Shelf Life
Group Therapy

by Bamboo Dong, Gabriella Ekens, Paul Jensen,

Jump to this week's reviews:
Kamigami no Asobi
K-ON!

On Shelves This Week

Fairy Tail - Part 16 BD+DVD
Funimation - 300 min - Hyb - MSRP $54.98
Currently cheapest at: $32.12 Rakuten

Synopsis: Lucy and Yukino are arrested for their involvement in crimes against the state, leaving Natsu to orchestrate their escape. Things go awry when the trio is thrown into the Abyss Palace to face the palace's executioners.

Extra: This set contains episodes 176-187, which is part of the Grand Magic Games arc. If you missed the lead-up to this arc, Rebecca reviewed volumes 12, 13, < a href="/review/fairy-tail/bd-dvd-part-14/.85928" target="_blank">14, and 15. You can also catch all the episodes streaming on Funimation.com, Crunchyroll, and Hulu.




Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works - Set 1 BD (Limited Edition), DVD
Aniplex of America - 420 min - Hyb - MSRP $219.98|$99.98
Currently cheapest at: $179.98 Right Stuf|$79.98 Right Stuf

Synopsis: Mages are gathering once again to summon their Servants in preparation for another Holy Grail War. Among them is Shirou Emiya, who ends up being pulled into the action when his path crosses with Rin Tohsaka. Together with his Servant Saber, Shirou must battle other powerful mages for survival and possession of the grail.

Extra: The Fate/ universe is pretty expansive and it can be daunting to those unfamiliar with the franchise, but Nick does a great job of introducing people to UBW with his streaming review. You can also read Gabriella's reviews of each individual episode. You can watch the series streaming on the Aniplex Channel, Hulu, Daisuki, and Crunchyroll.




Kamigami no Asobi Complete Collection BD, DVD
Sentai - 300 min - Sub - MSRP $59.98$|$49.98
Currently cheapest at: $35.04 Rakuten|$29.20 Rakuten

Synopsis: Yui Kusanagi is given the opportunity of a lifetime when Zeus invites her to a mysterious garden and tasks her with teaching eight hunky gods about life and love, in order to help counteract the negative effects of the weakening bond between the human world and the divine world.

Extra: We'll have a review for you... today! You can also check out the series online at The Anime Network, Hulu, and Crunchyroll.




Love Chunibyo & Other Delusions! Heart Throb DVD
Sentai - 300 min - Hyb - MSRP $59.98
Currently cheapest at: $35.04 Rakuten

Synopsis: Yuta just can't move on from his chunibyo past. Just when he thought things were getting close to normal with his delusional girlfriend, he gets a visit from a girl who claims to be his soul mate. The only problem is, she's still very much a chunibyo who even goes by the name Sophia Ring SP Saturn VII, and she's not about to let Yuta slip out of her life.

Extra: This is a sequel of Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions!, which we've all enjoyed quite a bit. Heart Throb is streaming on The Anime Network, Crunchyroll, and Hulu.




Vampire Hunter D BD, DVD
Sentai - 80 min - Hyb - MSRP $29.98|$19.98
Currently cheapest at: $17.72 Rakuten|$11.67 Rakuten

Synopsis: Count Magnus Lee has terrorized human women for 10,000 years, but after tasting the blood of Doris Lang, he decides to make her his bride. Doris hires D, a vampire hunter, to help defend her against the Count, but D has secrets of his own.

Extra: A fan classic, Vampire Hunter D is additionally beloved for its character designs by Final Fantasy illustrator Yoshitaka Amano. The OVA is directed by Toyoo Ashida, a seasoned character designer who also directed Fist of the North Star.




X - The Complete Series DVD (Anime Classics)
Funimation - 625 min - Hyb - MSRP $29.98
Currently cheapest at: $17.26 Rakuten

Synopsis: Kamui, a 15-year-old with enormous psychic powers, returns to Tokyo to protect his childhood friends Fuuma and Kotori. But once there, he's confronted with a difficult decision—to join forces either with the Dragons of Heaven, who seek to save civilization, or the Dragons of Earth, who think the only path to mankind's salvation is through its destruction.

Extra: It's been over a decade since X first hit North American shores, although we have a fairly recent review from the last time it was re-released. If you haven't seen it, you can watch it online at Funimation or Hulu.




Shelf Life Reviews

This week, we're all about ensemble casts, from the fan-favorite K-ON!, to a reverse harem high school romp with a gaggle of gorgeous gods.

