Shelf Life
Alien HQ

by Bamboo Dong, Gabriella Ekens, Paul Jensen,

Jump to this week's reviews:
Captain Earth Collection 1
Haikyu!! Collection 1

On Shelves This Week

A Lull in the Sea - Complete Collection BD [Premium]
NIS America - Hyb - MSRP $179.99
Currently cheapest at: $134.99 Right Stuf

Synopsis: Humans used to inhabit the seas, until one day, a group of humans decided to move ashore. Now there's a rift between those who live in the sea village, and those who live on land. Four children from the sea village must now go to school on land, learn how to adapt to life on the surface, and navigate their way through a world of new people and challenges.

Thoughts: For those scratching their heads at what this show is, A Lull in the Sea was simulcast under its Japanese name, Nagi no Asukara. The series was produced by P.A. Works, which brings its trademark artistry and gorgeous animation to this title. I was quite taken by this show when I first watched it, and enjoyed the tense progression of the story quite a bit. Those who are wary of the series' delicately-paced opener should definitely try to stick around for a few episodes. You can watch the series streaming at Crunchyroll and Hulu.

The irregular at magic high school - Enrollment Arc v. 1 BD
Aniplex of America - Sub - MSRP $89.98
Currently cheapest at: $69.98 Right Stuf

Synopsis: Brother and sister Tatsuya and Miyuki are ready to start their school year at Magic High School, a school focused on the well-established technology of magic. Students are divided into two groups based on their skills—those with high aptitude are enrolled as Blooms, while those with poor academic records are enrolled as Weeds. Tatsuya and Miyuki find that they're enrolled in different groups, but even more surprisingly, the usually calm campus is beginning to change.

Thoughts: User ratings for this series are pretty high, with an average score of 7.05, though first-episode impressions weren't too impressive. The series is directed by Manabu Ono, who's also directed A-Channel and Horizon in the Middle of Nowhere. If you're interested in watching the series yourself, you can catch the entire thing on Hulu, Crunchyroll, and Daisuki.

Magical Warfare Complete Collection BD, DVD
Sentai Filmworks - Hyb - MSRP $69.98|$59.98
Currently cheapest at: $40.29 Amazon|$35.04 Rakuten

Synopsis: Takeshi's life is anything but spectacular, and his personal relationships are a mess. However, things take a sudden turn when he meets a mysterious girl wearing an unknown uniform. She reveals herself to be a magician, and informs Takeshi that she's turned him into a magician as well. His world is changed forever, and he quickly learns that the two are not alone in their abilities.

Thoughts: User reviews for Magical Warfare are pretty mixed, with almost as many "weak" votes as "decent" votes. Preview guide first impressions were lackluster as well, with a reviewer average of 2.1. Personally, I gave up halfway through the series because of boredom, but if you want to barrel through the show, you can catch it streaming on Magical Warfare, Hulu, and Crunchyroll.

My Little Monster - Complete Collection BD+DVD [Premium]
NIS America - Sub - MSRP $69.99
Currently cheapest at: $51.99 Right Stuf

Synopsis: Shizuku is studious and single-mindedly focused on her studies. One day, she's asked to deliver worksheets to Haru, a boy with a reputation for being violent. Although he hasn't been to school in a while, he decides to go back to school again after meeting Shizuku. The two develop a friendship as they get to know each other.

Thoughts: I adored this series when it was streaming, and I'm looking forward to seeing how well it holds up to a second viewing. The premise sounds a little hokey and over-done (straight-laced girl becomes friends with the misunderstood bad boy), but the characters are earnest and likeable and fiercely independent. You can check out some of my thoughts during the series' simulcast run, or check out Carl's thoughts on the first seven episodes. The series is also streaming on Crunchyroll.

Space Brothers Collection 3 BD, DVD
Sentai - Sub - MSRP $59.98|$49.98
Currently cheapest at: $35.04 Rakuten|$28.78 Amazon

Synopsis: Mutta and the other JAXA finalists are in Houston, anxiously awaiting to see who will be selected as astronauts. Meanwhile, younger brother Hibito is getting ready for his journey to the moon, and the reality of his mission's dangers are starting to sink in.

