by Paul Jensen, Gabriella Ekens, James Beckett,
I've had a pretty bad run with the holiday season post office lottery this year. Everything from presents for my relatives to review copies for this column have spent extra time in shipping limbo. Maybe we should all unite and demand that people stop ordering stuff until we're all done with our last-minute anime purchases. Welcome to Shelf Life, or perhaps the new headquarters for plotting anime-themed world domination.
On Shelves This Week
Synopsis: After facing social ridicule for his fantasies of being a powerful hero, Ichiro Sato decides to give up on those dreams. When he encounters a girl who's lost in her own imaginary world, he's forced to choose between fitting in and standing up for her.
Extra: No official reviews for this one, and I wasn't able to track down any official streaming sources. It does boast some excellent user ratings (average of 7.9), so it may be worth checking out if you haven't already had your fill of chunibyo-themed anime.
Haganai: I Don't Have Many Friends – Complete Series [Anime Classics] BD+DVD
Funimation – 325 min – Hyb – MSRP $49.98
Currently cheapest at: $37.49 Right Stuf
Synopsis: Social outcasts Yozora and Kodaka start a "Neighbors Club" at their school in the hopes of finding other misfit students and making friends. They're joined by Sena, a popular girl who immediately begins to clash with Yozora.
Synopsis: Iku Kasahara joins her local Library Force, part of a militarized organization that protects libraries in an alternate future where all forms of expression are regulated by the government.
Extra: Our encyclopedia had this series listed for release a couple weeks ago, but I elected to go with the information from the retail sites and put it in this installment instead. No official streaming source for this one, but user ratings are fairly positive (average 6.9) and the premise sounds intriguing.
Synopsis: Train fanatic Naoto Takayama becomes a trainee with the JNR security division, where he an his eccentric coworkers deal with a variety of threats including members of a rival private railway group.
Synopsis: Twelve assassins are tasked with killing one of their classmates at an elite boarding school, and the winner will be granted anything she desires. The game changes when one of the assassins decides to protect the target instead of killing her.
Rokka: Braves of the Six Flowers Part 1 [Collector's Edition] BD+DVD
Ponycan – 96 min – Sub – MSRP $89.98
Currently cheapest at: $71.98 Right Stuf
Synopsis: With the world in crisis, the Goddess of Fate chooses six heroes to become the Braves of the Six Flowers. When the Braves gather, they find that there actually seven of them, causing the group to suspect that someone among them is a traitor.
Synopsis: Three orphans reunite after years apart, but they soon find out that they are the reincarnations of the leaders of an ongoing war between good and evil. Can their friendship survive a battle for the fate of the world?
Extra: The Saint Seiya franchise is outside my area of expertise, but user ratings suggest that this fairly recent iteration is pretty good. You can stream it on Crunchyroll.
The Irregular at Magic High School – Yokohama Disturbance Arc BD
Aniplex – 200 min – Hyb – MSRP $99.98
Currently cheapest at: $79.98 Right Stuf
Synopsis: The nationwide Thesis Competition is coming up, and Tatsuya has been chosen to represent his school. However, a major conflict threatens to break out and interfere with the competition.
Shelf Life Reviews
There's an abundance of nostalgia packed into this week's reviews. James is reviewing a new entry in a well-loved franchise, and I'm taking a look at a premium collection of a show that I fell in love with between high school and college.
First up is Funimation's new Black Lagoon collection, which features some… interesting packaging.
Black Lagoon starts off with its main character, a young office worker named Rokuro, getting punched in the face and kidnapped by a group of modern-day pirates. When his employers abandon him, he decides to join the mercenary torpedo boat crew and apply his business talents to the criminal underworld of the port city of Roanapur. Calling himself Rock, he takes the plunge into a world of mobsters, assassins, arms dealers, revolutionaries, and psychotic housemaids with shotgun umbrellas. Since Rock doesn't have the skills or instincts to defend himself, he comes to rely on Revy, a short-tempered gunslinger and his crewmate aboard the boat. They both have plenty of personal issues, but Rock's brains and Revy's fighting skills prove to be a formidable (if volatile) combination.
Black Lagoon makes a pretty strong first impression thanks to some spectacular action scenes. This show features gunfights, fistfights, car chases, and boat chases, all of which are well directed and nicely animated. The background art does a respectable job of bringing the city of Roanapur to life, and the character designs are memorable without going too far over the top. The visuals are accompanied by a distinct atmosphere that establishes itself early on. Black Lagoon is vulgar, mean-spirited, and excessively violent, but it carries out its excesses with a surprising amount of charm. It rarely feels like the show is trying too hard to be cool, and that helps its stunts and one-liners come across as fun instead of merely ridiculous.
