Shelf Life
Under The Sea

by Paul Jensen, Gabriella Ekens,

I'm rather fond of the brief lull between anime seasons. For a week or so, we all get to reflect on the ups and downs of whatever shows we followed and scour the latest round of simulcast announcements for the shiny new titles that we're looking forward to. It also means that I get to take a little time off from doing episode reviews and marathon my way through everything I fell behind on over the course of the season.

However, one glance at this week's deluge of new releases confirms that physical releases never take time off. As long as new anime is being permanently lasered onto shiny new discs, the intrepid Shelf Life crew will be there to sort through at least some of it. Let's get started.

Jump to this week's reviews:
A Lull in the Sea
Sabagebu!: Survival Game Club!

On Shelves This Week

Aesthetica of a Rogue Hero – The Complete Series [S.A.V.E.] DVD
Funimation – 300 min – Hyb – MSRP $29.98
Currently cheapest at: $17.99 Amazon

Synopsis: After defeating the Demon King of a fantasy realm, Akatsuki returns to the real world with the King's daughter in tow. The two of them enroll in a magic academy, where Akatsuki promptly finds himself surrounded by more beautiful girls.

Extra: Bamboo covered this series a while back, and you can read another review here. The show is available streaming from Funimation.

Brynhildr in the Darkness – Complete Collection BD, DVD
Sentai – 350 min – Hyb – MSRP $69.98|$59.98
Currently cheapest at: $41.35 Rakuten|$35.04 Rakuten

Synopsis: With the help of a girl who bears a striking resemblance to his deceased childhood friend, Ryota tries to uncover the truth behind a scientific conspiracy.

Extra: We'll be taking a look at this show in next week's column, but you can read a review here if you just can't wait. It's also available streaming on Crunchyroll and The Anime Network.

Fairy Tail – Part 17 BD+DVD
Funimation – 300 min – Hyb – MSRP $54.98
Currently cheapest at: $35.71 Rakuten

Synopsis: The Grand Magic Games are interrupted by the opening of the Eclipse Gate, which releases a group of rampaging dragons. The guilds must band together to defeat this new threat.

Extra: You can check out a review of part 15 here or stream the series on Crunchyroll, Funimation, Hulu, or just about any other major streaming service.

Last: Naruto the Movie BD, DVD
Viz – 102 min – Hyb – MSRP $29.99|$19.98
Currently cheapest at: $21.29 Amazon|$13.79 Amazon

Synopsis: Naruto must save the world from the moon, which is on course to fall into the Earth while rescuing Hinata's kidnapped younger sister.

Extra: Despite the apparent finality of its title, this isn't actually the last of the Naruto movies. In all fairness, it is technically the last one starring Naruto himself. You can read a review here.

[email protected] – Complete Collection BD
Sentai – 300 min – Sub – MSRP $59.98
Currently cheapest at: $35.44 Rakuten

Synopsis: Sasami is a hikkimori who interacts with the outside world by spying on her older brother. When the arrival of three unusual sisters triggers a series of bizarre events, Sasami may just have to go outside to save the world.

Extra: This series hasn't seen much coverage beyond a brief appearance in The Stream, but I'll be taking it on once it climbs its way to the top of my review pile. In the meantime, you can watch it streaming on The Anime Network.

Tamayura: Hitotose DVD
Nozomi – 389 min – Sub – MSRP $44.99
Currently cheapest at: $26.20 Rakuten

Synopsis: As she enters her first year of high school, Fuu picks up her father's old camera and sets out to take pictures that will bring happiness to others.

Extra: Apart from a couple of paragraphs in an old preview guide, we don't have anything in the way of reviews for this show. It's worth noting that this set contains both the first TV season and the OVA.

The World is Still Beautiful – Complete Collection BD, DVD
Sentai – 300 min – Sub – MSRP $59.98|$49.98
Currently cheapest at: $35.04 Rakuten|$29.20 Rakuten

Synopsis: Nike, a princess from the Rain Dukedom, is sent to the Sun Kingdom to marry its young king. Will their political marriage lead to something more meaningful?

Extra: You can read reviews of the first and second halves of this series, or watch it streaming on Crunchyroll or The Anime Network.

When Marnie Was There BD+DVD, DVD
Universal – 103 min – Hyb – MSRP $34.99|$29.99
Currently cheapest at: $24.58 Amazon|$17.98 Amazon

Synopsis: Anna is sent to a sleepy seaside town for the summer, where she meets a mysterious new friend named Marnie.

Extra: Until I put this release list together, I'd been consistently misreading this title as “When Marine Was There.” Sadly, there don't appear to be any burly space marines in this Studio Ghibli film.

Yu-Gi-Oh! Zexal – Season 2 Complete Collection DVD
Cinedigm – 1029 min – Dub – MSRP $59.99
Currently cheapest at: $41.46 Rakuten

Synopsis: Yuma and Astral move on to the final rounds of the World Duel Carnival, where stronger opponents and new rules await them.

