Shelf Life
When They Cry Season 1

by Paul Jensen, James Beckett,

There are some weeks when one or two genres seem to dominate the new release list. I'll find myself thinking, "Wow, there's a lot of mecha stuff this week," or, "Son of a beach episode, where did this avalanche of harem comedies come from?" as I muddle my way through streaming links and price comparisons. This week is not one of those weeks. We've got old sci-fi, new sci-fi, reverse harems, horror shows, dysfunctional romantic comedies, and a card battle series just for good measure. If you want it, chances are this week's got it. Welcome to Shelf Life.

Jump to this week's review:
When They Cry Season 1

On Shelves This Week

Brothers Conflict - The Complete Series + OVA BD+DVD, Limited Edition
Funimation - 358 min - Hyb - MSRP $74.98|$84.98
Currently cheapest at: $56.24 Right Stuf|$63.74 Right Stuf

Synopsis: When Emi's father remarries, she suddenly finds herself with 13 new gorgeous stepbrothers. The guys are all out to win Emi's heart, but will they end up competing for romance or coming together as a family?

Extra: This reverse harem series made a brief appearance on The Stream, but that's about all we've got for official reviews. If you want to watch it online, it's available on Funimation and Hulu.

Etotama - Collector's Edition Part 3 BD+DVD
Ponycan - 100 min - Sub - MSRP $89.98
Currently cheapest at: $71.98 Right Stuf

Synopsis: Cat deity Nya-tan hopes to become one of the twelve zodiac animals by defeating the other deities in a divine tournament called ETM 12. When she runs into an ordinary high school student, he gets caught up in her quest to be the best.

Extra: There may not be an encyclopedia page for this set at the time of this writing, but there is a review of Part 1 which you can read here. You'll find it streaming on Crunchyroll.

Iria Zeiram: The Animation - Master Collection DVD
Eastern Star - 216 min - Hyb - MSRP $29.95
Currently cheapest at: $19.47 Right Stuf

Synopsis: Apprentice Hunter Iria joins her older brother on a rescue mission, but the mission goes dangerously wrong. Caught in a conspiracy and pursued by a mysterious creature called Zeiram, Iria searches for the truth.

Extra: You've got to go back to 2009 to find a review of this 90s sci-fi show. Sadly, I wasn't able to find it on any of the big streaming sites, so you're on your own with this one.

Kingdom - The Complete Second Season DVD
Funimation - 1000 min - Hyb - MSRP $79.98
Currently cheapest at: $59.99 Right Stuf

Synopsis: With Zheng returned to his rightful place on the throne, the kingdom of Qin turns its attention to the task of uniting all of China. Xin must hone his skills on the battlefield if he wants to achieve his goal of becoming the world's greatest general.

Extra: Review coverage for this one is limited to the first few episodes of season 1 (which you'll find here), but we're working on a review of the first full season for a future installment of this column. In the meantime, you can stream it on Funimation and Hulu.

Psycho-Pass - Season 2 BD+DVD, Premium Edition
Funimation - 275 min - Hyb - MSRP $64.98|$84.98
Currently cheapest at: $48.74 Right Stuf|$63.74 Right Stuf

Synopsis: A year has passed since Akane chose to keep the truth behind the Sibyl System a secret, and she has since been reassigned to a new division with some of her old coworkers. The city and the System face a new test when a group of terrorists appear and claim that their leader has the ability to lower their crime coefficients.

Extra: You'll find a full set of episode reviews for this series here, and you also may want to check out a review of the movie before it hits theaters in the US. You can watch this season on Funimation and Hulu.

Requiem from the Darkness - Complete Series DVD
Eastern Star - 300 min - Hyb - MSRP $39.95
Currently cheapest at: $25.97 Right Stuf

Synopsis: As folklorist Momosuke travels the land in search of tales for his anthology of ghost stories, he encounters a trio of mysterious people with a horrifying story to tell. As he continues to cross paths with the trio, he begins to wonder who they really are.

Extra: We've got a winner for this week's oldest reviews, with a full series review and a Shelf Life entry from way back in 2004. You'll also find the show streaming on Hulu.

Wolf GIrl & Black Prince - 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: Erika lies to her high school classmates about having a boyfriend, but it turns out that the guy whose picture she used as "proof" has just transferred into her school. He offers to help keep her secret, but only if she obeys his every command.

Extra: As I'm sure you've noticed by now, recent shows are the ones that tend to have episode reviews. Your many streaming options include Crunchyroll, Hulu, and The Anime Network.

Yu-Gi-Oh! GX - Season 3 DVD
Cinedigm - 1196 min - Dub - MSRP $44.99
Currently cheapest at: $34.29 Barnes and Noble

Synopsis: Jaden and his friends enter their third year at the prestigious Duel Academy. The infamous Professor Thelonious Viper becomes their teacher and puts them through a series of challenging Survival Duels.

Extra: No official reviews here, but you can watch the subtitled version on Crunchyroll and the dubbed version on Hulu. That's right, different sites for different languages. Go figure.

Shelf Life Reviews

James is back on review duty this week with a review of the Blu-Ray release of When They Cry. Read on for his take on the popular horror series.

