by Paul Jensen,
We're coming up on the season for final exams, and for those of us who work in college libraries, that means interacting with a lot of panicked undergrads who haven't set foot in a library since their first tour of the campus. Luckily for me, I'm well practiced in the art of not making snarky remarks until the person in question is too far away to overhear them. Welcome to Shelf Life.
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On Shelves This Week
Synopsis: Child soldier Jonah joins arms dealer Koko Hekmatyar's crew of bodyguards despite harboring a personal hatred of arms dealers.
Synopsis: College student Aoi Tsubaki's ability to see spirits lands her in trouble when she's swept away to an otherworldly inn and told she must marry the inn's owner.
Synopsis: Nanami continues to adapt to her role as a local land deity while growing closer to Tomoe.
My Hero Academia - Season 3 Part 1 BD+DVD, DVD, Limited Edition
Funimation - 300 min - Sub+Dub - MSRP $64.98|$39.98|$84.98
Currently cheapest at: $44.96 Amazon|$63.74 Right Stuf
Synopsis: As Deku and his 1-A classmates take on a grueling summer training program, the League of Villains prepares to put its next plot into motion.
Extra: This season is covered in our episode reviews for the series, and we also have a separate review for just this season. The full series is available streaming on Crunchyroll, Funimation, and Hulu.
Synopsis: High school student Maiku Kamishiro's life is turned upside-down when two girls arrive at his home claiming to be his twin sister.
Shelf Life Reviews
If you've ever thought it'd be nice to pause time whenever you needed an extra moment, Kokkoku might just change your mind. After all, with any awesome power comes a bunch of murderous bad guys who want to steal it. Here's my review of the supernatural thriller series.
Those intriguing bits and pieces begin with the central storyline. Our protagonist here is Juri Yukawa, an unemployed young woman who's in a hurry to move out and get away from her troubled family. All of that is suddenly put on hold when Juri's brother and nephew are kidnapped, and instead of paying the ransom, her grandfather stops time in order to rescue them. Before Juri can process the idea that her family has the power to put the rest of the universe on pause, she finds out they're not alone in this frozen world known as Stasis. Members of a violent cult have targeted the Yukawas, and mysterious creatures appear out of thin air to kill anyone who breaks the unwritten rules of Stasis. Needless to say, this all adds up to a pretty stressful day for Juri, who really just wanted to relax after botching her latest job interview.
Kokkoku makes a very intense first impression, both for better and for worse. The first few episodes drop some pretty big twists in a suitably shocking manner. The show establishes an unnerving atmosphere as soon as Juri and her relatives enter Stasis and start walking past people and animals that are frozen in time. Just as the viewer starts to get used to this, some seriously bad dudes show up and ambush our unlikely heroes, and then a giant tree monster squishes a man's head like a grape. When all of these moments are strung together, they raise the level of dramatic tension through the roof and inspire that frantic, “gotta keep watching” feeling. On the downside, the show overplays its hand in several spots, especially when it comes to the cultists and their street thug minions. The script repeatedly dangles hollow threats of graphic violence in front of the audience, and after a few repetitions, those threats lose their horrifying edge and start to feel like cheap attempts at keeping the tension artificially high.
In between the frequent life-or-death fight scenes, Kokkoku does some intriguing work with the idea of moving through a world where time has stopped. I particularly liked some of the small details and nuances, like the characters having to squeeze water out of a bottle instead of pouring it since nothing moves in Stasis unless they push or pull on it directly. Showing an insect frozen in mid-flight might look cool, but some of the less spectacular details actually do more to make the show's world feel properly thought out and believable. The concept of the “Handlers,” silent creatures that punish anyone who breaks the rules of Stasis, is also rather clever, and it closes off a couple of big loopholes for both the Yukawas and their foes. It's a shame, then, that many of the big plots twists turn out to be less consequential than they initially seem to be, and some of Kokkoku's best ideas are abandoned shortly after being introduced. The series also has a bad habit of ending an episode on a cliffhanger, only for the crisis to be resolved quickly and easily within the first few minutes of the next episode. This can be mildly annoying during a marathon-style viewing, but I imagine it'd be downright infuriating for anyone stuck watching one episode at a time.
Like the world they inhabit, the characters in Kokkoku alternate between high and low points. Juri goes through a reasonably satisfying character arc as she comes to terms with her situation and accepts her responsibility as the only one who can save her family, although her journey is weakened by a last-minute cop-out in the script. The other members of the Yukawa family, especially Juri's no-nonsense grandfather, are a believably flawed bunch, and they all have their own charms with the possible exception of deadbeat dad Takafumi. Juri's rival-turned-ally Majima also has a compelling backstory, though Kokkoku never quite figures out what to do with her after she achieves her initial goal. The only major disappointment is cult leader Sagawa, who fizzles out too early as the main antagonist. A last-ditch effort at making the viewer care about his traumatic past falls flat, and his powers are made out to be a much bigger deal than they really are.
On the visual front, Kokkoku mixes some striking imagery with mediocre animation quality, which only adds to the sense that this show doesn't have enough substance to support its ambition. I ended up watching the majority of the series with the original Japanese audio, but the English dub seemed perfectly competent from my limited sampling of it. Aside from some Japanese promo videos, extras in this release are limited to the usual clean opening and closing sequences.
To its credit, Kokkoku does a lot of things we don't always see in supernatural-themed anime. It has a believably flawed cast that isn't made up entirely of teenagers, it mixes some fresh ideas into its premise, and there are enough early surprises that the outcome isn't immediately obvious. Unfortunately, each thing it gets right is balanced out by something it does poorly, and the net result doesn't work as well as one might hope. It's still worth a look as long as you can tolerate its flaws, and I'd recommend it to folks who are in the mood for something that does more than just recycling a familiar formula.
That's all for this week. Thanks for reading!
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