Shelf Life
The Perfect Insider

by Paul Jensen,

I had a literal "Shelf Life" moment this week: I put together a small bookcase that I'd bought for my apartment a while ago. It looks pretty decent as long as you ignore the fact that I put the fake wood back piece on backwards so the cheesy cardboard side faces out. Close enough, right? Welcome to Shelf Life.

Jump to this week's review:
The Perfect Insider

On Shelves This Week

Cobra The Animation - Complete Collection BD, DVD
Sentai - 505 min - Sub - MSRP $79.98|$69.98
Currently cheapest at: $48.39 Barnes and Noble|$49.99 Amazon

Synopsis: Infamous space adventurer Cobra decides to change his face and wipe his memories in order to hide from his enemies, but new troubles begin as he starts to rediscover his identity.

Extra: This 2010 remake of Space Adventure Cobra also includes two OVAs. We have a review of its 1982 predecessor, and you can stream the older series on Crunchyroll.

Durarara!! x2 - Set 5 BD, DVD
Aniplex - 150 min - Hyb - MSRP $99.98|$59.98
Currently cheapest at: $79.98 Right Stuf|$49.98 Right Stuf

Synopsis: Ikebukuro descends into chaos as the city's various factions and power players clash with one another.

Extra: This set includes part of the "Third Arc" season of this series. We've got episode reviews of this season, and you can stream it on Crunchyroll, Funimation, Hulu, and the Aniplex Channel.

Aniplex - 150 min - Hyb - MSRP $114.98
Currently cheapest at: $89.98 Right Stuf

Synopsis: A tragic event causes struggling artist Satoru Fujinuma to use his secret ability to go back in time and change the past.

Extra: We have episode reviews for this time travel thriller, and it's available on Crunchyroll, Funimation, Hulu, and the Aniplex Channel.

Escaflowne: The Movie BD+DVD
Funimation - 100 min - Hyb - MSRP $34.98
Currently cheapest at: $24.49 Right Stuf

Synopsis: Depressed and disillusioned with the normal world, Hitomi Kanzaki is transported to the fantastic realm of Gaea where the locals believe her to be the legendary Winged Goddess.

Extra: Funimation is releasing this movie and the related TV series in the same week, so expect to see a lot of Escaflowne in this list. We've got a review from a previous on-disc version of this movie here.

Hello!! Kinmoza! - Complete Collection BD, DVD
Sentai - 300 min - Sub - MSRP $59.98|$49.98
Currently cheapest at: $36.29 Barnes and Noble|$34.99 Amazon

Synopsis: Shinobu, Alice, and their friends return for a new school year and a new set of everyday adventures.

Extra: While this sequel doesn't have much coverage besides an Anime Spotlight preview, the previous season got a brief review on The Stream. You can watch it on Crunchyroll and The Anime Network.

Memories / Paprika / Steamboy / Tekkonkinkreet DVD
Sony Pictures - 445 min - Hyb - MSRP $35.99
Currently cheapest at: $28.24 Barnes and Noble

Synopsis: This set collects four anime films on DVD.

Extra: I'm not sure if there's a common thread between all of these movies, but we've got reviews on all of them. Memories is here, Paprika is here, Steamboy is here, and Tekkonkinkreet is here. There doesn't seem to be any cover art available for this set, as even the retail sites are using "no image available" placeholders for it.

My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU TOO! - Complete Collection BD, DVD
Sentai - 325 min - Sub - MSRP $59.98|$49.98
Currently cheapest at: $34.49 Amazon|$34.99 Amazon

Synopsis: The Service Club continues its activities, but trouble is beginning to brew between Hachiman, Yukino, and Yui as they strive to help their fellow students.

Extra: You can read episode reviews for this season here, and we also have an article that analyzes the series. Both seasons are available on Crunchyroll, Hulu, and The Anime Network.

The Vision of Escaflowne - Complete Series + Movie BD
Funimation - 745 min - Hyb - MSRP $179.98
Currently cheapest at: $149.99 Amazon

Synopsis: Depressed and disillusioned with the normal world, Hitomi Kanzaki is transported to the fantastic realm of Gaea where the locals believe her to be the legendary Winged Goddess.

Extra: The movie and TV series are alternate versions of the same story, so I get to reuse my synopsis here. We've got a very old review of the TV series, and a few episodes are available on Funimation.

The Vision of Escaflowne - Part 1 BD+DVD
Funimation - 325 min - Hyb - MSRP $54.98
Currently cheapest at: $37.52 Barnes and Noble

Synopsis: Depressed and disillusioned with the normal world, Hitomi Kanzaki is transported to the fantastic realm of Gaea where the locals believe her to be the legendary Winged Goddess.

Extra: All of these releases come with new English dubs, and you can watch some preview clips here and here.

The Vision of Escaflowne - Part 2 BD+DVD
Funimation - 325 min - Hyb - MSRP $54.98
Currently cheapest at: $37.52 Barnes and Noble

Synopsis: With the land of Gaea descending into war, Hitomi must learn to control her powers as she and Van travel to the Mystic Valley.

Extra: At least I'm not quite lazy enough to recycle the part 1 synopsis for part 2. If you'd like a more recent take on the whole franchise, check out this ANNCast episode.

