Shelf Life

by Paul Jensen,

I've been too busy working this month to give Pokemon Go a try, and I'm not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing. On one hand, I've avoided the temptation to start a game that would undoubtedly devour my time like a swarm of starving termites. On the other hand, I feel like I'm missing out on something that could be fairly significant in the world of video games. It's a shame I can't just hop over to an alternate reality to see if a different version of me enjoyed playing the game. Whether you're from this dimension or just visiting, welcome to Shelf Life.

Jump to this week's review:

On Shelves This Week

Arpeggio of Blue Steel: Ars Nova - Complete Collection BD+DVD
Eastern Star - 300 min - Sub - MSRP $59.95
Currently cheapest at: $36.10 Barnes and Noble

Synopsis: With the seas controlled by a fleet of powerful warships, humanity's future depends on naval officer Chihaya Gunzou and the submarine I-401.

Extra: I dropped off halfway through the season when this series first aired, but I've ended up following the manga pretty closely. We've got a full series review here, and it's available streaming on Crunchyroll.

Code:Breaker - Complete Series [S.A.V.E.] BD+DVD
Funimation - 325 min - Hyb - MSRP $29.98
Currently cheapest at: $22.49 Right Stuf

Synopsis: Ordinary student Sakura Sakurakoji becomes tangled up in a world of super-powered assassins after she witnesses one of her classmates using blue fire as a weapon.

Extra: We've got a review of the first six episodes of this series, and it also made a brief appearance on The Stream. You can watch it on Funimation and Hulu.

Darkstalkers - Complete OVA Collection DVD
Eastern Star - 160 min - Hyb - MSRP $29.95
Currently cheapest at: $19.47 Right Stuf

Synopsis: A group of supernatural beings known as Darkstalkers stand at the center of a shadowy battle for control of the planet.

Extra: It's been a while since this series last came out on disc in the US, and unfortunately it looks like we don't have any review coverage of its previous releases.

Date A Live - Complete Series [S.A.V.E.] BD+DVD
Funimation - 325 min - Hyb - MSRP $29.98
Currently cheapest at: $22.49 Right Stuf

Synopsis: Otherworldly Spirits cause chaos and destruction whenever they appear in the human world, and the only way to get their powers under control is for high school student Shido Itsuka to make the Spirits fall in love with him.

Extra: We've got reviews of this series here and here, and I covered its sequel earlier this year. You'll find it streaming on Funimation and Hulu.

Log Horizon - Season 2 Collection 2 BD, DVD
Sentai - 300 min - Hyb - MSRP $69.98|$59.98
Currently cheapest at: $42.34 Barnes and Noble|$38.99 Right Stuf

Synopsis: With the Abyssal Shaft cleared, Shiroe turns his attention to the balance of power between the Guilds. The younger members of Log Horizon get some unexpected help when a quest forces them to confront powerful monsters.

Extra: We've got episode reviews covering this portion of the series here. Both seasons are available on Crunchyroll, Hulu, and The Anime Network.

Love Live! The School Idol Movie [Standard Edition] BD
NIS - 99 min - Hyb - MSRP $44.99
Currently cheapest at: $33.74 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: It's been almost exactly a month since the premium edition of this movie came out, so now's your chance if you want to own it in a smaller package. We've got a review here, and you'll find the TV series on Crunchyroll.

Lupin the 3rd: Voyage to Danger BD+DVD
Eastern Star - 90 min - Hyb - MSRP $29.95
Currently cheapest at: $18.03 Barnes and Noble

Synopsis: When Inspector Zenigata's superiors stop his pursuit of Lupin, he ends up teaming up with Lupin and the gang to stop a dangerous group of arms dealers.

Extra: Funimation released this particular Lupin special on DVD a few years ago, but it looks like this is the first time it's been available on Blu-Ray in the US.

One Piece - Season 8 Voyage 2 DVD
Funimation - 325 min - Hyb - MSRP $39.98
Currently cheapest at: $29.99 Right Stuf

Synopsis: The desperate mission to rescue Ace leads Luffy and his fellow pirates into a trap, where they must face off against some of the Navy's most powerful fighters.

Extra: Y'all know the drill by now: recent episode reviews are here, and your streaming options include Crunchyroll, Funimation, and Hulu.

When They Cry: Rei BD, DVD
Sentai - 150 min - Sub - MSRP $39.98|$29.98
Currently cheapest at: $24.19 Barnes and Noble|$19.99 Amazon

Synopsis: Keiichi, Rika, and friends are confident that they've finally escaped the cycle of tragedy affecting their town, but a series of strange events leaves Rika trapped in a different reality.

Extra: We've got reviews of the preceding TV season here and here. I imagine we'll get around to this OVA at some point.

Shelf Life Reviews

Shelf Worthy
Nothing this week.
Nothing this week.

