Friday, December 31, 2010

Comic Review: Scott Pilgrim

 I was a bit hesitant about seeing the Scott Pilgrim movie (on the one hand, so many people who have similar taste to mine loved it but on the other hand it just didn't look that cool) so I decided that I'd read the comics first and then decide if I wanted to see the movie. And, after having read the books, yes I'm willing to see it when it comes to the $1 theater in December, the story is at least worth that much. And this is a review for the whole series, I just put up the first book cover instead of all six.

Scott Pilgrim by Bryan Lee O'Malley
 Summary: Scott Pilgrim leads a very boring life until he meets Ramona Flowers and decides that the two of them must start dating. However, to really be her boyfriend, he has to fight her seven evil exes and grow a life himself.

The Good: There were a ton of side character in here and, while some of them felt pretty flat, they were pretty fun to watch and many of them appeared pretty often and were connected some way or another to the overall conflict. And the way the comic sometimes blatantly lampshaded (usually done by the side characters) just how unrealistic the whole situation was got more than a few laughs out of me.

The Bad: Well, bluntly put, Scott is an ass and not even a sympathetic ass. I know some people who don't like the story because of that, some people who said that the movie didn't work because Scott wasn't enough of an ass, and some people say that they would've liked the story to follow his band members instead. On the one hand, I don't want to say that every character in every story has to be redeemed for the story to work but hell, I didn't like Scott and not liking the main character to the point of not being able to understand why you should be sympathizing with them is a bad sign*. So an unlikeable main character with a too comic-y ending left a sour taste in my mouth, thank god for the side characters!

The Art: Talk about an art shift, the first two volumes look, well, kinda crappy. And this is compared to webcomic art (ie, a similar amount of output over a year as a hobby), just not that polished and I think he wasn't using that many screentones or shading as well. After the fourth volume or so it looks good however, it has an obvious manga influence for sure but I also see some western comic influences as well. And it was rather cool how some real life landmarks in Toronto got worked in, always love it when an author does that.

So, slow beginning, little bit of an awkward ending but an interesting middle, just not interesting for the intended reasons I think. I'll pass on buying the series but I would recommend it to a lot of my friends who enjoy the kind of story that pokes fun at itself. And I'll be sure to see the movie when it gets to my school (think that's the first week in December) and I'll put up a review for that too!

*Now that I think about it, Scott might have been the Canadian (or American, it would work well here too) version of a N.E.E.T. and I don't like/sympathize with NEETs.

Anime Review: Samurai Seven

I was a bit skeptical of the premise (the Seven Samurai but in a slightly steampunk future) but since I hadn't heard anything terrible about it I took it when a friend loaned it to me over fall break. I liked the original movie (even if I had no idea it was a four hour movie going in, would've appreciated that tidbit) and I did end up liking this as well, even if it wasn't as good as the original.

Samurai Seven
Summary: In a retro-futuristic Japan the great samurai wars are over but things don't seem that different for the peasants. Instead of having their rice stolen by nobles they now have it stolen by bandits and one village has had enough. So they send some of their people into the city with the simple plan "Find hungry samurai" in order to hire samurai to defend their village and to take care of this problem once and for all, no matter what it may entail.

The Good: This series definitely has a ton of action scenes and the plot varied enough from the original movie to keep it interesting. It's paced pretty well too, there's enough exposition to keep the plot moving but never so much that it bogs down (then again, there isn't tons of it actually, but there's still enough to make the story work). It's neither too complex to follow nor too simple as to be boring, it strikes a good balance and makes for a cool show to watch.

The Bad: For all the extra time (9.5 hours versus nearly four hours) I don't feel like the characters were fleshed out anymore. True there were at least seven leads (I'd say closer to ten actually) but none of them felt really fleshed out except maybe for the final villain and that's because his back story was explored a bit more (everyone else's back story could be summed up in one line, his needed two or three which still isn't that good). So, while the fights were nice and you can sympathize with the villages, it's hard to sympathize with why the samurai are doing such a crazy thing for no reward. Also, there is a recap at the start of each episode and at least one (maybe two, I always skipped through) at the end of each episode. I don't think you need that much recap in each episode and it was annoying to marathon this since I had to skip through all of it, probably cut three or four minutes out of each episode too.

The Art: I really liked the designs in this series (character designs and background designs, mechas not so much) but the animation is a different story. It was normally pretty good but then at the beginning of episode seven it went, wonky, and it wasn't a blink and you'll miss it sort of thing, the animation looked really off for a good six or eight MINUTES. I don't have any problems with a series that uses more experimental looking animation or art but when it's not the style already in use then it just looks lazy, no matter how well known the animator is for these things. Other than that I did really like the designs, but that still was a really noticeable animation shift.

The Music: A neat little thing they did with the OP, the visuals changed a little ways in (about eight or so episodes in) to clearly show all the samurai and before that you could see a few of them (the ones met in the first few episodes) but it didn't give away the others which I liked (and by the change you could tell who all of them were going to be anyway). They did something similar with the eye catch as well, just a nice little thing for everyone who hates spoilers out there. As for the songs themselves, I liked the OP quite a bit, the ED not as much but it was a nice ballad, and the background music sounded a lot like the original movie's music (ie, tons of drum music which I have absolutely no problems with). So a nice soundtrack, not one I'd go out of my way to find but certainly pleasant to listen to. Watched this subbed since, even thought it's an odd setting, it's set in Japan and no real comments on that, it did it's job perfectly well.

I know it doesn't sound like I liked the story that much but I did, it's just really easy to summarize and doesn't have anything super-special to elaborate on. But if you liked the movie (and if you haven't seen the movie you should, it's just one of the classic movies, movie not Japanese film, anime, ect, you need to see it). Probably not something I'll end up owning but I'll certainly recommend it to friends.

TV Series Review: Buffy the Vampire Slayer (season 3)

I've heard a few people say that the third season of Buffy is when it gets really good but I didn't see much of a difference between this season and the previous two. Sure there's more angst at times and there are some really witty lines at times, but honestly it still felt a lot like the previous two seasons to me.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
 Summary: Much like the first two seasons, Buffy Summers is a high school student with a destiny to kill vampires and there happen to be a lot of them in town. Of course those aren't the only monsters lurking in Sunnydale, we've got demons, evil humans, evil former humans, and some allies who might be more dangerous than the villains themselves.

The Good: I enjoyed Buffy the most, and I think this is true for many people, when it wasn't focused on the saving the world/supernatural stuff but instead on strange high school situations. The library scenes are great for witty banter and whoever is the head writer* has some real talent there, it sounds quite a bit like how my friends and I talk about well, anything and everything. While I thought the episode was a bit pointless, the one that sticks out the most to me was the day that Xander was permanently out of the loop so we can see all the characters preparing for "the end of the world as we know it," again, with Xander dealing with some zombies in the background. I still think it didn't do much for the story as a whole, but it was pretty funny to see just how cliched Buffy is at points, actually, the humor in that episode as a whole pretty much summed up Buffy-style humor as a whole.

The Bad: Still bothered by the fact that most of the episodes are stand alone and then it switches into myth arc mode at the end of each season. I've watched shows that are a slice of arc with an overarching theme (so, no big events at the end but usually a character reflecting briefly on how they've changed) and plot heavy shows but Buffy just doesn't fit into either of those. The only other show like it I can think about is Doctor Who but there they throw in foreshadowing about the myth arc (usually key words) super early which works better than seeing the villains in Buffy cackle and fail at their plans because it's not the season finale yet (the episode count might have something to do with it, DW is only 13 episodes a season and that tightens it up, plus Nu Who at least focuses a ton on character development and Buffy just hasn't done quite as much of that).

The Music: They remixed the theme a little this time around, I was just glad they changed the images up some this time. Still got a forgettable pop song insert in each episode (no really, 22nd different insert songs and NONE of them made me think "Gee, this sounds cool, let's look it up") but this is a 90s TV show on a major news channel, somehow I think the music wasn't too important from the beginning.

The Visuals: Eh, the fight scenes are cool to look at, but honestly I use that time to either write something up, check mail, or just do something else since you see one fight scene and you've got the gist of it. I will say that after seeing so many scenes of two girls fighting each other it felt weird whenever it was Buffy going up against a guy and didn't seem quite right, just not as awesome I guess. Still not impressed by the film quality here and, well, every day in my photo classes I hear about how film is superior to digital imaging and looks so much nicer and, while they might have been talking about photos and not videos, the image quality here looks like the crap my old digital camera did. And for, you know, a TV show that's a bit of a problem, I'd hate to see how this looks in blu-ray.