Thoughts: I have nothing but praise for Space Brothers (you can see my reviews of collections one and two), and I strongly recommend it to anyone who likes space, learning about space missions, or basic human drama. It's not a fast-paced show, but everything is impeccably written and researched, and I think it's one of the best shows in recent years. You can find it online at The Anime Network, Hulu, and Crunchyroll.

Sword Art Online II - Phantom Bullet Pt 1 BD, DVD, LE
Aniplex of America - Hyb - MSRP $114.98
Currently cheapest at: $69.98|$39.98|$89.98 Right Stuf

Synopsis: A year has passed since the events of Sword Art Online. Kazuto (Kirito) has been summoned by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications to look into a series of murders linked to a game called Gun Gale Online. Players who are getting shot in-game by a player named Death Gun are being found dead in the real world. When he logs in, Kazuto meets a girl named Sinon who turns out to be a sniper.

Thoughts: Nick reviewed the entire series week-to-week as episodes were simulcast. You can start out with his thoughts on episodes one through eight. You can catch the series on Aniplex Channel, Hulu, Crunchyroll, and Netflix.

Tokyo Ravens Season 1 Part 2 BD+DVD
Funimation - 300 min - Hyb - MSRP $64.98
Currently cheapest at: $37.42 Rakuten

Synopsis: Harutora learns that not only can he sense the spirits around him, he also knows how to fight them. Later, Natsume tries to explain pieces of her past, but things backfire when Raven Coat possesses Harutora. During the ensuing events, plans are made for an attack on the Onymo Agency.

Thoughts: Check out Paul's review of part one of the series, which was also reviewed by Theron. You can check the series out online from Funimation and Hulu.

Turn A Gundam Part 1
Sunrise/Right Stuf - 625 min - Sub - MSRP $49.99
Currently cheapest at: $33.49 Right Stuf

Synopsis: The Earth's population has been drastically reduced, with some having long since left the planet. An advanced civilization still lives on the moon, but when resources run scarce, the Moonrace sets its eyes on Earth. They send three teenagers: Loran, Keith, and Fran down to Earth as part of a reconnaissance mission. Loran becomes good friends with the daughters of a prestigious family, but his mission is interrupted when the Moonrace attacks the Earth. Only one weapon can stop the Moonrace's advanced weaponry - a white mobile suit.

Thoughts: Turn A Gundam is directed by none other than Yoshiyuki Tomino, the original creator of Mobile Suit Gundam. We don't have any reviews on the site yet, but we'll have one up on Shelf Life for you soon. In the meantime, if you've seen it, let us know what you think!

Shelf Life Reviews

We have another two reviews for you this week. First, Gabriella takes us into the libido-harvesting alien fray with Captain Earth. Then, Paul brings us back to high school gym class with the first collection of Haikyu!!.

The Kill-T-Gang (pronounced “kiltgang”) are a race of nomadic aliens who harvest species for their “libido,” or Orgone Energy. They've waited millions of years for humanity to reach peak harvest, and now they've come to collect. Armed with the bodies of genetically modified Designer's Children, they've infiltrated the human race, Cylon-style. Humanity has several plans for dealing with this, one of which is arming Daichi Manatsu, a Japanese teenager, with the Earth Engine – a weapon capable of combatting the Kill-T-Gang in their spacefaring giant robot forms. Together with Teppei and Hana (two amnesiac youths who live at the local military base) and Akari (a computer prodigy and self-proclaimed magical girl), he forms the Midsummer's Knights – a task force to combat the Kill-T-Gang's threat. But will they be able to handle the Kill-T-Gang as more of their members awaken? What about all of the scheming going on in the background? Will our heroes – or even humanity – make it out unscathed?

