Shelf Life
Ghost in the Shell: The New Movie

by Paul Jensen,

I've gotten into the habit of taking notes as I watch anime for my episode reviews here on ANN, but it's usually nothing all that extensive. A few character names here, an important item or location there, most of it to save myself the trouble of looking up how to spell things when I go to write the reviews. Considering that High School Fleet's ensemble cast is big enough to include the entire crew of a destroyer, I have a sinking (ha!) feeling that I'll be doing a lot more frantic scribbling than usual in the coming weeks. Welcome to Shelf Life.

Jump to this week's review:
Ghost in the Shell: The New Movie

On Shelves This Week

Cromartie High School - Complete TV Series DVD
Eastern Star - 300 min - Hyb - MSRP $39.95
Currently cheapest at: $25.97 Right Stuf

Synopsis: Average guy Kamiyama enrolls at Cromartie High School, a surreal place where most of the students are teenage delinquents. Can he survive in a school where no one seems bothered by the presence of a robot or a giant gorilla?

Extra: This show is an old favorite of mine, and served as my introduction to the "It's funny but I can't quite explain why" style of anime comedy. It's made a few appearances on Shelf Life, which you'll find here and here, but I wasn't able to find it streaming in any of the usual places.

Dai-Guard - Complete Collection DVD
Eastern Star - 600 min - Hyb - MSRP $44.95
Currently cheapest at: $29.21 Right Stuf

Synopsis: The giant robot Dai-Guard was reduced to a tourist attraction after the invaders it was built to fight disappeared, but its crew of office workers and part-time pilots are called into action when the invaders return.

Extra: This series came out on single-volume DVDs over ten years ago, and we've got old reviews of the first two here and here.

Dororo - Complete Series DVD
Eastern Star - 600 min - Sub - MSRP $49.95
Currently cheapest at: $32.47 Right Stuf

Synopsis: Hyakkimaru lost 48 parts of his body when his father sacrificed him to demons in pursuit of power. Now he travels the land with the young thief Dororo, seeking to kill the demons and regain his humanity.

Extra: Wow, it's not every day you see a series from 1969 make its way to the US market. Anime Sols had previously made this show available streaming, but that site went away with the company closed up shop last year.

Earl and Fairy - Complete Series DVD
Eastern Star - 300 min - Sub - MSRP $44.95
Currently cheapest at: $29.22 Right Stuf

Synopsis: Lydia makes her living as a fairy doctor thanks to her rare ability to see and interact with fairies. When the aristocrat Edgar hires her for her talents, she joins him in his quest to find a magic sword.

Extra: This is one of those increasingly rare cases where a show has been around for a while (it premiered in 2008), but has never made its way to the US until now. Unfortunately, that means we don't have an awful lot of info on it beyond the basics.

Garo the Animation - Season 1 Part 1 BD+DVD
Funimation - 300 min - Hyb - MSRP $64.98
Currently cheapest at: $48.74 Right Stuf

Synopsis: As the heir to the title of Golden Knight, Leon trains to seek revenge on the royal advisor who had his mother executed. Meanwhile, the banished Prince Alfonso seeks help in reclaiming his throne.

Extra: You'll find a full set of episode reviews for this series here, and it's available streaming from Funimation and Hulu. We've also got an interview with the producer and director, which you can read here.

Kamisama Kiss - Season 2 BD+DVD
Funimation - 300 min - Hyb - MSRP $64.98
Currently cheapest at: $48.74 Right Stuf

Synopsis: Nanami continues to carry out her responsibilities as a Land God with the help of her fox spirit familiar Tomoe.

Extra: We've got episode reviews for this second season here. You can stream both seasons on Funimation and Hulu.

One Piece - Season 7 Voyage 5
Funimation - 275 min - Hyb - MSRP $39.98
Currently cheapest at: $29.99 Right Stuf

Synopsis: Luffy's battle with the Vice Warden of Impel Down is interrupted by the arrival of Blackbeard. The outcome of the mission to rescue Ace depends on whether or not the team can find a way past the Gate of Justice.

Extra: We've got a review from earlier in the Impel Down arc here, and reviews of the show's most recent episodes are available here. Your many streaming options include Crunchyroll, Funimation, and Hulu.

Rage of Bahamut: Genesis - The Complete Series BD+DVD, Limited Edition
Funimation - 300 min - Hyb - MSRP $64.98|$84.98
Currently cheapest at: $48.74 Right Stuf|$63.74 Right Stuf

Synopsis: Professional bounty hunter Favaro likes to boast about his adventures to anyone who will listen, and that habit gets him in trouble when a one-winged demon takes his stories seriously and ropes him into helping her on a perilous journey.

Extra: You'll find episode reviews for this series here, and we've also got a full series review here. It's available streaming on Funimation and Hulu.

Space Brothers - Collection 8 BD, DVD
Sentai - 300 min - Sub - MSRP $59.98|$49.99
Currently cheapest at: $34.99 Amazon|$29.99 Amazon

Synopsis: Hibito goes through a series of tests to prove that he's fit to remain in the space program, while Mutta prepares for his own mission to the moon.

