Shelf Life
I Am A Hero

by Paul Jensen,

I started playing Nier: Automata last week, much to the delight of one of my library coworkers. He's adamant that the story will make me feel all kinds of feelings, but right now I'm just having fun running around and hitting stuff with a sword. Considering that I'm usually pretty lousy at third-person melee combat, I have to give the developers points for coming up with a good control scheme. I'll report back in if the story manages to break my heart as promised. Welcome to Shelf Life.

Jump to this week's review:
I Am a Hero

On Shelves This Week

Bungo Stray Dogs - Season 2 BD+DVD
Funimation - 325 min - Sub+Dub - MSRP $64.98
Currently cheapest at: $43.49 Amazon

Synopsis: A new group known as the Guild enters Yokohama, upsetting the balance of power and forcing some unexpected alliances.

Extra: We have episode reviews for both seasons, along with a feature article on the real-world inspirations for some of the characters. The series is available streaming on Crunchyroll, Funimation, and Hulu.

Death Parade - Complete Collection BD
Funimation - 300 min - Sub+Dub - MSRP $49.98
Currently cheapest at: $37.48 Right Stuf

Synopsis: At a bar that exists between the world of the living and the afterlife, recently deceased people must play twisted games to determine where their souls will be sent.

Extra: This series was at the top of my "best of 2015" list, so check it out if you've never watched it. You'll find our episode reviews here, and we also have a full series review. It's available streaming on Crunchyroll, Funimation, and Hulu.

Frame Arms Girl - Complete Collection BD
Sentai - 300 min - Sub - MSRP $59.98
Currently cheapest at: $34.29 Amazon

Synopsis: High school student Ao Gennai ends up sharing her home with Gourai, a tiny android designed to compete in simulated battles.

Extra: This series didn't get a particularly warm reception in our Preview Guide, and our user ratings are sitting at around 5.7 out of 10. You can stream it on HIDIVE.

The Future Diary - Complete Collection BD
Funimation - 680 min - Sub+Dub - MSRP $69.98
Currently cheapest at: $45.79 Amazon

Synopsis: Yukitero Amano is one of twelve people forced to compete in a survival game where all the participants have devices that can predict the future.

Extra: We have a couple of reviews for this series, which you'll find here and here. It's available streaming on Crunchyroll, Funimation, and Hulu.

Glass Mask - Complete Collection BD
Maiden Japan - 550 min - Sub - MSRP $89.98
Currently cheapest at: $51.49 Amazon

Synopsis: After her talent is discovered by a legendary actress, ordinary teenager Maya Kitajima is sent to a top-tier acting school to compete for the role of a lifetime.

Extra: While we don't have any reviews for this 1984 TV series, we do have a couple for the 2005 remake, which you'll find here and here. The 1984 series is available on HIDIVE, and the 2005 version can be found on Crunchyroll.

High School DxD New - Complete Collection BD
Funimation - 321 min - Sub+Dub - MSRP $49.98
Currently cheapest at: $34.29 Amazon

Synopsis: Issei and Rias face new troubles with the appearance of an ancient rival to Issei's Red Dragon and a conflict over powerful holy swords.

Extra: You'll find our reviews for this second entry in the High School DxD franchise here and here. The series is available streaming on Crunchyroll, Funimation, and Hulu.

Mobile Suit Gundam 00 - 10th Anniversary Ultra Edition BD
Right Stuf - 1640 min - Sub+Dub - MSRP $259.99
Currently cheapest at: $168.99 Right Stuf

Synopsis: As three superpowers battle for control of the world's energy supply, a team of Gundam pilots enter the fray with plans to bring peace to the planet.

Extra: This set contains the TV series, the movie, and the OVA. We have some reviews for the TV series here and here, and you can stream the TV series on Crunchyroll and Hulu.

Mobile Suit Gundam 00: A Wakening of the Trailblazer BD, DVD
Right Stuf - 120 min - Sub+Dub - MSRP $34.99|$29.99
Currently cheapest at: $22.74 Right Stuf|$17.19 Amazon

Synopsis: With Earth under threat from a ship full of extraterrestrial life forms, the pilots of Celestial Being are called into battle once again.

Extra: This movie is a sequel to the TV series, and we have a review of it here. Unlike the series, no streaming links for this movie.

Mobile Suit Gundam 00 Special Edition - OVA Collection BD, DVD
Right Stuf - 270 min - Sub - MSRP $59.99|$49.99
Currently cheapest at: $34.29 Amazon|$32.49 Right Stuf

Synopsis: As three superpowers battle for control of the world's energy supply, a team of Gundam pilots enter the fray with plans to bring peace to the planet.

Extra: This OVA is a compilation of the TV series, which is why I've just copied my synopsis from the big 10th anniversary box. No formal reviews for this one, but our user ratings come in at around 7.6 out of 10.

New Game!! - Season 2 BD+DVD
Funimation - 300 min - Sub+Dub - MSRP $64.98
Currently cheapest at: $43.49 Amazon

Synopsis: As Eagle Jump begins working on a new project, Aoba must deal with the arrival of new employees and a direct competition with her mentor.

