by Paul Jensen, Gabriella Ekens,
Ever wake up on a Saturday and realize the last seven days have all been a blur? That happened to me this week. I know I wrote some reviews, finished reading a couple books, and drove a 500-mile round trip to visit some relatives, but I can't remember a bit of it. Maybe I should look into doing some more of that "sleep" thing I keep hearing about. Welcome to Shelf Life.
Jump to this week's review:
On Shelves This Week
Synopsis: Two years after his initial journey on the legendary Three-Nine, Tetsuro boards the space-faring train once again.
Extra: No formal reviews for this film, but our user ratings are reasonably positive with an average of 7.2 out of 10. The related TV series is available streaming on Crunchyroll.
Synopsis: Akari Mamiya, a low-ranking student at the heavily armed Tokyo Butei High School, sets out to become more like her idol, Aira Kanzaki.
Synopsis: The Bladebreakers must reunite to take on a sinister group seeking to steal their Sacred Bit Beasts.
Extra: This series is a direct sequel to the original Beyblade, and while we don't have any formal reviews for it, our user reviews have a not-so-great average of 5.3 out of 10.
Synopsis: Determined to avenge the death of his mother, a boy named Tetsuro Hoshino joins a mysterious woman on a journey aboard a space-faring train in the hopes of finding a way to grow stronger.
Synopsis: Sword and Sophie continue their mission to push back the darkness threatening Russel City.
Hina Logic: From Luck & Logic - Complete Collection BD+DVD
Funimation - 300 min - Sub+Dub - MSRP $64.98
Currently cheapest at: $48.74 Right Stuf
Synopsis: Young princess Liones Yelistratova travels to the ACLA school for Logicalists in order to hone her skills as a Logicalist and learn to control the otherworldly being she's linked to.
Synopsis: Keita Kawahira is seen as an outcast in his clan because he hasn't made a contract with a spirit called an Inukami, but his life changes when he meets the strong-willed Yoko.
Extra: This is the first time this series has been released in the US, which might explain why we don't have any reviews for it. User ratings are pretty decent, with an average of 7.2 out of 10.
Synopsis: An unexpected reunion throws the lives of several high school students into romantic chaos.
Synopsis: Young traveler Kino and talking motorcycle Hermes explore a land full of unique cultures, never staying more than three days in any one place.
Synopsis: The girls of Aquors continue their quest to win the Love Live competition and save their school, but new obstacles stand in their way.
Synopsis: A group of Logicalists are tasked with using their ability to unite with goddesses in order to protect the world from invading spirits.
Synopsis: A group of cockroaches have found a peaceful home in one bachelor's apartment, but their easy life is about to be thrown into chaos.
Extra: No formal reviews for this half live action, half animated film, but it's mentioned very briefly in an installment of The Mike Toole Show.
Shelf Life Reviews
Gabriella is back in the review seat this week with a look at the Harajuku-style magical girl story of Urahara.
This is a magical girl show that features creativity and fashion as its central focus. This makes Urahara pretty unique, and gives it a niche appeal to fans of Japanese youth culture. It's like an animated version of those t-shirts they sell at conventions all the time now, the ones with the minimalist and intentionally kind of slapdash looking lineart drawings on them. But maybe I'm getting ahead of myself. Of course, an anime as unique as this one has a bit of a story behind it. Patrick Macias is easily one of the US's most prominent otaku and a longtime player in the industry. Mugi Tanaka is a freelance illustrator who designed mascots for the Harajuku apparel store PARK. Together, they made a webcomic about these mascots, PARK Harajuku: Crisis Team!, saving the world with the power of youthful creativity. This comic got picked up for an anime by Crunchyroll, which takes us to where we are now. Led by a creative team of mostly women, it has the feel of being a passion project for the folks behind it.
