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Shelf Life
The Dragon Dentist

by Paul Jensen, Gabriella Ekens,

You know the overused comedy scene where a character sprints at full tilt toward a bus stop or train station, only to watch helplessly as their chosen form of transportation rolls away without them? That actually happened to me a couple days ago. I probably would've shouted a dramatic line about cursing the gods of public transit, but I was completely out of breath at the time. Commuting is fun. Welcome to Shelf Life.

Jump to this week's review:
The Dragon Dentist

On Shelves This Week

Cheer Boys!! - Complete Collection BD+DVD
Funimation - 300 min - Hyb - MSRP $64.98
Currently cheapest at: $47.28 Barnes & Noble

Synopsis: Childhood friends Haruki Bando and Kazuma Hashimoto form a boys' cheerleading team at their college and recruit an eclectic group of new members.

Extra: We have episode reviews for this series, and it's available streaming on Crunchyroll and Funimation.

First Love Monster - Complete Collection BD+DVD
Funimation - 300 min - Hyb - MSRP $64.98
Currently cheapest at: $47.28 Amazon

Synopsis: High school student Kaho Nikaido falls for the handsome Kanade Takahashi, only to find out that despite his appearance, he's actually a fifth-grader.

Extra: We covered this series in the Preview Guide (I gave its first episode a resounding 1 out of 5), but it didn't make the leap to episode reviews. You can stream it on Crunchyroll and Funimation.

Genocidal Organ BD+DVD, DVD
Funimation - 115 min - Hyb - MSRP $34.98|$29.98
Currently cheapest at: $22.99 Amazon|$21.89 Right Stuf

Synopsis: Government agent Clavis Shepherd investigates a series of mass killings, all of which are linked to one man.

Extra: We have neither reviews nor user ratings for this 2017 movie, but you can watch a preview clip of it here.

Handa-kun - Complete Collection BD+DVD
Funimation - 300 min - Hyb - MSRP $64.98
Currently cheapest at: $43.49 Amazon

Synopsis: Teenage calligrapher Sei Handa is extremely popular amongst his classmates, but his paranoid nature leads him to believe that everyone is out to get him.

Extra: I wrote our episode reviews for this comedic prequel to Barakamon, and it's quite a funny little show. You'll find it streaming on Funimation.

Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions - Seasons 1 and 2 BD
Sentai - 650 min - Hyb - MSRP $99.98
Currently cheapest at: $57.19 Amazon

Synopsis: Yuta Togashi hopes to put his embarrassing past behind him as he starts high school, but his classmate Rikka Takanashi drags him into her own delusions of grandeur.

Extra: We have a whole bunch of reviews for season 1, but nothing official for season 2. If you want my two cents on the second season, it's pretty solid but not quite up to the standards of the first. In any case, you can stream the series on Crunchyroll, HIDIVE, and Hulu.

Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin - Part 5 BD [Import]
Right Stuf - 80 min - Hyb - MSRP $99.98
Currently cheapest at: $99.98 Right Stuf

Synopsis: As the war between Zeon and the Earth Federation rages, intrigue threatens to destroy the Zabi family from within.

Extra: The first four entries in this series are available as a domestic release, and we have a review of that set. Parts 1 through 5 are available streaming on Hulu.

Mobile Suit Gundam Wing - Collection 1 BD, DVD
Right Stuf - 625 min - Hyb - MSRP $74.99|$49.99
Currently cheapest at: $42.89 Amazon|$31.25 Amazon

Synopsis: After years of oppression, a group of space colonies launch a rebellion by sending five powerful Gundams to attack Earth.

Extra: I've probably mentioned this before, but Gundam Wing was one of the first anime series I ever watched. I streamed a good chunk of it recently, and I will concede that it might not be quite as flawless as my grade school self perceived it to be. We have some old reviews here here and here, and you can watch it on Crunchyroll and Hulu.

Mobile Suit Gundam Wing - Collection 2 BD, DVD
Right Stuf - 600 min - Hyb - MSRP $74.99|$49.99
Currently cheapest at: $42.89 Amazon|$28.59 Amazon

Synopsis: As political upheaval plunges Earth and the colonies into chaos, the Gundam pilots must choose sides in a new conflict.

Extra: Since I burned through all of the useful info in the previous entry, I'll use this space to declare that Heavyarms was my favorite Gundam in the series and Duo was my favorite pilot. I don't know if that says anything about my personality, but there you go.

Revolutionary Girl Utena - Set 2 BD
Right Stuf - 300 min - Hyb - MSRP $49.99
Currently cheapest at: $28.59 Amazon

Synopsis: As Utena begins to question her relationship with Anthy, a new and dangerous group of duelists emerge with a plan to kill the Rose Bride.

Extra: We have a review of the previous Blu-Ray set, and you may also want to check out this feature article on the show's 20th anniversary. It's available streaming on the Nozomi Entertainment YouTube channel.

Speed Racer - Complete Collection BD+DVD [Collector's Edition]
Funimation - 3450 min - Hyb - MSRP $299.98
Currently cheapest at: $299.98 Right Stuf

Synopsis: Speed Racer takes on dastardly villains and dangerous race courses in his advanced car, the Mach 5.

Extra: In case you're curious, that bust of Speed apparently says phrases from the show, and it also appears to have room to store the discs inside. The first season is available streaming on Funimation and Hulu.

To Heart 2 - Complete Collection BD, DVD
Maiden Japan - 325 min - Sub - MSRP $59.98|$49.98
Currently cheapest at: $34.29 Amazon|$32.49 Right Stuf

Synopsis: As childhood friends Takaaki and Konomi begin high school, new encounters and romantic tension will test the bond between them.