Beneath all of these Proper Nouns (I haven't even gone over Machine Goodfellow, SaltyDog, or Livlaster – this show has nearly Yoshiyuki Tomino levels of nonsensical terminology), Captain Earth is a fairly simple story. Teens fighting each other in giant robots as a metaphor for puberty is some of the most well-trodden thematic ground in anime, and Captain Earth doesn't add much besides being unnecessarily confusing. So far, there isn't much in here that wasn't done better in writer Yoji Enokido's previous series, Star Driver. Daichi has (so far unexplored) abandonment issues surrounding his father, who was killed by the Kill-T-Gang several years ago. Teppei is regal, isolated, and has a mysterious connection to the enemy. Hana is just mysterious, I guess. These are diluted beats from Star Driver, down to the story structure. A sequence of color-coded villains running on “libido” (a word that Enokido should be disbarred from using) appear and are handily eliminated by our heroes. They each have some grievance that promptly fades into the background. The one exception to this is Ranger Green, Bugbear, who actually comes from a sympathetic and well-articulated – if cliché – emotional background. If Captain Earth had had more characters like him, it might've actually been enjoyable. I don't mind simple so long as it's entertaining and somewhat emotionally resonant. Captain Earth tries to do too much, and the result is a hodgepodge of half-baked ideas.

Star Driver also had an immediately striking, intelligible premise. For all that show's faults, I immediately knew what was happening and was intrigued. Not true for Captain Earth. The premise takes five laborious episodes to unravel, and most of the setup is delivered via talking heads. There are no palpable stakes – the world never feels like it's really endangered by sex aliens. There's not enough action to make up for it either. The battles are mostly ranged, so there isn't much interesting choreography to show off.

This'd be all well and good if the show managed to be fun, or even particularly well-animated, but it's all so drab. Again, so much feels like a dull echo of Star Driver. Many of the mecha designs are lifted from that series – for example, Malkin's – and while I still like them, they were realized much more fluidly there. (If there's something that makes Star Driver worth watching, it's Bones' stellar production.) While Bones also made Captain Earth, it's much less visually compelling. The color work in particular is lacking. It's all very flat, and a lot of it clashes. My eyes kept drifting off of the screen. Overall, there are too many instances of repeated animation and speedlines for me to call Captain Earth well-produced. The show doesn't make up for this in its art design or direction, so I can't give it a pass.

If anything, Captain Earth has given me a better appreciation for Kunihiko Ikuhara. He and Yoji Enokido are from the same school – they collaborated on Revolutionary Girl Utena – and it shows. They're stylistically similar. Both make extensive use of at-first-glance impenetrable terminology to craft allegories about A Theme within otherwise mundane generic trappings. Enokido employs a lot of mecha while Ikuhara likes shoujo. The problem is that Enokido doesn't have Ikuhara's ironclad control over his theme and storyworld. For example, in order to make it clear that bear = lesbian in Yuri Kuma Arashi, Ikuhara both repeats the association constantly and creates a web of associated meaning by making honey = ladyparts, eat = sex, etc. Revolutionary Girl Utena, Mawaru Penguindrum, and Yuri Kuma Arashi only work because Ikuhara is extremely thorough. In contrast, too much of Captain Earth exists in isolation. What does “libido” have to do with “livlaster”? What do the constant allusions to A Midsummer Night's Dream say about the characters and their situation? It's semiotically confused. If Star Driver's message collapsed under the weight of the story's convoluted internal justifications, Captain Earth hardly seems to try at all. And it's a shame, because Enokido has good work in him. Ouran High School Host Club gained a lot in his adaptation, and he's most likely responsible for the “adolescence” half of Utena. He needs a vacation.

It does get a bit more interesting by the end of these first thirteen episodes. The Bugbear plot starts up around episode 12, and that's the most compelling part. However, it seems to resolve itself in episode 13, so there's not much hope for a continuation. Akari, the resident Asuka-alike, was also charming, although she's wasted as the fourth-string protagonist behind a crew of sentient logs. As the Bard of Avon said, all's well that ends well – I just doubt that Captain Earth can manage that.
- Gabriella[TOP]

If you're interested in checking out some of the other series that Gabriella mentioned in the review, you can watch Star Driver on Crunchyroll (as well as Yuri Kuma Arashi) and Hulu. Likewise, Captain Earth is also available streaming on both platforms, as well as The Anime Network.

Washing out the perishable taste this week is some good ol' fashioned volleyball action. Here's Paul's thoughts on the first boxset of Haikyu!!.

