The Mike Toole Show
The Box of Crap

by Michael Toole,

No, this isn't a forensic analysis of the litter box for the cats that's stashed in the bathroom; that's not really an anime thing, is it? You know what this is about, because a whole bunch of us did this last year, and some of you alerted me on twitter when the sale happened again this year. Our good pals over at Crunchyroll have just spent the past two weeks mailing out longboxes of 30 DVDs for $30-ish to hundreds of customers, so this column is yet another look into the maddening world of collecting, searching, and bargain-hunting anime DVDs.

We're right in the thick of the holidays, so deals are coming at us willy-nilly; seemingly every home video retailer is having some sort of absurd sale. I buy a lot less anime than I used to, but I still load up like crazy at Christmas, the one time of the year when you can get great movies and OVAs for $10 and TV shows for as little as $5 each. I don't know about you guys, but I'd try just about anything for five bucks. Okay, maybe not Moeyo Ken. Not surprisingly, Moeyo Ken was one of the titles that I received in my box o’ crap (BOC for short) this season.

Alright, so here's a snapshot of what came in the mail for yours truly. Thirty discs, which can be broken down in two categories: stand-alone features vs. single discs from TV shows. I got six of the former, and 24 of the latter. I received multiple volumes of two of those longer series, reducing the total number of diverse shows I've got covered to 21. The stand-alone stuff is perfectly neat—I already own most of it, of course (the only ones I don't have are the King of Bandits Jing OVA, which I actually plan to watch, and the unforgettably forgettable Submarine 707R), but I should have little trouble offering up the remainders as small gifts for anime-loving pals. Except maybe Appleseed, because everyone already has that. I also got Appleseed in the sale last year; given that it once sold more than 100,000 copies for Geneon, they must've printed an additional 100k to satisfy the rapidly vanishing demand, and here we are. A twitter buddy of mine actually got two copies in his box of fun. At this point, Appleseed is like those old AOL CDs (and before that, floppy disks) that used to come free with every purchase of everygoddamnthing, free in the mail, free shoved under your dorm room door, etc. If I had the time and money to spare, it might be fun to wallpaper a room with them.

Anyhow, culling the stand-alone discs leaves me with an untidy pile of single discs. The first ones that jump out to me are the Saiyuki discs, which actually each come from one of Saiyuki's discrete TV segments. I only watched enough of the show to verify that it was, in fact, based on Journey to the West, but this stuff was popular once, right? Here's the thing: getting the rest of those single discs is kind of a pain in the ass. Having two discs of original Saiyuki TV's 12 (in a “double barrel pack,” no less) still leaves the buyer with ten to acquire. I scraped online to find the best prices, and figured that you'd need about $30 to get the rest of those Double-Barrel sets. $30ish for a 52-episode TV series is actually nice, until one realizes that Sentai Filmworks re-released Saiyuki TV recently; you can get it for… around $30. Saiyuki Reload and Saiyuki Gunlock haven't been rescued from Geneon's corpse as of yet, so their attendant box-set releases vanished from shelves years ago. To fill out Reload, I'd need to spend $38 or so. Gunlock is even more expensive, thanks to a particularly rare volume 5, which goes for more than $40 used at most vendors. So if I want to complete my burgeoning Saiyuki collection, I'm gonna need to lay out more than a hundred bucks to enjoy the adventures of Sanzo, Son Goku, Cho Hakkai, and their pet jeep, Jeep; not exactly a bargain, is it?

Saiyuki is by no means the only series in the BOC plagued by that one weirdly rare volume. Best Student Council, a show which I've never seen and know nothing about, could be completed by the purchase of 4 cheap discs and volume 6, which goes for around $30. Trying to collect all of Gatchaman used to require an armored car to transport all the damn money you'd need for the really rare box sets, but that's thankfully been rendered moot by the recent Sentai Filmworks re-release. (Note: the single disc of Gatchaman I received does, however, contain the prized Lava Jesus episode, so I'll be able to make use of it somehow, methinks.) Rumiko Takahashi Anthology is a somewhat decent port of several of the famous manga-ka's one-shot stories, but getting the rest of it involves coughing up $50-ish for the lost volume three. Finally, filling out the unquestionably hilarious Cromartie High School seems simple enough, but that last single disc rarely goes for less than $40! Meanwhile, you can just buy the whole damn set for $50.

That touches on another issue with trying to turn the BOC into an instant anime collection; priced-down re-releases. Once upon a time, we all went to Suncoast or Best Buy or every month or two to load up on $20-to-30 single discs of our favorite shows, painfully unaware that most of us would watch them once and then stash them away, never to be thought of again. Several years later, the whole single-disc model has been scrapped in favor of sensibly-priced 13-episode sets. Which leaves me wondering: why even track down the 5 remaining Gun x Sword single discs, cheap as they are, when I can get the whole series for under $20? I got a random Serial Experiments Lain disc, but even the fancy blu-ray collector's set goes for around $50 online. You can get both seasons of Kaleido Star for $10 or $15 used, and even the brand-new SAVE sets are $20 each. As you might have heard, Ghost Stories

Wait, what?! Ahahaha, come on dude! I see prices like this on Amazon Marketplace occasionally, and I always wonder what their real purpose is. It's gotta be some kind of money laundering scheme, I'm thinking. Nobody buys “rare” discs for that much, do they? Anyway, Ghost Stories is a mediocre little show that's kind of infamous for having a freely-rewritten dub by that freest of dub rewriters, Steven Foster. It's kind of cute, and occasionally really funny. You know, to be honest, I wouldn't be upset at seeing that approach taken with another mediocre catalog title down the road. It worked for Samurai Pizza Cats, didn't it?! Anyway, you can't get all of Ghost Stories without getting volume 4, which is costly and hard to find. But Discotek are riding to the rescue with a reissue in 2014.

