If an otherwise average series has a great ending, can the series then be considered great? I say yes.
What They Say
Ten years ago, the gateway to the Realm of the Gods and the Realm of the Demons was opened. Soon afterwards, the gods and the demons began migrating to our world. Now there are places where gods, demons, and humans all study together... such as our school, Verbena Academy.
Meet Rin, a normal high school guy who is the envy of every other man in town. You see, he's lucky enough to live with and be pampered by the sweet, beautiful Kaede. It's just a day like any other when two new transfer students show up in class: Sia, Princess of the Gods and Nerine, Princess of the Demons. Now Rin's luck is about to change, for he has been chosen to take one of their hands in marriage!
Talk about envy! Whether down the hall, next door or from another realm, girls seem to be everywhere... and they all want Rin for themselves! Which girl would you choose?
Contains episodes 1-24.
Both the English and Japanese tracks are offered in 2.0; for this viewing, I listened to the English dub. This has a nice mix, with some nice directionality in the sound effects dialogue. As always, it would have been nice to have a 5.1 mix, but as this is a dialogue based series, it really is not a big deal. What we are given is more than satisfactory.
Visually, this is a really stellar release. Shown in 16:9 widescreen, the colors are solid—though the design is not particularly bright—and the lining is distinct. I am also a fan of the character designs, even if there is little variety outside of hair styles. The transfer is solid; there are no technical flaws anywhere. Just a really nice release in all.
Grr… Funimation does it again. In general, I am a fan of the design of their recent thinpak releases, and this one is no exception. I like the art used for the box, especially the group shot of the girls looking like pop princesses. The individual cases have more pretty art of the girls with episode lists nicely incorporated into the design, and the interiors have a pleasant design too. But, as with all Funimation double thinpaks, the cases themselves are too flimsy. My particular set arrived with all four DVD slots broken, three of which are broken enough that the discs do not stay in place. I have gotten one or two sets that had nice, sturdy DVD clips, but those are the exceptions. Funimation and/or the case manufacturer really need to get on the ball and fix this.
The menus are pretty basic, but look nice. They follow on from the general design of the packaging with some art of a few of the girls in the middle and the selections set to the left. A pleasant tune plays in the background with a full minute loop, so it does not get repetitive. The selections are easy to see and follow. It is a fully static menu, but it is functional, which is what matters.
Not a whole lot here, with just some trailers and clean versions of the opening and closing.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
In terms of advertising, Shuffle! is a title that does not hide from what it is trying to be: a fanservice-filled harem comedy with a particular emphasis on panties. Funimation even included a replica pair of Sia’s panties as a pack-in bonus for the sixth single release. It is the first of two series based off an adult dating sim of the same name, and though it gets off to a rocky start, it ends up being one of the better harem titles that I have seen.
When only a little boy, Rin Tsuchimi lost his parents to a car accident. Since then, he has lived with his good friend Kaede Fuyou and her father; Kaede’s mother was lost in the same accident. Rin has a pretty easy life—Kaede fixes all of his meals, does all of his laundry, and does everything else that would fall under the category of housekeeping; she even helps him with all of his homework. Essentially, she waits on him hand and foot. Add in that her father is continually out of town for business, and he should be in heaven.
Rin is seen as an object of envy of most every other guy in the school as they all have huge crushes on Kaede, even if he does not understand all of the fuss. He and Kaede are not a couple; but he is constantly the target of the “Knights of Kissy Kaede” (KKK) and is forced to run for his life virtually every morning.
His domestic tranquility is short-lived however with the appearance of Lisianthus, daughter of the King of the Gods, and Narine, daughter of the King of the Demons. Both are determined to make Rin their husband and therefore heir to their respective kingdom. Fifteen years earlier, the gateways to the God and Demon realms were opened, and though he does not remember, both Sia (Lisianthus) and Nerine had previously met Rin during trips to the human world and fell in love with him. And they have now come to the human realm to claim him.
