Shelf Life
Piece of Mind

by Paul Jensen, James Beckett,

After two weeks without any new releases to speak of, we've finally got some new anime on the horizon this week. It may only be three things, and one of them may only be a rerelease of an old series, but the wheels of the giant anime machine have finally begun to turn anew. Let's get to it, shall we? Welcome to a new year of Shelf Life.

Jump to this week's reviews:
One Piece Collection 14
Dragonar Academy

On Shelves This Week

Dai Shogun – Complete Collection BD, DVD
Sentai – 300 min – Sub – MSRP $59.98|$49.98
Currently cheapest at: $38.99 Right Stuf|$32.49 Right Stuf

Synopsis: Keiichiro Tokugawa dreams of uniting Japan's feudal factions with the help of a legendary giant robot, but operating the machine requires a female copilot. This may be a problem for Keiichiro, since touching a woman inevitably causes him to break out in hives.

Extra: User ratings haven't been particularly kind to this series, averaging out at around 5.0. You can read some anime spotlight coverage here or stream the show on Crunchyroll, Hulu, or The Anime Network.




Mobile Suit Gundam – Movie Trilogy DVD
Bayview – 232 min – Sub – MSRP $49.99
Currently cheapest at: $32.49 Right Stuf

Synopsis: Amuro Ray finds himself dragged into the war between the Earth Federation and the Principality of Zeon as he becomes the pilot of a Mobile Suit known as the Gundam. Together with the crew of the White Base, he must fight to thwart Zeon's attempts to destroy the Gundam.

Extra: These three movies are a compilation of the events depicted in the original Mobile Suit Gundam TV series. If you'd like to read a (very) old review of a previous release, you'll find it here.




Pet Shop of Horrors – Complete Collection [Sentai Selects] DVD
Sentai – 100 min – Hyb – MSRP $19.98
Currently cheapest at: $11.99 Right Stuf

Synopsis: The mysterious Count D runs a pet shop that specializes in rare and unusual animals, but each sale comes with a lifelong contract. With many of the shop's customers turning up dead, a homicide detective seeks the truth behind the unusual establishment.

Extra: No official reviews for this horror series from the late 90s, but user ratings are pretty favorable with an average of 7.0. You can watch it streaming on The Anime Network.




Shelf Life Reviews

We've got dragons and pirates in this week's pair of reviews, which sounds like the beginning of a heated grade school playground debate over who would win in a fight. I suppose we should get right to it before someone brings in a bunch of ninjas and robots to complicate things.

We start off with the results of my attempt at diving headfirst into One Piece.

It's been a while since One Piece has made an appearance in Shelf Life, unless you include its seemingly constant presence on the weekly new release list. Part of that is down to the difficulty of finding new and interesting things to say about such a long-running series. So, in an effort to bring a fresh eye to this perennial fan favorite, I decided to try a little experiment. Having only previously watched a handful of episodes, I jumped in at episode 325 in order to review this collection. I was curious to see how easy or difficult it would be to follow the action with a limited amount of background knowledge, and I also wanted to take a stab at understanding why One Piece has been able to endure for so many seasons when most shows are lucky to last for more than two dozen episodes. The results were interesting.

For anyone who knows even less about One Piece than I did before watching this collection, the series follows the seafaring adventures of Monkey D. Luffy and his crew of Straw Hat pirates. This set covers one plot arc in its entirety and a sizable chunk of a second. The first big block of episodes involves Luffy and his pirate crew facing off against a family of bounty hunters. After luring our heroes into a sea full of icebergs, the bounty hunters steal the Straw Hats' flag, forcing the crew to fight to reclaim it. After that battle ends, the characters encounter a talking skeleton before being trapped within the walls of Thriller Bark, a cross between a floating island and a giant pirate ship. For those who are more familiar with the franchise, this set covers the entire “Lovely Land” filler arc and the beginning of the “Thriller Bark” canon arc.

We'll start off with the answer to my question about how easy it is to jump in several hundred episodes into One Piece: as it turns out, it's not terribly difficult. While the series does assume that the audience is familiar with the main characters, the different plot arcs stand well enough on their own that it's pretty easy to figure out what's going on. I may not know everything about how Luffy's powers work or how everyone came to be part of his crew, but I know that they're the good guys and they have to beat up the bad guys, and filling in the blanks from there is easy enough. Honestly, I was expecting a much more impenetrable viewing experience, one that would require multiple trips to the show's online wiki to figure out what in the world I was watching. What I found instead was a remarkably accessible series that seemed perfectly happy to hold the door open for an inexperienced newcomer.

