Shelf Life
Capture the Flag

by Paul Jensen, Gabriella Ekens, James Beckett,

As far as I can tell, there's no new anime coming out on disc in the US next week. Like, genuinely none at all. Not a single, solitary disc, not even a rerelease of some obscure OVA from ten years ago. If that turns out to be true, then I hope you all enjoy this week's enormous list of new stuff. You'll have to get by on nothing but our reviews in next week's installment. I know, I'm scared too. Welcome to Shelf Life.

Jump to this week's reviews:
Mobile Suit Gundam Part 1
If Her Flag Breaks

On Shelves This Week

Chaika: The Coffin Princess BD, DVD
Sentai – 300 min – Hyb – MSRP $69.98|$59.98
Currently cheapest at: $45.49 Right Stuf|$38.99 Right Stuf

Synopsis: In the aftermath of a war, a magic-wielding girl claiming to be the daughter of the dead Emperor hires a pair of saboteurs to help her reclaim her father's body.

Extra: I enjoyed this show when it first came out, and ended up doing episode reviews of its sequel. You can read a full review of this first season here or stream the series on Crunchyroll, Hulu, or The Anime Network.

Daimadaler: Prince V.S. Penguin Empire – The Complete Series BD+DVD
Funimation – 300 min – Hyb – MSRP $64.98
Currently cheapest at: $48.74 Right Stuf

Synopsis: When the alien Penguin Empire launches an attack on Earth, the task of defending the planet falls to a group of pilots who are able to operate giant robots by producing "Hi-Ero" particles.

Extra: You can read some preview guide coverage of this fanservice-mecha hybrid here. The show is available streaming on Funimation and Hulu.

Hayate the Combat Butler: Heaven is a Place on Earth BD, DVD
Sentai – 60 min – Sub – MSRP $39.98|29.98
Currently cheapest at: $24.99 Amazon|$19.49 Right Stuf

Synopsis: Nagi, Hayate, and friends go on vacation to a secluded retreat, where a mysterious woman sets a bizarre series of events in motion. Hayate finds himself in an alternate world where Nagi no longer exists, and Nagi ends up trapped in an amusement park.

Extra: This movie fits in around the halfway point of the Hayate the Combat Butler franchise. While this particular installment doesn't seem to be available streaming, the various TV seasons can be found on Crunchyroll, Hulu, and The Anime Network.

Ladies versus Butlers! – Complete Collection BD
Media Blasters – 305 min – Hyb – MSRP $29.98
Currently cheapest at: $22.49 Right Stuf

Synopsis: Hino Akiharu enrolls in a boarding school, where he's placed in a program that teaches students to work as maids and butlers. Despite his best efforts, he's dragged into the feud between the school's various cliques.

Extra: This set's release date has been somewhat uncertain ever since its DVD equivalent came out last month, and even the retail sites can't seem to agree on when it'll be available. I'm putting it here under the assumption that it will hit the market at some point, and you can stream it on Crunchyroll.

Majestic Prince – Complete Collection BD, DVD
Sentai – 600 min – Hyb – MSRP $99.98|$79.98
Currently cheapest at: $64.99 Right Stuf|$49.99 Amazon

Synopsis: A team of genetically enhanced soldiers are tasked with learning how to operate a new series of weapon systems in order to defeat an alien race that has declared war on humanity.

Extra: You can check out a review of the first quarter of this mecha series here. If you'd rather decide how majestic it is for yourself, it's available streaming on Crunchyroll, Hulu, and The Anime Network.

One Piece – Season 7 Voyage 4 DVD
Funimation – 300 min – Hyb – MSRP $39.98
Currently cheapest at: $29.99 Right Stuf

Synopsis: Luffy and Boa Hancock arrive at the underwater prison Impel Down. Luffy is able to make it inside, but will have to join forces with an old foe in order to make through the prison's many dangerous levels.

Extra: Y'all know the story by now: new episode reviews are here, and your many streaming sources include Crunchyroll, Funimation, and Hulu.