The premise is that Rito, Mari, and Kotoko are teenaged girls aspiring to become successful Harajuku creatives. Together, the three run a pop-up shop that they fill with the pastel-cute products of their prodigious imaginations. Their lives are going well, but everything changes when the Scoopers attack. These “Scoopers” are aliens who invade the Earth in order to steal humanity's cultural output, and it looks like Harajuku is the next place on their list. At first, our heroines can only sit and watch as their precious neighborhood gets eaten, but then a talking fried shrimp named Ebifuruya (yes, really) arrives to give them the power to combat the Scoopers. With this, Rito, Mari, and Kotoko become a magical girl team tasked with saving the world and maybe even achieving their dreams along the way.
As for the actual writing, it's solid but not too different from what you'd find in your average season of PreCure and the like. The main characters here may be a bit older, but their personal stories treat a familiar mix of friendship issues, routine family problems, and adolescent individualization. It's familiar narrative territory, but done fairly well all things considered. The girls are all relatably written, and the show's abstract tone is good at conveying the simultaneous gentleness and intensity of their youthful emotions. Overall, it all amounts to a nice story about friends pursuing their dreams side-by-side… at least until the midpoint, which dishes out the type of twist that's become stock to the genre in this post-Madoka Magica era of magical girl shows. What I'm saying here is that things get angsty, folks. At least it never goes full grimdark by indulging in the suddenly violent and mature content that gets brought into other shows from the era. The show retains its gentle touch even when things get dramatic, and the whole thing gets bonus points for tying into a distinct and well-articulated theme.
So the whole conflict is a metaphor for the commodification of kawaii culture, which was originally pioneered by young women working as independent creatives in Tokyo. As an enemy, the Scoopers represent the threat of “selling out” and how that could cause the girls to lose touch with their reasons for making art. It's thus meaningful that the show is spearheaded mostly by women, some of whom have mostly worked in more niche industries (for example, doujin for Tanaka and animated shorts for director Amika Kubo). It's a good example of practicing what you preach, and the show does well in maintaining its rough-hewn passion project edge even as an initiative funded by Crunchyroll.
This brings us to Urahara's art style. Tanaka's illustration style is a big part of the reason to watch this show, and it overall delivers on showcasing her image of the world as a wonderland of brightly colored knick-knack ephemera. One thing I will advise, however, is to keep your expectations tempered in terms of animation – there just isn't that much motion in the show. To me this just enhances the show's lo-fi aesthetic, since part of the appeal is that it looks like something that its heroines could and would create on their own. Static frames are also generally illustration-quality, while the art style makes some off model and low-detail shots work to the show's advantage. All in all, I dig the show's look although it might not be your thing if you go chasing after raw drawings-per-second horsepower.
In terms of audio, the Urahara is more mundane but still suitably poppy. Notably I also watched the show dubbed, which wasn't to its advantage. A big part of the problem is the talkative Mari's voice, which is exceedingly screechy and makes the character hard to listen to (and even really like) in English. Risa and Kotoko aren't as bad, but still a bit too stilted for the material. The problem I feel is that the actresses were told to perform the stock “hyperactive anime girl voices” that they use for comedies and the like when this material would've been better served by a chiller, more naturalistic performance style. Anyways, I can't recommend the English track, although the Japanese is thankfully more listenable.
In the end, what strikes me about Urahara is how well it succeeds at the modest goals that it sets for itself. This is in itself a pretty big accomplishment, since I've seen a number of talented creatives overextend themselves by trying to tell enormous stories right out the gate. Unlike these shows (which can, admittedly, feature excellent highs) it has consistent control over its message and crafts a cohesive visual world out of relatively few resources. There's talent behind this, is what I'm saying. At the moment, it may seem quietly self-content, but I look forward to seeing it blossom.
Urahara might not be for everyone, but if you're in the market for a uniquely stylish and thoughtful magical girl show, be sure to scoop it right up! Harajuku is waiting for you.
That's all for this week. Thanks for reading!
discuss this in the forum (4 posts) |