Shelf Life
I Am Roots

by Bamboo Dong,

Jump to this week's reviews:
World Conquest Zvezda Plot
.hack//Roots

On Shelves This Week

Bleach - Season 25 Uncut Box Set DVD
Viz - Hyb - MSRP $44.82
Currently cheapest at: $27.58 Amazon

Synopsis: Ichigo has been without powers for a year now, but things change when he meets a man named Kugo Ginjo, who offers a way for Ichigo to get his Soul Reapers powers back. Ichigo wants to decline, but changes his mind when Uryu is hurt by a mysterious assailant. Ginjo introduces Ichigo to Xcution, a secret organization of humans born with a special ability.

Thoughts: This boxset covers episodes 343-354, which includes the first half of the Lost Substitute Shinigami arc. The series can be watched online both dubbed and subbed on Viz.com and Hulu, and subtitled on Crunchyroll.





Hayate the Combat Butler: Cuties BD, DVD
Sentai - Sub - MSRP $59.98|$49.98
Currently cheapest at: $35.44 Rakuten|$34.99 Amazon

Synopsis: In the fourth season of Hayate the Combat Butler, Hayate must keep heiress Nagi Sanzenin safe from kidnappers, all while minding the house, running odd errands, and making sure chaos doesn't turn the house upside-down. His tasks this time around include helping return stolen money and nursing everyone's colds, all while trying to pass his exams.

Thoughts: You can find some earlier reviews of the first series if you need a refresher on the franchise. Or, check out this season on The Anime Network, Hulu, and Crunchyroll.





Lupin the Third: The Castle of Cagliostro - Collector's Edition BD
Eastern Star - Hyb - MSRP $29.95
Currently cheapest at: $14.99 Amazon

Synopsis: Hayao Miyazaki's first feature film, The Castle of Cagliostro gets a BD release, which includes the 1992 Streamline dub, the 2000 Manga Entertainment dub, the 2000 Family Friendly English dub, the 1980 theatrical subtitles, and all-new translation subtitles. The movie follows our Lupin and Jigen as they're fleeing from the Monte Carlo Casino. During their escape, Lupin realizes that the bills are counterfeits, a discovery that prompts them to head to the source, a small country named Cagliostro. When he gets there, he meets the beautiful princess Clarisse, who is being forced to marry the greasy Count Cagliostro. Together with the help of Goemon and Fujiko, Lupin must find a way to save the girl, all while avoiding deadly traps and assassins, and his nemesis Inspector Zenigata.

Thoughts: The Castle of Cagliostro is a classic, and one well worth adding to you library if you don't already own it. It embraces the very essence of Lupin III, and is one movie that you'll be reaching for again and again. Even if you do own it, it might be worth double-dipping, as this collects several of the film's previous audio tracks, as well as multiple English subtitle tracks. Content-wise, it's similar to Eastern Star's 35th anniversary DVD release, but includes some extra BD-only features, and cleaner video. Hopefully we'll have a review of the movie up on the site soon.





Nyaruko: Crawling with Love! Season 1 BD
NIS America - Sub - MSRP $54.99
Currently cheapest at: $41.24 Right Stuf

Synopsis: Mahiro is attacked by monsters one day, but he's saved by a silver-haired girl named Nyarko, who tells him she's a Cthulhu. She's not alone, though. She's joined by Kuko, the Ravenous Chaos and Hasuta, the Deity of Wind, all of whom have now invaded Mahiro's life.

Thoughts: Fans of H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos may enjoy this goofy and light-hearted take, filled with fanservice and romantic hijinks. Admittedly, I was not fond of the series, but Carl had slightly nicer things to say about it. You can catch the series online at Crunchyroll.





Origin: Spirits of the Past BD (S.A.V.E. Edition), DVD
Funimation - Hyb - MSRP $19.98|$14.98
Currently cheapest at: $11.51 Rakuten|$8.63 Rakuten

Synopsis: In the distant future, humanity is still alive, but in tatters, and the world's water supply is controlled by a sentient forest. One day, a boy named Agito accidentally stumbles across a ruin where he discovers a girl named Toola who's been kept in suspended animation by a machine for 300 years. Toola and another recently awakened man try to reverse the damage done to the world, but learn that their actions could have very drastic consequences.

Thoughts: It's been eight years since this movie saw North American shores, and I can't say that I remember much of it. We still have two reviews from when the movie was first released, but you can watch it for yourself on Funimation.com and Hulu.





Ping Pong the Animation - Complete Series BD+DVD
Funimation - Hyb - MSRP $59.98
Currently cheapest at: $34.43 Amazon

Synopsis: Smile and Peco have been best friends since childhood, and both grew up with a love for ping pong. When they enter high school, they join the school's ping pong team, but find themselves faced with new challenges, including tough opponents and personal setbacks.

