Shelf Life

by Paul Jensen, Gabriella Ekens,

I fell into one of the world's biggest time sinks the other day: shopping for anime figures online. After hours of price comparisons, shipping calculations, review browsing, and financial guilt-tripping, I finally decided to buy… absolutely nothing. Is there someone I can talk to about getting my Saturday afternoon back? Welcome to Shelf Life.

Jump to this week's review:

On Shelves This Week

Absolute Duo - Complete Series BD+DVD
Funimation - 300 min - Hyb - MSRP $64.98
Currently cheapest at: $45.98 Barnes and Noble

Synopsis: Unlike the other students at Koryo Academy, Tor's powers allow him to summon a shield instead of a weapon. Paired with an unusual partner named Julie, Tor must struggle to keep up with the rest of the students.

Extra: Our review coverage for this one is limited to the Preview Guide. You can watch it on Funimation and Hulu.

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

Synopsis: After a fight with a critic, professional calligrapher Handa travels to a remote village. The peaceful countryside might help him reclaim his artistic motivation if his quirky neighbors don't drive him crazy first.

Extra: You'll find episode reviews of this series here, and I'm reviewing its comedy prequel this season. You'll find it streaming on Funimation and Hulu.

Garo the Animation - Season 1 Part 2 BD+DVD
Funimation - 300 min - Hyb - MSRP $64.98
Currently cheapest at: $45.98 Barnes and Noble

Synopsis: Leon wanders alone in search of a reason to go on fighting while Prince Alfonso struggles to maintain control over his kingdom.

Extra: We've got a review of part 1 here and episode reviews for the whole series here. Your streaming options include Funimation and Hulu.

Gunslinger Girl - Seasons 1 and 2 + OVA [Anime Classics] BD+DVD
Funimation - 685 min - Hyb - MSRP $49.98
Currently cheapest at: $36.30 Barnes and Noble

Synopsis: Under the guise of saving lives, the Social Welfare Agency transforms hospital patients into trained assassins. Test subject Henrietta and her handler Jose struggle to find a balance between doing their jobs and doing the right thing.

Extra: We've got a season 1 review here, a season 2 review here, and a review of the OVA here. The whole series is available on Funimation, though season 2 is on a separate page for some reason.

Sound! Euphonium - Set 3 [Collector's Edition] BD+DVD
Ponycan - 115 min - Sub - MSRP $89.98
Currently cheapest at: $71.98 Right Stuf

Synopsis: Kumiko and Reina deal with self-doubt and rival bandmates as their first big high school competition approaches.

Extra: You'll find episode reviews here, though it's worth noting that this set contains an additional episode that didn't originally air with the rest of the season. The whole series is available streaming on Crunchyroll.

Wake Up, Girls! - Complete Collection BD, DVD
Sentai - 300 min - Sub - MSRP $59.98|$49.98
Currently cheapest at: $36.29 Barnes and Noble|$32.49 Right Stuf

Synopsis: The girls of Green Leaves Entertainment have made it through their first performance, but many more obstacles lie ahead on their path to stardom.

Extra: We reviewed the prequel movie earlier this year, and you'll find a review of the TV series here. It's available streaming on Crunchyroll and The Anime Network.

Shelf Life Reviews

Shelf Worthy
Nothing this week.
Nothing this week.

After some time off, Gabriella makes her return to the review crew this week with a look at Funimation's recent rerelease of Karneval.

For as long as he can remember, Nai has lived alone with his caretaker Karoku in the paradisal Rainbow Forest. When Karoku suddenly disappears, Nai has to venture into the outside world to find out what happened. Unfortunately, the naïve young boy soon falls into the clutches of a monstrous, man-eating noblewoman. But just as he's about to become monster chow, he's saved by a teenaged cat burglar, Gareki, who happened to be robbing her mansion at the time. Despite his gruff exterior, Gareki immediately becomes protective of Nai, taking him on as a companion. Nai's special trinket – a bracelet left over at the site of Karoku's disappearance – leads them to Circus, the nation's exuberant-yet-deadly security organization. Decked out with the latest in carnival-themed technology, their duties range from hunting down Kafka, an organization that performs illegal genetic experiments, to organizing regular festivals for the citizenry. Realizing that Nai's existence has something to do with Kafka, Circus takes him and Gareki into their care. Surrounded by new friends in a literally carnivalesque atmosphere, the two boys shed their fears and begin to mature as people. But why is Kafka pursuing them? And is Circus really a place that they can call home?