Space Adventure Cobra: The Movie BD
Eastern Star – 99 min – Hyb – MSRP $29.95
Currently cheapest at: $19.99 Amazon

Synopsis: The legendary space pirate Cobra comes out of retirement after encountering a beautiful bounty hunter and finds himself in conflict with the dangerous Galaxy Pirates and their leader Crystal Boy.

Extra: You can check out a Shelf Life review of this movie's previous DVD release here. Both the movie and the TV series are available streaming on Hulu, and the series can also be found on Crunchyroll.

Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie DVD
Eastern Star – 101 min – Hyb – MSRP $19.95
Currently cheapest at: $12.79 Barnes and Noble

Synopsis: Based on the popular fighting game series, this movie pits martial arts heroes Ryu, Ken, Chun Li, and Guile against the villainous M. Bison and the underground organization Shadowlaw.

Extra: While we don't have any official reviews for this 1994 movie, the user ratings hold it in fairly high regard with an average of around 6.8.

Venus Wars BD
Eastern Star – 102 min – Hyb – MSRP $29.95
Currently cheapest at: $29.95 Amazon

Synopsis: Humanity has terraformed and colonized Venus, but rising tensions threaten to plunge the planet into open war. A journalist and a motorcycle jockey find themselves caught up in the explosive conflict.

Extra: There's just no end to the blasts from the past this week. You can check out a review of a previous DVD release of this movie here.

Shelf Life Reviews

Between this week's two shows, we've got giant robots, cute girls, and a ridiculous but entertaining superpower. That right there is anime in a nutshell, my friends.

First, we have Gabriella's review of the first part of Mobile Suit Gundam, the series that started one of anime's biggest franchises.

I knew that this would be a difficult review. I'm watching Mobile Suit Gundam for the first time in 2015. The show set off a merchandising empire, 30 years of sequels, and an entire genre of anime. It's like growing into an adult without having seen Star Wars. First of all, how do you even accomplish that? (The answer is: live in a country where the property isn't a pop culture monolith. Gundam is niche in North America as a whole, but an enormous deal for anime fans.) Before this, all I knew was that Char is a character, it might take place in space, and none of the fans can agree on anything. Secondly, what more can you even say about the first Gundam at this point? This show is more than a decade older than me. What perspective can I provide that nobody has offered before? The answer is as simple as it is lame: my own, and you may attach whatever value to it you like. This isn't going to be an evaluation of the original series compared to Gundam ZZ Top or Char's Revenge or whatever. Rather, it's a look at how one of the most venerated and influential Old Anime might stack up to a modern viewer with (almost) no exposure to the Gundam franchise, the Universal Century timeline in particular.

As it turns out, it stacks up quite well. My impression of this first half of Mobile Suit Gundam is that it's a very entertaining if archetypical science fiction war melodrama. It was surprisingly enthralling. I can see why this set off a mega franchise – it's snappily paced, the characters quickly become endearing, and there's some wonderful 80s animation. I downed this 21 episode set over a few days and was left hungry for more. The Star Wars comparison goes deeper than just the scale of this show's reputation. Both are based off of the Hero's Journey template and set in a conflict between Obviously Good and Obviously Evil factions. The emotional hook is a bunch of simple but affecting romantic and familial drama. The main character is a spiritual chosen one due to his acquisition of a giant robot/Jedi heritage. All together these elements combine into something akin to catnip for the adolescent imagination. Teenaged you could imagine yourself as Amuro or Luke, savior figure in a schema of power that is, in hindsight, simplistic, but felt so adult at the time. From this powerful position, you could experience their emotional milestones – first love and loss, betrayal and triumph – as your own. And when you were sick of the goody two shoes shtick, you could identity with Han Solo or Char, who were as mysterious as they were attractive. To me, these two properties have the same appeal and cultural standing. I could see myself getting obsessed with both if they'd hit me at the right age. Right now, it feels like I've discovered a hidden compartment in my childhood toy box. It'd have been great to have this earlier, but wow, there's a thrill to realizing that it still contains surprises.

