Shelf Life
Captain SNAFU

by Paul Jensen, Gabriella Ekens,

Well, folks, it's my second appearance as the new Shelf Life guy, and that can only mean one thing: I've managed to go a whole week without causing the column to burst into flames! Go me!

Really, though, thank you for your support and continued readership. Let's jump right into it, shall we? There's a landslide of new stuff to cover this week. We've got comedies, giant robot shows, and comedies that occasionally turn into giant robot shows. It's fun for the whole mecha family!

Jump to this week's reviews:
My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU
Captain Earth: Collection 2

On Shelves This Week

Full Metal Panic! - The Complete Series [Anime Classics] BD+DVD
Funimation - 600 min - Hyb - MSRP $39.98
Currently cheapest at: $23.02 Rakuten

Synopsis: When teenage mercenary Souske Sagara is assigned to protect high school student Kaname Chidori, he ends up transferring into her class. Kaname isn't thrilled to have the trigger-happy action hero around, but she may need his help when her superhuman abilities attract the attention of international terrorists.

Extra: It's been a long time since I last watched this series, but I remember enjoying its odd blend of goofy comedy and serious mecha action. You can check out a recent review here or watch it online at Funimation.

Full Metal Panic? Fumoffu - The Complete Series [Anime Classics] BD+DVD
Funimation - 300 min - Hyb - MSRP $34.98
Currently cheapest at: $20.15 Rakuten

Synopsis: Souske's undercover mission to protect Kaname continues, even though there don't seem to be any more enemies to fight. High school life throws plenty of challenges his way, but all the explosives in the world can't protect you from secret admirers and amusement park mascots.

Extra: If the comedy was the only part of Full Metal Panic! that you enjoyed, then this spinoff has plenty of it. You can check out a review from the dark days of single-disc releases here or watch it online at Funimation.

Fullmetal Alchemist - Complete Series Standard, Limited, and Collector's Editions BD
Funimation - 1275 min - Hyb - MSRP $64.98|$129.98|$329.98
Currently cheapest at: $37.84 Rakuten|$75.69 Rakuten|$192.17 Rakuten

Synopsis: In the wake of a tragic accident, brothers Edward and Alphonse begin making a name for themselves as alchemists. Their search for the Philosopher's Stone will pit them against a wide variety of dangerous foes.

Extra: Depending on how bottomless you wallet is, there are three versions of this fan-favorite series to choose from here. It's been a while since we've had an official review, but this feature article offers a thorough look at the show. It's also streaming at Funimation, Hulu, and a wide variety of other sites.

Peacemaker - The Complete Series [Anime Classics] DVD
Funimation - 600 min - Hyb - MSRP $29.98
Currently cheapest at: $17.26 Rakuten

Synopsis: Tetsu is willing to join the ranks of the legendary Shinsengumi to avenge the murder of his parents, but his quest for revenge will require some difficult choices. Will he follow a path of bloodshed, or is there another way?

Extra: It's hard to go too far wrong with ninjas and demons, and our user ratings suggest (average of 7.3) that Peacemaker is a reasonably strong example of the genre. You can watch it online at Funimation.

The Comic Artist & His Assistants BD, DVD
Sentai - 205 min - Sub - MSRP $49.98|$39.98
Currently cheapest at: $29.20 Rakuten|$23.36 Rakuten

Synopsis: Manga artist Yuki Aito is great at drawing lowbrow hits, but his chronic procrastination drives his beleaguered editor to hire some new assistants. Getting the eccentric artists to finish his manuscripts will be far tougher than anyone imagines.

Extra: This series was panned pretty thoroughly in a review last year. I'll be giving it another shot in a future column, so I hope for my sake that it's not as bad as it sounds. You can watch it online at Crunchyroll.

The Irregular At Magical High School - Nine Schools Competition Arc BD
Aniplex - 275 min - Sub - MSRP $139.98
Currently cheapest at: $109.98 Right Stuf

Synopsis: This portion of the series features Tatsuya representing his school in the prestigious “Nine Schools Competition.” His status as a low-ranking student leads some to question his position on the team, but you should never count the main character of a light novel adaptation out.

Extra: I'm not the world's biggest fan of teenagers with magical powers, but this series certainly gets a lot of love from its viewers. You can read a review of the first collection here or watch it online at Crunchyroll.

Tsukimonogatari: Yotsugi Doll BD
Aniplex - 100 min - Sub - MSRP $64.98
Currently cheapest at: $49.98 Right Stuf

Synopsis: When Koyomi Araragi begins to question his humanity, he turns to Yotsugi Ononoki for help. Will the poor guy ever be able to go to high school like a normal person?

