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Shelf Life
Love Me Like You Do

by Bamboo Dong, Gabriella Ekens, Paul Jensen,

Jump to this week's reviews:
My Little Monster
Please Teacher!

On Shelves This Week

Hayate the Combat Butler Season 1 Complete Collection BD, DVD
Sentai - 1300 min - Sub - MSRP $99.98|$79.98
Currently cheapest at: $58.42 Rakuten|$46.73 Rakuten

Synopsis: Because of the enormous debt constantly generated by his irresponsible parents, Hayate has always had to take on part-time jobs. Things hit rock bottom when they sell Hayate to the yakuza to pay their gambling debt, leaving him out on the streets. He ends up meeting a girl named Nagi Sanzenin, who decides to hire him on as the family butler.

Thoughts: Hayate the Combat Butler is fairly beloved, with several seasons under its belt, but this is where it all begins. With humor, drama, and a dash of romance, there's a lot to enjoy. You can read Carl's reviews of the first season here and here, or watch the series online at The Anime Network, Hulu, and Crunchyroll.

Future Diary Complete Series BD
Funimation - 650 min - Hyb - MSRP $69.98
Currently cheapest at: $40.75 Rakuten

Synopsis: High school student Yukiteru's life drastically changes when he's recruited by Deus Ex Machina to partake in a deadly game of last-man-standing. His cell phone, which he routinely records his daily activities in, begins predicting his future. But he's not the only one with a prophetic device. His classmate Yuno is able to use her phone to keep an eye on him at all times, an obsession that quickly turns dangerous.

Thoughts: Future Diary is a real trip, though it really runs off the rails at some point. It's very dark and very grim, and very hard to stop watching, even when things get hairy, so if you do venture down the rabbit hole, be prepared to keep going until you're violently ejected from the other end. You can read my thoughts on the series here, and Hope's thoughts here. The series is streaming on Funimation.com and Hulu.

Shelf Life Reviews

This week, we dive into a number of offbeat romances and supernatural encounters, from delinquents with pet roosters, to jack-of-all trades gods, to alien teachers.

First up, NIS America's fantastic release of My Little Monster:

For as long as romantic comedies have existed, it seems that one theme has always been prevalent. Modeled on the idea that opposites attract, it's the story of Boy meets Girl, except Girl doesn't like Boy very much, but Boy is so charming and effusive or goofy that eventually Girl caves in and realizes her overwhelming romantic feelings for him. It may be a well-tread path, but it's one that's always appealed to me much more than other rom-com stereotypes, like Girl meet Boy, and obsessively does everything in her power to make him like her. The latter is awfully popular in anime and manga, which may play a role in why I like My Little Monster so much. It's more of the former, except with all of the awkwardness of teenagers who have no idea what they're doing.

The story largely focuses on two high school students—Shizuku is a quiet loner who's only interested in studying and planning for her future, and Haru, a delinquent with a bad reputation for being an aggressive thug. Even though Haru hasn't been to school in a while, Shizuku is forced to cross paths with him when she's tasked with delivering class printouts to his house. For whatever reason, he immediately takes a liking to her, which she finds confusing and largely appalling. But over time, as these stories tend to go, she warms up to his idiosyncrasies and realizes that, despite his inability to understand social situations and read people, he's a caring and well-meaning guy.

It doesn't exactly break new ground as far as rom-coms go, but there's a sweetness in the way that My Little Monster is executed that draws you in and makes you fall in love with the characters over time. As the series progresses, we're allowed peeks inside Haru and Shizuku's lives that help us understand the disparity between how they're perceived by the world and how they truly are. Haru does a lot of absurd and awful things (more on this later), but the difference between his actions and his motivations show us differently. When he lashes out at Shizuku, it's an invitation for her to leave, but she's able to cut through to the person inside. If viewers are put off by his actions, it's intentional and effective. He's not meant to be liked at first; rather, he's meant to be abhorred and cast aside. He says things that make viewers angry, and rightfully so. But where this series diverges from others of its kind is that rather than accepting it, Shizuku refuses to tolerate his behavior. She stands her ground and throws his aggression back at him, making it clear that his actions are not okay. Over time, we come to realize that his tendencies are not borne from malice, but from loneliness and fear. He's a monster, like the title implies, but not an abusive, sociopathic one—more like the one that lives under your bed, who doesn't know why he terrifies people.

