Monday, February 28, 2011

Manga Review: Hetalia Axis Powers (volume 1 & 2)

The Waldenbooks in this small town is going out of business (as well as the Borders in my home city, booooo) so one of my friends snagged the first two volumes of this during their going-out-of-business sale and then loaned them to me*. I've seen a lot of the anime (the first two seasons at least and part of the third I think, none of the newest season or the movie) but got a bit burned out by the fandom a while back so I was curious to see if I still enjoyed the series or if it had just been a fad for me.

Hetalia Axis Powers by Hidekaz Himayura
Summary: The original webcomic that grabbed the hearts of fangirls the world over, it's the countries of the world personified and stereotyped! Jumping all around historical periods (from the Roman Empire to modern day), watch them interact with each other in funny ways.

The Good: The second book has a lot of similar strips grouped together (like the creation of America or a bunch of strips of Italy bothering Germany) and I liked reading that volume more than the first. Yes this is a set of 4 koma (panel) comics but I still like a bit of continuity between strips and Himayura has a thousand years of history to work with, plenty of room for connected strips.

The Bad: As you probably guessed, I didn't like the first volume as much since it was jumping all over the place like a five year old on a pixie stick. The series also tries to introduce a lot of characters at first (about 20 different countries or so) but then only focuses on the Axis and Allies, I really wish they had only introduced them in the beginning and then brought other characters in later. I know I always get the Baltic states mixed up and they appear so infrequently that they really didn't need to be introduced this early. And, as I alluded to in the summary, some of the humor here is a bit off color** so you'd better be able to laugh at your own countries faults before you go and laugh at someone elses.

The Art: One big complaint for this series is that the characters look really similar to each other. I didn't have as much trouble distinguishing them but I think that's because I'm already familiar with what a number of the characters look like. Be prepared to rely on hairstyles to tell them apart! The art isn't really fantastic (actually, there are a few strips that are horribly pixelated, as if Himayura forgot to save a higher resolution of the strips and they put it in there anyway, all the webcomic artists I know would never do that for their print books) but the story moves at a fast enough pace that it isn't as big an issue as it could be.

I'm not sure if I ended up enjoying this more or less than the anime (I still really want to see the dub actually) but this didn't make me want to run out and buy the series myself. So, glad I got a chance to read it (one reason I got fed up with the fandom was because the bigger it got the fewer scanlations there were) but doubt I'll be rereading it anytime soon.

*As a side note, she is not happy to finally figure out why one of her friends called her Ukraine, my friends always said I was like Switzerland, ironic since I always wanted to cosplay Lichenstein who looks just like him.
**Nothing as bad as the dubs Jew joke but I still can't believe they did that.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Movie Review: Tsubasa RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE the Movie: The Princess in the Birdcage Kingdom

Dang that's a long title and all the weird capitalization is intentional although I have no idea what it's for (actually, I've never seen anyone guess what that was about). As a quick note, I've seen a little bit of the anime but I have read all the manga so I'm plenty familiar with the story of TRC and I have seen the accompanying xxxHolic movie, A Midsummer Night's Dream (my friend owns the set at showed the other movie at Halloween a couple of years back). You don't need to see the xxxHolic half of the story to get this movie but you really do need to be familar with either the TRC manga or the anime if you don't want to be lost (not all of it, just enough that you know the characters).

Tsubasa RESEVoir CHRoNiCLE the Movie: The Princess in the Birdcage Kingdom

Summary: As the group continues their quest to find the feathers that make up Sakura's lost memories they arrive in a strange kingdom that is enclosed inside a birdcage. The current king, who may or may not be possessed by one of Sakura's feather's seeks to enshroud the entire kingdom in eternal darkness and it's up to the gang to save them all!

The Good: I probably made my opinion on TRC clear from the xxHolic review (that ending, what) but this movie did make me want to go back to the beginning of the series and re-read all the pre Acid Tokyo arcs or even just check out the anime for that part. I don't want to watch all of the anime (since a friend was doing live commentary on it the other day and it didn't sound much more comprehensible than the manga) but this movie reminded me of just how much I enjoyed the early part of the story and I'll check around to see if I can find the earlier episodes streaming.

The Bad: Dear god, the pacing here was hideous! The whole movie is only about 30 minutes long and tries to accomplish what would have taken the tv series about three episodes to do in one. It whips by at a breakneck pace, not giving the characters time to explain their actions (yes I know they're good guys but why are they so determined to help the people here?) and Fai and Kurogane don't get that much screen time at all. If you aren't familiar with the series you'll be lost and if you are, well, it just doesn't feel like that satisfying a story arc, just go watch the OVAs instead.

The Art: While I'm still puzzled how the gang changed their clothes before they entered this new deminsion (and why Shaoran's hair was the wrong color, it was just different enough to annoy me) this movie looks good. As the poster shows, it's pretty colorful throughout and the fights also looked good. The characters are still a bit too enlongated and unless you're familiar with the style they're going to look a bit weird (heck, there were parts when they looked weird to me and I've seen the style for years!). So, not exactly eye candy then but it's certainly better than the pacing here.

The Music: The movie used a lot of tracks from the tv series that I immediately recognized (this was one of them but I'm not sure of the name for the other) and they are certainly dramatic, yet not over-dramatic, pieces of music. They certainly add a feeling of grandeur to the movie and get stuck in your head so I suppose I did enjoy the music here.

In case you guys didn't see it yesterday, I'm going to do something a little different in March and review webcomics all month instead (check the post below this one for more details) so tomorrow is my last regular review for a month! And, following my pattern, it's going to be a manga, I wonder what it could be....

Saturday, February 26, 2011

March=Webcomic Palooza!

So, to keep this fairly brief, my school work has been kicking my ass lately (mainly it's the 150-200 pages of reading a week that's keeping me busy) and I am now almost caught up on everything I've read/seen lately. Yes my school is showing a number of movies now that I haven't reviewed yet but other than that, I haven't been that motivated to read (and keep reading books I end up enjoying not at much as I hoped), I've gone through the local library's manga supply, and most of the anime I'm watching now won't end until April.

So! Since I want to keep posting reviews regularly, I plan to spend all of March reviewing webcomics. I started following a lot of them back in fall 2009 (I follow between 50 and 60 on a regular, weekly basis actually) and webcomics really need more love in general. The plan is to review comics starting with a different letter of the alphabet each day and then have a post on finished webcomics, webcomics with really odd update patterns, and then ones that are on hiatus and really need to come back. It won't be quite that neat actually (since I don't even know of any webcomics that start with "I" or "Y," does anyone know of any?) but that's the plan. Things should go back to normal around here in April (providing school doesn't really kill me) but I'm excited and hope you guys find some amazing new things to read!

Movie Review: The Social Network

When this movie first came out I didn't have any intention of seeing it, mostly because I wasn't interested and partially because the majority of the people i saw trumpeting the movie were ones who liked Scott Pilgrim vs. The World and I didn't like that movie (ie, our tastes don't match so I probably won't like this one). But it came to school and I planned on seeing it there, until everyone else ended up being busy and it seemed to be ironic to see a movie called The Social Network by myself. So, eventually I got a copy from the library (and figured out how they organize their movies in the process!) and had a chance to form my own opinion on the movie.

The Social Network
Summary: Mark Zuckerburg is the kind of genius that can whip up a super popular website in a couple of hours while drunk. And after he does just that one night he gets noticed by some other people who need a coder to help them get their own website up and running. But Mark is a bit distracted and soon finds himself coming up with his own version of the website and getting in trouble with everyone in the process.

