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Shelf Life
Wake Up, Girls! The Movie

by Paul Jensen, James Beckett,

With all the craziness that's been going on in the last few days regarding anime on Hulu (see this Answerman article for the details), I'm reminded of why it's nice to own stuff on disc. Forget all that stuff about video quality and dependence on a stable internet connection, sometimes it's just good to be able to say, "I own this physical thing and it's not going to go away just because a licensing deal expires." Most of us (myself included) may never have the money to buy a copy of every show we've ever enjoyed, but there's an argument to be made for owning those few titles that you find yourself wanting to watch over and over again. Now that I've had a moment to stand on my soapbox full of limited edition Blu-ray cases, let's take a look at what's coming out this week. Welcome to Shelf Life.

Jump to this week's review:
Wake Up, Girls! The Movie

On Shelves This Week

8 Man After - Complete Collection DVD
Eastern Star - 120 min - Hyb - MSRP $24.95
Currently cheapest at: $16.22 Right Stuf

Synopsis: While investigating a case of stolen cybernetic technology, private detective Hasuma is fatally wounded. He is resurrected as the cyborg superhero 8 Man and continues his fight against crime.

Extra: A dub-only version of this OVA series was released way back in 2001, and you can read a review of that one here.

Blue Submarine No.6 - Complete Collection [DTS Ed.] DVD
Eastern Star - 130 min - Hyb - MSRP $14.95
Currently cheapest at: $9.72 Right Stuf

Synopsis: With humanity already facing extinction from rising sea levels, an army of aquatic mutants led by the scientist Zorndyke has begun waging war against mankind. The only hope of defeating them lies with the crew of an advanced submarine.

Extra: This OVA has seen a few different releases in the US over the years, and you can read a review of one of the more recent ones here. This latest version is mainly notable for containing two different versions of the English dub.

Log Horizon - Season 2 Collection 1 BD, DVD
Sentai - 325 min - Hyb - MSRP $69.98|$59.98
Currently cheapest at: $37.99 Amazon|$32.99 Amazon

Synopsis: With several crises throwing the world of Elder Tale into chaos, Shiroe and his allies must choose between playing it safe and taking on risky new raids in search of new treasure.

Extra: We've got episode reviews of this season here, along with reviews of the previous season here and here. You'll find the series streaming on Crunchyroll, Hulu, and The Anime Network.

One Piece - Season 8 Voyage 1 DVD
Funimation - 300 min - Hyb - MSRP $39.98
Currently cheapest at: $25.99 Right Stuf

Synopsis: Luffy's mission to rescue Ace takes him from the prison Impel Down to the Navy headquarters at Marineford. If he wants to stop the execution, Luffy will have to find a way inside the heavily guarded fortress.

Extra: It's been a little while since we've had a review of any of the One Piece DVD sets, but you can keep up with the most recent episode reviews here. Your options for riding the stream train include Crunchyroll, Funimation, and Hulu.

Pokemon: Johto League Champions - Complete Collection DVD
Viz - 1220 min - Dub - MSRP $49.99
Currently cheapest at: $33.21 Barnes and Noble

Synopsis: Ash, Misty and Brock take on new challenges in the Johto Region, including mysteries from the region's past and several new Gyms.

Extra: You'll find a huge number of Pokemon episodes streaming on Hulu and the official Pokemon website.

Saekano: How to Raise a Boring Girlfriend - Set 2 BD
Aniplex - 175 min - Sub - MSRP $89.98
Currently cheapest at: $69.98 Right Stuf

Synopsis: Tomoya has finally assembled the team he needs to complete his dating game masterpiece, but he still needs someone to make the game's soundtrack. His cousin Michiru has the talent, but can Tomoya convince her to join the project?

Extra: We've got a review of the previous set here, along with episode reviews and a full series review. You can stream the series on Crunchyroll, Hulu, and the Aniplex Channel.

When They Cry Kai - Complete Collection BD, DVD
Sentai - 600 min - Sub - MSRP $89.98|$69.98
Currently cheapest at: $49.99 Amazon|$37.99 Amazon

Synopsis: The first wave of madness and murder that gripped the town of Hinamizawa is over, but the cycle of death continues. As the survivors try to deal with the aftermath of the carnage, Rena may hold the key to finally solving the mystery.

Extra: This appears to be the first time this season has been available on disc in the US, which isn't a huge surprise given all the licensing drama the series has been through over the years. You'll find reviews of season one here and here.

Your Lie in April - Set 2 BD
Aniplex - 250 min - Hyb - MSRP $159.98
Currently cheapest at: $129.98 Right Stuf

Synopsis: As summer passes by, Kaori begins spending more and more time in the hospital. Kousei pours all of his energy into a performance that he hopes will reach her.