I think one thing that's bothering me about Buffy is how they aren't using their setting really well. Yes it's on a Hellmouth but they just use that as an excuse for whatever random crap is going on that week. They don't revisit the same places over and over, therefore building a connection with them, and aside from brief moments of humor ("Maybe the football team will do good this year if people stop dieing!") it's other effects aren't explored. Hell, they could've had some fun with how the normal population has gotten really used to all the strange goings on but even that only gets brought up once or twice. Which makes me even more annoyed at how the first episode was DARKER, EDGIER, AND ANGSTIER to start with and then it's back to light-hearted humor in two episodes. Baahhhhh, maybe college will make it more interesting.

*Is it Whedon? I don't know how divvying up the scripts goes for American live action shows. I know they split them up for British live action, anime, and American cartoons but even then I'm puzzled how someone can be the head writer if they technically only write a few of the episodes, off to wikipedia I suppose.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Book Review: Inkdeath

So, I've been putting off reading this book for at least two years, not been trying to find and failing but actively avoiding it. I got introduced to Cornelia Funke in middle school and loved The Thief Lord and Dragon Rider but I never liked Inkheart as much (and found myself disliking it more with each rewatch) and was pretty annoyed with Inkspell for reasons I don't quite remember. That would've been early high school since I remember finishing up Inkspell right before Inkdeath came out in the US (so, late junior year, early senior year) so between the fact that I hadn't really liked the other two books and Inkdeath is 600 pages long I avoided it for two years. But I decided that it was about time to get to it so I grabbed it from the school library and got cracking.

Inkdeath by Cornelia Funke
 Interesting imagery there and it nicely matches the other books in the triology (I'm noticing more and more series these days where the book covers don't follow a similar theme through the series and it really makes me twitch).

Summary: Directly following the events of Inkspell (so, spoilers!) Meggie, her family (Resa and Mo), Fengolio, and Orpheus are all still stuck in the world of Inkheart and, after the events in Inkspell are all are taking it differently. And, even if none of them are original characters to the story they drive the plot as Inkheart proves once again that it is much more and much more different than it's creator even imagined while the characters try to wrangle it into a happy ending.

The Good: Well, I liked it better than Inkspell thank god and I think I liked it better than Inkheart as well. There were some sections where Funke gets really creative with either her characters or her setting and I was pretty happy at how Maggie's romantic subplot was resolved in the end (not so happy about some of the other romantic subplots but I was unhappy that they were even there in the first place). To me it feels like Funke is better at writing straight fantasy and putting interesting twists on it rather than writing about characters who are struggling with themselves. She just seems to pull off action better so when the book was in a more heavily fantasy section I really did love it.

The Bad: Maggie. She's one of if not the most central character, and probably supposed to be the point of reference for the audience, but I just don't like her. She's apparently 12 in the books but she acts more like a 16 year old who isn't sure whether she wants to listen to her parents' reason or go have a rebellion. You can say she's mature all you like and I'll keep saying bull, 12 year olds, no matter how much trauma they go through, just aren't that mature and it's something that ticked me off in MG reading for years. Also, I loved the book when the characters were actively trying to, well, not do something but go against the world and make it work for them. That was pretty cool but the rest of the time it came off as a mid fantasy trying to be a high fantasy and I'm already pretty picky about my high fantasy. I do wonder if something was lost in the translation but I'm pretty sure it's a very good and sound translation so whatever it was that made me a little, twitchy I guess, about the story was there in the original German. One final nitpick, this series as a whole doesn't feel like a trilogy. Unless I miss my mark, this was originally planned as a trilogy it feels like the first book was certain, did amazing, and then the author did a sequel but it was too big to fit in one book and split it in two. Diana Wynne Jones once described trilogies (and I'm paraphrasing since I don't have my copy of The Travelers Guide to Fantasyland with me) that the first book introduces the problem, the second book ends with pretty much the same problem the first one did and then the third one wraps it up. That's not quite the problem here but it doesn't feel cohesive enough (also, Funke seems to have a fixation on fairy tales since I saw a new book by her recently in a bookstore and the general themes, not the plot, sounds suspiciously like a re-hash of this).

Alright, this may sound a bit strange, but I started reading this and went "Holy cow, why am I getting Princess Tutu vibes here?" Both this book (and possibly Inkspell, I can't recall many specifics about that plot right now) and the second half of Princess Tutu have a lot of focus on characters defying their fate, defying the story, and fighting the creator all the way to a happy ending (the quote "There is happiness for those who accept their fate. There is
glory for those who defy their fate." comes to mind more than once). Oddly enough I watched Princess Tutu in 2008*, yes the exact time I was avoiding Inkdeath and I think I appreciate Inkdeath a bit more now since I have seen something thematically similar. And dangit, I've been wanting to rewatch Tutu for months now anyway and I just have too much stuff to watch. Maybe over winter break if I haven't loaned it out then...

*I remember because not only did I get the (ugly) DVD set afterwords but loaned it to a friend whose little sister stole it and would not give it back for MONTHS. I kid you not, I loaned the set to my friend right before Christmas break started and didn't get it back to after Easter, that's four months and a similar thing happens every other time I've loaned it out since.

TV Series Review: The Return of Sherlock Holmes

Just FYI there are two more Granada Sherlock Holmes series after this (one that's nine episodes and one that's six) so expect to see a few more of these since I do blog tv shows by season (and since these were filmed over eight or ten years I think that's really the best thing to do here).
So, this covers the season called The Return of Sherlock Holmes as well as the two full length episodes Sign of Four and The Hound of the Baskervilles (both of which were longer short stories and wikipedia listed them along with this season).

The Return of Sherlock Holmes
 Summary: Sherlock Holmes, against all odds, has managed to return to his abode in Baker Street and is again dealing with crimes that baffle everyone else.

The Good: Good place to start up for the series and, given the episodic nature of the stories, it really could end anywhere in the series and feel completed. But that's not to say all the episodes feel totally disjointed, there's one or two cases where Holmes will do something to Watson (like, wake him up early) and you see Watson do the same thing back an episode or two later which I thought was a nice touch.

The Bad: The stories chosen from the series come from all over the books, so I haven't read many of them recently, but I found myself much more interested in the stories I hadn't read before. The show can be a bit slow moving at times and I'm finding that part of the reason I pay closer attention to anime is because of reading subtitles so take that out and I'm likely to do all sorts of other stuff while I'm watching.

The Music: I noticed here, and I suspect that was the case in the first season too, there isn't much background music in this series but there's almost always background noise of some sort. And whenever it goes quiet that certainly a sign to sit up and pay close attention. So it's a rather subtle approach but I think it works very well.

The Visuals: You know, there are times when I watch this series (this section was made in '86 I think) and I honestly think that the film looks better than Buffy does at parts (which was made a good ten years later). Possibly not the best comparison (SH has fewer episodes and I don't know how the budgets compare) but since I watch both of these on Netflix at the same size it's interesting to notice. Even in the dark scenes there isn't tons and tons of grain obscuring the scene (which does happen a few times in Buffy which is why I noticed) and again, the setting fits the time period very well. It's not the most colorful or different setting to look at but it works very well.

So, it's a solid show but maybe a bit too slow paced for me these days (more likely I just need to stop multi-tasking). But I still look forward to seeing the rest of the series, I'll just try to be less distracted and see if that makes a difference.

Anime Review: Soul Eater

I think I started reading Soul Eater when the anime was airing (in Japan) and I just didn't care for the sub. So, Funimation licensed it, I waited for the dub, tried that and loved the dub voices more. I'd been watching what episodes they had up on hulu but recently all the dubbed episodes ended up on Netflix as well so I marathoned through them in a few days. Good thing too, not only is hulu being weird but the last bit of Soul Eater definitely isn't the best.

Soul Eater
 Summary: The DWMA (death weapon meister academy, in Japanese it's just Shibusen) is a school run by Death himself for training people who can become weapons* and people who wield those weapons. It's the goal of Soul and Maka (and every other weapon meister team in the academy) to make Soul into a deathsycthe, a super powerful weapon wielded by the grim reaper but it's a lot harder than it sounds.

The Good: I think I've said it before but I always hate it when you have a story where there are two characters who are perfect foils for each other and yet never work together. So I love the fact that we have three teams of people who work well together and they form an even bigger team, it made me realize just how much I was missing that in the current manga chapters. And the first two-thirds or three-fourths of the series was good, it was pretty faithful to the manga, made sense, flowed pretty well, and it was just plain fun to watch.

