Shelf Life
Wake Up, Girls!

by Paul Jensen, James Beckett,

I talked about my overly ambitious streaming queue a few weeks ago, and while a couple of shows have gotten the axe (farewell, Scorching Ping Pong Girls), I'm actually finding that keeping up hasn't been as tough as I'd feared. It certainly helps that there's a lot of fun stuff airing this season, and there's enough variety amongst the good shows that I'm not getting tired of any particular genre. I'm feeling pretty confident at the moment, so let's see if I can actually make it to December without falling hopelessly far behind. Welcome to Shelf Life.

Jump to this week's review:
Wake Up, Girls!

On Shelves This Week

Big Windup! - Season 2 DVD
Right Stuf - 350 min - Sub - MSRP $49.99
Currently cheapest at: $32.49 Right Stuf

Synopsis: Mihashi, Abe, and the rest of the Nishiura High School baseball team continue their quest for victory at the summer tournament, but their opponents' strong batters will test the limits of their teamwork.

Extra: This is the first time this season has been available on disc in the US. We have a review from the first season, which is available streaming on Funimation and Hulu. A few episodes from this second season can be found on the Nozomi Entertainment YouTube channel.

Ergo Proxy - 10th Anniversary Edition BD
Funimation - 575 min - Hyb - MSRP $69.98
Currently cheapest at: $48.41 Barnes and Noble

Synopsis: When cyborgs begin exhibiting strange and dangerous behavior in the domed city of Romdo, detective Re-l Meyer's investigation takes her beyond the safety of the city and into the wasteland of the outside world.

Extra: We have reviews of this series (which I can't believe is now a decade old) here and here. You can stream it on Funimation and Hulu.

Kimba the White Lion - Complete Series [Anime Elements] DVD
Right Stuf - 1145 min - Dub - MSRP $59.99
Currently cheapest at: $38.99 Right Stuf

Synopsis: After the death of his father, a white lion named Kimba works together with his friends to accomplish the goal of bringing peace to the human and animal worlds.

Extra: We have a review of a previous release of this 1965 series, and it also made a brief appearance in an old installment of Shelf Life.

King of Thorn [S.A.V.E.] BD+DVD
Funimation - 110 min - Hyb - MSRP $19.98
Currently cheapest at: $14.11 Barnes and Noble

Synopsis: A group of people infected with the deadly Medusa virus are placed into suspended animation, but when they wake up they find that the research facility has been overrun by man-eating monsters.

Extra: You'll find a couple of reviews of this movie here and here, and it's available streaming on Funimation and Hulu.

Mobile Suit V Gundam - Collection 2 BD, DVD
Right Stuf - 625 min - Sub - MSRP $74.99|$59.99
Currently cheapest at: $48.75 Right Stuf|$38.99 Right Stuf

Synopsis: Uso Ewin's ability to control the Victory Gundam has improved, but he now finds himself inescapably tied up in the outcome of the war between the Zanscare Empire and the Earth Federation.

Extra: While we have countless reviews of other Gundam series, this particular piece of the franchise is a rare exception. You'll just have to go by our user ratings, which are hovering at around 7 out of 10.

Psychic School Wars BD+DVD
Funimation - 106 min - Hyb - MSRP $29.98
Currently cheapest at: $20.99 Right Stuf

Synopsis: Ryoichi Kyogoku transfers into a new school and begins wreaking havoc with what appear to be psychic powers. Clumsy student Kenji Seki and his friends must choose between stopping Kyogoku and joining him.

Extra: While this movie was screened in the UK shortly after its 2012 premiere, this appears to be the first time it's been available in the US. No reviews yet, but our user ratings average out at about 7 out of 10.

Snow White with the Red Hair - Season 1 BD+DVD
Funimation - 300 min - Hyb - MSRP $64.98
Currently cheapest at: $45.49 Right Stuf

Synopsis: After leaving her homeland to escape the advances of a nefarious prince, professional herbalist Shirayuki sets her sights on becoming a royal doctor in a new kingdom.

Extra: We have episode reviews for this show, along with a full series review. You can watch it on Funimation and Hulu.

Sonic X - Seasons 1 and 2 DVD
Eastern Star - 1150 min - Dub - MSRP $69.95
Currently cheapest at: $42.69 Amazon

Synopsis: When a rescue mission goes awry, Sonic and friends are transported to a new world. They must take on Dr. Eggman and collect seven Chaos Emeralds if they're going to have any hope of returning home.

Extra: Our user ratings have not been terribly kind to this series, averaging out around 5 out of 10. It's available streaming on Hulu.

To Love Ru Darkness 2 - Complete Collection BD, DVD
Sentai - 350 min - Sub - MSRP $59.98|$49.98
Currently cheapest at: $36.29 Barnes and Noble|$34.99 Amazon

Synopsis: Rito Yuki's trials and tribulations continue as he struggles to get his love life in order while dealing with the problems of the otherworldly women in his life.

Extra: The To Love-Ru franchise has been around for a while now, and we have reviews of the first, second, and third seasons. You can watch them all on Crunchyroll, Hulu, and The Anime Network.

Shelf Life Reviews

Shelf Worthy
Nothing this week.
Wake Up, Girls!
Nothing this week.

After taking a look at the movie earlier this year, James finds out if the Wake Up, Girls! TV series is better, worse, or more of the same in this week's review.

