Shelf Life
Tonari no Seki-kun

by Paul Jensen,

It's rare for one single scene to sell me on an entire series, but that's exactly what happened when I watched the first episode of Flying Witch last week. Near the end of the episode, the main character wanders off into the woods, pulls a screaming mandrake plant out of the ground, and offers it to her new friend as a gift. Something about the image of a girl smiling like all's right with the world as she holds a writhing plant monster just completely won me over. This show could string together half a dozen lousy episodes in a row and I'd still keep watching it in the hopes of seeing another scene as casually bizarre as that one. I've got a good feeling about this season, folks. Welcome to Shelf Life.

Jump to this week's review:
Tonari no Seki-kun

On Shelves This Week

Aniplex - 150 min - Hyb - MSRP $94.98|$39.98
Currently cheapest at: $74.98 Right Stuf|$29.98 Right Stuf

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Extra: We've got a review of the previous set in this series here, and you'll find the full range of episode reviews here. Streaming options include Crunchyroll, Hulu, and the Aniplex Channel.

Black Butler: Book of Circus - Season 3 BD+DVD, Limited Edition
Funimation - 250 min - Hyb - MSRP $64.98|$84.98
Currently cheapest at: $48.74 Right Stuf|$63.74 Right Stuf

Synopsis: Ciel and Sebastian are called upon by the Queen to look into cases of missing children. Their investigation leads them to a traveling circus full of unusual performers, and the two of them go undercover to find the truth.

Extra: Is it just me, or has Black Butler been around for quite a while now? We've got episode reviews of this latest season here. You can watch the series on Funimation and Hulu.

Princess Tutu - Complete Collection DVD
AEsir Holdings - 650 min - Hyb - MSRP $39.98
Currently cheapest at: $23.99 Amazon

Synopsis: Princess Tutu, a ballet dancer with a magical secret, works to help a prince recover the missing pieces of his heart.

Extra: Most of our reviews for this series are relatively old, but it is the topic of a fairly recent ANNcast. You'll find this one streaming on Hulu and The Anime Network.

Yamishibai: Japanese Ghost Stories - Seasons 1 and 2 BD, DVD
Sentai - 117 min - Sub - MSRP $34.98|$24.98
Currently cheapest at: $19.99 Amazon|$16.24 Right Stuf

Synopsis: This series presents a variety of short horror stories based on Japanese folktales and urban legends.

Extra: We don't have any official reviews of this short-format horror series, but you can watch both of the seasons in this set along with a third over on Crunchyroll.

Shelf Life Reviews

I took a look at Tonari no Seki-kun: The Master of Killing Time for this week's review, and it reminded me of my own quests to goof off during my high school and college classes. Now that I think about it, that's probably not a good thing.

There's something inherently satisfying about binge-watching a show all at once, but not every series lends itself to that style of viewing. In some cases, especially with comedies, watching too many episodes back-to-back can ruin the magic by calling attention to the more repetitive parts of the series. Tonari no Seki-Kun: The Master of Killing Time illustrates this problem pretty well. If you watch one eight-minute episode a week (as I did during this show's simulcast run), it works perfectly well. If, however, you run through the whole thing in one or two sittings (as I did for this review), a little bit of the comedic magic fades away. It's a fun series either way, but it works better if you can ration it out a bit.

Tonari no Seki-kun starts off with a simple premise: Yokoi and Seki are two students seated in the back row of their class, and Seki takes advantage of their distance from the teacher to find new and inventive ways of slacking off. He sets up elaborate domino courses, runs a postal service for people looking to pass notes in class, takes a simulated driving test with a remote control car, and so on. Yokoi would prefer to just sit quietly and study, but she inevitably finds herself distracted by whatever Seki's doing. As much as she wants Seki to stop messing around, Yokoi can't help but get caught up in the act of killing time.

Short anime comedies can be a bit hit-or-miss, but the eight-minute episode format works pretty well for Tonari no Seki-kun. The show has just enough time to set up each new premise and let it play out, which forces it to focus on being funny. There's no extra slice of life fluff, no half-hearted character development, and no out-of-place fanservice. That focus pays off in consistent entertainment, and every episode made me laugh at least once. Seki's diversions manage to be delightfully ridiculous while maintaining a vague sense of plausibility, and Yokoi's constant commentary makes each situation all the more amusing. This is a series that does one thing and does it well.

