by Paul Jensen, James Beckett,
Between writing the weekly streaming reviews, writing the simuldub preview, and reading the light novel for my own amusement, I'm currently at three different points in the story of That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime. Needless to say, my mind is currently an amorphous mess of blue goo. Welcome to Shelf Life.
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On Shelves This Week
Synopsis: After being tricked into joining a group of mercenary pilots, Shin Kazama must stay alive long enough to find a way home.
Extra: We don't have any formal reviews of this 1980s OVA, but we do have a review of its 2004 remake. This set contains both the original OVA version and the theatrical edit.
Synopsis: When Hotaru suddenly disappears, Kokonotsu must find a way to keep the snack shop in business.
Extra: With its shorter episode format, this season only made it as far as the Preview Guide. We do have a fullreview for the first season, though. This season is available streaming on Crunchyroll and Funimation.
Synopsis: High school student Kaho Nikaido has finally found her prince charming, but there's just one problem: despite his appearance, he's actually a fifth-grader.
Synopsis: A team of unlikely heroes must pilot a giant robot in order to defeat an international crime syndicate.
Extra: This series and its spinoff OVA were covered in The Mike Toole Show. No streaming options for this one as far as I can tell.
Synopsis: After ace mecha pilots Koji and Sayaka leave the country, it's up to newcomer Tetsuya Tsurugi to take on the forces of evil.
Synopsis: When Masahiro Setagawa's high school teacher saves him from a group of delinquents, the two of them suddenly find themselves drawn to one another.
Synopsis: When a robot girl and a detective's nephew have a chance encounter in the high-tech city of Metropolis, they become caught in a conflict with devastating consequences.
Synopsis: Tsunayoshi and his allies are transported into the future, where new and deadlier foes await them.
Extra: Still no formal reviews for this (very long) series. This set contains episodes 102-203, and the full series is available streaming on Crunchyroll and Hulu.
Synopsis: When a race of aliens invades Earth in order to escape their own dying planet, humanity's only hope rests with a renegade member of the invading civilization.
Extra: Another giant robot anime, another Mike Toole Show link. This one's only a brief mention, but it's about all we've got.
Synopsis: When he's granted special powers by a mysterious tattoo, Justice Akatsuka soon finds himself drawn into a clandestine war for supremacy.
The Testament of Sister New Devil BURST - Complete Collection BD+DVD, Limited Edition
Funimation - 275 min - Sub+Dub - MSRP $64.98|$84.98
Currently cheapest at: $48.74 Right Stuf|$63.74 Right Stuf
Synopsis: Basara and his companions try to lead a normal school life, but they're quickly drawn into a new demonic conflict.
Shelf Life Reviews
James takes on the curiously-titled 18if for this week's review. This game adaptation visits some trippy dreamscapes, but is it any good?
The plot concerns a scientist named Katsumi Kanzaki, who has dedicated his life to researching the world of dreams and the Sleeping Beauty Syndrome that has forced numerous women across Japan, including his own sister, into inexplicable comas, transforming them into so-called Witches whose nightmares wreak havoc on the real world. Katsumi encounters a mysterious young boy named Haruto, who has been trapped in the dream world for some time, and together they set about visiting the dreams of various Witches and trying to return them to the waking realm, with the rescue of Katsumi's sister being the ultimate goal.
It's the story's episodic focus on the individual Witches' dreams that's the key to both 18if's successes and its failures. While Koji Morimoto handled the general direction of the series as a whole, many individual episodes of 18if were handed off to different directors, so that all of of 18if's chapters could have their own unique artistic identities. The result is the anime lovechild of Quantum Leap and A Nightmare on Elm Street, with each new dream that Haruto travels to varying dramatically in tone, style, and quality. One episode will be a gore-soaked tale of body horror and twisted revenge, the very next will be a treacly and melodramatic teen romance story, and a few chapters down the line we'll have a raunchy, satirical takedown of Japan's idol industry that is equally preoccupied with social justice and graphic boner jokes. There is no such thing as a consistent tone in 18if, and the narrative through line of Haruto and Katsumi's journey is barely relevant until the final few episodes of the series. This is a show that exists primarily to let a handful of directors take the basic concept of “Two guys investigate a bunch of girls' dreams and solve their problems” and let them run wild with it.