Extra: This set covers the last episodes of this 99-episode series, so it looks like this is my final chance to tell you to go watch Space Brothers if you haven't already. You'll find it streaming on Crunchyroll, Hulu, and The Anime Network.

Shelf Life Reviews

I burned through all of the Arise episodes in a very short amount of time in order to get up to speed before reviewing Ghost in The Shell: The New Movie. Even several days later, I'm still having weird dreams about being stuck in a robot body. The things I put myself through for your convenience and entertainment.

The Ghost in the Shell franchise has always been kind of a tough nut to crack, falling squarely into the “difficult but important” category of science fiction. Over the years, the various movies and TV series have all made my head hurt to one degree or another, but I've always enjoyed trying to puzzle through that trademark mix of technology and philosophy. The New Movie had a pretty high bar to clear as far as my expectation went, so it's a good sign that I came away happy.

The movie picks up where the Arise OVAs and Alternative Architecture TV series left off, with the enigmatic Major Motoko Kusanagi finally getting her special operations team approved and funded. The timing turns out to be pretty good; the Prime Minister is assassinated soon after her group gets the green light. The team is called in to investigate the killing, and they quickly start running into familiar threats. The Fire-Starter memory manipulation virus is in play once again as feuds between government officials turn deadly, and the roots of the crisis force Motoko to deal with some uncomfortable parts of her own past.

It's important to note that The New Movie is by no means a convenient entry point for newcomers to the franchise. It assumes that the viewer has already gone through Arise in either its TV or OVA form, so trying to jump in without that background knowledge is a bad idea. There's already enough intrigue and sci-fi jargon to keep up with that the last thing you want to do is try to play catch-up on who all the major and supporting characters are. While it doesn't work well in isolation, the tradeoff is that this movie is able to pull off some neat tricks to connect the more recent stuff to the roots of the franchise. The final scenes serve as a bridge that connects the Arise storyline to the beginning of the original movie and the early chapters of the manga. I don't think I've ever seen a prequel make that kind of link quite this well before, and it's a cool nod to longtime fans.

Of course, clever references and shout-outs don't mean much unless the movie itself is good. The encouraging news is that this feels like a Ghost in the Shell film in a lot of ways. From enormous walking tanks to detailed cybernetic limbs, the mechanical design is absolutely up to par, as is the background art and animation quality. Even if its visual style isn't particularly distinctive, this is a consistently good-looking movie. It also continues the franchise tradition of crafting multi-layered conspiracies and asking big questions about the impact of technology on human society. It's as much of a sink-or-swim proposition as ever when it comes to keeping up with all the twists and turns, but the story rewards the viewer's attention with some appropriately thought-provoking moments.

The movie does follow the Arise series in taking a more emotionally intense approach to its cast. As charismatic as she is, this version of Motoko continues to be more flawed and abrasive than some older interpretations of her character. That applies to the rest of her team as well; this is not the friendly and supportive group that we got to know in Stand Alone Complex. Even if it takes a little bit of fun out of the experience, I actually like this rougher characterization. It makes the whole group feel a little more human without giving up their wit or their ability to ponder the movie's more philosophical musings. Of course, it helps that their Logicoma mechs remain as adorably chipper as ever.

The character development ends up being one of the bigger draws in this movie, since the story doesn't always stand out. For all the questions it poses about the role of government in a digitally connected world and the consequences of integrating technology into our bodies, the movie never quite finds its own voice. Whereas the original Ghost in The Shell remains influential because it covered some genuinely fresh territory, this new iteration opts for evolution instead of revolution. In its quest to match the atmosphere of the franchise, it misses an opportunity to break new ground.

This physical release helps to justify its price point with a healthy amount of on-disc extras. Beyond the usual selection of trailers and promotional clips, there are enough world-building and explanatory videos to rival the running time of the movie itself. The English dub is also strong, building on the work done on the OVAs to produce a solid range of performances. Personal taste will still dictate whether you prefer previous castings or the current ones, but the new group sounds increasingly at home in their roles. You also get a digital copy of the movie, which is a nice touch that I haven't seen all that often in the US anime market.

Ghost in the Shell: The New Movie is no easier to approach than any of its predecessors, but I think it's worth the effort. It blows stuff up in spectacular fashion, but it also does what good science fiction is supposed to do by inviting the audience to think about the future. A lot of entertainment serves as an enjoyable way to shut your brain off for an hour or two; this movie is an enjoyable way to do exactly the opposite.

All right, that makes three weeks in a row of my reviews. Even I'm getting tired of reading my own writing at this point, so come on back next week when the rest of the Shelf Life crew steps back up to the plate!

This week's shelves are from Wayne:

"My name is Wayne and I'm just getting back from my weekly AA meeting (Anime Anonymous). The participants seem to all agree that I have an anime addiction, so I thought I would check with a pro that's seen many shelves to see if the comments they made are justified. I've attached proof in the way of photos of what they call my hard core addiction. Your opinion would be greatly appreciated."

An addiction it may be, but nothing that nicely arranged could ever be considered a bad thing. I'd worry more about the Terminator that seems to be hiding in the top corner of your shelf. Thanks for sharing!

If you'd like my not-especially-expert opinion on your own anime habit (or if you just want to show off your collection), send me your photos at [email protected]!

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