Thoughts: My love for sports anime is no secret, but I think Ping Pong would appeal to even those who don't like the genre. Directed by Masaaki Yuasa, of Kick-Heart and Tatami Galaxy fame (he also directed an episode of Space Dandy season 2, as well as an episode of Adventure Time, alongside Ping Pong episode director Eunyoung Choi), the series is absolutely innovative and gorgeous. We'll have a review for you in the upcoming weeks. In the meantime, check it out on Funimation.com and Hulu.





Wagnaria!!2 Complete Second Season BD
NIS America - Sub - MSRP $54.99
Currently cheapest at: $41.24 Right Stuf

Synopsis: The hard-working folks of Wagnaria are back in the second season of this restaurant workplace comedy.

Thoughts: I reviewed Wagnaria!!2 back when it came out in a limited edition boxset, and liked it ok. The series is appropriately comedy-oriented, much like the first season, but I thought it was a little too flippant at times. Your mileage may vary. You can watch the series streaming on Crunchyroll and Hulu.





Yuruyuri: Happy Go Lily season 1 BD
NIS America - Sub - MSRP $54.99
Currently cheapest at: $41.24 Right Stuf

Synopsis: Middle schooler Akari is excited to join the Amusement Club with her childhood friends, Kyouko and Yui. They're joined by her classmate Chinatsu, and together, the four girls hang out in the abandoned Tea Club room after school and have fun.

Thoughts: You can check out my thoughts on Yuruyuri here, and Carl's thoughts here. Or, you can watch online at Hulu and Crunchyroll.





Shelf Life Reviews

This week, Paul and I take a look at two series on the opposite ends of the Shelf Life review spectrum. The first is the decidedly strange World Conquest Zvezda Plot, which might not be everyone's cup of tea, but is worth taking at least a small peek at.



Even if I were to describe the storyline of World Conquest Zvezda Plot in exhausting detail, you would really need to see it to believe it. It's not that the story is difficult to understand—it's actually relatively straight-forward, considering it involves pint-sized world domination commanders, sentient bubble creatures that coalesce into massive monsters, teleporting base camps, asparagus, secret government plots, androids, and a campaign to ban smokers. It revolves around a middle schooler named Asuta (whose father's identity I'll leave out for fear of spoiling the impact of the last half of the show) who is running away from home. He meets a young girl named Kate who recruits him into Zvezda, a secret organization led by her (under the name Lady Venera), whose goal is to take over the world. Along the way, they meet opposition from White Light, a group contracted by the Tokyo government to fight Zvezda.

When I watched the first episode of World Conquest Zvezda Plot, my initial guess was that everything was a fantasy created inside Kate's head—that she was playing grown-up, retaliating against a cruel world, and aided by a group of adults who cared enough for her to play along. I was mostly wrong; the things that happen in the series do indeed actually happen. Premise-wise, Kate is actually trying to take over the world, and there are forces that we just can't explain—the list I gave above is just a small sampling of some of the absurdities that frequently take place in the series, and it's just the tip of the iceberg. But there's more than meets the eye, both with the story and the characters.

When Kate is dressed as Lady Venera, it's easy to pass her off as yet another anime lolicon heroine, but there seems to be more behind it. Sure, sure, we learn that she's not "actually" a child, but even were that not appended, her appearance would still serve a purpose in the story. Kate dresses like a cartoon villain. Not a literal "anime = cartoon villain," but one that a child would concoct in her imagination. The kind paired with ridiculous embellishments and unfashionable shoes, and an "oh-ho-ho!" laugh. The outfit is a reflection of this caricature, worn by a child (or child-like adult?) who demands to be taken seriously, but doesn't quite have the maturity to process the difference between fantasy and real life.

This relationship between children and adults, and how each views the other, is a theme that reoccurs throughout the series. We see it not only in the way that Asuta interacts with his father, but also the way that other children in the series interact with their parents. Sub-themes like familial obligation, abandonment, and disappointment ripple through all of the child-adult units in the series. By the end, it seems like no accident that a child (or, again, a child-like adult) is chosen as the face of this world conquest. The world may be run by adults, but it is not solely inhabited by them. This translates into a satirical parallel wherein "adults" are symbolic stand-ins for the government, and vice versa, which comes into sharper focus near the latter half of the show. Kate tries to stake her influence the only way that she knows how—through conquest. (I have to confess that I was on her side during her anti-smoking crusade, and silently cheered when she succeeded in driving them out of town. Sorry, smokers.)

The latter episodes, in which we learn more about Asuta's relationship with his father, are particularly well done. It grounds the series without losing any of the visual punch. The scenes in which the two are on screen together are just as ludicrous as the episodes preceding them, but there's a sad truth that blazes through the distractions. And while Asuta is fighting his own fight, the other characters get a chance to examine their relationships as well. At the end of the day, world conquest is about getting what you want, and ruling the world isn't always it.