I'm actually pretty impressed by just how much this show is able to accomplish considering the resources it has to work with. The animation and music are both pretty basic, but they're adequate for the task at hand. Even the dialogue seems to take a “keep it simple” approach; Yokoi is the only character with a significant speaking part. Seki doesn't really say much, and the show's handful of supporting characters only show up for a couple episodes each. A lot of credit for carrying the series goes to Kana Hanazawa and Monica Rial, on the Japanese and English audio tracks respectively, for making Yokoi's internal monologues lively and entertaining.

The downside of such a lean and focused show is that it doesn't offer much in the way of variety. Tonari no Seki-kun is arguably just the same joke repeated 21 times: Seki does something ridiculous in class, and Yokoi gets caught up in whatever's going on despite her best attempts at ignoring him. When the audience always has a good idea of what to expect, the show has to really nail its comedic delivery to keep things entertaining. Tonari no Seki-kun is pretty good in this respect and the series does get pretty creative when it comes to Seki's elaborate schemes, but the fun can start to fade over a marathon viewing session. This is a show best enjoyed in small doses, even if the short episodes lend extra strength to the “just one more” temptation.

Because it bets everything on its humor, this series also suffers from not having anything to fall back if a joke doesn't make the viewer laugh. The humor is simple and accessible enough to appeal to a broad audience, but it is still kind of an all-or-nothing deal. If the first couple of episodes fail to catch your interest, then you probably won't gain anything by sticking around for the rest. Come for the jokes, stay for the jokes.

I'm going to give Tonari no Seki-kun the same limited recommendation that I've given several other comedies in this column: I enjoyed it, but your results may vary. If its particular style of humor works for you, then the consistently solid delivery will probably keep you laughing throughout the series. If not, then the show's relatively narrow focus will be its undoing. Thankfully, the series' streaming availability means that you don't have to invest much more than eight minutes to see if it's your cup of tea. Give it a shot if you're looking for a harmless and amusing way to, well, kill some time.

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

This week's shelves are from Psycho 101:

"Long boring story short I've been an anime fan for 20+ years. Watched anime before I actullay knew what anime really was. I grew up with 80's anime and started really collecting it in the early to mid 90's. That was back in the vhs days. I remember renting a handful of titles at Tower Records. Back when there was a Tower Records and back when they rented some movies. Blockbuster was another source of anime though their selection was not great. These were the days of sharing bootleg vhs tapes that were copies of copies of copies. Then came the glory days of Suncoast video. Buying those DBZ vhs tape box sets that formed the images on the spine. Ranma and Kenshin vhs tapes as well. It was a big deal when we upgraded to dvd singles & artboxes. I gained much of my collection by working there. The pay was s**t but god bless that nice fat employee discount. Every week we'd get in new movie shipments and employees could go through it all before it hit shelves. Nothing like going through the weekly shipment of new anime singles and getting the next volume of the new show each month. We were lucky at my store as we had a Border's next door so I could go right over there and buy my manga and anime magazines like Animerica, Anime Insider, Protoculture Addicts, and eventually Newtype. Eventually that led into PVC figures and my bank account has never recovered since. I've sold off all the vhs tapes and in the past 2 years I've also sold off or given away a bunch of dvds and manga. I still like to think I have a pretty collection though.

So the big wood entertainment center is where my gf and I keep most of the anime now a days. Between books, manga, and dvds we simply had too many bookshelves everywhere so we consolidated. That thing is a behemoth but it does hold a huge amount of dvds and Blu Ray. It's mostly in alphabetical order. The 3 silver cd case holders in the one photo with the whole unit are filed with burned dvd copies. Back in the day 2 friends of mine and I would burn copies of series we had for each other. I have about 15 series and a few movies/ova's in them. We also have about a dozen or so, maybe a bit more, series that friends are borrowing at the moment.

The smaller black wooded shelving unit we keep in the family room. It has the shows we're most interested in watching currently. So it changes every so often when we add a show or watch one. As for the figures that's 90% of my collection. I had them packed up actually as we're trying to move this year. I got them back out though for the photos. Some of them don't have some of their accessories or bases and there are a handful I simply didn't bother to unpack. Such as all my figma figures. The manga is everything we have. I figure I sold or gave away a good 25% of my collection in the past 2 years. Manga, and anime, I had to honestly admit I probably would not read or watch again. My gf was a late bloomer in terms of being an anime/manga collector so 90-95% of everything in the photos is mine. Though I am always happy to help her expand our collection. As they say, the couple that collects anime together stays poor together."

That's a pretty impressive collection, and it looks like you and I have quite a few figures in common. Thanks for sharing!

Y'all know the drill by now: send your photos to [email protected], and I'll put 'em up here for all to see. Show off that collection!

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