Shelf Life
Valkyrie Drive: Mermaid

by Paul Jensen,

I was going to talk about E3 this week, but then I watched the latest episode of Sakura Quest and decided I really wanted to rave about that show instead. I've been watching it all season, but it only just recently hit me that it's really well put together. I genuinely like the characters, and the writing is strong without being overbearing. If you haven't been following the simulcast, it's worth an end-of-season binge. Welcome to Shelf Life.

Jump to this week's review:
Valkyrie Drive: Mermaid

On Shelves This Week

Dragon Ball Z Kai: The Final Chapters - Part 3 BD, DVD
Funimation - 575 min - Hyb - MSRP $54.98|$49.98
Currently cheapest at: $34.99 Amazon|$36.49 Right Stuf

Synopsis: As the battle against Majin Buu rages on, the Z Fighters must use the Fusion technique to defeat their foe.

Extra: My notes from last month's release of part 2 still apply: our most recent review is here, with clips and interviews available on Funimation.

Norn9 - Complete Collection BD, DVD
Sentai - 300 min - Sub - MSRP $59.98|$49.98
Currently cheapest at: $35.99 Barnes and Noble|$29.99 Barnes and Noble

Synopsis: A girl with no name is recruited by a mysterious organization and placed aboard a spaceship called Norn with other exceptional individuals.

Extra: We have Preview Guide coverage of this otome game adaptation, and you can stream it on Hulu and The Anime Network.

One Piece - Season 9 Voyage 1 DVD
Funimation - 300 min - Hyb - MSRP $39.98
Currently cheapest at: $28.79 Amazon

Synopsis: The Straw Hats take on Hordy Jones and his massive army in order to save the inhabitants of Fishman Island.

Extra: Same One Piece drill as usual: you'll find our episode reviews here, and the series is available streaming on Crunchyroll, Funimation, and Hulu.

Ping Pong the Animation - Complete Collection [S.A.V.E.] BD+DVD
Funimation - 275 min - Hyb - MSRP $29.98
Currently cheapest at: $20.69 Amazon

Synopsis: Childhood friends Smile and Peco face a variety of challenges while competing on their high school's table tennis team.

Extra: We have a couple reviews of this acclaimed sports series, which you'll find here and here. You can watch it on Crunchyroll and Funimation.

Sailor Moon S - Season 3 Part 2 BD+DVD, DVD
Viz - 470 min - Hyb - MSRP $69.99|$39.99
Currently cheapest at: $48.64 Amazon|$28.99 Amazon

Synopsis: When Sailor Uranus and Sailor Neptune are targeted by the Witches 5, the Sailor Guardians must fight to save their friends and stop the Death Busters from acquiring the Holy Grail.

Extra: You'll find a review of the first part of this season here, and the series is available streaming on Hulu and

The Big O - Complete Collection BD
Sentai - 650 min - Hyb - MSRP $79.98
Currently cheapest at: $45.99 Amazon

Synopsis: Professional negotiator Roger Smith solves conflicts in Paradigm City using his wits and a giant robot known as Big O.

Extra: First Outlaw Star and now this; it's been a big month for Toonami nostalgia. We have some old reviews of past DVD releases, which you can read here and here.

The Seven Deadly Sins - Season 1 Part 2 BD+DVD, DVD
Funimation - 300 min - Hyb - MSRP $64.98|$39.98
Currently cheapest at: $43.79 Amazon|$29.19 Right Stuf

Synopsis: Princess Elizabeth and Melodias continue their journey to reunite the legendary warriors know as the Seven Deadly Sins.

Extra: You'll find a review of the full first season here, and we also have a feature article on the show's connections to Arthurian legends. Both seasons are streaming on Netflix.

Shelf Life Reviews

I watched Valkyrie Drive Mermaid for this week's review, and while I didn't have super high expectations, it still ended up being less enjoyable than I'd hoped. Let's take a look at what went wrong, shall we?