To some extent, Black Lagoon works because it's hiding some solid writing behind all that action. It starts off as a fairly simple escapist fantasy about an average guy who quits his boring office job and starts a new, adventurous life of crime. Over time, however, the series begins to question the idea that Rock could enjoy his new lifestyle without being affected by the criminal underworld that he works in. His ideals are tested by some pretty dark storylines, and he ends up plotting and scheming like a mafia boss by the time the OVA rolls around. As much as Black Lagoon revels in being a gritty action series, it also has enough insight to raise some interesting questions about the world it presents.
Of course, that slow turn towards darker material won't necessarily suit all tastes. There's some genuinely unsettling stuff here, and one could reasonably argue that all the bloodshed and moral ambiguity detracts from the unfiltered fun that characterizes the series in its early episodes. Black Lagoon also has a habit of thinking too hard and talking too much, which drags down the pacing in its longer storylines. This is especially noticeable in the OVA, which features around eight competing factions and doesn't really get going until nearly halfway through its two and a half hour runtime. Complex themes are all well and good, but an overly complex plot forces the series to put the plot on hold until it can sufficiently explain what's going on.
The story may have a few issues, but the characters are generally excellent and allow the series to hold up well under multiple viewings. From the lead duo of Rock and Revy to the large supporting cast, this show is full of compelling and well-developed personalities. The relationship between Rock and Revy is an interesting one, and it changes over time as the two of them influence one another's viewpoints. The show is subtle enough in its character development that it's able to pull off some fascinating narrative tricks: the death of a sadistic assassin is one of the saddest moments in the series, and it doesn't always feel like a good thing when Rock manages to outthink the city's most powerful criminals. It's also worth noting that Black Lagoon has an unusually deep and compelling group of female characters compared to similar titles. Revy and her various gun-toting acquaintances add plenty of individuality to the action sequences, and Russian mob boss Balalaika steals the majority of the scenes she appears in. Strong acting in both Japanese and English certainly helps, though I tend to prefer the profanity-soaked dub by a small margin.
Of course, this series has been around long enough that there are plenty of reviews available here and elsewhere on the web. I'm willing to bet that a significant number of you are just here to see if this new collector's edition is worth the price of admission. The whole ensemble comes packaged in a reasonable facsimile of an ammo box, which is surprisingly compact and should fit on the average shelf without too much fuss. I'm not in love with the bullet skull cover art on the foldout disc case, but the interior art is very impressive. The set also includes an art booklet with promotional and cover art from the series, though you'll have to look elsewhere if you're interested in concept art or interviews. Also included are a metal dog tag and a lighter, packaged together in a box that resembles a block of plastic explosives. Both pieces are well made, though I'm not sure how much use the average anime fan is going to get out of a Black Lagoon lighter. I suppose you could use it to reenact the “cigarette kiss” scene from the first season. On-disc extras are similar to previous releases. At the moment, you can find the set for around $70, which seems like a decent price for what you get. It doesn't have the landslide of extra merchandise that comes with a lot of big collector's boxes, but the stuff that is here is nicely made and attractively packaged.
If you've never watched Black Lagoon, I really recommend it. It's clever and explosive entertainment, capable of pleasing the part of your brain that likes to think along with the part that just wants to watch stuff blow up. You may want to stream some or all of it before throwing a bunch of money at this set, though. If you already own some or all of the show on disc, I'm not sure I'd recommend doubling down on a collector's edition unless it's one of your all-time favorites. Die-hard fans will probably enjoy having a nice version to show off, and I must admit there's something satisfying about having an ammo box full of anime. If it seems like something you'd want to own, go for it.
Next, James puts his happy Dragon Ball Z memories to the test with the new Dragon Ball Z: Resurrection F movie.
Like many fans who grew up in the mid-to-late 90s, Cartoon Network's Toonami animation block was where I cut my teeth as a young consumer of anime, though back then a good amount of people still referred to it as “Japanimation”. Every day, when I burst through my front door after school, I would sit down in front of the television to drown myself in Toonami goodness and Dragon Ball Z was far and away what I looked forward to the most. The intense fight scenes, over-the-top characters, and bizarre alien villains hit all of the right buttons, and as far as I was concerned Dragon Ball Z was nothing less than the Greatest Action Show Ever.
That was over ten years ago, though, and my love affair with DBZ faded right around when the show ended its U.S. broadcast run in 2003 (I had little interest in Dragon Ball GT). It was an important touchstone in my journey as an anime fan, but when the franchise was revived in 2013 with Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods, I was a little skeptical. Re-watching it in college, I was surprised at just how poorly a lot of the original anime had aged, and the culture was in a much different place than it had been back in the day. Did the world need more endless power-up sequences and seismic punches? While I never managed to catch Battle of Gods during its limited U.S theatrical release, the fact that it even had one at all proved that even if I was wary, there were plenty of people who wanted more Dragon Ball Z.
