Changing of the Guard
by Bamboo Dong, Gabriella Ekens, Paul Jensen,
Dear readers... it's been a good ride, but I'm saying good-bye once again.
After writing for Anime News Network for half my life, I am bidding farewell to my dear column, as well as any opinion-related content on the site. While I will deeply miss working on Shelf Life and the season previews, I am looking forward to the next chapter in my life. To all those who have been reading my column since its early beginnings, and all of those who have taken the time to read it over the years, and to all those who have shared your opinions with me, be they positive or negative, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.
Although I will no longer be spear-heading Shelf Life, the column will live on under Paul's watchful eye.
Thank you for all the love over the years.
On Shelves This Week
Synopsis: Arandas and Ingelmia have been locked in war for years. A young man from Arandas named Tokimune saves a girl after she's attacked by enemy forces by activating a new mech, Argevollen. This act links the machine to Tokimune, making him the sole pilot, and allowing him to control its movements with his mind.
Synopsis: If Sakuragoaka Girl's High School's Light Music Club wants to stay open, drummer Ritsu needs to find three more members. Luckily, she finds willing participants in her friend Mio, choir-loving Tsumugi, and a girl named Yui who has zero experience with a guitar. Together, they make music and dream of someday playing at the Budokan.
My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU Complete Collection BD
Sentai - 325 min - Sub - MSRP $59.98
Currently cheapest at: $38.99 Right Stuf
Synopsis: Hachiman, a high school student who thinks he's above the petty everyday melodrama of high school friendships, is coerced into joining the Service Club. There he meets the only other member, a girl named Yukino who looks down on everyone around her. Despite their personalities, they attract a third member, a bubbly girl named Yui who initially seeks their help, but soon joins their club.
Extra: I ended up enjoying SNAFU quite a bit, although I was never really able to find myself relating to any of the characters. Carl enjoyed the series as well, though if you want to see for yourself, you can watch the whole season on The Anime Network, Hulu, and Crunchyroll.
Synopsis: Luffy crashes a mermaid auction, saving his new friend Camie just in time, but it lands the Straw Hats in a heap of trouble with an entire fleet of marines. They get some help from Trafalgar Law and Eustass Captain Kid, but the situation takes a bad turn when some unexpected bad guys show up.
Extra: If you're mostly caught up on the series, you can follow along with Sam's One Piece episode reviews, which start at episode 696, but until then, you can find One Piece streaming on Funimation.com, Crunchyroll, and Hulu.
Synopsis: Robot Carnival collects nine OVAs from some of Japan's most promising animators in the late 80s, including Atsuko Fukushima (Genius Party), Hiroyuki Kitakubo (Golden Boy), Yasuomi Umetsu (Kite), Koji Morimoto (Magnetic Rose), Katsuhiro Otomo (Akira, Steamboy), and more.
Extra: For a good run down on some of the treasures you can expect from Robot Carnival, check out Justin's old column about the title. It's definitely a classic worth having on your shelf.
Synopsis: Sora is never without her sketchbook, which she uses to capture the beautiful and sometimes mysterious world around her. But even though she wants to draw everything around her, she's very shy, except with her friends in the Art Club.
Extra: While we don't have too many user ratings for this series, those who have seen it largely seem to like it, with an average score of 7.76 out of 10. Adapted from a manga of the same name, the script was penned by prolific screenwriter Mari Okada (Black Butler, anohana, A Lull in the Sea) and brought to life by Wagnaria!! and AKB0048's Yoshimasa Hiraike.
Shelf Life Reviews
For my last Shelf Life, I thought it'd be appropriate to feature three reviews that not only bring together the Shelf Life family, but also run the full spread of Shelf Worthy, Rental, and Perishable. With the advent of streaming and the collapse of national video rental chains, the categories are more of an idea these days than practical reality, but I've grown very fond of them over the years, and I'm always happy when we cover the whole spectrum.
First up, the recent re-release of Patlabor 2.
