Shelf Life
Hana Yori Dango

by Paul Jensen,

I can tell we're still a long way away from the heart of winter because I still feel annoyed instead of relieved when the forecast predicts more snow than we actually get. If it's going to snow, let's skip all the inconsequential flurries and get on with it! (Let's see how long that attitude holds up.) Welcome to Shelf Life.

Jump to this week's review:
Hana Yori Dango

On Shelves This Week

Attack On Titan the Movie: Part 2 BD+DVD, DVD
Funimation - 87 min - Sub - MSRP $34.98|$29.98
Currently cheapest at: $22.50 Amazon|$19.99 Amazon

Synopsis: With his ability to become a Titan finally revealed, Eren becomes the target of multiple human factions with conflicting goals. He and his allies must make a choice between hope and destruction.

Extra: We have reviews of the first and second live-action movies, along with an interview with the cast and crew.

Bikini Warriors - Complete Collection BD+DVD
Funimation - 48 min - Hyb - MSRP $29.98
Currently cheapest at: $20.99 Right Stuf

Synopsis: A fighter, a paladin, a mage, and a dark elf team up to save the world from evil while wearing a suspiciously minimal amount of armor.

Extra: We don't have any official reviews of this series of shorts, but our user ratings average out at around 5 out of 10. You can stream it on Funimation and Daisuki.

Black Jack the Movie BD
Eastern Star - 105 min - Hyb - MSRP $24.95
Currently cheapest at: $16.00 Barnes and Noble

Synopsis: The legendary surgeon Black Jack is tasked with discovering the truth behind the appearance of people with superhuman intelligence and strength.

Extra: This movie last came out in the US on DVD back in 2001, and we have a review of that release here. This is one of a couple of releases this week that don't have encyclopedia pages as of this writing, so the title links will take you to the main show pages instead.

Eat-Man - Complete Collection DVD
Eastern Star - 288 min - Sub - MSRP $44.95
Currently cheapest at: $29.22 Right Stuf

Synopsis: The enigmatic mercenary Bolt Crank takes on dangerous jobs using his deadly skills and his mysterious ability to eat any object and produce it completely intact later on.

Extra: We have a very old review of a VHS release of this series, along with a more recent Buried Treasure article.

Fairy Tail - Part 22 BD+DVD
Funimation - 325 min - Hyb - MSRP $54.98
Currently cheapest at: $35.69 Amazon

Synopsis: As the battle of Tartaros continues, the wizards must deal with a powerful new threat and Natsu has an unexpected reunion.

Extra: You know, I was just thinking it had been a while since I last wrote up a new Fairy Tale release. Our most recent set review is here, and you can watch the series on Crunchyroll, Funimation, and Hulu.

Jungle Emperor Leo BD
Eastern Star - 100 min - Hyb - MSRP $24.95
Currently cheapest at: $16.00 Barnes and Noble

Synopsis: The white lion Leo rules over the jungle from Moon Mountain, but his domain is thrown into turmoil by the arrival of humans seeking valuable resources.

Extra: While we don't have a review of this movie, we do have a review of the related TV series, which you can read here.

Little Busters! EX - Complete Collection BD, DVD
Sentai - 200 min - Hyb - MSRP $49.98|$39.98
Currently cheapest at: $28.79 Amazon|$25.99 Right Stuf

Synopsis: When Riki Naoe and the rest of the Little Busters meet an unusual girl named Saya Tokido, they are drawn into her battle against the sinister Dark Executives.

Extra: This set collects the eight-episode OVA. We have a review of the first six episodes of the TV series, which you can watch on Crunchyroll and The Anime Network.

Lupin the Third: Operation Return The Treasure DVD
Eastern Star - 90 min - Sub - MSRP $24.95
Currently cheapest at: $16.22 Right Stuf

Synopsis: In order to obtain the legendary Trick Diamond, Lupin and his gang must return famous treasures once stolen by a rival thief to their original homes.

Extra: This is the first time this particular Lupin special has been available in the US, and as such we don't yet have any reviews of it. Our user ratings are fairly solid, though, averaging out at around 7.5 out of 10.

Ninja Slayer From Animation - Complete Collection BD+DVD
Funimation - 360 min - Hyb - MSRP $64.98
Currently cheapest at: $42.48 Amazon

Synopsis: In order to avenge his family, salaryman Kenji Fujikido makes a deal with a powerful spirit to become the unstoppable martial artist known as Ninja Slayer.