Extra: We've got episode reviews, a full series review, and a review of set 1 available for your reading pleasure. You'll find the series streaming on Crunchyroll, Hulu, and the Aniplex Channel.

Shelf Life Reviews

James jumps into the crowded seas of idol anime this week with a review of Wake Up, Girls! The Movie.

I have a long held fascination with “Getting the Band Together” stories. You know the ones: “A plucky group of misfits/has-beens/losers come together to defy the odds and put on the greatest show of their lives”. It's pretty funny, then, that I've never really taken the time to dive into any of the many idol shows that have been populating the anime market over the past few years. It's never been a matter of taste; they all just flew under my radar, somehow.

That all changes with Sentai Filmworks' release of Wake Up Girls! The Movie. Acting as a prequel to the 12-episode long series bearing the same name, Wake Up Girls! The Movie tells the story of the struggling Green Leaves Entertainment talent agency, and its seemingly lone scout/manager, Matsuda. Despite knowing nothing about the idol business, and having exactly zero leads to work with, Matsuda is assigned the task of breaking into the mega-popular world of pop idols by assembling a group of cute teenage girls that can sing and dance and make millions of yen. The candidates that Green Leaves ends up with are certainly teenage girls, but their prospects and entertainers seem dubious at best. Can Matsuda shape this group of oddballs into idols extraordinaire?

On paper, I should love this show. It has everything I look for in these kinds of setups: The in-over-their-head band manager, the cast of wacky misfits who can barely get through four bars of music before collapsing into shenanigans, it's all there. My reaction to the finished product, though, left a lot to be desired.

I'll say right now that Wake Up Girls! The Movie is by no means a terrible product. It's well animated, the Japanese-only dub is appropriately charming and occasionally even funny, and the musical performances we get glimpses of are entertaining and poppy enough to just barely qualify as satisfying. So why has my reaction been so muted?

The biggest problem is the film's running time. Despite labeling itself as a “movie”, Wake Up Girls! The Movie runs at a scant 52 minutes long, and it somehow manages to feel both overstuffed and stretched-too-thin at that length. So much of the film is devoted to slow-paced dialogue and repetitive character development scenes that there were times I was checking the run-time to see how much of the movie was left. Other-times though, plot twists and character advancements come almost literally out of nowhere, causing a lot of the drama and pathos the movie tries to throw at you to feel unearned and cheap.

Here's an example: Early in the movie we get a montage of our seven leading ladies practicing their singing and dancing. The long-and-short of it is that they're terrible. The girls are uncoordinated at best, and in a few cases they also seem to be clearly lacking in the talent department as well. In most of these kinds of stories this would lead to scenes of the girls bonding as they grow, developing the skills they need to succeed while also growing as friends. What the anime gives us could maybe be seen as that kind of development, I suppose. Kind of. If you squinted a little, perhaps? Without spoiling anything, I'll say it certainly wasn't enough to make later events seem any less jarring and rushed than they ended up being. The movie wants to stick to the tried and true tropes of underdog stories, but doesn't want to commit to the time and effort needed to earn the payoff. It gives you the setup, throws a little lip-service to the occasional character beat or two, and then ends with a sudden bang, one that ends up ringing very hollow.

That lack of investment and development is the core issue of the movie, really. Despite focusing on a group of seven would-be superstars, I had a hard time remembering anybody's name or character traits by the end of the film, save for Mayu, who is essentially the anime's female protagonist. While I appreciated seeing her internal struggles at returning to the life of stardom that had done her so much harm, I would have loved to learn more about the other girls. Matsuda is fine as the only other character we get to meet, but he comes across as kind of pushy and persistent, without ever really changing. I know it's supposed to be endearing, and sometimes it was, but too often it ended up playing more annoying than cute. Pretty much everyone is introduced to the viewers as barely-developed sketches of people, and the movie ends with all of them in pretty much the same position.

In fact, to say that the movie “ends” is a little generous; it really just sort of stops. Nothing is really resolved, there's no sense of closure. This honestly isn't the worst thing in the world, since it is a prequel to a longer series. All of the above complaints about the movie might very well be addressed in the twelve episodes that follow. My problem, I suppose, comes from that label, “movie”. I usually expect a movie to provide a certain sense of completeness, one that Wake Up Girls! The Movie doesn't really provide. Given its minuscule run-time and relative lack of material, it really ends up feeling like a double-length first episode, or something along those lines.

