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Shelf Life
That's Extremely Raven

by Paul Jensen, Gabriella Ekens,

Coming up with an anime or manga title is easier than you might think. Just take the word "Tokyo" and add a second word that vaguely describes your series. It worked for Tokyo Ghoul, it worked for Tokyo Godfathers, it worked for Tokyo Ravens, and it can work for you too! It might not be original, but at least it makes sense and doesn't require half a dozen punctuation marks.

Whether your favorite title consists of one word or a run-on sentence, it's time to check out some new releases. Welcome to Tokyo Shelf. (My goodness, that sounds awful. Let's stick with Shelf Life.)

Jump to this week's reviews:
Tokyo Ravens - Season 1 Part 2
The Comic Artist and His Assistants

On Shelves This Week

Bleach - Season 26 Uncut Box Set DVD
Viz – 288 min – Hyb – MSRP $44.82
Currently cheapest at: $27.94 Rakuten

Synopsis: Ichigo trains with Ginjo, then returns home to find that everyone has apparently accepted Tsukishima like they've always known him. With everyone turning against him, Ichigo seeks out the one person he thinks he can rely on.

Extra: This set covers the final episodes of Bleach, so I expect fans of the long-running series will be happy to finally complete their collections. You can check out a recent review here, or watch the show online at Crunchyroll, Hulu, or right here on ANN.

Descendants of Darkness – The Complete TV Series Collection DVD
Eastern Star – 300 min – Hyb – MSRP $39.95
Currently cheapest at: $24.74 Rakuten

Synopsis: Long-dead detective Tsuzuki spends his afterlife chasing down a variety of supernatural villains. His new partner may be just the help he needs to take down the serial killer Dr. Muraki.

Extra: We've got a truly ancient review of this series from back in 2002 if you feel like hopping in your Internet time machine. If you'd rather make up you own mind, you can watch it on Hulu or here on ANN.

Durarara!!x2 Volume 1 BD, DVD
Aniplex – 150 min – Hyb – MSRP $79.00|$59.98
Currently cheapest at: $79.98 Right Stuf|$49.98 Right Stuf

Synopsis: Six months after the events of the first season, the residents of Ikebukuro are starting to go back to their everyday lives. The peace doesn't last long thanks to some old rivals and new arrivals.

Extra: While this sequel isn't perfect, you can never really have enough Durarara!! in your life. You can read some episode reviews here or watch the series on Crunchyroll, Hulu, or the Aniplex Channel.

Go Nagai World DVD
Eastern Star – 135 min – Sub – MSRP $24.95
Currently cheapest at: $15.45 Rakuten

Synopsis: Some of Go Nagai's most famous characters wake up one morning to discover that they've become trapped in super deformed versions of their bodies. Hijinks ensue as they search for a way to go back to normal.

Extra: Go Nagai is responsible for creating some very influential titles in the world of anime and manga. What better way to celebrate his contributions than by shrinking those iconic characters down to adorable size?

Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Mermaid DVD
Eastern Star – 68 min – Hyb – MSRP $24.95
Currently cheapest at: $15.45 Rakuten

Synopsis: Mermaid princess Marina falls in love with a human prince and gives up her voice in order to change her tail into a pair of human legs. If the prince falls for someone else, however, Marina will turn into sea foam and be washed away.

Extra: This movie is supposedly a darker, more accurate take on the classic fairy tale. Might be worth checking out if you're looking for an alternative to the Disney version.

Nobunaga the Fool – Collection 2 BD, DVD
Sentai – 275 min – Hyb – MSRP $69.98|$59.98
Currently cheapest at: $40.89 Rakuten|$35.04 Rakuten

Synopsis: Full-scale war threatens to erupt as the factions seeking the Holy Grail begin to turn against each other. Nobunaga must pull off a dangerous rescue mission in order to save Jeanne.

Extra: Gabriella covered the first half of this series in a previous Shelf Life, and you can read a review of the second half here. It's also streaming on Crunchyroll and The Anime Network.

Persona 4 the Golden Animation Part 2 BD
Aniplex – 150 min – Sub – MSRP $99.98
Currently cheapest at: $79.98 Right Stuf

Synopsis: Yu follows Adachi into the Midnight TV, where their Personas fight. Meanwhile, Marie continues searching for her lost memories.

Extra: This is the more recent of the two Persona anime adaptations getting physical releases this week, and I'll leave it up to the experts to explain the differences. We've got episode reviews and a review of part one, and you can watch the show streaming on Crunchyroll, Hulu, or the Aniplex Channel.

Persona 4: The Animation – Collector's Edition BD+DVD
Sentai – 670 min – Hyb – MSRP $139.98
Currently cheapest at: $81.79 Rakuten

Synopsis: Yu Narukami and his friends discover another world that can be entered through their televisions. A connection between the alternate world and a string of murders in their town leads them to search for the truth.