The fairly amusing superhero parody Dokkoida?! got rescued by Section 23; with my volume 1 disc, I have my pick of spending $10 or $12 to get the other two singles, or paying $18 to get the whole thing. I actually enjoyed what I saw of Heat Guy J (I made it about halfway through), but there's no way I'd even consider tracking down the rest of the singles when you can get Funimation's reissue for $15 or so. As for Moeyo Ken, the utterly dull adventures of Meiji-era bishoujo Shinsengumi ladies who were drawn, at some distant point in the pre-production process, by Rumiko Takahashi? Right Stuf is offering the entire show for $5 in their holiday sale. They do this every year, and there always seems to be more Moeyo Ken left over. I tried, guys, but I couldn't even finish an entire episode. I would watch any anime for $5, but I won't watch Moeyo Ken.

So: what's left in the pile? There's that one volume of Shattered Angels, but you can't actually get the rest of the singles. They were released as ADV Films’ deal with Sojitz disintegrated, so the remaining volumes were shipped in such limited quantities that they're gone from the market. It's not like it matters, since you can get the whole thing for $15ish. The fine Magical Shopping District Abenobashi, which I've praised in these pages, can't be finished piecemeal either – that fourth and final disc is all but gone fron traditional channels. And Tenjho Tenge, Oh! Great's story of buff teenagers somehow tearing each other's clothes off in the course of schoolyard brawlin’, has almost completely fallen out of Amazon's listings altogether, although Discotek announced a rerelease earlier this year.

Of the entire TV portion of the BOC, only three shows can easily and thriftily be finished out: the generally excellent SoulTaker, largely inscrutable video game cutscene Gregory Horror Show, and drearily-animated, deeply lousy Super Robot Wars OG spinoff Cybuster. You can get the rest of SoulTaker and Gregory for $10 or $15 if you shop carefully; the longer Cybuster will run you $25 or so to complete. So out of 30 discs, I wasleft with six standalone discs, three or four shows that can easily be finished, and about twenty that, for a variety of reasons, are kind of useless. Oh crap, I didn't even mention Dragon Hunters, did I? That was in the box too—it's some weird, ugly French cartoon that Geneon released for some reason. Did anyone even watch it?

So even though I'd say this big box o’ crap was $20 worth of fun, give or take, it doesn't leave me with much to cheer about. But something funny happened when I started scraping twitter for other recipients and solicited their opinions.

Here's loveassassin13’s big box. He says, “I was quite happy [with the box] since it included a box set of one of my favorite animes, which itself is valued almost at the price of the whole box, and it included many other interesting obscure anime's I've never heard of.” Hmmm. Could it be that less jaded, more curious fans find real value in this deal?

is a little more practical; like me, he did the deal the last time around, and noticed a lot of recurring titles. He comments, “I mostly liked it. A lot of volume 1s of things I haven't seen in ages. I did the last box, lot of doubles from that, though.”

got a bunch of obvious favorites in his box. He remarks, “While a lot of it wasn't series I was interested in, there was more than enough to make[it] a great deal even just counting the disks I really like. Who knows, I may find something interesting in the remainders as well!” I'm sensing a trend, here.

, who's got an anime review show on YouTube, goes straight to the point: “Yes, [I like it.] It included a lot that I haven't seen and a few I like.”

Speaking of YouTube, I think my favorite bit of this found content is unboxing videos, webcam-recorded footage of fans eagerly tearing into their new cardboard treasure chests in real time. There are a few videos like these, but Soul0Soulz got back to me quickly regarding the contents of his box. “I loved it because not only was it a great value but it also exposed me to a lot of new anime titles,” he said.

See, comments like these are exactly why I approached this piece by breaking down my perceived value of each of the discs in my BOC: perception matters. I'm a pretty hardcore collector, but a lot of folks ordering up these boxes aren't as far along as me. I scoff and turn my nose up at yet another copy of Appleseed, but plenty of people have never seen it, and it's sure as hell worth a buck or two. There are thousands and thousands of fans who are totally ready to take a chance on Lupin the 3rd, or Kodocha, or MAPS, or Kaleido Star, or any of the several dozen titles that seem to be spread across these boxes of confused joy. Some of these lucky buyers are even going to try watching Submarine 707R, thus guaranteeing them at least one or two hours of peaceful, restful sleep.

In the end, I'm left with a simple conclusion: blind-box buying is fun, especially when it's a huge, chaotic pile of DVDs for something like $20. You'll find stuff you never heard of, watch stuff you wouldn't have rated otherwise, and sell, trade, or trash the rest. (Hang on, I'm picturing a landfill made up entirely of Super Duper Sumos discs. Ah… there it is.) But grabbing a BOC, in the final analysis, just isn't a foolproof way to build a durable, desirable collection. I rode this merry-go-round twice, but I think I'll be looking for a surer thing next year.

Alright guys, I want more pictures! Let's turn the talkback thread into the last bit of Shelf Life, only with cardboard boxes full of X TV volumes instead of bookcases sagging comically under the weight of huge collections. If you got in on this deal, are you happy with it? Got buyer's remorse? Ever done a blind-box deal at a con, or via the Right Stuf? Let me know in the comments!

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