Kingdom Season 1
by Paul Jensen, James Beckett,
There are some weeks when nothing on the new release list really catches my eye, but this week ain't one of them. There's some really good stuff coming out, and a lot of it comes in comes in a big, shiny box full of merchandise that I somehow really want despite knowing that I'd probably end up leaving most of it in said box. A plague upon self-control and financial responsibility! Welcome to Shelf Life.
Jump to this week's review:
Kingdom Season 1
On Shelves This Week
Eden of the East - The Complete Series + Movies [Premium Edition] BD
Funimation - 445 min - Hyb - MSRP $99.98
Currently cheapest at: $74.98 Right Stuf
Synopsis: Akira Takizawa wakes up outside the White House with a gun in his hand and no memory of how he got there. He soon learns that he's caught up in a conspiracy with the fate of Japan hanging in the balance.
Extra: I really like this series, so I'm happy to see it get a fancy collector's edition. You'll find a full series review here, and reviews of the movies here and here. You can stream the series on Funimation and Hulu.
Synopsis: Robot pilot Ryoma Nagare is sent to jail after being framed for the murder of Getter scientist Dr. Saotome. When Saotome returns from the dead with a plan to exact revenge on the world, Ryoma sets out to defend mankind with the help of Getter Robo.
Monthly Girls' Nozaki-Kun - Complete Collection BD, DVD, Limited Edition
Sentai - 300 min - Hyb - MSRP $69.98|$59.98|$129.99
Currently cheapest at: $45.49 Right Stuf|$38.99 Right Stuf|$84.49 Right Stuf
Synopsis: Chiyo Sakura works up the courage to confess her feelings to the guy she likes, but he gets the wrong idea and thinks she's asking to work as his assistant. Will helping Nozaki with his job as a manga artist give Chiyo a chance to get closer to him?
Extra: This show is an absolute riot, and it was one of my favorite titles from 2014. Episode reviews are here, and you'll find a Shelf Life review here. You can watch it on Crunchyroll, Hulu, and The Anime Network.
Saekano: How to Raise a Boring Girlfriend - Set 1 BD
Aniplex - 150 min - Sub - MSRP $74.98
Currently cheapest at: $59.98 Right Stuf
Synopsis: After a fateful encounter with a beautiful girl, Tomoya Aki sets out to make the world's greatest dating sim. In order to complete the game, he'll need to enlist the help of some of his eccentric classmates, including the girl who inspired him in the first place.
Extra: If you're looking for a harem comedy that actually has half a brain, then this one is a pretty good bet. We've got episode reviews and a full series review to satisfy your curiosity, and you'll find the show streaming on Crunchyroll, Hulu, and the Aniplex Channel.
Synopsis: Jun magically sealed her voice away after making a tragic mistake as a young girl, and has tried to avoid people's attention ever since. All that may change when she's picked to play a role in a school musical.
Extra: The limited edition of this release appears to be out of stock as I write this, but it looks like the standard version is still available. No streaming sources, but we do have a review that you can read here.
Synopsis: The cast of Utawarerumono returns for three side stories. Urutori tries to find the family of an abandoned infant, Eluluu is faced with a request for some very unusual medicine, and a fishing trip takes a turn for the chaotic.
Extra: No official reviews for this set, but we do have episode reviews for the most recent season of the TV series. You'll also find that season streaming on Crunchyroll, Hulu, and The Anime Network.
Synopsis: Half human and half vampire, the eternally young Miyu is tasked with hunting demonic beings called Shinma and returning them to the darkness.
Synopsis: Piano prodigy Kousei Arima lost all interest in performing on stage after the death of his mother, but his view of the world begins to change when he meets a young violinist named Kaori.
Extra: Wow, we've really got a lot of good stuff from 2014 coming out this week. Episode reviews of this show are here, and we've also got a full series review here. Your streaming options include Crunchyroll, Hulu, and the Aniplex Channel.
Shelf Life Reviews
For this week's review, James takes a look at the first part of the historical action series Kingdom.
Studio Pierrot's Kingdom is an adaptation of Yasuhisa Hara's manga of the same name, which has been running in Shonen Jump for the last decade. Following the lives of key figures from China's Warring States period, Kingdom incorporates the broad strokes of documented history and blends them into a canvas of familiar, if well executed shonen tropes. In this way it almost feels like the anime equivalent of 300. It uses the flavor of ancient politics and warfare rooted in real history as a draw, without ever worrying about things like realism or accuracy bogging down the storytelling. Does Kingdom live up to the epic history it aspires to mythologize? Well, that depends.
