Shelf Life
Woman Power

by Bamboo Dong, Gabriella Ekens, Paul Jensen,

Jump to this week's reviews:
Michiko & Hatchin
Bubblegum Crisis: Tokyo 2040

On Shelves This Week

Atelier, Escha & Logy: Alchemists of the Dusk Sky Complete Collection BD, DVD
Sentai - Sub - MSRP $59.98|$49.98
Currently cheapest at: $34.49 Amazon|$29.20 Rakuten

Synopsis: Escha has long-since dreamed of becoming an Alchemist like her mother, as well as exploring the strange ruins that float above her village. Now that she works for the research and development team of her town's Alchemy division, her dreams can finally come true. But first, she and her new partner Logy must take care of the other problems plaguing the village, like polluted waters, failing crops, and more.

Thoughts: Based on the Atelier RPG series, and specifically the Alchemists of the Dusk Sky volume of the Dusk trilogy, this series is directed by Yoshiaki Iwasaki, whose list of works include Best Student Council, Familiar of Zero, Love Hina, and Hayate the Combat Butler!!. It follows the arcs pretty well, but even those unfamiliar with the game or the franchise will have no difficulties following along. We'll have a review of the series up for you soon! Until then, you can watch the series online from The Anime Network and Hulu.

Noragami - The Complete First Season BD+DVD, LE
Funimation - Hyb - MSRP $64.98|$69.98
Currently cheapest at: $37.38 Amazon|$40.29 Rakuten

Synopsis: Yato is a minor deity, who doesn't even have a shrine to his name. He writes his number on a bathroom stall offering help in exchange for a 5-yen offering. Things change when he saves a girl named Hiyori from a traffic accident, but the incident makes it so that her soul is easily lost. The two begin working together alongside a boy named Yukine in fighting spirits who want to bring harm to humans.

Thoughts: The show starts off pretty sweet, but gets fairly melancholy and serious as it goes along. It's a pleasant show and surprisingly complex, so those who are looking for more than just a light-hearted romp about supernatural entities might be interested. We'll have a review for you soon, but in the meantime, you can catch Noragami streaming on Funimation and Hulu.

One Week Friends Complete Collection BD, DVD
Sentai - Sub - MSRP $59.98|$49.98
Currently cheapest at: $34.49 Amazon|$29.20 Rakuten

Synopsis: Yuki tries to befriend a quiet girl at his school, only to find her reluctant to accept his friendship. As she warms up to him, she tells him her biggest secret, that because of a childhood accident, her memories reset every week. He vows to befriend her anew every week.

Thoughts: I adored Last Week Friends when it was streaming, although there were times when the series got pretty tense. Overall, it's a sweet and beautiful story well worth watching. We'll have a review on Shelf Life soon, but until then, you can check out my thoughts from last year, as well as a review from Carl. The series is streaming on The Anime Network, Crunchyroll, and Hulu.

Pokemon: Giratina & The Sky Warrior
Viz - Dub - MSRP $19.97
Currently cheapest at: $12.73 Rakuten

Synopsis: A tiny Pokemon named Shaymin suddenly finds itself in the middle of a battle between two very powerful Pokemon: Dialga and Giratina. It eventually meets Ash and his friends and asks for help in reuniting with the other Shaymin. Later, Ash and friends come face to face with Regigigas, a legendary Pokemon with strong powers.

Thoughts: You can watch the movie on Hulu Plus.

Yakitate!! Japan Part 3 DVD
Nozomi/Lucky Penny - Sub - MSRP $44.99
Currently cheapest at: $25.91 Rakuten

Synopsis: Kazuma Azuma heads back to Japan, but St. Pierre's Yuichi Kirisaki issues a challenge to the Pantasia bakers. He proposes the Yakitate 9 game show, which tasks Kazuma and his friends with creating breads that represent every part of Japan.

Thoughts: I love shows about food, and Yakitate!! Japan is near the top of my list. If you're currently enjoying Food Wars, you should definitely check out Yakitate!! Japan as well, as it also packs a lot of delicious food porn (minus the porn) and ridiculous reaction shots. You can read my review of the first season, as well as Nick and Rebecca'ss reviews of seasons one and two.

Yu-Gi-Oh! GX - Season 2 DVD
New Video - Dub - MSRP $59.99
Currently cheapest at: $41.46 Rakuten

Synopsis: Jaden's back for his second year at Duel Academy, and continues to train hard in the art of dueling. This year, he must also face even tougher battles as his opponents get stronger and stronger.

Thoughts: You can watch the entire series streaming on Hulu.

Denki-Gai Collector's Edition + CD Volume 3 BD+DVD
Ponycan USA - Sub - MSRP $89.98
Currently cheapest at: $71.98 Right Stuf

Synopsis: Hio-tan is home sick with a cold, but Kantoku stops by to take care of her. Then on Valentine's Day, Sensei decides she's going to embark on a mission to make her own chocolate.

