Shelf Life
After War Gundam X Part 1

by Paul Jensen, James Beckett,

So, it looks like Macross suddenly started streaming on Amazon last week. That's pretty cool, considering how influential the series has been. It's also pretty surprising, considering how much licensing drama it's gone through over the years. Before I run off to watch it, however, we've got some more recent anime to take a look at. Welcome to Shelf Life.

Jump to this week's review:
After War Gundam X Part 1

On Shelves This Week

Gourmet Girl Graffiti - Complete Collection BD, DVD
Sentai - 300 min - Sub - MSRP $59.98|$49.98
Currently cheapest at: $35.98 Right Stuf|$29.98 Right Stuf

Synopsis: After living alone for a year, middle school student Ryo gains a new audience for her cooking when her cousin Kirin begins staying at her apartment on the weekends.

Extra: Hey, I did the episode reviews for this one! It's, well, kind of an odd show. You can watch it on Crunchyroll and The Anime Network.

Gundam Build Fighters - Complete Collection BD, DVD
Right Stuf - 625 min - Hyb - MSRP $74.99|$59.99
Currently cheapest at: $43.54 Amazon|$35.35 Amazon

Synopsis: Gundam enthusiast Sei wants to compete in Gunpla Battle World Tournament, but he'll need to combine his building skills with the battling talents of his new friend Reiji if he wants to win.

Extra: We've got a shiny new review of this set, which you can read here. Who knew building Gundam models would turn out to work as the premise of a full TV series?

Jormungand - Complete Series BD+DVD
Funimation - 600 min - Hyb - MSRP $69.98
Currently cheapest at: $48.41 Barnes and Noble

Synopsis: Despite his hatred of arms dealers, child soldier Jonah joins weapons merchant Koko's team of bodyguards in order to find the people who killed his family.

Extra: This series was previously released in two single-season sets, and you'll find reviews of those here and here. You can stream the series on Funimation and Hulu.

Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi - Complete Collection DVD
AEsir Holdings - 325 min - Hyb - MSRP $39.98
Currently cheapest at: $25.99 Right Stuf

Synopsis: After growing up in the Abenobashi shopping district in Osaka, childhood friends Arumi and Sasshi find themselves in a bizarre parallel version of their hometown.

Extra: You'll have to turn the clock back to 2003 to find our most recent review of this series. It's available streaming on The Anime Network.

Persona 3 the Movie #4: Winter of Rebirth [Import] BD, Collector's Edition
Aniplex - 95 min - Sub - MSRP $74.98|$99.98
Currently cheapest at: $59.98 Right Stuf|$79.98 Right Stuf

Synopsis: As the season changes to winter, Makoto and his allies learn the truth of their situation and are forced to make a difficult decision.

Extra: This is the fourth installment in the series of Persona 3 movies. They don't seem to be streaming anywhere, but you can find a variety of anime based on Persona 4 on Crunchyroll, Hulu, The Anime Network, and the Aniplex Channel.

Samurai 7 - Complete Series [Anime Classics] BD+DVD
Funimation - 600 min - Hyb - MSRP $49.98
Currently cheapest at: $37.49 Right Stuf

Synopsis: In the aftermath of a devastating war, a village hires a group of samurai to fend off marauding bandits.

Extra: This series has seen quite a few physical releases over the years, and you'll find reviews of past versions here and here. It's available streaming on Funimation and Hulu.

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

Synopsis: Average girl Nozomi sets out on a cross-country motorcycle journey in a world where disputes between rival cities are settled by powerful vigilantes.

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

World Break: Aria of Curse for a Holy Swordsman - Complete Series BD+DVD
Funimation - 300 min - Hyb - MSRP $64.98
Currently cheapest at: $45.98 Barnes and Noble

Synopsis: Having inherited special powers from past lives, teenager Moroha trains to protect the world from giant monsters.

Extra: No formal reviews for this one, but it was covered during last winter's Preview Guide. It's available streaming on Funimation and Hulu.

Shelf Life Reviews

It's been a few months since we last covered anything from the Gundam universe in this column. Time to remedy that with James' review of the first half of After War Gundam X.