As I mentioned above, the historical setting and characters are an integral part of the framework of the series, but the meat of Kingdom is rooted squarely in shonen traditions. This means a lot of over-eager protagonists yelling about how they want to be “The Greatest “X” of all Time”, a lot of buildup for whatever villains the current arc is dealing with, and a lot of mid-fight monologues. Throw in a little light slapstick comedy to break up the drama, and you've got a perfect recipe for Cooking with Shonen 101.
Likewise, the characters all fall squarely into their predetermined shonen roles: Xin is the hot-headed dreamer with preternatural skill and a penchant for finding trouble, and Zheng is the aloof friend/rival who holds the weight of the world on his shoulders. Diao, a friend that they meet in their journey, joins as the scrappy comedy relief/moral support, acting as the heart of the group even when she really has no place on the battlefield. You also have ridiculously powerful side-characters that hop in to help when things get tough, more cackling antagonists than you could shake a stick at, and so on. If you've seen any of the big shonen series of the past couple of decades, chances are that there is little in Kingdom that will surprise you.
Which is to say that your enjoyment of Kingdom will almost certainly depend on your tolerance for/love of that familiar shonen shtick. I will note that the historical warfare slant Kingdom takes does offer some interesting wrinkles in its approach. With things as twisty and political as they are, there are rarely any true-blue Absolute Bad Guys. The show has villains, to be sure, but you almost always understand that they are just acting within a much larger political machine, which gives a little dimension to shade the antagonists' almost universally (and intentionally) ugly mugs. Game of Thrones this ain't, but it kept my attention throughout the first season. Outside of the Warring States stuff, there's really only one other thing that's particularly of note about Kingdom: the animation. Unfortunately, it does as much to hurt the show as its historical nerd cred does to help it.
Kingdom, which was produced back in 2012, uses a cel-shaded 3D animation style reminiscent of the feature length Berserk films, albeit on a more budgeted scale. While I'm not as adverse to 3-D animation as many purists might be, I'll be the first to admit that it doesn't work more often than it does. In Kingdom's case, it doesn't work at all. The character models all move at frame rates that are either too fast or too slow, causing the characters' movements to look sloppy and imprecise. The facial animations suffer less, but there are still many occasions where the characters are framed in close up with expressions that should be dramatic or exciting, but instead come off as just goofy. I can see how it might have worked with the big battle scenes, but when the fights are smaller or more tightly focused, all of the choreography in the world can't save everything from feeling, well, cheap.
The biggest problem with the animation is its inconsistency. If Kingdom were entirely computer animated that would be one thing; yet the show is constantly throwing in traditionally animated scenes and fights that just look better than the 3-D stuff, and it does so in such a slapdash manner. Sometimes it switches back and forth between the styles multiple times within the same fight. It's jarring, to say the least, and makes the 3-D work come across as even sloppier than it otherwise might. While the animation quality evens out in later episodes (or maybe I just got used to it), Kingdom is never able to make the 3-D animation gel completely.
In the end, Kingdom ends up balancing the scales in terms of its own quality. The interesting elements of its historical context end up being weighed down by an aesthetic that is functional at its best, but distractingly poor at its worst. What you have left, then, is a shonen adventure that does little to stand out from the crowd; neither noticeably excellent nor worthy of scorn. It's just there.
Kingdom isn't something I can wholeheartedly recommend, especially given the bare-bones nature of this release. Still, I won't completely give it a pass, especially since I know people who would be willing to overlook Kingdom's faults just to revel in the military-history goodness it offers. If that's your thing, or if you really love shonen anime, check out the first few episodes of Kingdom and see if it's worth your time or money. Otherwise, you're probably better off taking the time to finally catch up on one of the other big shonen series. I hear the past few hundred episodes of One Piece have been especially cool.
That wraps up the review section for this week. Thanks for reading!
This week's shelves are from Shayne:
"While I was organizing my collection in alphabetical order, I decided this might have been the best time to send in photos of my DVD collection. It may not look like much, but there are more DVDs behind the ones in the picture.
I'll have to do like a part 2 for my manga collection someday.
It's been a bit of my hobby checking out shows that people like as well as the obscure shows that not many people seem to watch.
I think a few of my favorites from my collection has got to be Berserk, which I got for around twenty bucks two months ago. Slayers being my favorite series. Kekkashi which has been quite the surprise. The Big O which I just started watching. And soon to be my new favorite, Jing: King of Bandits.
It's an ever growing collection, but I have a lot of fun checking out new series that come out on DVD."
I've had to double-stack most of my DVD and Blu-Ray shelves too, so I feel your pain there. I really like the mix of old and new stuff, and I think I see a few older box sets that I've got in my own collection. Thanks for sharing!
Come one, come all, step on up and show off your collections here! Just send me your photos at [email protected]
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