After marathoning my way through Sekirei for last week's review, I ended up doing the same thing with Gasaraki. As it turns out, it takes just a little longer to get through twenty-five episodes of hard sci-fi than it does to watch the same amount of fanservice-y action.

In most cases, the main goal of an anime series is to entertain the audience. A show may try to ask some interesting questions or bring up an idea or two, but job number one is to make sure the viewer has a good time. Gasaraki is somewhat unusual in that it seems more interested in examining its own themes than it is in being fun to watch. It's as much an academic exercise as it is a piece of entertainment. Whether or not that's a good thing depends on how much time and brainpower you're willing to devote to a show about giant robots.

Gasaraki's story focuses on a handful of shadowy, secret conflicts between powerful groups. At the heart of it all are the wealthy Gowa family and the international organization Symbol, both of whom are trying to unlock a source of supernatural power. Their battles shape the outcomes of a war in the Middle East, a coup attempt in Japan, and a plot to crash the economy of the United States. Caught up in it all are Yushiro and Miharu, giant robot pilots with special abilities inherited from past generations. While they start out on opposing sides, the two of them decide to work together after realizing that their superiors are just using them as pawns in a bid for power.

Gasaraki may feature giant robots and otherworldly beings, but it goes out of its way to ground its sci-fi elements in a fairly realistic setting. This shouldn't come as a huge surprise if you're familiar with the show's director; Ryousuke Takahashi has worked on a number of “serious” mecha titles over the years, from Armored Trooper Votoms in the 1980s to the more recent Flag. The “TA” units in Gasaraki aren't especially flashy or colorful, and the series imagines them as a small part of a conventional army instead of as the unstoppable juggernauts that we often see in anime. I like this approach, since it forces the show to put a little more thought into both its setting and its action scenes. There's certainly plenty of detail in the show's mechanical designs, and the robots move like they're actually affected by the laws of physics instead of weightlessly jetting around. If you're looking for really eye-catching visuals, however, it may not float your boat.

Gasaraki also does a respectable job of being a “big idea” series. The characters spend a lot of time grappling with moral dilemmas, with one of the big themes being whether or not it's ever acceptable to pursue power at other people's expense. The show's supernatural elements help out here by connecting the modern conflict of the main story to the wars of previous generations. In both the past and the present, characters with powerful weapons are presented with a choice between accepting a bad situation and trying to fix it by starting a war. Even if you don't agree with the decisions that the characters ultimately make, the fact that the series gets you to think about something means it's doing its job as a work of science fiction.

For all its technical smarts and thematic depth, Gasaraki has a tendency to miss the mark when it comes to the cast. There's a general lack of strong emotions from most of the characters, and nobody stands out as being especially charismatic or likable. It seems as if everyone is just a slightly different shade of grim and serious, and I ended up rooting for characters more because of their ideas than their personalities. The story also tends to move at a slow pace, due in part to the need to keep multiple plot lines going at once. The pacing works for the story that the series is trying to tell, but don't expect many sudden twists or big swings in momentum.

I think what you get out of Gasaraki will depend on whether or not you're willing to deal with the series on its own terms. This isn't a show that goes out of its way to be thrilling or accessible, and the story is complicated enough that you'll find yourself playing catch-up if you zone out for more than a few minutes at a time. If you don't mind sitting down and thinking about some of its themes, it can be fun in its own way. If you're looking for an entertaining way to kill a few hours, you'll be better off with something a little less dense.

As a budget-minded rerelease, this set is packaged fairly well. It manages to cram five discs into a standard DVD case, which is great for those of us whose shelves are already filled beyond capacity. There's a making-of video along with the usual clean opening and closing sequences, and this set retains the English dub from past releases. It's nothing fantastic, but it's not bad for its age. My biggest gripe is with the subtitles, which contain more typos than I expected to see in a series that has been released on disc a few times already.

In last week's review, I classified Sekirei as a Rental despite some occasional dips into Perishable territory. Gasaraki sits at the other end of that spectrum; it's a Rental despite occasionally climbing up into the Shelf Worthy zone. It's a show that I personally enjoyed, but it's a little too stiff in its execution to recommend to everyone. It's worth a shot if you enjoy science fiction that's brainier that usual, but be prepared to take some notes here and there if you want to keep up with it.

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

This week's shelves are from Patrick:

"My name is Patrick. I love to collect! Since I live in Japan, all of my games (and most of my  manga) are in Japanese... and here they are!

My favourite games are Skies of Arcadia and Final Fantasy VII. My favourite anime/manga are Rurouni Kenshin and LUPIN the Third. I know that Sonic Boom isn't Japanese, but I love it anyways ; )

I still have one empty corner of my shelving, and I'm saving it for my next anime/manga/game obsession. Any recommendations?


Always cool to hear from our readers overseas. Thanks for sharing! What say you, readers? Any recommendations for Patrick?

If you'd like to show off your own collection, send me your photos at [email protected]!

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