Shelf Life
When They Cry: Kai

by Paul Jensen, James Beckett,

Working on the Preview Guide has taken up most of my time this week, and it's been kind of cool to have a legitimate excuse to watch the first episode of every single new show this season. The long and short of it is that DAYS is my new sports anime obsession and planetarian is going to reduce me to a sobbing mess at some point in the next few weeks. Welcome to Shelf Life.

Jump to this week's review:
When They Cry: Kai

On Shelves This Week

A Good Librarian Like a Good Shepherd - Complete Series BD+DVD
Funimation - 300 min - Sub - MSRP $49.98
Currently cheapest at: $37.49 Right Stuf

Synopsis: A mysterious premonition leads shy bookworm Kyotaro to meet a beautiful girl named Tsugumi. When Tsugumi joins Kyotaro in their school's library club, their lives begin to change.

Extra: We don't have any full reviews of this series, but we do at least have some Preview Guide coverage of the first episode. You'll find it streaming on Funimation and Hulu.

Belladonna of Sadness BD
Cinelicious - 87 min - Sub - MSRP $39.99
Currently cheapest at: $39.99 Amazon

Synopsis: After being assaulted on her wedding night, young peasant woman Jeanne makes a deal with the Devil to gain the power to take revenge on the local lord.

Extra: While it looks like this is the first time this movie has been available on disc in the US, we've got a recent review that you can read here. It doesn't seem to be streaming anywhere, but you'll find a trailer on the Cinelicious Pics website.

Lucky Star - Complete Series + OVA BD+DVD
Funimation - 600 min - Hyb - MSRP $64.98
Currently cheapest at: $48.74 Right Stuf

Synopsis: Lazy high school student and anime fanatic Konata spends her time hanging out and talking about anime trivia with her three best friends.

Extra: Lucky Star was kind of a big deal when it first came out, but it kind of fell under the radar after Bandai stopped selling it on disc in the States. We've got some reviews here and here, and you'll find a few episodes streaming on Funimation.

Pokemon XY: Kalos Quest - Set 1 DVD
Viz - 528 min - Dub - MSRP $26.98
Currently cheapest at: $18.31 Barnes and Noble

Synopsis: Ash makes new friends and encounters new rivals as he continues to collect the Gym badges needed to enter the Kalos League.

Extra: You'll find this particular season (not to mention a whole bunch more) streaming on the Pokémon website.

Rin-Ne - Set 1 BD, DVD
Sentai - 325 min - Sub - MSRP $59.98|$49.98
Currently cheapest at: $38.99 Right Stuf|$32.49 Right Stuf

Synopsis: After seeing ghosts for most of her life, high school student Sakura teams up with her part-Shinigami classmate Rinne and begins helping him send ghosts on to the afterlife.

Extra: We've got episode reviews for part of this series, which you can read here. You can watch it on Crunchyroll, Hulu, and The Anime Network.

Robotics;Notes - Complete Collection [S.A.V.E.] BD+DVD
Funimation - 550 min - Hyb - MSRP $34.98
Currently cheapest at: $26.24 Right Stuf

Synopsis: High school friends Kaito and Akiho stumble upon a large conspiracy while working towards their robotics club's goal of constructing a giant robot.

Extra: You'll find Shelf Life reviews of this series here and here, along with a review of the full series here. It's streaming on Funimation and Hulu.

Sound! Euphonium - Set 2 [Collector's Edition] BD+DVD
Ponycan - 115 min - Sub - MSRP $89.98
Currently cheapest at: $71.98 Right Stuf

Synopsis: Kumiko, Reina, and the rest of the band deal with conflicts and challenges as they prepare for the big competition.

Extra: Splitting a single season into three parts for the physical release seems silly to me, but that's how it goes sometimes. Episode reviews are here, and the show's streaming on Crunchyroll.