It's only natural for a sports anime series to try to make its game of choice seem fun and interesting, but few can compete with Haikyu!! in terms of sheer enthusiasm. This show is so excited about volleyball that having just one exclamation point in the title simply wasn't enough. It can't wait to tell the audience all about all the different formations and techniques that the players use, and the barrage of information never lets up. Thankfully, Haikyu!! doesn't forget that it has to entertain the viewer if it wants any of that trivia to sink in.

As far as the story goes, the series sticks with the old “likable underdog” angle. Its main characters are a spiker who's too short to take on opposing blockers and a setter whose talent and ambition put him at odds with the rest of his team. Both Hinata and Kageyama face some bitter defeats in middle school, but they end up on the same team in high school. Their teammates are all a little eccentric, but just about everyone has some kind of unique talent. If they can put aside all their emotional baggage and personal rivalries, they might just have a shot at making the nationals.

Haikyu!! is a typical sports anime at its core, and it has many of the strengths that are common in this genre. It's good cheesy fun, and the main characters' abilities are exaggerated enough to be entertaining without being completely absurd. The show gets inside the players' heads, which helps the audience understand the significance of each point and change in momentum. Even if your volleyball experience is limited to a few weeks of gym class, it's easy to follow what's going on and get wrapped up in each character's emotions. I caught myself shouting at the TV as if I were watching an actual game on several occasions, which is a good sign that the series is doing what it's supposed to do.

Following genre conventions also means that Haikyu!! falls prey to a number of common problems. Shows about all-male or all-female teams can never quite figure out what to do with the opposite sex, and that's certainly the case here. The team manager is the only girl with any significant speaking role, and she doesn't do much of anything in these thirteen episodes. The script's eagerness to start playing volleyball also means that a big chunk of character development ends up happening on the court. The pacing is good enough to soak up a monologue or two, but the show has some interesting ideas about how quickly time passes in the middle of a game. Characters often manage to have entire conversations in the handful of seconds it takes for the ball to travel from one player to another. Unless Japanese high schools fill their volleyballs with helium, something's not quite right there.

The reason Haikyu!! works in spite of its issues is that it's very good at putting together a team of charismatic personalities. The key players on the Karasuno High School team all have their own charms and weaknesses, and the variety of attitudes and backstories make it easy to find at least one person to root for. (For my money, Tanaka is clearly best guy.) More importantly, the characters work well as a group, prompting one another to grow both on and off the court. The handful of opposing teams that appear in this set are also interesting in their own right, and the subtle differences in their playing styles make the matches more compelling. It's easy enough to make a fictional game come down to the last point, but consistently giving the audience a reason to care who wins is an impressive feat.

If you enjoy sports anime or are looking to give the genre a try, Haikyu!! is easily worth your time. It has its share of flaws, but it's still a heck of a lot of fun. This group of episodes takes its time in assembling the team, and things should get even more lively once everyone starts playing for keeps.
- Paul[TOP]

That's it for this week! Anime Expo is next weekend (how is it already July???), but we'll have a column for you as usual.

This week's shelves are from Roger A., who wrote:

"Yo, what's up ANN. I've been an anime/manga fan for the majority of my life, but due to an unfortunate event, have had to restart my collection from scratch. So far I only have manga: Black Lagoon, Hellsing, Ajin, and Sadamoto's first Eva artbook. Well, to be honest I have a bit more manga, but I'm gonna sell them on ebay, and use the money to buy more artbooks. Viz's superb release of Der Mond made me want to buy more artbooks. The box in the corner is what I'm gonna put up on ebay. It includes: Evangelion 1-14, Hellsing (old edition) 1-6, Attack on Titan 1 (love the anime, but Isayama's shoddy art is a turn off), Terra Formars 1, All You Need Is Kill, Golgo 13 1, 07-Ghost 1, and my stash of anime/video games magazines. Anyway, hopefully that shelf'll be full by next month. I already have Die Sterne and Carmine pending in the mail. Laters.

PS: That picture of Saber belongs to the Major, the Captain, and the Doc. I swear it isn't mine!"

Sorry to hear about losing your collection, but the new one already looks great!

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

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