The Bad: Okay, so people in Japan (like in every country) can write. They can write novels, LNs, manga and original anime, so why the heck do they do anime original endings so badly? I've seen BONES come up with with original stories that worked much better than the ending of Soul Eater did and I'm baffled as to why it was so bad (and I truly found it awful, at least three literal deus ex machina and the power of heart save the day? BLEUGH). That's my biggest problem with the show, I hated the last fourth of it and since I loved the first three parts so much I really don't know if I want to buy this or not.

The Art: Well, everyone says that this looks like what would happen if Time Burton made an anime so I suppose that's as good a description as any. The fights scenes vary a bit in quality (I thought they were all pretty good, this is BONES after all) and the designs didn't change much from the manga.

The Music: I ended up liking the dub quite a bit. The main 9 or so characters all had good voices (yes, Black Star's voice does get better, why it took so long to get the voice right I don't know) although I didn't like the voices of some of the side characters as well but most of them were pretty good. The OP/EDs were alright but I think I liked the EDs more overall.

*I know I know, pretty much everyone says they're weapons who have human forms but since the manga shows they were born human, not made, I think it's more accurate to say it the other way.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Book Review: Tips on Having a Gay (ex) Boyfriend

Come on, just look at the title of this and tell me you wouldn't at least pick it up. And that's pretty much why I picked it up and was pretty interested when the inside cover confirmed that this is a book with at least one LGBTQ side character and, as several authors have pointed out, it's not enough to have LGBTQ main characters but you need them as side characters as well to truly flesh out a world (same for POC). I was worried at how everyone was going to be portrayed in the book but there was no way but to read and find out.

Tips on Having a Gay (Ex) Boyfriend by Carrie Jones
It's an interesting cover, it certainly fits the book very well, but I don't quite like it. There's a bit too much going on, maybe if they took out the details around the author's name it would flow better.

Summary: Breaking up is always a hard thing to go through but when Bella's boyfriend Dylan breaks up with her because he's gay, well, it certainly makes everything more confusing. In a small town where some of the people aren't as nice as they first seem Bella is trying to figure out if the relationship she just had was real or not and just what to do next.

The Good: The characters here felt pretty darn real to me. Often you get plenty of minority haters as background characters and that always makes me feel confused since that's not like any of my friends and we don't seem that abnormal. Here a great many of the characters take the news that Dylan is gay in a stride and are just fine with it. That's not to say that there aren't any bullies or that everyone takes the situation well (I had never even thought that a former girlfriend/boyfriend of someone who just came out with be bullied as well) but there were enough characters on each side to make it feel more realistic.

The Bad: I do have to raise my eyebrows at the fact that, as soon as she's dumped, Bella has another guy waiting in the wings to catch her when she falls (literally too as she does occasionally get seizures which felt like an extra plot point that I think the story could've done without). That honestly sounds like something out of a bad shojo, especially when Bella looks back at notes she wrote as a freshman where she didn't care about having a boyfriend, she would've come off as stronger if she was able to say that having a boyfriend was nice but she didn't need to have one.

My main concern with this book was is this a good portrayal of someone coming out of the closet, how they and the people around them would act? It felt pretty good to me but I'm not sure and I couldn't find any reviews where someone said yay or nay on the topic. So, it was an okay book and I've found out it has a sequel as well. I don't feel really strongly about reading a sequel, the book seemed fairly self-contained so I may grab it someday but otherwise I've got plenty of books to read.

Manga Review: Yotsuba&! (volume one)

I remember coming across this book years ago at the school book fair and feeling conflicted because on the one hand it was manga and I was a manga fan so I should like it. On the other hand, it just wasn't that interesting and out of shame I decided to try and just forget about it and did until I heard it got relicensed by Yen Press. And when I picked it up from my library I saw it was by the same manga-ka as Azumanga Daioh and I got all worried again since I didn't like that anime as much. But, since I have a hunch I'll like AD more in it's manga form than anime I decided to give Yotsuba&! an honest chance.

Yotsuba&! Kiyojiko Azuma
Summary: Yotsuba is a young girl who has just moved to a new town and, even taking that into consideration, she doesn't seem to know much about how the world works. So those around her (three sisters, her adoptive father and a few other people) attempt to show her the world with hilarious misunderstandings.

The Good: It was a relaxing read and made me want to have a nice day outside again to lounge around while reading it (it just got cold where I am so I imagine that had something to do with it). It was quirky and cute at times and got at least one giggle out of me each chapter which is a good thing for a comedy manga. I also liked a lot of the side characters and it looks like they'll be pretty well fleshed out over the rest of the story.

The Bad: I feel like this is the kind of manga I should read one chapter a week of or I'll get too annoyed at it. I do like slice of life, don't get me wrong there, but most of them do eventually tie into a central plot or character development. Yotsuba&! is just ordinary (well, a strange ordinary), random life which isn't necessarily bad but it's a love it or hate it thing. I found her to be an exceptionally dumb character (even for a five year old) and she grated on my nerves more than anything else. Again, I'm sure some people had the exact opposite view of her but I did honestly find her annoying.

The Art: Unlike AD this is drawn in the normal, full page and chapter style (AD was a series of 4 panel comics) and it's clear that they share a manga-ka. None of the characters look like carbon copies of each other but since Azuma uses a rather simplistic style for drawing characters (although the backgrounds looked rather detailed in some areas) they don't look that different either, using the old trick of hairstyles to keep them separate.

So, it's not quite the series for me, but I wouldn't pass up a chance to read some of the other volumes. However, since the story is already nine volumes long and doesn't show any signs of stopping (one common fan theory is that the manga will cover about a year and it sounds like they're either about half way or not even half way through a year) so this one isn't going on my (already amazingly long) to buy list.

Book Review: Archer's Goon

Diana Wynne Jones is probably my favorite author of all time because, even after reading over a dozen books by her* I still get thrown by her twists, her plots don't repeat, and the characters don't feel like copies of each other. Actually, I saw someone recently (think it was either Neil Gaiman or Robin McKinley) point out that date wise DWJ created the modern fantasy-with-British-humor genera (most of her stuff could also be called magical realism and she's gotta be one of the earlier writers for that too), which is pretty darn awesome and she certainly deserves all the attention she gets.

Archer's Goon by Diana Wynne Jones
Think my library must have one of the older copies since this was the only picture I could find of it. Not very interesting at all but the other covers I saw looked a bit strange.

Summary: The Goon was simply in the kitchen one day when Howard came home from school and had a very simple request, Archer wanted his 2000 words (written each month by Howard's dad). However, Howard's dad is tired of being yanked around and doesn't want to write these words any more, more so after even more people demand 2000 words to see what's so special about them. So Howard is tramping up and down town trying to learn more about this strange family that wants the 2000 words and how these words have trapped them in the town for 13 years.

The Good: That story, even though it felt very DWJ-ish in the progression and the kinds of characters, was still something fairly different that drew me in very fast. The characters are fairly understandable in how they deal with the various bits of plot (which makes the already funny situations just hilarious, DWJ makes magical realism work so well) while not being predictable. One or two of the plot twists really threw me (and I can usually see her plot twists coming by now, which isn't to say that they're obvious but since she's one of the few people who uses subplots well and places them early on I've gotten used to her style of writing).

The Bad: Bit of an odd ending, everything was wrapped up but it still seemed a bit abrupt. Just wanted a bit more closure and more time with the characters (especially since there's no reason for a sequel and it was only later that DWJ did more sequels even though a lot of her books are in the same 'verse) and even though I knew it was coming from the page count it still caught me off guard.

Found this book (even though I do intend to read all of DWJ work someday I haven't worked out the order to read them in yet) through the lovely people at [info]enchantedinkpot. Think I've mentioned the community before, it's not a review group but rather a group of people having discussions (not the most in-depth discussions on symbolism but rather nice, polite ones for the internet) about MG and YA books with lots of author interviews, certainly worth checking out!

*She's written probably between two dozen and three dozen books, closer to that higher number and it sounds like she's still working on one or two books right now despite being pretty old.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Movie Review: Yojimbo

So I needed to watch a movie for Japanese class and (since neither of the libraries had the movie version of Memoirs of a Geisha) I went to the every so handy netflix streaming section and, after narrowing down my choices, went for the samurai movie Yojimbo. And before anyone asks why I didn't watch Seven Samurai instead (and they were both directed by the same guy, Akira Kurosawa) it's because I've already seen it and don't feel like sitting through a four hour movie again quite so soon.

Yojimbo (bodyguard, normally spelled yojinbo).

Summary: Sanjuro* is a ronin who finds himself in a town caught in a conflict between two crime lords. For no real reason he decides to help rid the town of the gangs by agreeing to be a bodyguard for both sides and skillfully egging them on to wipe each other out.

