Shelf Life
A Spirit of the Sun

by Paul Jensen, James Beckett,

I didn't go to see fireworks on the 4th last week, but I did go to see Fireworks the anime movie on the 3rd. That's some clever timing on the part of whoever's in charge of promoting the film. The movie itself is alright, and it's certainly pretty to look at. It makes for a decent evening out if you happen to live somewhere where it's still playing. Welcome to Shelf Life.

Jump to this week's review:
A Spirit of the Sun

On Shelves This Week

Ai Tenchi Muyo! - Complete Collection BD+DVD
Funimation - 200 min - Sub+Dub - MSRP $49.98
Currently cheapest at: $29.99 Right Stuf

Synopsis: Tenchi must go undercover as a teacher at an all-girls' school in order to undo the effects of one of Washu's experiments.

Extra: We don't have any reviews for this short-format spinoff of the Tenchi Muyo franchise, but our user ratings place it at around 6.6 out of 10. The first four episodes are currently available on Funimation.




Garo: Divine Flame BD+DVD
Funimation - 78 min - Sub+Dub - MSRP $34.98
Currently cheapest at: $26.24 Right Stuf

Synopsis: Leon and Alfonso travel to a foreign country to defeat a powerful Horror, but their mission is complicated by a kidnapping back home.

Extra: This movie is a sequel to the first Garo TV series, and we have reviews for that here and here, along with an interview with the producer and director. You can stream the series on Crunchyroll, Funimation, and Hulu.




The Irregular at Magic High School: The Girl Who Summons the Stars BD
Aniplex - 89 min - Sub - MSRP $49.98
Currently cheapest at: $39.98 Right Stuf

Synopsis: Tatsuya and Miyuki encounter a runaway girl who asks them to help her stop an illegal magical research program.

Extra: Another sequel film, this time for one of the big names from the "magical high school" sub-genre. We have a review for this one, and the TV series is available on Crunchyroll and Hulu.




Katsugeki Touken Ranbu - Complete Collection BD
Aniplex - 300 min - Sub+Dub - MSRP $159.98
Currently cheapest at: $129.98 Right Stuf

Synopsis: The spirits of legendary swords take on human form in order to protect history from a sinister force seeking to alter the past.

Extra: We have episode reviews for this iteration of the Touken Ranbu franchise, and you can watch it on Amazon Prime, Crunchyroll, and Hulu.




Love and Lies - Complete Collection BD
Sentai - 300 min - Sub - MSRP $59.98
Currently cheapest at: $38.99 Right Stuf

Synopsis: In a dystopian world where all marriages are arranged by the government, two high school students start a romantic relationship that goes against the laws.

Extra: We have episode reviews for this romance series, and it was also covered in This Week in Anime. It's available streaming on Amazon Prime and HIDIVE.




Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin - Part 6 BD (Import)
Right Stuf - 80 min - Sub+Dub - MSRP $99.98
Currently cheapest at: $99.98 Right Stuf

Synopsis: Char Aznable rises to fame as an ace pilot in the escalating conflict between Zeon and the Earth Federation.

Extra: The first four parts of this series were collected in a single set last year, and we have a review of that release. All six parts are available on Hulu.




The Tibetan Dog BD
Maiden Japan - 90 min - Sub+Dub - MSRP $29.98
Currently cheapest at: $17.99 Amazon

Synopsis: After moving to a remote village and becoming a shepherd, a young boy named Jiantan befriends a stray Tibetan Mastiff.

Extra: This appears to be the first time this movie has been released in the US, but it was covered in an installment of Pile of Shame back in 2014.




Shelf Life Reviews

James takes on a two-part TV special this week. A Spirit of the Sun tries to put its own spin on the classic disaster film formula, but it runs into some trouble along the way.

A Spirit of the Sun is a two-part television special produced by Madhouse, which first aired in 2006. For the first forty minutes or so of its 2.5-hour runtime, it takes the form of a boilerplate disaster story, with Japan suffering from the fallout of a devastating set of earthquakes and the eruption of Mt. Fuji. Entire cities are drowned by the ocean, over half of Japan's population is killed, and a neverending sky of ash and smoke chokes the life out of many lingering survivors. At the center of it all is Genichiro Ryu, a good-hearted and selfless young boy who finds himself without his family and without a way out of the disaster zone. That's the first part of the story. The rest of the narrative takes a shocking number of twists and turns, and for A Spirit of the Sun, that's both a good thing and a bad thing.