Extra: This series came out on disc a few years ago, but it's now available in a fancy collector's edition if missed it the first time or just want some extra merch. It's available streaming through Hulu and The Anime Network.

Super Dimension Century Orguss – The Complete Series DVD
Eastern Star – 800 min – Hyb – MSRP $69.95
Currently cheapest at: $43.31 Rakuten

Synopsis: Fighter pilot Kei Katsuragi is flung into the future when an experimental weapon goes off. In an alien environment, he meets a group of traveling traders and begins his search for a way home.

Extra: You can check out a review of a previous release of this show here. It's worth noting that only the first seventeen episodes were ever dubbed into English, so the rest is only available in Japanese with subtitles.

Shelf Life Reviews

You're getting two reviews from me this week because I'm just that important. All hail Paul, benevolent overlord of Shelf Life! It's also possible that this is just the way the review schedule worked out, but would you really be so heartless as to deny me my moment of delusional self-congratulation? Of course you would. On with the show!

We're starting off with the second half of Tokyo Ravens. I reviewed part one in a previous installment and ended up enjoying it more than I expected to. Will the series be able to pull off the same feat twice?

Tokyo Ravens gets more serious and more complicated in its second half, but at least one thing remains the same: it's always tantalizingly close to being a really good show. The shift in tone brings new strengths and weaknesses, keeping the series comfortably in the “B” range of fun yet disposable action titles. It's a good popcorn show, the kind of thing you can sprint through while consuming far too much junk food. You can take my word for it; I watched this entire set in a single day.

Harutora and his friends are still technically students, but they don't get much of a chance to attend class in these episodes. A ghostly old man stages an attack on the school in an attempt to steal the Raven Coat, but a frontal assault turns out to be the least of their problems. A variety of rogue factions have risen to power within the government, and all of them have their eyes on Natsume as the potential reincarnation of Yakou. When the truth behind Harutora and Natsume's bloodline is finally revealed, a tragic turn of events tempts Harutora to join the wrong side for the right reasons.

While this set doesn't force the audience to learn quite magical jargon as its predecessor, it does cram an unhealthy amount of characters and subplots into its running time. We've got new enemies, new allies who turn out to be enemies, old enemies who become allies, and several reincarnations of previously deceased characters with new names and appearances. Harutora and company are just One Piece of a much larger power struggle, and the final battle has an absurd number of moving parts for the audience to keep track of. The script is pretty good about hitting us over the head with the most important pieces of the puzzle, but I can't help thinking that a less cluttered plot would've allowed Tokyo Ravens to spend more time doing what it does best: blowing stuff up with magic.

The supernatural fight scenes continue to be the main attraction here, with a wide variety of flashy spell effects to marvel over. The CG animation used for some characters' familiars can be awkward and clunky at times, but just about everything else looks quite good. Even all the expository “this is what my next spell does” dialogue is tolerable thanks to a healthy amount of witty banter between characters. Villains rant and rave with varying degrees of craziness, and the protagonists exhibit a nice range of action hero humor. Many light novel adaptations struggle to move beyond the usual exchange of explosive special moves, but I actually felt like I was seeing a variety of styles and techniques in this series. If all the plots within plots start to wear on your nerves, you can just sit back and enjoy the spectacle.

In its more serious moments, Tokyo Ravens manages to piece together a few decent doses of drama. A key character death hits harder than one might expect and helps to shape the story for the remainder of the series. Viewers with a keen sense of smell will likely detect a whiff of teenage melodrama in the air, but it's generally kept in check by competent writing. The only real weak link is the ending, which fails to resolve anything beyond the characters' immediate concerns. Some of the dialogue in the final scenes borders on outright shamelessness in the way it suggests that the story is far from over. We get it, you want everyone to go out and buy the books. Give it a rest or give me a sequel.

I mentioned this in my review of part one, but the English dub continues to be good enough to be worth calling out. The spell incantations in Tokyo Ravens require the actors to run through a lot of syllables in a short amount of time, and the dub cast somehow manages to pull it off without sounding ridiculous. Individual performances range from decent to impressive, and the script mercifully avoids the temptation to make the teenage dialogue too hip for its own good. If you've got subtitle-adverse friends or just want to keep your eyes on the fireballs and rainbow pentagrams, it's a solid option.

I'm a little disappointed that Tokyo Ravens never quite broke past the usual boundaries of its genre, but it's still a very entertaining show. It nails the important points and does a respectable job at just about everything else. When it's raining outside and you've got nowhere else to be, you can throw a few hours at it without feeling like you've wasted any of your time. For a disposable action series, that's not too shabby at all.

For every pleasant surprise, there must also be a crushing disappointment. All aboard the sadness machine for a review of The Comic Artist and His Assistants.

