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Shelf Life
Don't Panic

by Paul Jensen, Gabriella Ekens,

I'm going to take a brief detour from my usual quips and observations to point out that the Mets and Cubs are playing one another for a shot at the World Series. I don't follow baseball as closely as I once did, but that's still an amazing clash of perpetual underdogs. If someone tried writing that storyline into a sports anime, I'd accuse them of stretching the limits of credibility.

Anything is possible this week. Welcome to Shelf Life.

Jump to this week's reviews:
Full Metal Panic? Fumoffu
Argevollen Part 1

On Shelves This Week

Dragon Ball Z: Resurrection ‘F’ BD+DVD, DVD, Collector's Edition
Funimation – 95 min – Hyb – MSRP $34.98|$29.98|$54.98
Currently cheapest at: $19.99 Amazon|$14.99 Amazon|$34.29 Barnes and Noble

Synopsis: This movie features the return of Frieza, who plans to return to earth with a vengeance after being resurrected. Goku and Vegeta must increase their own powers in order to defeat their old enemy.

Extra: I've always been impressed by the longevity of this franchise. Dragon Ball Z is older than I am, and they're still coming out with new movies. You can read a review of this one here.

Hayate the Combat Butler 2nd season – Complete Collection BD, DVD
Sentai – 625 min – Sub – MSRP $89.98|$69.98
Currently cheapest at: $52.57 Rakuten|$40.89 Rakuten

Synopsis: Hayate continues to work as Nagi's butler and bodyguard while sparks of romance fly between the two of them.

Extra: We don't seem to have much review coverage of this second season, but you can read up on the first season here and here. You can also watch it streaming on Crunchyroll and The Anime Network.

Space Brothers – Collection 5 BD, DVD
Sentai – 325 min – Sub – MSRP $59.98|$49.98
Currently cheapest at: $35.04 Rakuten|$29.20 Rakuten

Synopsis: Mutta concludes his survival training before taking on a new challenge. He and his teammates must build a rover vehicle in just two weeks, but Mutta's engineering background may just be the key to victory.

Extra: Praising Space Brothers is something of a Shelf Life tradition, and it's one that I intend to keep up. It's a well-written, interesting series that you should check out if you haven't already. It's available streaming on Crunchyroll and The Anime Network.

Shelf Life Reviews

You can never have enough giant robots, so you're getting a whole bunch of 'em in this week's reviews. On the good side, we've got the very funny sequel to a mecha action comedy. On the not-so-good side, we've got a show that has fewer distinguishing characteristics than an unmodified Zaku.

Some reasonable folks may wonder why I'm reviewing Full Metal Panic Fumoffu without first looking at the original Full Metal Panic!, and I have two very good reasons. First, I like Fumoffu better and y'all can just deal with it. Second, and more importantly, this is the only one of the two that made its way into my review pile.

Full Metal Panic Fumoffu doesn't strike me as being a particularly old series, but it is. It aired back in 2003, and the first DVD release hit the U.S. in 2005. That's a bit difficult for me to wrap my head around, partially because the show is as entertaining now as it was a decade ago. Apart from the old 4:3 aspect ratio, it feels like it hasn't aged a day. I suppose time flies when you're blowing stuff up with wild abandon.

Depending on how you look it at, Fumoffu is either a sequel or a spinoff of Full Metal Panic!, a series that jumped back and forth between being an action comedy and a serious mecha drama. The show was pretty good at both, but transitioning from one to the other wasn't always a smooth process. Fumoffu simplifies the formula by ditching the angst and giant robots completely and focusing exclusively on being funny. The main characters are Kaname, a fairly average high school girl, and Souske, her paranoid mercenary bodyguard. Souske has a habit of using explosives and stun guns to deal with everyday problems, which naturally adds a fair amount of stress to Kaname's life. In the absence of any serious enemies, the two of them inflict their unique brand of chaos on unsuspecting bystanders including other students, theme park mascots, and the school rugby team.