Getting through that first forty minutes or so is rough though, and it's a shame that so much of what doesn't work about A Spirit of the Sun is frontloaded at the beginning. From the very beginning, it's clear that Madhouse isn't necessarily firing on all cylinders with this project. While some scenes are accentuated with bold lines and skillful animation that help to amplify the drama, the effect is inconsistent, and much of A Spirit of the Sun looks poor. There's clearly effort going into making this large-scale disaster feel resonant and dangerous, but too often still frames and sloppy direction make the destruction of Japan feel remarkably boring. The extremely limited and repetitive music by Toshiyuki Honda is perhaps the worst aspect of the production. Honda's compositions are themselves fine, the typical melodramatic horns and strings you'd find in any budget disaster-epic, but by the time the entire miniseries was finished, I got the feeling that only two or three songs were actually written for the show, and they're just played on repeat for every major scene.

The script does the story no favors either, with most of the characters wasted delivering awkward exposition or saccharine, soap-opera dialogue. Genichiro is probably the story's biggest Achilles' heel; from the moment he gets rescued by a well-meaning relief worker to the final shots of the story, Genichiro is presented as flawless, a young boy so loving and innately good that he literally changes people's lives simply by talking to them for a couple minutes. He wins the heart of a complete stranger and convinces him to risk his life to save other complete strangers, he manages to help a Taiwanese gangster overcome his lifetime of being prejudiced against the Japanese within a single conversation, and he even manages to take down a government-wide conspiracy by just standing around and telling people to be good. By the time the “destruction of Japan” portion of A Spirit of the Sun was winding down, I was bored and frustrated in equal measure. But at that point, the story opened up and things improved significantly.

Without spoiling too much, to call A Spirit of the Sun a disaster-thriller isn't quite right, because once Japan's collapse is complete, the narrative shifts gears and focuses on how things have only gotten more complicated for the island nation decades later. The mainland has been split in half by the U.S. and Chinese governments, and tens of thousands of Japanese end up stranded in refugee camps in Taiwan. This mass influx of refugees breeds resentment and prejudice amongst the native Taiwanese, and eventually shady government types look to profit by stoking racial tensions and watching the flames grow. All of a sudden, A Spirit of the Sun feels downright prescient in its storytelling, often going out of its way to portray the difficult nuances that Japanese refugees face in trying to regain their dignity, much less the right to return to their homeland.

Of course, there are two problems that A Spirit of the Sun is never quite able to outpace. The first is that Genichiro is a terrible protagonist, and only by the grace of the slightly more interesting side characters does the story remain afloat. The other problem is that this is a 2.5-hour adaptation of a story that feels like it would need a whole series to properly flesh out. Once the main plot in Taiwan gets going, we pivot from a potential serial killer investigation to a gang conspiracy to political storms that threaten to undo the entire government of Taiwan.

That would be a lot to get through in a 24-episode run, so giving A Spirit of the Sun about ten percent of that real estate means that character development and pacing are thrown right out the window in favor of hitting as many plot points as possible. Characters go through entire arcs of development over the course of just a couple scenes, and entire relationships are built on the foundation of only a couple minutes' worth of interaction on screen. It's incredibly messy storytelling to say the least, and by the end of the second episode the story doesn't even feel finished. We leave Genichiro and his buddies on an elliptical shrug of a conclusion, teasing a much more interesting tale that has yet to be adapted in any other form outside of the manga.

This Blu-Ray collection of A Spirit of the Sun has been put out by Maiden Japan. The dub is serviceable enough. There are plenty of side characters who sound stilted and awkward, but most of the central cast do well by their characters. Adam Gibbs plays the idealized optimism of Genichiro with gusto, and Jason Douglas imbues the gangster Zhang with a gravelly tough-guy air. Of all the performances, the one especially worth highlighting would be Joanne Bonasso's turn as Genichiro's adopted Taiwanese mother, Shu Qin. She only gets one scene, but she absolutely nails the fraught emotionality it requires.

Outside of that, the set is as bare-bones as they come, which makes sense for a budget-priced niche release like this. A Spirit of the Sun isn't a terrible show, but it is terribly uneven, and its story feels so rushed and incomplete that I'm not sure who I would recommend this to. It doesn't work well enough as a standalone viewing experience, and I imagine fans of the source material would be better off just reading the manga. I suppose I wish Genichiro and his pals well in their journey to reunite a broken Japan, but I'm more than happy to say goodbye to A Spirit of the Sun and find better stories to fill my time.
-James[TOP]

That wraps things up for this week. Thanks for reading, and remember to send your Shelf Obsessed entries to [email protected]!


discuss this in the forum (3 posts) |
bookmark/share with:

Shelf Life homepage / archives