Shelf Life
Himouto! Umaru-chan

by Paul Jensen, James Beckett,

I spent the better part of last week driving around the northeastern US for family stuff, so I don't really have anything interesting to talk about this week. I can compare the quality of highways and drivers from state to state in excruciating detail, but that's about it. Let's just move right along into the new releases instead, shall we? Welcome to Shelf Life.

Jump to this week's review:
Himouto! Umaru-chan

On Shelves This Week

Chivalry of a Failed Knight - Complete Collection BD, DVD, Limited Edition
Sentai - 300 min - Hyb - MSRP $69.98|$59.98|$169.98
Currently cheapest at: $40.29 Amazon|$35.99 Barnes and Noble|$97.79 Amazon

Synopsis: Ikki Kurogane is the lowest ranked student at a school for magic users, but his fortunes begin to change after he is challenged to a duel by the magical prodigy Stella Vermillion.

Extra: We have episode reviews for this series, and it also appears in this feature article (written by yours truly) on magic high school shows. You can stream it on Hulu and The Anime Network.



Outlaw Star - Complete Collection BD+DVD, Collector's Edition
Funimation - 650 min - Hyb - MSRP $64.98|$99.98
Currently cheapest at: $43.79 Amazon|$72.99 Right Stuf

Synopsis: After his job as an outlaw's bodyguard ends in disaster, Gene Starwind finds himself in possession of a powerful spaceship and on the run from dangerous pirates.

Extra: I still remember watching this show on Cartoon Network and thinking it was the coolest thing ever. No formal reviews, but we have an episode of ANNCast dedicated to it and you can stream episodes on Funimation.



Pandora in the Crimson Shell: Ghost Urn - Complete Collection BD+DVD
Funimation - 300 min - Hyb - MSRP $64.98
Currently cheapest at: $42.99 Amazon

Synopsis: Nene Nanakorobi is a cyborg girl trying to live an ordinary life, but her everyday adventures begin to liven up when she meets another cyborg named Clarion.

Extra: We have some Preview Guide coverage for this series, and it's available streaming on Funimation and Daisuki.




Transformers - The Japanese Collection DVD
Shout! Factory - 2520 min - Sub - MSRP $59.97
Currently cheapest at: $35.99 Amazon

Synopsis: The adventures of the robotic Transformers continue in three original Japanese series.

Extra: We have a review of Transformers: The Headmasters, but nothing for the other two TV series included in this set.




Shelf Life Reviews

After last week's parade of muscular swimming enthusiasts, it's time to slow things down with a comedy featuring a much lazier main character. Here's James' take on Himouto Umaru-chan.

I've covered a lot of comedy series in my time with Shelf Life, and a lot of them seem to stem from very simple, almost one-joke premises. There are some pretty great series that have mined a lot of material from setups like “What if a romantic comedy starred someone who wasn't conventionally attractive?” or “What if all of the mascots in theme parks were really magical creatures?” Heck, my favorite anime comedy of all time is probably Monthly Girls' Nozaki-Kun, which essentially starts off by asking “What if a successful shoujo manga artist was oblivious to romance in real life?” It's not a complicated setup, but with the right amount of heart, charm, and creativity, even the most basic of ideas can turn into something really special.

Coincidentally, Himouto Umaru-chan has a couple of things in common with Monthly Girls' Nozaki-kun. First off, the same studio that produced Nozaki-kun, Doga Kobo, created this adaptation of Sankaku Head's popular seinen manga, which I definitely found promising when Sentai's new Blu-Ray set of Umaru-chan found its way to my doorstep. The series is also a slice-of-life comedy centered around the same kind of one-joke premise, this one being “What if the most popular and beautiful girl in school lived a secret double life as a cola guzzling, junk food inhaling, super otaku goblin child?”

This brings us to the titular Himouto-chan, whose actual name is Umaru Doma. By day she's a valedictorian, varsity-sports playing super-teen, but she transforms into a hoodie-obsessed junk-food-monster when she gets home. She's even animated as an exaggerated chibi-version of herself to drive the shift home. Her older brother Taihei is the one who refers to her as a "himouto," which is a portmanteau of imouto (younger sister) and himono (dried fish), which is slang for girls perceived to live lazy or obnoxious lifestyles. As the days go by, the siblings' circle of friends becomes bigger, and their domestic adventures become stranger, leading Taihei to ask just one question: will his obnoxious little sister ever grow up?