The Good: It's a simple concept for a movie but it's pretty well done and doesn't drag at all, even though the movie clocks in at close to two hours. The fights look good, the characters manage to stay distinct, it's nice to listen to, it's just a nice movie to watch.

The Bad: Is it just me or are all of the characters pretty flat? It's pretty obvious that all the characters in the town (except the restaurant owner) are stereotypes but Sanjuro isn't that fleshed out either. There's never any reason given for why he gets involved in this whole mess (I just assumed for fun since he never keeps any of the money he gets for switching sides) and the movie ends without even a hint.

The Music: I really liked the underlying drum music in here, for some reason you don't hear a lot of this in anime (seriously, considering so much anime is set in Japan you'd think they'd use traditional instruments every now and then) and I found it just plain cool. The background music also helped add to the scenes a lot and sometimes it reminded me of a play with the way that music, not a cut or change in lighting, was used to make quick mood changes.

The Visuals: After taking black and white photography for a while now I'm really impressed at how good the movie looks. It's not that grainy and all the shots are pretty darn well exposed no matter what the situation is. That's hard and my hat is off to them for just that. The fight scenes were alright, no really cool one-on-one fight scenes (which I was hoping for) but what fighting there is looks natural enough.

I know that's a short review but it is a pretty straightforward movie, I could get into details but that would be more spoilery than I want to do. I actually got the urge to re-watch House of Five Leaves about halfway through (since both of them have taken the master-less samurai story and twisted it a bit), anyone who likes Kurosawa's films should totally check that out by the way (it's on Funimation's website and hulu I believe).
Now, to wait until I get my paper back in Japanese and to revise it, it's even harder to write this review in Japanese even if I spoil the entire movie (so many grammar errors!).

*Which I'm almost positive is a pseudonym since it means "around 30ish," even a beginning speaker like me picked up on the pun almost immediately.

Manga Review: Land of the Blindfolded (volume 1)

More CMX titles (am I sensing a bias here library?) and this one is actually complete! Land of the Blindfolded is a nine volume series and ANN tells me that all nine volumes were in fact published in the US so hurray for that, now, if half the volume wasn't taken up by random one shots.

Land of the Blindfolded by Tsukuda Sakura
Summary: Kanade is a fairly normal high school girl except that every time she touches someone she can see a little of their future (which she likens to being in a world full of people where blindfolds and hers is a bit loose). She quickly runs into transfer student Arou who figures out her ablity because he can see a person's past whenever he touches someone. They try to prevent the bad futures Kanade sees (after a bit of debate) and deal with another transfer student who can also see the future but uses it for his own gain.

The Good: I really liked Kanade, her reasoning behind why she wanted to use her powers to help people instead of just ignoring it was well thought out and I could very easily relate to her. Arou came off as more than a bit stereotypical but seemed like a nice guy so two likeable leads make the whole story better. Plus I did like the explanation for the title, before I thought it was a pretty strange title but the reason here makes it fit very well.

The Bad: That summary is pretty much all that happens in the first volume since almost half of the first volume is made up of two one shots. I remember that DN Angel often had one shots in the back of their volumes (I guess to pad them out for faster releases) and that I didn't mind too much but here I felt cheated out of my reading time since I was enjoying the story and got so little of it.

The Art: Standard shojo artwork, decent to look at but not very varied in character design (the extra in the back that shows the characters from all three stories emphasizes this).

So, I did enjoy reading and would like to read more but there's nothing really special about it. Of course, I did read only three chapters and I did like what I read but if it is a while before I get to read anymore (which it probably will be) I'm not worried about forgetting anything too important.

Book Review: Empire of Ivory

I believe, and I could be crazy and making this entirely up but I don't think that's the case here, that Naomi Novik has said that the Temeraire series is entering it's final third so it looks like this is going to be a nine book series after all, not some monstrosity that goes on forever. With that in mind I was much more cheerful by reading this book (book four, only two more before I'm caught up!) but I also just liked this one more than Black Powder War. I think it was the pacing since Black Powder War was certainly more interesting and, again this is what I think I've heard, Novik wrote the first three books back to back so it might be that she had gotten more into the swing of writing and was just a better writer by this point, she's certainly gotten a load more of experience.

Empire of Ivory by Naomi Novik
 Same style cover as before and again, I'm not quiet sure what they're supposed to be portraying. I suppose that's supposed to be the fort in South Africa but really, that could've been better.

Summary: As revealed in the preview section of the last novel (and something some readers would have already guessed), the British fleet of dragons has been decimated with a horrible new illness they have no cure for. Many of the dragons are still alive but slowly wasting away, after being accidentally exposed Temerarie isn't however and that sets off a search for what gave him the immunity which leads Captain Laurence and the crew to Africa where they discover that Napoleon isn't the only person they have to worry about.

The Good: Like I said before, I liked the overall feeling of this book more than the previous one and I think it's because Temerarie and Laurence are equals by the end of this book. Even in the previous book Temerarie came off as a young person who is still trying to understand the world, by here he feels like a young person who has learned about the world and decided that stuff just isn't right and they want to change it, or at the very least defy it (oddly enough since wikipedia calls the first three books Temeraire's arc and the second three as Laurence's arc, I suppose these books will deal with Laurence coming to terms with Temeraire's newfangled ideas). It's also nice to see Novik really start to mess with history, if you're going to write a story with a game changing difference like dragons then the history should be pretty different.

The Bad: I do wonder if Novik wrote the second book and then resolved to never try and fill up all the time they crew spent on a long sea voyage again. Considering how long the book would've been otherwise I'm not going to complain, merely say that it was a surprising change. Also, despite the fact that more happened in this book than the last one (as in, advance the overall plot) it feels like not as much happened. Maybe I started speed reading and that's why it feels like less but it just didn't feel as gripping.

So, the book certainly set up a number of very interesting (and highly spoiler-y) plot threads for the next few books that I'm eager to see further explored. Wiki tells me that book seven is due out in the US sometime in 2011 so I guess I'll get the next two books finished by January or so (like I've said before, I've got a ton more books to read and some of them are HUGE, I think Inkdeath is even bigger than this one).

Monday, December 27, 2010

Anime Review: Black Butler II

I think I've said it before, the Black Butler manga is a manga where I like some parts better than others and wouldn't mind owning it, as long as it was on an e-reader and not taking up my precious shelf space (and it would probably be cheaper). And I really didn't like the first anime, I thought it got just too convoluted and strange when compared to what the manga-ka was doing and just don't want to own it. But I wanted to give Black Butler II a go since it had new main characters (I actually like Ceil, I just thought I may enjoy new characters more) and Funimation was simulcasting it so no skin off my back. I'm not sure which of these anime I like better or worse actually but since I don't feel like buying either season now I don't think that's a huge problem.

Black Butler II also known as Kuroshitsuji II, one of the cases were fans prefer the Japanese name over the translated one for some unknown reason.
 Summary: Alois Trancy is also an earl at a young age, also has a tragic past, also works for the queen, and has also made a contract with a demon who serves him as a butler! Beyond that the similarities end, Alois is as twisted as Ceil is tragic and he's fairly tragic too and pretty darn creepy too considering his first thought upon seeing Ceil's dead body was that he wanted it...

The Good: Well, the staff here did the impossible, they made a second season that actually works with the first. And considering the how the first season ended that's pretty darn impressive, and they did produce an amazing twist for this ending which I don't think anyone saw coming. This season also had less camp than the first season, I never liked the one-off episodes that were meant to be more humorous than anything else and this show makes use of almost all of it's 12 episodes.

The Bad: So I don't like the new kid, Alois, at all. I did like him towards the very end of the series but it's not good that I wanted Ciel back and nothing to do with the new characters (bad because remember I didn't like where the first series went either). To be honest, I'm not sure if I like the ending or not to the series. The staff seems to have had a bit of fun with the fangirl's minds (which I don't mind), but for me to accept an ending it has to be foreshadowed, hinted at, or just plain logical for the story at hand and I'm not sure this ending fit any of those things. I suppose it's a little logical but it was so out there that I still just can't believe the staff even thought of it.

The Art: My first thought is "oh yeah the art was great!" and then I remember that there were some very strange and very CGI looking bits in the series (like, all the horses and considering this is the late Victorian era and there were no cars this is a problem). Some parts were very good like both of the OPs and the numerous fight scenes in general. And then you had that very odd CGI moment, I expect most of the fans were drooling over the characters at this point but since I wasn't it was pretty noticeable.

