Shelf Life
Act A Fool

by Bamboo Dong, Gabriella Ekens, Paul Jensen,

Jump to this week's reviews:
Darker Than Black - Season 2 + OVAs
Nobunaga the Fool - Collection 1

On Shelves This Week

Captain Earth - Collection 1 BD, DVD
Sentai - 325 min - Sub - MSRP $59.98|49.98
Currently cheapest at: $34.46 Amazon|$29.20 Rakuten

Synopsis: When Daichi sees a mysterious but familiar rainbow, he follows it, only to find himself involved with Globe, an organization devoted to defending Earth against extraterrestrial forces. Luckily, Daichi's extensive time spent playing video games has made him the ideal candidate to pilot the Earth Engine, a giant robot designed to fight against alien invaders. Daichi is soon joined by a team of other young people, who all have specially honed skills.

Thoughts: Captain Earth reunites direcotr Takuya Igarashi and writer Yoji Enokido, who spearheaded Star Driver. The two have also worked together in the past on series like Ouran High School Host Club and Sailor Moon Super S, although in different capacities. We'll have a review of this boxset available for you shortly on Shelf Life. In the meantime, you can also watch it on The Anime Network, Hulu, and Crunchyroll.




Is This a Zombie? of the Dead - 2nd Season BD+DVD (Anime Classic)
Funimation - 300 min - Hyb - MSRP $49.98
Currently cheapest at: $28.75 Amazon

Synopsis: When a monster attacks Ayumu's school, he's forced once again to transform into a Magical Garment Girl. But this time, he can't erase anyone's memories, and now everyone at school thinks he's a panty-flashing weirdo. Now in addition to having to fight monsters, he'll also have to deal with heckling from his classmates. Later, Chris reveals herself to have stronger ties to Magical Garment Girls than previously disclosed.

Thoughts: I had a good time with the second season, although I didn't find it quite as laugh-out-loud funny as the first. You can also see Carl's opinion of the series, as well as Rebecca's. Or, you can watch both seasons online yourself, dubbed and subbed, from Funimation.com and Hulu.




Spirited Away BD+DVD
Buena Vista - 125 min - Hyb - MSRP $36.99
Currently cheapest at: $21.97 Amazon

Synopsis: While vacationing with her parents, young Chihiro wanders across an enchanted village. Shortly after her parents are transformed into pigs, Chihiro is trapped in the spirit world, where she ends up working at a bathhouse frequented by yōkai. With the help of a young boy named Haku, she must find a way to leave the world before it's too late.

Thoughts: Spirited Away is one of Ghibli's "must see" films, and certainly worth the Blu-ray investment if you don't already own it. Amongst the jewels in Miyazaki's repertoire, Spirited Away stands out as one of the best, with imaginative characters and awe-inspiring visuals. This is your chance to own a true classic. It's especially appropriate that two Ghibli films are being released this week, as it marks the 30th anniversary of the studio.




The Cat Returns BD+DVD
Buena Vista - 75 min - Hyb - MSRP $36.99
Currently cheapest at: $21.98 Amazon

Synopsis: Haru's life takes a strange turn when she rescues a cat from being hit by a truck. It turns out to be the prince of the Cat Kingdom, and as thanks, the king is insistent on rewarding Haru with his hand in marriage. She tries to find help from the handsome Baron Humbert von Gikkingen, the head of the Cat Bureau, but is instead whisked into the Cat Kingdom.

Thoughts: I'll be reviewing this release for the site soon, but I have nothing but praise for this movie. Directed by Hiroyuki Morita, who's largely built a resume doing key animation and storyboards (he also directed Bokurano), it's a charming and delightful adventure, full of capers and light-hearted fun. It doesn't necessarily hold its weight against some of Studio Ghibli's more celebrated masterpieces, but it is a truly joyous movie. If you haven't had a chance to see it, I highly recommend it.




Shelf Life Reviews

First up this week is Paul's take on Darker than Black's second season, Gemini of the Meteor.

