Shelf Life
One Good Turn

by Paul Jensen, Gabriella Ekens,

I was all set to gripe humorously about the number of new releases that I had to look up this week, but then I saw the schedule for next week. And the week after that, and the week after that. The holidays are upon us, which means mountains of new anime until at least halfway through December. All things considered, too much anime is a pretty good problem to have. Time to start sifting through it all and dropping blatant gift hints to friends and family. Welcome to Shelf Life.

Jump to this week's reviews:
Turn A Gundam Part 1
[email protected]

On Shelves This Week

Aldnoah.Zero – Set 2 BD, DVD
Aniplex – 150 min – Hyb – MSRP $94.98|$39.98
Currently cheapest at: $74.98 Right Stuf|$29.98 Right Stuf

Synopsis: Inaho and Asseylum head for the United Forces of Earth headquarters while Count Saazbaum gets ready to launch an attack. Slaine discovers Saazbaum's true intention and decides to protect Asseylum.

Extra: You can read a review of this set here or check out episode reviews for the whole series here. You've also got plenty of streaming options for this one including the Aniplex Channel, Crunchyroll, Daisuki, and Hulu.

Black Bullet – Complete Collection BD, DVD
Sentai – 325 min – Hyb – MSRP $69.98|$59.98
Currently cheapest at: $32.99 Amazon|$35.04 Rakuten

Synopsis: Humanity retreats into fortified cities after a virus causes most of the population to mutate into monsters. The only people who can fight the monsters are the Cursed Children, who have been infected with the virus but remain human.

Extra: No official reviews for this one, but ANN user ratings are generally positive with an average of around 7.2. You can watch it streaming on Crunchyroll and The Anime Network.

Blade & Soul – Complete Collection BD, DVD
Sentai – 325 min – Sub – MSRP $59.98|$49.98
Currently cheapest at: $29.99 Amazon|$29.29 Rakuten

Synopsis: When her clan is wiped out and her master is murdered, Alka uses her assassin training to seek revenge on the Param Empire while avoiding the bounty hunters who are after the price on her head.

Extra: You can check out a review of this series here or watch it streaming on Crunchyroll or The Anime Network.

Dance in the Vampire Bund – The Complete Series [S.A.V.E] DVD
Funimation – 300 min – Hyb – MSRP $29.98
Currently cheapest at: $19.58 Barnes and Noble

Synopsis: Vampire queen Mina Tepes reveals her kind's existence to the world as part of a plan to create a safe haven for vampires. With enemies closing in from all sides, she enlists the help of a powerful old acquaintance to defend her realm.

Extra: We've got not one, not two, but three reviews of Dance in the Vampire Bund for your reading pleasure. You can also stream it on Funimation and Hulu if you're so inclined.

Lupin the Third VS Detective Conan The Special DVD
Eastern Star – 104 min – Sub – MSRP $24.95
Currently cheapest at: $15.22 Rakuten

Synopsis: Lupin plans to steal the crown of a royal famiy, but his heist is thrown into disarray when Conan arrives to investigate the deaths of the queen and prince. A shadowy plot will bring the legendary thief and detective together, but will they clash or cooperate?

Extra: Since this is the first of the two Lupin-Conan crossovers, I'm upending my precious alphabetical order in the name of common sense and listing it first. No official reviews for this one, but user ratings have been pretty positive.

Lupin the Third VS Detective Conan The Movie DVD
Eastern Star – 107 min – Sub – MSRP $24.95
Currently cheapest at: $15.22 Rakuten

Synopsis: Lupin plans a jewel heist in order to save Fujiko while Conan investigates a death threat against a popular singer. No one's entirely sure who's manipulating whom, and it's anyone's guess as to who will come out ahead.

Extra: It's a pretty similar story for this second crossover: no official reviews, but plenty of positive user ratings. I guess Lupin and Conan make a pretty good pair.