The Music: I think I may be starting to recognize J-pop-/J-rock bands since the OP sounded familiar to me before I saw the credits for The Gazette on it and I know I've heard them a few times before. Liked the song, even if Funimation didn't give a translation*, didn't like the ED as much. That could also be because I liked the animation that went with the OP while I found that the art for the ED was rather generic (erm, generic as in exactly what you should expect from the series, slightly different definition).

It's certainly not a bad series, I think I do prefer the overall story for the first series but like the way this one was executed better, but it just wasn't for me. Heck, I was thinking at some point this summer "Gee, why aren't there fanservice shows for girls? I wonder what those would be like..." and then realized that Black Butler was in that category and all the other examples my friends or I could come up with were stories I didn't like. So, as odd as it sounds, I think I'll avoid stories that are girl targeted (as in, filled with hot guys to draw the female viewers in, I'll still watch/read all the shojo and josei I can find) since I don't find them as satisfying.

*I saw a post recently on CR which made it sound like the Japanese company had to approve the translation of the OP before it could be added in, that would certainly explain why almost none of the simulcasts I've seen have translated lyrics.

TV Series Review: Buffy the Vampire Slayer (season 2)

I was surprised to see that this season was longer than the first season and then doubled checked, apparently all the other seasons of Buffy are 22 episodes. Oh American television, you confuse me so much more than Japanese television and that's not a good sign. But, unlike the first season, I didn't feel like there were any filler episodes here so in the end I'm not complaining, it just threw me and I had to rework my viewing plans, does make me wish the show wasn't so long since it's going to take me so long to get through all of it.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer
 Summary: Buffy may have killed off "the master" last season but more vamps have come to take advantage of the Hellmouth and both sides have some unexpected allies this season.

The Good: You can feel that Whedon is starting to flex his writing muscles and set up both story arcs and myth arcs and I'm interested to see how these go since Firefly was cut off too soon to see the result of his planning. I also found most of the characters enjoyable this season, had issues with some of them last season, and I'm curious to see how big a cast Whedon wants to build up. I've seen a few stories before that have a ton of characters (Narita's works come to mind)

The Bad: Knowing a lot of what's going to happen later in the series (ah, late arrival spoilers) makes me so much more cynical about the fate of half of these characters. Oh come one I know they're not dead/gone for good, I've read about stuff they haven't done yet! And, while Whedon is starting to stretch his muscles for writing bigger arcs he doesn't go all the way. It really feels like he's pulling back/holding back in parts, Ted has said that the show really gets good in season three and beyond so hopefully I won't have that gripe next time. Oh, and Mr. Whedon? I know it's not going to stop you but randomly killing off characters doesn't remind me how tragic and unplanned the world is, it just makes me question your writing skills.

The Music: Did they seriously use the exact same opening theme again? And I don't just mean music, I don't think they even remixed the images. Well that's odd and that's the only bit of music that sticks out to me from the whole show. There are plenty of one-time insert songs by whatever band is playing at the Bronx that episode but those felt like pretty standard teen-90-pop songs and, in my opinion, for an insert song to work it has to become a theme within the show itself, not pop up once and then vanish.

The Visuals: Dear lord, that werewolf episode, that was hideously bad, I'm not sure if it's so bad it's funny or if it's so bad it should never see the light of day again but I'm leaning towards the latter. Other than that, mostly the same as the first season, some vampires look better than others and some staking scenes look faker than others.

Well that was fast to write, not sure why but I guess watching one episode a day for the majority of a month is the best way for me to watch something fast while still taking it all in. It's funny because I'm now watching more Sherlock Holmes and craving more Buffy instead. I'm sure I'll get back into the swing of things in a week or so, maybe it's a good thing SH has shorter seasons.

Anime Review: Gai Rei Zero

Like I've said before, I'm trying to watch more shorter shows now because of time and I remembered a number of people were happy when Funimation licensed this one a few months back and it was only 12 episodes long. So, after a lot of arguing with Hulu (their player has started being really strange in the past few weeks, I think it's either them or the school network since I'm not the only one with this problem) I swore I was going to avoid the hulu player for the next few months. I really liked the show and really didn't like when the next episodes would go up but the wouldn't play, !@QWDSFC! 
Gai Rei Zero
Summary: In Japan there are two top secret organizations whose job is to fight the paranormal. The Paranormal Disaster Countermeasure Headquarters, under the control of the military department who relies more on technology than supernatural experts and the Supernatural Disaster Countermeasures Division, located within the environmental agency and who employs people with experience fighting these monsters. Kagura and Yomi are both part of the SDCD and both come from a long line of exorcists and are prodigies with the sword but recent family upheavals upset this status quo with disastrous results.

The Good: It's hard to pull a good show when the majority of it is flashbacks but GRZ does this pretty well. It helps that, instead of having the characters have a lot of flashbacks, it's one continuous flashback that lasts for 2/3 of the show and then flows into the current time line pretty well and it then makes sense for why the story started when it did. And, trying to be as spoiler free as possible, this is a character driven story and I felt that the character progression in here was pretty good and explained everything by the end. A little details I liked, occasionally I roll my eyes and go "ANOTHER gun/sword? How boring..." and, even though our two leads use katanas here I was very amused by all the other weapons in the series (including, briefcase guns, giant drills, an iron, a motorcycle, and the most pimped out wheelchair ever). I think it was those little details that show that the staff had fun with this too, and it just cracked me up.

The Bad: There are two first episode spoilers in this series, which isn't bad at all, and most people going in probably know both of them. I tried to be vague about them in the summary but, especially since this is a prequel to a manga, it's generally treated as a "you should know this already" so be careful which takes away the whole point of it.

The Art: By and large the sword fight scenes looked very nice (one or two towards the end looked lower budget, thicker lines and not as fluid) but the firey CGI monster that appeared in the first and last couple of episodes looked hideous. Oddly enough, the hummer the heroes ride around in looked fine for most of the series but in those scenes it was pretty obvious CGI as well. True it was moving around a lot more during those scenes (and it was pretty detailed) but the budget felt a bit oddly placed. Speaking of which, and why in the name of the anime gods do Kagura and Yomi have the same outfits for the whole series? They even have the same outfits after a three year timeskip and it makes even less sense why they're wearing their school uniforms for so much time out of school.

The Music: I'd actually heard the OP before during an AMV and liked it, which is odd considering I like my AMVs to use English songs so I understand why they were chosen. I hadn't realized it was an anime OP so I was surprised to hear it again when the OP finally popped up here (it doesn't show up until the fourth episode or so, I think the ED showed up in the second or third episode). I found the OP to be one of the few where, even after I've seen it half a dozen times, I end up watching it almost every time. The images and the song beat fit so well and the lyrics seemed to convey how it was an upbeat show at times and a tragic show at others (even if the line "this is my Tír na nÓg makes absolutely no sense, I even double checked the meaning because it made so little sense). The ED foreshadows a lot of that tragedy and I liked that song pretty well too. Oh, and watch the last bit of the animation at the end of episode 11, it's a bit different and I thought it worked out perfectly. The background music, like the OP and ED, also manages to convey the underlying tragedy in the show and I both really liked it and remember it which should say something.

So, I liked the series and I'll end up getting it sometime once Funimation gets the DVDs out (watched this streamed as I mentioned earlier). Just gonna be farther down on my list of stuff to buy and in the meantime I'm trying the manga as well. That's not licensed and it also does not appear to be completely scanlated even though the series finished in Japan this past year so if I find all of it I'll post a review, otherwise it's a bit pointless. I'm liking it so far, far from being the most imaginative story in the world but it's far from the worst either and I've had fewer webcomics to try recently so I need something to read on the internet anyway.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Manga Review: Swan (volume 1)

Another CMX manga that I only heard about after they went out of business and another unfinished series, 15 out of 21 volumes in the US and since it's a 1970s shojo manga about ballet I doubt it's going to get re-licensed.
But nevertheless! I did dancing a bit when I was little (Irish dancing of course, I did live in Cleveland after all) and when I was a kid I managed to find a fair few books that had dancer protagonists but I can't recall reading any lately. There's no reason for this, dance, especially ballet, is just as strenuous and demanding as any other sport and, unlike team sports, the characters are also constantly competing against each other so that adds in tons of (melo)drama. So again I ask, why isn't there more of this? I can name a half dozen anime/manga that have a similar premise but no Western stories, how very odd.

Swan by Ariyoshi Kyoko
Summary: Masumi may be a nobody from Hokkaido but recently she was selected to compete in a national ballet tournament whose overall goal is to create the first national school of ballet for Japan. The thing is that, while she has plenty of potential, she's still much less experienced than her competitors and has had less than stellar training. She's willing to overcome all of these things, no matter how much time it may take, but will she have enough time?