The first season of Darker than Black is a pretty solid action series, especially if you're looking for a show about people with super powers. When it comes to this second season and the extra OVA episodes, things aren't quite as simple. It changes the formula quite a bit, and some parts of the new approach work really well. On the other hand, it also has some big, frustrating flaws.

The show's soft-spoken hero Hei has a pretty rough time in between the two seasons. He gets separated from Yin, starts drinking regularly, and finds himself in desperate need of a shave and a haircut. He ends up mentoring a young contractor named Suo, and the two of them get caught up in a power struggle over an apocalyptic prophecy. Misaki's still in the picture as well, working with the powers that be in order to track down Hei. The OVA episodes are placed after the full season in this collection, but you may want to consider watching them first. They'll spoil a few minor plot points, but they're set between the events of the first and second seasons and go a long way towards explaining what's going on.

One thing that doesn't change from the first season to the second is the quality of the action scenes. Fights between contractors are tense and dynamic, and there are some very cool powers to ooh and ahh over. The award for most creative ability goes to the guy who can make a suit of armor out of whatever's nearby, be it a pile of concrete or a pickup truck. The animation is as impressive as the choreography, and I'm genuinely amazed that this season aired over five years ago. It looks as good as many of today's A-list titles.

Suo is a good addition to the cast, and she ends up replacing Hei as the main character of the series. As a normal girl who becomes a contractor, she has a much wider emotional range than many of the older characters. Unlike all the cold-blooded contractors and hard-boiled cops, Suo presents a mix of strengths and weaknesses that make it easy to root for her. It certainly doesn't hurt that she can pull a giant anti-tank rifle out of thin air, which is the most hilariously straightforward super power I've seen in a while. Suo's relationship with Hei is an interesting one, though it may occasionally be a bit too violent and dysfunctional for some viewers' tastes. It gets better as the season goes on, and they end up helping one another come to terms with their troubles.

The story is much more tightly focused than the first season's, trading the two-episode plot arcs for a single cohesive narrative. With the world already thoroughly built up in detail, this approach works very well. The only problem is that not every part of the story is actually worth telling. The prophecy surrounding Yin is a needlessly complicated attempt at giving the story a broader range of consequences. It ends up being a distraction from the more compelling threads of the plot and contributes to an infuriatingly stupid final episode. The first season concluded on a somewhat frustrating non-ending, but that was a work of genius compared to this disaster. It's a messy, rushed affair that doesn't even attempt to explain half of what happens. It also robs Suo of any ability to decide her own fate, reducing her to a powerless bystander in a failed attempt to give her a happy ending. I've grown numb to lousy anime endings over the years, but this is such an inept piece of storytelling that it made me question the value of the series as a whole.

Your reaction to Gemini of the Meteor will depend on part on what you liked about the first season of Darker than Black. If you're here to watch people with nifty super powers beat the stuffing out of one another, then the action scenes are easily worth the price of admission. If you enjoyed the moody storytelling, then you'll have to ask yourself if you can stomach a few dull plotlines and an apocalyptically bad ending in exchange for an excellent new main character.
- Paul[TOP]

Rounding out this week is a look at the historically creative first half of Nobunaga the Fool from Gabriella:

Epochs after their deaths, Jeanne D'Arc and Oda Nobunaga are reincarnated on a war-torn star system. The world is divided by the European-style Western Star, ruled by King Arthur and his Round Table, and the Eastern Star, a Japanese planet in the midst of its Warring States period. Jeanne, a girl who sees visions of the “Savior King,” is taken by Leonardo da Vinci, King Arthur's emissary, to the Eastern Planet. Da Vinci has betrayed his liege in pursuit of the truth – Jeanne's visions often feature Nobunaga “The Fool” Oda, a daimyo's rambunctious son. Convinced that he's the Savior King, Jeanne and Da Vinci defect to his side. This act accelerates the Eastern Star's internal conflict and threatens to plunge the two planets out of their uneasy truce.