I hesitate to call Fumoffu a stand-alone work, as it assumes that the audience has at least a passing familiarity with the original series. No attempt is made to explain why Kaname needs a bodyguard in the first place (she has some mysterious mental powers that aren't particularly relevant to the comedy), and characters from Souske's mercenary unit pop up with very little in the way of introductions. I suspect you could enjoy Fumoffu without having seen its predecessor, but it exists primarily to entertain existing fans. Think of it as an extended version of those comedy OVA episodes that popular shows sometimes get, albeit much better.

Assuming you're up to speed with who's who, this series is an absolute riot. Ditching the dramatic weight allows Fumoffu to refine and amplify the comedy routines that made Full Metal Panic! so enjoyable. The writing and comedic timing are very good, but the chemistry between the main characters is the beating heart of this show. Souske always has, at least from his perspective, a perfectly good explanation for his explosive overreactions. Someone opened his locker to leave a note, so of course he blew it up in case there was bomb inside. Rather than reload his character's gun in an arcade game, it was clearly faster to just draw his own handgun and put three bullets in the machine. For her part, Kaname tries to cut Souske as much slack as she can before she inevitably loses her temper and goes completely berserk. The two of them form a strong comedy duo and provide a near-constant stream of laughs.

As much as it specializes in humor, Fumoffu never quite forgets its origins as an action show. Despite being over ten years old, it occasionally manages to pull off a fight scene that puts some current titles to shame. It's all presented with a wink and a nod, and there are some delightfully ludicrous visuals on display here. If you've ever wanted to see a guy in a horse mask get hit with a rubber bullet in slow motion or a squad of mascot characters storm a building in full tactical gear, Fumoffu has you covered. I can't help but imagine that the folks at Kyoto Animation had a lot of fun planning some of these scenes out.

I got started with the Full Metal Panic franchise fairly early in my anime fandom, so this review was actually the first time I listened extensively to the original Japanese audio track. There's some excellent voice work to be found in both the sub and the dub, and I'd be hard-pressed to pick which versions of Kaname and Souske I prefer. The dub adds a bit more personality to the supporting cast, but background and episodic characters tend to be more convincing in Japanese. It's rare for a comedy to work really well in more than one language, but viewers without a clear sub/dub preference will be spoiled for choice here.

Full Metal Panic Fumoffu is one of the few anime sequels out there that I genuinely prefer over its predecessor. It takes a single strong point and runs with it for a dozen episodes, providing an abundance of laughs along the way. The Blu-Ray upgrade isn't necessarily worth the price of admission if you own one of the many older DVD releases, so this set serves mainly as a convenient entry vehicle for new viewers. Watching the original Full Metal Panic! is hardly a chore, but it's definitely required viewing if you want to fully enjoy this example of self-parody done right.

Next up is Gabriella's review of the first half of Argevollen, which apparently does not feature any adorable gun-toting theme park mascots.

The countries of Arandas and Ingelmia are at war. I don't know why they're at war. They just are, and apparently have been for some time. Of course, they fight in giant bipedal robots, one of which is piloted by the protagonist, Tokimune Susumu. He joined Arandas's military in order to investigate his sister's suspicious death there. But when Ingelmian forces breach the barrier between them and Arandas, the army is thrown into disarray. In the chaos, Tokimune rescues a load of cargo that happens to be carrying the military's top secret new giant robot, the Argevollen. When he hops in it to rescue some civilians, he becomes genetically linked to the robot. Now he's the only one who can pilot it. Oops! With the help of engineer Jamie Hazaford, Tokimune is now forced to into the role of the military's ace. Meanwhile, the war progresses in ways that are difficult to understand, and the characters interact and do things.