Keiichi Maebara is a normal teenaged boy adjusting to his new life in the sleepy country town of Hinamizawa. Though he's a newcomer to the reclusive and storied old village, he quickly finds himself befriended by a gaggle of local girls, all of them quite eager to welcome him into their group as a friend. Joined by the plucky Rena, the headstrong Mion, and the adorable young pair of Rika and Satoko, our protagonist finds himself enjoying a carefree, lackadaisical life. That all changes once he hears murmurs of the gruesome deaths that stain Hinamizawa's past. As Keichi investigates the series of dismemberments and disappearances attributed to a curse laid on the town by its patron deity, he begins to get the feeling that he's being followed. Before too long, Keichi is convinced that at least one of his new friends might be out for his blood. Or maybe they all are.

When word got out that Sentai Filmworks had taken over the license for When They Cry after Funimation let it lapse back in 2011, I was more than a little excited to get my hands on this new Blu-Ray set. As a fan of both anime and horror, it was impossible to not at least be aware of the When They Cry franchise. Known in Japan as Higurashi no Naku Koro ni, When They Cry began as a series of visual novels before being adapted into a series of manga and anime. Having never gotten to play the original games, I was eager to delve into this new HD release of their anime adaptation. I wanted to know if the series' signature blend of cute slice-of-life style storytelling and shocking, gory descents into madness would scratch that anime-horror itch. The short answer to that particular question is, yes, it absolutely does. The long answer, though, contains a few caveats that keep me from being able to recommend When They Cry to absolutely everybody.

Right off the bat, for instance, it's clear that this show is nobody's idea of a visual masterpiece. The colors are vibrant enough and the character designs all generally appealing, but it's the animation that most mars When They Cry as an overall experience. 90 percent of the time the animation is merely passable, looking for the most part rather stiff and drifting into off-model quirkiness enough to be noticeable, if not distracting. The other 10 percent of the time, though, is when When They Cry's animation gets downright ugly, often at the worst possible moments. Scenes that are supposed to ring with intense drama or suspense come across as awkward or even unintentionally comedic. Character's faces and bodies occasionally distort and shift in such a way that it threatens to undercut the tension and atmosphere that every other element of the show is trying so hard to build. Those that are especially invested in the visual aesthetics of anime will more than likely be disappointed by When They Cry's animation and presentation.

It's a real shame, too, because in spite of its occasional visual wonkiness, When They Cry serves up atmosphere and dread in spades, creating a narrative rich with complex characters that inhabit a world filled with mystery, not to mention the ever-looming shadow of tragedy hanging over their heads. The show uses a particularly brilliant storytelling conceit that I can't talk about much for fear of spoiling the entire thing, but I can say that while the narrative initially comes across as a little disjointed and repetitive, it all comes together wonderfully in the end.

It's definitely a bit of a slow burn, with the larger shape of the narrative not really being clear until late in the series; and even then not every single mystery is wrapped up with a neat little bow, at least not in this first set of episodes. The knowledge that Sentai has licensed both a second season and an OVA set for the series is enough to reassure me that more answers are (hopefully) on the way, but that might not be enough for people wanting more immediate, and more clear, answers. Still, I argue that the show's strong character work and excellent atmosphere do a lot to ensure that the core of When They Cry is never anything less than compelling.

The Blu-Ray set for When They Cry is as bare bones as they come, which doesn't necessarily help justify the 50-dollar-price tag. The picture and sound quality is good, as is to be expected for a Blu-Ray set, but it's nothing that will knock anybody's socks off. Outside of the standard clean openings and closings, as well as a couple of trailers for other Sentai releases, the only thing the set really has to offer is a dual-language English and Japanese audio track. While the English dub is perfectly fine, the show often erupts into the kind of cavalcade of surreal violence and emotional despair that always seems to work better in the original Japanese. While both audio tracks occasionally fall victim to the inherent cheese factor of contrasting madcap violence with cutesy anime shenanigans, I think the Japanese dub manages to make it work more often than not, while the English dub was much more uneven.

I can't unequivocally recommend When They Cry to the broad spectrum of anime fans, but I absolutely loved my time with the show, and I think there's absolutely an audience out there for it. Its animation is admittedly too slipshod to earn a total pass, and the story is a bizarre and obtuse one; its mean-spirited violence, not to mention the characters' willingness to embrace angst that occasionally veers into absurdity, will not appeal to everyone.

Still, for those of you willing to embrace the show's rough-hewn aesthetics and off-kilter perspective, especially if you're inclined toward tales of the macabre, I think When They Cry has a lot to offer. It'll work its way to the back of your mind, haunting the space like the remnants of a bad dream you can't quite shake. Its calculated dose of uncanny horror will burrow just beneath your skin, lingering with you long after you finish the last episode.

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

This week's shelves are from Erik:


Long time fan of the column and been meaning to send this in for years!

I have been buying anime and manga on and off for about 14 years. It all started with volume 1 of Naruto and, as you can see, has only grown from there! I have not really collected much outside of the usual hits (DBZ, Bebop, Outlaw Star, Trigun, etc) but I have viewed a large number of series and am very proud. My most recent completion is the Mobile Suit Gundam: Origin series and it is spectacular!"

The usual hits are hits for a reason: they're pretty darn good! For the record, the LEGO Millennium Falcon on top of your shelf fills me with envy. Thanks for sharing!

What do I want? More shelves! When do I want them? At your convenience, but you should send photos of your collection to [email protected] when you get around to it!

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