Extra: The number of Yu-Gi-Oh! sequels and spinoffs is steadily approaching truly mind-boggling territory. You can watch this one streaming on Hulu or here on ANN.

Shelf Life Reviews

This week's shows are all about amphibious life. One involves some ocean-dwelling teenagers dealing with a culture clash at their new school, and the other features a suspiciously intelligent platypus as a mascot character. It's a bit of stretch, but I'll take my thematic links wherever I can get them.

First up is Gabriella's review of A Lull in the Sea.

Love blossoms in a world divided by the sea. A very long time ago, all humans lived in the ocean. At one point, however, some left the sea to live on the land. Now the descendants of this group are the vast majority. But in scattered patches, villages still exist on the seabed. Shioshishio is one of them. After their local school closes, a group of children from Shioshishio – plucky Hikari, cheerful Manaka, mature Chiyaki, and smarmy Kaname – must venture on land to attend high school. When a land-native, the cool and quiet Tsumugu, joins their friend group, the familiar dynamic is altered and the friends begin to reflect on their impending adulthood. In the process, they learn many things about the world, themselves, and humanity's relationship with the sea.

A Lull in the Sea is a Midsummer Night's Dream-esque romance melodrama. The focus is on the characters' romantic relationships and the question of who will end up with whom. In the beginning, every character has some sort of unrequited or impossible love. The series' driving force is seeing how they'll play out. Can Chiyaki make it work with Hikari when he's in love with her best friend? How about Hikari's sister, Akari, marrying a man from the land? Of course, this is magical realism, so there's supernatural interference. There's a background story about a God of the Sea who marries a woman from the land, Lady Ojoshi, who was offered to him as a human sacrifice to calm his rages. They had two children together, but Lady Ojoshi always longed for her previous lover. Sensing her unhappiness, the Sea God returned her to land. Since then, coastal villages have recreated the ceremony with a dummy in order to appease the Sea God. All this has something to do with the ocean's increasing instability. Ultimately, the romantic and historical stories connect to create a situation where the characters' feelings determine the fate of the planet.

Mari Okada is one of the most prolific and well-known writers working in anime today. This is the first work I've gone into knowing that it was hers, and it seems emblematic of her style as a whole. She writes stories about big feminine emotions, like Hanasaku Iroha, her hallmark work for me. Hanasaku Iroha is about a young women's romantic awakening. There are more male characters here, but A Lull in the Sea is otherwise similar. Okada's romance writing in these series is intense and affecting, if not particularly original – basically excellent, if conventionally-executed romance novels. They're all populated by layered, distinct characters, but it sometimes seems like they only fall in love with each other in order to create dramatic circumstances. More than anything, Okada seems to understand longing. Hanasaku Iroha and A Lull in the Sea are filled with raw yearning. The characters are all comfortable with each other platonically, but anguish over emotional or social boundaries to romantic completion. The stories end when the situations come to some sort of resolution. I have conflicted feelings about this. While I can't deny A Lull in the Sea's quality, the stories I internalize usually have something more going for them, like truly unique characters or a thoughtful message. Not that I'm trying to undermine A Lull in the Sea's quality. In fact, it's a conventional romance melodrama executed about as well as it possibly could have been. It's just that this personal preference prevents me from totally loving this show. Instead, I just like it a lot. I suspect that many others will go all the way towards love. Either way it's a small difference since this show is definitely shelf worthy.

This review is for NIS America's premium edition Blu-Ray boxed set. This release comes with a 76-page hardcover art book, a soundtrack CD, and a hardback box. The box is sturdy and attractive – the blue side decals are even colored in with glitter! It looks as great as any other collector's edition on my shelf. There are only a couple of goodies, but they're substantial. The first is the art book. It's quite long and contains creator commentaries on every episode. However, the art book may be worth it for a detailed look at the backgrounds alone, if you're into anime for the artistry. A Lull in the Sea is one of the best-looking shows I've seen in a while. P.A. Works is known for their high overall production values, but they did an exceptional job here. The undersea world is so fully realized that I almost wish that it were utilized in more of an action-fantasy series. Deep, aquatic blues and white, icy winters are rare for school life anime, which favor summery or springtime hues. It's interesting to see how the characters navigate everyday life underwater. They survive on a sacred, waterproof flame for heat and treat sea slugs like stray cats. If you go to anime to be transported by a comforting ambiance, then I can't recommend A Lull in the Sea much higher. It has the feel of an updated Aria The Animation.

Also note that I watched this show in English. Fortunately, it's a great dub. The mains strike the right balance between mature introspection and juvenile petulance. This is a show about young teenagers interrogating their feelings, so they're going to need to be a bit more adult-seeming than actual teens, but they don't seem like grown-ups in little bodies. I look forward to hearing more from Max Mittelman (Hikari) and Brianna Knickerbocker (Chisaki) – they're relative newcomers to anime who deliver solid lead performances in this. The script, meanwhile, is faithful and idiomatic. It maintains the original's straightforward emotionality.