Thoughts: This release includes episodes 9-12 in an oversized package. You can read our reviews of part one and two, or check out my review of volume two. To get an in-depth 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.

Shelf Life Reviews

Appropriately, one of our reviews this week includes Michiko and Hatchin, which just premiered on Adult Swim's Toonami on June 20. It was first released two years ago, but it's getting a revival thanks to both the air time and Funimation's recent S.A.V.E. edition release. Here is Gabriella's review of the BD release:

Hana Morenos wants a way out. At nine years old, her abusive foster family forces her to do all of their household chores. As a respite from the drudgery, Hana fantasizes that her missing father, Hiroshi, will come and find her some day. As if answering her prayers, Michiko Malandro erupts on the scene. Hiroshi's old flame, Michiko busts out of jail to reunite with him. There's one problem – she has no idea where he is. So she goes after his kid, hoping that she might have a clue. Hana doesn't, but Michiko, seeing the conditions she's kept in, decides to take her along anyways. The two women – opposites in terms of personality – form an impromptu family and set out after the man they love.

Michiko and Hatchin is, above all else, a directorial effort. As Sayo Yamamoto's debut work, it showcases all of the directorial wunderkind's trademark fixations: femme fatales as leading ladies, foreign locales, and sexually empowered women. Josei anime are rare in the first place, so it's even more exciting to get one that isn't concerned with romance, but rather a relationship between two women. Yamamoto has gone on record to say that Michiko and Hatchin was made with adult women in mind, and it shows. At its best, this is pure lady-friendly fun – a sort of animated Thelma and Louise, concerning two fugitive women who have a shocking amount of fun on a cross-country road trip.

When Michiko and Hatchin looks nice, it looks damn nice – this kind of style is rarely realized. Michiko and Hatchin also commits to its South American setting with some of the most unique art design I've seen in anime. I grew up in Miami, and can vouch that this show captures the blended cultural aesthetic that characterizes Latin American communities. The character designs are all distinct – every age and body type moves in distinct detail. The average show commits to one main body type (short and round, tall and lithe) and differentiates its characters through minute variations. Not so here. Yamamoto has a talent for depicting bodies in motion. Her women are dynamic figures. Michiko is sexy without being inordinately sexualized. She's always in control of herself, her appearance, and her sexuality.

However, it also has its share of aesthetic failing. The animation starts to crash pretty hard near the end. In order to obscure this, they start ramping up the lighting contrast. This means that large parts of the screen – including characters' faces – are swathed in black. You don't have to animate what the audience won't see, I guess? It's an ugly, cheap solution that drags down the last few episodes. It's a shame – otherwise, Michiko and Hatchin has quite nice color work. You can see it done consistently well in Yamamoto's other show, The Woman Called Fujiko Mine, and her Space Dandy episodes.

Ultimately, I'm marking Michiko and Hatchin down as a rare feminist anime. While I'll praise or condemn lots of stuff for being “feminist friendly” or “unfriendly,” the ones that I'll actual label “feminist” are few and far in between. On this front, I'm happy to say that Michiko and Hatchin ranks alongside Revolutionary Girl Utena and Maria the Virgin Witch. Like Utena, it argues that women should stop relying on male saviors and instead rely on each other. If you're into feminist anime, this is one to check out. Michiko and Hatchin are great characters, and their bond – initially fueled by a man – is the story's heart.

All this in mind, I wish that I could like Michiko and Hatchin more than I do. This show has a lot of stuff going for it, but one very serious flaw – it often forgets to be engaging. This is an unexpected problem, considering how vibrant and high energy so much of the ancillary material is, but undeniable. I get what Michiko and Hatchin is supposed to be – an episodic series with a loose overarching plot in the vein of Cowboy Bebop. (This comparison has some precedent. Saya Yamamoto is tight with Bebop director Shinichiro Watanabe.) The issue is that none of the episodic plots are very memorable. To compare, I've only seen Cowboy Bebop through once, but I can recall almost everything that happens. There's the episode with the teddy bomber and the cowboy, the one where they chase down the clown on the rollercoaster, the one where they go looking for a VHS player, etc. etc. In contrast, I'm having trouble naming small stories in Michiko and Hatchin that left an impact. Hatchin, uh, has her romantic awakening with an amnesiac boy? Hatchin runs into a Chinese opera troupe? It doesn't help that so many of them boil down to “Michiko leaves Hatchin alone for a bit in order to take care of some business and Hatchin gets into trouble.” The best episodes are the ones that deviate from this – for example, when Michiko gets sick and starts tripping under the influence of a crooked medicine man. While I can't deny the creativity that went into this production – almost every episode features new vistas and designs – it ends up strangely lacking in energy for most of its run. Again in Cowboy Bebop terms, it has too little Cowboy Funk (farcical comedy) and Ballad of Fallen Angels (intense pathos) and too much Boogie Woogie Feng Shui (tepid middle ground.) The best version of Michiko and Hatchin would've been one cour, or maybe a movie.

