Shelf Life
Rhythm and BlazBlues

by Paul Jensen, Gabriella Ekens,

Hi everyone, Paul here. Welcome to my very first outing as the new face of Shelf Life!

I was an avid reader of this column for years before I started writing for it a few months ago. I'll do my best to keep it a fun and useful source of reviews for everyone, and I hope you'll continue to enjoy reading it. I'll even be venturing out of the shadows to check in on the comment section, so keep the questions and feedback coming!

Jump to this week's reviews:
009 Re:Cyborg
BlazBlue Alter Memory

On Shelves This Week

Appleseed - [Sentai Selects] BD+DVD
Sentai - 105 min - Hyb - MSRP $19.98
Currently cheapest at: $11.99 Right Stuf

Synopsis: Veteran mercenaries Deunan and Briareos join a special police unit charged with protecting the Utopian city of Olympus. The greatest threat to the city may come from within, and the war-weary duo will have to unravel a tangled web of secret plots in order to save their new home.

Extra: This is the earliest of the many CG movies based on the Appleseed manga. It's gotten high marks for its action scenes, but not necessarily for its story. You can check out Theron's review of an earlier Blu-Ray release here or check it out online from The Anime Network.

Cute High Earth Defense Club LOVE! Collector's Edition BD+DVD
Ponycan USA - 106 min - Sub - MSRP $89.98
Currently cheapest at: $71.98 Right Stuf

Synopsis: The magical boys of the Defense Club take on a variety of new challenges, including final exams, a seaside training camp, and the attention of the overzealous Press Society.

Extra: You can find a review of the first volume here, or read a review of the whole series here. The show is streaming online at Crunchyroll and Funimation.

Digimon Fusion Season 1 - Volume 1 DVD
Cinedigm - 330 min - Dub - MSRP $19.00
Currently cheapest at: $14.76 Barnes and Noble

Synopsis: Mikey Kudo's dreams of fighting in Digimon battles come true when he pairs up with Shoutmon, but he soon learns that the digital world is in danger from evil forces. He'll have to work with his friends and his Digimon if he wants to be the hero.

Extra: This iteration of the Digimon franchise originally ran in Japan under the title Digimon Xros Wars, and has an average rating of around 6.5 out of 10 from our users. You can watch it online on Crunchyroll.

Patlabor Move 3: WXIII BD, DVD
Sentai - 107 mins - Hyb - MSRP $39.98|$29.98
Currently cheapest at: $24.48 Barnes and Noble|$19.49 Right Stuf

Synopsis: Detectives Hata and Kusumi are assigned to investigate a string of violent incidents in Tokyo's harbor area, where they uncover a dangerous biological weapons project. In order to protect the city, they'll need some backup from the Ingram Patrol Labors of SV2.

Extra: We haven't had a review of this movie since 2003, but I'll be taking care of that in a future column.

Ranma 1/2 Set 7 BD, DVD
Viz - 530 min - Hyb - MSRP $54.97, $44.82
Currently cheapest at: $39.27 Rakuten|$27.63 Rakuten

Synopsis: This latest collection sees Ranma facing another challenge from Ryoga and trying to master some martial arts cheerleading. Ranma's mother comes to the Tendo Dojo, but Genma seems intent on keeping the two of them apart for some reason.

Extra: The popular gender-bending comedy rolls onward into its seventh collection. You can check out reviews of past sets here and here.

Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust BD
Eastern Star - 90 min - Dub - MSRP $29.95
Currently cheapest at: $18.49 Rakuten

Synopsis: D is hired to rescue a young woman who's been abducted by a vampire, but he's not the only one on the case. In order to get the job done, he'll have to beat the Markus Brothers to the punch.

Extra: This movie is a sequel to the Vampire Hunter D OAV, which Gabriella reviewed in a previous column. You can check out an older review of this entry in the series here.

Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D's Season 2 DVD
Cinedigm - 1000 min - Dub - MSRP $44.99
Currently cheapest at: $28.51 Rakuten

Synopsis: Yusei and his friends may have defeated Director Goodwin and the Dark Signers, but the appearance of a new enemy means they'll have to take on a whole new set of duels.

Extra: Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D's has gotten decent ratings from our users, so you could probably do far worse if you're looking for a card battle show. You can give it a try on Hulu, Crunchyroll, or right here on ANN.

Shelf Life Reviews

Shelf Worthy
Nothing this week.
009 Re:Cyborg
BlazBlue Alter Memory

This week's reviews include a pair of titles that try to do a lot in a short amount of time. One of them is reasonably successful, the other one not so much.

First up is the sci-fi movie 009 Re:Cyborg, which wants nothing more than to make you think until your head explodes.

There's a seemingly endless supply of superhero movies hitting theaters here in the US, but we're not the only country with an interest in bringing long-running comics to the big screen. 009 Re:Cyborg has the difficult task of taking the heroes of the 1960's manga series Cyborg 009 and finding a place for them in a post-Cold War world. At least they picked the right director for the job; Kenji Kamiyama directed the Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex TV series, so it's safe to say that the guy knows his cyborgs.

The film stars the nine 00-series cyborgs from the original manga, an international group of augmented heroes who spent decades protecting the world from a variety of villains. The team has drifted apart over the years, with some returning to civilian life and others working for the governments of their native countries. A string of attacks on iconic skyscrapers forces them to reunite and pursue what appears to be a worldwide conspiracy. The only common thread amongst the people carrying out the attacks are their references to “His Voice,” a mysterious phenomenon that seems to compel those who hear it to carry out acts of violence.

009 Re:Cyborg follows the recent trend of using 3D character models in place of traditional hand-drawn animation, and the results are similar to what we've seen in other big-name titles. Action scenes look very impressive, complete with sweeping camera shots and spectacular effects. The consistent character models also allow for plenty of detail on the cyborgs' mechanical parts, like rocket boosters and machine gun hands. The weakness of this approach continues to be the relative stiffness of motion in less frantic scenes and the difficulty of conveying subtle emotions through characters' facial expressions. Perhaps that's why the movie is so eager to show off its visual strengths by blowing stuff up.

The film addresses the complexity of international politics and the effects of new technology on warfare, and these themes are a natural fit for a group of cyborgs from all over the world. The characters from the US and UK seem to lament the lack of clear-cut allies and enemies in the wake of the Cold War's end, and both of them display doubts about their own countries' motivations. Another cyborg's body features an arsenal of concealed weapons, but he jokes that he's only a few years away from being shipped off to a museum. With all of the advanced equipment available to the average soldier, having a rocket launcher in your leg isn't quite the super power it used to be. (It's still pretty cool, though.) The cyborgs are relics from a different era, and that outsider's perspective allows them to make some interesting observations about the modern world.

In case all that geopolitical angst doesn't hold your attention, the mystery of “His Voice” also throws some philosophy and religion into the mix. While it keeps things fairly ambiguous, the film suggests that what people perceive as outside inspiration or divine instruction could actually be driven by something in their own minds. Depending on a character's mental state, the voice can drive people to protect others or plunge the world into chaos. It's an interesting notion, even if the cast has to drop what they're doing for a few minutes to sit around and discuss it.

In case it isn't already obvious, there are a lot of ideas bouncing around in this movie. The questions it raises can be fun to mull over if you're in the right mood, but they also force some compromises when it comes to story and character development. Using the characters to embody different ideas and issues limits their personal depth and makes it more difficult to connect to them emotionally. The transitions between action and thoughtful conversation can also be pretty rough, creating the experience of attending a philosophy lecture in the middle of a gunfight. In the very likely event that a few things get drowned out by explosions while you're watching, the movie comes with a helpful booklet full of information and interviews. It's a useful physical extra that helps clarify some of the director's ideas.