Strawberry Marshmallow - Complete OVA Series BD, DVD
Sentai - 130 min - Sub - MSRP $34.98|$24.98
Currently cheapest at: $22.74 Right Stuf|$16.24 Right Stuf

Synopsis: The everyday adventures of Chika and friends continue in this OVA collection.

Extra: Unlike the TV series, the OVAs for Strawberry Marshmallow haven't been available on disc in the US until now. You'll find a few reviews of the TV series here and here.

Yatterman Night - Complete Series DVD
Funimation - 300 min - Sub - MSRP $44.98
Currently cheapest at: $33.74 Right Stuf

Synopsis: Years after the Yatterman heroes defeated the Doronbow Gang and their leader Doronjo, the Yatter Kingdom has fallen into unrest under a tyrranical government. A descendant of Doronjo rises to reform the Gang and lead a rebellion.

Extra: We've got episode reviews from when this series first aired, along with a full series review. It's available in streaming form on Funimation and Hulu.

Shelf Life Reviews

James takes a return trip to the horror-filled world of When They Cry this week with a review of When They Cry - Kai.

When I reviewed the first season of When They Cry back in March, I was struck by how much I liked the show, given its rough first impressions. The animation and character designs were pretty ugly, and the story was presented in a rather unique way that nonetheless created some noticeable pacing and tonal issues. Still, in spite of its problems, When They Cry season 1 managed to create an atmosphere of genuinely unsettling horror, one backed up by a compelling central mystery and an endearing cast. This month, Sentai is releasing When They Cry's follow-up, When They Cry - Kai, for the first time in the West. Does this second entry in the Higurashi saga live up to the expectations set by the first?

There are two things to note before answering that question. The first is that When They Cry - Kai is a full-fledged sequel, and simply wouldn't work as a standalone product. While normally I would include a summary of the plot right about here, just about any description of what occurs in When They Cry - Kai would constitute heavy spoilers for the first season, which I absolutely want to avoid. If you haven't seen the first season of When They Cry, turn back now!

If you have seen the first season, all you need to know is that Kai continues the story of the small Japanese village of Hinamizawa, and the children that are forced to unravel its deranged and deadly mysteries. Keiichi, Rena, Mion, Shion, Satoko, and Rika all return, and even though the details of their bloody summer are more clear, nothing can prepare them for the scope of what they'll be facing in this second season. I'll leave it at that, lest I ruin any of the surprises in store for new and old viewers alike.

The second thing to note is that When They Cry - Kai is a completely different animal from its predecessor, both in aesthetics and tone. Despite carrying on the story and the characters from the first season, anyone that goes into Kai expecting more of the same will be in for a big shock. For many, such as myself, this will only make things more interesting. However, it was the sharp, gory shock of horror and twisted storytelling that made the first season so notable in the first place, and those elements definitely take a back seat this time around. Those of you looking for a scary story to keep you up at night should go into When They Cry - Kai with tempered expectations.

So what is When They Cry - Kai, if not the blood-soaked horror-fest the first season was? Well, for one thing, it's a much better looking show. The animation seems to have gotten a boost in budget between seasons, not to mention more modernized character designs, and the difference is like night and day, despite being not all that different on the whole. When They Cry - Kai is a much more consistently well animated product, and therefore a much more effective one. The first season had some moments of suspense that animation gaffes turned into unintentional comedy; none of that is to be found here.

The show is also much more effectively paced this time around. The first When They Cry series contained roughly six chapters of varying length and quality. This worked well to tell a variety of stories that all expanded on the central mystery of the series, but it also felt very uneven in execution. When They Cry - Kai contains 3 chapters, and all three of them have room to breathe and hone in on the characters at their center. The central mystery to “Why” the terrible things are happening in Hinamizawa is solved fairly early on, and the remaining beats of the story focus on how our heroes can work their way out of a seemingly impossible scenario. This works mostly to the show's advantage, especially given this series' shift in tone. As I mentioned above, much of the shocking and chaotic horror of the first season is absent in these final three chapters, though that isn't to say When They Cry has lost its mean streak. When They Cry - Kai focuses on a much more cerebral kind of horror, replacing needles and machetes with more lingering psychological and physical pains. Much of this season focuses heavily on issues of child abuse that the original series only touched on, for example, which might be good to know before diving into things.