The Good: That was actually a really engrossing and interesting film, color me surprised in any case. It's more of a character study than anything else and the movie deftly balanced the characters grey and gray mortality. The characters actually felt like regular, flawed people and that's really hard to pull off. The movie never tried to make any of the characters be right or wrong in the arguments and settlements (and even acknowledges these questions towards the end) and I liked that a lot.

The Bad: I would love to know what really happened at the founding of facebook, I hate historical movies that aren't accurate and feel frustrated that I don't know if this was the true story or not. Other than that feeling of inadequacy on my part, found out via tvtropes that a white actor was cast for a non-white part partially because his skin tone was "ambiguous" and I really find that kind of stuff stupid. So maybe finding out the real story behind facebook would be a good idea after all...

The Music: Maybe it's because I'm a sucker for techno (properly mixed techno anyway) but I really enjoyed the music in this movie. Lots of techno and generally epic music that somehow managed to fit into the movie and I wouldn't mind checking out the soundtrack for this. I not only noticed the music (on a first watch!) but enjoyed it so yes, good music here.

The Visuals: Much like the music, I was surprised at how much I liked the look of this movie. There were a lot of long pan shots that would show the surround area, focus in on Mark and then keep moving with him. Usually a pan stops once it focuses in on the important character/object so I thought it was a really cool technique, I'll be keeping any eye out for other shows using it. I also really enjoyed the whole look to the movie. It's a little hard to describe but, it seemed like the lighting in the movie was pretty saturated yet was still dark and it just looked cool.

This is the kind of movie I'd actually recommend to a lot of people and plan on doing so. It's not action or mystery or any kind of movie I normally like but the story was well told, interesting, and made good use of it's visual medium. Don't think I'll be buying this on DVD but I'll probably rewatch it sometime and hopefully enjoy it just as much then.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Book Review: The Luxe

Quick note before I start, this review is only for the first book in the series (which is also known as The Luxe, since I do sometimes review entire series I just wanted to make that clear).
I'd seen this book in various libraries before but only picked it up recently since I was bored and really needed something else to read that wasn't for school (there's a limit to how much Romantic poetry I can read and it's not very much). I'd actually seen the book recommended before on a steampunk community (since it has a lot of details about the various dresses in there, despite how the cover looks) so I took a chance on it.

The Luxe by Anna Godbersen
 When I mentioned the cover earlier, I meant that unlike the cover the dresses in the book are all period accurate. This isn't what dresses from 1899 look like but it certainly conveys the idea of luxery (and I like how the dress stretches from the front cover to the back). Colors are a bit dull and restrainded and I couldn't see the wallpaper detail on my copy but it works well enough.

Summary: It's the Victorian Era, New York City, but the city is celebrating a different kind of event today, the funeral of Elizabeth Holland. One of the city's foremost beauties and poised to marry one of it's most eligible bachelors she dies right before her wedding night. But rewinding the clock shows that many young people in the city had the motivation to stop this wedding (including Elizabeth herself) so how did this tragedy really occur?

The Good: Even though I guessed in the prologue how Elizabeth died I was never one hundred percent sure since the book focuses on a number of characters who could have done the dirty deed and the reveal only comes in the last few pages. The book isn't a character study but it focuses exclusively on the characters and their relationships with the others without feeling stale and that's probably why the series has so many fans. It's paced well and manages to both tell a complete story yet have an open enough ending for the sequels.

The Bad: I wasn't aware that this book was essentially Gossip Girl's in the 19th century and I just don't like the gossip girls that much. If I had been aware that this book was mostly people talking, holding affairs, and backstabbing I would've avoided it (practically none of the characters are likable, some are more understandable than others but I wasn't rooting for any of them to get a happy ending). So I won't be reading the rest of the books in this series, just not the kind of book for me and at least now I know that. 

I don't actually have that many books out right now for casual reading, again with the Romantic poems taking up a lot of my time (and a good bit of art history too). Actually, all I have is yet another werewolf book and then a non-fiction book about concubines in the 19th century and I'm hoping to finish those by the end of my spring break in a couple of weeks, fingers crossed that I can renew them for that long (no seriously, my college library seems to have no set policy on how many days you can renew a book and you can only do it twice, it drives me bonkers). Oh, and I'm going to have an announcement about my reviews tomorrow so, if you follow this blog regularly, please keep an eye out for it!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Manga Review: xxxHolic

Initially, and this was years ago (geeze, probably about four years ago now) I started reading Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicles but didn't start reading xxxHolic until things started getting confusing in TRC. I ended up enjoying Holic more, probably because it had a less confusing plot line, but now that the series is done I'm really not sure what to think about it. Sure I enjoyed a lot of the series but at the same time it had quite a few issues as well.

xxxHolic by CLAMP

Summary: Watanuki not only has the ability to see ghosts, spirits, and other things that regular humans cannot but they are also attracted to his blood and try to eat him a regular basis. He impulsively wishes once that this would stop happening and happens to say this in front of Yuuko, a shopkeeper whose store grants wishes. Ever since he's been doing errands and chores for her to work off his debt and meeting a truly wide variety of humans and yokai.

The Good: Despite what I say below, xxxHolic did have a stronger ending than TRC did (that's a pretty low bar though). I loved the series when it was either standalone chapters or short arcs that showed strange situations and the characters growing up. Plus, I love stories containing spirits and other beasties (as long it doesn't involve a lot of romance mind you) and xxxHolic kept me perfectly satisfied in that respect. Some of the smaller crossovers with TRC did work well (I loved the crossovers in the early days where you would just see items passed between the worlds) and I really want to see someone else pull off the crossover series trick, just with a bit more planning please.

The Bad: I'm reviewing xxxHolic and xxxHolic Rou here and I don't think that Rou was even needed. If the story had actually done something with the plot that wouldn't be the case but there is no change in Watanuki between the end of Rou and the regular series. I'm still annoyed that CLAMP wasted a good opportunity to tie up some of TRC's plot threads* and really, only one of the characters got a good wrap up. xxxHolic was at it's strongest when it only had minimal crossover with TRC because once that series got crazy xxxHolic stopped making a lot of sense as well.

The Art: The art doesn't translate well to animation but as stills it's gorgeous art. This was during CLAMP's streched out people period and their art looks way better than that style should. Each chapter page and cover illustration is meticulously detailed and the artbook spreads will cause enterprising cosplayers to tear their hair out for generations to come. Again, the art didn't translate so well to the anime (hence why I haven't seen much of it) but in still form, once you get used to it, the art fits the series perfectly.

This is a story I want to own someday, and in print too, but I might just hold off buying the Rou part for a long time. Now, I wonder if there are any artbooks for this released stateside....

*Apparently both stories got away from them and ran for much longer than they planned, I know a few members of the group said they needed to re-read Holic to get the ending, never a good sign if you're the co-creator.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Anime Review: Princess Tutu (rewatch)

I first saw this show back in 2008 and liked it enough to buy it right after I finished watching it (plus, TRSI happened to have an ADV sale going at the time) but haven't had time to watch it since. Mostly that's because I've loaned out the series to a few friends over the years and it usually takes MONTHS to get this series back. I kid you not when I say that I loaned this series to a friend in high school, her little sister saw some of the show, fell in love with it, and then ran off with the set and hid it in her room. It literally took me three or four months to get it back that time and similar things have happened a couple other times I've loaned out the show. Actually, I think I'm probably going to be loaning out the show to a few other people soon, at this rate it's a good thing I only loan to people I can easily get in touch with so I can my stuff back!