First up, a look at beautiful bishonen with Gabriella's review of Kamigami no Asoba.

In the celestial realm, the gods are losing touch with humanity. So Zeus (who is apparently the divine ringleader across all pantheons) designs a sort of remedial program – the worst offenders will be forced to attend high school alongside a human girl until some of her values (and perhaps something else) rub off on them. That girl is ordinary high school student Yui Kusanagi. On her first day of senior year, she's whisked away to another dimension, where she meets a parade of multicolored hot guys. Head honcho Zeus tells her that none of them can leave until she teaches them the meaning of love. She proceeds to do so over the course of twelve episodes of anime high school antics.

These types of shows live and die on their casts. Kamigami no Asobi has an alright one – they're all very much execution of a specific “type” rather than fleshed-out individuals. The gimmick here is that the six main dudes are based on figures from Greek, Japanese, and Norse mythology: Apollo (called Apollon), Hades, Susanoo, Tsukiyomi, Balder, and Loki. Apollon is the main guy, a friendly extrovert, but he's haunted by a past love affair. Hades is haunted in general – as the ruler of the underworld, he's mopey and keeps to himself. Balder is the Norse god of beauty, and he's tormented because people only love him for superficial reasons. His best friend, Loki, is a prankster and outcast. The Japanese gods are the least memorable, but Susanoo is athletic while Tsukiyoki is pathologically stoic. If you're going into this caring about the original myths, prepare to be disappointed, as these characters are barely related to them. The closest thing to a plot surrounds Balder. He's cursed with becoming a destructive god, and in the last episode he finally goes haywire. The harem regains their godly powers in order to stop him, and it results in a climactic battle sequence. None of the boys are unique, but some are effective enough. It was neat to see Hades's early transformation into a social person play out over the rest of the show. Balder had the closest thing to an interesting flaw with his possessiveness towards Yui, and his story also has some real, world-ending consequences.

Yui is a slightly stronger heroine than reverse harems tend to have. She takes an active role in her relationships with the harem, has her own interests, and even challenges Zeus's authority on occasion. She's hardly a bastion of personality, but she's also not a Bella Swan-esque waif who just lets the dudes pass her around. That dynamic is tragically common in fanservice shows aimed at women, and I'm glad that it's dodged here. In fact, Kamigami no Asobi is noticeably tame by reverse harem standards. It doesn't have any potentially problematic aspects like the pseudo-incest going on in Brothers Conflict, the sexy robot dog in DRAMAtical Murder, or pretty much anything that happens in Diabolik Lovers. The worst that Loki, God of mischief fire ever gets up to is not joining a school club. This is one of the cleaner fujoshi shows out there, and that might be appealing to some viewers. It seems like it may be aimed towards a younger crowd than usual.

The art is unambitious but pleasant. It reminds me most of a Lisa Frank trapper keeper – the colors are bright and plastic-y, while the backgrounds are all little-girl fantasy landscapes riddled with flowers and faux-art nouveau patterns. It actually works pretty well. It sounds a bit tacky, but “slightly tacky” happens to be the show's general tone, so it's appropriate. The animation is another story. This was obviously a meager production, and there's very little motion in it. Fortunately, the show doesn't try to overexert itself often, so there are few comically bad-looking moments. The most important element – the character designs – are well done. I can tell why this property was a hit. (By otome game standards.) They strike an alright balance between distinguishable and universally attractive.

Sentai's release is bare bones. They've also spiced up the subtitles with internet meme humor. It's more distracting than anything. For example, a pun that Crunchyroll translates as the more straightforward “winter is snow joke” becomes “as expected of WINter, this snow is “for the win.”” (Sentai seems to have a fixation on the phrase “for the win.” It was also added into Mawaru Penguindrum. It was also way more inappropriate there.) It's groan-worthy, and not in a good way. At least it doesn't happen that often.

Ultimately, Kamigami no Asobi doesn't really care about story or characterization or even logic. It just wants to inject the reverse harem formula straight into the viewer's brain with as little fuss as possible. Do you want to heal the God of Death's tortured soul by feeding him strawberry mochi? How about be the only person to appreciate the God of Beauty for who he is, and not his divinely appointed good looks? Well, this show has got you covered, delivering a fujoshi's fix at twenty brisk minutes a pop. Kamigami no Asobi is extremely rote, but also extremely sincere. These are both strengths and weaknesses. It does what it intends to do without any added entertainment value for non-fans of the genre. If becoming a god's special someone sounds like a fun fantasy, then this might be worth checking out. If not, skip. Beyond that, my main complaint is that the Pegasus doesn't turn into a human as a love interest during the secret seventh route. That should happen in all of these now, right?
- Gabriella[TOP]

Last up, Paul takes us on a tour of Sentai's BD release of K-ON!.