Extra: Given the complicated nature of this franchise, it might be better to check out this feature article instead of any single review. You can also watch it online at Daisuki. Is anyone still up to date on all these story arcs?

Shelf Life Reviews

This week's reviews are a case of old favorites and arch nemeses. We've got a Blu-Ray release of an excellent romantic comedy and the second half of a mecha series that didn't do too well in its last appearance in this column. Take a wild guess as to which one ended up with the higher score.

This first series is known by a few different names, most of which are obnoxiously long. I'll stick with the localized title, My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU.

To be honest, My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU was destined for a Shelf Worthy rating from the moment it appeared in my review schedule. This Blu-Ray release marks the third time I've watched this show since it came out a couple of years ago. What impresses me about this series is that there's enough content in these thirteen episodes to let it hold up through multiple viewings. I suppose it helps that there aren't many titles like this one out there.

The series follows the trials and tribulations of some of the snarkiest and most cynical characters ever to star in a high school romantic comedy. Loner extraordinaire Hachiman finds himself forced to join his school's Service Club as punishment for turning in a particularly bitter essay on teenage life. The club's president and only other member is Yukino, an honor student who seems to regard the rest of humanity as being beneath her. The two of them are soon joined by Yui, a relatively well-adjusted girl who finds their antisocial honesty strangely compelling. Awkwardness, misunderstandings, and outright hostility ensue as the three members of the Service Club employ some truly underhanded methods to solve other students' problems.

SNAFU is only a romantic comedy in the loosest sense of the word; it doesn't have a romantic or optimistic bone in its body. It might be better to think of this show as a counterpoint to the cheerful optimism that usually defines this genre. Putting three misfits together in a quirky school club is typically a surefire recipe for love, but it takes the entire season for the main characters to establish even the most basic level of camaraderie. Well-intentioned gestures drive people apart, rivals don't end up becoming friends, and just about everyone in school still thinks Hachiman's a jerk at the end of the final episode.

Between the stubbornly antisocial characters and the merciless plot, it's safe to say that this series won't necessarily resonate with everyone. Unless you're able to find some common ground with Hachiman and Yukino, they can be very difficult characters to like. Even I found myself feeling the desire to pick up a baseball bat and beat some social skills into the cast from time to time. Their prickly personalities also restrict the pace of character development; it's hard to get your protagonist to branch out when he takes an immense amount of pride in being a miserable loner.

Despite its cranky indifference, there's a lot to like about this show. Instead of lashing out with a generic “everyone's out to get me” narrative, the writing displays a detailed eye for the group dynamics that Hachiman rages against. There's no traditional antagonist or school bully to be found here, just a bunch of normal people doing what makes sense to them at the time. The script captures the disappointing truth behind most high school drama: no one is personally out to get you because they're all too busy worrying about themselves. The ability to see the individual personalities that make up a clique or the small errors that derail a group project is uncommon in most forms of fiction, so it's impressive to see it displayed so consistently here.

If you're able to see parts of yourself in some or all of the main characters, SNAFU is also capable of striking uncomfortably close to home without making a big deal about it. Rather than inundating the audience with tearful flashbacks, the show gives us just enough information to draw our own conclusions about everything that's happened to make these kids who they are. As someone who fit neatly into the aloof honor student stereotype in high school, some of Hachiman's justifications and Yukino's rants sounded like echoes of my younger self. It's a very strange experience to watch a pair of anime characters have a conversation that sounds exactly like your own train of thought, but it can also be wickedly funny. I laughed and cringed uncomfortably in about equal measures while watching this show.

In some ways, the series romanticizes Hachiman's perspective by having other characters point out the good points that he buries under a landslide of hostility. His teacher gives him room to handle things on his own terms, his sister is willing to stick up for him, and other students seek out his advice. Thankfully, the show stops short of completely letting its protagonists off the hook for their flaws. There's never any question that Hachiman and Yukino are complicit in their own isolation, and their words and actions are the chief factors that drive other people away. By the same token, other perspectives are given credit where it's due. The clash of ideas between Hachiman and Hayato, the show's designated popular guy, make for some of the most interesting moments in the series. Hachiman may have all the answers, but Hayato is much better at being a person. That ambiguity makes for much more interesting viewing than a single viewpoint that always triumphs over competing arguments.

My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU is too prickly and miserable for me to recommend it to everyone without reservation, but I love it anyway. It has a strong and unique voice that allows it to get close to subjects that other shows in this genre prefer to gloss over. If you already own the DVD collection, you don't necessarily need to pick up this new release; there's nothing new here and the animation isn't stellar enough to take full advantage of the higher resolution. If you've never seen the series before or have just watched it once, it might be worth the price to add it to your collection. From my experience, it holds up over at least three viewings.

