Shelf Life Full Metal Disorder
by Paul Jensen, Gabriella Ekens,
I feel like I've been visited by the ghost of franchises past this week. I reviewed a series that I first watched when I was around fourteen years old (see below) and played entirely too much of the newest Halo game, whose predecessors were the most widely accepted form of social currency amongst teenage boys when I was in high school. There are a lot of things that make me want to travel back in time and punch my teenage self in the head, but I'll admit that High School Paul occasionally had decent taste in anime and video games.
Let's get down to business so I can go back to blasting aliens with that nifty new guided missile launcher. Welcome to Shelf Life!
On Shelves This Week
Synopsis: Futaba changes her personality from shy and cute to brash and sloppy in an effort to make more friends in high school, but she runs into a boy she used to know. Have the two of them changed too much to be more than friends?
Synopsis: A class of exceptional high school students is faced with the unusual graduation requirement of killing a classmate and getting away with the murder.
Synopsis: Musical prodigy Kanade finds herself hitting a slump in her sophomore year of high school. A meeting with a childhood friend ends with Kanade being invited to the elite Seiso Academy, where she joins the orchestra club.
Synopsis: Gaara leads the Fourth Company into combat while Naruto and Killer Bee encounter Itachi Uchiha. Old friends and enemies are reunited.
Synopsis: Fire Fist Ace and Blackbeard face off, laying waste to an island in the process. The Straw Hats clash with a family of bounty hunters and encounter a mysterious talking skeleton.
Pokémon: The Johto Journeys – Complete Collection DVD
Viz – 920 min – Dub – MSRP $44.82
Currently cheapest at: $27.63 Rakuten
Synopsis: Ash and Misty reunite with Brock and set out together on a journey through the Johto region in search of new challenges and new Pokémon.
Extra: Silly Ash, haven't you learned by now that you'll never catch 'em all? You can watch several installments of this franchise on Pokémon TV.
Shelf Life Reviews
The main characters in this week's shows just want to have a normal school life, but minor inconveniences like gods and giant robots keep getting in the way. You know, the kind of everyday problems that constantly plague real teens all around the world.
I reviewed Full Metal Panic Fumoffu a few weeks ago without realizing that its predecessor was, in fact, already sitting in the Shelf Life review pile at the time. Without further ado, allow me to present the review that would've come first if I weren't a stainless steel, industrial-grade moron.
The story follows the adventures of Kaname, a high school girl with special powers, and Souske, a teenage mercenary with no concept of how to act away from the battlefield. Souske is assigned to guard Kaname from terrorists who want to use her abilities for nefarious purposes, and ends up transferring into her class in order to keep an eye on her. This is a bit of a problem, because Souske has a bad habit of seeing threats that aren't there and taking swift and violent action to protect Kaname. The two of them butt heads constantly until a real threat appears, at which point Souske and his allies break out an arsenal of stealth submarines and giant robots and start earning their pay.
Full Metal Panic is a series with two distinct personalities. Depending on the episode, it's either a high school comedy or a reasonably serious mecha show. Taken on their own, both sides of the series are quite good. The comedy benefits from a strong core formula of applying Souske's military sensibilities to peaceful civilian situations. He overreacts to a perceived threat, chaos and destruction ensue, and Kaname hits him over the head and angrily explains why you're not supposed to interrogate your classmates at gunpoint. The pattern is obvious, but it's implemented well enough to feel fresh even when you know exactly what's about to happen. The more action-oriented episodes also benefit from solid writing and direction, delivering battles that are enjoyable and reasonably convincing as long as you don't think too hard about what's going on. Individual storylines will typically focus on only one of the two approaches, which keeps the comedy and drama from upstaging one another.
The problem lies in the transition from one plot arc to another. The switch from dark to funny can be incredibly jarring, especially if you're watching multiple episodes in a single sitting. Arguably the worst instance of this narrative whiplash comes late in the series, where Souske barely escapes a warzone with his life at the end of one episode and goes right back to doing silly things at school at the beginning of the next. Full Metal Panic occasionally makes an effort to dramatize the contrast between these two different environments, but it's not enough to keep the series from feeling like multiple separate parts instead of a coherent whole. The show also runs into trouble when it tries to outdo its previous dramatic efforts in the final episodes, where some of the emotional peaks end up feeling too melodramatic for their own good.