Umaru is the front-and-center focus of almost every single scene in the show, so your enjoyment of this series will rest entirely on whether or not you can handle her particular brand of anti-charm. A lot of folks will find her character charming and hilarious, and it's easy to see why. Her lackadaisical attitude seems like an appealing way to go through life, and her incessant desire for junk food, anime, and video games mirrors the kind of life I'm sure many high-school and college-aged viewers would kill to live. (I know I did when I was that age.) Unfortunately, I had the opposite response to Umaru and her antics, because I think she's kind of the worst.

It isn't just that she binges unhealthy food or prides herself on being kind of lazy, it's that this all comes wrapped in one of the most selfish, duplicitous, manipulative, and all around aggravating packages I think I've ever seen in an anime. For the most part, that's exactly the point; the central joke of the series is the contrast between Umaru's perfect public persona and her nightmarish private life, but after a while the shock factor wore thin, and I just found myself feeling bad for Umaru's relentlessly helpful and unfathomably supportive brother. The other characters are all perfectly fine, and I will admit that even Umaru herself becomes noticeably more tolerable about halfway through the series, but at least 50% of my viewing experience left me wanting to see Taihei put his foot down and set his sister straight. To put it another way, it would only take a few minor tweaks to turn this slice-of-life comedy into a harrowing family drama about a harried guy desperately trying to make ends meet while his self-obsessed sister actively ruins his life.

That's the problem with a one-joke premise. If the joke doesn't work, everything else comes tumbling down with it. The series itself isn't bad – many of the jokes are funny, the characters surrounding Umaru are endearing, and the production values are just solid enough to keep things visually engaging (though the soundtrack is fairly bland and repetitive). I just have a tough time getting over my intense dislike of the series' central figure. If Umaru was a side character or even toned down her madness by just a notch or two, I'd have an easier time laughing along with her. As it stands, she makes an otherwise decent comedy series much more unpleasant than it needed to be.

On the flip side of this is the set that Sentai Filmworks has put out for this series, which is absolutely brimming with extras. The biggest draw here would probably be the Japanese commentary track for every episode of the series. Not only do we hear from all of the voice actors involved with the show, we even get behind-the-scenes info from folks like the author of the manga himself. To get even a few of these in a set these days is pretty generous, but to get 5 hours worth of commentary is another thing altogether. Not only that, but the set includes a series of hangout-style chats with the main Japanese actresses of the series, which themselves total almost three hours. Couple that with a half hour's worth of anime shorts (that include an English dub), plus a bevy of trailers and TV spots, and you have one of the most shockingly feature-rich anime sets I've seen in a while.

Speaking of the dub, it's fine. The series absolutely plays better in Japanese, as the puns and overall sense of humor just go down more smoothly. Emily Neves gives her all to emulate Umaru's dichotomous personality, and while I wouldn't say she does poorly, the nature of the script just doesn't do her any favors. Her handling of Umaru's brazen immaturity and idiosyncratic pronunciation of words like “cola” and “potato chips” would be fine in short bursts, but after hours and hours of the shtick, Umaru ends up feeling more like a strange Eric Cartman-esque gnome than anything else. This is more a fundamental problem of the character than anything about Neves' performance, but it came off as grating in either case. The other actors do fine, with Sara Ornelas and Jad Saxton faring the best as Umaru's friends Nana and Kirie, but the cast doesn't really get enough to do to have any chance at outshining Umaru's black hole of a personality.

So yeah, I wasn't the biggest fan of Himouto Umaru-chan. It isn't a terrible show by any means, and there are even a few episodes late in the season that I enjoyed much more. It just takes far too long for the central character to develop more endearing traits, and even when she does become a bit more likable, she never really grows or changes enough to redeem her earlier awfulness. Comedy is the most subjective of genres though, and I know there are many people who will love the bits of this show I couldn't stand. All of that combined with an overabundance of bonus material makes this set a must-buy if you're a fan of the show already. Anyone else will want to check out an episode or two before committing to a purchase. As Taihei himself might tell you, Umaru isn't the easiest girl to live with.
-James[TOP]

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

This week's shelves are from Shayne:

"About a year or two ago, I submitted pictures of my Anime Collection that got featured on Shelf Life. Now, after organizing my own shelves, I decided I wanted to show off my Manga and Light Novel collection. While not all of my Novels and Manga were not featured, I was able to showcase a lot of them. I have a whole mini shelf devoted only to Yen Press Novels which is pretty much up to date. I have a lot of completed and still up to date series in my Manga Shelf. My favorite has been Sgt Frog, Soul Eater, Watamote and plenty of others. Cheers to everyone!"

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Looks like your shelves and mine have a few manga series in common, and you're more up to date than I am on all of them. Guess I'd better get to work if I'm ever going to catch up! Thanks for sharing!

Want to see your own collection featured in a future installment of Shelf Life? Send me your photos at [email protected]!


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