Admittedly, my take-away from World Conquest Zvezda Plot could be utterly and completely wrong. It may even change every time I revisit the series. But that is one of the things that I ultimately did end up liking a lot about this show. On the surface, it is completely bizarre and ridiculous, and oftentimes even nonsensical. There were entire moments where I couldn't help just squint at the screen and scratch my head in confusion. I had to look up what udo was, too, because it plays such a large role in the series.

But that's kind of the wild beauty of Zvezda Plot. It is as nonsensical or eye-opening as you want it to be, and often times both. It offers viewers a crazy ride into absurdity, for those who are in search of such a thing, but offers more than enough to chew on should you wish to peek beyond the layers.

Mostly, Zvezda Plot is a lot of fun. The characters are kooky, the color palette is loud and vibrant, and the series delights in defying physical and logical reason. I don't know that it's for everyone, as mining for meaning sometimes feels like digging through a pool of Jello for a nickel, but anyone craving visual stimulation should check out at least the first few episodes.
- Bamboo[TOP]

Balancing out this week's reviews is a Perishable item, with Paul's review of .Hack//Roots.

If you've enjoyed more recent MMO-themed titles like Sword Art Online and Log Horizon, then you owe a small debt of gratitude to the .hack franchise. In the vast and convoluted anime family tree, the original .hack//SIGN stands as a noteworthy grandparent to today's big hits and is worth checking out for its historical value alone. The more recent and less important .hack//Roots, on the other hand, can and should be skipped over entirely. Simply put, it's just not worth your time.

Roots takes place in a new version of “The World,” the fictional online game that sits at the heart of the .hack universe. The main character, Haseo, joins a guild called the Twilight Brigade shortly after starting the game. The guild's goal is to find an item called the Key of the Twilight, but everyone's priorities shift dramatically when people start disappearing from the game. “The World” starts to take on a life of its own, and a mysterious entity called Tri-Edge starts killing player characters with potentially serious effects on the players themselves. Haseo becomes obsessed with tracking down and defeating Tri-Edge, even if it means abandoning the friendships he's built up while playing the game.

That summary might make the show sound exciting, but I promise you it isn't. Roots moves with all the speed of a glacier and all the narrative focus of an eight-year-old's diary. It wanders aimlessly from one idea to another, rarely bothering to bring any of its storylines to a remotely satisfying conclusion. Fight scenes are few and far between, and most are hardly worth watching in the first place. Characters spend multiple minutes per episode standing around and staring off into the distance, which at least makes for some pretty visuals thanks to the consistently impressive background art. The whole series feels like someone took a very rough draft of a thirteen-episode story and stretched it to twenty-six without adding anything to fill the extra screen time. I'm typically one of the first people to jump to the defense of slow, thoughtful anime, but Roots is lethargic beyond justification.

Part of the problem is that the characters are, by and large, completely insufferable. Haseo starts off as a bland embodiment of teenage apathy and aimlessness, then transforms into an obsessive, thoughtless lunatic. Most of the major players in the main storyline are so guarded and cryptic that it's all but impossible to form a coherent opinion on their decisions. A few of the minor characters are more interesting and likable, but most of them are so irrelevant to the story that they only appear when nothing important is going on. At least that means they get plenty of screen time thanks to the show's snail-friendly pacing.

The issue at the, ahem, root of my complaints is that the series never bothers to explain what's at stake or what risks the characters are facing. It's possible that being killed by Tri-Edge puts players into a real-life coma, but the narrative never actually rules out the possibility that his one confirmed victim didn't just succumb to a real-life medical problem. Defeating Tri-Edge might save the distressed damsel in question, or it might accomplish nothing at all. As a result, it's never clear if Haseo's quest for revenge is justified and productive or if he's just a sulky moron with nothing better to do. (Guess which interpretation I favor.) Characters frequently spout the tired old refrain of, “you can just quit the game if you're not having fun,” and that's part of the problem. When there's nothing stopping everyone from just doing something else, it's awfully difficult to convince me that I should care about whether or not someone's guild breaks up.

From time to time, .hack//Roots offers a satisfying moment of character development or presents a clever observation about how we interact with persistent virtual worlds. It's not a worthless show, but it's poorly constructed and often mind-numbingly dull. It might have been interesting when it first came out, but it doesn't hold up well at all. Unless you simply must watch every anime series about video games ever made, there's no need to sit through it. Watch the original if you want a history lesson, watch Log Horizon if you want thoughtful world-building, and watch Sword Art Online if you want to see things blow up in spectacular fashion.
- Paul[TOP]

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

"Hi my name is Radee and I've been collection anime since 2009. It all started with Dragonball Z Season 1 and the rest is what you see here. There are a couple of shows that I am missing (Kenichi, Kill La Kill, Trigun and Shin Chan) but I plan on repurchasing these shows when I get the chance. My favorite out this collection is my YuYu Hakusho Blu Ray Box Sets that I got from Japan. Pretty soon I will have to get a new shelf but when that happens I'll be sure to send shelflife an update.

I've added a lot of pictures so enjoy."

Thanks for sharing your collection with us! It's lovely!

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


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