And again, all of this would be a lot easier to swallow if it were packaged together with the show, or with some bonus material that helped give the product some weight. As it stands, Wake Up girls! The Movie's Blu-Ray release is textbook bare-bones, lacking any kind of features or audio options to speak of. The Japanese dub is good, though, and the actual Blu-Ray transfer is a pretty good one, especially since the technical qualities of the film are good all around. It's actually a decent metaphor for Wake Up Girls! The Movie overall: it looks and sounds pretty, but it ultimately feels a little empty.

At the end of the day though, the disc only costs about $17, and if you really dig idol shows, or simply know that you enjoy the series that followed this film, this might not be a bad buy for you. Anyone outside that camp will want to hold off on committing to a purchase, though. These girls have a lot of promise, but until I can sit down with the complete series, the jury's still out on whether or not they can live up to all of that potential.

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

This week's shelves are from DJ:

"On my top shelf, I have a lot of the books I read years ago, ones that got me into manga in the first place, like Fruits Basket and Vampire Knight. While my tastes have changed and I'm not quite as interested in these titles as I once was, I still like having them for nostalgia's sake. I also have two shijitaki boards I got from Madoka Magica: Rebellion's premiere at my local theatre. I'm really happy that I got one of my favorite couples, Kyoko and Sayaka! (Although, I have to admit, Madoka and Homura is my OTP. I'm sorry. Kind of. ) 

Next down, I have a lot of things that I haven't gotten to read, like Genshiken and Real Bout High School. These both were given to me by a friend, but I haven't gotten to reading them yet. I'm not sure which of the two I should start with first! I also have some of my favorites, like Durarara and Tsubasa. Lodged in between all of these books, you might be able to catch a glimpse of some cds. These are all imported CDs, mostly music from visual novels. A lot of them are sung by my favorite singer, Miyuki Hashimoto. I also have some figures. From left to right, the characters are: Primula and Kaede from Shuffle, Yakumo from School Rumble, then Kaworu from Evangelion, Arcuied from Tsukihime (one of her arms is gone--I lost it, but she originally was wielding a flame), and finally a little chibi figure of Allen Walker from D. Gray Man. 

Then, we have my collection of Alice in the Country of...books. It is one of my favorite series, and I even bought the second game it's based on, Alice in the Country of Clover, as you can see from the DVD at the very right edge of that shelf. Unfortunately, the game is FILLED with bugs so I couldn't get it to work on my computer.

After that, we have the shelf I'm definitely the most proud of: the shelf that contains most of my visual novels and figures. From left to right I have Oretachi ni Tsubasa wa Nai R, Kanon All-Ages Edition, Rewrite Limited Edition, and Little Busters Limited Edition.

Oretsuba R, as I'll call it for short, was a nightmare to buy because even in Japan it seems to be hard to find. I'm not sure why this was--maybe because this was the all-ages edition and not many people want to buy that? I actually had to go through a proxy to get it, and even that was difficult. There are two versions of this game: one is just the game, but another has an OVA bundled with it that is x-rated. I only want to buy all-ages visual novels, so I had to make sure the version the proxy was buying wasn't the version with the OVA. 

Kanon holds a very special place in my heart because it was the first visual novel I ever played. Now, importing games is fairly easy because Amazon and eBay have such good selections, but when I first bought it at least 7 years ago (just like in the story!) I remember being unable to believe I was able to obtain it. 

Rewrite was an easy find. I got it on Amazon, and I was not told I was getting the limited edition. I was very pleasantly surprised! I got the Little Busters limited edition on eBay. The plush doll is Komari from Little Busters, as she is my favorite character in that game. I bought her through the proxy too, but this time it was a smooth experience.

The figures are (from left to right on this shelf) Minagi from Air, Ayu from Kanon, Otome and Yume from Da Capo II, Asa from Shuffle and Lisianthus from Shuffle.

Finally, we have a little spot for my favorite visual novel franchises: Shuffle and Da Capo. While I haven't played the English versions (they are only 18 and up in English) I have played the all-ages versions of both games in Japanese, and I just fell in love with these series. On the left there is a collection of various DVDs and of manga from these series, and on the right there are my guidebooks for Da Capo Plus Situation and Shuffle on the Stage. I also have four VNs. From left-to-right they are: Day of Love, Amusement Park, Kira Kira All-Ages Edition, and Hourglass of Summer. Except for Kira Kira, finding all of these was hard because the company that made them, Hirameki, is closed. It's practically a miracle that I found them all.

If anyone has suggestions for good all-ages VNs to read, please tell me in the comments!"

I like the way you've got got the visual novels on the lower shelves displayed, very cool! Oh, and you should totally read Genshiken immediately. Thanks for sharing!

More shelves! More shelves, I say! Send me photos of your collections at [email protected], and I'll show them off to the world here.

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