Extra: We have episode reviews of the first half of this "deliberately lost in translation" series, and you can stream it on Funimation.

Rurouni Kenshin Part 2: Kyoto Inferno BD+DVD, DVD
Funimation - 138 min - Sub - MSRP $34.98|$29.98
Currently cheapest at: $19.96 Amazon|$20.99 Right Stuf

Synopsis: Kenshin is called back into action in order to defeat a former assassin who has gathered an army and plans to overthrow the government.

Extra: We have review of the first part of this trilogy, which I totally forgot to cover when it came out on disc last month. Sorry about that! The first movie is available streaming on Funimation.

School Days - Complete Collection BD
Eastern Star - 325 min - Sub - MSRP $39.95
Currently cheapest at: $24.99 Amazon

Synopsis: High school student Makoto Ito tries to start a relationship with the girl of his dreams, but things begin to unravel when he enlists the help of a classmate to win her over.

Extra: We have a review of this somewhat infamous series, and you'll find it streaming on Crunchyroll.

Seiyu's Life! - Complete Collection DVD
Funimation - 340 min - Sub - MSRP $34.98
Currently cheapest at: $24.49 Right Stuf

Synopsis: Rookie voice actress Futaba Ichinose tries to jump-start her anime career with a little help from her friends and fellow actresses.

Extra: Our coverage of this series, which was adapted from a manga written by an actual voice actress, is limited to the Preview Guide at the moment. You can watch it on Funimation.

Show By Rock!! - Complete Collection BD+DVD
Funimation - 300 min - Hyb - MSRP $64.98
Currently cheapest at: $41.10 Amazon

Synopsis: Cyan and her friends in the rock band Plasmagica take on rival musicians in order to become stars in the musical world of Tokyo Midi City.

Extra: We have episode reviews for this series. You'll find this first season and the spinoff shorts on Funimation, and the sequel season is available on Crunchyroll.

Sonic X - Season 3 DVD
Eastern Star - 575 min - Dub - MSRP $44.95
Currently cheapest at: $29.22 Right Stuf

Synopsis: After returning from the parallel world, Sonic must battle a mysterious metal warrior in order to recover his home planet's "planet egg" and save it from certain destruction.

Extra: Still no official reviews for this series, but you can stream it in dubbed or subtitled form on Hulu.

The Kawai Complex Guide to Manors and Hostel Behavior - Complete Collection BD
Sentai - 325 min - sub - MSRP $59.98
Currently cheapest at: $36.29 Barnes and Noble

Synopsis: High school student Kazunari Usa is just looking to lead an average life, but his eccentric neighbors at the Kawai boarding house are anything but average.

Extra: No reviews for this comedy series, as it came out just a little too early to catch the episode review train. I've seen it, though, and it's reasonably entertaining. It's available on Crunchyroll, Hulu, and The Anime Network.

Shelf Life Reviews

Shelf Worthy
Hana Yori Dango
Nothing this week.
Nothing this week.

This week, I took a trip back to the 1990s to review Hana Yori Dango, which some fans will know better by its English title Boys Over Flowers.

Settling on a rating for Hana Yori Dango has been much more difficult than I expected it to be. At different points throughout this 51-episode set, I found myself bouncing back and forth between all three of the ratings that we use in this column. Some scenes frustrated me to the point where I wanted to throw my hands in the air and storm out of the room, while others had me nodding my head and thinking, “This right here is Shelf Worthy.” Add in some comparatively mundane stretches and you've got a series that seems to resist easy categorization. Stay with me though, because I think it's worth trying to figure this show out.

At its core, Hana Yori Dango is a relatively simple high school romance story. Tsukushi Makino has managed to get into an elite private school despite her family's meager finances, and all she wants is to make it to graduation without any trouble. Unfortunately, she runs afoul of the infamous F4: four sons of hideously wealthy families who wield more power over the school than even the teachers and staff. The rich boys are led by Tsukasa Domyouji, a rude and crude guy with a major mean streak. Domyouji and Makino become enemies at first sight, and he makes it his mission to run her out of the school. The only member of the F4 who shows any sympathy for Makino is Rui Hanazawa, an aloof daydreamer who spends most of his time playing the violin on an outdoor staircase. As Makino goes head to head with the F4, she finds herself being drawn closer to both of these boys.