Way back in the long-ago month of May, I reviewed Wake Up Girls! The Movie. I didn't hate it, but I certainly took issue with the fact that it called itself a “movie”, when it was really more of a double-length premiere episode for a TV series. I know this isn't an uncommon practice in anime, but given how the movie felt twenty minutes too long at barely an hour of running time highlighted how sleight of a product it was. The girls were charming, the music was fine, but at the end of the day it could hardly be called a standalone product. “These girls have a lot of promise,” I wrote at the time, “but until I can sit down with the complete series, the jury's still out on whether they can live up to all of that potential.” Now that I've finally sat down and watched through the 12-episode series, only one question remains: What is the verdict? Did the series do its job and come out on top, as the idol girl anime underdog event of the season?

The answer is “No, not quite. But it came close! So very close.”

I wanted to love Wake Up Girls!, I really did. It picks up right where the movie left off, with the seven ladies teaming up with their hopeless manager Kohei to try and rise up the ranks of idol stardom. Outside of the previously famous Shiho, none of the girls have any real experience in the idol business, so they're working their way up from the very bottom. Like I mentioned in my earlier review, I have a fondness for “getting the band together” stories, so an underdog idol show should be right up my alley. Wake Up Girls! does a lot of things right, and a lot of little improvements make it a genuinely likable and endearing show. Unfortunately, its rough edges end up overpowering the good will it generates, and the result is a show that's just a little too underwhelming to fully recommend.

Again, this isn't to say Wake up Girls! is bad. There are several things that I genuinely like about the show, especially compared to the triteness of its movie. I'm glad to report that the show does a surprisingly good job of depicting the struggles a small-time act of singers in Japan might have to go through to be successful. WUG!'s struggles range from the silly (variety show shenanigans and a comically unreliable boss) to the serious (sexual harassment and sleazy managers). All the while, it manages to make a solid effort in developing the interior lives of its seven lead girls. Wake Up Girls could have very easily aimed squarely at the “moe slice of life” bullseye, but it genuinely tries to lend an air of drama and gravitas to otherwise lightweight proceedings, which is commendable.

Unfortunately, that “solid effort” is as much a drawback as it is a positive, since the show's writing misses just as often as it hits. For every genuinely moving or engaging scene, there are just as many stretches that devolve into maudlin waterworks or, in the worst cases, being just plain boring. You'd think that a show with only twelve episodes wouldn't have a lot of time for dead air, but I found myself checking my watch at least once or twice per episode, especially in the back half. Personally, I think the story would have been better served with a shorter, ten-episode run.

Pacing issues aside, the biggest problem Wake Up Girls! faces is that, despite its efforts, it never manages to give all seven of its girls as much personality and emotional investment as it clearly wants to. At least it fares much better than the movie, where the girls were essentially ciphers. The show actually bothers to give each girl a little time in the spotlight. Minami becomes the breakout star of her variety segment, Airi struggles to improve her talents, and poor Mayu has a whole lot of baggage concerning her past life with the mega-popular idol group, A-1. Again, it's a strong effort, but for whatever reason, my engagement with the characters always ended up hitting a wall. I like the girls, and I was moderately interested in their musical pursuits, but the story never did quite enough for me to become heavily invested. When the show is about a group of idols and the idols themselves are largely unmemorable, the whole thing gets dragged down as a result.

The final thing that keeps WUG! from being a true success is its lackluster artistry. If the movie has anything on the series, it's the visual polish that this TV production simply can't manage. Off-model characters, wonky faces, and stiff movement pop up in every episode; the only time the show steps its animation up is during any given musical performance. The show's direction and character design is equally flat, which only makes the faults in the animation stand out more. It isn't a terrible looking show, but it is a very boring-looking show, and that's almost just as bad.

As far as the Blu-Ray release goes, it's the same song-and-dance we usually get from Sentai. No extras, no dub, just twelve episodes of an anime in high definition. As far as the transfer goes, it's fine; there's no obvious flaws in the audio or visuals. If anything, the audio is the highlight of the set; there aren't a whole lot of songs that can be crammed into 12 episodes, but the ones we get are catchy and sound good on disc. The series runs for 30 to 40 dollars online, give or take, which is par for the course for a show of this length. However, I feel like you do need to see Wake Up Girls! The Movie to appreciate this show, and that's an additional 20 dollars, so keep that in mind.

Do I recommend buying it outright? Unfortunately no, especially since getting the entire series will cost about 60 dollars, and I can't say Wake Up Girls in its entirety is worth that much. I admire its underdog spirit, especially since it tries to be something of substance, but its writing and animation shortcomings hold it back from ever truly accomplishing its goals. If you love idol shows, maybe give it a rental; it's possible that it might strike a chord for you that it didn't for me. For the rest of the world though, this show is a third place idol anime contender at best. As is the case for so many of the pop idols the show fashions itself after, it's almost certainly destined to fade away into the limbo of unfulfilled potential.

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

This week's shelves are from Ben, who took some inspiration from my recent misadventures in furniture assembly:

"Hi Paul,

My Shelves have previously been featured on shelf life years ago.  When you were talking about your failure at building a book case in last weeks column I knew I had to send you an update.  This is a rotating shelf I have added and as you can see it is my monument to failure.  Don't worry Paul it happens to all of us."

Any shelf with anime on it is a good shelf, and at least yours rotates! Mine just stands still and looks silly. Thanks for sharing, and for letting me know I'm not alone in my furniture woes!

Whether your collection is neatly arranged on custom-built shelves or piled haphazardly on top of a cardboard box, this is the place to share it with the world. Just send me your photos at [email protected]!

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