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Shelf Life
The Kawai Complex Guide to Manors and Hostel Behavior

by Paul Jensen,

I downloaded the new Fire Emblem mobile game the other day, and it seems reasonably entertaining. I'm not all that familiar with the characters since I've played exactly one game in the franchise over the course of my gaming life, but the turn-based strategy mechanics are fun. If I'm still playing it a couple weeks from now, I'll call it a success. In the meantime, let's get into some new anime releases. Welcome to Shelf Life.

Jump to this week's review:
The Kawai Complex Guide to Manors and Hostel Behavior

On Shelves This Week

D-Frag! - Complete Collection [S.A.V.E.] BD+DVD
Funimation - 300 min - Hyb - MSRP $29.98
Currently cheapest at: $19.49 Right Stuf

Synopsis: Teenage delinquent Kenji Kazama is forced to join his school's Game Creation Club, which is full of eccentric girls who might just be tougher and more dangerous than he is.

Extra: You can read my thoughts on an earlier release of this comedy here, and we also have another review if you need a second opinion. It's available streaming on Funimation and Hulu.

Danganronpa - Complete Collection [S.A.V.E.] BD+DVD
Funimation - 325 min - Hyb - MSRP $29.98
Currently cheapest at: $19.49 Right Stuf

Synopsis: The elite students of Hope's Peak High School discover that the only way they can graduate is by murdering a classmate and getting away with it.

Extra: We've got reviews of this video game adaptation here and here, and it was also covered on The Stream. You can watch it on Funimation and Hulu.

Galaxy Angel - Complete Collection BD
Right Stuf - 390 min - Hyb - MSRP $69.99
Currently cheapest at: $40.29 Amazon

Synopsis: Milfeulle Sakuraba joins the Angel Brigade, a military unit that will be tasked with finding pieces of Lost Technology as soon as someone figures out what Lost Technology actually is.

Extra: We have an old DVD review from 2004, and the franchise as a whole was also covered in a recent installment of The Mike Toole Show. A couple of episodes are available on the Nozomi Entertainment YouTube channel.

Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence BD+DVD, DVD
Funimation - 100 min - Hyb - MSRP $34.98|$29.98
Currently cheapest at: $19.99 Amazon|$19.49 Right Stuf

Synopsis: In the wake of Major Kusanagi's disappearance, Batou and Togusa must investigate a series of murders committed by androids.

Extra: Huh, I guess I must have missed the news that Funimation picked up the license for this movie. In any case, we've got a couple of reviews that you can read here and here.

Mobile Suit Gundam F91 BD, DVD
Right Stuf - 118 min - Hyb - MSRP $34.99|$24.99
Currently cheapest at: $20.19 Amazon|$14.39 Amazon

Synopsis: After years of peace between Earth and the colonies, a military group called the Crossbone Vanguard seizes control of a newly constructed colony and reignites the fires of war.

Extra: This movie has seen a couple of previous releases in the US, but we don't seem to have any reviews of them. Our user ratings are vaguely positive, averaging out at around 6.8 out of 10.

Nichijou - Complete Collection BD+DVD
Funimation - 650 min - Sub - MSRP $69.98
Currently cheapest at: $45.49 Right Stuf

Synopsis: A group of high school students deal with a variety of bizarre problems, like the appearance of an obviously robotic classmate and a no-holds-barred battle between the principal and a deer.

Extra: I'm very fond of this odd little comedy, so I'm happy to see it return from an extended stint in licensing limbo. We have a review of the first few episodes, and while Funimation does have a page for it, no episodes are actually streaming as I write this.

Turn A Gundam - Collection 1 BD
Right Stuf - 625 min - Sub - MSRP $74.99
Currently cheapest at: $43.19 Amazon

Synopsis: In a war between the technologically advanced inhabitants of the Moon and the more primitive residents of Earth, a Moonrace soldier finds an old mobile suit with the power to defeat the armies of either side.

Extra: We reviewed the heck out of this show when it came out on DVD a couple years ago, with two takes on this first half available here andhere.

Wolf's Rain - Complete Collection
Funimation - 750 min - Hyb - MSRP $64.98
Currently cheapest at: $42.24 Right Stuf

Synopsis: Four wolves are brought together by a quest to protect a chosen girl and find a place they only know of as "Paradise."

Extra: I've heard a lot of good things about this show, so I imagine a lot of people will be happy to see it back in print. We have a full series review, and it's available streaming on Funimation.

Young Black Jack - 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: Years before becoming the legendary surgeon Black Jack, medical student Hazama Kuroo struggles to prove his skill and uncover a conspiracy at the heart of the medical world.

Extra: We have episode reviews of this recent prequel to the classic manga series, and you can watch it on Crunchyroll and The Anime Network.