Princess Tutu

Summary: Once upon a time, a storyteller died with his greatest story left unfinished. But even though his story was unfinished his characters, a prince and a raven, continued to do battle for many years until the raven couldn't take it anymore and burst out of the story. The prince then sacrificed his heart to seal the raven and the story hadn't moved forward since. Until one day a little duck wishes that she can help her sad prince and the storyteller decides that this could make an interesting addition to his tale.

The Good: I was worried that the story wouldn't be as good as I remembered but I think I loved this series even more the second time than I did the first. Even the first half, which plays the traditional magical girl idea more straight, kept me enthralled and it was so interesting to know how the characters would turn out in the end and watching them develop to that point. And then the second half (ie, the reason why this show gets so much praise), I think I was actually squeeing for a good deal of that. One problem I have with so many fairy-tale retelling is that the authors have a hard time walking the line between being too literal or too liberal but in Tutu the show takes so many elements that it practically becomes a fairy tale itself (and a Grimm one too, another big change from the first half to the second). There is so much focus on the plot and twisting it that I can' help but love this show, it's the kind of show (or book) that I go looking for but rarely find.

The Bad: It's really hard to recommend this show because of the title* so please don't be put off by it. Also, while the show certainly has it's moments, it's not an action show so don't expect the characters to solve their goals by fighting. The show is a bit slow paced for some (in the first half anyway, the second half whips by**) and the first half is very much a magical girl show and some people are put off by it. So yes, this is a girly show (to a degree, I think it's the ballet that makes people call it that) but I fail to see this as a bad thing frankly, you never see people complaining that a show like TTGL is "too manly" which sounds suspiciously like a double standard. 

The Art: This is a low budget show so the art and animation aren't the best out there. Granted, I still don't really like the character designs (there's just something about the proportions that feels off to me) but I loved all the ballet sequences. All of them do have a large number of still shots, this is true, but most of the stills show the characters doing a mime (with their thoughts doing a voice-over for those of us who don't know mimes) and I thought that was a very clever way to stretch the budget and still convey the story. So, while I don't think it's the prettiest art, it's very well planned out.

The Music: I remember not liking the opening song the first time I saw this show but I kind of like it now. Not as much as the ending song, which I still think is adorable, but I like it more now. I also enjoyed and noticed the background music in the actual show as well which, most people who've heard of the show probably know, is all classical music from famous ballets. Each episode lists which story it got it's music from in the title and I looked up a few of the songs on a whim, it's pretty surreal to find a video on youtube of music students playing the exact same theme you just hear in Japanese animation. I have seen a few people be dismissive of the soundtrack, since none of the pieces are new compositions, but I honestly can't think of a better way to flesh out a story with strong references to other stories than to go ahead and use the original music. It's not lazy and it works wonderfully.

In short, I love this show to death and it's in my top five favorite anime and I would even buy it again if I have to (and, considering some of my discs are already scratched, I might have to in another five years or so, at least the newer version doesn't have the hideous cover art mine does). And if you're still on the fence about this series, and don't mind a few spoilers, there are some really great AMVs for this show out there. I prefer this one myself,  but this one is responsible for quite a few people watching the show so I'd be remiss to leave it out. So, go watch this, it's streaming on the anime network's site, ANN's site, youtube, I think even hulu now, it's not that hard to find.

*I've found that the best way to do so is to deadpan so that when people give you a weird look or ask "Princess Tutu...?" you can go "Yeah, it's called Princess Tutu, anyway...." and try to turn it into a non-issue. However, I still call it "the best example of why the Japanese shouldn't be allowed to use foreign titles" and I'm sure many of the fandom would agree with me here.
**Partially because the second half of the show only had a 15 minute timeslot, not a full half hour, so there is plenty going on in each episode.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Movie Review: Tangled

Initially when Tangled came out I had no intent to see it since it was yet another Disney princess movie and I haven’t been really interested in those for a long while now (yes I did see The Princess and the Frog but that was more because it was hand animated). But, partially after seeing this post on Sounis (comparing a main character from A Conspiracy of Kings to one of the main characters in Tangled) and partially because it was playing at school (as I’ve said before, I see a lot of movies here because it’s really hard for a movie to not be worth at least the $1 admission) I saw it recently and ended up enjoying it more than I expected.


Summary: Long ago, Rapunzel was the new born princess to a happy king and queen but circumstances of her birth made a witch steal her away and lock her up in a tower, raising Rapunzel as her own child instead. And while she is content with her life in the tower she does long to see the floating lights that appear in the sky every year on her birthday. So when a thief comes to her tower to hide she bullies him into taking her to see those lights and ends up with more of an adventure than she expected.

The Good: From all the trailers I thought that Flynn was the main character (which apparently was the intent of the trailers) so I was happily surprised to find out that Rapunzel was instead and that she was a pretty capable lead*. However, I loved Maximus more than any other character in the movie (actually, the trailers made me think that he was Flynn’s accomplice, not a villain of sorts) and every moment he was on screen was hysterical. A lot of the physical humor was funny actually, I laughed quite a bit and I'd certainly recommend the movie to friends for those gags alone. I was entertained when I saw this movie and that should speak for itself

The Bad: Not my favorite Disney movie (or even Disney Princess movie, Mulan is still my favorite) and Rapunzel acted fairly immature for being 17 or 18 in the movie, wish Disney had just made her 15 or 16 in that case. And I have to admit, one of the early songs with Rapunzel singing about all the things that she did all day (very traditionally feminine things she does all day) just rubbed me the wrong way. No I have nothing against women who enjoy doing things like cooking and cleaning all day (I'm just not one of them) but I felt like Disney was saying "Look at her, she'll be the perfect wife for someone soon!" Just wish she had been a little more, active in her activities, especially considering how active she is in the story later on. Bascially, the horse really was my favorite character and I just didn't like Flynn and Rapunzel as much as I could have.

The Art: I found this post (and this one) after I saw the movie and I’m really amazed at just how much detail the animators managed to stick in this movie. That’s a definite plus to CGI movies I suppose, adding in extra detail without taking up extra time, so I’m glad to see Disney taking advantage of it. I didn’t particularly like Rapunleze’s character design actually (I’ve always thought that Disney eyes are really big, yes this is coming from the anime fan) but the whole movie looked very good.

The Music:
I had forgotten that, since this is a Disney Princess movie, that there would be a lot of singing in it. I didn’t really like any of the songs (which is odd, usually I like at least one of the songs in these movies, as silly as I feel admitting it) but nothing really clicked with me here. Well done music for sure, big orchestra that was well composed but nothing that I loved.

So, I don't have the urge to run out and buy this movie now but I am happy I saw it and did really enjoy parts of it. But I never was as fond of princess stories as other girls were (heck, as a kid I was making up stories about my stuffed animals, especially the bears, and my favorite fairy tale was a toss up between the girl disguised as a boy who saved the prince and the cat and dog who saved the day, I'm just not the target audience here) and I'm still not as fond of them now. Although, I do have the urge to re-read Talking with Dragons now after all the frying pan humor, hmmmmm.

*I approve of having a frying pan as a weapon by the way, ended up reminding me of The Enchanted Forest Chronicles quite a bit and those are some of the books that got me into fantasy in the first place.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Book Review: Fire

This is supposed to be part of a collection of short stories focusing on the various elements, eventually. I remember reading bits of the first book (Water) back in high school and Fire just came out this past year. Part of the delay is that two stories were supposed to be part of this collection but they became full-length novels instead (Sunshine and Chalice) so Robin McKinley has been rather busy. I haven't read any works by the other author, (although I have seen The Ropemaker at my local library) so, enough with the introduction, onto the review!