There's a lot of interesting anime out there featuring characters with creative professions. The last few years alone have brought us some excellent examples: Shirobako added some compelling human drama to the anime production process, Monthly Girls' Nozaki-kun mined the shojo genre for some good-natured laughs, and Barakamon used professional calligraphy to enrich its slice of life format. The Comic Artist and His Assistants seeks to do something similar by poking fun at racy rom-com manga, but something goes wrong along the way. Rather than being funny or insightful, it's just sort of dull.

The series follows Aito, a young manga artist with a monthly series in a popular magazine. Much of his success stems from drawing what he loves: women's underwear. The guy has an uncanny talent for fanservice in general and panty shots in particular, but he also has a bad habit of getting behind on his deadlines. In order to keep Aito on track, his long-suffering friend and editor Mihari hires several assistants to work on the series. Of course, surrounding Aito with beautiful female assistants doesn't necessarily have the intended effect of helping him focus on his job.

A fanservice comedy about a fanservice comedy isn't an inherently bad concept, but The Comic Artist and His Assistants is never able to capitalize on its potential. Instead of making clever, raunchy jokes, the show's short-form sketches tend to wallow in the genre conventions that they're supposed to be satirizing. A significant portion of the jokes follow the same format: Aito says or does something to offend another character, the offended party is briefly tempted to cut him some slack because of some redeeming action, and Aito digs his own grave by saying something even sleazier. The girl wallops him into next week, someone screams out a Punch Line, and we cycle back to step one for the next scene. It's disappointingly generic, utterly predictable, and not nearly funny enough to justify its existence as a comedy.

That's not to say that the series never hits the mark; about one in five scenes manages to be entertaining in some way. Short-tempered editor Mihari goes off on some amusing rants, professional assistant Ashisu lends the series a bit of heart with her dream of getting her own series, and the show has an excellent mascot in the form of a cartoon cat with a bra on its head. Aito's sing-along ode to underwear is a comedic highlight that shows that this premise can be funny when approached in the right way. Unfortunately, a few modest successes aren't enough to carry a series when the majority of its content is split evenly between dull comedy and artless fanservice. A rapid-fire comedy should be anything but boring, especially when its episodes are only about twelve minutes along, but my most common reaction to the show's antics was a yawn.

The final nail in the coffin for The Comic Artist and His Assistants is that there's very little to make up for the weak humor. Most of the characters are extremely shallow, the kind of cardboard cutouts that writers toss in to cover the necessary range of anime girl personalities. The few members of the cast who aren't completely flat are generally misused: Aito's insights into his creative process are mostly generic platitudes, Mihari's relationship with Aito goes nowhere, and Ashisu's ambitions ultimately amount to little more than a handful of laughs. The animation looks cheap in general, and we're forced to spend an unhealthy amount of time in Aito's drab apartment in order to save the production team from having to draw too many new backgrounds. Worst of all, the series doesn't seem to know all that much about the manga industry that it draws its material from. I never felt like I was learning something new about how manga goes from concept to publication, and we never see more than a few rough sketches of Aito's series. If you want to convince me that your main character is a professional artist, you should probably show me more than a few doodles of underwear.

Should you choose to watch The Comic Artist and His Assistants, be aware that you're signing up for a pretty lousy deal. The show asks a lot in terms of tolerating its bad jokes and low-quality fanservice, but it gives very little in return. You won't laugh much, the characters won't work their way into your good graces, and you won't learn anything that hasn't already been covered by better titles. There's room in the “main character makes manga” niche for a show that's willing to make some good dirty jokes, but this series lacks the comedic talent to fill that spot.

That's all for this week's reviews. We'll be back to the usual review team next time, so come on back!

This week's shelves are from Joana:

“Greetings from Portugal! I've been collecting manga books for about 7 years and right now I have around 205 volumes. Most of them are in english, but I have some in Spanish and Portuguese. It's not much compared with other people's amazing shelves full of manga books, however I'm trying to expand it little by little in order to support all the works I love.
My favorite manga series is 07 Ghost, however it was quite the challenge to get all the volumes in English before Viz Media licensed it. I got the first 3 volumes from Go! Comi. Sadly, Go! Comi never got to publish all the volumes. I bought volume 3 to volume 10 from a Singapore publisher called Chuang Yi that released the books in english, but it also never finished publishing the series. Now I'm trying to collect all the 17 volumes released by Viz Media.
Besides the manga books, I have the complete set of Vocaloid Nendoroid Petite and a small Eren Yeager figure, as well as Black Rock Shooter, Dead Master and Black Gold Saw 1/8 scale figures. I also have Rage of Bahamut's Olivia++ 1/8 scale figure and Touhou's Flandre Scarlet 1/7 scale figure.
In the photos you can also see two cups: one is from Amsterdam and the other is a elsa cup. You can also see some kokeshi dolls. I thought they looked good next to the manga books.
Hope you enjoy! I'm sorry if my English isn't very good, it isn't my first language.”

Your English is excellent, and so is your collection. Thanks for sharing!

If you'd like to show off your own shelves, send your photos to [email protected]

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