Thankfully, many of the issues with the story are masked by a strong central cast. Souske and Kaname have enough chemistry to effectively carry the comedic segments on their own, though it doesn't hurt to have a few amusing classmates on hand to back them up. The supporting cast of Souske's squadmates and superior officers is also very strong, and recurring villain Gauron makes an effective (if laughably hard to kill) bad guy. The only real issue with the characters lies with the “Whispered” abilities that make Kaname a target in the first place. Her powers are never given a satisfying explanation, and their only use in the majority of the series is as a handy mental manual for defeating particularly strong enemies. I'm fine with the idea of Kaname not fully understanding her abilities, but I get the impression that the show doesn't quite understand them either.
Full Metal Panic is over a decade old, which explains why some of its visual elements have aged better than others. The character designs hold up fairly well, and the animation quality is decent even by modern standards. I appreciate the relatively minimal reliance on CG animation, as it helps sell the idea that all the various mechs and tanks are actually part of the same world as the characters and backgrounds. The computer-animated submarines are an exception, and are pretty unconvincing when compared to similar efforts from more recent titles. The results of the show's move to Blu-Ray are mixed: lines are generally crisp and colors are pleasingly bright, but there are typically one or two moments per episode where the visuals look somewhat out of focus. This happens most often in medium or long shots with a lot of character and camera movement, which suggests to me that whatever process worked for the rest of the show didn't quite know what to make of especially busy frames. If you've been watching anime long enough to own Full Metal Panic on DVD, I'm not convinced it's worth buying it again just to watch it in HD.
While I didn't find myself loving this show quite as much as I did ten years ago, the positives still outweigh the negatives by a healthy margin. More importantly, it opens the door to a pair of sequels that arguably eclipse the original. Full Metal Panic Fumoffu brings the comedy to new and greater heights, and Full Metal Panic The Second Raid is more successful in its attempts to be dark and serious. Given the impossible task of mixing those two styles, the original turns in a commendable effort, but the comedy and drama really come into their own when given their own exclusive spaces to play around in.
If you're already a fan of this franchise and are looking to revisit it after several years, you'll find that Full Metal Panic holds up well against your rose-tinted memories of it. If you've never seen the show before and can't quite fathom why people have fond recollections of a show that didn't do anything particularly innovative, give it a shot. The comedy is a hit from the first episode onward, and the action is presented without the amateur philosophy that frequently plagues modern mecha titles. Above all else, it's a fun series that features plenty of things blowing up. What more could you ask for?
Next up is Gabriella's review of the much more recent Inari Kon Kon.
Everything in Inari Kon Kon is a lesser version of something that I've seen in another anime or manga. It's not a bad or even particularly inconsistent experience – it's just that everything in it makes me think, “Oh, this is like [insert anime here] but bland and unfocused.” Let's run down the list. Want a girl in a heartwarming relationship with a fox spirit companion? Check out Gingitsune. Adolescent girl navigating a fantasy world based on Shinto religious beliefs? Try Noragami. Comic yet heartwarming depictions of female friendships? There's always half of Kyoto Animation's output. References to otaku culture in an otherwise unrelated story? Everything from Hyperdimension Neptunia to the Monogatari series. A milquetoast teenage girl finding romance with a previously unreachable-seeming boy via magical hijinks? How about every other anime ever made? Heck, even Inari's “shape shift to get your man” powers date back to the first magical girl to ever exist, Sally the Witch. And I'm not even being exhaustive. The problem is that, instead of dedicating itself to one idea, Inari Kon Kon tries for all of them and ends up a mediocre, watered-down experience. At the same time, I can see how Inari Kon Kon's manga got popular enough to receive an anime adaptation – it's enough like a bunch of other good, popular works to coattail off their appeal without making much of an impression on its own.