With Sia and Nerine now in town, and conveniently living next door, Rin’s little family has grown as they integrate themselves in his life with little issue. In true harem tradition, though they are essentially competition with Kaede for Rin, the group quickly becomes close-knit friends. With the addition of Asa—Rin’s oldest and best friend—and Primula—an emotionally faulty friend of Narine’s—Rin is suddenly the object of affection for quite a large group of people. And in grand harem tradition, he hesitates to choose one for fear of hurting the others.
As a series, Shuffle! is virtually a tale of two halves. For the first fifteen or so episodes, it is a fairly generic harem title. It is not so much bad as it is predictable; all of the standard jokes—often coming in the form of Rin getting caught in an embarrassing situation—are present, and any drama they try to add is not particularly effective. Even the general situations of the characters (dead parents/living with cute girls/etc.) were pretty standard.
They even fail the “panty test,” as the fanservice is not as blatant or overt as the promotional materials would have you believe. With every effort they made to promote panties in conjunction with Shuffle!, I was expecting more panty shots than not and a requisite amount of other fanservice to accompany it. Shuffle! certainly has fanservice, just not anywhere near the amount one might expect.
And this might sound a little weird, but for much of the first two-thirds of the series, I felt like I was watching Kanon all over again, only it was not as good. Rin is very similar to Yuichi in personality and situation, Kaede may as well have been Nayuki, and they even both had their supernatural elements. It was as if I was watching a Kanon clone even though Shuffle! came before Kanon (the anime, the Kanon game predated the Shuffle! game by five years), and it was not measuring up. I was enjoying Shuffle! for what it was, but I would not pretend that it was standing out in anyway.
But over the last nine episodes—after Primula’s side story—I found Shuffle! to really pick up and solidify itself as one of the best harem titles I have seen. And it is mostly due to one thing: unlike many harem titles, Shuffle! actually has a definitive conclusion. Shuffle!’s setup is virtually the same as any harem show: unlikely guy all of a sudden finds himself the object of desire of numerous females and he has to pick which girl he likes. But many harem titles have an inconclusive, cop-out ending where he does not make that decision and instead maintains the status quo.
Shuffle! is different: by the end of the series, Rin has made his decision. While the rejected girls still hold out some long term hope, Shuffle! has closure. What this does over the final nine episodes is create an atmosphere where the pressure begins to build on Rin in a way that does not often happen in the harem world, forcing him to have to examine is desires so that he does not continue to string the girls along. This gives us a situation where he basically removes his paramours from contention one-by-one until he makes his decision.
This sets up a level of romantic tension not often seen in these titles. For the most part, the rejected girls accept their fate with good grace, with the early rejectees attempting to help Rin in making his final decision, but the final rejection does not go as smoothly, and it is absolutely heartbreaking to witness her reaction to his decision. Her responses to his actions threaten not only her friendship with everybody, but even her sanity. It is a rare bit of emotional instability that takes Shuffle! from an amusing lark to something a bit more poignant and meaningful.
And frankly, it is this that allows Shuffle! make the leap into the harem stratosphere. Her reactions, and the following responses from everybody else, introduce true humanity and weakness in a genre that generally relies on wishy-washy indecision masking as weakness. In this way, Shuffle! still seems to be taking a page from Kanon (or vice versa), but it does it in a very different way which makes it stand out as its own piece. And it is these differences, along with the definitive conclusion, that easily makes Shuffle! one of my favorite harem titles.
For me, Shuffle! is a study in giving any story a chance. For the first two thirds of the series, Shuffle! did nothing to stand out against the mass of harem titles already out on the market. The premise and the set pieces were all fairly predictable. But the last third does everything it did not previously do to create some real human drama and infuse Shuffle! with some of the most tense, touching, and heartbreaking moments I have seen in a harem title, or any title for that matter. Had I not been reviewing it, I may have given up on it—or at least put off finishing it for a while. But I am glad that I did as the great last impression more than makes up for the pedestrian first one. Highly recommended.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closing
Magnavox 37MF337B 37” LCD HDTV, Memorex MVD2042 Progressive Scan w/ DD/DTS (Component Connection), Durabrand HT3916 5.1 Surround Sound System