Fire by Robin McKinley and Peter Dickinson
  Well, the cover works but it isn't that inspired. It's quite possible I'm a bit more cynical about the cover after my business in photography class but looking at it I started figuring out how much the publisher would have paid for a stock image for a North American, English language only release with a one year license. Besides that, I have a bone to pick with the typography (and I never care about the typography!). They used a really cheesy font for the titles that looked like the words had fire in them and I thought it was rather dumb actually, but again, this is just me being nitpicky.

Summary: Five stories involving fire and magic, from dragons to salamanders to hellhounds, fire can be both a destructive element and a protective one as well. As a quick note, the stories in the book are numbered out of order (I think it goes 2, 3, 5, 4, and then 1) and I read them in the order of the numbers. There doesn't seem to be any special reasoning to the numbers so you can read them in any order.

The Good: I liked the story "Hellhound" the most (heh, and after reading McKinley's blog I didn't even have to check and see who the author was) and I thought it was a nice "all the myths are true" story in the end (now that I think about it, the overall mood of the story reminded me a bit of Fire and Hemlock). I also liked "First Flight" (by McKinley again) for it's world building, actually, I remember she did another book about dragons once, I wonder if those two are connected. And that really sums up what I like about her books (aka, why I keep reading them despite all the other issues I have with them), she does some really neat stuff with world building that keeps my enthralled and makes me remember the story when I'm done. So, if you're already a fan of her work, you'll enjoy this one too.

The Bad: Well, I had issues with the protagonists of all the stories really. In Dickinson's stories my problems lay more with the plot now that I think about it (the story started in the beginning, got a bit confusing and then explained EVERYTHING in the end, no hints along the way to figure it out myself and that's what I love to do while reading) and just wasn't that interested in his stories. For McKinley, a lot of her characters are really shy and I find myself yelling at them to explain themselves so the plot can move forward*. It's a problem I have with a lot of her protagonists and perhaps I am being too harsh on them. However, I like characters who do stuff, no matter how small, to advance the plot and her characters just either take too long to do so or are too passive for my taste.

I have heard McKinley say that yes, someday there will be four anthology books someday, it's just that her stories keep getting away from her. "First Flight" was a hundred pages long and one story she was working on for the next anthology (Air) is now a two volume doorstopper (Pegasus, which I haven't read yet but hope to soon). Here's to hoping that they finish with the books soon, within the next ten years at least please?

*Okay, I was a really shy person in middle school and still am a bit shy now but I'm able to at least do stuff, so seeing how I managed to grow but these characters didn't makes it a bit hard to sympathize.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Manga Review: Afterschool Nightmare (volumes 1 & 2)

I mentioned in my review of Afterschool Charisma that I picked it up thinking it was a volume in the series of Afterschool Nightmare, that would be these books actually. It's another series that was published by CMX so I didn't find out about it until after the company folded. I found the first two (out of I believe ten) books up here at the local library (because apparently libraries love CMX and Go Comi manga, all the better for me!) and checked them out after I made off with half of the libraries selection of +Anima and it looks like they don't have the rest, boo.

Afterschool Nightmare by Setona Mizushiro

Summary: Mashio Ichijo has a secret, he identifies as a guy but was born with the lower half of his body female and the story starts with his first period. Later in the day, after discussing with his classmates why they can't remember any of their classmates who recently left, he is called by the school nurse to the secret basement of the school to face his nightmares and the nightmares of his fellow classmates.

The Good: I really like the set-up/setting of this story, fighting in dreams is nothing new and having a bunch of incredibly messed up characters is nothing new either but the story hints that there is something even more sinister going on behind the scenes. Also, there don't appear to be any real good guys in the story yet, everyone seems to have their own agenda or is simply fending for themselves and, with a cast of characters that are this messed up, that should prove to be pretty interesting.

The Bad: But unfortunately the story isn't that interesting yet. It's moving right along, the characters seem to be developing a tiny bit and the story has revealed/dropped clues about a few things, but it just hasn't done anything big yet. I suspect that once Ichijo really starts to develop as a character he'll be a major catalyst in the story and that's when stuff will get answered but nothing so far. Also, some of the romance in here worries me* but crossing my fingers that it's not going to cross that line.

The Art: Nothing really special about the art here. It's shojo (at least I think so) and tells the story but I don't remember being especially impressed by it.

So, I want to track down the rest of this series but I don't know yet if I like it enough to own (ie, reread) it. Hoping to come across the rest of it in libraries but that probably won't happen but I should probably get a move on it, now that the series is OOP I don't want to wait and then find out that the prices skyrocketed since I don't see this one getting a license rescue either.

*As in, please don't play "forced kissing/sexual interaction/rape as love" and the stuff about that I've seen on tvtropes isn't encouraging.....

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Anime Review: Animation Runner Kuromi

First heard about this mini series (it's a set of two OVAs) sometime last summer when Anime News Network announced that they had actually licenesed the series and would be streaming it at a later date. So, since I like to support ANN by watching stuff on their video player (even if it isn't my favorite player, the screen is a little small), I checked out the first OVA over the winter break and was surprised at how much I liked it and watched the second one as well, just wish the DVDs for them weren't so expensive*. Ah, and this is a review of both OVAs, since the second one is a direct sequel I didn't see the need for a separate post.

Animation Runner Kuromi
Summary: After being inspired by a tv show (specifically, a squence in a tv show) years ago, Mikiko "Kuromi" Oguro ends up working at the same studio as an animation runner (someone who makes sure that all the key animators are working on schedule and collects all their work to be sent to in-betweeners). Unfortunately, the head of production becomes ill after she meets him and he makes her the new head and she has to rally all the animators and deal with their insecurities if they want to make the deadline for the show!

The Good: This was not only informative about how an anime is produced (to a degree anyway, I've read a few things about the subject before and this show still taught me a few things and this is supposed to be a parody) and managed to be funny. It's easy to sympathize with Kuromi and you can't help but cheer on the rest of the team as they race towards the deadline (did I mention they have only a week to draw the entire episode? I started having flashbacks to end of the year projects in my high school art class).

The Bad: While I did like the second OVA and it did work as a sequel, it was a bit superfluous. The story was wrapped up well in one and having a second installment with an actual villain felt like the (real) animation company was milking a franchise. Also, I didn't like the conflict in the second OVA as much, in the first we had a man vs the world (the animators vs the deadline) conflict but here we have man vs man (the animators vs the new production guy they, and the viewer, don't like). The story felt a little weaker for it and I just didn't enjoy the second OVA as much. No it wasn't a bad story, I just ended up not liking it quite as much because of the change in conflict.

The Art: Fairly basic art and animation (which I found ironic yet suiting considering that the series is about bossing animators around) but it worked. I was bemused at how the art got extra cartoony at parts (like when Kuromi got annoyed at the animators) since that just seemed right for this show, like the show was constantly breaking the fourth wall by being an animated series about animation. It certainly wouldn't have worked as well as a manga or as a live action movie so, while the art is basic, I have no problems with it.

The Music: I didn't notice that much music in this actually. Sound effects yes (which is oddly appropriate) and there was a song they used in the ending credits but it was a slow song that I didn't pay much attention to. So, if the rest of the review hasn't made it clear already, people watching this need to be in for the story and heart of it, not for super cool art and such.