Valkyrie Drive Mermaid exists as part of a larger multimedia franchise, accompanied by manga and video games. With all of these different entries united by the concept of attractive girls battling one another in skimpy outfits, it's a safe bet that fanservice is going to be the central draw. That's not necessarily a good or bad thing on its own, considering that other anime titles have used fanservice to a wide variety of effects over the years. Some have been clever and entertaining, while others have been unmitigated disasters. While this series does have a few points working in its favor, it leans toward the latter of those two categories.

Our heroine in this story is Mamori Tokonome, a high school student whose life is turned upside-down when she's diagnosed with the Armed Virus. This mysterious plague causes women to develop destructive powers, so Mamori is promptly shipped off to a quarantine island full of other victims. Mamori's particular abilities classify her as an Exter, which means she can transform into a powerful weapon. The catch is that she needs the help of a partner, known as a Liberator, who can activate Mamori's ability and wield her in weapon form. And since an Exter's powers can only be unlocked by intense sexual arousal, well, I think you can guess where this is going. Together with her Liberator partner Mirei Shikishima, Mamori must survive the violent power struggles on Mermaid Island long enough to find a way home.

So yes, Valkyrie Drive Mermaid specializes in a very particular blend of superpowered action and sexual encounters. Think of it as Queen's Blade with more schoolgirl outfits and transformation sequences. Everyone's clothing gets ripped up on a regular basis, and every action scene begins with girls kissing and groping one another until they “power up.” I'm going out of my way to write around the obvious here because this show is about as explicit as it can get without becoming straight hentai. It also tends to get leery whenever the main antagonists are involved; not all of this ability-awakening happens through mutual consent. If that's not your cup of tea, then your best bet is to steer clear of this one.

Assuming you make it over that first hurdle, you'll still have to put up with some glaringly stupid plot points. Valkyrie Drive Mermaid tries to tell a serious story in a fully developed fictional world, and the results aren't great. Character development ranges from mediocre to genuinely lousy, and the narrative stumbles between predictable plot twists and questionable leaps of logic. Even the basic rules for the characters' powers seem to be in a constant state of flux, with exceptions to the basic Exter-Liberator formula popping up whenever those limitations stop being convenient to the plot. Some fanservice shows are able to tell a cohesive and entertaining story amidst all the sex appeal, but this isn't one of them. There's not much here for anyone who isn't watching exclusively to see animated boobs.

The story wanders off into more episodic content in the middle of its twelve-episode run, and it's in this slower section that Valkyrie Drive Mermaid gets closet to Rental territory. With the main narrative placed on the back burner, the show is able to embrace its own absurdity and poke fun at its ridiculous premise. Mamori and Mirei help out a girl whose Exter power causes her to grow to gigantic proportions, and they also compete against one of the main villains in a beauty contest. These middle episodes are the most palatable of the series, and they make me wonder if Valkyrie Drive Mermaid might have been better off ditching the serious life-and-death stuff altogether.

The show's technical merits are the closest thing it has to a saving grace; the animation is generally competent, and it jumps up into “labor of love” territory during fanservice shots. The character designs are fine overall, but the school uniform focus does limit the variety of costumes. The soundtrack is also decent, with perfectly listenable opening and closing themes. Funimation's English dub does as much as it can with the clunky storyline and dialogue, and I honestly found it preferable to the original Japanese audio. This release contains a respectable amount of on-disc extras, including a series of short OVA episodes along with the usual episode commentary and clean credit sequences.

If you can put up with its many faults and are looking for a reasonably well-animated fanservice show, then Valkyrie Drive Mermaid might offer enough to justify a single viewing. Unfortunately, the problems are too numerous and the appeal is too narrow for me to give it anything higher than a Perishable rating for a general audience. There's just nothing about it that merits a recommendation. All the anime boobs in the world can't save a story this weak.

That wraps up the column for this week. Thanks for reading, and remember to send me your photos at [email protected] if you'd like to show off your anime collection in a future installment of Shelf Obsessed!

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