Shelf Life The Amagami SS Collection
by Paul Jensen, James Beckett,
I noticed something cool about the current anime season this week. I normally start falling behind on the shows in my streaming queue at around the six-week mark, but at the moment I'm still up to date on everything I'm watching. For one reason or another, a lot of this season's shows are keeping me fired up to see what happens next. I just have to know what kind of ridiculous jokes Mr. Osomatsu is going to deliver, what kind of magic The Ancient Magus' Bride is going to show off, and what bizarre adventure is around the corner in Blood Blockade Battlefront. That sense of eager anticipation never gets old, even after you've watched and written about more shows than you can count. Welcome to Shelf Life.
Jump to this week's review:
Amagami SS and SS+
On Shelves This Week
91 Days - Complete Collection BD+DVD, Limited Edition
Funimation - 300 min - Hyb - MSRP $64.98|$84.98
Currently cheapest at: $43.49 Amazon|$62.04 Right Stuf
Synopsis: After witnessing his family's deaths at the hands of the Vanetti mob family, Avilio Bruno seeks revenge by any means necessary.
Synopsis: As Rin struggles to regain his friends' trust after revealing his true identity, the exorcists work to retrieve the stolen Left Eye of the Impure King.
Synopsis: Shoyo Hinata joins his high school's volleyball team in the hopes of becoming a star player, but is shocked to learn that his old rival from middle school is now his teammate.
Extra: I gave the first subtitled volume of this season a Shelf Worthy rating back in 2015, and you'll find some more reviews here and here. The full series is available streaming on Crunchyroll, HIDIVE, and Hulu.
Synopsis: As the violence of World War II closes in on the Japanese mainland, a young housewife struggles to carry on with her life.
Extra: One of my coworkers went to a screening of this movie and spent the next three days raving about how good it was. We have a formal review here that's similarly positive.
Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans - Season 1 Part 1, Part 2, Limited Edition BD+DVD
Funimation - 325 min|300 min|625 min - Hyb - MSRP $64.98|$64.98|$149.98
Currently cheapest at: $47.28 Amazon|$47.28 Barnes & Noble|$108.59 Amazon
Synopsis: While on a mission to protect a young aristocrat, child soldiers Mikazuki Augus and Orga Itsuka are drawn into a large conflict.
Extra: In case you're baffled by the multiple releases here, the two standard sets contain half of the first season each and the limited edition contains the full 25 episodes. We have episode reviews for seasons 1 and 2, along with a feature article on the show's writing style. You can stream the series on Crunchyroll, Funimation, and Hulu.
Synopsis: Ash Ketchum's dreams of becoming a Pokemon master get off to a rough start when he's paired with an unruly Pikachu, but some new friends and plenty of perseverance will see him through.
Extra: Yep, this is the original series, or at least the US broadcast version of it. You may want to check out our article on the top twenty original episodes, and the show's many seasons are available on Pokemon.com.
Synopsis: Because of his terrible grades, the only school that Tsukune Aono can get into ends up being full of supernatural creatures disguised as ordinary humans. On the positive side, quite a few of them are pretty girls.
Extra: While I've written a lot about the current wave of monster girl shows, this 2008 series about vampires and succubi has yet to go under my microscope. We have a review of an older collection, and you can stream the show on Funimation and Hulu (be aware that Hulu only has the first season).
Shelf Life Reviews
James watched the complete collection of Amagami SS and Amagami SS+ for this week's review. This set packs both seasons of the romance series into one box, but is there quality to match that massive quantity?
As it turns out, that isn't what Amagami SS is at all. Instead of telling one story over the course of its almost 40 episodes, this franchise is really more a collection of short stories. In season one of the series, Junichi gets a 4-episode arc with each of his potential romantic interests, with each set of episodes acting as a completely separate and disconnected “What If?” scenario. The OVAs and the second season simply offer more of the same: a couple more episodes each of Junichi bonding with the ladies in his life, plus a couple of one-off adventures featuring the series' side characters. There's nothing supernatural or science-fictional at work here; just a normal high-school boy going out with a half-dozen equally normal high-school girls.