I found 009 Re:Cyborg very interesting, but I'm not convinced that I actually enjoyed watching it. It needs much more time than it has to fully explore the topics that it brings up, and the story that ties it all together is merely average. If you're looking for something to puzzle over for a few hours, it'll give you plenty to chew on. If you just want to watch a good action movie with some science fiction elements, you might be better off looking elsewhere.

Next on the chopping block is BlazBlue Alter Memory, which I really wanted to like more than I did.

I've reviewed a handful of video game adaptations in my time with this column, sometimes without the benefit of having played the source material. That's not the case with BlazBlue Alter Memory; it's based on a series of fighting games that I've sunk plenty of hours into over the years. My college roommates may not have appreciated my constant abuse of Noel's ranged attacks and Jin's ice abilities, but I'm sure glad I knew who all the characters were before I started watching this show. Even for an adaptation, it has one heck of a learning curve.

The characters in BlazBlue Alter Memory have two major problems to deal with. A god-like entity keeps resetting the world in the hopes of achieving an ideal sequence of events, and all but a handful of people are completely unaware of the endless loop. As if that's not enough of an inconvenience, a particularly crazy bad guy is trying to break the cycle by unleashing a doomsday weapon. In the midst of all the scheming and technobabble, we find our gruff antihero Ragna the Bloodedge, a wandering outlaw with some powerful abilities of his own. When he's not busy dealing with his violent past, Ragna has to find a way to break the endless cycle, stop the bad guy, and save the world. With only twelve episodes' worth of time, he's got his work cut out for him.

The biggest issue with this show is one that's all too common amongst animated adaptations of video games: it tries to do far too much at once. The ensemble cast is enormous, and just about everyone has an agenda of his or her own. Between friendships, alliances, rivalries, and outright conflicts, I was able to count over thirty unique character relationships. That's an awful lot for a viewer to keep track of, and it's not surprising that the show fails to fully develop all but a handful of those storylines. I understand the desire to give everyone's favorite fighter at least a little screen time, but catering to that expectation forces the show to bite off more than it can chew.

Thanks to the complex web of subplots, the structure of the series often feels like the story mode from a fighting game. Two characters will meet, argue, and beat the stuffing out of one another in the space of a few minutes, only for the process to start all over again with a new group of people. Some of these sequences work well in isolation, but the show as a whole feels choppy and disjointed. A handful of titles can make an enjoyable experience out of ensemble casts and intertwined storylines, but doing so requires a level of writing and direction that BlazBlue just doesn't have.

The good news is that this show is usually willing to embrace its own absurdity. The action and comedy scenes give it a chance to revel in being dumb and flashy, and that's exactly what it does. If you can let go of your desire to make sense of everything that's going on, there's some fun to be had by losing yourself in the sea of brightly colored costumes and fancy fighting moves. Both the Japanese and English audio tracks feature the voice actors from the games in their respective roles, and they help breathe some life into the clunky story. Special attacks are called out at maximum volume and catchphrases are delivered with plenty of bravado. Unfortunately, all of that appeal is already present in the source material. If you're going to adapt something into a new medium, that adaptation needs to offer something new in order to justify its existence.

The overwhelming impression that BlazBlue Alter Memory leaves is one of single-minded devotion to mimicking the games it's based on. Because of that, your ability to enjoy it will depend on how familiar you are with the franchise. If you already know at least a little about the characters and their backstories, it's entertaining enough to be worth watching once. For everyone else, it'll probably be too incomprehensible to enjoy. For my money, I'd still rather experience this franchise with a controller in my hands.

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

This week's shelves are from Rob:

"Hi! My name is Rob. I've been collecting Anime for over 12 years now. My collection has grown pretty big, but it won't be complete until I get a full A to Z. Ah, who am I kidding? No one's collection is ever totally complete right? Anyway, one of the things I like about owning anime on DVD is the cover art. So I've turned around a few of the best for you all... enjoy!"

Nice collection! You get bonus points for reading Yotsuba&! because I absolutely adore that series.

Want to show off your shelves? Send your photos to [email protected]!

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