Patlabor 2, which takes place a few years after Patlabor, is a masterpiece. Directed by Mamoru Oshii, whose love for droopy dogs and bloated pontification leeches even into this movie, it may be one of the finest animated films to ever come out of Japan. It's not just the riveting story of terrorist plots and restless social discontent, which by itself would already be a basis for a good flick. And it's not just the deft way the characters are able to communicate with glances alone, unpacking years of discontent with subtle grimaces here and there. But it's also the way that everything is presented. The art direction is stunning and captivating, and it's made even more magical by the knowledge that everything on screen had to be painted. Every time a camera pans past a dilapidated warehouse, it's a glimpse into a surreal collaboration between artist, director, and writer. Every time Oshii chooses to focus on a flock of seagulls rather than the characters talking in the background, it's the product of a deliberate creative vision.
And because everything is animated, it puts additional weight on every artistic decision that's made in the movie. It feeds into my long-time rapture with the animated medium. In live-action film, a director catches not only the things he or she intends, but also the ancillary tidbits that breathe life to an environment—the way the wind ruffles through the grass, or the jerky way a bird shuffles its wings. With animation, everything is there because someone decided it needed to be there. It's especially wondrous in this current release of Patlabor 2 because everything is so supply animated, and the whole film looks dynamite on Blu-ray. When a fish stares through aquarium glass, darting its eyes at the world outside, or when seagulls shift their communal gaze upwind, or when an errant mech makes a stack of office memos scatter off someone's desk, it's especially meaningful. These are the small touches that capture the essence of life, and they're all painstakingly placed within the nooks and crannies of this film.
The composition, too, reveals Oshii's artistic genius. The way he frames every scene, be it a close-up of a dog's face dopily staring into a camera, or characters peering into a flickering computer screen, is perfectly conceived and thoughtfully executed. These are the kinds of shots that separate visionaries from those who simply push through a script. It may sound weird to lavish so much praise on a camera angle until you see it for yourself and remember that every animation freedom comes with its own set of limitations.
Viewers whose only exposure to the Patlabor universe is from the first film might be surprised at the lack of "Patlabors" in Patlabor 2. There are mechs, to be sure (and beautifully animated ones at that), and there are SV2 members milling about, but they aren't the focus of the movie. Instead, the characters spend a lot more time talking to each other, both about the crisis they're trying to resolve, and also about their general feelings about the government, the military, and everything in between. It's a lot more serious than the first movie, and much more introspective. As a result, it lags in parts, though only some of it is extraneous.
There are times when the story moves at a fast clip, though. There's a great segment in the movie that I enjoy a lot, shortly after the bridge is bombed by a mysterious plane. The characters only have scraps of video evidence to go off of, but nothing can be trusted. As we watch them try to figure out this tiny piece of the puzzle, it's simultaneously eerie and thrilling, like capturing a ghost on camera, only to question its very existence. By the time the robots do roll in, we get some solid action scenes that are well worth the wait.
For me, the magic of Patlabor 2 is not in any one particular aspect of the movie. It's the amalgamation of everything working in concert, from the gorgeous animation and art direction, to the contemplative writing, to its very existence as a unique product of its time. I have seen a lot of good anime movies in my life, but Patlabor 2 towers above many of them. It is well worth owning, especially on Blu-ray, and experiencing time and time again.
For our rental selection, we've got another throwback, this time with the Vampire Hunter D OVA. Gabriella takes us back to 1985:
I'm not too familiar with Vampire Hunter D's mythos, but from what I can gather, he's just the coolest guy ever: a Byronic hero who goes around bestowing his rad, tortured “dhampir” presence on people throughout the land. His backstory is only vaguely sketched out, but it involves him being the son of vampire God who is also Satan. Every lady falls in love with him, but he resists because his evil vampire side would activate and kill them. He has a sword and a robot horse and a face on his left hand that talks to him sometimes. What more could a guy want? He doesn't seem like a particularly complex or even unique character, but that isn't necessarily a problem. Vampire Hunter D was described to me as more of a tone-piece than anything, and this all does a more than adequate job at setting him up as a wandering savior in a ruined world more than ten thousand years separated from our own.