If you're already enough of a fan of A Lull in the Sea to plunk down $180 for the special edition, then you'll be getting your money's worth. If you're not willing to commit that much up front, it's also streaming on Crunchyroll. However you watch it, I highly recommend this show to fans of romance, comforting ambiance, or just artistry in animation. No matter how fraught the emotional waters became, A Lull in the Sea was always an inviting watch. Go ahead and take a dip, the water's fine.

Next, we have my take on Sabagebu!, which is fun despite being neither pretty nor uplifting.

Sabagebu! was one of the first shows I ever reviewed here on ANN; I covered it from week to week during my first season of episode reviews. It was apparently the only memorable title I covered that summer, because I can't recall very much about Invaders of the Rokujyoma or Bladedance of Elementalers. Part of the reason Sabagebu! managed to occupy some permanent space in my brain is that it has a very distinct comedic tone. Simply put, it has one heck of a mean streak.

The series stars Momoka, a high school student who's mastered the art of blending in after transferring from one school to another several times. Despite her ability to fly under the radar, she finds herself recruited by her new school's survival game club. Most of the other girls in the club are a bit eccentric in one way or another: there's the wealthy gun nut, the cosplaying otaku, and the seemingly cute girl with a terrifying dark side. It briefly seems like Momoka will spend the series reacting to her new friends' odd behavior, but we soon learn that she's just as crazy as the rest of the gang. With Momoka's shamelessly sadistic personality backed up by an arsenal of non-lethal firepower, the club wreaks havoc everywhere it goes.

To some extent, Sabagebu! is an evil twin to other “cute girls with fake guns” shows like Girls und Panzer and Stella Women's' Academy. (I know the tanks in Girls und Panzer are real, but I'm including it here because they're not actually trying to kill one another.) Instead of the usual deluge of earnest smiles and friendly competition, Sabagebu! pitches itself as an irreverent comedy that would rather laugh at its characters than with them. It's both merciless and single-minded in its pursuit of humor, and the club's survival games are deliberately over the top. Even the narrator seems to have a hard time taking the story and characters seriously. In his defense, the cast does include a short-tempered platypus who occasionally picks up a Thompson submachine gun and joins in on the action scenes.

While that total commitment to comedy sounds good on paper, Sabagebu! is all over the place in its execution. It typically crams between two and three standalone stories into each episode, and those segments vary wildly in their quality. Some are very funny, some are mostly dull, and others are just plain bad. The writing occasionally tries to draw humor from some questionable sources, including uninspired toilet humor and uncomfortable approaches to rapid weight loss. There's even a full segment that's essentially sponsored content for a Japanese hunting association. In these cases where the comedy falters, the series doesn't have much else to fall back on. The animation quality is generally underwhelming, the characters are too outrageous to be sympathetic, and the soundtrack is nothing special. When Sabagebu! messes up, it can be a bit of a disaster.

On the other hand, those errors are at least partially balanced out by some truly funny moments. The show is at its best when it's crafting elaborate parodies of popular action movies. The girls copy slow-motion moves from The Matrix, travel to Australia for a vehicular battle inspired by the Mad Max films, and fight a reasonable facsimile of the monster from Predator that dresses its victims in bunny outfits. These parodies are typically so silly and irreverent that I can't help but enjoy them. Sabagebu! is also able to put its eccentric cast to good use from time to time, with Momoka and club president Miou providing the lion's share of the sharp dialogue and unexpected sight gags. While a few jokes lose their impact when you know what's going to happen next, most of the stronger segments hold up over a second viewing. If you edited out the bottom third of this show's content, you'd have a pretty strong comedy on your hands. If I ever decided to watch Sabagebu! for a third time, I'd be tempted to do just that by fast-forwarding through the dud segments.

If you enjoy a healthy dose of mean-spirited comedy and aren't put off by the image of teenagers playing with model guns, Sabagebu! is worth a try. It definitely has its moments, and even the worst segments don't last more than a few minutes. Folks who already watched the series online will also want to note that this set includes a handful of short OVAs that didn't make it to the US during the initial simulcast, so it may be worth coming back if you enjoyed it the first time. Personally, I'm just glad there's a show out there that features a gun-toting cartoon platypus.

That's all for this week's reviews. To borrow from another famous action movie, we'll be back.

This week's shelves are from Mark:

"Hi, my name's Mark and I've been an anime fan for over ten years now. I only really started buying anime three years ago when Madoka Magica came stateside, but once I started I couldn't stop. I'm much more of an anime guy than a manga aficionado, which is why my manga and light novel shelves aren't nearly as big, but I certainly have some of those too. Now I worry there's not a free non-anime space left in my room!"

All non-anime space is just anime space that hasn't been claimed yet. Nice collection!

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

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