Often, the drama is diluted by the wide cast of characters and occasional comedy (there are entire scenes that revolve around a rooster). Many of those characters are there merely to provide hurdles to Haru and Shizuku's love, but they never really interfere. They spark jealousy, especially in Haru, but lines are never crossed, and the story is never annoying for drama's sake. Characters who see that their love interests are already spoken for pine quietly in the corner without the petty sabotage that often accompanies anime romances. In that sense, it's a lot more based in reality. We don't always get our way in the game of love, and My Little Monster seems to agree. One scene that I like a lot is near the end when one of the girls finally confesses her feelings to a man she's been admiring from afar. He gently lets her down, and she simply accepts it and walks away.

Like the above, the best scenes in the series are those that involve minimal dialogue. If My Little Monster has a flaw, it's that the characters sometimes talk too much. The show does the thing that a lot of anime character dramas seem to do, which is to balk when things get too serious and try to dilute the atmosphere with humor. But the character design is so expressive that this isn't necessary. Haru and Shizuku are best when they're sitting together in silence, staring at a sunrise, or reaching out for the momentary comfort of an embrace.

Appreciably, My Little Monster also has some solid insight into relationships. Namely, that it's not worth losing yourself or losing focus of your goals just because a love interest has come into your life. Despite Haru's puppy-ish devotion and his attempted domination of her time, Shizuku insists on still carrying about her day, going to cram school and staying focused on her studies. She's collected and cool, unlike so many anime heroines who seem to have socks for brains. And for two characters who are incredibly socially awkward, they've figured out a relationship secret that takes years to crack. Whether or not the two will even stay together is unclear, but also unimportant. My Little Monster focuses on the here and now, and for the time being, the two are simply happy having a presence in each other's lives.

I mentioned earlier that the characters are easy to fall in love with, but part of that is because they're all deeply flawed, especially Haru and Shizuku. But despite their shortcomings, they complement each other well. Where Haru is deeply passionate and emotional to a fault, Shizuku is calm and level-headed. Where she guards her emotions, Haru wears his on his sleeve. The two draw out the best parts of each other, and somehow it works.

When the series first came out, I was absolutely in love with how frank all of the characters were, both with each other and themselves. My appreciation for the series has only grown upon re-watching it. It's the perfect snapshot of teenage awkwardness and the clumsiness of first love, wrapped in an aesthetically pleasing package with affable characters. If you've ever struggled in finding love or confessing love, this series may very well soothe your heart.

As icing on the cake, the packaging is absolutely gorgeous. Like with NIS America's other releases, My Little Monster is packaged in a sturdy, brightly-colored box, with a hardcover artbook that contains episode guides and character bios. It's the slimmer DVD height that their newer releases have been, too, so it fits well with the rest of your media. I don't often take packaging into consideration when I recommend boxsets, but with a series as lovely as My Little Monster, this presentation is spot on.
- Bamboo[TOP]

Venturing more into the supernatural, next up is Gabriella's review of another Shelf Worthy title, Noragami.

In the world of Japanese mythology, delivery god Yato is an up-and-comer. In order to gain a following, he performs odd jobs in exchange for a 5-yen offering. He'll do close to anything, and he advertises by writing his cell phone number on surfaces around town. Lately, however, he's been down on his luck – business hasn't been so good, and his latest regalia (a spirit who accompanies a god and transforms into their divine weapon) left him. It's in this state that he meets Hiyori. When it looks like Yato is going to get hit by a truck while crossing the street, Hiyori throws herself in the way to save him. She survives – sort of. Her spirit gets dislodged from her body, and every once in a while she'll leave it behind to float around as a ghost. Naturally, this freaks her out, and she solicits Yato's help to fix her. They don't get along at first, but over time, their union leads to more than they could have ever imagined.

A big reason why Noragami works is that Yato is just a great character. He has a sleek, distinct design, and his status as a rundown god makes him both approachable and attractive. He's also really funny, with his desperate antics leading to much of the show's humor. Although there's lots of good stuff in Norgami besides the lead, it could (and sometimes does) coast along as The Show Where Yato Does Things. That's not to say the rest of the cast are pushovers. While physically weak, Hiyori is still an active player in the story. (In fact, Noragami is at its worst when she's rendered a passive object for Yato to fret over.) Characterization-wise, however, the show's MVP is Yukine, Yato's new regalia. Yukine is a middle schooler who died recently and has yet to come to terms with his death. At first, he and Yato don't get along. The boy acts out against his master and, eventually, seriously endangers everyone. In the end, Yukine accepts his death to form new, valued relationships with Yato and Hiyori. Yukine's arc drives Noragami in that as soon as it's over, it gets considerably weaker. The last three episodes are an anime-original filler arc, and boy can you tell.