Next up is Gabriella's review of the second part of Captain Earth.

We meet again, my old nemesis. Earlier this year, I reviewed the first half of Captain Earth for Shelf Life. I didn't like it, and made it clear. With the second half however, I have to admit – at some point, this could have had something going for it. Captain Earth is a confused, badly written, deeply compromised show, but it's not a soulless one, containing the germ of an idea which could have, in a different production, made for some excellent drama. This makes Captain Earth a specific kind of bad in that little works, but it's also haunted by the specter of its better self. Since there's not much I can praise it for as-is, I'll instead run down what this might have looked like:

Firstly, refocus the story around the Planetary Gears. They're alien invaders raised to think that they're human, so they have an inherently interesting conflict. Some of them are shown to grow human attachments contrary to their original purpose of annihilating humanity. The problem is that this doesn't amount to anything in the narrative. They don't turn out to be the big bad – that's Puck, an evil AI who wants to take over the galaxy. (Because what else would it want to do?) They also don't resonate very well with the heroes. They're really clearly this story's heart – we spend so much time with them relative to how much they end up mattering, that I'm convinced that writer actually wanted to write a story about them. But something came up, and he put it into a more “traditional” narrative structure – meaning a boring one. Still, the digressions that make us feel affection for Amara, Moco, and Bugbear stand as the remnants of this original idea, and they're the moments when this series shows a spark of life.

Secondly, rewrite the main cast. As a rebel Planetary Gear, Teppei should have more to do with his former compatriots, but his angst seems to disappear immediately after the episode when he switches sides. Daichi is the most generic shounen protagonist I've seen. His coming-of-age story has nothing to do with the show's most interesting theme of confusion regarding your identity. Hana is woefully lacking in characterization besides “nice,” and Akari – while entertaining – is clearly the fourth-string comic relief character. They feel like afterthoughts in their own show. Daichi and Hana's romance ends up being the main through line, but I wasn't invested in it for a moment. They're nice kids who fall in love because they're both so nice, I guess.

Thirdly, scrap the organizational intrigue. It adds more inscrutable Proper Nouns to a show that's already 50% technobabble. This was mostly used to contextualize Puck, and while that character isn't a wholly terrible idea (a creation of theirs that finds purpose on Earth and betrays them creates, in theory, an effective foil) the way it's used is just anticlimactic.

As the second half, this set is at least more focused than the first. We're now most definitely supporting Captain Earth and friends in using giant robots to fight a team of evil sex aliens. There are clear segues from plot point to plot point – first Purple Planetary Gear is recruited, then Hana gets her own giant robot, then the final battle. No more hit-or-miss episodic adventures.

At least Bones put a lot of love into this show. While I'm ambivalent on the art style, it does features some impressive direction and animation. Design-wise, the human characters steer just a little too close towards generic for me. The Planetary Gears, meanwhile, look like they're taken from a completely different show – probably Akame ga KILL!. If you're a fan of sakuga, there's some impressive character animation. In episode 15, I ended up caring during a scene about Hana, of all people, simply because whoever animated it did a fantastic job at conveying menace and fear through posture. There's also some excellent mood lighting. When it comes to making an anime pop, Bones is one of my most trusted studios, and with good reason.

Captain Earth is penned by one of anime's more distinct writers. Yoji Enokido has done great work in the past on RahXephon, Ouran High School Host Club, and Revolutionary Girl Utena. His work prior to Captain Earth, Star Driver, is also extremely flawed, but does much more interesting things regarding his pet themes of adolescence and sexuality. Despite these shared motifs, Captain Earth lacks both the exhilarating highs and outrageous lows of Enokido's previous series. Holding steady at mediocre, it commits the greatest sin a piece of entertainment can in my eyes: being boring. An intriguing core idea and competent production do not a worthwhile show make.

That's all for this week. Come back next time for more review-y goodness!

This week's shelves are from Stephanie:

"Hi, my name's Stephanie and I've been an anime fan for about thirteen years now. This year I started buying manga in Japanese and slowly learning the language in the hope of understanding them someday. I've also changed how I organize my manga - I gave my two favorite series and my horror manga their own shelves while the bottom shelves are for the titles I re-read the most. All my other books are currently in boxes until I can find space for more shelves. (I bought the Kurama poster as a teen and, since I got a good laugh when I rediscovered it while moving, I included it.)"

It's always cool to see people picking up Japanese out of a desire to experience anime and manga in their original language. Best of luck with your studies! Also, I totally have that same Cromartie High School plushie on my own manga shelf.

If you'd like to show off your own shelves (and I know you do), send your photos to [email protected]

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