The story is as follows: The Earth Federation is at war with a bunch of space colonies that call themselves the Principality of Zeon. In the middle of this, Amuro Ray is some kid living on a Federation colony somewhere. One day, Zeon attacks. In the midst of the chaos, he stumbles upon a very special giant robot: the Mobile Suit Gundam. He gets inside and wrecks some Zeon guys. Some members of the Federation see this and, being understaffed, invite Amuro to join them. He accepts, becoming the Gundam's official pilot. His rival becomes Char Aznable (aka Mask Guy aka Japan's Darth Vader), Zeon's ruthless ace mobile suit pilot. The two become important figures in the conflict, seeing it out to the very end.

This is also a story about The Horrors of War. Analyzing every anime in light of The Japanese Experience of World War II is a cliché, but you can absolutely do that here. (The villains' mantra is “Sieg Zeon!,” for God's sake.) The show goes to great lengths to demonstrate that most people on either side of the conflict are just trying to get by. The antagonists are a couple of the most ruthless members of the Zeon royal family. Our heroes, meanwhile, don't emerge morally unscathed from their participation in a deadly conflict. The show doesn't sugarcoat the fact that its teenaged protagonist kills people. It has serious consequences on his emotional state and relationships with other people. I'm impressed that it goes this far – a lesser story would've glossed over the rampant loss or managed to avoid this somehow. You can't make children's entertainment like this today. It's also interesting to compare Mobile Suit Gundam to Turn A Gundam, the only other entry in this franchise I've seen. It's also doing the Horrors of War thing, but it's much more idealistic. Its hero is a pacifist who gets away with only a few kills during his career piloting a death machine. Amuro seems disturbed by how easily he accustoms himself to murder, and many characters suffer casual, brutal deaths. In watching more Gundam, I'm curious to see how the series' thematic contortions develop over time.

This version has been remastered to look about as good as it possibly could. While there are some incidents of faded line art, the colors pop and the action is largely clear. While Mobile Suit Gundam is a limited production in terms of animated horsepower, much of the design and direction is wonderful. It's iconic with good reason. The English dub is listenable if hammy, while the Japanese track suffers from faded audio. The music is fantastic, particularly when it's punctuating the turnaround in a heated battle.

For modern viewers who want an entry point into this storied franchise, this release worked for me. I didn't have any problems with the pacing, but if you're not up for 42 episodes there's also a trilogy of compilation films. Containing a lot of redone animation, I've actually heard them lauded above this series. Mobile Suit Gundam evoked in me the feeling of experiencing one of the stories I loved in childhood – archetypical epics in fantastic worlds populated by dozens of endearing if simplistic characters – for the first time. I suspect that if this had hit me earlier, I'd feel unconditional, nostalgic love for this in the same way I do Harry Potter or Digimon. Whether you want to brush up on your classic anime or just looking for a quality space romp, Mobile Suit Gundam is an easy recommendation.

Next, we move from an iconic series to a more obscure one with my take on If Her Flag Breaks.

One of the side effects of watching a lot of anime (or any other medium, for that matter) is that you develop an ability to size up a new title in a hurry. It doesn't always happen at a conscious level, but your brain starts drawing comparisons between a new show and similar things that you've already seen in order to figure out what to expect. That instinct is often pretty accurate, but there are times when a series ends up defying whatever educated guesses the audience is able to make about it. If Her Flag Breaks did that for me: it has all the hallmarks of a typical harem comedy, but it ended up having some interesting ideas mixed in with all the humor.

The series tells the story of Sota, a fairly gloomy guy who has “generic harem protagonist” written all over his unremarkable face. Sota is the sole survivor of the sinking of a luxury cruise ship, but he at least ended up with a useful ability to go along with his survivor's guilt. He can see “flags” over people's heads, which act as convenient signals indicating that whatever's about to happen will affect that person's life in a significant way. The flags can influence relationships, competitions, and even life and death. All that free information occasionally comes in handy, especially once Sota finds himself living in a high school dorm full of cute and eccentric girls. There is one flag that Sota can't seem to do anything about, however: the swirling black death flag over his own head.