The worst thing I can say about Noragami is that it ends on a weak note. The final arc, which consists of the last three episodes, is pretty much just filler. What happens is that Nora – a wandering regalia who shares a mysterious past with Yato – steals Hiyori's memories as a ploy to get Yato to fight the calamity god Rabo. I guess that having finished that first arc, BONES had three episodes to spare and no manga material to cram in. So they created this disposable little story to finish the season off with a big fight. It doesn't amount to much. In the end, we hardly know anything about Bishamon's conflict with Yato, Yato's history with Nora, or Hiyori's eventual role. I'm glad that Norgami is getting a sequel, Noragami Aragoto, this October, because not much has been resolved. While this first season was good, it was mostly setup and could lead into a really great continuation.

It's easiest for me to describe Noragami in terms of its wide appeal. It balances both aspects of shonen and shojo anime, which might explain the series' popularity. More specifically, it feels like middle ground between shrine-focused slice-of-life romance (think Gingitsune or Kamisama Kiss) and a supernatural action show (like Bleach.) Hiyori and Yato's burgeoning romance receives about as much attention as the bombastic battles between gods and phantoms. More conventional shonen would've sidelined Hiyori as Yato's love interest, while straight shojo would've focused more on the romantic tension between the two characters. Instead, Noragami synthesizes the two approaches – to great success, I believe. I can recommend Noragami to many different kinds of anime fans confident that there's something in this show that might pique their interest. Fans of Inuyasha might be into the bickering romance between a normal schoolgirl and a supernatural creature. Fans of Soul Eater, meanwhile, might be interested in how different types of regalia are used for combat. There's also some fine character writing in a character's journey towards accepting his death.

While Noragami is accessible in terms of genre, there is one way in which it might be difficult to get into. Noragami is very Japanese, in that it's rooted in references to their mythology and religious practices. While any Japanese middle schooler would know this stuff, the average Westerner might not. The show is far from impenetrable without this knowledge, but it might help to look up how kami differ from the Judeo-Christian idea of Gods or Shinto's idea of purity. Otherwise, Noragami might be a good option to show newcomers to anime, particularly younger ones – just with a little cultural hand-holding.

Its revisions of gods as stylish, young anime characters are also neat. The two main ones are Bishamon, a war god, and Kofuku, a poverty god. Bishamon is depicted as a woman with long blonde hair and wearing a dominatrix outfit. She has many regalia, which range from earrings that turn into an automatic targeting system, a buster sword, a chain whip, and a lion who she rides into combat. Kofuku, meanwhile, is a chipper pink-haired girl whose attitude and appearance obscure the destitution she brings everyone she comes into contact with. They're both a lot of fun. Noragami benefits from not overwhelming the audience with new characters – it keeps the designs fresh and gives us time to suss out the emotional rapport between all of them. By the end of the show, I know how everyone stands in relation to one another. This makes me eager to come back to Noragami's world.

BONES did a great job bringing this series to life. It's attractive and distinct, but not overdone. It's also consistent – there are no notably off episodes. Its tonal variations are very controlled. The show effortlessly fluctuates between dramatic and comedic moments, and it's funny. I enjoyed what I watched dubbed more than the sub. Jason Liebrecht is a great Yato, making the character come off as both a giant goofball and somehow unearthly.

This release's black mark is that it doesn't include the two OVAs. It's not a huge problem – they don't complete the story or anything – but it would've been nice to have them. Funimation's releases consistently have great looking packaging, and I especially like Noragami's, with its faux-gilded spine and classy illustration of the characters posing like they're on a Christian-rock album cover. (Shinto rock? Does that exist?)

Noragami is just solid, all-around, well-constructed entertainment. It'll work for a lot of people, whether they're looking for romance or action or comedy. If you try it out and want more, this release is a great way to experience it. Just don't go looking for a conclusion – the second season is on its way, and this first one makes no bones about lacking a conclusion.
- Gabriella[TOP]

Lastly, Paul takes us on a stroll down memory lane with a look at everyone's favorite alien teacher in Please Teacher!.