With just the summary alone, it's possible to guess both Amagami SS's greatest strength and its greatest weakness: its formula. To be fair, seeing the protagonist of a romance show get to fully commit to each of the potential love interests does offer a certain amount of satisfaction; the waffling and waiting to confess only lasts for an episode or two, and most every story features, if not an entirely happy ending, a conclusion at least. It also means that, if you aren't a fan of any one love interest, the next will come along within the span of only an hour or so.
On the opposite side of that coin, that same commitment to brevity and diversity means that Amagami SS and Amagami SS+ are perfect examples of shows that are a mile wide and inch deep, thematically speaking. Given the series' limited ambitions of animation and writing, four-episode arcs simply don't provide enough time to set up and flesh out a compelling love story, especially when you're dealing with teenagers. Amagami SS+ helps out a little bit, offering a couple more episodes each to spend on each of Junichi's six separate stories, but it still makes each of the narratives feel less satisfying than they might have been if they were given more time to breathe.
Given the shows' modest aesthetic merits, not to mention their inherently stunted story threads, Amagami SS and SS+ are the kinds of stories that live and die on the appeal of their cast. Junichi is about as generic a leading man as he can be, which isn't surprising given that the game is an adaptation of a dating-sim, so each of the franchise's female leads have to pick up all of the slack in terms of charisma and character development. Thankfully, most of Junichi's romantic partners are likable and interesting, which makes the sting of abandoning one romantic thread for another every few episodes hurt much less. Haruka is the first of the girls that the series focuses on, easily my favorite of the bunch, but the other five girls hold their own as well. Kaoru is the spunky “best friend” type, Ai is the quiet and reserved one, Rihoko is the klutz who likes food, and so on. I could honestly do without the episodes focusing on Miya, Junichi's sister, since I really have no need for Amagami SS to play up a young girl's possible romantic connection with her older brother. For anyone seeking that kind of story though, Amagami SS has you covered as well.
Personally, I'm not the type to get super-invested into the “self-insert, multiple choice” kind of romance; I tend to prefer main characters with a more distinct personality, and I'd rather root for a single pair of lovers over the course of a long story, rather than Amagami SS's commitment to non-commitment. I honestly feels like the series cheapens its own relationships once you realize that Junichi is more-or-less equally compatible with every single woman in his life. It's not that I buy into the idea of soulmates or anything, but Amagami's formula only highlights how much of a non-character Junichi is, which in turn makes his various romantic adventures feel all the more disposable.
“Disposable” doesn't automatically imply “worthless” though, and even if I can't quite jive with Amagami SS's particular take on young love, I recognize that you could easily take its formula as a celebration of finding love in many different forms. Even if that might be a stretch, Amagami SS isn't trying to be some kind of deep treatise on the nature and limitations of youthful romance. Watching Amagami SS's two seasons is the anime equivalent of tearing through a box of sugary confections in a single afternoon. It isn't much more than saccharine self-indulgence, and it all begins to taste the same after a while, but it's a perfectly fine way to treat yourself every once in a while.
This blu-ray set contains all 24 episodes of Amagami SS and all 12 episodes of Amagami SS+, along with two OVA episodes. This collection retails for about $50 USD online, which makes it a steal for fans of the show, despite the lack of any meaningful extras. The audio and visual quality are sharp, but they don't do much to elevate the show's aesthetic merits. Studio AIC does perfectly serviceable work on these Amagami seasons, but the animation and visuals are never much more than competently bland, save for a few nicely emotive scenes scattered about. The same goes for the show's audio quality; the set comes with just the subtitled Japanese audio, and both those performances and the series' musical soundtrack are perfectly okay.
In fact, “perfectly okay” might just be all you need to describe The Amagami SS Complete Collection. It tells perfectly okay micro-stories that feature a perfectly okay cast, and that's about all there is to it. If you really love dating-sim style stories, you might get a lot more out of these two seasons, and your appreciation of the series' cast will also affect how much you enjoy Amagami SS in the long run. I can't say I outright disliked much of it, but none of it is going to stick with me for long, either. If you're in the mood for a breezy, disposable collection of fairly average love stories, it might be worth a rental. Otherwise, there are much meatier, more substantial love stories worth spending your cold, hard cash on.
That wraps up the review section for this week. Thanks for reading!
No Shelf Obsessed entry this week. Send me those photos at [email protected]!
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