Twenty years after the smash hit Vision of Escaflowne, Shoji Kawamori has decided to tell that story again… only nowhere near as good. The similarities are staggering: a young woman who is specially attuned to fate travels to another world – a twin planet in the stars. The main hero is a displaced king who controls a special mecha. He's aided by his animal-person best friend and a foreign princess. Together, they combat the villainous mastermind – a hilariously decontextualized mythological/historical figure – who wants to recreate the world in his own image. That's not even the end of it. Like Escaflowne, Nobunaga the Fool is, on paper, a rote epic fantasy spiced up with references to space travel. Unlike Escaflowne, however, Nobunaga doesn't transcend its generic conventions through sharp writing and gorgeous production.

There's no sugarcoating it: this show looks awful. The animation is cut-rate from the start. The first time that one of the “wing horses” – flying creatures that look like giant horses – appeared onscreen, I knew that I was in for trouble. Episode one and they already couldn't spare more than three frames for the main character's transportation. This never improves. Battle scenes are dominated by still frames and speed lines. The character designs are garish. All bright colors and strange decoupage, they clash with the plain CG backgrounds. The worst might be Jeanne, whose enormous breasts are overemphasized in every shot where they appear. The “best” worst is Leonardo da Vinci, who often appears wearing a tuba as if it were a feather boa. Meanwhile, the mecha almost seem like an afterthought. They're too bland, and the models too ugly. Just having finished the show, I'm not sure that I could pick the main character's robot out of a lineup. It'd be an extra in any other, better-designed series.

If Nobunaga the Fool had been a visual powerhouse, it might've been worth it in spite of the generic-tastic story. It's usually more funny than objectionable, and some of the characters are even charming. Every second when Da Vinci's onscreen is a hoot, and there's some clever characterization going on with Nobunaga's best friend/tactician, Akechi Mitsuhide. The “everyone named after a historical figure” thing does ruin quite a few of the show's twists, however. If you're going into this blind, I recommend not looking up Mitsuhide. Still, it's fun to see how much they bastardize some historical figures. Did you know that Joan of Arc and Oda Nobunaga were tragic, destined lovers? So were Charlemagne and Hannibal. Vlad the Impaler is split into twin cat children under the command of Julius Ceasar. It's a… liberal approach to history.

The only extra of note on Sentai's release is the dub. It's bad, but not any worse than the show, so I don't mind it too much. Scott Gibbs plays Nobunaga as more of a brat than Mamoru Miyano's ball of destructive charisma, but Miyano is a hard act to follow up. The only standout performance is David Wald as Da Vinci, because he captures the character's camp insanity. The scripting is fairly loose and more casual than the Japanese.

I can't call Nobunaga the Fool terrible. There just isn't anything good in it. It does some things semi-competently (operatic melodrama/camp insanity/high stakes political intrigue), but it's nothing that hasn't been done better in half a dozen other anime. For example, anything else by Kawamori. Go to Macross for mecha, Escaflowne for fantasy, and Earth Girl Arjuna for an undiluted string of terrible ideas put to film. Outside of the Kawamori-verse, I'd recommend Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo for high octane space melodrama with badly rendered CG robots. This release only covers the first thirteen episodes, but I don't think there's much of a chance that Nobunaga the Fool will improve. Maybe it'll go completely off the rails?
- Gabriella[TOP]

That's it for this week. Thanks for tuning in! Next week, Zvezda Plot and perhaps some swimming boys.

This week's shelves are from Stan, who wrote in the following:

"Hey, my name is Stan and I am 20. I am graduating from university in one year and have to move away for future work, unfortunately most of my collection wont be coming with me and I am already in the process of getting rid of it. It's not much but I am proud of what I've collected! Since I have been a long time reader of Shelf Life -- I decided to finally submit my collection, or whats left of it since some stuff is already gone (notice the giant pile haha), while I have the chance. "

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Congrats on graduating soon! You'll rebuild that collection in no time.

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


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