In my experience, the concept of narrative “flags” comes up most often in reference to visual novels and dating games. Depending on which flags the player triggers by making specific choices, the game's story progresses in one of several possible directions. If Her Flag Breaks has some fun with that abstract concept by taking it very literally and having little cartoon flags pop up out of its characters' heads. The decisions that Sota makes based on the flags allow the series to poke fun at a variety of standard plot points and character archetypes, and it's through this mechanic that the show delivers its most creative moments of humor. It reminds me a bit of the dating game logic of The World God Only Knows, albeit with an amusing sight gag to go along with all the in-jokes.

I like odd, self-aware stories like this, but I ran into a couple of issues with If Her Flag Breaks once the novelty of the premise wore off. The number of characters in this series is far higher than the number of episodes, and that means there's very little time to develop even the core cast beyond their initial introductions. When the show does get a chance to do some character development, it often succeeds: Sota has some good chemistry with the sharp-tongued Nanami, and his backstory makes him more interesting than many harem leads. The problem is that very few of the characters get the chance to evolve beyond their stock personality types, and it can be frustrating to see potentially interesting people forced to spend most of the story on the sidelines. This is a series that probably had enough content to carry two dozen episodes, so packing it into thirteen requires some unfortunate compromises.

One problem that isn't tied into the limited episode count is the explanation we're eventually given for Sota's unique powers. If Her Flag Breaks feels the need to ground its story in some semblance of reality, and that's where things start to go off the rails. The high-tech, alternate virtual reality storyline is a bit of a mess, and it feels more like uninspired technobabble than a convincing plot twist. I was honestly happier before the show started explaining itself; sometimes it's all right for a character to have a crazy, fourth wall-breaking superpower for no reason at all. If the series had been willing to just accept its unusual premise for what it was, it would've been able to spend more time taking advantage of its strong points.

Chief among those strong points is the show's ability to pursue a joke by any means necessary. The flag mechanic certainly provides the greatest amount of unique material, but the show in general is consistently funnier than I expected it to be. The comedic timing is solid, and there's a natural flow between one character doing something odd and another character overreacting to it. Even when the series covers familiar harem ground, it typically focuses on humor over fanservice. It's an odd, amusing take on the genre that provides enough novelty and entertainment to justify its existence.

If you enjoy shows that are willing to have some fun at their own expense and you don't mind a bit of absurdity here and there, If Her Flag Breaks is worth a look. It has enough flaws that I'm not sure how well it'd hold up under multiple viewings, but this set is presented nicely enough to make a strong case for itself. It's the usual NIS premium affair, with a sturdy art box and a hardcover book featuring character bios and staff interviews. This strikes me as the kind of show that's quirky enough to win itself a small but enthusiastic group of fans, so this kind of collection seems like a good fit for it. I have a soft spot for shows that somehow defy my expectations, and If Her Flag Breaks certainly came as a pleasant surprise.

That wraps up this week's reviews. Thanks for reading!

This week's shelves are from Pieter:

"Hi! I'm Pieter Dijkstra, a dutch anime fan who's been collecting anime related stuff for about 15 years now. I started by just collecting DVDs, but have over time acquired a variety of different merchandise, such as manga , figures, cels, laserdiscs, artbooks, CDs, games etc.. I'm a big fan of Cardcaptor Sakura and magical girl anime in general, as you can probably tell.

I sent some pictures to shelf-life once before back in 2011, but figured i'd give it another shot now, as my collection looks quite different currently, after redecorating my room in order to properly display the bulk of my stuff. (I have a fairly decent-ish collection of production art which i keep in storage in another room, though you can see two framed cels displayed on the one spot of my wall that's never exposed to direct sunlight. I've also included a picture of 4 of my cels and one of some strips of 35mm film from the Project A-KO movie)."

Those film strips are awesome, and your figure collection is making me wish I'd bought that Girls und Panzer tank. Thanks for sharing!

Is there a bunch of anime and manga on your shelf? Show it some love and send me photos of your collection at [email protected]!

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