Shelf Life

by Paul Jensen, Gabriella Ekens,

About once or twice a year, I find myself putting off watching the last few episodes of an anime series for an unreasonably long time. It's almost never because the show is bad, but rather because I have a subconscious desire for it to not be over yet. The show goes on forever until I watch the finale, or at least that's what my brain wants to think. I've done this in the past with everything from Death Parade to School Rumble, and now I'm dragging my heels on Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju. This case is even sillier than usual, since there's another season of the show in the works. Stop procrastinating, me! Welcome to Shelf Life, everyone else!

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On Shelves This Week

Fruit of Grisaia - Season 1 BD, DVD
Sentai - 300 min - Sub - MSRP $59.98|$49.98
Currently cheapest at: $32.99 Amazon|$27.99 Amazon

Synopsis: Yuji Kazami transfers into Mihama Academy, a strange school with only only five other students. Each of his classmates seems a bit unusual, but Yuji is hiding some secrets of his own.

Extra: I may have to give this show a look at some point, since it seems just odd enough to pique my curiosity. We've got episode reviews here, and the series is available streaming on Crunchyroll, Hulu, and The Anime Network.

Strawberry Marshmallow - The Complete TV Series BD, DVD
Sentai - 300 min - Hyb - MSRP $59.98|$49.98
Currently cheapest at: $32.99 Amazon|$25.99 Amazon

Synopsis: College student Nobue Itou finds herself caught up in all kinds of cute and comedic antics with her younger sister and her eccentric group of friends.

Extra: We've got a couple of reviews of this show from back when it first came out, and you can read those here and here. There don't seem to be any official streaming sources for this one, possibly because of the license changing hands here in the US (this had been a Geneon property before Sentai Filmworks picked it up).

Shelf Life Reviews

Shelf Worthy
Nothing this week.

Nothing this week.

The somewhat bizarre C³ is the subject of this week's review. Here's Gabriella's take on the series.

Haruaki Yachi is immune to curses. As such, his globetrotting dad keeps sending him cursed artifacts so that they'll reform into ordinary girls. That's right, in this world magical objects can take the form of people, most often teenage girls. One morning, a particularly storied object arrives at Haruaki's doorstep – a black cube that can turn into a variety of torture instruments. Named Fear in Cube, she was locked away in a basement for centuries after the Inquisition. Now, however, she's free, and ready to become a regular schoolgirl. The only problem: she's cursed with driving her owners homicidally insane. Haruaki is her first chance to live a life that doesn't eventually devolve into bloody murder. This domestic setup quickly turns into a harem, as Haruaki helps out new cursed objects and befriends his classmates, who may have secrets of their own. Unfortunately, he's not the only one with an interest in these cursed tools – there are organizations who want to use them for their own purposes, or even exterminate them altogether. Haruaki, Fear, and company will need to fight these people off in order to maintain their happy high school life. But what if one of their own is a traitor?

Released in 2011, C³ is one of the earlier entries in the currently inescapable based-on-a-light-novel genre. As a setup, it amounts to something like A Certain Magical Index mixed with the Monogatari series. Milquetoast boy starts rooming with magical artifact girl and they have antics fixing problems involving other artifact girls. These things live or die on the personalities and gimmicks they can come up with for the girls, and C³ is pretty rote. Haruaki is one of the blandest leads I've encountered in a while. I honestly kept forgetting that he was in the show. The girls around him get most of the interactions with villains, so he mostly serves as a reason for them to hang out in the same place all the time. And of course, they're all in love with him. They include Konoha, the childhood friend archetype and a cursed sword. Fear herself is a pretty classic tsundere/cute unsocialized girl who Haruaki has to introduce to society. The most developed is probably Kirika, the student council president who possesses a number of difficult-to-handle cursed objects. These include magical fetish gear that heals all of her injuries (at the cost of killing her should she take it off) and a magical fighting ribbon (that compels her to torture-murder people). This gets her into BDSM antics. Because of her “condition,” she feels unable to act on her feelings for Harauki. Unfortunately, this is never resolved, as the series ends on a sequel hook. These are some pretty basic “anime girl” personalities, and there isn't much story to keep you watching in spite of it.

Lacking an overarching plot, the show consists of some pretty standard story arc-driven “boy fixes girls with magical emotional problems” stuff. And as an entry in that genre, C³ is pretty emotionally inert. The main guy's immunity to curses is never explained, and all he needs to do to fix these women is be nice in their general direction. Two of the three arcs deal more with a cackling villain than the girl's character. The dialogue is pretty bad in these – the first one's defining trait seems to be that she calls everyone “bitch.” The second one waxes some philosophic about human relationships before nearly getting torture-murdered and absconding to the nonexistent sequel. The one other story arc – about a cursed doll that compels people to fall in love with it and then kills them – is the most interesting, mostly because the plot actually engages with how the cursed object works. The Doll falls genuinely in love with its target and tries to get out of its obligation to kill her. Fortunately, our heroes manage to get her out of it (via torture porn). The couple stays together, but any emotional impact is killed by the fact that they're a yuri cliché in a show that otherwise contains some pretty bad attitudes towards women. Beneath some of the standard genre platitudes about the importance of human connection, C³ flirts with meaning, but never amounts to it.