As you might guess, whether this is a good or a bad thing will change from episode to episode, and it is entirely dependent on your personal tastes. As far as the art and animation are concerned, 18if looks like hot trash most of the time, with one or two very notable exceptions, so this isn't the kind of series that can get by on aesthetic merits (save for Ryudai Abe's score and the thirteen episode-specific ending themes, which are all pretty great). Whether or not you like any given story will be much more about what you get out of the show's earnest but often very clumsy attempts at capturing particular moods and addressing a variety of social issues. The Witches of 18if are women who deal with issues such as eating disorders, vicious bullying, career pressures, sexual harassment, and even the hardships of living as a deaf person in a society that often lacks empathy for people with disabilities. Given how campy and broad so many of these scripts can be, 18if often struggles to satisfyingly address very real emotions these kinds of stories bring up, but I appreciate the show's sincere efforts.
18if's weakest link is easily its leading man, who I struggle to even call a “character”, since his personality and motivations often seem completely at odds with themselves from episode to episode. While I'd rather the bland video-game protagonist be more involved in the plot and character interactions than not, Haruto is malleable to a fault. For example, in the body-horror episode he exhibits a disturbingly callous disregard for the victims of the Witch-of-the-Week's bloody revenge, yet in the very next episode he is transformed into a dreamy, empathetic love-interest that would be right at home in a Makoto Shinkai film. In another episode, he's revealed to be such a pervert that his erection literally transforms into a semen-spewing genie that sticks his enemies to walls, Spider-Man style. 18if's story is always at its worst when it's focusing on Haruto's personal character arc, as Katsumi and the Witches are all infinitely more interesting than he is.
Yet, for all of my complaining about 18if's many failings, there's something about this show that I can't shake off, a genuine creative spark that I find positively infectious. I would be remiss if I didn't mention the show's seventh episode, directed by Koichi Chigira, which is an incredible work of visual storytelling that is so good I almost want to believe that it got tossed into 18ifs episode lineup by accident. Unsurprisingly, it's almost completely divorced from Haruto and Katsumi's usual doings; instead, with the pair take the form of a scarecrow and a lion, and they are led by a tin man (get it?) across a gorgeous computer-generated paper-craft dreamscape. What follows is a deeply symbolic fable of lost innocence and betrayal that doesn't necessarily come together as a traditional “from Point A to B to C” plot, but is absolutely devastating as a work of pure emotional expressionism. Episode 10 is similarly impressive – directed by Koji Morimoto, it's a messier story about a frustrated young woman who uses internet blogging to express herself when her body fails her. While the emotional impact with this entry is nowhere near as deep as the 7th episode, Morimoto is clearly having a ball using the abstract possibilities of the dream world to toss in as much weird and wonderful imagery as he can fit within a 22-minute time frame.
Funimation's Blu-Ray/DVD combo release of 18if is a very solid affair, containing more extras than usual (an episode 10 commentary, a few brief Japanese adverts, a digital copy of the series, and a nice-looking reversible slipcover), along with a very strong English dub to boot. As Katsumi, J. Michael Tatum is basically paying homage to his own famous role as Okabe from Steins;Gate, and you can tell he's having a blast doing so. Rico Fajardo does his best to make Haruto a likable and consistent lead, and while the show's poor storytelling stymies his efforts, it isn't a bad performance. The real stars of the show are the women who lend their voices to the series' many Witches, as nearly all of them are clearly working very hard to sell the series' different tones, moods, and styles. Lara Woodhull, Brynn Apprill, Dawn M. Bennett all do great work in their respective episodes, but every one of the Witches' actresses deserves kudos for bringing their A-game to material that many might have have easily dismissed at first glance.
18if is the very definition of an ambitious failure, and I've always had a soft spot for works whose reach exceeded their grasp. It's too ugly and too inconsistent for me to give it an unconditional recommendation, and a good portion of the material is unequivocally bad. I have to admit, though, that I kind of loved watching this often ugly and always ridiculous little show. The incredible 7th and 10th episodes are reason enough to give this set a Rental, and the 9th episode is so incredibly absurd that I also think it's worth checking out (though that's the one with the semen genie, so be forewarned before you dive in). I can't guarantee you'll walk away from 18if feeling as inspired as I did. You might even hate it completely. But in an era of increasingly cynical and homogenized entertainment, I believe that any show as ambitious and earnest as 18if should be given a chance, at the very least.
That wraps things up for this week. Thanks for reading!
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