Hmm, am I the only one who thinks that one of the characters here (second row far right) looks a lot like Jones from Gunnerkrigg Court? Totally different personalities but I couldn't help but think it, it's an amusing coincidence at least. And again, this is streaming over on Anime News Network (I don't know what the region restrictions are, it's for everyone in North America at least) so go check it out!

*And by that I mean, each 40 minute OVA has it's own DVD and the first one goes for about $10 and the second for $15. $25 would be a steal for 13 episodes or I might buy a 4 episode DVD for that but not for just two, sorry!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Movie Review: The Whale Rider

Back in September I read the book version of this (which I believe is the source material) and I liked it well enough. So when I came across the movie at my school library (full disclosure, I was actually looking for The Social Network at the time, that movie gave me so much trouble to track down) and I liked the movie well enough too but again, I just didn't fall madly in love with the story.

The Whale Rider
Summary: In a Maori tribe in New Zealand a grandfather has pinned all his hopes for the tribe's future on his son's unborn son. But unfortunately for him, the son dies in childbirth and his twin sister survives instead and she instead is given the name Paikea (the name of their founding ancestor). She then has to struggle to prove to her grandfather that she is the best person to lead the tribe (which everyone except her grandfather seems to accept anyway) even if she isn't the promised son.

The Good: I remember wondering when I was reading the book why Paikea wasn't the narrator (after all, this is her story and having someone else narrate it made her feel rather distant, as if she was already a legend that was being retold*) so I was happy for that change. The story still wasn't told exclusively from her point of view, ie the story didn't need to have her in the scene to advance and that helped the story from feeling too limited, so while the outside narrator in the book gave the story a bit more depth I still think the narration here worked well.

The Bad: Having seen both the movie and the book now, I really prefer the way the book told the story and didn't get anything new out of seeing the movie instead. I also didn't like a lot of the changes from the book to the movie, Koro is a more confusing character (not complex either, confusing), I'm not sure if the book's narrator is even in the movie (I think so but I'm not positive), and some of the events (like the beached whales) occurred differently from the way they did in the book. It's not a bad book to movie adaptation but it's not the best I've seen either.

The Music: One advantage the movie does have over the book is being able to hear all the Maori spoken (even if the subtitles usually didn't translate it) and chanted. Since this is a story that deals heavily with Maori culture being able to actually hear the language is a rather nice bonus.

The Visuals: While all the underwater shots of the whales were nice (and I am curious how exactly they did those shots) nothing visually about the film really stood out to me. It's just, well, rather normal looking, no cool camera angles, panning, saturation, ect to make it really stand out.

In the end, I think I would rather recommend people the book over the movie version of this story but if people choose to watch the movie instead that's fine too, it just wasn't quite to my taste.

*Which may have been the point now that I think about it but I'm pretty sure that wasn't the author's intent.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Book Review: Magic Under Glass

I first heard about this book about a year ago due to it's cover controversy (more on that down below) and since the book sounded like it had an interesting premise I put it on my mental to read list (well, maybe my physical one too, it's about six pages long in Word so I keep losing track of what's actually on there) and picked it up once I got back to school. So, no cool stories here about tracking down the book so onto the review!

Magic Under Glass by Jaclyn Dolarmore
 This is the aforementioned cover controversy and I still can't believe that this happened twice in 2009. Seriously, the whole argument that "the book cover is there to sell the book" just doesn't work when "the book cover doesn't necessarily represent what the book is actually about," isn't that false advertising?  And another argument that always comes up is "white people don't buy books with people of color on the cover" and I have to ask, does that argument hold as much water as it used to? Yes I know that humanity is shortsighted, bigoted and over all not a nice species but I honestly think that someone's skin tone on the cover doesn't have as much impact as it used to  (especially if "what's on the cover isn't necessarily what's in the book"). Oh, and I like this cover, nice framing of the protagonist and the key is actually relevant to the plot too.
Summary: Nimira is a stranger in a foreign land who is trying to make her fortune (or at least enough to get by on) by singing in low class music halls. But one day she is hired by the sorcerer Hollin Parry to accompany a piano playing automaton which all the servants swear is haunted. Nimira is ready to move back up in the world and take the risk. Besides, even if the automaton is haunted she's sure to keep a level head and deal with the problems as they arise. 

The Good: Nimira is from a character archetype that I really like (I have no idea what to even call the archetype but bear with me). In many stories the hero is the hero because no one else can be the hero, they are special and no one else is quite like them. But here, anyone could have been the protagonist of the story but it's Nimira because of her personality and her cleverness, in a way she earns her position as the main character the way a lot of them don't. This also makes it easier for the audience to connect with the character and, in such a short book (ie, less plotting), that's key to holding the readers attention.

The Bad: Now that I think about it, why did Parry need someone to accompany the automaton (besides the obvious reason that it's a plot device)? And I thought it was odd, and creepy and possibly Sue-ish, that Parry was so taken with Nimira, especially when some of his past comes to light. I usually don't like stories where a girl has two boys interested in her because it comes off as forced and it did feel forced here, the characters seemed smitten with her, not in love. More pages might have helped but the plot is so basic (rescue the prince) that that might not have helped either. Also, in another moment of fridge logic, I'm not entirely sure what the title refers to (the stuff fairies in the library maybe?) and the title of the book should be clear after reading it, very odd.

I actually didn't mind the open ending of the book (I see a lot of people on Amazon saying that it needs a sequel but I think that what they are expecting in a sequel is too predictable, ie, not really worth the time reading) and I think the book ended nicely where it does. As for buying it, while the book was good it was kind of plain without anything truly new or stunning to make me fall completely in love with it. So, while I am very interested to see what this author comes up with next, I don't think I'll be purchasing this book anytime soon.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Manga Review: +Anima

I started reading +Anima maybe four years ago (the stuff I read in high school has really started to blur together now since it was just so much) and I read most of the series but even the scanlation sites didn't have all the volumes. I noticed that at the local public library (the one near my school) seemed to have a lot of the volumes so over break I re-read the volumes I had (1-4), went over to the library and discovered that they did indeed have the rest of the series! So I checked them all out, trotted back to my dorm room, read them all in about two weeks and now have the urge to make plushies out of most of the characters.

+Anima by Natsumi Mukai
Summary: In this world there are people who are called +anima and who possess the ability to partially shapeshift into an animal, an ability that at one point saved each of their lives.  Corro has the +anima of a crow and is traveling around trying to find others like him to be friends with, but who wants to stick around with someone who keeps getting into so much trouble?

The Good: One thing I really liked about this series is that it manages to be both episodic yet by the third or fourth volume each volume has it's own story arc and that really helped it. Another really good thing about this series is that the +anima not being accepted by the rest of society is addressed and brought up very regularly. The fact that the manga did deal with the reality the people are scared and prejudiced really helped me connect with the characters more and made the whole series a little more believable too.

The Bad: To it's credit, the ending (last arc) of this series was foreshadowed and seeds of it were planted very early on but it still felt odd for the series to almost have such a dark ending. The series certainly had it's darker parts earlier on (each of the +anima has a tragic backstory after all) but it still felt a bit out of place to me (the actual ending felt a bit out of place to me too but really there were only two endings this story could take and neither of them would have set well with me).

The Art: My inner cosplayer approves of all the full body shots of the characters and the general character designs, the outfits strike a nice balance between having a good number of details yet not an impossible number of them (and the characters all stayed on model which is very nice). There is a bit of screentone abuse in the art but, since this is a work aimed at younger readers I don't mind as much (I know it sounds odd but it seems to me that shojo and shonen series have more screentones than senien and josei). So, cute art to go with the overall mood of the series.