One Piece – Season 7 Part 3 DVD
Funimation – 300 min – Hyb – MSRP $39.98
Currently cheapest at: $28.80 Rakuten

Synopsis: Luffy finds himself on the island of Amazon Lily, where he meets the beautiful warlord Boa Hancock. After surviving a battle with the venomous Snake Sisters, Luffy learns that his brother Ace has been trapped in an underwater prison.

Extra: The world will never have enough One Piece – it's been airing since 1999 and the episode count is up over 700. You can read some recent episode reviews here or watch it on Crunchyroll, Hulu, or Funimation.

Sailor Moon R – Season 2 Part 2 BD+DVD, DVD
Viz – 483 min – Hyb – MSRP $69.99|$44.82
Currently cheapest at: $52.92 Rakuten|$27.47 Amazon

Synopsis: The Sailor Guardians battle against the Black Moon Clan, who have come back in time to corrupt Tokyo. Chibi-Usa may hold the key to understanding the truth behind the enemy's plan.

Extra: Man, it's just an endless parade of well-known franchises this week. You can check out some reviews of past Sailor Moon releases here and here or watch it online on Hulu.

Shelf Life Reviews

This week's shows do some creative (or simply odd) things with their titles. One has an upside-down capital letter in its logo, while the other just looks like an e-mail address. I know several English teachers who would probably faint upon seeing these monstrosities, but at least they stand out.

First up is Gabriella's review of the first part of Turn A Gundam.

I'd somehow managed to dodge this franchise in all my years of watching anime, but I guess I had to bite the bullet sometime. I was too young for Toonami's run of Gundam Wing, so this is my first exposure to that titan of anthropomorphic hunks of metal punching each other, Gundam. As a result, I'm not going to be able to tell you how this stands in the overall series canon. Fortunately, Turn A Gundam (really ∀ Gundam, but not called “Upside-down A Gundam,” for some reason) seems to be one of the few that exists in its own separate continuity, so you won't have to have seen any of the other dozens of shows to understand it. At least I haven't been having any trouble so far. So Gundam vets, be easy on me considering that this is all from a newbie's perspective. I may not have my WaDoms straight from my Kapools, but based on the first half of Turn A Gundam, I'm not opposed to sticking around to figure it out.

In the world of Turn A Gundam, humanity is split in two. The Moonrace has spent millennia waiting for the Earth to recover from the environmental devastation it sustained during the “dark history.” But during that time, the planet-bound survivors have recovered to industrial revolution-level technology, forming the Earthrace. When the time comes for the Moonrace to recolonize the Earth, they face unexpected resistance from its current inhabitants. Loran Cehack is one of the Moonrace's scouts. Sent to verify that the Earth is habitable before their full-scale invasion, he integrates himself into the wealthy Heim household as a domestic servant. Over time, Loran comes to love the Earth and its people. But when the Earthers begin to resist the Moonrace's impositions, his loyalties are torn. The only thing that he knows for sure is that he hates the devastation both parties are inflicting on one another. When he discovers an ancient mobile suit, the Turn A Gundam, encased in a local mountain range, he's suddenly able to do something about it. Loran becomes a wildcard in the conflict, alternatively helping the Moon or the Earth, but always with the intent of furthering peace. Will his idealism change both groups for the better, or will he be crushed by the horrors of war?

For as much as my taste swings towards intimate character pieces, there's something to be said about sci-fantasy romps with archetypal characters and exciting, world-ending conflicts. The problem with these types of shows is that there are so many of them, but few do it well. It's an easy genre to do – rip a few pages out of Tolkein, come up with some factions, and find new names for the elves and/or giant robots – but a hard one to do well. Out of anime, I'd say that The Vision of Escaflowne succeeds at being both a classical narrative and a narrative classic. Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo accomplishes something similar, albeit with a coating of gritty urban space France. And now there's Turn A Gundam. It's not a deep show, at least not yet. It has general anti-war and anti-colonialist themes, but it's far from an exhaustive examination of these topics. Rather, it's just a ton of fun – likeable characters, an intriguing conflict, brisk pacing, action, comedy, and even pathos. What more could you ask for?