Back in January, I was able to review the Turn A Gundam compilation films, which proved to be quite an interesting watch. Being the first Gundam story I'd been exposed to since Gundam Wing back when I was a kid, the Turn A Gundam movies offered an uneven, yet nonetheless rewarding viewing experience. In spite of the rocky edits made to condense an entire show into two feature length films, I was sucked into the world and struggles of the characters enough to make it worthy of recommendation.

This week, I got to dive into the first DVD set of After War Gundam X, which contains the first 19 episodes of the series' 39 episode run. I was excited to be able to watch a Gundam series in full for the first time in a decade, but After War's reputation gave me just a little bit of pause. Plagued by low ratings and the production troubles of a slashed budget and reduced episode order, After War Gundam X has earned a name for being one of the more rough-going of the Gundam series. After watching the first half of the series for myself, I can't help but agree.

The show starts off promisingly enough, with the story following the adventures of the young pilot Garrod Ran, who scrapes by being a general do-gooder on a war-ravaged, almost apocalyptic 
Earth. After a simple rescue job goes south, he finds himself on the run with the enigmatic Tiffa Adill, a beautiful girl who possesses psychic powers. Eventually they find themselves in leagues with a gang of scavengers known as Vultures, led by Jamil Neate, who has made it his life's mission to protect people with extraordinary abilities such as himself and Tiffa, enhanced beings known as Newtypes. As war begins brewing on the horizon once again, Garrod, Tiffa, and the other Vultures must work to rescue the other Newtypes and prevent them from being exploited in yet another galaxy-spanning conflict.

While that little synopsis up above might sound pretty exciting, After War Gundam X's single biggest flaw is that it takes forever to establish its characters and the central conflict they're up against. Battles get stretched out twice as long as they need to be, new story arcs begin before others have time to wrap up, and everything just generally feels sluggish and poorly paced. It took about ten episodes for me to get into the groove of the plot and the characters; that's over 3-hours of setup and drawn-out character development before I really started to enjoy watching After War. Given that the set only contains 19 episodes, I think it's a little unreasonable to have to get through over half of it before the story starts to come together.

It's a shame too, because after that initial three-hour slog, the story does pick up, and the characters do become engaging. None of the cast really progresses beyond familiar tropes by the end of nineteen episodes, but they at least become entertaining tropes. Unfortunately, I wouldn't blame people for giving up on the show long before it starts to hit its stride. As a sort of “What If?” story separate from the main timelines of the other Gundam series, this should have been a perfect entry-point for newcomers to the franchise or people like me who haven't gotten their Gundam on since Toonami was an after-school block. Instead, the show starts off by leaning on the familiarity of the Gundam formula without bothering to actually justify its own existence. By the time the other Newtypes start to show up and the plot kicks into gear, a good portion of the audience will have moved on to more interesting pastures.

It doesn't help that After War Gundam X hasn't aged very well aesthetically. The animation ranges from fine-to-below-average, but the character designs and general art direction are pretty forgettable overall. This means that pretty much all of the show's entertainment factor is being carried by the writing, which isn't always up to the task. The music fares better, with the orchestral bombast of strings and horns complementing the action well; it hasn't really stuck with me too much after finishing the set, but it was always pleasing to the ear.

Right Stuf's release of this 20-year-old series is pretty much what you'd expect – sub-only, with no extras save for some clean opening and ending themes. The quality of the show itself is fine; the colors tend to feel washed out in places, but that could just as much be an artifact of the era as a transfer thing. The set itself only costs about 30 dollars most places, so if you're itching to add After War to your Gundam collection, this release is probably your best bet. It won't blow anyone's socks off, but it gets the job done.

After War Gundam X isn't a bad show, it's just an underwhelming one. The pacing is turned about three notches slower than it needs to be, and the characters rarely stretch beyond the comfort zones of tropes we're all used to by now. I'll give the series a little credit, seeing as its 20 years old, but I still expect more from such a venerated franchise. I do hear that the back half of the series picks up quite a bit, so it's possible After War will end up being a worthwhile investment. As of now though, I can only recommend it to longtime fans of the franchise or people with a lot of free time and patience.

That's it for now, but we'll be covering the second half of the series very soon, so stay tuned for that.

I'm all out of Shelf Obsessed entries at the moment, so no shelves to check out this week. If you'd like to show off your collection of anime, manga, games, or other cool stuff, there's no time like the present! Send me your photos at [email protected] and I'll put 'em up here for all to see.

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