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:
Medaka Box

On Shelves This Week

A Wind Named Amnesia DVD
Eastern Star - 80 min - Hyb - MSRP $24.95
Currently cheapest at: $16.22 Right Stuf

Synopsis: Two people set out on a journey across the United States in a post-apocalyptic future where all humans have lost their memories.

Extra: It's been over ten years since this movie last came out on disc in the US, but we've still got two reviews of it from way back when. You'll find the older of the two here, and the more recent review here.

Den-noh Coil - Collection 1 BD, DVD
Maiden Japan - 325 min - Hyb - MSRP $69.98|$59.98
Currently cheapest at: $37.99 Amazon|$38.99 Right Stuf

Synopsis: In a city where nearly everyone wears augmented reality glasses, a young girl named Yuko gets caught up in the investigation of a mysterious computer virus.

Extra: While this is the first time this series has been available in the US, it did come out on Region 4 DVD a few years ago, and we've got two reviews of that release here and here.

Hakuoki: Demon of the Fleeting Blossom: Wild Dance of Kyoto BD, DVD
Sentai - 95 min - Hyb - MSRP $39.98|$29.98
Currently cheapest at: $21.99 Amazon|$19.49 Right Stuf

Synopsis: As the forces of the Shogunate clash with a group of vampiric warriors in ancient Kyoto, a woman named Chizuru searches for her missing father.

Extra: Goodness gracious, that's a long title. This movie is the first of two, and both are related to a TV series that was reviewed here back in 2012. The movies don't appear to be available from the usual streaming sources, but you'll find the TV series on Hulu and The Anime Network.

Love Live! The School Idol Movie [Premium Edition] BD
NIS - 99 min - Hyb - MSRP $54.99
Currently cheapest at: $41.24 Right Stuf

Synopsis: Just as the girls of μ's are getting ready to dissolve their school idol group, they receive news that sends them on one last adventure together.

Extra: I suppose it's fitting that this movie is coming out on disc right before Love Live Sunshine ushers in a new group of idols. We've got a review here, and you can stream the TV series on Crunchyroll.

Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt [Limited Edition] [Import] BD
Right Stuf - 70 min - Hyb - MSRP $89.99
Currently cheapest at: $89.99 Right Stuf

Synopsis: Amidst the wreckage of the Side 4 space colony, troops from Zeon and the Earth Federation engage in a deadly conflict.

Extra: I'm always a little surprised by imports with English dubs, but I guess it's becoming a more common way of doing things these days. You can watch the first seven minutes of this series in either Japanese or English here.

One Piece - Collection 16 DVD
Funimation - 625 min - Hyb - MSRP $34.98
Currently cheapest at: $26.24 Right Stuf

Synopsis: Zoro and Sanji must protect Luffy from Bartholomew Kuma while he recovers from his battle with Gecko Moria. Later, the Straw Hats attempt to rescue a mermaid who has been kidnapped by the Celestial Dragons.

Extra: It wouldn't be a big new release week without a One Piece collection or two. As always, recent episode reviews are here and you can stream the series on Crunchyroll, Funimation, and Hulu.

Pilot Candidate - Complete Series DVD
Eastern Star - 300 min - Hyb - MSRP $39.95
Currently cheapest at: $25.97 Right Stuf

Synopsis: Five powerful robots are all that stand between alien invaders and the last human colony in space. Trainee pilot Zero gets a shot at piloting one of these robots when he accidentally syncs up with one of them.

Extra: I feel like there were trailers for Pilot Candidate on at least half of the DVDs I bought back in the early 2000s, but I never actually watched it. We've got one review of the series from a long time ago, and you can read it here.

Selector Spread WIXOSS BD+DVD
Funimation - 300 min - Hyb - MSRP $64.98
Currently cheapest at: $48.74 Right Stuf

Synopsis: Ruko must battle a new group of Selectors as she searches for the truth behind WIXOSS and Tama's disappearance.

Extra: We don't have any reviews of this season, but you'll find a couple of different takes on its predecessor here and here. The series is available streaming on Funimation and Hulu.

Soul Hunter - Complete Series DVD
Eastern Star - 600 min - Hyb - MSRP $49.95
Currently cheapest at: $32.47 Right Stuf

Synopsis: In a time where evils spirits threaten mankind, a council of supernatural guardians chooses an incompetent slacker to lead the fight against the demonic threat.

Extra: Another series that hasn't seen the light of day in the US since the early 2000s, and once again we've got a review from its previous outing on DVD. You'll find that old review here.

Wagnaria!!3 Part 1 BD
Aniplex - 166 min - Sub - MSRP $89.98
Currently cheapest at: $69.98 Right Stuf

Synopsis: Takanashi and the other eccentric employees of the Wagnaria restaurant return for another season of romantic tension and comedic hijinks.

Extra: Episode reviews of this series (written by yours truly) are available here. Streaming sources for this one include Crunchyroll, Daisuki, Hulu, and the Aniplex Channel.

Yurikuma Arashi - Complete Series BD+DVD
Funimation - 300 min - Hyb - MSRP $64.98
Currently cheapest at: $48.74 Right Stuf

Synopsis: A high school girl gets caught up in a conflict between humans and intelligent bears as she fights to stay together with the person she loves most.

Extra: We've got episode reviews of this series here, and you can watch it online on Funimation and Hulu.

Shelf Life Reviews

Shelf Worthy
Nothing this week.
Medaka Box
Nothing this week.

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?

Most shows are relatively easy to judge after a few episodes. Either something catches your interest or you shrug and walk away, and those early impressions are usually pretty reliable. Every once in a while though, you run across a series like Medaka Box, which takes a grand total of nine episodes to reveal what it's actually about. It's a messy and occasionally baffling piece of work, but it's also got some interesting ideas hiding behind all the noise and confusion. It actually took me a few days to form a coherent opinion after I finished watching it, and that's not something that happens very often.

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/Pokemon 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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