Some war stories don't have much of anything to say. Not every anime needs to be deep – some are just raucous, plot-based fun. These shows (for example, most Gundam) are made entertaining by likeable characters, engaging storytelling, and maybe even a spark of originality somewhere. It can be anything – a great design aesthetic, an inspired premise, or even a standout character arc. Argevollen is not this. Until Argevollen, I'd never seen an anime so totally devoid of good traits without containing many actual bad ones. Of my previous disposable releases, at least Captain Earth had the sleek production values I expect out of Studio Bones, Brynhildr in the Darkness had its comically heinous depictions of women, and Hamatora was just all-around ludicrous. It's not even that Argevollen possesses nothing worth watching – there's nothing about it that sticks out in my memory.

While I can't say that I dislike Argevollen's characters, its plotting is impenetrable. The war's progress is depicted on a map in each episode. If you don't look at this map – which is onscreen for maybe a minute – you won't know how the war is going. It's trying to tell a story through diagrams of a battle's progression from a military history class. The problem here is that I don't care. I don't know what the various sides stand for – I can't even tell them apart. Ingelmia is vaguely imperialistic while Arandas is where the main characters are from. So with that a bust, what about the interpersonal drama? What does Argevollen want me to feel? Well, the show's emotional thrust consists of two wartime romances – Tokimune's with the Argevollen's engineer, Jamie, and the jaded commander Ukyo Samonji's with Tokimune's sister. This latter romance, which takes place in the past, ties into the Argevollen's creation. (Can you guess which popular series it ends up ripping off? It starts with E and ends with vangelion.) Again, these aren't incompetent, just uninteresting. It reminds me of the boring parts of Aldnoah.Zero – lots of characters I barely know in stock relationships that are supposed to wean me over until the war stuff gets serious. But while Aldnoah.Zero eventually unleashed a ludicrous twist, Argevollen doesn't drop one in these first twelve episodes.

The visuals are falling apart from the first scene. While the production is far from impressive, the biggest problem is actually the art design. The main characters all look like they should be extras in another show. The main guys are all some flavor of sad-looking brunette, and I tell them apart by how old they're supposed to be. (Tokimune is young, Samonji is older, Cayenne is old.) I can't tell whether their perpetually overextended chins are intentional or modeling errors. The color palette is a morass of grey and green. It reminds me of Aldnoah.Zero, but without the small splashes of color that made that show pop. The robots (called “Trail Kreigers”) look all right, but again, totally indistinct. If you're a huge fan of giant robots, I don't know how it would stand out for you. Sentai's release is bare-bones, all twelve episodes on one disc with no dub.

Featuring absolutely nothing distinct, Argevollen fails as a piece of entertainment. It's the bottom of the barrel for Gundam knockoffs, lacking even the hilariously awful gimmick that makes some distinct. Maybe it'll improve in the second cour? But really, who'd even stick around that long? Me, that's who. I'm in this for the long run, Argevollen. War is hell, and so is some anime.

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

This week's shelves are from Bram, who was the first of several noble souls to answer my call for more submissions:

"Hello! My name's Bram, and I was introduced to anime about 2 and a half years ago. You can probably tell from my 500+ manga volumes that I fell hard for it. The shelves that I have I made together with my dad and they've proven to be much sturdier than store-bought ones. The shelves I had before were sagging under the weight of manga... My shelves are organized in a bit of a funny way. My series that are ongoing are the ones that are on the shelves currently. They're arranged straight across both shelves alphabetically. My Viz Signature series that are either completed or update really slowly are on top of my shelves, and I have one side (with Vagabond) that's my more mature side, and the other side (with Tenjo Tenge) is what I call the 'Bullets & Boobs' side. All my completed or discontinued series go to the very bottom shelf after I've read them. My anime collection is very small (Black Lagoon, Guilty Crown, FMA: Brotherhood), but it's growing!"

You know you've got a good collection going when you need to make your own shelves to display it all. Thanks for sharing!

Want to show off your own shelves? Send those photos to [email protected]. The more submissions I have lined up, the better I sleep at night. You want me to sleep well at night, don't you?

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