The Good: I find dancing fascinating and probably found this much more interesting than any sports manga about soccer or baseball (interestingly enough, those would probably be shonen manga too, and Swan does have a few elements of a tournament style manga so kudos for pulling that off well). And thankfully we don't have any backstabbing characters, at least yet, so all of the main characters can be portrayed as both sympathetic while remaining serious threats to Masumi.

The Bad: Oh the melodrama, I ended up giggling over it but that's one thing that didn't age so well. It's not that bad yet but I think a lot of people could be turned off by the fact that the characters actually take ballet seriously, why they ever picked this up I have no idea but it's still an argument against. I'm more worried that the story will never achieve an ending, that the characters will never consider themselves truly great dancers and the story will drag on forever. Considering it's finished at 21 volumes that's less of an issue here but that's still rather long.

The Art: Like I said, this is 1970s shojo so the art style is a bit different than the current mainstream style. It's more detailed, especially in the hair and eyes, and comes across as having a more delicate feel which I love. I didn't think that the characters looked terribly different from each other to be honest, in the first chapter I had to do a lot of flipping back and forth to figure out who was who, but since it doesn't have a huge cast after one volume this isn't a huge problem yet.

Man, when I was double checking a few things I came across even more lists of CMX manga which actually sound interesting. Thankfully most of the titles that caught my eye were 4/5 volumes long but still, I really wish they had gotten more publicity when they were around recently because I would've enjoyed these stories then. Still on the fence whether or not I want to get Swan (it's unfinished here but it still has 15 volumes out), so far I want to get Emma (10 volumes), still need the first Key to the Kingdom volume (got the other 5), and there seem to be more by the day that I want to try. The only thing I take refuge in is that many libraries seem to have bought these books so that does mean I'll have a shot at getting them in 10 years or whenever the libraries clean through their old stock and sell them.
Also, when reading Swan I was struck by the urge (although I've been thinking about this for a couple of weeks now) that I really want to re-watch Princess Tutu. They're totally different stories (Swan is a modern day story about ballet, Princess Tutu is classic fairy tale a ballet is based on, both the fluffy version and the grimm version) but it still reminded me of it. Also reminded me that I've seen trailers for a movie, Black Swan, which seems to be getting a limited run in December, which is also about ballet and the behind the scenes backstabbing that happens so often in ballet stories. Again, they look fairly different (Black Swan seems to have all these psychological elements to it but after seeing the reasons for the R rating I'm worried that it's going to turn out that the protagonist was just doing drugs instead of actually crazy) but hey, there are so few ballet stories out there that if you see one title you're gonna be reminded of most of them.
Hmmm, and now I want to see titles about other kinds of dancing like tap, a short about Irish dancing would be pretty fun actually....

Movie Review: Millennium Actress

Like I said earlier, at anime club we had a choice of movies for Satoshi Kon night (both from my friend Caitlyn), Paprika and Millennium Actress and she let me hang onto MA a little longer until I could see it too. Like Paprika I already knew the basic plot of it so I wasn't surprised by the initial plot twist, that seems to be a favorite of Kons, but I still found it a very enjoyable movie none the less.

Millennium Actress
 Summary: Genya Tachibana has always been a big fan of the actress Chiyoko Fujiwara and with the closing of her old studio he sets out with a camera man to interview her. Although she hasn't acted in many years she did many films when she was young and they seemed to mimic her life, or is she remembering her past lives and not movies at all?

The Good: Kon has a way of blending multiple story threads very well, it's very hard to see where the stories end and the movies begin even if you're looking closely (it might be easier on a second watching) but the real beauty is that I'm not sure it matters what was real and what wasn't. Each storyline carried it's own weight and none of them overwhelm the others which is a very tricky feat, especially when you remember that this is all slice-of-life (seriously, how was this only his second film?!?) which, IMO, is harder to write well than something with a central plot.

The Bad: There are two interpretations to this movie actually and I was influenced by what I read about it before I started which makes me a little cynical and wonder, did Kon even know what he wanted the story to be about in the end? I'm always a little skeptical when a story can be interpreted two ways (like say Justin Larbalestier's Liar for example), usually because it feels like an author had an awesome idea and then someone else said it could also go another way and then the author edits the book with this in mind. MA was not like that, it felt like it was planned to be like this from the beginning, but at times it does feel like Kon had two very similar but separate ideas and ended up sticking them together.

The Art: I'd forgotten that movies made back in the early 2000s already look a bit dated, it really caught me by surprise here. The movie is from 2001 and the art looks just fine, animation looked good as well, both tending more towards realism than most anime which is the style I prefer, but it wasn't as crisp as I'm used to these days, there seemed to be more noise/grain and that distracted me at a few points. Given that a major part of the movie is about films that could've been on purpose but I think it's just the difference in almost a decade's technology.

The Music: None of the music especially stood out to me but, and I probably should've mentioned this way before, I'm not a musical person in the slightest so only really good or bad music stands out to me. I liked the music when I heard it, it was well done, it just didn't stick with me. And again, a song has to be pretty catchy for it to stick and usually have lyrics, and even then I remember words with English lyrics better than anything else.

Didn't get around to seeing the "making of" extra but I do hope to buy this DVD sometime (better do it quick however, apparently new copies are going for over $50 and used for over $20) and I'll catch it then. I highly recommend it, it's a good watch that, while it won't leave you going "ow ow ow my brain" afterwards, is much more rewarding if you pay closer attention to it.
So, three Kon movies down, one movie and a tv series to go! My plan is to try and see Perfect Blue either over my fall break or Thanksgiving break and then get Paranoia Agent, both via Netflix, over winter break, maybe I can get my mom and Ted to watch these as well, I think that both of them would really enjoy them, heck, my brother might like one or two of these.

Manga Review: Someday's Dreamers (volume 1)

I feel bad for forgetting to review this one but that probably because it was a simpler, feel good slice of life story you could pick up anytime instead of something plot heavy where you really need to remember it if you want to keep following it. Still, considering I'd wanted to try either the manga or anime for a while now I really don't know how I forgot to write this up, guess I've been even busier than I thought.

Someday's Dreamers by Norie Yamada and Kumichi Yoshizuki (artist)
Summary: In a world slightly different from ours, Yume is a young magic user training in Tokyo to get her license. She prefers to follow her heart, not necessarily logic or reason, and would rather do the right thing and make people happy than follow the rules or make tons of money.

The Good: It's a quiet, soft series without being dumb. I suppose that Yume is moe but she doesn't feel like a dumb character, rather a young one and since the reader doesn't know the rules of the world around her either she's easy to sympathize with. With a very sedate pace it's easy to read just a chapter or two at a time without any pressure to follow it up immediately, a nice thing when life is a bit hectic.

The Bad: Well, I did manage to forget about it and, even as busy as I am that's a bit unusual. And a lack of central plot would probably start to annoy me after a few volumes, this is probably the series I can only get through in small chunks every now and then. And unless Yume gets more of a personality beyond the fact that she is the navie newcomer then she's going to get on my nerves fast.

The Art: Nothing special here, it's soft like the story but the artist doesn't bother to create their own style to use here and I would be hard pressed to recognize any other work they did. So it is decent art, just nothing really special and considering manga is both words and pictures that's rather important.

More than anything else this reminded me that I still haven't gotten to watching Aria yet (yes I have an aria icon but I haven't seen the series, have read some of the manga however) and, even though that's a series I really do want to try, I'm more than a little worried now that I'll find that too quite and slow as well. Who knows, maybe I'll find there's more variation than I would've thought in these ultra slow with a bit of moe slice of life stories.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Book Review: Sunshine

I've been following more YA authors on twitter recently so I actually know when most of them are putting out a new book. So I'd put Robin McKinley's Sunshine on the list after coming across it, it's not a new book but it was going to be re-released with a new cover oriented more for the YA audience so I guess that's why I kept hearing about it. I was a bit hesitant when I found it at the library (the older version, apparently there are no changes other than the cover, I'm amused that I still found the older version in the YA section anyway) since I've liked some of her works before (The Blue Sword, Beauty) but not liked others (The Hero and the Crown not so much and I have issues with the ending of Spindle's End, only with the later part of the book though). But i grabbed the book anyway, I'm on a vampire kick anyway so I might as well see if it's as good a book at others (authors) have said.

