaming on Crunchyroll.




Shelf Life Reviews

It's another shelf-worthy week, with positive reviews for Mardock Scramble and Knights of Sidonia. First up, Gabriella's thoughts on the Mardock Scramble trilogy, which was recently re-released as an all-in-one BD or DVD collection.

A transhuman waif solves crime in a futuristic metropolis. In anime, this may as well be a genre unto itself. From Ghost in the Shell to Ergo Proxy to more distant cousins like Serial Experiments Lain and Psycho-Pass, it's seen many variations. Mardock Scramble is Tow Ubukata's take on the concept as an Alice in Wonderland riff. I'd encountered Tow Ubukata before – he's responsible for Psycho-Pass 2 – but this is the first thing I've come into knowing it was his. After some initial trepidation, I'm happy to report that I've come away as a fan.

Mardock Scramble is a bipolar work. One the one hand, it's about its main character, Rune Balot, learning to trust again. A victim of severe trauma, she starts out only wanting safety and stability. Shell Septinos, an up-and-coming casino manager, takes advantage of her by offering this. Of course, he's only preying on her, and soon leaves Rune for dead. If Dr. Easter hadn't intervened, this would've been the end, as it is for many people. But he does, and Rune is taken to Ubukata's futuristic version of a welfare office. There, she's turned into a cyborg and paired with a bodyguard/social worker/therapist, Oeufcoque. With Oeufcoque's support, Rune sets out to bring Shell to justice. Over the course of her journey, she regains her sense of self, forms emotionally intimate relationships, and even feels empowered to live independently.

On the other hand, this anime features gay incestuous relationships between human and dolphin cyborgs. Besides “intimate psychoanalytic character pieces,” Ubukata's other authorial stamp is “ludicrous sexual body horror.” (At last, Psycho-Pass 2 makes sense.) Aside from the dolphin diddling, Mardock Scramble features a cabal of cybernetic mercenaries who graft women's body parts onto themselves (I'll let you figure out Welldone the Pussyhand's shtick), a man who turns murdered prostitutes into diamonds, and lots of our heroine being abused. I actually don't mind the latter point as much as I thought I would. The work is kind to Rune. It goes away after First Combustion, which is all about her at her lowest point. It's also framed much more for horror than titillation. The Bandersnatch Company's evaluation of her as disparate body parts (hair, breasts, hands, etc.) is terrifying and on point. If you're sensitive to women being abused in media, proceed with caution on Mardock Scramble. However, I'm still marking it down as a surprisingly respectful story about a survivor's self-actualization.

The most memorable aspect of this film's visual aesthetic are the gradient color filters. It results in some striking stills, but otherwise feels gimmicky. This is worst in the second film's “paradise” sequence, where every shot looks like a Lisa Frank trapper keeper. This seems like something that director Susumu Kudo (who is also responsible for Coppelion) likes to do. Otherwise, it's well shot. The low angles and warped perspective reinforce the story as ultimately rooted in Rune's mind. Action scenes are curt, psychedelic, and rooted in character. The extended casino sequence (which takes up about a third of the runtime) is also nowhere near as dull as it could've been. By the end, it's downright thrilling. This is where Mardock Scramble comes together for me. Gambling is woven into an apt metaphor for the choices a survivor can make living with their trauma – either isolating themselves out of fear of further pain or pushing forward. This is well conveyed through anecdotal dialogue. I'm impressed by Ubukata's abilities as a writer. In someone else's hands, this could've easily been a mire of expository character information.

While the emotional logic of what's happening ultimately connects, I'm never quite sure what's going on at the plot level. Why were Shell's memories put into poker chips? What exactly is Oeufcoque? Why are so many immensely powerful people so invested in healing Rune and taking down Shell? What the hell was that paradise sequence? I feel like I'm watching Mulholland Drive.

Sentai's release comes with a number of extras. They're mostly fluff – memorials and promos – but do include all three director's cuts. There's also a dub. It's listenable. Hilary Haag does a good job at capturing Rune's fragile stoicism. Andy McAvin, in contrast, sounds awkward as Oeufcoque – too much like Rune's parent. It makes it uncomfortable when their relationship takes a romantic turn on Rune's part. I prefer the Japanese.