So here we arrive at the 2015 feature follow-up to Battle of Gods, Dragon Ball Z: Resurrection F. With the “F” in question being none other than the infamous Frieza, even the skeptic in me had to admit that the prospect of one of the greatest Dragon Ball villains of all returning was promising. Having watched the movie in all of its 1080p Blu-Ray glory, can I say it was worth it?
As a slice of Dragon Ball fan service, the movie mostly works. Funimation has retained all of the key dub actors that have stuck with the show since the early days, and none of them have missed a beat. Likewise, the characters have all remained mostly unchanged from where they were left when the series ended. Goku is as loveably goofy/badass as always, Vegeta is his usual grumpy-but-ultimately-good self, and Krillin is, well, Krillin. The newer characters, like Beerus and Whis, integrate themselves nicely into the lore, which makes sense, since this movie and the previous are the only two Dragon Ball films to have ever had his canonically-approved hand involved in their creation.
In short, if you want Dragon Ball Z, Resurrection F is absolutely that. We have the Kamehamehas, we have the Super Saiyan power-ups, and we have lots and lots of punching. If it wasn't for the high-definition animation and surprisingly frequent CGI inserts (more on them later), I could have imagined that it was Toonami after school, all over again. The Blu-Ray/DVD combo set even comes with a pretty lengthy red-carpet premiere piece; while it's mostly congratulatory fluff, seeing the Japanese and American crew unite and show such clear love for the material helps amp up that nostalgia factor.
Divorced from that nostalgia as its own movie, Resurrection F just barely scrapes by. The biggest problem for me is the movie's tone, and general lack of any real urgency or tension. For a film dealing with Freiza seeking bloody revenge against Goku and everyone that fights alongside him, Resurrection F is surprisingly light on the drama, choosing instead to meander about as a breezy comedy for a good two-thirds of its runtime. After a truly bizarre opening depicting Frieza's own private, adorable hell, and an admittedly cool scene showing his chopped up bits and bobs being collected to reform into a new body, the titular resurrection of the movie is treated as almost a non-issue by everyone involved. I mean, sure, people are concerned, but the level of distress the movie manages to evoke is that of characters having to deal with an annoying neighbor, and not, you know, the return of a brutal and petulant monster who has gleefully murdered Goku's friends and family in the past. At one point, Frieza arrives on earth and commits a predictable act of mass murder and destruction; this event gets about ten seconds or so of shock and anger from the crew, only for it to be immediately followed by Gohan and Krillin casually bantering back and forth about their fashion choices.
Don't get me wrong, I love comedy and banter as much as the next guy, but at no point does Resurrection of F make an earnest attempt at selling Frieza as any kind of genuine threat. Heck, Goku and Vegeta don't even know about Frieza's arrival on Earth until about an hour into the movie, and even when they arrive and begin duking it out, the movie constantly intercuts the fight with Beerus and Whis' arguing over ice-cream and quipping about how easily the two Saiyans can win the battle. When a movie ends up literally telling you the outcome of a fight before it's even done, it's really hard to get invested in the proceedings. Speaking of the fighting, the action is generally pretty okay, with the two major fight scenes being the visual high points. The choreography is fluid, and each fighter has a unique style that they get to show off at least once in the film. The CG that the animators utilize is really hit-or-miss though, especially when it comes to animating the legions of Frieza's army. One scene showing a wave of combatants descending on the heroes is supposed to be epic and intense, but the shoddy CG work makes it look like laughably bad clip-art animation. These problems aren't common enough to ruin the experience, but they don't help with the movie's lack of dramatic tension.
Also, this movie has a really, really stupid ending. I won't spoil anything, but the final few minutes of the movie provide a solution to the Frieza problem that is so laughably easy that it feels like the narrative equivalent shrugging and saying “Eh, whatever.”
At the end of the day, though, I can't bring myself to truly dislike Dragon Ball Z: Resurrection F. Yeah, it's kind of stupid, and the CG can be really sloppy, and Frieza's return is rather anticlimactic... but it's still Dragon Ball Z. For a lot of people out there, people like me, the level of deeply affecting nostalgia Dragon Ball Z produces makes seeing these characters in action again a genuinely enjoyable experience in and of itself. Stupid plot developments and silly writing just come with the territory. I don't know if the good-but-not-great action can satisfy a casual viewer, but if you've been with the franchise for as long as I have, then it might be worth checking out. To paraphrase TOM in his Toonami revival: “It's just like old times.”
That's it for this week's reviews. Thanks for reading!
This week's shelves are from DJ:
"Hi there! Always wanted to submit a photo for this and I finally dusted! I'm not too embarrassed to show them off now. Cheers!"
I feel your pain with the dusting struggle. I also spy a Valkyrie from Macross (or Robotech if you prefer), which I have on one of my own shelves. Thanks for sharing!
If you also need a good motivation to dust your shelves, I'm always looking for more collections to share with the world! Send me your photos at [email protected]
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