Sunshine by Robin McKinley
The cover seems cliched but in terms of literary cliches. Oh look, it's a gothic, shadowy chandler, on a high ceiling with elaborate, old world molding, and that red tint must mean it's a vampire book! Although, that is a bit of a visual cliche in the literary world, heck, if I saw that ceiling on HGTV my first response would be "...vampire ceiling?"

Summary: Sunshine is just your average baker in a world that is sometime after a great, apocalyptic war yet still a century or two before the end. She's utterly and totally convinced she's normal, family history and her own history aside, but is forced to confront that she's different from the majority of humanity after being the first person to escape from the "others," vampires, no matter how much she wants to deny it.

The Good: Well these vampires are the farthest thing from sexy I can think of. There's never a concrete description of what they look like but apparently they're monsters who just share the same general shape as a human, you don't see that variant of vampire that often. The story really goes back to the original vampire stories where they were nothing like humans, incredibly scary, and rather flat and evil characters. It's certainly a change and a change is always refreshing. Also unusual to see a character that's a baker and it was really nice to see so much of the story take place in the bakery, again it's something different and that's always nice.

The Bad: I really didn't like Sunshine at all. She has this habit of talking to people and then going on for a page long monologue in her head before continuing with the conversation (literally a page, even if this was a paperback that's really unsettling, off-putting, and simply confusing). She's also whining a lot in these monologues, some whining is expected and acceptable in any story but there comes a point where the character either has to gear up and deal with the story or they don't and why is the story even about them anyway if they're not doing anything about it? None of the other characters felt really fleshed out to me (and this isn't a short book either, it's right around 400 pages in paperback format), honestly none of them and I was wondering if I skipped a scene or two or if some were cut out because it was so glaring for some of the major supporting characters so I didn't get to love and adore any side characters in the story. One more thing, which I consider a rather large problem although not everyone will see it this way I suppose, is that McKinley has written herself into a corner with the vampires. On the one hand, she has very well established that these are not the sexy vampires of modern pop culture and that there is no way in hell that you want a relationship with them considering most people can't stand their mere presence. Yet she seems to be writing a Beauty and the Beast-esque story* with no explantion of why/HOW there can be romance. That bothered me, and the almost sex scene did as well but that was more because it came out of nowhere and I'm usually annoyed when I come across an unexpected and detailed paragraph about a guys dick**.

So, it's not a bad book per say, but I really didn't like the herorine, felt that by and large the setting wasn't developed well enough (it's not for a while that you even find out any details about the war) and neither were any of the characters besides Sunshine. So, no urge to reread, recommend, or buy the book, sorry guys!
And I remembered the other day that I forgot to review a manga so that'll be tomorrow's review, good thing too since I'll be swamped the next two days and not having to read anything else/shorter things to review will help.

*Again, this is at least the third time she's used that story variation, and when I think about it, all the stories I've read by her involve the opposites attract theory of romance, just the male lead happens to be at least a bit monstrous.
**Being serious there and, to make this clear, I have no objections to characters having sex in the stories, I just prefer it to be off screen. This is probably because I had to read some pretty detailed sex scenes back as a freshman in high school (even tvtropes agrees with me here: "Good People Have Good Sex. Not to mention excruciatingly detailed sex. ") so I reeeaaalllyyy hate reading sex scenes now. It won't detract from the whole book but it does leave me a bit grumpy if I didn't see it coming.

Anime Review: Magical Witch Punie-Chan

So the theme at anime club this week was magical girl. Up for voting we had Ah! My Goddess (which oddly enough is actually the magical girlfriend genera, yes that's a slightly separate section), Princess Tutu (my offering, standard magical girl show for the first half and then it subverts the heck out of the second half), and then this, Magical Witch Punie-Chan (courtesy of Ian, starting to tease him about his taste). We ended up watching this* and I was happy, I'd heard reviews for this a year or two ago and always wanted to check it out

Magical Witch Punie-Chan
Summary: To become the next queen of Magical Land, Punie must go to Earth and spend a year in high school. It's the high school however that should be worried, Punie should be able to take care of herself juuust fine.

The Good: This is probably one of the biggest parodies of the magical girl series and holy cow it nothing but a parody. It's actually a good thing it's so short, in my opinion, but it's certainly a funny four episode ride. I wouldn't recommend to die hard magical girl fans but to people who either are bored by it or can laugh at it's weaknesses then yes, watch this. There's barely any plot, it's really nothing new, but the rapid fire rate that it manages to mock everything in the genera makes it hilarious none the less.

The Bad: Whew, thank god it's only four episodes (8 half length episodes so four full length episodes), I'm not sure how much more of that I could watch and not start getting bored (also, try not to watch it all in one go, it's a bit much to marathon).

The Art: It's shiny and certainly looks like lower budget magical girl anime (or at least less creative magical girl anime, although that was probably part of the parody) and there is a transformation scene at least twice in each episode (and remember that each episode is only 13 minutes long). It's an OVA so I don't know what the budget was like for this but it might've been a good thing considering the art is more bland than magical.

The Music: Poppy, bubbly songs, some people say that the OP is really catchy but I didn't really think so. That might've been because I was laughing my butt off at the ED (which is parodying action/samurai genera actually, it's still funny). Again, like the art, nothing special on it's own.

So, I feel absolutely no need to own this DVD at all yet I'm still happy I got a chance to watch it. So if you're in the mood for something that goes out of its way to bash standard anime tropes then go right ahead. Otherwise there are far better anime in terms of either art or plot.

*I swear, we haven't watched a single serious show yet. Sure Paprika and Baccano were cool and well written but we still spent half the time laughing at the screen.

Book Review: Interworld

I realized recently that I haven't read much Neil Gaiman but what I've read of him it sounds like I'd like his books pretty well (the only one I can think of off hand that I've read is Stardust but even that was only because I saw the movie and wanted to see how they compared). So when I saw he was co-author for this book at the local library I looked at the flap and then tossed it into my bag. In the back of the book he says that he and the other author (Michael Reeves) originally were trying to get it made into a tv series and, while I'm not sure how the pacing would've worked out for a serialized tv show, I would totally watch a tv show that was like this.

Interworld by Neil Gaiman and Michael Reeves
I'm not entirely sure what I'm looking at here (I see a boy's face but why are we following the rule of thirds?) but the colors and movement caught my eye so it works as a cover.

Summary: Joey is kind of person who (literally) gets lost in his own house so it should've been a bad sign when he actually knew where he was on a school trip. However he was too busy getting lost again to realize that in the process of getting lost he Walked across dimensions and set off dozens of alarms set by people who want that power of travel for themselves. Not long later he's managed to make it even worse and now has to learn how to fight or risk death by being boiled alive or frozen alive by the enemy, your pick which is worse.

The Good: The basic premise for the plot, walking between worlds, is nothing new* but the world building is solid. I'd love to see this as a tv show just to see the setting of some of the places, like the Inbetween which sounded trippy and pretty innovative. The idea that everyone else who can Walk is essentially Joey from another world (which begs the question, does that mean there's only one person in each world who can do that?) was neat and managed to make sense in an odd way as well. And there's a small scene between Joey and his mom that I really liked, finally an adult in a MG/YA book that DOESN'T act like an idiot and seems to just get what's going on. Actually, if there's a sequel to this book, I hope they expand on her a little more, there was something about her character that screamed "there's more to me than you think but we're not gonna tell you yet!" and I'm intrigued.

The Bad: My summary up there is a lot less spoilery than the one on the book jacket and, while the book jacket doesn't give away details, it's a fairly straightforward plot so I felt cheated out of a story for just reading that. It's just one rather simple plot, following the plot progression diagram I once read in a how to draw manga book, and it didn't surprise me at all. That was a bit disappointing since, while the book was interesting and I read it in almost one big go, I don't have any reason to want to reread it (and therefore buy it). I also never ended up liking Joey, I kept yelling at him to stop being stupid, and that is more than a little problem.

So, the book was alright but not fantastic (which seems to be the general consensus on amazon as well) and I wonder if it has/has plans for a sequel. I can see it going either way and I'll poke around a little to see if I can find any info on it.
And I actually have another review to post in a day or two, it's not another book so I don't have to get so bent out of shape for reviewing the same medium two times in a row, and this one is rather, interesting let's say.

*Hell I think I came up with something like that when I was in the seventh grade, which ironically enough would be just outside what Amazon tells me is the reading age group.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Movie Review: Paprika

So Satoshi Kon's death was what finally motivated me to see his movies and the anime club, when presented with the choice of either Millienum Actress or Paprika, watched Paprika. A few people came in after the movie started and I think they were confused by the movie (well that's what y'all get for ALWAYS coming in late, do that many people have class until 6:45 and later on Tuesday nights or something?) but I found it fairly easy to understand and much more enjoyable than Inception.