The characters are archetypes but very likeable. Beyond Loran, the leads are two women, Kihel Heim and Dianna Soriel, the Moonrace's queen. The bulk of the plot in this first half is a Prince and the Pauper-type situation involving the two of them. By sheer coincidence, their appearances are identical, and they end up switching places for an extended period of time. The result is an extended experiment in empathy – Dianna learns about life on Earth while Kihel tries to divert the Moonrace from their militant ambitions. Not that this switcheroo is a source of too much conflict. The two women are nearly identical in worldview and personality. They're still likeable though, active and personable figures, and its not like the men are any less simplistic. The other mains are Kihel's tomboyish sister, Sochie, and the resident “Char-clone,” Harry. Sochie is a belligerent foil to Kihel. Overshadowed by her more beautiful and feminine sister, she joins the Earthrace army to avenge her father. Harry is Dianna's loyal guardsman and another Gundam pilot. While he takes up the role of Loran's rival in the story, his full purpose hasn't been revealed yet.

The Gundam guy, Yoshiyuki Tomino, has been working since the 60s, and it feels like it. I associate this time period with a combination of sincere emotion, a high concept premise, and accidental camp with anime from the 70s and 80s. There's a lot of stuff in this show that feels like it has to be a joke. Loran first pilots the Turn A Gundam while nude except for a Borat-style string mankini with a toy fish for a crotch. Characters will, on occasion, wear the stupidest outfits ever conceived by humans like it's no big deal. Why would professional writers and artists think that this was a good idea? And why would their superiors allow them to implement this? I have no idea, but I'm glad that it all went through, since it's hilarious. It's like I'm watching Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind or Toward the Terra or something, and the tonal standards for fanservice, comedy, or serious moments are completely different from what I'm used to in anime now. It threw me through a loop, but in a good way.

That's not to say that the show looks bad. It was one of the last shows to be animated by hand on cell right before the onset of digipaint. This is only a DVD release, but the colors are vivid and the action clear. The show has some great art design, distinct and attractive. The concept art, which is printed on all of the discs, renders scenes from the show in the style of impressionist painting. It's an inspired look, and even carries over into the show. It's all soft but bright colors, gentle curves, and pastel-ish landscapes.

If you're a huge fan of giant robots (and somehow haven't yet exhausted this franchise) Turn A Gundam is allegedly light on the fight scenes. I didn't mind – the plot's machinations were more interesting – but if you want constant action out of your anime, this may have slow bits. I like the Turn A's design. Goofy and cute, it suits its wielder.

Sunrise's release is sparse, only containing the show in Japanese with English subtitles. Not that I mind very much – I'm happy to own Turn A Gundam. It is, above all, eminently watchable. I was always happy to go back to it, and even completed the show before my scheduled for-review deadline. That's rare, even for shows I praise highly. I'm looking forward to reviewing its second half over the next few weeks. Congratulations, Turn A Gundam, you've made a solid debut for yourself and your fellows. Not that it's hard to follow up Argevollen.

Next, we have my review of [email protected], which is the first show I've ever seen incorporate the "@" symbol into its title.

I suspect that most anime seems at least a little odd to the uninitiated viewer, but that impression doesn't last long once you dive in. Many stylistic quirks and genre conventions eventually start to feel perfectly normal, but some shows come from so far out in left field that even veteran fans can walk away wondering what in the world they just watched. [email protected] is exactly that kind of series: deliberately odd, willfully absurd, and completely uninterested in explaining itself to anyone. It's not impossible to follow what's going on, but trying to make sense of every last detail is almost certainly an exercise in futility.