While the slow-burn approach to the story's escalation is mostly effective, it does create long stretches that nearly approach feeling dull, especially in the final third of the season. While it never quite crosses that threshold, I did end up feeling that the series could have cut out a couple of episodes' worth of running time and not been worse for the wear. The story also gets a little overstuffed in a way that the first season never did; the blending of horror, comedy, conspiracy, and drama isn't pulled of as effectively this time around. There are so many plot threads to resolve that it makes sense for there to be a lot of exposition and set up as the series approaches its conclusion, but it does mean Kai ends up feeling a little frontloaded when it comes to the tension and mystery of the proceedings.

At the end of the day though, When They Cry - Kai does what it sets out to do: It finishes what When They Cry started. Questions are answered, conflicts are brought to a head, and everyone gets an ending, one way or another. When taken with its predecessor, When They Cry - Kai tells a visceral and compelling story that left me feeling satisfied when it ended. That's more than enough for me.

What isn't quite as satisfactory is Sentai Filmworks' Blu Ray release of the season, which is perfectly adequate, though not without some noticeable flaws. First off, this is a Japanese-Audio only release, which will no doubt be jarring for viewers who followed the first season in its English dub. The subtitles provided are okay, though they feel rushed. Colloquial accents are translated inconsistently, and I spotted a couple of typos scattered throughout. The AV transfer is also only just okay; there is a tendency for the colors to get washed out and over-saturated, and while I don't know how much of that is to be blamed on art direction, it is distracting nonetheless. The set costs around fifty dollars, which puts the entire series at almost $100, and neither of the sets include extras outside of opening and ending themes. While I absolutely loved the series itself, I'm much more ambivalent about its overall presentation. Unfortunately, this is only way to legally watch When They Cry - Kai in the West, so if you want to see the conclusion to the series, this is the only way to do it.

When They Cry and When They Cry - Kai have been very interesting series to review. Their production values range from janky to alright, and the dense, complex narrative often ends up biting off a little more than it can chew. Their Blu-Ray transfers have been fairly underwhelming, to boot, and are pretty expensive, which might turn a lot of viewers away, and understandably so. Still, I've truly relished my time with this series. Its wonderfully weird mix of moe and murder fuels a compelling and emotional tale of surprising depth. When They Cry is far from perfect, yet I can't help but love it. My recommendation isn't without reservations, but if you've got the cash, and you're looking for a story that is as adorable as it is filled with anguish, then When They Cry - Kai and its predecessor both belong in your collection.

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

This week's shelves are from Jennifer:

"I got into manga while at university. Before I started uni I read a lot of novels, but when term started I no longer had the time or patience to devote to a thick book. Then I met some people from the uni's anime and manga group, they recommended some books to me, and I got interested by the art and the stories that I had never realised could be told in a comic format. Then my sister gave me the Death Note manga (not pictured) for my birthday and I was hooked. I've been reading manga and light novels and watching anime ever since (about 7 years).

At first my range was limited to what was at the local comic book stores, but since I've discovered online shopping my collection has expanded dramatically, and rarely a week goes by that I don't recieve at least one book in the mail. I've also taken a few trips to Japan, which have helped me to expand my figurine and art book collections. Most of what I own is displayed on the shelves, but I also have a few series stored in boxes to save space (as well as almost my entire R-18 collection, to prevent family and friends from finding them).

Thank you for listening to my story!"

That Pikachu is absolutely adorable. Awesome collection, thanks for sharing!

Want to show off your collection to the world? Send me your photos at [email protected]!

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