I know I didn't say a lot on this series but that's because I can sum it up really easily: That was cute without being cavity inducing cute and ended up having a much better plot line than I was expecting. So I totally recommend it, I don't feel the urge to buy the books right now (probably because I'm still up in the air about the ending, plus I've read the first few volumes between half a dozen and a dozen times) but I plan on having them all, as physical books too, someday.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Anime Review: Jyu Oh Sei

Originally I was hoping to review the manga before this since my library had it at one point (heck, I remember reading the first volume back in high school) but the first volume has gone missing, they never had the third, and I couldn't find it any of the bookstores around me or scanlations. So yeah, I'll get around to reading the series another time (I know that I can buy the volumes online in any case) and I liked the story here enough to want to read the original, maybe I can find the volumes at another library...

Jyu Oh Sei (Planet of the Beast King)

Summary: It's the distant future and humanity has colonized one or two solar systems outside of Earth but they have a seriously reduced lifespan for some reason. But that is the least of Thor's worries for the moment, he's just found his parent's slain on the orders of his older brother, the prime minister, and then he and he's twin brother Rai are dumped on the secret planet of Chimera where even the plants are out to kill you. But if Thor survives he can become the Beast King and gain his freedom to challenge his brother and find out the reason for his parent's deaths. 

The Good: This is real true, old style science fiction and, as I've said before, I really do enjoy the genre (probably because I read a lot of it back in early high school). So seeing a sci-fi story where the world isn't perfect (both in the social classes and as in the physical world) and that being the cause of the problems is neat and interesting. The timeskip in the story works well and, while a few things about Thor come off as a desu ex machina, most of those revelations make sense in retrospect and clear up one or two plot holes. Plus, this is one of the few noitaminA series which seemed to work well with 11 episodes. Yes a 12th episode would be nice but, unlike others, the story did manage to wrap up well in 11. 

The Bad: One thing that bothered me within the story was how the women of Chimera were said to be respected and powerful in their own right, the three we meet are all rather weak. They don't seem to win the fights they get into or really accomplish much on their own and that contrary set of statements just didn't sit right with me (also, the original story was written by a woman and it's just weird to see a woman write a story where the women in it are subjected). Other than that, apparently the anime left out a big plot twist at the end and, while the story worked, having heard the spoiler yeah that was kind of a huge thing to leave out of the ending. I wish it had gotten worked in somehow but the story did work despite that.

The Art: Nothing really special about the designs here, the only thing that stood out to me is how the characters are divided up into groups based on how dark their skin is and none of the characters here seemed to have very dark skin at all. My best guess for that is that the manga-ka lived in Japan which doesn't have the variety of skin tones the US does (especially since I live in southern part of the US, lots of dark skinned people around here) and it would have been nice if those characters had some variety in facial features as well but most anime don't do that either (plus, this is based on a shojo manga which isn't well known for being horribly realistic).

The Music: I thought that the opening was a pretty catchy song myself but the ending song confused me a bit. I think it's a love song from Tiz to Thor (that's what the lyrics and the images suggest) but, since Tiz doesn't appear for a few episodes and halfway through the series they go through a timeskip so the characters don't even look the same. And honestly, in a series that's about humanity surviving no matter how much of themselves they lose, a love song just doesn't make sense for the ending.

So, barring the manga being far faaaaar superior to the anime I'll probably buy this sometime (plus, there's a super cheap SAVE version of it, hell, buying the anime may be cheaper than buying the manga) but I'm checking out the manga for sure at some point. It's been on my to read list for a little while actually, that and some other older shojo sci-fi titles, plus older science fiction in general, I swear I'm gonna have time to read it all someday!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Movie Review: Up

Sorry about not posting yesterday, my mom and brother came up to celebrate my birthday (well, a day early since it's actually today) and between that and studying I just didn't have much free time. Actually, I usually post on my twitter if I'm not going to post (and I post all my updates there) so feel free to follow me, I don't post much outside of updates so I swear I won't spam anyone's twitter log.
So the movie I've got today is Pixar's Up which I never saw when it came out a few years ago. But I always heard a lot of good stuff about it and Netflix had it streaming so hey, why not?


Summary: Carl always promised his wife Ellie that someday they would visit Paradise Falls, after falling in love with it after seeing the famous explorer Carl Muntz report on it as children, but they never got the chance before Ellie passed away. So, fed up with developers moving in around him and telling him to move out, Carl attaches a couple tons of balloons to his house to simply fly away instead. But traveling to South America isn't going to be that simple and the tag along Wilderness Explorer (Russel) is the least of his problems....

The Good: Lots of cute little details in this film (making fun of scouts, the dog's voices going strange, all the running gags) and I certainly cracked up more than once. I didn't notice any aimed-at-the-parents humor in this film (there probably were one or two that I just forgot) but it's a good movie for the kiddies. Nice change of setting and the whole premise of an older guy moving his house was pretty new (actually, you don't see that many older protagonists in kid's movies anyway)

The Bad: Geeze, that was the most stereotyped plot line I've seen in a movie in a loooong time. Enter the protagonist who is a good guy but currently not so happy, cue the plucky younger and/or female character who teaches the protagonist how life is worth living again (even though the protagonist has to give up their raison d'etre in the process) end of the movie. So the whole plot is my main complaint with the movie. Yes there were nice details within it but it was such a paint by the numbers deal that I just felt bored.

The Music: It's Disney so lots of orchestral music, a bit of jazz, and the period music at the beginning was a nice touch. As I've said before, music is something I notice more on a re-watch, not in the first viewing so I don't have much else to say about it. But I did really like the little bits of jazz sprinkled in the movie, never understood why I like jazz though.

The Visuals: After seeing Toy Story 3  I'm a little disappointed at the graphics here. There was nothing wrong with them per-say, but seeing something so cartoony after seeing how well Pixar can do humans now I just didn't like the CGI as much. It was pretty colorful though, just not my art style.

So, Wall-e is still my favorite recent Pixar film and with such a predictable plot I don't get why this movie go so much praise. Yes it did the predictable plot well but still, bleh, I just wanted to get more out of it. Hopefully when I see Tangled later this week that'll be more to my liking but not holding my breath over that.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Book Review: Hawksmaid

The last book I got to reading over winter break (and I forgot to say it the other day but Otome Yokai Zakuro was the last of the fall anime as well) and I just wasn't that impressed by the book actually. But I've actually caught up with almost all the books I've read so far, earlier than expected (having 150-200 pages of school reading a week is putting a damper on reading for fun, also it takes a lot of time) so I'll have a little post about that soon. But, even though this book wasn't to my taste, it really wasn't that bad a book and I did understand it so it deserves a review.

Hawksmaid by Kathryn Lasky
I think my library's copy of the book was a bit darker, weird, but this is the right cover. And I like it, nice photorealism (actually, the brighter colors make it look like photoshop filters over real photographs), nice color scheme, and I like how the title and author name frame the hawk. 

Summary: Richard the Lionhearted is fighting in the Crusades while his brother Prince John is causing havoc and ruining lives in England. Matty watched him steal her family's wealth and her friends in the village watch him steal all their livelihoods as well. Matty immerses herself in raising her family's hawks while her friends fight back against Prince John in every way they can.