Shelf Life Reviews

I took a dip into the mystery genre with The Perfect Insider for this week's review. It presents an intriguing crime scene, but are the answers worth the journey?

There's a pretty wide range of tones and approaches to take when it comes to anime mysteries, and The Perfect Insider definitely falls on the dark and brooding end of the scale. It's based on a reasonably successful novel, and it devotes all eleven of its episodes to a single serial murder case. Math and computer science both play significant roles in the story, as do some very dark and heavy themes. It's not a series that you'd go to for light or easy entertainment, but it has its merits if you're looking for something a little more cerebral.

Our amateur sleuths in this story are Sohei, an eccentric young university professor, and Moe, a math whiz who happens to be the daughter of Sohei's mentor. Along with a handful of other students, they travel to an island for what's supposed to be an official school trip. For Sohei and Moe, their real motivation is getting a chance to visit a secretive research lab and meet the reclusive genius who runs it. Things take a sinister turn when the lab's security systems start malfunctioning and a limbless corpse is discovered in what should have been a completely sealed room.

That sealed room is important, as it creates a “locked room” mystery where the victim is killed under circumstances where the criminal shouldn't have been able to enter or leave without being detected. The basic idea has been around for a long time, seeing frequent use in the genre as a way to set up a seemingly impossible crime for the characters to solve. It works well here, as the mystery of who killed Dr. Magata and how they did it generates enough twists and turns to keep the story compelling. From cryptic messages to a seemingly infallible security system, there's plenty for the audience to chew on as events unfold. It's the video equivalent of a “just one more chapter” kind of novel, and the relatively low episode count lends itself to marathon viewing over a day or two.

The series is nicely paced apart from one or two needlessly slow episodes, and most of its occasional missteps are at least partially covered up by the desire to find out what happened inside the sealed room. However, the writing does start to go off the deep end in the last few episodes. While there are plenty of mathematical and programming puzzles throughout the show, the finale eventually descends into a mix of crazy technology and questionable philosophy. The actual facts of who did what are interesting, but the way they're presented will be frustrating to a lot of viewers. That's about all I can say without delivering any big spoilers, but be prepared for some underwhelming scenes near the end of the series.

While the mystery commands a great deal of attention and screen time, there's also a fair amount of character development in The Perfect Insider. Sohei, Moe, and Dr. Magata are all depicted as being incredibly smart, and the same goes for the various scientists and programmers who work in the lab. The show spends a lot of time examining how that level of intelligence shapes the characters' perspectives on the world and how it often isolates them from others. This works quite well in some cases, and Moe in particular makes for a fascinating heroine as she steps out of her initial role as Sohei's sidekick. She's a very human character in a cast where most of the leads are either emotionally distant or downright broken. That distance sometimes ends up being a problem for the other characters, as the same things that make many of them interesting also make it difficult for the viewer to relate to them. Even if that isolation is kind of the point, it limits the audience's emotional investment in the story.

I can see opinions going in many different directions as far as the plot and characters are concerned, but it's at least safe to say that The Perfect Insider puts in a strong technical performance. It's a well-animated series, and there are plenty of striking visuals to grab the audience's attention when the narrative falls short. Looking back, I think the visual direction did as much to hold my interest and keep me immersed in the moment as the actual mystery. This release is perfectly fine for the most part, with my only gripe being with the use of all capital letters for character's family names (SAIKAWA Sohei, MAGATA Shiki, etc.) in the subtitles. It's consistent throughout the set and even in the promotional text on the back of the case, so I assume there's a good reason for it, but the end result does look a little odd.

The Perfect Insider is a pretty good series, even if it can be frustrating at times. The reason I'm sticking it with a Rental rating is that so much of its appeal comes from the process of unraveling the mystery, and that sort of thing really only works once. I might be tempted to watch it again just to see if all of the details hold up to close scrutiny, but I can't imagine it grabbing my attention when I already know how it ends. If you enjoy the process of finding out all the hows and whys of a complex crime, give it a shot, but I wouldn't expect it to dethrone your current favorite mystery series.

Another case closed, and another review section wrapped up. Thanks for reading!

This week's shelves are from Michael H:

"I was introduced to anime a bit late, and watched my first anime (Fullmetal Alchemist) during a winter icestorm in 2010. Since i got my first job and apartment out of college two years ago, I've been able to collect physical media in addition to my enormous collection of digital manga. I'm pretty happy to have a wide variety of genres represented in my collection, and I try my best to only buy my favorites; I haven't had to start double-stacking yet, but it's getting close, especially with my recently acquired interest in light novels....

One thing I've enjoyed is getting autographs from VOs from my favorite shows, even if they're not that well known anymore. My favorite experiences so far have been with Caitlin Glass (Claymore), Cristina Vee (Madoka Magica), Todd Haberkorn (Claymore), Tony Oliver (Robotech), and Ian Sinclair (Good Luck Girl!)."

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I see a lot of good stuff on those shelves, and your collection reminds me that I really need to pick up the rest of Vinland Saga. Thanks for sharing!

Got a collection of anime and manga that you'd like to show off? Send your photos to [email protected] and I'll feature them in a future column!

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