Shelf Life
Fairy Complex

by Paul Jensen, Gabriella Ekens,

A new anime season is getting started, but you wouldn't know if from looking at my streaming queues. Thanks in part to a very hectic holiday season, I'm playing catch-up on just about everything that I wasn't watching on a weekly basis for episode reviews. The good news is that by the time I'm ready to start this season's new shows, they'll all probably have five or six episodes lined up for me to consume in quick succession. Huzzah for binge-watching, and welcome to Shelf Life.

Jump to this week's reviews:
Fairy Tail Collection 5
Buddy Complex

On Shelves This Week

Argevollen – Collection 2 BD, DVD
Sentai – 300 min – Sub – MSRP $59.98|$49.98
Currently cheapest at: $38.99 Right Stuf|$32.49 Right Stuf

Synopsis: Unit 8 receives some upgraded equipment and a new pilot, but the enemy forces bring new technology to the battlefield as well. Tokimune continues to pilot the Argevollen on the front lines, but Jamie worries that he is starting to lose the ability to keep himself under control in combat.

Extra: You can read Gabriella's thoughts on the first half of this series here or check out some episode reviews here. The full series available streaming on Crunchyroll, Hulu, and The Anime Network.

Etotama Collector's Edition BD+DVD
Ponycan – 100 min – Sub – MSRP $89.95
Currently cheapest at: $71.98 Right Stuf

Synopsis: A cat spirit named Nya-tan seeks to become one of the 12 zodiac animals by competing in a divine tournament with the help of an ordinary high school student.

Extra: You can read a review of the previous release in this series here or watch it online on Crunchyroll.

Noein – The Complete Series BD+DVD, Limited Edition
Funimation – 600 min – Hyb – MSRP $64.99|$84.98
Currently cheapest at: $48.74 Right Stuf|$63.74 Right Stuf

Synopsis: Caught up in a struggle to protect the future of Earth and multiple parallel worlds, Haruka must defeat a god-like being with help from future versions of her friends.

Extra: This release marks the first time Noein has been available on Blu-Ray in the US. You can read a review of an older DVD version here or stream the series on Funimation.

Shelf Life Reviews

Both of this week's shows fit pretty neatly into established anime categories: one is a fantasy action series, while the other swaps out "fantasy" for "mecha." The big difference between the two of them is that one manages to distinguish itself within its particular genre.

I enjoyed my attempt at jumping into the middle of One Piece last week, so I decided to try something similar with another long-running series this week. Here's my complete beginner's take on one of the more recent Fairy Tail collections.

If I'm being completely honest, Fairy Tail came in with a bit of a disadvantage in this little two-week experiment of mine. I went into One Piece without any concrete expectations, which contributed to my pleasant surprise at how much I enjoyed the experience. That caused me to unconsciously set the bar a little higher for Fairy Tail, which led to a bit of frustration when I found it more difficult to break into the show's world. However, there's plenty of time to figure things out in two-dozen episodes, and the show gradually won me over. By the time I finished this set, I had a pretty good sense of what makes Fairy Tail an appealing series for so many people.

This block of episodes follows the main characters as they travel to a secluded island to compete in an important trial. Whoever comes out on top will be promoted to an S-class wizard, a rank that carries a lot of weight within the guild. The eight contestants and their partners go all out in pursuit of victory, but the competition is put on hold when a dark guild called Grimoire Heart attacks the island. The baddies are looking for a legendary dark wizard who's rumored to be hidden away on the island, and they plan to use his powers to wreak all kinds of havoc. In order to stop them and save the world, the Fairy Tail wizards have to put their rivalries aside and fight together.

I don't want to spend this entire review drawing comparisons between Fairy Tail and One Piece, so I'll try to fit all my thoughts on the subject into one dedicated paragraph. In visual terms, Fairy Tail has a slightly more conventional look than One Piece. Both shows feature distinctive character designs and transforming talking animals, but One Piece goes all out on exaggerated physical features where Fairy Tail tends to keep its characters a little more in proportion. From my limited experience, Fairy Tail also asks its audience to remember more from one story arc to another. It features more references to previous battles, and consequences of past actions are more likely to follow characters into the present. The final big difference I noticed is that Fairy Tail goes into a little more detail in its explanations of how different characters' abilities compare to one another. Where One Piece might say, “this guy can breathe fire,” Fairy Tail is more likely to say, “this guy can breathe fire and here's how it works when he's fighting this particular opponent.” There's a compelling case to be made for the way both shows do things, and they're both good enough at following their own styles that it's really more a matter of preference than of quality.

It took me a little while to get up to speed with Fairy Tail, partly because this storyline features a lot of characters. Between the S-class contestants, their partners, and the guild's leaders, we start off with around twenty good guys to keep track of. Adding the villains into the mix raises that total by about a dozen, and the grand total rises even further by the end. Considering that just about everyone has some kind of history or complicated relationship with at least one other person, there are a lot of dots for an unprepared newbie to connect on the fly. I ended up being thankful for the presence of the show's talkative narrator, who filled in enough of the blanks that I could follow the action as I worked on my mental notebook of how everyone was connected to one another.

