Shelf Life
Hells

by Paul Jensen,

By the time you read this, I'll probably be digging out from a foot or more of snow. I was totally planning on going outside and being productive over the weekend and definitely wasn't looking for an excuse to stay home and watch anime, but sometimes you just have to play the hand nature deals you. Welcome to Shelf Life.

Jump to this week's review:
Hells

On Shelves This Week

Citrus - Complete Collection BD+DVD
Funimation - 300 min - Sub+Dub - MSRP $64.98
Currently cheapest at: $40.09 Amazon

Synopsis: Yuzu Aihara clashes with the student council president on her first day at a new high school, only to learn that the two of them are about to become stepsisters.

Extra: We have episode reviews for this yuri series, and it was also covered in This Week in Anime. It's available streaming on Crunchyroll and Funimation.




Hataraki Man - Complete Collection BD
Maiden Japan - 275 min - Sub - MSRP $39.98
Currently cheapest at: $25.99 Amazon

Synopsis: Hiroko Matsukata has worked her way up to becoming one of the few female editors at a publishing company, but despite her hardworking attitude she still longs for more romance in her life.

Extra: We don't have any formal reviews for this series, but our user ratings for it are reasonably positive with an average of 7.1 out of 10.




Jojo's Bizarre Adventure - Part 3 BD, DVD
Viz - 576 min - Sub+Dub - MSRP $69.99|$39.99
Currently cheapest at: $49.07 Amazon|$30.26 Amazon

Synopsis: Jotaro and his companions arrive in Egypt, where they must battle enemies with godlike powers before they can take on DIO.

Extra: This set covers the "Egypt Arc" of the series, and we have both episode reviews and a full review for it. You can stream the series on Crunchyroll, Hulu, and Viz.com.




Land of the Lustrous - Complete Collection BD
Sentai - 300 min - Sub+Dub - MSRP $79.98
Currently cheapest at: $49.99 Amazon

Synopsis: In the midst of a conflict between living gemstones and the Lunarians who seek to harvest them, a fragile gem named Phos takes on the task of finding a purpose for the isolated gem Cinnabar.

Extra: I reviewed this set a couple weeks ago, and we also have episode reviews for the series. It's available streaming on Amazon Prime, and the dub is scheduled to be available on HIDIVE.




One Piece - 3D2Y Special BD+DVD
Funimation - 107 min - Sub+Dub - MSRP $34.98
Currently cheapest at: $25.85 Amazon

Synopsis: Luffy resolves to spend two years training after the tragedy at Marineford, but his mission is interrupted when an escaped convict stirs up trouble on the seas.

Extra: We don't have any formal reviews for this 2014 TV special, but our user ratings have an average of 8 out of 10. You'll find it streaming on Crunchyroll, Funimation, and Hulu.




Pandora in the Crimson Shell: Ghost Urn - Complete Collection BD
Funimation - 300 min - Sub+Dub - MSRP $29.98
Currently cheapest at: $22.49 Right Stuf

Synopsis: An unexpected encounter between two cybernetically enhanced girls leads the two of them to become friends, but they'll have to deal with a variety of challenges from the outside world.

Extra: We have a review of an earlier release of this series, and it's available streaming on Funimation.




Shelf Life Reviews

Shelf Worthy
Nothing this week.
Rental
Hells
Perishable
Nothing this week.

In my endless quest for unique and interesting anime, I stumbled across the recent Blu-Ray release of Hells, a completely bonkers movie about a demonic high school from the late 2000s. Here's my review.

Hells is one of those titles that kind of fell through the cracks, at least as far as the US market goes. Initially released in 2008, it had an official English subtitle track as far back as 2012, but it didn't see a formal release in the States until late last year. That's a bit of a shame, as its visual style alone is impressive enough to find it an audience over here. It's not a perfect film, mind you, but it's definitely strong enough to hold your attention throughout its two-hour running time.

As the title implies, the film is set in the afterlife, specifically a demonic school called Sanzu River Academy located in the infernal realm of Destinyland. High school girl Rinne Amagane ends up here after running out into traffic to save a cat, but there's just one problem: Rinne is absolutely convinced that she's not actually dead. If Rinne wants to get out of Destinyland and return to the land of the living, she must either find a way to “graduate” from Sanzu River Academy or join the student council in their mission to defeat Hellvis, the school's hard-rocking headmaster.