Considering how simple its premise is, K-ON! is a remarkably complicated series to unpack. Thanks in part to its popularity, it's been one of the standards by which similar shows are measured for the last few years. While it may not be the oldest example of the “cute girls doing cute things” genre, it's certainly one of the first titles that the phrase brings to mind. With the first season being re-released in a single Blu-Ray collection, now's as good a time as any to see how it holds up against several years' worth of would-be successors.

K-ON! takes the usual slice of life comedy recipe, adds in some musical elements, and tops it all off with high production values. The show follows the four (eventually five) members of a high school “light music” club as they eat snacks, go on vacation, and occasionally play together as a rock band. It normally takes me a few more sentences to summarize a full series, but that's really all there is to it. There's no rival band for the girls to compete with, no serious drama between club members, and no crisis that can't be resolved through adorability and optimism. The light musical club is a magical place where virtually nothing ever happens.

If you don't enjoy this kind of show, it's entirely possible that you'll hate K-ON! with a burning passion. It wears its slow pacing like a badge of honor and takes every available opportunity to remind you how cute it is. Even fans of the genre will likely find some of the mid-season episodes to be a bit dull; there's a very good reason most shows don't have their characters take two beach trips in one season. If you're going to binge-watch K-ON!, you'll probably want to budget some time for a nap after around ten episodes.

In spite of its lazy, rambling approach, the series still somehow works. Part of its success is the result of a strong beginning and ending that make the aimless middle episodes easier to deal with. The show begins with the appealing hook of four pleasant characters finding a place where they can be themselves, and an excellent final musical performance makes for a strong ending. The set also includes a pair of OVA episodes, the second of which contains some of the best content in the series as the girls play their first real gig outside of school. Every time the characters put down their tea sets and pick up their instruments, K-ON! comes to life. Those musical scenes provide the extra kick that many lesser slice of life shows lack; it turns out that you do need more than just cuteness to carry a full season.

One of the points that drives many arguments about K-ON! is the fact that the series is carefully and deliberately tailored to appeal to otaku sensibilities. If you don't notice it and don't go looking for it, then you'll just see a cutesy and lighthearted show about girls playing guitars. Once you start seeing cracks in the wall, however, it's very difficult to stop seeing them. You start to wonder if it's really necessary for Mio to trip and flash her underwear to the crowd after the group's first concert, and Ui's status as an idealized little sister starts to make you want to throw her out a window. I've seen reasonable folks take a wide variety of stances on the matter, and my personal view is that it's slightly irksome but not a deal-breaker.

The reason I'm ultimately willing to ride the K-ON! bandwagon is that the show is almost supernaturally adept at imparting the mood of any given scene to the viewer. When the characters are sitting around talking about nothing, you feel the pleasant boredom of time intentionally wasted. When the band's on stage and somehow pulling a good performance out of thin air, you get swept up in the rush of live music. It's a bizarre feat that defies any attempt at a simple explanation, and being able to pull it off consistently is what elevates K-ON! above much of its competition. I don't normally use the word “contagious” in a positive sense, but that's exactly what the atmosphere in this show is.

If you like extras with your physical releases, it's worth noting that this collection lacks some of the special features that were included on the old single-disc releases, like cast interviews and music videos. I assume that these were lost to the sands of time when the license changed hands, but feels a bit strange to see such a well-known series come out with just the bare necessities. At least we still get the OVA episodes.

Even if you're not in it for the cuteness or the music, it's worth watching K-ON! at least once to understand the genre that it's come to represent. As far as I'm concerned, it's worth watching a second time to appreciate just how good this series is at what it does. It's the anime equivalent of required reading, but it's also an enjoyable show in its own right.
- Paul[TOP]

That's it for this week. Thanks for reading!

This week's shelves are from Joseph, and come with a well thought-out backstory:

"Hello, my name is Joseph and this is my second time on shelf life. The first time I featured my shelves was back on September 3rd, 2012.

This time I want to split my writing portion into two sections: the first is an anime timeline of my history as a fan and the second is commenting on the items in the photos. If you just want to see the shelves skip to the end of the page.