After a few episodes of playing “who are you and why should I care,” I started to pick out a handful of characters that I liked, and the cast as a whole grew on me throughout the set. The upside of having a large cast is that Fairy Tail is able to include a wide variety of personalities, backgrounds, worldviews, and fighting styles. It's pretty easy to find at least one wizard who you either relate to or find amusing, and it certainly helps that the series avoids taking itself too seriously. Outside of its most intense moments, Fairy Tail is usually quick to crack a joke or pause a fight to let characters exchange some entertaining one-liners. It's really easy for fantasy shows to get wrapped up in overly serious discussions of ancient lore and magical technicalities, so I really appreciate the sense of humor that Fairy Tail brings to the table.

When the comedy transitions into more dramatic content, the show remains engaging. The animation quality is strong enough to make the fight scenes enjoyable, and the writing can handle a more emotionally intense turn when needed. Some of the battles in the latter half of this collection were able to surprise me with just how invested I became in their outcomes. There's a lot of standard stuff about good conquering evil through teamwork and compassion, but it's delivered well. Much like the characters, the many individual conflicts within the larger story arc present enough different twists and turns that something is bound to strike your fancy.

I came away from this collection with the sense that Fairy Tail is able to manage a large cast and a lengthy narrative better than many of its contemporaries. It's compelling enough to lure you into a marathon viewing session even if this isn't your favorite genre, though I wouldn't necessarily recommend following my method of jumping in halfway through the episode count. It might be possible to enjoy One Piece out of order, but I have a suspicion that Fairy Tail is best experienced from the beginning.

Next up is Gabriella's review of Buddy Complex.

Every season has to have at least one show about teenager piloting a giant robot in a future war, and Buddy Complex is what we got for Winter 2014. Nothing more and nothing less. One of the latest in the long history of Sunrise (the studio behind Gundam) ripping themselves off, Buddy Complex feels like it was written by committee – probably because it was. One day normal teenager Aoba Watase was attacked by a giant robot from the future. Before it could kill him, one of his classmates, Hina Yumihara, rescues him in her own giant robot. With the cryptic phrase, “Dio is waiting,” she transports him to the future year 2088. Waking up alone, he finds the world embroiled in a war between the Free Treaty Alliance and Great Zogilia Republic. He begins fighting for the Free Treaty Alliance, piloting the Coupling Valiancer Luxon. But on the battlefield, he encounters Hina again as an enemy combatant – and an amnesiac. After this, a confused Aoba makes it his mission to contact Hina and find out how they got there.

Or so he claims. Mostly this show is technobabble and battle tactics with military figures who the audience barely has time to get to know. Hina's contact, Dio, is another Free Treaty Alliance pilot and one of the least relevant anime rivals I've ever seen. He doesn't even slightly live up to his muda-rous namesake. It's kind of false advertising that he gets top billing alongside Aoba. Hina is the co-lead and impetus behind everything that happens. Otherwie, every aspect of Buddy Complex is so generic that it's difficult to talk about. It lacks even the fun-to-dissect, idiosyncratic flaws of an individual creator. The most interesting thing in this entire show is probably the star-crossed lovers aspect. Hina's initial, mysterious rescue of Aoba in the first episode and her subsequent reappearance as an amnesiac enemy combatant provides some suspense. This angle is reminiscent of RahXephon, a canonical mecha show. The difference here is that RahXephon has actual ambition and ideas. Buddy Complex feels like off-brand Gundam, vaguely modeled after that series' iconography. The villains resemble a much less characterized version of the Principality of Zeon, while the crew of one-note bridge bunnies brings to mind the White Base's ensemble crew. Buddy Complex feels like it's meant to work as comfort food, but that's all there is to it.

I can imagine that some people want to experience the same, slightly-retooled narratives over and over. In Buddy Complex's case, that's the Gundam story template. I don't think that there's anything wrong with that, but I'd much rather watch a series that at least tries to do something new. If you enjoyed Argevollen, or Aldnoah. Zero, or Captain Earth – shows that I could barely sit through – there might be something for you here. If not, it's an easy pass.

Production-wise, this anime is fine, if little else. The characters move alright, the models are consistent, and the character designs aren't unattractive. There are moments of nice direction, particularly in the conclusion. Overall, Buddy Complex looks like a middle ground between Aldnoah. Zero and Cross Ange. The gimmick for the robots is that they can pair up to supercharge. Partners are called “buddies,” which make them sound like kids on a class trip. Aoba is especially good at buddying and partners up with the Free Treaty Alliance's ace, Dio. Unfortunately for any fujoshi in the audience, they don't develop anything resembling “complexes” for each other.

Buddy Complex isn't a bad show so much as it's almost entirely lacking in distinguishing characteristics. It's Argevollen with slightly better art design and a basic plot taken from RahXephon. Variations on this template come out all the time, and this isn't one of the better ones.

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

This week's shelves are from Bill:

"Yo. Here are some pics of my shelves. But wait. Where's all the manga and whatnot? Oh there it is. A paltry ten books. But what timeless classics they are. I hardly buy any anime, and I haven't been in the game that long in the first place so my collection is quite small. I tend to be a fan of horror and shoujo/josei type of stuff, with a few obvious outliers. One day I hope to have a large house with a secret room that I can hide the entirety of Prison School in. Maybe once I've filled one whole level of this shelf with manga I'll send in another pic."

You can fill up as few or as many shelves as you like, the important thing is how much you enjoy the stuff that you put on those shelves. Besides, any collection with Azumanga Daioh in it gets a stamp of approval from me. Thanks for sharing!

How many shelves could a Shelf Life shelve if a Shelf Life could shelve shelves? All of them, that's how many. Send your photos to [email protected]

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