The first thing that stands out about Hells is its sense of style. This movie has a very distinctive look to it, with character designs and background art that pop off the screen and lend the setting an otherworldly atmosphere. The art matches up well with the creative exuberance of the story, which throws out crazy ideas one after another. The school's ruled by a demonic Elvis impersonator, Rinne's first big chance to escape comes in the form of an over-the-top volleyball tournament, and things only get increasingly absurd from there. It's the kind of story that makes you want to keep watching just to see what's going to happen next, and it moves quickly enough to leap over the occasional plot hole without breaking its stride. There's also plenty of humor to be found here, including clever references to some big-name titles. If you enjoy watching anime where it feels like the creators were able to do whatever popped into their heads, you'll have a good time here.

In between the eye-catching artwork and unhinged action scenes, there's also something resembling a story. Hells takes some narrative inspiration from the biblical tale of Cain and Abel, and so the themes of human weakness and sibling rivalry factor heavily into the plot. The film manages to pull off a couple of interesting twists and surprises as the story plays out, and Rinne's emotions and motivations are relatable enough to keep things somewhat grounded despite all the big-picture craziness happening around her. The only area in which the plot runs into real trouble is near the end, where it falls into a pattern of repeatedly one-upping itself during the climactic battle sequence. Even in a story that embraces its own absurdity, the villain can only have so many “this was all part of my plan” moments before they start to lose credibility.

Hells also falls victim to the difficulty of trying to cram too many ideas into too little screen time. While I can't say for certain since I haven't read the manga on which the movie is based, there are several points where it seems like pieces of a longer story have been condensed down to fit a two-hour running time. The relentlessly fast pacing also becomes an issue as the story unfolds, as the film never really gets a chance to stop and let the audience reflect on what's going on. Because the twists and story developments just keep coming, we don't get a baseline sense of what's “normal” for the characters, nor do we learn much about them apart from what's immediately relevant to the plot. As a result, the audience's opportunities to connect with the cast are limited, and the big moments of drama lose some of their potential emotional impact.

Of course, it's easier to accept a messy narrative when it looks this good. All that distinctive design work is complemented by strong animation, and Hells wisely focuses more on emphasizing movement and emotion than on making sure the characters remain perfectly consistent from one shot to the next. The visuals are backed up by strong performances from both the original Japanese cast and the English dub cast, and Jason Marnocha deserves special credit for going all-in as Hellvis in the dub. This Blu-Ray release from Discotek Media comes with a healthy amount of on-disc extras, including translation notes, outtakes, and a commentary track with members of the dub cast and crew.

The sheer “cool” factor of Hells makes it worth watching once; the visuals, story, and sound all work together to give the film a unique sense of personality. Beyond that, though, I'm not sure if it has the staying power to hold up across multiple viewings. The plot is just a little too messy to make the most of its big emotional moments, and the characters are too busy running from one conflict to the next to really endear themselves to the audience. It's on the strong end of the Rental spectrum, but it falls just shy of Shelf Worthy territory for me. Check it out if you're looking for a stylish change of pace, but don't expect it to topple any of your current favorites.
-Paul[TOP]

That wraps up the review section for this week. Thanks for reading!

This week's shelves are from Rhys2753:

"It's been almost 4 years since I was featured on shelf life in "Space Case" Not much has changed in my life since then, but as you can see, my anime and manga collections have done some makeovers. I've sold some, given some to friends, and most importantly; bought some more. Running into that ever present problem of receding hairli- I mean shelf space. Not too long after "Space case", I started my own trend of making my own combo packs for movies when they were released as separate formats. I'd buy Blu-ray cases in bulk off ebay and go to town  Currently there are approximately 28 of these in here. Anyway if you get bored play "spot the difference" between the two. Take care."

Another interesting fact about "Space Case" is that it was one of my first appearances in Shelf Life - my first review for the column came out about a month earlier. Thanks for sticking with us all this time, and for giving us a fresh look at your collection!

Want to show off your own shelves? Send your photos to [email protected]!


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