The Good: Back when I was in middle school, the Middle Ages were the king in fiction (seriously, it was a lot) but recently more of the books have been set in the Victorian period so it was fun to go back and read something different. Felt pretty similar to what I would have read in middle school as well, plucky young heroine proving herself to a bunch of young guys over and over again and eventually being the one who saves the day, I probably would have liked the book a lot more back then. And the emphasis on hawking was pretty neat, I can only recall one other book right now that had that particular hobby* and the little excerpts about hawk keeping at the beginning of each chapter was rather neat.

The Bad: I'm a picky person and one thing I don't like in fiction is when you have a perfectly normal realistic/historical fiction story and then there's one piece of magic that's never explained. Like I said yesterday, I like urban fantasy that balances out magic with realism but that doesn't happen here. The story is perfectly normal up to the last part of the story and then Matty suddenly has the power to posses her hawks and she was literally talking to them earlier in the story. There's no real explanation for this (aside from a "she's just so close to them that they have a special bond" handwave) and that just bugged me more than any other details in the book.

So, not really a book for me but it was worth a shot. I remember reading so much historical fiction (and bibliographies) as a kid that it's sad that I don't have that much historical fiction to read these days (pretty much everything I can find is either realistic or just plain fantasy). If anyone does have a good recommendation or two please post them, I'll certainly look into whatever people suggest!

*Isabel: Taking Wing from the Girls of Many Lands series that American Girl put out years ago, lots of good historical fiction actually, wish I had that much historical to read these days.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Comic Review: Nightschool: The Wiern Books

I remember trying a volume of Yen+  a couple of years back, looked at Nightschool and went "hey, that looks like Svet's art doesn't it?" flipped back to the start of the chapter and lo and behold it was! My friends and I in high school were really big fans of DramaCon (to the point where we nearly had a six way fight for the last book*) so of course I tried this out and enjoyed it pretty well. The series is rather short, only four volumes, although Yen released it too slow for my taste, so here's a review on the complete series.

Nightschool: The Weirn Books by Svetlana Chmakova
Summary: By day the world is normal, but by night shapeshifters, vampires, and weirns (a type of witch) and others walk the streets and live their own lives. And that includes such things as going to school, keeping the peace, and fulfilling ancient prophecies that might destroy the world, wait what?

The Good: I love a good urban fantasy for all the world building in it (I fell in love with the Harry Potter series just for the first scene in Diagon Alley) and the world here feels new and creative while still being familiar enough to keep it realistic. Most of the characters are a bit flat (I think if the story had focused more on one storyline they would've been more fleshed out) but still interesting enough and I liked Alex as a main character (true her attitude is a lot like Matt's from DramaCon but as soon as she realizes something has gone wrong she takes initiative and goes out to investigate it).

The Bad: I really didn't like the ending (I'm really not a fan of retcons) and I'm frustrated that Svet says she wants to continue the series but is working on anther series right now**. Yes the overall arc was wrapped up (although several side plots weren't resolved at all, Alex's curse for one thing) but it felt unsatisfying in the end. Plus, the hunter's side of the story felt really extraneous in the end and I feel like the story would've moved quicker without them and allowed for greater world building (and, judging by the extras in the final volume, a lot of work did go into the world building).

The Art: Very similar to DramaCon's art (duh) but slightly more refined. Less chibis (although they still make an appearance), lots of screen tones, and nicely detailed backgrounds. The character art is still rather simple but all the characters look fairly distinct and none of them look like expies from her other works.

So, I enjoyed parts of the story and got really annoyed by the ending of it. It's a series I would have prefered borrowing from the library instead of having to buy myself (and this is why I use my library and scanlation sites so much, I keep reading series where I don' t like the endings) but oh well. Currently Svet is working on some comic adaptation of a book (I think it's by James Patterson) and, since I didn't like his other work that much (Maximum Ride) that's a pass and it'll probably be a while before I read anything new of hers again.

*And when I say nearly I mean, it was actually only a five way fight since I bought the third volume, read it, and then let my four friends plus the French exchange student we'd converted to DramaCon (she already read manga) duke it out.
**More like worried actually, she already has two incomplete series and I have no idea how well this one sold. Plus, like I said, Yen Press put this series out so slowly that even if she did restart the series it would be awhile before it even came out as a paperback.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Anime Review: Otome Yokai Zakuro

When this series showed up on the fall anime chart it looked cute but I wasn't expecting, well, anything from the series. As much as I enjoy shojo, their romances are hit and miss with me and this one looked pretty romance heavy. To my delight however this one made the romantic pairings clear from the start and then focused on all the characters developing relationships with each other, hurray for the worst cliches averted!

Otome Yokai Zakuro

Summary: In an alternate history, the Department of Spirit Affairs is a newly created division in the Japanese government meant for dealing with affairs between humans and spirits. On the human side we have three young, good looking soldiers and on the spirit side we have four young, cute half spirit girls. All of them are paired up and deal with various problems concerning spirits and humans, as well as figure out their feelings for each other.

The Good: Like I said, the characters are paired up the way fans would've paired them up (romantically) anyway and it's clear from the start that they all have good chemistry and so there isn't much "will they or won't they?" in the series. The characters also grow into these relationships so by the end of the series it feels perfectly natural that they have feelings for each other and the whole group feels nicely balanced out as well.

The Bad: Had some issues with the ending, to keep it as spoiler free as possible, it involved a lot of emotional build-up that was tossed away in a comedic manner in the end and that always annoys me. And, to be completely honest, even though the show was fun to watch while it was airing, it's not a very memorable show. Sure I remember the plot and everything that happened, but it's hard to remember why I liked the characters so much or what the spark that made it good was. It just really doesn't do enough to stand out from the crowd and in the end it didn't particularly make me want to go out and find the rest of the story.

The Art: Like I said above, it was the cute looking art work that drew me into the series and it's a nice adaption of the screentone heavy original manga art. Actually, if you look at the opening in the first episode and check a few episodes later you'll notice that they added in extra details to the girl's outfits to make them more like their manga counterparts. No reason to do it (they also changed the shot of the villain after their reveal) but I love little details like that.

The Music: There were multiple ending songs song by the different pairs but, since crunchyroll didn't translate them, I really don't have an opinion on them. Actually, they didn't sub the opening either and since I can't find subs of the song I don't really have an opinion on that either. They all sound rather pretty but not knowing what a song means really takes away from it. There was one super short insert song (technically a chant) that the girls sing before a fight (basically it's asking if they are humans or demons, a question that the rest of society is grappling with) that CR did sub and that one fit them perfectly. Short, sweet, and subbed, good all around!

So, with Squid Girl I could see myself buying that and watching it again/loaning it out to friends, but I can't see myself watching this again. Maybe someday I'll have the urge to watch it again and hopefully it'll still be on crunchyroll but for the moment I'll keep my fingers crossed for licensing announcements for other titles instead.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

TV Series Review: Torchwood (season one)

Sorry this is late guys, I had about half of this written up yesterday and then my evening was way more busy than I expected and was nodding off when I tried to write the rest. So just as a heads up, I might have to switch to an every other day update schedule but I'm going to try to keep the reviews daily as long as I can. 
So, Torchwood! Appropriately enough I watched this with the same friends who introduced me to Doctor Who last year (TW is a spin-off from DW). Also a bit funny since RTD was the show runner for both series and his style of writing/directing is really distinctive. Although, like the first few seasons of the new DW series, this season was a bit rocky.