 Summary: In the not too distant future, a little device called the DC Mini has been created and is in clinical trials for seeing how it can be used in dream therapy. Controversy surrounds even the existence of the device and when a copy of it gets stolen and used to hijack into other people's dreams that's when everything really goes crazy.

The Good: If Inception tried to base it's dream world in reality, in Paprika the dream world is exactly the kind of world you would expect to see in dreams. It's strange, not quite straightforward, switches viewpoints quite easily, and it is amazing because of it. If Inception tried to show the logic behind and in the dream world then Paprika brings to the front all the strange moments in there that make sense in a dream (or even a movie) but when you think about them later make you go "... wait what?" To me it both made complete sense and blew my mind, the kind of movie you walk out of and you could watch it again a year later, a week later, or even immediately and still feel satisfied with it.

The Bad: There was a strange bit of disconnect with the movie however. I remember that there was a central plot (figure out whose behind the theft) and we do get an answer and a motive for it in the course of the movie, but it felt a little unnecessary. I was having a good time just watching the story unfold that I thought the central plot felt almost like too much, and I never say that! There may have just been a little too much going on for me so I'm not sure if less threads would have made the story clearer or if I really did miss a few things the first time around.

The Art: The artwork was bright and vibrant, especially when the dream world starts spilling over into the real world, and adds to that other-worldly quality of the story. It's all pretty fluid looking and keep an eye on both the images and the subtitles for some foreshadowing. It's a movie that could've worked in live action as well but I think that having everything be animated (instead of awkward live action and CGI combining) makes the art more believable.

The Music: There is one little track from the movie that I remember was in the trailers years ago, a little bubbly theme that usually signals a switch between worlds, and I really want to see if I can get that track for my ipod. The music works beautifully, giving hints that a seemingly ordinary scene was actually much stranger than it seemed and other little clues.

Book Review: The Whale Rider

I came across this book right after I returned Guardian of the Dead and it reminded me that A) This book was one of the books that were set in New Zealand recommended in GoD and B)I had totally forgotten to write down what all those other books were. So I grabbed this book, it was only 150 pages so I figured I could get through it quickly and was happy to find that not only the slim size but the prose lent itself to a quick yet satisfying read.

The Whale Rider by Witi Ihimaera

I think this picture is a still from the movie but I'm not sure, I shall report back after I have seen it!

Summary: If she'd been a boy then Kahu would certainly be the one to take over tribe from her great-grandfather Koro Apirana but instead she is denied to even listen in on the boy's cultural school. Kahu however has inherited more than her name from the legendary whale rider that the tribe has descended from, she can speak to the whales including the one who has been searching for his master for all these long years.

The Good: Not only was the story short but it was very easy to read, everything flowed nicely and used language that drew the reader farther in and made the pages fly by. If I'd had a lot of time I could've easily finished this book in one sitting and would suggest it to kids who are interested in other cultures in a heartbeat. I also liked how Kahu's special abilities were portrayed in the book, she feels more like a character from a legend than a superpowered kid and that fit the book much, much more. I also enjoyed the snippets that involved the whales, those also felt more like a legend of old than a modern story and that helped add to the stories believability in a weird way. Of course no one communes with whales these days but in legends, sure!

The Bad: I do wonder why the book is narrated from the point of view of Kahu's cousin, Rawiri, instead of from her. True Kahu is only 8 at the climax of the book and the book follows her life but the author easily could've made her a little older or even had her narrate it at an older age looking back on the years. I suppose it was to help the reader connect more, Rawiri is certainly part of the tribe but he's spent time away from it and that gives him a more sympathetic perspective on the whole event, but it just struck me as odd and I kept thinking about it. And I do have to wonder a bit at Kahu's "chosen one" status. That may have been a little more believable if she narrated the story, if we saw how hard she worked behind the scenes to try and please her great-grandfather, but I guess that is a drawback to creating someone in a legend, they never feel quite as human.

I liked the book very much and now that I know my library has a copy of the movie I'll be sure to check that out in the next few weeks. It sounds rather different from the synopses I've seen around but I'm hoping they're good changes. The movie got such good reviews that they should be in any case.

Anime Review: Senko no Night Raid

The second of the three Anime no Chikara (original anime, no preceding novel or manga) project by A-1 and I had pretty high hopes for the series. Not only do I like original series (and not just because that means I can't be spoiled but that is a very nice bonus) but this was set in the 1930s in Shanghai China, neither of which are the norm for a setting. Additionally, anyone who is aware of Asian history would recall that this is when, and where, the Japanese (who were in control of China at that point) and the Chinese had some very bad blood and I was hoping that the anime would have the guts to at least touch on it and admit that yes, they did some horrendous things in that period. Plus 1930s=awesome clothing so hopefully at least one of those things was going to pan out in this series

Senko no Night Raid I believe this means "lightening fast night raid"
 Summary: It's 1931, Shanghai China under the Japanese control and the Sakurai Kikan organization is a group of espers working to help protect Japanese interests. But not only are there people who don't like these interests but there is another group that believes they have a better way of advancing Japan and making it the dominate superpower. And with the lines being less than clear drawn between these groups there's plenty of room for betrayal and secrets about the present and future.

The Good: Normally when you have a group of physics/espers/supernaturally powered people* the guys get awesome powers, especially the leads, but the girls get a bit short shifted. Here none of the characters is overpowered (we have telekinesis, telepathy, far seeing, and teleportation) and all of them have a limiter which also meant that the fights couldn't be the main focus of the story. Another thing that peaked my interest in the series was finding out that one episode was only going to be broadcast on the web and it was going to deal with the Mukden Incident so I was happy to see that the show managed to show that the Japanese had a lot of influence in starting the second Sino-Japanese War and that they weren't really the good guys. The characters were never depicted as either the good guys or the bad guys but rather as people with strong ideals and firm ideas how to achieve these ideals and let their methods sway the viewer on who was "right" or "wrong" in the whole deal.

The Bad: Not a fault of the studio but the subs for this show took freaking forever. As I understand all the different languages and a lot of military vocabulary was what slowed people down but I started losing interest in the series when we started having two month gaps between episodes. As for the show itself, I feel like episode 0 (a DVD only episode) should've been the real episode 1 (1 wasn't bad but 0 did a much better job at introducing the characters and setting up the story) and episode 4 (which a lot of people listed as the reason why they dropped the series) be a DVD only episode instead. So the pacing was a bit sloppy (both this and Occult Academy seem to have this problem) and, even though each of the characters had a good amount of screen time and had their backstory explained, they still felt rather distant from the viewer. They were understandable and even sympathetic characters, but they still felt rather removed to me and, since the story was lacking in other departments as well, it really needed that extra spark to really help the story.

The Art: Aside from the fact that I wonder why Yukina never wore that cheongsam from the promo images (doubly strange since she had so many cute 1930 outfits) and why Aoi never changes his clothes at all (doubly weird again since the other two guys changed outfits at least once or twice), I have essentially no complaints about the art. A-1 produces some very nice, clean looking art and their backgrounds are super detailed as well, add that to lots of period clothing and I'm a happy camper. I'll also say it was a clever choice of them to give the characters very non-flashy superpowers, probably helped keep the budget manageable and made sure the fights weren't plagued by ugly CGI.

The Music: Even with all the breaks the OP music still stayed with me so, while not quite an ear worm, it's a pretty catchy song. Didn't like the ED as much and I'm a little puzzled why the ED had different art in the first episode (it was a just an animation from the OP on loop, made the regular ED seem tons better by comparison and that was just three or four slow pans out on various pictures). And it's worth bringing up that this series tried really hard to capture 1930s Shanghai by having tons of different languages spoken throughout the series. I remember Chinese (background characters were okay, mains were terrible), Russian (passable but staid), English (understandable if heavily accented, but why did the Indian guy have such an American accent that sounded like something out of YGO abridged?), and German (only popped up once or twice for a few lines I think). The Chinese, and I'm going on hearsay here but everyone agreed on it, was particularly badly spoken by the main characters and the DVD has the option of a Japanese only language track instead. A-1 certainly gets props for trying for more realism but I think it may have backfired here.

So, the series was alright, far from being a disaster and I'd like to have it on DVD because of all the lovely art, but I feel like it missed out on some true potential it had. The pacing wasn't quite strong enough, I'm a little puzzled what the director was doing since it felt like the series needed more oversight, but it was far from the worst that the spring season had to offer.

*There's a reason one of the nicknames for the show is "steampunk Darker than Black"