Shelf Life Reviews

The Kawai Complex Guide to Manors and Hostel Behavior came out just a season or two before we started doing episode reviews here on ANN, which partly explains why it never got much coverage. The series recently got a Blu-Ray release from Sentai Filmworks, which seemed like as good an excuse as any to finally give it a proper review.

It seems like anime comedies tend to reach a little further in pursuit of unique gimmicks than American sitcoms. It's not often that you see “mildly quirky people do things” used as a premise in anime unless the characters are all high school girls; usually someone has to be some kind of otherworldly character like an alien or a demon king. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule, including The Kawai Complex Guide to Manors and Hostel Behavior. It really is just a show about goofy people of varying ages and genders living in the same building; that's all there is to it. Of course, sometimes that's all you need to make a comedy series work.

Our intrepid hero is Usa, a first-year high school student who moves into an apartment of his own after his parents are transferred out of town for work. Usa spent most of his middle school life surrounded by weird kids, so he's hoping to start fresh and keep things nice and normal in high school. The good news is that he's moved into the same apartment complex as Ritsu, a pretty girl from his school who always seems to have her head in a book. The bad news is the rest of Usa's new neighbors aren't quite so appealing. His roommate Shiro is a creepy but harmless masochist, twenty-something office lady Mayumi is frequently drunk and always obnoxious, and college student Sayaka is just plain evil. Usa has his work cut out for him if he's going to stay sane with neighbors like these hanging around.

Kawai Complex has a pretty simple formula for creating humor: set up a romantic or sentimental moment for a character, then derail it in spectacular fashion. Sometimes this is the result of outside interference (Mayumi in particular seems to enjoy sabotaging Usa's love life), while in other cases, the characters manage to crash and burn all on their own. This setup can be quite funny when it works, but that subversion of viewer expectations relies heavily on the element of surprise. Since most of the characters are limited to a couple of key personality traits that guide their actions, it's often too easy to see the jokes coming long before they arrive. As a result, the comedy tends to lean more towards “amusing” than “hilarious.”

There's no one dynamic or relationship that stands out as being more entertaining than the rest, but the cast as a whole has some well-balanced chemistry. It's no coincidence that many of the show's best moments happen when the majority of the characters are all gathered in one place. Since all of the main characters are at least a little odd, placing them all in the same room allows them to snipe at one another's weaknesses without piling too much ridicule onto anyone in particular. This ensemble approach to humor also plays into the recurring theme of sharing burdens; when everyone is an unhappy oddball, each character's individual problems seem a little easier to deal with.

Unfortunately, Kawai Complex doesn't go quite as deep with its ideas as you might hope. There's a general sense of “we're all in this together,” but there's not quite enough plot or character development to support anything more nuanced. The one exception is Ritsu, who gets a chance to display some complexity as she tries to balance her introverted personality against her desire to make friends. It's a solid character arc, I just wish we could've seen something similar for the other residents of the apartment complex. Part of this might be down to the fact that this is a single-season adaptation of an ongoing manga series, so there may be some more ambitious story content that didn't make it into the anime.

Kawai Complex probably works best if you look at it as a goofy piece of escapist comedy, the kind of thing that you're more likely to see in a western sitcom. The characters play close to their particular roles, and conflicts rarely last longer than a single episode. It certainly feels more like a sitcom than anything else; there's not enough romance for it to qualify as a genuine romantic comedy, and I wouldn't really call it a harem comedy since Usa only has one love interest. If you watch it with your brain switched off and a generous supply of snacks within reach, it makes for a decent time-killer.

The art style in Kawai Complex is kind of odd. While the character designs are fairly conventional, the colors have a rich, almost over-saturated look that may or may not work for you. There's also an abundance of floating text, which is used both for adding visual emphasis to particular lines of dialogue and for providing witty, unspoken footnotes to whatever a character happens to be saying. It'll either make you laugh or drive you nuts depending on your tolerance for on-screen text. The music is generally decent with some nice opening and closing songs. Along with the basic extras, this set includes a one-off OVA episode and a handful of those still-image commercial bumpers that you sometimes see at the end of simulcast episodes.

Kawai Complex is neither especially hilarious nor emotionally gripping, but it's good enough to merit a single viewing. It does a respectable job of providing a temporary escape into a world where you can see your neighbors every day and not be sick of them after a week or two. If you've ever lived in a real dormitory or apartment complex, that might just be exactly the kind of fantasy you need.

That wraps up the review section for this week. Thanks for reading!

This week's shelves are from sakuraember:

"Hi, my name is sakuraember. I have been an anime fan for over twenty years now. My manga is currently boxed up, except for Cardcaptor Sakura of course, but I do have all my anime out."

Wow, that's quite the stack of Studio Ghibli films! I really need to start collecting those. Thanks for sharing!

If you have an anime or manga collection that you'd like to show off, send me your photos at [email protected]!

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