The plot for this film is that a vampire lord, Count Magnus Lee, selects a young woman, Doris Lang, as his next “bride.” But he doesn't just abscond with her. Rather, he marks her with an unhealing bite on her neck and expects her to make her way to his doorstep sometime in the next few weeks. Not wanting to be enslaved by an immortal bloodsucker, she instead hires a vampire hunter – the titular D – to take him out. To rescue Doris, D defeats a string of baddies, from corrupt villagers to mutant underlings to the Vampire Lord himself. D bonds with the Lang family, but in the end, he has to continue his eternal wanderings.
Honestly, though, you don't watch many of these old OVAs for the story. You watch them for the style, violence, and occasionally impressive traditional animation. Vampire Hunter D doesn't have too much of that last one - it's looks like a modest production, most of the action consists of still frames and speed lines. The art design is also hit-or-miss. While the backgrounds during, say, D's introduction or his fight with Rei Ginsei are impressive, the interior of the Noble's castle looks like a giant, underlit steel crate. It's ugly, boring, and contrasts with his supposed ancient decadence. The color work is only interesting during select scenes. It's too dark to see much of anything half of the time, while the good parts are rendered in expressive fluorescents. Take any shot of this film at random and there's a 50/50 chance you'll get either this weird, alien, arty thing or Bland McBlandsville. The only consistently great part is Yoshitaka Amano's character design for D. It just does a fantastic job at filling up a frame. Basically a smear of ink forming a distinctive silhouette and with a face peeking through, it makes every composition it's featured in. Considering how generic this film is and how little the novels are known outside of Japan, I'm tempted to ascribe most of the series' popularity overseas to Amano's art.
It makes sense. Yoshitaka Amano is one of Japan's most renowned illustrators, known for his work on the Final Fantasy series, Time Bokan, and, of course, Vampire Hunter D. Amano is very much associated with this series, since he's provided illustrations for all of the covers since the first in 1983. At the film's best, shots will resemble his work. They're colorful, high contrast, and consist of delicate human figures cutting through alien backgrounds. The other predominant visual style resembles 80s video game illustrations, like Katsuya Terada's work on The Legend of Zelda. We don't get stuff that looks like this any more, and it's a refreshing view for these reasons, at least.
If you're looking for the complete retro experience, however, you're out of luck. This release doesn't include the Streamline dub, although Sentai did redub it this year. It's not much better, though. John Gremillion makes a more accurate D, suitably reserved and mysterious in comparison to Michael McConnohie's version. Luci Christian makes for a more natural Doris. Surprisingly, my favorite is Jay Hickman as a minor character, Greco Roman. He made the character into a foppish Southern gentleman, and it made me happy whenever he appeared onscreen. This film is otherwise devoid of humor, so he was very much welcome. Brittney Karbowski's Larmica is a downgrade from the original. She's very screechy here. Larmica's voice was hardly restrained in the original– like her father, Count Magnus, she had a ridiculous faux-Eastern European accent – but now she's actively irritating to listen to. The same thing happened with the voice of Doris's brother, Dan. Overall, this dub isn't terrible. There are upsides an downsides. It doesn't alter the experience of watching Vampire Hunter D in English much. Old timers will likely be disappointed that they can't recapture their original experience on this disc.
Honestly, this OVA is mostly boring. At 80 minutes it's a pretty short watch, but it could've been cut down by a third without losing much. It's also fairly inoffensive by ultraviolent 80s anime standards. In terms of sexual content, there are a few seconds of bare boobs and some rape threats. As for violence, the worst you see if about one second of a person's head getting crushed. I can see why it might have stood out back in the day – its gothic horror/science fiction aesthetic is intriguing, if not perfectly executed. If you want to watch some crusty old anime, Vampire Hunter D has its moments, but overall, there's just too much dead space. Buy this if you're super nostalgic for it or just want to fill up your old anime library. Otherwise, a single curiosity viewing will suffice. It's a relic that doesn't hold up too well, especially in comparison to the more recent Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust. For all I care, this film could wander the Earth for a few more thousand more years.