The strongest plotlines are the platonic relationships between women. But even then, they don't amount to much of anything unique. The slice-of-life sections with Inari's school friends are pleasant if innocuous. They're a bunch of girls with archetypical personalities (in this case, the girly-girl, the intimidating tomboy, the fujoshi, and our “normal” Inari) learning to overcome their false impressions of one another and achieving an idyllic school life. As that, this is fine. The problem is that adolescent girl melodrama (side of magical realism optional) is probably the second-most common anime genre right now, behind only Fanservice Boobs. In this oversaturated market, nothing about Inari Kon Kon stands out from the pack. Tonally, it's somewhere between the two dominant subgenres of Unstructured Girls Messing Around (Non Non Biyori, Lucky Star, Azumanga Daioh) and We Actually Have a Plot That We Take Somewhat Seriously (K-On!, Sound Euphonium). The girls' relationships are treated with gentle gravity, but are also punctuated with otaku/fujoshi humor that I wouldn't find out of place in, say, Hyperdimension Neptunia. Uka plays otome games and has a creepy brother who's an overt siscon! Inari Kon Kon acknowledges the internet culture that you, the reader, inhabit! Are you not entertained?
You'll notice that I haven't brought up Inari's shapeshifting romance (aka the premise of the show) all that much. That's because it's not actually all that relevant most of the time. Her romance with the almost totally indistinct Koji takes place over about four episodes. Her powers are used in some of the least creative ways I've seen in what should ostensibly be a magical girl anime. She begrudgingly shape shifts like four or five times into people she knows. The mangaka must not be very imaginative. It's a far cry from the variety of outfits Sailor Moon dons throughout her career. The other romance plot concerns Uka and Inari's brother, Toka. That one gets more attention – a constant source of drama is Uka's status as desirable single goddess and her mother's constant attempts to marry her off. Uka doesn't want to be saddled with a gold digger and instead falls for the mortal Toka. This is all more interesting than Inari's love life because it results in more wacky antics, like Uka begrudgingly greeting a parade of supernatural suitors. Still, the writing and gags are about par with a Disney channel sitcom.
But maybe I'm being too harsh. Maybe unlike me, you go to anime less in search of an original work of artistic expression (rare, and far from the reason most anime is made) and more for familiar comfort food? In that case, Inari Kon Kon probably does its job. This is really, really a show for little girls and nobody else. If you consume a lot of entertainment for girls, like Cardcaptor Sakura or the Precure series (which is totally fine – we're all overgrown cartoon fans here) then you might get some disposable entertainment out of this. However, as a different strain of anime-liker I was thoroughly bored. As a release, this is sparse for Funimation. It lacks a dub but includes an OVA about the show's baby fox spirit mascot, Kon. At least he's pretty cute. That's something – if there's an animal mascot, I will automatically like a show more. Unless it's Potopi from Cyberteam in Akihabara. Potopi can rot in hell.
That's it for this week's reviews. I'll be taking another trip into the past next week with a look at Please Twins. I'm not sure it'll go as well as my nostalgia tour through Full Metal Panic, but you never know. Thanks for reading!
This week's shelves are from Tayler:
"Hey, my name is Tayler and I've been collecting anime for about 4 years. It all started when I rented the first disc of Death Note from Netflix and the quickest way for me to finish was by buying those DVDs. Not long after that I decided I wanted to get a Blu-ray version of Kanon(2006) which is only possible with the Japanese import set. And pretty much from then on, I have been obsessed with imports. I currently own over 120 individual import Blu-ray sets, and just wish that more of my favorites had releases with English subtitles. Some of the best sets that I have are Black Rock Shooter, K Project, Eureka Seven AO and Gurren Lagann, since you just get so much content with them."
I'm pretty sure I have that Kiritsugu figure from Fate/Zero, too! I don't have all those shiny import sets, though, so you win this round. Thanks for sharing!
I've found that I get more submissions if I yell, so SEND YOUR SHELF PHOTOS TO [email protected]! Please?
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