Shelf Life
Just Because!

by Paul Jensen, James Beckett,

This season is shaping up to be a good one for comedies. The Quintessential Quintuplets is proving that an old-fashioned harem comedy can still be entertaining, Kaguya-sama: Love is War is excellent across the board, and I guess Domestic Girlfriend could count as a comedy if you like watching people make terrible decisions. Welcome to Shelf Life.

Jump to this week's review:
Just Because!

On Shelves This Week

Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion - Movie Trilogy BD
Funimation - 406 min - Sub - MSRP $54.98
Currently cheapest at: $40.42 Amazon

Synopsis: A rebellious prince from the Britannian Empire sets out to free Japan from the Empire's control using the mysterious power of Geass.

Extra: These films cover the same story as the TV series, and we have a fairly recent review of the two TV seasons here. You can stream the series on Funimation and Hulu.

Hakata Tonkotsu Ramens - Complete Collection BD+DVD
Funimation - 300 min - Sub+Dub - MSRP $64.98
Currently cheapest at: $48.74 Right Stuf

Synopsis: The city of Fukuoka is full of professional killers, but the appearance of a "killer of killers" raises the stakes for everyone involved.

Extra: We have a full review of this series from its initial simulcast, and it's available streaming on Crunchyroll and Funimation.

Liz and the Blue Bird BD+DVD, DVD
Shout! Factory - 90 min - Sub+Dub - MSRP $26.99|$16.97
Currently cheapest at: $19.99 Amazon|$13.58 Right Stuf

Synopsis: High school band members Mizore and Nozomi grapple with the prospect of separating after graduation as they prepare to perform one final duet.

Extra: This film is a spinoff of the Sound! Euphonium TV series, and we have reviews for it here and here. You can stream the TV series on Crunchyroll.

STARMYU - Season 1 BD
Funimation - 300 min - Sub - MSRP $24.98
Currently cheapest at: $17.99 Amazon

Synopsis: A group of eccentric students get a chance to shine in Ayanagi Academy's ultra-competitive music department.

Extra: We have a review of a previous release of this season, and its' available streaming on Funimation.

We Without Wings - Complete Collection BD
Funimation - 300 min - Sub+Dub - MSRP $29.98
Currently cheapest at: $22.49 Right Stuf

Synopsis: Three young men struggle to deal with the ups and downs of romance, but a mysterious power links their seemingly unrelated stories together.

Extra: We have reviews of this series here and here, and you can stream it on Funimation.

Shelf Life Reviews

Shelf Worthy
Nothing this week.
Just Because!
Nothing this week.

James is diving into the perpetually turbulent waters of teenage romance this week with a review of Just Because!.

Just Because! is an original anime coming-of-age drama from author Hajime Kamoshida, who's recently gained more attention with the 2018 adaptation of his light novel series, Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai. I only watched the first episode of Bunny Girl Senpai, and I honestly wasn't a fan of its faux-Monogatari approach to angsty adolescent mystery, though I hear the show turned out to be decently entertaining in the end. Just Because! is a different sort of beast, operating primarily in the realm of wistful young-adult romance. There's no spirits or mysteries to be found here, just a bunch of teenagers trying to navigate the stormy waters of their last days in high school before the tide of adulthood swallows them up for good.

This show is largely about the intermingled lives of its central cast. Eita Izumi is a melancholy young lad who's just moved back to his hometown after years away at another school, and he's figuring out how to put the pieces of his old friendships back together. Mio is the girl Eita has harbored a crush on for years, but she's been in love with their mutual friend Haruto for just as long. Haruto is a well-meaning boy with a passion for baseball who's on the verge of confessing his own amorous intentions to Hazuki, a talented musician whose focus on her family and her college prospects has kept her out of the dating game. Then there's Ena, an overly enthusiastic photographer who has a habit of taking candid pictures of everyone in her life, and she's decided that Eita is the perfect muse for her current project: taking a photograph so good that it will win her an award and save the school's photography club from getting shut down.

If this hormonal stew of youthful ennui and awkwardness sounds like a perfect recipe for delicious romantic drama to you, then Just Because! may very well be up your alley. It doesn't indulge in the heightened theatrics of series like My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU, nor does it engage in the kind of seedy melodrama that give shows like Scum's Wish and Domestic Girlfriend their spice. It's a much more mellow and earthy take on high school romance – fans of Tsuki ga Kirei would likely find themselves right at home with Just Because!'s methodical pacing and quiet tone.

What makes the show work best for me is its exquisite direction and production values. Studio PINE JAM and director Atsushi Kobayashi have produced a truly vivid little world in this series, where recognizable tropes and story beats have been given a thoroughly modern coat of paint. The character designs are refreshing in that they are clean enough to make each of the characters feel distinct and relatable, yet they don't fall into the trap of being streamlined to the point of feeling artificial. The animation is fluid, and the show even manages to integrate on-screen text messages in such a way that it actually feels like an integral part of these kids' social lives. The music by Nagi Yanagi and Erika Fukusawa is also pleasing to the ear and well-composed, though it occasionally does become too twee and spritely in that slice-of-life anime way.

All of this praise might make it sound like I adored Just Because!, but while I definitely enjoyed my time with the show, I ultimately found it difficult to connect with its story and characters.To be fair, I'm finding that I have less and less investment in young adult romances like these as time goes on; I've been an unapologetic sap when it comes to gooey romance, but I feel like I've seen variations on what Just Because! is doing a hundred times at this point. Even the prettiest animation isn't enough to sell me on a story when I have such a hard time engaging with any of the main characters' personal lives. Just Because! lacks the narrative hook or unique perspective that I need from my treacly anime romance these days, so the experience of watching it ended up feeling routine and overly familiar.

Sentai's Blu-Ray release of Just Because! contains all twelve episodes in both Japanese and English, and their dub lives up to my high expectations.. For my money, nobody does a better job than Sentai at producing English localizations that feel naturalistic, especially in these kinds of YA settings. Everyone in the cast does an excellent job at making their characters feel like real teenagers, and the female performers give especially praiseworthy performances. Don't get me wrong, Greg Cote and Blake Shepard do a fine job with their respective turns as Eita and Haruto; they just don't have much to them beyond being mildly conflicted young men. Mio and Hazuki are the more interesting members of the cast, and Luci Christian and Patricia Duran do a great job at making the girls feel relatable and empathetic. Plus, Brittney Karbowski takes Ena, a character that I might've found irritating, and helps to make her one of the most charming characters in the show. All of the actors have wonderful chemistry with one another, and they make the English dub feel just as well-suited to Just Because!'s presentation as the original Japanese does.

The set also comes with a cute little booklet of mini-comics, which is a nice extra that helps make the package feel more special, and the audio-visual translation is superb as usual. At the end of the day, Just Because! is a gorgeously animated and well-directed series that suffers from a story that doesn't do enough to stand out in an already crowded market. If you aren't feeling as starved for novelty as I am, then you will probably get more out of this show, and you would do well to add Just Because! to your collection. I can't say that I loved this one, but I respect what it set out to do, and I hope it continues to find an audience on home video.

That's all for this week. Thanks for reading!

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