And rounding out this week, a perishable item, as Paul reviews .hack//G.U.
The film is a direct sequel to .hack//Roots, which I panned pretty mercilessly a while back. Haseo is still wandering around in the same online game, killing player killers and searching for the mysterious entity called Tri-Edge. His travels cause him to cross paths with Atoli, a player whose in-game character bears a striking resemblance to Shino. While Haseo continues to look for a way to beat Tri-Edge, Ovan works to advance his own mysterious agenda. Can Atoli bring Haseo back to his senses in time to save the players who've been rendered comatose by the game? More importantly, will this movie be any easier to watch than the series that came before it?
G.U. improves on its predecessor in one important area: it's not nearly as dull. The sluggish pacing and aimless storyline that made Roots such a chore to watch are replaced with a frantic rush to herd the characters from one action scene to the next. The plot dissolves into utter nonsense as a result, but at least we're never stuck in one spot long enough for it to matter. Unfortunately, the unlikable cast of the TV series returns to burden the film with more emotional baggage and cryptic dialogue. Haseo remains a truly awful protagonist and spends most of the film screaming incoherently at his enemies and telling his allies to go away. Ovan is still irredeemably manipulative, and the long-overdue revelation of his true goals isn't nearly enough to make me care about what happens to him. While Atoli makes for a decent character in her own right, her interest in Haseo feels like it was fabricated for the sake of the story. In the absence of a strong plot, one vaguely sympathetic character isn't nearly enough to carry the film.
The switch to CG character models doesn't do much to make the cast more expressive, but it certainly helps liven up the action scenes. Haseo and his opponents rocket around a variety of landscapes, exchanging flashy attacks while the camera sweeps around them in suitably epic fashion. While it's no Knights of Sidonia, the animation holds up better than one might expect. The film looks like a very long cinematic from a big-budget video game, albeit a fairly old one. Even if the outcome doesn't feel terribly important, it's exciting to watch.
The final nail in this movie's coffin isn't any of its individual flaws, but rather the constant evolution of its genre. The idea of video games affecting players' real lives was an interesting novelty in the early days of the .hack franchise, but it has since been revised and refined to the point where G.U. feels clunky and outdated. As an audience, we've come to expect things that the film never thinks to offer, like a coherent explanation of how the game's virtual reality hardware works. We're not given any insight into the rules or mechanics of the game beyond basic elements like guilds and player killers. In the absence of fundamental details, the importance of any given event becomes ambiguous, forcing the audience to hastily fill in the blanks when they should be developing an emotional investment in the story. In 2015, this movie is a bit like an obsolete computer: quaint and momentarily nostalgic, but ultimately useless when compared to a newer model.
To some extent, arguing the strengths and weaknesses of .hack//G.U. Trilogy is an academic exercise. Unless you're willing to track down the games it's based on or suffer through its awful prequel series, you'll have no idea what's going on or why you're supposed to care about any of the characters. Then again, I watched the series and I'm still not sure about that second part. Unless your motivations are of the personal, nostalgic variety, don't bother.
This week's shelves are from Tristan:
"Hi my name is Tristan, I live in the UK and have been seriously collecting anime/manga and miscellaneous since 2010 when my best friend took me to London Comic Con and introduced me to all the amazing series and merchandise you can buy. My DVDs/Blu-rays are a collection of Region 1, 2 & 4. My favourite part of my collection are my figures (as you can see from the pictures I'm a huge Transformers Fan :D ). My favourite anime series is Detective Conan, and someday I hope to be able to add Movie 1 & 2 from Funimation to my collection (If I ever find them at a price I can afford lol). My favourite Manga is Negima and my favourite figures are my Black Rock Shooter Collection "
Love the collection, especially those figures!
Please continue to send in your shelves to [email protected]!
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