Shelf Life
Gundam Build Fighters

by Paul Jensen, James Beckett,

In my endless search for interesting things to talk about in these intro paragraphs, I completely missed a personal milestone: it's been over a year since I started my time at the helm of Shelf Life. I moved from just writing reviews to organizing the whole column on September 7th of last year. Thanks to all of you for sticking with me thus far, and I hope to continue bringing you a bundle of new releases and reviews every Monday for a long time to come. Welcome to Shelf Life.

Jump to this week's review:
Gundam Build Fighters

On Shelves This Week

Asterisk War - Volume 1 BD, Limited Edition
Aniplex - 150 min - Hyb - MSRP $74.98|$114.98
Currently cheapest at: $59.98 Right Stuf|$89.98 Right Stuf

Synopsis: In a city made up of six academies for super-powered students, partners Ayato and Julis enter a fighting tournament in order to pursue their own dreams and ambitions.

Extra: We've got episode reviews of this high school battle series, and it's available streaming on Crunchyroll, Hulu, and the Aniplex Channel.

Den-noh Coil - Collection 2 BD, DVD
Maiden Japan - 325 min - Hyb - MSRP $69.98|$59.98
Currently cheapest at: $42.34 Barnes and Noble|$38.99 Right Stuf

Synopsis: Yuko's investigations into the mysteries of augmented reality "e-spaces" lead her to discover strange secrets and links between the real world and the virtual one.

Extra: We've got a review of the first half of this series here, and the second half is covered in this review of a previous Australian release.

Doukyusei Classmates BD
Aniplex - 60 min - Sub - MSRP $74.98
Currently cheapest at: $59.98 Right Stuf

Synopsis: Honor student Rihito and musician Hikaru bond over their preparations for an upcoming chorus festival, only to realize that they're in love with one another.

Extra: I wasn't able to find this yaoi movie on any of the usual streaming sites, but we do have a review of it from its US theatrical run.

One Piece - Season 8 Voyage 3 DVD
Funimation - 275 min - Hyb - MSRP $39.98
Currently cheapest at: $27.99 Right Stuf

Synopsis: With Ace finally freed from his captors, Whitebeard orders his crew to escape Marineford. Ace's fire powers are put to the test against the heat of Akainu's magma.

Extra: Y'all know the One Piece drill by now, right? We've got episode reviews, and your streaming options include Crunchyroll, Funimation, and Hulu.

Rozen Maiden: Zuruckspulen - Complete Collection BD
Sentai - 325 min - Hyb - MSRP $69.98
Currently cheapest at: $42.34 Barnes and Noble

Synopsis: In two parallel worlds, different versions of shut-in Jun Sakurada choose to either get involved with or avoid the living dolls known as Rozen Maidens.

Extra: I'm glad Shelf Life is a written column instead of a podcast, because there's no way I'm ever pronouncing that title correctly. We've got a review of the first six episodes, and you can stream the show on The Anime Network.

Shelf Life Reviews

James is back in the review chair this week with a look at the model kit battling action of Gundam Build Fighters.

After having the opportunity to review some of the more classic Gundam series these past few months, getting to take a look at Gundam Build Fighters was an interesting experience indeed. Instead of taking place in an alternate universe filled with war-torn mecha battles and galaxy-spanning sagas of romance and revenge, Build Fighters is a much more light-hearted, kid-oriented affair. It takes place on an Earth not too dissimilar from our own, where the Gundam franchise is just that - a series of popular manga, anime, and toys that enthusiasts from around the globe enjoy collecting. The big difference is that model Gundam, known as Gunpla, are actually able to participate in small-scale competitive battles, making them essentially the coolest toys ever.

Sei Iori is a young boy whose father has built a legacy in Gunpla tournaments, though he spends most of his time helping his mother run the Gunpla shop his father opened up in a quiet part of town. He holds ambitions of being a world-class Gunpla battler, but his reach seems to be exceeding the grasp of his natural talents; he's much better at building Gunpla than he is at fighting with them. That is, until he meets the mysterious Reiji, a strange foreigner who is unfamiliar with most basic amenities (like soda), but sure knows his way around controlling Gunpla. Sei and Reiji become fast friends and successful partners in battle who soon set their sights on the ultimate prize: the top spot of the Gunpla World Battle Championship.