Like the details of the individual storylines, the reasons behind One Piece's popularity also turned out to be easy to understand. This is a colorful and lively show, the kind of thing that practically begs to be binge-watched. It has a compelling group of main characters who share some good chemistry, and the writing offers a mix of comedy and adventure. It doesn't pretend to be especially deep or complex, but the occasional moments of character drama work well enough to justify their inclusion in the story. One Piece seems to have a good sense of what it wants to be, and just about everything in the show is tuned to work toward that end. I could argue that the character designs are a little too over the top for my tastes or that the fights involve a lot of expository dialogue, but at least they seem to fit the tone of the series. It all feels like one coherent whole instead of a collection of individual parts vying for the audience's attention.

There are plenty of shows out there that follow a similar action-adventure formula, which raises the question of how One Piece keeps rolling along while so many of its contemporaries run out of steam. From what I've seen, part of that success comes down to an extra layer of polish. One Piece seems able to carry out that formula without tripping over all the bad ideas and sloppy implementations that tend to derail lesser shows in this genre. It also has the kind of broad appeal that can keep viewers around over multiple years: it's accessible and inoffensive enough to be perfect for a younger audience, but there's enough depth to keep an older viewer interested. That can be a very difficult balance to maintain, so it's a credit to the series that it's able to walk the line as well as it does.

Mixed in among this set's episode commentaries and other extras is a feature that I've heard other reviewers praise but had never experienced for myself until now: the marathon viewing mode. While you can still watch everything in the usual fashion if you prefer, these discs offer the option of automatically skipping credit sequences and episode previews. It sounds like a minor bonus, but it makes watching half a dozen episodes back to back just that little extra bit easier and keeps the viewer more immersed in the story. For a series that benefits from being watched in large chunks, it's a very appealing feature. Go ahead and add my name to the list of people who want this option to be more commonplace in big anime collections.

So yes, One Piece has managed to win me over despite working with the disadvantage of starting from just shy of halfway through the current episode count. Once you get past that psychological barrier of taking on such an enormous franchise, it's an accessible and enjoyable piece of entertainment. I'm not sure it's changed my outlook on the world or revealed any grand truths about the human condition, but it has offered a strong challenge to my reluctance to jump into shows with three-digit episode counts. Sign me up for more.
-Paul[TOP]

Unfortunately, James drew the figurative short straw this week. Here's his review of Dragonar Academy.

The episode commentary included with Dragonar Academy mentions that the series “is basically boobs, fanservice, and dragons!” This is as perfect a description for the show as any other. It may even seem like reviewing this show is kind of a waste of time, frankly - stuff like this gets made, and it gets made because there's an appetite out there for stuff like it. Why bother reviewing something that knows it's disposable and clearly only has one very base goal in mind?

The reason I felt compelled to write up Dragonar Academy is simple: it's one of the most downright awful anime I have ever seen. It's immature in all of the worst ways, and it embodies pretty much every negative stereotype about the medium anyone has ever held against it. When it isn't being actively offensive, it's aggressively boring. Watching it was a physically exhausting toll on what was otherwise a pleasant holiday experience. When a show like this is mediocre, then it's worth ignoring - but when it's this poorly executed, it deserves explanation.

Normally, it's helpful to summarize the plot of a series before getting too far into a review. I could tell you all about how Dragonar Academy focuses on the supposedly “hot-headed” Ash Blake, an aspiring student at the titular academy for dragon-riders. I could explain how Ash has the peculiar ability to ride any dragon, when most riders are limited to the “pals” they are bonded with through a magical connection, or how he winds up mysteriously bonded to a dragon named Eco, who looks like a naked young girl instead of, you know, a dragon. The details aren't all that important, since Dragonar Academy is really about three things: boobs, fanservice, and dragons (which in the context of this show is demonstrably two things, not three). Yes, there is a plot and a cast of characters, but it's all lazy stock fantasy stuff. The women in this show are all predominantly differentiated by their bra sizes, and the men are all hyper-sexed idiots or generic shonen villains. Ash Blake, our supposed hero, is not excluded from this anti-characterization, either; despite the show constantly going out of its way to remind us of his hotheadedness, he might possibly be the least interesting character in a sea of completely forgettable faces and personalities.

The English dub really doesn't help the experience. Lara Woodhull tries her best to imbue Eco, the aforementioned dragon-loli hybrid, with as much personality as she can muster, but here her overly cutesy/tsundere mannerisms it really just makes the show feel creepier than it already is. The lead protagonists get the worst of it though, with Aaron Dismuke and Elizabeth Parker playing Ash and his counterpart, Princess Sylvia, respectively. Their lines are delivered with very little passion or emotion; Harrison Ford displayed more charisma in his notorious narration for the original cut of Blade Runner.

