Shelf Life Medaka Box
by Paul Jensen,
Memory can be a funny thing, especially when it comes to remembering things that you watched or read a long time ago. I pulled an old Armored Trooper Votoms DVD off my shelf the other day and was only able to recall being amused at how the hero was constantly able to sneak up on the bad guys while wearing a bright orange jumpsuit. Beyond that single impression and a vague idea of the show's premise, I drew a complete blank. From fifty-two episodes of giant robot battles, my brain chose to hang on to an opinion of a character's wardrobe. Go figure. Welcome to Shelf Life.
Jump to this week's review:
On Shelves This Week
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Shelf Life Reviews
I was expecting a pretty normal action comedy when I started watching Medaka Box for this week's review. What I got was something else entirely, but was it any good?
Medaka Box starts out as a fairly run-of-the-mill school comedy. Newly elected student council president Medaka drafts her childhood friend Zenkichi into helping her deal with requests that come in through a suggestion box. As the two of them help other students find over-the-top solutions to mundane problems, they gradually recruit other people onto the student council. Things go from lighthearted to deadly serious when a feud with the school's disciplinary committee escalates into a brawl so violent that one of the buildings on campus ends up in a pile of rubble. This starts Medaka and company down the path to unraveling a sinister plan to create the “perfect human” by using every student in the school as an expendable test subject.
That huge pivot from problem-solving comedy to super-powered action doesn't happen until nearly halfway through the series, which is a long time for a show to keep its big twist under wraps. In the eight episodes before the ball starts rolling, Medaka Box comes across as underwhelming, with its only real selling point being the absurd ways Medaka finds to deal with the suggestion box entries. Many of the characters also seem unsuited to their initial roles: Zenkichi's fighting skills are at odds with the theme of peaceful reconciliation, and Medaka suffers from all the issues associated with seemingly perfect characters. The show is still reasonably entertaining in these early episodes, but it never really clicks.
When the big reveal does happen, it happens in a hurry. People suddenly start getting beaten to a bloody pulp, and the first genuine villain has a remarkably casual attitude towards using violence to get his way. It's a jarring shift in tone, but it does start to justify Medaka's portrayal up to that point. Building her up as a seemingly invincible heroine allows the show to use its action scenes to explore some interesting themes. At its core, Medaka Box is interested in how natural talent can make it hard for a person to fit into “normal” society, along with the question of whether or not an ordinary person can surpass an abnormally talented person through persistent effort. Many of the conflicts in the show's second half play into those ideas, and Medaka Box is pretty good at inventing special abilities that complement each character's personality. Having a big flashy fistfight is all well and good, but it's even better when all the punching and shouting actually means something.
Of course, it always helps when those big battle scenes look good. Medaka Box boasts some solid animation, and it can stage an action scene with plenty of visual flair. Even before the fists start flying, the show exhibits strong production values across the board. The series does have a habit of tossing in fanservice wherever it can, though most of it is in keeping with the deliberately over-the-top atmosphere. I'll also give it some credit for including plenty of scantily clad guys along with the scantily clad girls, so at least there's something for everyone.
As if there weren't enough ups and downs already, it's worth noting that Medaka Box has one of the strangest and most baffling endings I've seen in quite a while. The original manga apparently goes on for quite a while after the anime's last story arc, which isn't all that unusual, but it is unusual for an anime adaptation to go out of its way to draw attention to that issue. Instead of trying to quietly sneak by with a weak conclusion, the show comes right out and announces that it doesn't have enough time left to reach a satisfying ending. It's certainly a novel way of addressing one of the biggest problems with adaptations, but it also made me storm out of the room in a cloud of confusion and frustration.
For such an odd show, Medaka Box comes in a pretty normal package. You get two seasons on three discs, along with clean openings and closings and some promo videos. The dub is serviceable, if a bit stiff when it comes to delivering long monologues. In both languages, some of the eccentric minor characters end up stealing the show from the more archetypal leads. I'm still not a fan of keeping the Japanese honorifics in the English dub script, but that's largely a subjective complaint. Aside from having a lower price point and taking up less shelf space, this collection doesn't differ much from the single-season sets.
I have very mixed feelings about Medaka Box. It's an entertaining and visually appealing series with some clever ideas, but it almost seems to go out of its way to be difficult to watch. It makes some genuinely strange choices, leaving the audience with little choice but to play along to see how things turn out. That need to sit down and wrestle with a series in order to get something out of it makes me want to compare it to the Bakemonogatari franchise, which is perhaps appropriate as these two works have the same original author. Whether or not Medaka Box is worth the effort will be a very subjective and personal call; I enjoyed it, but I have a soft spot for shows that are willing to annoy the audience in order to prove a point. If that doesn't sound like your idea of a good time, you're probably better off looking elsewhere.
That's all for this week's review section. Thanks for reading!
This week's shelves are from Chris:
"I've been a fan of anime since I was a kid and watched DBZ/Pokémon and then continuing later into middle/high school with what aired on Toonami and Adult Swim. It wasn't until my freshman year of college in 2007 that I started getting into anime outside of what aired on cable TV and started collecting them on DVD. It's just continued to grow since than as evidenced by the pictures.
Sophmore year I got into manga some, but my interest in that has always lagged behind my interest in anime so it's only a couple series that I collect for that. Not shown in the pictures are some manga that are in the basement in a box somewhere that includes most of the Tsubasa, RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE volumes, most of FMA, a couple Air Gear volumes, and a few Love Hina.
Also included is a picture of my computer setup which sits right next to my shelves. Thanks for letting me share."
Sounds like you and I rode that same Toonami wave into anime fandom, which might explain why we have a lot of the same shows in our respective collections. I definitely envy that dual monitor setup, though. Thanks for sharing!
Hey, you! Yes, you, the person reading this who has been thinking about sending in an entry for Shelf Obsessed but hasn't gotten around to it yet! Now is the time to realize your destiny by sending photos of your collection to me at [email protected]!
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