I'll admit, the basic premise of the show was probably the biggest hurdle for me to overcome going into it. I've enjoyed the other Gundam shows I've gotten the chance to watch, but I'm much more interested in the “Space War Melodrama” side of the franchise than the “Cool Mecha Battle Suits” side of it. Don't get me wrong, I can absolutely appreciate a good giant robot, but for me, mecha usually serve as a means to an end in sci-fi anime; rarely do I consider the actual designs and battles of the Gundam models to be a main draw. So when I realized that Gundam Build Fighters is essentially a long parade of the series' many different Gundam models (all of them conveniently available at your local model store), I will admit I balked. I wasn't sure if a tournament-style series focused on the aesthetic pleasures of the Gundam franchise would be able to hold my attention.

So I'm glad to report that it turned out a lot better than I expected. I don't know if tournament-focused shows like these will ever be my favorite of anime genres, but the setting and characters were well-developed and endearing enough to hold my attention. Not only do Sei and Reiji have a natural and fun buddy-buddy chemistry, supporting characters like China Kousaka and Aila Jyrkiäinen round out the cast and provide an emotional core that I wasn't expecting. These are charming kids who I wanted to root for in spite of my general misgivings with the extended tournament plotline, and that goes a long way towards endearing me to the series. They're not necessarily my favorite Gundam protagonists, but they definitely earned more respect from me than I thought they might. The story never really got its hooks into me, nor did it offer any shocks or surprises that completely changed the game; it simply did its job, facilitating a bunch of shiny Gunpla battles that serve as the core justification for Gundam Build Fighters' existence. Still, by the end of the show's 25-episode run, I was entertained, which is enough.

It doesn't hurt that this show has production value for days. Seriously, this is a damned fine looking show, with great art direction, exciting battle sequences, and an excellent soundtrack to back it up. I've only seen a small handful of Gundam series, but Gundam Build Fighters still shoots up to the top of the list so far when it comes to pure spectacle and eye/ear candy alone. Even when the storyline wasn't the most exciting or engaging, Gundam Build Fighters always gave me something pretty to look at. The score that Yuki Hayashi provides is superlative, with pop and energy and drama in all the right places, exuding character and charm without ever being obnoxiously obtrusive. I'm listening to some of the show's OST as I write this review, and I can imagine myself revisiting it again even further down the line.

Outside of the plot, the only other big negative I have with the show comes from the presentation for this Blu-Ray release. I have no issues with with the A/V transfer on the Blu-Ray discs, which are pretty great quality all around, nor with the dearth of extras, which is more or less par for the course when it comes to non-Aniplex-or-Funimation titles for the most part. At roughly $49.99 for a 25-episode set, Gundam Build Fighters is a pretty decent value even despite its lack of supplementary material.

No, the biggest problem with this set is the dub. Put simply, it's just awful. Some of the minor characters and one-offs can occasionally deliver a tolerable performance, but when it comes to the core cast of Sei, Reiji, China, and Aila, there simply isn't much nice to say at all, with most everyone coming across as stiff and robotic, which is a far cry from the energetic and charismatic performances the Japanese performers are able to turn in. Sei and Reiji are particularly bad; I was only able to get through about four episodes before I had to switch over to the Japanese audio track. This is unfortunate, since there are anime fans out there who genuinely prefer enjoying a series dubbed into their native language, and I honestly cannot recommend this show to them if that's the case. Maybe the dub for the second season, Gundam Build Fighters Try, will fare a little better, but with the bar set so low for this first round, I wouldn't get my hopes up.

In the end, I can't help but recommend Gundam Build Fighters to fans of the franchise and newcomers alike. Even if the tournament style plot didn't grab me as much as it might others, the exuberant production values and core of enthusiasm and action was still enough to win me over. You'll find even more to chew on if you're Gundam-savvy enough to catch the innumerable in-jokes and references the show tosses at you, but even a casual fan of action-adventure anime will probably find something to like. Heck, I've even been considering ordering a model-kit of my own to work on. If Gundam Build Fighters really is just a glorified commercial, it sure is an effective one.

Who do I need to talk to about making my miniatures from the X-Wing tabletop game come to life and fight one another? In any case, thanks for reading this week's review!

This week's shelves are from Brittany:

"My name is Brittany. I've been collecting manga on and off for going on 10 years now. I only starting collecting figures and nendoroids about a year ago. I barely have any room left on my shelves so there are books behind books on every shelf. I only included a picture of a few of the art books I have since I have over 30 of them. As you can tell I am a big fan of Haikyu!! and Free!! ^__^ oh and Pikachu of course :)"

That's a pretty impressive figure collection for just one year! Also, you get bonus points for reading A Bride's Story. Thanks for sharing!

Want to show off your own collection of cool anime stuff? Send me your photos at [email protected]!

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