But that's not why anyone talks about this show. When C³ is brought up in conversation at all, it's usually in reference to its visuals. Series director Shin Oonuma was a former compatriot of Akiyuki Simbo over at Shaft, and it shows. This show – made at his own studio Silver Link – borrows liberally from the visual ideas on display in both Puella Magi Madoka Magica and the Monogatari series. Most notably, these include Monogatari's quick cutaways and Madoka's collage-like fairy tale segments. (Quick disclosure: it's up to an animation scholar to determine which artistic decisions originated from either Simbo or Oonuma, but they're used to worse effect here, so I'm calling them derivative.) As an imitation, it's not poorly executed, but the rip is too transparent for me to call C³ visually inspired on its own. Silver Link does an admirable job imitating Shaft, but they're still more of a budget studio. The colors are muddier and the animation way stiffer than what you'd see in either Monogatari or Madoka. Unlike those two shows, the style also fails resonate with the material on any level besides being nice to look at. It might be worth checking out if you're interested in cataloguing the visual hallmarks of individual directors and the like, but for the untrained eye, this is just a cruder version of two already well known styles.

It's also worth noting that this show is significantly raunchier than Monogatari. Simbo is known to have an, uh, thing for young-looking girls, and Oonuma appears to share that proclivity. This is evidenced by the fact that he's directed every season of Fate/kaleid liner Prisma Illya, an infamous long-running lolicon show. What I'm getting at is that C³ contains shots of little girls' underpants. I think that's fair to disclose. The fanservice in general is a lot more conventional than its most overt inspiration. When Monogatari concerns itself with looking at sexy ladies, it's expressed through suggestive conversations and direction that implies more about their bodies than it shows. C³, in contrast, has a lot of people face-planting into boobs. They're superficially similar, but at their core purpose as titillation, the two shows function entirely differently. C³ also has an unpleasant torture fixation. There's a lot of women getting messed up while the camera ogles their writhing forms. Different strokes and all, but this coupled with the lolicon stuff was enough to push C³ over the line into “unpleasant” territory for me. Plenty of otaku-oriented fanservice stuff manages to have a tolerable attitude towards women, but this isn't one of them. Blegh.

Overall, C³ is a standard fanservice harem mostly notable for some stylistic eccentricities. It tires hard to ride on the coattails of some big late 2000s/early 2010s shows (Madoka's darkness and Monogatari's avant garde posturing) but fails to do anything interesting with its narrative. The nature of its fanservice put me off hard. But for as much as I disliked this show, I'll admit that I was never bored. It's snappily paced, and I can believe that this content entertains some audience somewhere. I'm not impressed by its derivative visuals, but I'll take it over something visually uninspired. That's why I'm giving this a “rental” and not “perishable” – a rating I reserve for shows that, in my estimation, fail for their intended audience. If you feel your tastes are in line with mine, stay away from this, but if you're into the Baka to Tests and Certain Magical Indexes of the world, maybe give this a shot.

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

This week's shelves are from Marcos:

"Hello. As of this writing, it's been nearly 7 years (?!) since my shelves were featured on the column and I must say, things got out of hand. In a multitude of ways.

Maybe you've heard a bit on the news that things have gotten exponentially worse in Venezuela and food, supplies and medicine have quickly taken precedence over hobbies, yet over the years that urge to seize every chance to add 'just one more thing' to the collection has not faded away. In fact, I had been holding off on submitting my shelves for years because there was always something on the way. 

But now that after a year of back-and-forths I finally have nothing in transit, this seems like a good place to stop and take a breather. Well, the fact that the increasingly oppressive government has done away with our already meager allowance of currency for internet shopping also 'helps'. (Yes, a yearly allowance. It's been awful for years.)

Briefly moving on to some highlights of the collection since the last time: new shelves, no more space, started dipping into the dangerously tempting world of Japanese imports, got a proper record player (great regret: not double dipping on a Haruhi volume 1 DVD to get that Hare Hare Yukai 7"), salvaged an old drama/soundtrack hybrid LP for Heidi Girl of the Alps from my mother's old records, a cool postcard from the 2012 run of a Tezuka-inspired stage play in France, yup that's a bootleg L Nendoroid, nope I haven't bought much at local cons since, I'm desperate to catch up on Fantagraphics' Wandering Son, I got an Umaibou! (tragically expired by the time it made its way to me) and got a signed copy of Ryusuke Chayama's Comiket 87 doujinshi thanks to the Time of Eve Kickstarter.

At the end of the day, I like to look at these shelves and think that all the hoop jumping, asking of favors, technical breaking of laws, and the horrors of international freight forwarding and local labyrinthine currency controls have been worth it. Anyways, sorry for the monologue, and thanks for the column, I've kept on reading this whole time.

Oh wait. I've never thought about it that way. I've broken laws for anime."

Wow, that collection would be impressive even if you hadn't had to jump through all those extra hoops to get everything. Thanks for sharing!

I need more collections to show off in this segment! No, really, I'm just about out of entries at the moment, so send me your photos at [email protected]

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