by Bamboo Dong, Gabriella Ekens, Paul Jensen,
On Shelves This Week
Synopsis: Long ago, nine humans were captured and weaponized into cyborgs. However, they rebelled against their creator and chose instead to become heroes, protecting Earth and its citizens. The heroes now live quiet lives as ordinary citizens, until a mysterious force called "His Voice" starts inciting people around the world to commit acts of violence. The cyborgs must now find a way to fight this seemingly incapturable entity.
Thoughts: Directed by Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex's Kenji Kamiyama and produced by Production I.G, this movie reboots Shotaro Ishinomori's classic story in a post-9/11 world, plagued by cyberterrorism. The movie is available to stream dubbed and subbed on Funimation
Synopsis: The Ferrari sisters, Hozuki, Hazaki, and Kazaki are all descended from Galileo Galilei, but couldn't be any more different personality-wise. One day, a mysterious organization seeking a treasure passed down from their ancestor puts out an arrest warrant for the sisters. The sisters must now set aside their differences and join each other to crack the mystery of the treasure first, all while dodging their enemies.
Thoughts: I liked the first episode quite a bit, especially the art direction. but found myself losing interest as the season progressed. You can see what Carl thought of the first six episodes here, or check it out yourself on Crunchyroll.
Synopsis: When Inari Fushimi rescues a puppy at a local shrine, it turns out to be a servant of the shrine's goddess, Uka, who later offers to grant her a wish. When Inari wishes to be beautiful and perfect, like the classmate her crush may or may not have just confessed to, Inari ends up with powers that allow her to transform into anyone she's seen.
Thoughts: Inari Kon Kon is absolutely adorable, and worth watching for those who just want a charming pick-me-up. You can read Carl's review of the series, or watch it online at Funimation.com and Hulu.
Synopsis: Genki Sakura was thrilled to win the Monster Farm video game tournament. When his prize finally comes in the mail, though, he ends up being transported into the world of the game itself. Inside, he meets Holly, a girl who's trying to summon the Phoenix; and Suezo, a monster. The two will have to team up to fight an evil tyrant who's trying to turn the monsters evil.
Thoughts: This is the original Japanese language version of Monster Rancher, which aired in North America on Fox Kids and YTV. Sadly, you can't stream this version anywhere, but if you want a quick nostalgia fix, you can apparently stream Monster Rancher on Hulu+ or preview the first twelve minutes of the first episode subbed.
Synopsis: The Fourth Great Ninja War is still ongoing, and Kabuto is reanimating both comrades and enemies to fight against the Allied Forces. Meanwhile, Naruto is getting more and more powerful every day, but some still worry about his possession of the Nine Tails.
Thoughts: While we don't have any reviews for the first few hundred episodes of Naruto Shippuden, fans who are keeping up with the simulcasts can follow the weekly streaming reviews from Amy McNulty starting from episode 374. New fans can also check out the entirety of Naruto and Naruto Shippuden is streaming on Crunchyroll.
Synopsis: Brother and stepsister team Sora and Shiro are widely known online as BLANK, notorious for their gaming skills. One day, a game of chess ends up with the siblings in a strange world where everything is decided solely by the outcome of games.
Synopsis: Mitsuki Kanzaki's life has been thrown for a loop. For starters, her mother isn't home anymore because she's overseas with her new husband. This just leaves Mitsuki home alone with her new big brother, Yuuya, who has a bad habit of accidentally getting himself into awkward situations with her. To make matters worse, Mitsuki is being haunted by a ghost who can only pass on to the afterlife by being lovey-dovey with Yuuya, while possessing Mitsuki's body.
Synopsis: Nao Ueshima is a middle schooler who's part of her school's two-person digital camera club. One day, she's surprised to see a cat fly away on a breeze. When she herself falls off the roof, she's saved by someone who's able to control the wind. She and her friends decide to travel to a small village in Japan where there exist people with the ability to manipulate wind.
Thoughts: Produced by Production I.G, this series was helmed by Junji Nishimura, who has also directed works Ranma 1/2, like Dog Days', GLASSLIP, and Kyo Kara Maoh!. Those curious can check out the series on The Anime Network.