It sounds great in both English and Japanese. The Japanese soundtrack notably cast non-seiyuu actresses as Michiko (Yoko Maki) and Hatchin (Suzuka Ohgo). Funimation's dub replaces them with Monica Rial as Michiko and Jad Saxton as Hatchin. Extras are worthwhile. They include interviews with the English voice actresses, Yamamoto, and episode commentaries. As a S.A.V.E. re-release of the entire series, it's currently a steal. I recommend Michiko and Hatchin to anyone who goes to anime for unique experience. This goes double if you're a woman, or just a person who likes shows about strong women (who aren't Strong Female Characters.) It's most like Samurai Champloo – a fun, funky tour through Sayo Yamamoto's exotic world.
- Gabriella[TOP]

Taking us down a longer tumble into the past, Paul reviews Funimation's recent "Anime Classics" release of Bubblegum Crisis: Tokyo 2040.

Bubblegum Crisis: Tokyo 2040 is a somewhat contentious series, and I've heard a wide range of opinions on how it compares to the original 1980's OVA. Other folks are far better equipped to have that debate than I am, so I think it's best if I plead the fifth and judge Tokyo 2040 on its own merits. Once you pull it out of the context of its franchise, this series turns out to be an interesting little cross-section of late-90s anime.

The story takes place in a near-future vision of Tokyo, a city increasingly dependent on automated labor as it works to rebuild from a major earthquake. Most of the difficult and dirty work is done by Boomers, which are partially organic robots that come in all shapes and sizes. They make great minions until they go rogue, mutate into monsters, and start killing people. Since the cops are often a day late and a dollar short, most rogue Boomers end up getting taken out by the Knight Sabers: a group of four women with awesome suits of power armor. When they're not fighting homicidal robots, each member of the team also has to deal with her own troubles, be it a crappy day job or a seriously dysfunctional family tree.

In terms of overall atmosphere, this show is very much a product of its time. It has the sort of gritty, urban cyberpunk style that became popular in the wake of big-name titles like Akira and Ghost in the Shell. There's a pleasant, futuristic side of town that's been propped up by a shady corporation, but there are also ruined districts that have been left to rot after the earthquake. Naturally, there's a big corporate conspiracy that threatens to bring a high-tech apocalypse down on the unsuspecting public. Even as the series rages against the ideas behind its dystopian setting, it revels in violence and collateral damage. The action scenes matter to the plot, but they're also an excuse to blow things up in a gleefully excessive fashion. If you're looking for a convenient snapshot of 90's sci-fi anime, Bubblegum Crisis: Tokyo 2040 certainly fits the bill.

Going by current standards, parts of this series hold up reasonably well. The main characters have plenty of depth, and just about everyone goes through some personal growth or change over the course of the season. Honestly, it's kind of refreshing to see a cast where not everyone is tailor-made to appeal to a particular section of the audience. Some of the mechanical designs also have a timeless “cool” factor, especially the sleek Knight Saber suits. The one thing that's aged really poorly is the animation, which exists in an awkward middle ground between the hand-drawn warmth of older titles and the digital precision of the current generation. While it's certainly still watchable, there's simply nothing unique or impressive enough about the animation to leave any kind of lasting impression.

The plot isn't quite as compelling as the characters, but it at least keeps things moving along at a respectable pace. Rather than splitting the story into several separate arcs, the series essentially just tells one really long story from beginning to end. It's all good until the final handful of episodes, at which point the script starts to run off the rails. The writing grows increasingly philosophical, but it lacks enough unique insights to justify all the lengthy speeches and story detours. The final battle abandons its pulp sci-fi roots in favor of an odd piece of space opera that's packed beyond the bursting point with heavy-handed visual metaphors. None of it works quite as well as it needs to, and the shift in tone ends up sacrificing too much of what makes the rest of the series good.

As a follow-up to the original Bubblegum Crisis, Tokyo 2040 is different enough in its approach that it's hard to call it an outright success or failure. As a time capsule, it's a fun blast from the past for anyone who remembers the days when it was possible to misspell “extreme” as “X-treme” without a hint of irony. It's not quite good enough to be required viewing, but it's worth checking out if you're interested in seeing how the medium has evolved over time.
- Paul[TOP]

Thanks for reading! And thanks to everyone who showed up to the ANN panel at Anime Expo; it was great meeting everyone!

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

"Hi! My name is Alyssa and I have been collecting anime and manga for 9+ years now. It all started in 5th grade when I saw a girl reading a book I have never seen before (Tokyo Mew Mew a la Mode vol.1) in class . I asked her what it was and she let me read it. The rest is history. The space in my book shelf is for manga I recently bought and made room for, but haven't read yet. I have been reading ANN a long time and love the site and thought it was about time I sent in photos of my shelves. I hope you enjoy the pictures! I got the Pokemon stuff at a garage sale and put in my video game pictures also! "

Thanks for sending in your collection! It looks amazing!

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

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