Anime Timeline Elementary school-middle school: My first exposure to anime was before I went to school. Channel UPN 44 showed both Dragonball Z and Sailor Moon weekdays during breakfast. They were slow to acquire new episodes, so the same 20 episodes got repeated again and again. About 4th grade, I got my own library card and was then able to raid their anime stash. The main shows I borrowed from the library were: Revolutionary Girl Utena, Ranma ½, Lost Universe, and Record of Lodoss War. In middle school my father won a dvd player in a raffle (back when dvd players were $700-$800 bucks!). I started renting anime dvds from Blockbuster such as: Vampire Hunter D, Ghost in the Shell, Golden Boy, and MAPS.

Highschool: This is the time when I started to become part of the larger fandom surrounding anime. I had taken more control of my anime viewing. I owned a PS2 and started buying anime from BestBuy and Frys electronics. Early series that I bought were: Burn Up Excess, Crying Freeman, Najica Blitz Tactics, and Armitage the Third. I came to prefer subbed anime and still, to this day, rarely watch dubbed. (Note I am not a purist. It is just that I am more comfortable reading subtitles, even when watching English dvds.) At the same time I joined two anime clubs. The one located at my high school, I attended for three years and during the fourth year I was elected vice president. The role required for me to bring in anime to view during the school lunch period. The president took care of everything else and it was ok for a time. That was until; I received a complaint when I showed Battle Royale before winter vacation. We were prompted to sign those R-rated movie consent forms that you have to give to your parent if we wanted to continue watch “mature” content. This resulted in a spat with the president and I resigned. Looking back I could have handled it much better and chosen some more age appropriate anime. At the same time I was a member of No-Name anime in San Jose and when they moved to Saratoga. I stopped going after they moved to Santa Clara, since it was too far away from my home. This was also the time I started attending Fanime-con in San Jose. I started in 2004 and I have not missed a year since.

College: College was the time I probably watched the most amount of anime. I started to buy whatever was on sale at RightStuf.com and Anime Nation.com. Some of my favorites were: Dokkoida, Miami Guns, Slayers (anything with Naga the serpent), Bubblegum Crisis, Rune Soldier, Girls High, and Simoun. There were a few horrible anime that crept in such as World of Narue and Green Green. My college did have an anime club, but it was late in the evening and I did not attend. During Fanime-con, I saw a few people from my old anime clubs and started collecting anime/gaming keychains (I have around 70 or so). Towards the end of college, my interest in anime started to wane. I was burned out and stopped buying anime online. On occasion if I saw anime for cheap at a thrift store or at a library book sale, I would buy it.

Post-college: Given some time to breathe, my interest for anime is coming back. Hulu gives me access to more mainstream anime for free. More obscure and old titles, I am buying used online. Many of the anime dvds I am interested in come from older companies such as US Manga Corps, ADV films, and AnimEigo. My most recent buy is the Now and Then, Here and There collection. I am forward to watching that since I have heard good things about it. It is available on Hulu dubbed, yet I have to have the subbed version. Slowly I intend to build my collection, unless Rightstuf.com has a good winter sale and I end up splurging a bit.

On to the photos… The collection in the photos is not complete. I have a few t-shirts, posters, and random items that I did not photograph. My anime/gaming keychains are in storage, but you can see it circa 2012 if you follow the link at the top. The first set of photos are my Fanime-con t-shirts, which I have one for each of the twelve years I have attended. 2013 and 2015 do not have a design on the back. I took 2 photos of the 2014 back design to also show off the 2015 poker chip they gave out. The next photo is of the Fanime-con program guides from 2005-2015, I am missing the 2004 one. The next two photos are my anime figures with other assorted items. The hoodie is official Gaia online swag I won at Fanime-con 2015. The next set is my actual shelves. The new anime I acquired since 2012 is between Totoro and the sealed Najica Blitz Tactics limited edition. The two books by Giles Poitras were signed at Fanime-con 2015. The rest of my dvd collection is varied. I like older titles (Golgo 13, Wicked City), comedies (Miami Guns, Dokkoida, Girls High), and action (Godannar, Iria, Agent Aika). Many times if it was interesting and cheap, I would buy it. I hope to one day have a larger set of shelves to display everything. If anyone is interested in seeing the anime/gaming keychains in a future shelf life, say in the comments and might take some decent photos and submit them.

Thank you again for letting me share my shelves."

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Thank you so much for sharing your story, Joseph!

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


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