Shelf Life Reviews
Ping Pong Complete Series BD+DVD
Nothing this week
Wanna Be the Strongest in the World! BD
With the conclusion of the CONCACAF Gold Cup fresh behind us, this seems like a good week to feature reviews about shows that include sports. This isn't your typical sports show column, though. There are no trips to Koshien and no rag-tag team of high school athletes gunning for the regional crown. This week is all about alternative sports, from Masaaki Yuasa's colorful Ping Pong the Animation to the professional wrestling anime Wanna Be the Strongest in the World!.
First up, Gabriella tackles Ping Pong the Animation.
Ping Pong isn't about ping pong. That is, it isn't too concerned about the grand scope of a competition, success, and stardom. Rather, it's about five teens on the cusp of adulthood and how their relationship with the sport reflects their journey towards maturation and self-acceptance. The first main character is Makoto “Smile” Tsukimoto, an incredibly talented player who refuses to seriously compete. The story begins when his school coach, Butterfly Joe, notices his potential and begins grooming him for the pros. Smile's best friend is Yutaka “Peco” Hoshino, the neighborhood ping pong champion. Used to easy victories, Peco shuts down when challenged. From these two onwards, the story quickly expands to their competitors. Kong Wenge is a disgraced Chinese player who competes in Japan in order to regain his spot on China's national team. The best player in Japan, Ryuichi “Dragon” Kazama, plays for the approval of his unloving family. Finally, Manabu “Akuma” Sakuma, an untalented player, practices endlessly to satiate an inferiority complex developed during his childhood friendship with Peco. Ping Pong follows these kids as their journeys towards happiness lead them to unexpected, necessary places.
While I'll let you experience their stories yourself, they do end well. The show realizes that accomplishment doesn't necessitate happiness. Even the kids who end up professional ping pong players are forced to examine and reaffirm their love for competition. Ping Pong speaks contrary to the unhealthy idea that talents are an obligation and that victory is the only thing that matters in sportsmanship. It's also just eminently watchable. Real life sports bore me to tears, but I have a hard time shutting off Ping Pong. I'll plan to watch one episode and realize what I've been doing six episodes later. You hardly notice that most of show occurs over two multi-part tournament arcs. I leave it downright energized.
It's also (like all Yuasa) a beautiful production. Ping Pong's look is more reminiscent of his earlier work (Mind Game and Kemonozume) than his recent stuff. That look is sketchy, amorphous, and deliberately un-anime. The colors are extreme, characters distort within the frame, and sketch marks are visible. While some fans may find this repellant, I dig the heck out of it. If you haven't heard of Yuasa but dig, say, the innovation on display in Flowers of Evil or Space Dandy, you're in for a treat here.
The show's art style tries to replicate the look of rapidly sketched pen drawings. This loosely modeled, connective style makes for seamless image association. For example: Wenge's desire to return home manifests as a close-up on his mirror sunglasses reflecting a plane in the sky. As the camera pulls back, the plane fades, and Wenge is revealed to be at a Japanese tournament. Without cutting, the show has juxtaposed the character's aspirations and reality. It's the kind of stuff that isn't possible without animation, and that more rigid styles lock themselves out of. Beyond that, it's masterful, efficient storytelling.
The direction's other most notable quirk is its extensive use of split screen. Ping Pong reinvigorates this hacky technique by putting it to extensive, meaningful purpose. Firstly, it reinforces the show's status as an ensemble piece by not prioritizing one character's reaction over another. Secondly, it makes matches both dynamic and snappy. Split screen is a creative solution to depicting the split-second decision making and temporal distortion that occurs while playing sports.
Funimation's dub does an excellent job at making Ping Pong as accessible as possible. While the Japanese language track is great, there's often so much information crammed onscreen that subtitles become distracting. For the English-speaker, this dub is the ideal experience. It's hard to single out any one performance. Although they make the screechy characters less screechy and the shouty ones less shouty, the English performers stick pretty close to the Japanese. The scripts are appropriate – simple, conversational, and the snappy. The worst part, in contrast, is easy to pick out – Sakuma's girlfriend. She's a minor role, but it's bad enough to ruin the few scenes that she's in. In Japanese, this character spoke in a dopey monotone. It was mildly annoying, sure, but also charming. In English, this was transliterated as a horribly aggravating Fran Drescher impression. It actually messes with Sakuma's character. He seems miserable with her, even though his endgame should be a happy marriage. This is a nitpick, however, that stands out due to how successful the dub is overall. (The DVD extras also feature some informative commentaries by ADR director Christopher Bevins, Micah Solusod (Smile's voice), Alan Chow (Wenge's) and Mark Stoddard (Butterfly Jo's).)