Mardock Scramble most reminds me of the Garden of Sinners series. They're both small character stories wrapped up in bombastic genre conventions. Both bear their author's imprint more than anything, betraying odd, private fixations. At 199 minutes (about an hour per film), Mardock Scramble also doesn't outstay its welcome. I recommend watching all three films straight through – they tend to cut off at awkward points, and the narrative doesn't come together until the finale. Overall, in a genre saturated with pale imitations of Ghost in the Shell, Mardock Scramble stands as an unusually inspired and cohesive work.
- Gabriella[TOP]

Next up, Paul takes us to space with the first season of Knights of Sidonia.

I approached Knights of Sidonia expecting yet another giant robot show about some nondescript guy who's magically better at piloting giant robots than everybody else. To some extent, I was right. The series sticks reasonably close to the unofficial rules of the genre, but it's also much better than I anticipated.

Mecha shows typically involve a spunky band of heroes trying to save the world, but there's not much of a world left to save in this case. Earth has been quite literally torn to pieces by a creepy race of aliens called Gauna, and the surviving remnants of humanity have been drifting through space for the last thousand years. The Sidonia is a massive colony ship that's been out on its own for most of that time, fending off the Gauna with a variety of big guns and giant robots. The main character, Tanikaze, grew up deep in the bowels of the ship, scraping together a living with his grandfather. As is often the case with main characters, he ends up becoming a pilot and joining the fight to defend Sidonia.

For better or for worse, Knights of Sidonia borrows from just about every science fiction title under the sun. Many of its themes, characters, and storylines will feel familiar to seasoned viewers, and the series invites all sorts of comparisons to similar works. The good news is that it does a respectable job of presenting all that borrowed material. There's an old-fashioned sense of adventure in Knights of Sidonia that made me eager to see what would happen next. The characters are almost constantly in danger, but the desperate battles are balanced with calmer moments where we're treated to sweeping vistas or intriguing discoveries about the show's world. That sense of wonder can be tough to capture, and I give this series a lot of credit for nailing it as well as it does.

Knights of Sidonia drew a lot of attention for its heavy use of CG animation, and I have mixed feelings about the results. On one hand, everything that happens outside the ship looks very good. Battles between the Garde robots and the Gauna make good use of the freedom that 3-D models provide, with the camera hurtling through space alongside the combatants. The aliens are appropriately horrifying, while all of the humans' gear shows the kind of detailed wear and tear that's often conspicuously absent with CG animation. On the other hand, the characters look a bit awkward when they're out of their spacesuits. Their movements are frequently stiff and jerky, and facial expressions are a hit or miss affair. That stiff animation makes it tough to get attached to the characters, especially since the writing can be emotionally distant at times. The animation makes the sort of tradeoff that's destined to divide opinions, but at least there are some gains to balance out the losses.

A decent story and some flashy space fights are enough to justify a single viewing, but it's the details that go a long way towards selling me on Knights of Sidonia. A great deal of thought and care went into this fictional world, and the show is better as a result. The elaborate and diverse environments inside Sidonia help make it feel like a home for the characters instead of just a ship, and we care more about the outcome of the battles as a result. The social structures within the crew are interesting and help to pick up the slack when the main characters fall too far into their archetypal roles. Most of all, the physics of space travel are convincing enough to add a sense of realism to the battle scenes. If the ship fires up its engines to dodge an attack, the acceleration wreaks havoc on the interior. If a Garde uses a big shiny cannon in combat, the recoil messes with its ability to maneuver. It's all a bit nerdy, but it helps immerse the audience in the show's world.

Sentai Filmworks offers a fancy collector's edition if you'd like a big box and some extra merchandise, but even the standard version that I reviewed has more extras than the average Sentai release. Along with the usual trailers and clean opening and ending, the second disc has a handful of interviews and behind the scenes videos. Given the show's unusual animation style, it's kind of interesting to see how everything gets put together. Unless you really want a poster and some postcards, the regular release might be the way to go for this one.

Knights of Sidonia doesn't do much to rock the boat, but I'm not convinced that it needs to. It promises a good mix of action and science fiction, and that's exactly what it delivers. I came away from these dozen episodes impressed and eager to see more. Good thing there's already a second season out there.
- Paul[TOP]

That's it for this week. As always, thanks for reading!

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

"I was working at a summer camp in '03, when some adorably over-excited co-worker shoved a copy of "Watchmen" in my hands, and told me "you can only read one chapter a night!" "Whatever", I thought, "if I get around to it." Twelve years later, I have over 400 manga and graphic novels, a respectable anime collection, and an absurd number of Gundam figurines. Lately, I've reorganized my shelves to be as ostentatious as possible - you never know when someone might see something they want to borrow."

We're glad you got sucked into the fold! Those are some incredible shelves!

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


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