For the past few years, Karneval has been something of a sleeper in the “pretty boys in Hot Topic outfits palling around and getting into superpowered fights” genre. While fellow entries like Black Butler and Bungou Stray Dogs shopped more in the “black lace corset” and “faux-retro steampunk” sections, Karneval went all out for the ultra-cutesy look. The characters wear so many bright pastels, streamers, and askew top hats that every episode looks like it's going to be the Alice in Wonderland episode. Where its closest cousins balance the kawaii with doses of cool pseudo-horror, Karneval overdoses on sugar. Still, it has the same base appeal: hot-but-nonthreatening bishonen guys goof off, get into melodramatic conspiracy battles, and hint at romantic feelings for one another. It's for fujoshi first and foremost, but I was pleased to discover that Karneval also has the dramatic chops to serve as solid entertainment for an audience besides the shippers. This show would probably be bigger if it didn't cut off at such an inconclusive point, but for what there is, I had my fun.

While the style here is a palette-swap of Black Butler, the storytelling reminds me most of Noragami. Like that show, Karneval's biggest asset is the propulsive character-based narrative. It's fast-paced, segues naturally from beat to beat, and quickly addresses the next qualm I'd expect the characters to have about any given situation. The characters themselves aren't super unique, but they're all exceedingly sweet and likable. It's hard to pinpoint why they're so enjoyable to watch. Karneval isn't a funny show – in fact, it mostly doesn't try for comedy, unlike a lot of other fujoshi stuff. The cast is just so charming that I enjoy watching them interact and grow closer. There's Yogi, the hyperactive child in an adult's body who serves as both Nai's playtime partner and the team's primary combatant. “Adult children” in these sorts of shows are usually grossly sexualized, but I'm happy to report that Karneval doesn't go in that direction at all, leaving Yogi a guilt-free joy. (In fact, for a fujoshi show, Karneval is extraordinarily chaste. You could watch this with your grandparents and not have to worry about any suspiciously lingering shots of a little boy's butt. So this is also the one you can watch with younger kids, unlike Black Butler/Bungou Stray Dogs.)

Nai's personality is as cute as his character design – pure, empathetic, and innocent. His story has hardly begun by the time the show ends, but he doubles as the series' adorable mascot. The dramatic meat mostly centers around Gareki, the burglar-with-a-heart-of-gold. The show's real through-line comes from him learning not to push others away anymore. It's a simple story, but they tell it well. The downside to this is that the plot and worldbuilding are quite fuzzy. I'm not all that invested in the fight against Kafka, and I don't even know what these evil freaks are after. Still, I'd be on board for more on the strength of the cast, which is more than many other shows accomplish.

Ultimately, Karneval's biggest problem is that it doesn't even come close to ending. While I'm a fan of it so far, there's only so much I can recommend about a show that contains only the first act of a much longer narrative. The only part that really concludes is Gareki's initial arc, and even then the story isn't done with him. The good news is that the original manga recently began getting published in English, so there's a way to experience the rest of Karneval in the west. I can recommend the series in some form, even if this anime isn't quite the ideal. If they were to announce a second season, I might change my tune, although it would have to be by a different studio. (RIP Manglobe.) That might be a good thing, actually. Karneval looks decent largely in spite of its low production values. They got the most important part – the vibrant color palette – right, but the animation is consistently limited. Fortunately, the direction is competent enough to imbue each scene with the necessary emotion. You wouldn't watch Karneval for the visuals, but they don't actively drag the show down.

Funimation's release contains the usual array of extras – an episode commentary, textless openings, etc. There's also a feature where J. Michael Tatum discusses the show's fashion design. Karneval has a dub, but I wouldn't recommend watching it. The performances are shrill and affected, and the adaptive script is overwritten. The leads get the worst out of this. Sean Michael Teague sounds too old and actively goofy, while Greg Ayres makes Gareki into a little too much of a jerk.

Karneval is a hidden gem. A charming show with surprisingly solid storytelling, I wish that it didn't end on such an unfulfilling point. As an aside, I also have to give it props for having some of the cutest mascots I've seen in anime. From Nai's Niji form, to Nyanperona, to Yukkin, mangaka Toya Mikanagi should design stuffed animals. It's basically an animated Lisa Frank trapper keeper, but Karneval is a fun time if you focus on the moment and disregard the bigger picture.

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

There's no Shelf Obsessed segment this week because I don't have any collections to feature. If you've got a collection of anime-related stuff that you'd like to show off to the internet at large, send me your photos at [email protected] Whether you've been collecting for years or are just starting out, help me help you share your passion with the world!

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