While the show has a big supporting cast, it's really these three characters who drive the plot forward. They also represent the essence of the series, and their actions most clearly illustrate its highs and lows. Of the three, Domyouji is easily the most abrasive character, but that doesn't mean he isn't interesting. On the one hand, he's essentially a dumb and vicious brute with too much money. There's a sinister quality to his bullying, and he's usually the cause of the humiliating and dangerous situations that Makino ends up in, be it through his own direct actions or through the influence he wields. One we get to know his family though, it's easier to understand why Domyouji is such an unpleasant and even frightening guy. He's a lonely kid with a fear of abandonment, and there's at least some part of him that wants to do right by the people he cares about. The idea of a bad boy trying to change his ways is pretty common in shoujo manga and anime, but Domyouji is a more complex character than what we usually see from that archetype.

Hanazawa also ends up being more fascinating that he first appears, and at least in his case it's a little easier to actually like the guy. He has that wistful, dreamy vibe that's so common to male romantic leads, and it's not hard to see why Makino falls for him early on in the series. Again, there's more to him than meets the eye. As calm and collected as Hanazawa is, he also has a selfish side and can be distant or even cold to other people if he thinks that their problems don't concern him. He's usually too busy pining after the girl of his dreams to return Makino's affections, but his own romantic trials and tribulations eventually make him into a grounded and likable character. Considering how much time Hanazawa spends thinking quietly about what's going on around him, a part of me would be curious to see this story retold from his perspective.

And then we have our heroine Makino, who is endearing and frustrating in equal measure. She manages to come across as determined and charismatic without falling into the bottomless pit of generic “strong female protagonists.” There are moments when she genuinely wants to give up and run away from her troubles, which makes it mean more when she manages to overcome whatever obstacle is standing in her way. At the same time, many of the decisions she makes are baffling and occasionally infuriating. The show's drawn-out pacing doesn't help here, as we're often forced to watch her make terrible mistakes in the narrative equivalent of slow motion.

The strange thing about all this is that the characters' questionable actions are a big part of what makes Hana Yori Dango worth watching. Considering that the protagonists are teenagers, it makes sense for them to do dumb things and let their emotions cloud their judgment. Those hormone-fueled mistakes make the characters a little more human, and they're a useful reminder that perhaps we shouldn't always expect our fictional heroes and heroines to make the right call. It's alright to disagree with the protagonist from time to time, even if it means shouting expletives at the screen as I often did while watching this show.

It's also worth remembering that Hana Yori Dango is now twenty years old, and the original manga is even older. I think some of my frustrations with the story stem from two decades' worth of cultural changes. That time difference is also easy to see in the show's visuals. The animation has not held up particularly well on a technical level, but it's balanced out in part by artful visual direction that manages to do a lot with little. The English dub also sounds somewhat dated, though it's tolerable if you really hate reading subtitles. I'm not in love with the orchestral soundtrack, as it feels overbearing at times, but I will admit that I have a soft spot for the opening theme. This release is certainly a saner way to own the show than hunting down all twelve of the single-disc volumes that hit the US market between 2003 and 2005. The only extra of note is a half-hour “movie,” which tells an alternate version of the story with the characters as members of a New York dance troupe.

If you're looking for an approachable, feel-good romance series, my first instinct is to steer you away from Hana Yori Dango. Like some of its characters, it can be a little difficult to get along with, and you may not always agree with the ideas it puts forward. It is, however, a much more human take on teenage romance than we often see in manga or anime, and I think that makes it worth watching. Sometimes the most memorable shows are the ones that you have to argue with a little.

Whew! That show was tougher to review than most, so I hope I was able to make some sense out of it for y'all. Thanks for reading!

This week's shelves are from Tony, aka SaitoHajime101:

"It's always awesome to read your Shelf Life articles as I always find something new to watch from the anime you talk about and from the pictures others provide. Thank you very much for writing your column and thanks to every who share photos!

The pictures are of the shelf (and a half) that my wife and I throw our collection of anime on (separate from the manga). We don't get to buy often, and our collection is a bit dated due to the infrequency of our ability to purchase an awesome series, it is of our favorites; that's all that matters! (Been working on our collection off and on for almost 15 years)

Dango, dango, dango, da-n-go daikazoku!"

I've got a few of those old ADV thinpack collections on my shelves as well, and do I spy a plush Han Solo in carbonite next to Boba Fett? That's adorable. I'm happy to hear you enjoy the column, and thanks for sharing!

I'm always looking for more collections to show off in this segment. If you've got a shelf full of anime and manga, send me your photos at [email protected]!

discuss this in the forum (20 posts) |
bookmark/share with: short url

Shelf Life homepage / archives