Extra: We don't have any reviews for this series, but we do have some old coverage of the original here and here. Neither one appears to be available on any of the usual streaming sites.

Your Name BD+DVD, DVD, Limited Edition
Funimation - 107 min - Hyb - MSRP $34.98|$29.98|$84.98
Currently cheapest at: $19.99 Amazon|$17.96 Amazon|$61.49 Amazon

Synopsis: When high school students Mitsuha and Taki begin waking up in one another's bodies, they must cope with this strange situation while learning more about one another.

Extra: We have reviews of this movie here and here, and we also have an interview with the English dub cast. I have a copy of the limited edition on pre-order, and will hopefully be watching it around the same time you read this.

Shelf Life Reviews

The Dragon Dentist combines a unique premise with some serious creative talent, but is the end result any good? Gabriella finds out in this week's review.

“Dragon dentists” are not a concept that I ever thought I'd encounter. In this two-part television special's fantasy version of WWII, Japanese forces take to the skies on enormous battleships built on the backs of dragons. These beasts have a weakness, however – when their enormous mouths get too filled with plaque, they get uppity and threaten the security of the entire aerial colony. It's up to dragon dentists – specialized soldiers who scrub stains out of the serpent's ten-story chompers – to keep the entire endeavor running. It's a dangerous job, but not for the reasons you might think. You see, supernatural beasts attract supernatural detritus, and the infections that populate the dragon's gum line can be deadly creatures in their own right. Due to this, dentists are likely to face an early death. While the guild's entrance exam tests for a candidate's acceptance of this possibility, some lingering anxieties always slip through the cracks. Now, on the eve of a decisive moment in the conflict, a conspiracy is set into motion that could tear the world of dragons asunder.

The Dragon Dentist appears to be the brainchild of one Otaro Maijo, a prolific novelist who's also worked in illustration and filmmaking. This guy seems to be a pretty big deal, but few of his written works have been translated into English, unfortunately. The most famous thing he's done is probably JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Jorge Joestar, a JJBA spinoff novel infamous for its sheer lunacy, even by that series' bombastic standards. He seems to like going high-concept with his fiction, which is totally evident throughout The Dragon Dentist. This premise could have easily fallen apart, but an easy sense of humor alongside strong visual worldbuilding does a lot to establish this as a cohesive world right away. This aspect of the work is impressive, and it also succeeds more than the actual plot, which is bogged down by pacing and exposition issues.

Basically, the story is just a little too ambitious for what it could accomplish in a 90-minute runtime. This film (it's basically a movie split in half to air as two episodes on TV) functions as an expanded version of an ONA short and suffers from the sorts of problems that I tend to see in these transitions. (Looking at you, Kyousougiga.) That is to say it's a bunch of good ideas handled by folks who don't quite know how to convey everything that they came up with. Unlike a lot of similar cases, at least the plot does make sense and the whole thing doesn't completely fall apart at the end. It's a little loosey-goosey and does start to lose itself in the requisite Crazy Anime Climax, but I don't think it's badly put together, all things considered.

Of course, it turns out that this thing was also co-scripted by Yoji Enokido. As far as Enokido goes, he's written some great stuff (FLCL, Diebuster, Revolutionary Girl Utena), but he's been on a serious downward slump lately. I hope that this script's overall competence is indicative of a return to form for him. (His last work, Captain Earth, was pretty damn incomprehensible.) The story at least comes together thematically. It's very Buddhist in its conception of death and preoccupations with the danger of unhealthy attachment. Due to their magical initiation, dentists know how they're going to die beforehand. The male protagonist, fledgling dentist Bell, struggles with the idea of living alongside knowledge of his final fate, a trait he shares with the film's villain. Its ending is extremely Evangelion, with the characters learning that it's a bad idea to try and mess with gods in an attempt to avoid the inevitability of death and loss. Dentistry – with its metaphors for corruption and hidden infestation within a healthy organism – turns out to be a pretty good metaphor for the festering psychological issues that this film (and coincidentally, Evangelion) are about.

This is appropriate, since the film was made by Hideaki Anno's own studio, Studio Khara. On this front, the production showcases some of its best talent, and it's nice to see apply themselves to imagery that isn't already iconic. Director Kazuya Tsurumaki co-directed the original Neon Genesis Evangelion, the remakes, and FLCL as a whole. While Anno overshadows him in terms of credit on the production, these credentials are enough to make him a legend in his own right. The skills gained from several decades in this environment are fully on display throughout this film. The design work is sharp, the direction evocative, and the action thrilling. As per usual, the whole thing ends in a big dramatic orgy of crazy monster stuff. Unfortunately, the latter half begins to rely pretty heavily on CG, which drags the action down somewhat. The storyboarding and choreography remain excellent, though. If you're interested in the sheer artistry of Japanese animated filmmaking, then this is a worthwhile film.

Sentai's release is barren for extras. It comes with a dub, which is functional though not particularly impressive. I found Xanthe Huynh to be somewhat stilted as main girl Nonoko, while Xander Mobus was solid as leading man Bell.

Overall, my main takeaway from The Dragon Dentist is that it was a good way to catch up with a number of talented anime creators. Some great people worked on this, and I'd like to see how they'd approach a more comprehensive work. As a standalone film, however, The Dragon Dentist gets bogged down by production limitations and pacing issues in the second half, though it does remain generally enjoyable throughout. I look forward to seeing more from these guys – that is, if they ever get out of the purgatory that is pre-production on that fourth Rebuild of Evangelion film.

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

I didn't get any Shelf Obsessed submissions in time to run in this week's column, so we don't have any lovely anime collections to marvel at this time around. If you'd like to show off your own collection, send me your photos at [email protected]!

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