So yes, the story in this show is superfluous. The characters are awful, the acting is awful, and the plot would make even the most generic fantasy JRPG scoff at its lack of originality. The “dragons” of the “boobs/fanservice and dragons” equation do show up, but with surprisingly little gusto. For a show that's ostensibly about dragon knights going to battle, there are maybe two or three halfway decent action scenes in the entire show; the rest of it is lame comedy shtick and overindulgent world building. Oh, and fanservice..

I'm not opposed to fanservice in general. There are plenty of fanservice filled anime that have been able to tell rich, compelling stories. Dragonar Academy is not one of those shows. The fact is that almost all of the fanservice in this show revolves around characters being exposed or fondled against their wishes, and that moves it, for me, into seriously creepy territory. Hell, the show begins with Ash being sexually assaulted by some kind of demon/angel/dragon woman. Practically every instance of nudity thereafter is someone being stripped in public in order to be humiliated, being exposed in some kind of wacky comedy slapstick, or otherwise being groped and molested in a way that is more embarrassing than fun for the audience. And it doesn't just happen once; it's every single episode. Let's not even start on the loli fanservice this show trades in. No, I'm not excited or amused that this prepubescent girl has wet the bed.

I hated almost everything about this show. Just about the only nice things I can say about Dragonar Academy are that its animation is adequate and that Funimation's Blu-Ray presentation and extras are par for the course. Still, that can't possibly save the show from being a genuinely horrible experience. If you want fanservice, there are a million better titles out there. If you want dragons, I promise you won't find enough of them to justify the price of admission.
-James[TOP]

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

This week's shelves are from DT, who sent me more photos than I could cram into this column. While I had to drop a few, I hope the ones I ran still convey this collection in all its glory:

"Hi!

This is DT (darktruth) from Australia. Wasn't planning on submitting in this originally but I've noticed a few Shelf Life articles recently had no collection shelves to showcase and thought might as well help out with that.

Recently took updated photos of my Kara no Kyoukai / Garden of Sinners collection for the year. I started collecting on this movie series way back in 2009 when I imported the Japanese limited edition DVDs of the first five movies (all during the global financial crisis too!). It was hearing that this movie series was a prototype to Tsukihime that sparked my interest in it, and having enjoyed other TYPE-MOON works prior, I was really anticipating on seeing it. Needless to say, I have become a huge fan of it ever since!

My collection for it started off very small with just the Japanese import DVDs and a few scale figures, but over the past few years it has grown quite large when I started buying more and more merchandise, especially most to do with store exclusives limited to only in Japan. I wouldn't say that I own just about every merchandise though but probably a fairly a large chunk. There is an online page where I list every single Kara no Kyoukai item I own which can be found here and I plan to update it whenever I get in any new merch for it.

I have been able to fit in the majority of my collection into the glass display cabinet with the exception of posters and wallscrolls (of which I have many as seen in a few photos below). I was also fortunate enough to actually obtain that glass display cabinet for free just when I was starting to lack space in my room to display the collection. Will most likely remove the two small IKEA lights at the top of the display for better ones sometime in the future.

The proudest merchandises in my collection for this would probably be the limited edition Garden of Sinners artbook (containing a complete collection of Takeshi Takeuchi's artwork for the franchise) and the Tokushima Awa Odori posters that were commissioned for the festival and was not available to buy commercially. The limited edition artbook comes housed in an acrylic glass case with Takeshi's autograph inside the book. Only 1500 were made and very few people outside of Japan have been able to obtain it, likewise for the Awa Odori posters very few foreigners have been able to obtain those.

There are still a few more items I would like to add to my collection in the future though and some which I have already pre-ordered. One of the items I would like to add would be the original Japanese novels for Garden of Sinners, but my Japanese reading skills is not quite as fluent as my listening and speaking, so maybe once I am competent enough to read fluently then I would look into obtaining those. Things that I have pre-ordered to add to my collection are the ANIPLEX+ exclusive 1/7 scale figure of Ryougi Shiki along with the Japanese 3D blu-ray release of the first film that will be released next year.

And yes, I have two copies of the expensive Japanese limited edition import of the blu-ray boxset as seen in the photos, although one is still in it's original box packaging kept in storage outside of the glass display cabinet. The box with the warped lid (on the right side in the photos) is used to store small merchandise after receiving the fixed box from Aniplex for one of the copies.

I hope sending in photos of my Garden of Sinners collection was somewhat a pleasant surprise for everyone. Might look into sending in photos of my Shakugan no Shana collection too once I take updated photos since it's almost as big as this one! :P"

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I haven't seen such a thorough collection for one franchise in a long time. Very impressive. Thanks for sharing!

I don't know what everyone's New Year's resolutions are, but one of them should be to send me photos of your collections at [email protected]


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