The show's heroine, Sasami, is a serious proponent of the traditional hikikomori lifestyle. She rarely changes out of her pajamas, almost never leaves her bedroom, and has no interest in interacting with the outside world unless she can do it through her computer. As it turns out, Sasami is the rare shut-in who actually has a somewhat legitimate reason for dropping off the grid. She's inherited a set of divine powers that alter reality to fulfill her personal wishes and desires, but she doesn't exactly have control over how that alteration happens. Those powers bring a wide variety of eccentric characters into her life, including her doting older brother, the Shinto goddess Amaterasu, her formerly dead and extremely vengeful mother, and a variety of lesser deities who want to user her powers for their own benefit. One can hardly blame her for wanting to tell most of those visitors to go away.

[email protected] gets pretty interesting over time, but it makes a lousy first impression. It takes several episodes to explain who everyone is and why they act the way they do, and the show comes across as being weird and cryptic for no good reason in the meantime. The narrative is steeped in a mix of otaku culture and Shinto gods and goddesses, and the script plows forward without caring whether or not the audience understands what it's trying to convey. Watching it was about as much fun as the class on mythology that I took in my sophomore year of college, but that's not necessarily an insult. You'll probably need to spend some time mulling over the themes after the end credits roll and you may have to look some references up, but it's satisfying when you piece everything together. The show's take on divine beings is an interesting one, and it plays surprisingly well with an analysis of the hikikomori mentality.

While the series has comedic intentions, its attempts at humor miss more often than they hit. It often ends up being obnoxious or creepy when it wants to be funny, and many jokes fail to strike a good balance between the bizarre and the familiar. The majority of the laughs come from the self-aware end credits and the deliberately useless episode previews. Thankfully, the drama carries enough emotional power to be worth the viewer's time. Sasami's first attempt at making a friend is an early highlight, and her conflict with her mother somehow pulls multiple heartwarming scenes out of a very dark storyline. What's impressive is that these moments of personal drama work even if you're not up to speed on all the cultural references. I give this show a lot of credit for finding the human emotions in centuries-old characters.

The art style is as odd and seemingly impulsive as the plot, and the visuals can change drastically to match individual scenes. Sasami's bedroom has a soft-focus, watercolor look that creates an almost dreamlike atmosphere, while action scenes are presented in a crisper, more intense style. It can all be a bit overbearing at times, but the animation quality is generally good no mater how the backgrounds are presented.

As you may have guessed, [email protected] is a SHAFT production. It has the same director as Bakemonogatari and its many sequels, but it's not quite as purposeful in its absurdity as that franchise. The visual and narrative quirks don't always feel like they're adding to the experience, and the series lacks that strangely compelling atmosphere of unease and isolation. The final story arc doesn't have as much dramatic impact as the show's middle third, and there's just not enough time in twelve episodes to fully explore each character's personality. The trademark SHAFT style is still there, but this isn't quite up to the standards of that studio's best work.

If you're looking for something that's intentionally odd and don't mind having your senses overloaded, there's enough good stuff in [email protected] to justify wading through the rough early episodes. It's certainly much better than I expected it to be after the first twenty minutes. The only problem is that there are other shows out there that do this sort of thing even better, and many of them come from the same studio. Start with some of the better-known titles in this genre, and come back if you find yourself wanting more of the same.

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

This week's shelves are from George:

"Hello, my name is George and I've been an anime fan for about 5 years now and been collecting for 4. I started getting into anime after I watched Spice and Wolf and Sekirei (Yes, I was watching Sekirei for the plot......sorta :) ). I haven't bought a whole lot recently due to anime being kinda on the pricey side and also now that I've run out of space to put everything. I'm moving to a new apartment with a ton more space though at the beginning of the new year so I'm really pumped. I have a bit more odds and ends that I didn't photograph because I'm too lazy to get everything out."

Fun fact: I watched Spice and Wolf while studying for an economics exam and ended up acing it. Don't believe anyone who says you can't learn anything by watching TV. Thanks for sharing!

Hey you! Yes, you, the person reading this column at this very moment! Send me photos of your shelves at [email protected] Do it now!

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