If you like sports anime, pick this up. If you like good writing, pick this up. If you're into anime as an art form, pick this up. Wild visual experimentation, pick this up. Coming of age stories, up, up, up. Ping Pong is one of the best single-cour anime to have ever come out. If you've ever been an adolescent, you owe yourself this experience. Like Peco's playing, Ping Pong is brimming with joy – its mastery seems fueled by a love for the art of animation. Ping Pong soars, and while watching it, I feel like I can too.
Rounding things out this week, Paul takes a look at things on the ground floor, with the wrestling show Wanna Be the Strongest in the World!.
The trouble starts when professional idol Sakura visits a wrestling gym for a promotional video shoot. One of the girls in her group makes the mistake of dismissing wrestling as easy, and inevitably gets her butt kicked by one of the gym's less forgiving members. Sakura steps into an official match to defend the honor of idols everywhere, but she too gets her butt kicked in a painful and humiliating fashion. Instead of throwing in the towel and moving on with her life, Sakura decides that she's going to abandon her idol gig in favor of becoming a professional wrestler. That decision kicks off an excruciatingly long saga of obnoxious camera angles and ear-splitting cries of pain and misery.
Any anime series that sells itself on girls fighting girls in skimpy outfits is bound to be at least a little trashy, but Wanna Be the Strongest in the World is something else entirely. Anybody who's watched one of the many iterations of Ikki Tousen or Queen's Blade will likely recall at least one moment where the show in question moved from “sleazy but entertaining” to “just plain uncomfortable.” Well, Wanna Be the Strongest in the World is essentially that awkward moment repeated over and over for twelve straight episodes. The first half of the series is especially tough to watch, since it mostly involves Sakura losing match after match. Considering how the fights are framed on the screen and how much of the dialogue involves the main character screaming in agony, the show apparently expects the audience to enjoy what's going on. The whole thing just feels mean-spirited and repetitive, and it doesn't exactly make me want to run out and watch a real-world wrestling match.
In its latter half, Wanna Be the Strongest in the World does actually attempt to present something resembling a sports story. Sakura eventually develops a signature move and wins her first match. She takes lessons from some of the more experienced fighters and even picks up a trainee of her own before facing an unexpected opponent in a high-stakes final showdown. Content and presentation aside, the series takes the wrestling scenes fairly seriously. Throws and holds are recreated in detail, even if the animation has to take plenty of shortcuts to get the job done. Impossible techniques and imaginary rules are nowhere to be found, although the script doesn't do much to explain the differences between the various characters' styles and techniques.
Sadly, the straight-faced approach ultimately does more harm than good. Wanna Be the Strongest in the World might have been more palatable if it had been willing to take itself less seriously. Acting like a respectable sports series while ramming the characters' crotches straight into the camera adds a sense of dishonesty to the show's laundry list of issues. The most watchable content in this set is a collection of short OVA episodes that feature the cast trying out mud wrestling and staging an exaggerated tag-team match. It's all laughably ridiculous, which makes it much more tolerable than the humorless fights presented in the actual series.
There is such a thing as good trashy anime, but Wanna Be the Strongest in the World isn't it. Even if you normally enjoy shows in this genre and consider yourself tolerant of excessive fanservice, you're still better off looking elsewhere. I applaud the English and Japanese vocal casts for their determination in screaming their way through the script, but this disaster of a script isn't worth their efforts. Save your time, save your money, and save yourself the irreparable damage to your faith in humanity.
That's it for this week. Thanks for reading!
This week's shelves are from Lee, who wrote:
"Hey there, I'm Lee! I've been into anime since 2002 (or earlier, if you want to count the Digimon and Pokemon days). My collection started with the Chobits manga and Inuyasha volume 14 (Koga was on the cover and I liked him, haha), and has gained momentum ever since! Most recently I've gotten into collecting figures; nendoroids in particular. I find them adorable and they're super fun to take photos of! I'm also proud of my Monogatari Blu-Rays, and my other Aniplex Blu-Rays because clearly I'm a glutton for punishment. I'm rapidly running out of shelf space, which is going to have to be remedied since the collecting isn't going to stop anytime soon."
This is a great collection! And the figure photos are really fun!
Want to show off your shelf? Please send your jpgs to [email protected] I look forward to featuring them!
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