by Paul Jensen,
A friend of mine is headed to Anime NYC next weekend. I'm not, which means I get the dubious pleasure of having a thoroughly normal weekend while getting bombarded with texts and pictures from the convention. If you're going, have fun! If not, well, there's still plenty of anime to watch. Welcome to Shelf Life.
Jump to this week's review:
On Shelves This Week
And You Thought There is Never a Girl Online? - Complete Collection BD
Funimation - 300 min - Sub+Dub - MSRP $29.98
Currently cheapest at: $22.49 Right Stuf
Synopsis: High school student Hideki Nishimura is suspicious when a fellow MMO gamer confesses her love to him online, but soon learns that she's actually one of his classmates.
Synopsis: Young Beyblade fighter Ginga takes on the nefarious forces of Dark Nebula with the help of his friends.
Extra: No formal reviews for this series based on the battling top toy line, but our user ratings have an average of 6.1 out of 10.
Synopsis: After defeating Ryuga, Ginga must defend his crown as champion of the Battle Bladers Championship as competitors from around the world appear to challenge him.
Extra: This series is the sequel to Metal Fusion, and our user ratings for it are marginally better with an average of 6.7 out of 10.
Code:Realize Guardian of Rebirth - Complete Collection BD+DVD
Funimation - 325 min - Sub+Dub - MSRP $64.98
Currently cheapest at: $48.74 Right Stuf
Synopsis: After living in seclusion due to a deadly poison in her body, Cardia Beckford is suddenly swept away by a handsome and talented thief.
Synopsis: When a huge bounty is put out on the mastermind behind a biochemical attack, the crew of the Bebop set out to claim the reward.
Synopsis: Mortally wounded in battle, samurai Shimazu Toyohisa is transported to another world where warriors from throughout history battle for domination.
Synopsis: Teenager Hajime Ichinose joins a team of specially selected warriors who protect the city of Tachikawa from mysterious aliens.
Synopsis: In the years before World War II, an elite group of Japanese spies conduct secret missions around the world.
Made In Abyss - Complete Collection BD Limited Edition
Sentai - 325 min - Sub+Dub - MSRP $199.98
Currently cheapest at: $129.99 Right Stuf
Synopsis: After meeting a humanoid robot named Reg, a young girl named Riko travels down into the depths of an ancient ruin.
Synopsis: Luffy and the Straw Hats continue their battle against Hordy and the Fish-man pirates.
Synopsis: As the school year nears its end, both Arata and Chizuru must come to terms with their relationship and the ReLIFE experiment.
Extra: This set of OVA episodes serves as the conclusion to the TV series. The full story was covered in This Week in Anime, and we also have a review of the TV series. It's available streaming on Crunchyroll and Funimation.
Synopsis: The Sailor Guardians must take on the Amazoness Quartet, who use dangerous tactics in their pursuit of the Golden Crystal.
Synopsis: Novelist Itsuki Hashima is obsessed with creating the ideal "little sister" character, but he's in for a surprise thanks to a secret kept by his stepbrother Chihiro.
Extra: I'm a little surprised by the amount of coverage we have for this one: episode reviews, a full series review, and an installment of This Week in Anime. It's available streaming on Crunchyroll and Funimation.
Synopsis: While the Basara continue to threaten the land, Sae is revealed as the source of the imbalance between worlds.
Shelf Life Reviews
We're taking another dive into decades past this week with the 1980s OVA version of Area 88. Here's my review.
The title of the series comes from an airbase in the desert nation of Aslan, where a foreign legion of mercenary pilots fly combat missions against a rebel army. Most of the pilots are there voluntarily, but for protagonist Shin Kazama, Area 88 is the last place in the world he wants to be. Tricked into joining the legion by his former friend, Shin now has three options: he can fight to survive three years of suicide missions, earn $1.5 million to buy his way out of the contract, or make a run for it and risk being executed as a deserter. While he grapples with that situation, Shin's traitorous friend Kanzaki schemes to take over the airline they both used to work for, while Ryoko, the company president's daughter and Shin's girlfriend, tries to stop him.