Extra: I wrote our episode reviews for this sequel season, and the full series is available streaming on Crunchyroll and Hulu.

Shelf Life Reviews

Shelf Worthy
Nothing this week.
I Am a Hero
Nothing this week.

We've got a live-action movie in the spotlight for this week's review. I Am a Hero adapts the zombie horror manga of the same name. Here's my take on it.

I Am a Hero asks a question that many horror fans have probably pondered at some point: what would an ordinary person do in an undead apocalypse? When faced with a bloodthirsty horde of walking corpses, would we stand up to be the hero or just get turned into a very messy lunch? The film's main character is forced to find that answer for himself over the course of the story, and that journey turns out to pretty entertaining. It doesn't necessarily break new ground in the genre, but it's a fun two-hour ride.

That everyman protagonist is an assistant manga artist named Hideo Suzuki, whose life has more or less stalled out as the story begins. His career is going nowhere, his girlfriend is tired of his constant indecisiveness, and he just can't seem to find a way out of the rut he's in. Change is eventually forced upon him in the form of a viral outbreak; a virus called ZQN is turning people into flesh-eating monsters that can only be stopped by destroying the brain. Hideo meets a teenage girl named Hiromi during his chaotic escape from the city, and the two of them eventually join with a group of survivors in a rural outlet mall. Of course, it turns out that the walking dead aren't the only threat when the civilized world falls apart.

From a storytelling perspective, I Am a Hero has a clear understanding of the history and tropes of the genre it's working in, and it references or acknowledges a lot of those tried-and-true plot points. There's the initial shock of Hideo's first encounter with a zombie (or ZQN, as they're called here), the descent into panic as the outbreak unfolds, and the inevitable epic confrontation in a shopping mall. I'm tempted to describe it as a Japanese take on genre send-ups like Shaun of the Dead, but while it does have some moments of comedy, the story in general is more serious and straightforward in tone. It tries to depict things with some degree of realism, and for the most part it succeeds. Hideo survives much of the film by running and hiding rather than mowing down scores of baddies, which feels more accurate to how most people would respond to an undead plague. That course of action is also somewhat justified by the ZQNs themselves, which are fast and unpredictable enough to be legitimately scary. The film makes an interesting choice to give the ZQNs a limited ability to speak, with individuals muttering whatever phrase was foremost in their minds in their final moments. That doesn't necessarily make them any smarter than the average shambling corpse, but it does make them a little creepier.

As for the humans, while there's a reasonably sized cast of heroes and villains, this is mainly Hideo's story. He walks the line between protagonist and bystander throughout much of the narrative, often getting caught in the middle of situations that he can't necessarily control. Hideo owns a shotgun (which is something of a rarity in Japan), and while he repeatedly thinks about using it to fend off a ZQN, he doesn't actually pull the trigger until pretty late in the story. That places a big thematic emphasis on taking action instead of merely reacting to things, with the implication being that Hideo becomes the “hero” by finding the will to take matters into his own hands. The rest of the characters all fit fairly well into their standard roles, whether it's Hideo's teenage traveling companion or the ruthless leader of the survivor camp, but it's clear that they're all playing supporting parts in Hideo's character arc. While that's not necessarily a bad thing, it does place the film's focus squarely on the one protagonist instead of developing an ensemble cast.

That singular focus plays into what is, at least from my perspective, the main limiting factor in I Am a Hero. While the movie does a fine job of painting within the standard genre lines, it doesn't really say anything that hasn't been said before. The story essentially boils down to a simple what-if scenario: what if this particular guy had to fight a bunch of zombies? As much as I enjoyed Hideo's journey from slacker to survivor, this genre is already full of stories about normal people rising to the occasion after being thrust into extraordinary circumstances. A really good horror film will either bring something new to the table or use a recognizable setup to present a unique idea to the viewer. I didn't really get either or those things out of I Am a Hero; it's just an overly familiar tale told reasonably well.

If your main interest here is in watching some good old-fashioned zombie killing action, then the fight scenes in I Am a Hero should fit the bill nicely. The occasional CG special effects aren't quite good enough to blend seamlessly into each shot, but they're used sparingly and effectively. The practical effects are more convincing, and the set design conveys the “world gone to heck” ambience well. The movie's visual direction and editing are generally pretty strong, and Hideo's early dash through the chaos of the city does an especially nice job of conveying the feeling of escalating danger. This release from Funimation only includes the original Japanese audio track with subtitles, so you're out of luck if you're hoping for an English dub. Extras are limited to a handful of trailers, but I'll give them points for at least putting together an eye-catching cover design.

While I can't speak to how well it adapts its source material, I Am a Hero makes for a perfectly decent action horror movie on its own merits. It may not have much to say that hasn't been said before, but it's entertaining and emotionally compelling at all the right points. It's worth a single viewing for general audiences, and hardcore genre fans might get enough out of it to justify a re-watch or two. If you need a live-action fix for your zombie horror cravings, I Am a Hero is a viable option.

That wraps things up for this week. Thanks for reading!

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