Sheesh, is Please Teacher! really over a decade old? I still have reasonably clear memories of renting this series one volume at a time after a friend claimed it was one of the best shows ever made. It wasn't and it still isn't, but it is at least interesting enough to qualify it as an entertaining blast from the (recent) past.

For a show about a dude marrying his high school teacher, this series has an awfully complicated plot. Kei Kusanagi is technically eighteen years old, but he's three years behind in school because of a medical condition that essentially puts him into a coma whenever he's depressed. Mizuho Kazami is technically his homeroom teacher, but she's also an alien who's been sent to Earth as a scientific observer. Kei finds out that his teacher's from outer space, and the ensuing chaos ends with them getting married as part of an elaborate cover story. Of course, they're not allowed to tell anyone at school about the marriage, which leads to a very tangled web of relationships and romantic tension.

As you may have noticed, that's a pretty roundabout route to take in order to make it OK for a teenage dork to make out with his hot teacher. You've got a suspiciously convenient medical condition that just happens to tie directly into the show's central themes, not to mention a half-human alien lady (apparently her dad was an astronaut whose ship went off course). Unless you have an extraordinarily high tolerance for crazy anime logic, you'll probably spend a lot of time rolling your eyes and muttering snarky remarks. The whole thing just feels so arbitrary and contrived that it's difficult to take the actual content of the show seriously. Most works of fiction stretch the limits of credulity from time to time, but it's entirely too easy to see the convenient plot devices in Please Teacher! for what they are.

If you're charitable enough to give this series the surplus of wiggle room that it asks for, you'll find a work that's dated in a rather charming sort of way. Besides the old aspect ration and standard-definition video, the easiest way to tell this show's age is to watch how the characters contact one another. Everyone uses landlines and payphones, and fancy terms like “e-mail” and “text message” are completely missing in action. The story and characters are also a bit old-fashioned in that they aren't all built to prioritize marketing and merchandising. The girls don't all chase mindlessly after Kei, and some of the minor characters actually pair off into couples over the course of the series. With the exception of a few racy spacesuits, everyone even wears the sort of clothes you'd expect a normal human being to own. There's a concerted effort to build a cast of unique and flawed individuals, even if that means most of them couldn't sell a figure or a keychain to save their lives. I'll take that over a paint-by-numbers harem comedy any day.

All that effort occasionally pays off, and Please Teacher! manages to piece together some pretty solid drama whenever it takes a break from the science fiction juggling act. The show takes on a variety of teenage romances, with some characters stumbling awkwardly into happy relationships while others have to deal with painfully drawn-out rejections. It's clear that none of them quite know what they're doing, which feels pretty realistic for a cast of high school kids. Anything directly related to Kei's disease or Mizuho's background tends to be more silly and melodramatic, but the show is surprisingly competent when it comes to normal human relationships.

As long as you're willing to treat it as a product of its time, Please Teacher! is a decent little series. At the very least, it offers a rare opportunity to travel back in time and laugh at my past self and his dorky teenage buddies for completely buying into the “sexy alien teacher” hook. Maybe this rerelease will give the show a chance to spread that temporary insanity to a fresh crop of hopelessly single high school boys.
- Paul[TOP]

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

"After seeing your lack of shelf pics in a recent post, it inspired me to photograph mine for the first time! I first discovered anime with DBZ in 5th and 6th grade but never really got into it until HS when some friends lent me shows such as Cowboy Bebop, Outlaw Star, and FLCL.

I was hooked right away and for the last two years of school I borrowed several shows from them, but without any actual purchases. Finally in college I started to buy some of my favorites when I had spending money!

Once I graduated college in 2011 I was able to acquire more anime/manga and I have slowly built up my collection ever since.

I allocate my spending money toward other things such as Batman and Spidey graphic novels, but my anime side of the shelf is my favorite place to grab stuff from to rewatch (or re-read!)

My most valuable collection would definitely be anything FMA. It was the first manga/anime I ever bought and to this day remains high on my rewatch list. I even got my wife to watch both series with me last fall!

Hope you enjoy the pictures!"

I love that setup! That's a fantastic collection!

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

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