That premise essentially divides the story of Area 88 into two separate, parallel narratives. On the Aslan side of things, Shin flies a series of dangerous missions with his new foreign legion buddies, often surviving only through skill and sheer luck. This portion of the series features an international cast of characters, some of whom are compelling while others are more generic or stereotypical. Shin himself strikes an interesting balance where he hates the thought of killing other people but is willing to do exactly that in order to survive. Throughout the story and especially near the end, that conflict between longing for his old civilian life and growing accustomed to the battlefield gives Shin an intriguing character arc, even if he's not exactly a bundle of sunshine. The show's best supporting characters are the ones whose personalities and perspectives play into that struggle: base commander Saki is willing to use the pilots as expendable pawns in order to save his country, and American ace Mickey accepts his own addiction to combat while Shin struggles against it. While Area 88 is not always subtle about presenting its moral dilemmas, it does a pretty good job of balancing out the characters' different worldviews.
Then we have the portion of the story that takes place in Japan, which is arguably the weaker half of the series. Where Shin's battle for survival deals in shades of gray, the conflict between Kanzaki and Ryoko is more of a black and white scenario. Kanzaki is essentially a personification of greed and ambition: he uses underhanded methods to take over the airline company, compromises passenger safety in the name of profit, and acts like a total scumbag when Ryoko asks him to help her buy Shin out of his foreign legion contract. Ryoko does at least act on her own initiative most of the time instead of just being a damsel in distress, though her plans tend to depend heavily on support from her father's personal assistant. Most of this is vaguely compelling from a dramatic standpoint, but it often feels weirdly detached from Shin's story. There's not a lot of direct interaction between the characters in Japan and the characters in Aslan, and this can make it seem as if we're flipping back and forth between two separate shows instead of watching one cohesive story.
Frankly, Area 88 does some of its best work when it takes a step back from the big-picture narrative and focuses on the simpler pleasures of watching stuff blow up. The missions Shin and his fellow pilots take on are tailor-made to promote death-defying stunts. The guys dodge enormous anti-aircraft contraptions, fly through narrow canyons, and generally blast the holy heck out of any expendable baddies who cross their path. Aside from a few far-fetched ideas, most of this presented with a strong eye for realism. The characters are constrained by limitations like fuel, ammunition, and their ability to tolerate extreme G-forces, and the unique characteristics of their planes factor heavily into how they survive (or don't survive) each battle. Area 88 treats Cold War aircraft with the same technical reverence that Girls und Panzer has for World War II tanks or Initial D has for Japanese sports cars. If you enjoy this type of heavily-researched approach to action, it should scratch that itch nicely.
That action is bolstered by the high-budget, hand-drawn animation you'd expect from a mid-80s OVA series. Airplanes in Area 88 don't just blow up; they get riddled with bullets or blasted apart by missiles, with individual pieces and parts flying in every direction while our perspective swoops around to take in all the mechanical carnage. Character designs are pretty typical for the time, with all of the main characters being easily recognizable thanks to an exaggerated feature or two. I don't know how Shin fits all that hair under his helmet, but I guess he makes it work. This set is only available in DVD format at the moment, but it does come with a good amount of on-disc extras. You get both the episodic and theatrical cuts of the series, an interview with the original author, some notes on the franchise, and both the old Central Park Media dub and the newer ADV one.
Whether or not you'll enjoy Area 88 depends on how many of its core demographics you fit into. If you're an aviation junkie, a fan of 80s action anime, a sucker for detailed mechanical design, or any combination of the above, this release is easily worth the price of entry. For a general audience, it may be harder to overlook the more dated elements of the story or the awkward pacing created by jumping between Japan and Aslan. There's still a reasonable amount of narrative substance and entertainment value to be found, but this is definitely a niche title. While I happen to sit comfortably within that particular niche, your results may vary.
That wraps things up for this week. Thanks for reading!
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