Summary: With the number of aliens coming to Earth each year, and the trouble of keeping them hidden from the general public, it's no surprise that many countries have created their own response teams. Torchwood 3 is located by a giant space-time rift in Cardiff Wales and are soon joined by the plucky Gwen Cooper in their quest to keep the city alien free.

The Good: Some of the episodes were pretty interesting, ie, ended up being quite different than I expected. The fairy episode and the one with the monster in the middle of nowhere had some interesting twists at the end and the time travel one turned out a bit different than I expected. Really liked the 1940s episode for the setting and the characters were actually clever in this one. Yes there was still angst but they seemed more focused on solving the problem this time around, might look it up to see if that one had a different episode writer or such.
The Bad: Like I said above, some episodes were hits and some were misses. Torchwood was created to carter to the older Doctor Who audience so it's also "edgier" which, as far as I can tell, means that everyone angsts more and tries to solve every problem using sex (spoiler alert, usually doesn't help). So the characters by and large are rather annoying (maybe I would talk with them at a party but I really wouldn't want to deal with them more than once or twice), the season didn't have an overarching theme/villain/motif (which is what I liked about RTD era DW) and the ending was abrupt. Yes I know it crosses over at that point but frankly, if I wasn't interested in seeing DW and saw that season ending I would've been really annoyed.

The Music: I heard the opening theme plenty of times while watching this (mainly because the DVD player was being finicky and it took forever to get the DVDs to play) so it's a good thing that I actually like it. Just a short bit of music with a fast tempo that isn't used as prominently in the series as it does on the DVD menu but it would probably make a cool ringtone. Other than that, music really is something I notice more on the re-watch of a series than the first time but I like the period music in the WWII episode.

The Visuals: The CGI is a bit worse than DW (so that is to say, lower end of average) and, as the image above suggests, visually it's pretty dark in a lot of places, I think my friends had the tv brightness turned way up to see it. The settings worked however, some very nice clothing for the 1940s episode and none of the sets looked overused to me. So, it's not the most visually interesting show out there but it works, rather average I suppose.

So, this was kinda a week season actually. There were some things I liked but if I hadn't been watching with friends I might've actually dropped the show. As it stands, still planning to watch season two with them, since both of them had the same problems with the season I did and said they liked the second one better, and if that goes well I'll watch Children of Earth and wait for season four, Immortality Day.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Book Review: The Exiled Queen (A Seven Realms Novel book two)

Like the title says, this is the second book in the series (I think it's a trilogy, that's what the website says anyway) and I read the first book, The Demon King, last year and just didn't like it. I really did like Chima's previous trilogy (now a series, maybe that's why I'm confused), The Heir Series, because of the setting (finally Ohio gets a bit of love!) and the magic was interesting but I just wasn't drawn into this new series (and, now that I think back on it, I had major issues with the last book in The Heir Series as well, huh). I didn't manage to connect with the leads, the setting alternatively confused me and bored me (it came off as Native American culture mixed with Irish culture but I don't think it was supposed to be interpreted like that) but it did have a saving grace in the ending. I was expecting the ending to contain the "oh, we'll accidentally reveal our secret identifies to each other and create an uneasy truce and fall in love after being tsundere at first" cliche. Heck, that still hasn't happened in this book and I did enjoy this book more so I'm hopeful about the third book.

The Exiled Queen by Cinda Williams Chima
I really like this cover (and The Demon King 's cover ) because the cover is simple, has a good color scheme, the title/author name on their side is intriguing, and it has an item on the cover that is actually important in the story (and actually looks like the object in question too!).

Summary: Continuing from where the first book left off, Princess Heir Raisa flees the Fells with a small group of body guards and the forced (and illegal) marriage to Micah Bayer, a wizard, to hide in Oden's Ford (a giant school for magic, soldiers, musicians, and other arts). Ironically enough, Hans Allister, newly a wizard, and Fire Dancer are on a mission from the Clans to study wizardry at Oden's Ford to combat the other wizards in the capital. But there are enemies everywhere for both of them and who knows how long either of them can stay inconspicuous. 

The Good: Like I said above, the series has managed to avoid a really big cliche so far and by the end of the book Han and Raisa are developing a much better and more natural relationship with each other. They're still holding back secrets and I think I see how this is going to end but it's working well so far. Interesting to see some of the younger villains get fleshed out more and the story introduced quite a few other characters I hope to see return (mostly because it'll seem like a cheap trick if they don't). This book also expanded the setting considerably and now has enough material for more than three book and I'm sure the civil wars in the neighboring countries will figure into the upcoming book(s) so that should be interesting.

The Bad: Alright, Hans says he's a character who doesn't go looking for trouble but for the first half or so of the book he got into trouble every two pages he's present. And every time it's him rising to provocation and he acknowledges it (and if Dancer is present he's always going "don't!"). I was using stronger words than Dancer and, while I don't mind an untruthful narrator this wasn't even that, this was just watching Hans be an unlikeable idiot for a lot of chapters (and at the same time Raisa was mooning over one of the boys due to a lack of communication, gah, which wasn't that much more interesting). I did like the characters more towards the end of the book

So, the books are door-stoppers, I'm annoyed at the leads half the time, plot needs more politics (well, that's a IMO thing)  and I'm still not drawn in by the setting but I still want to see this series through to the ending. Partially because of how much time I've already spent reading it, partially because I'm hoping with the story back in the Fells with more mature characters we'll have some political maneuvering. So, not giving up hope yet, although I do hope the series isn't longer than four or five books.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Manga Review: Sand Chronicles (volume 1)

I'd seen ads for this series in the back of various Shojo Beat brand books for years but something about the tag-line always made it come as a rather presumptuous series. Just something about people calling it a really mature story made it sound, well, pretentious, or maybe I was reading abotu Ashihara's other series, Socrates in Love. In any case, no it's not pretentious at all actually and rather good.

Sand Chronicles by Hinako Ashihara
Summary: Ann Uekusa's life goes from normal and happy to shattered when her parents divorce and she finds her and her mother living with her grandmother in the countryside.  But while Ann is able to make new friends and start adjusting to life outside of Tokyo, her mother seems to be having a hard time readjusting to her older life and seems to be giving up on life all together.

The Good: Wow, and not to knock shojo in general, but that was way deeper than I was expecting (but I made that clear in the opener). Ann is still a little too young to have real relationship drama yet but the drama involving her mom was done well and not drawn out. The story hasn't used any really bad romantic cliches yet (actually, the only one that made me roll my eyes was the unlucky-in-love classmate one) so hopefully this will be a love story that I actually like.

The Bad: Having a little bit of a hard time remembering the details of the story now actually which isn't a good sign and I'm worried that the story is going to lose the family/personal/growing up drama that I liked and replace with generic romance drama in future volumes. I know the story is going to have a lot of romance regardless (heck, the story starts off with Ann moving out to get married and reminiscing about what happened after the divorce) but I really don't want it to lose that focus on the other problems life has as well.

The Art: Nothing spectacular or really distinguishable about the art. It does it's job, looks nice, and isn't too hard to follow, but it's not art that I would want a separate art book for.

I looked up a bit of info about this series and it's only ten volumes long (which for me is a fairly short series) and Viz has released all of them thank goodness. Actually, I noticed that the local library had a collection of old Shojo Beat issues and I was hoping I could read the rest of the story there (since I don't know yet if I like it enough to buy and re-read it) but alas they are missing all of 2007 and Sand Chronicles (like Honey and Clover which I was also hoping to read more of in the magazines) started then so it doesn't look like that'll work out after all. Oh well, maybe if I poke around I'll be able to find it somewhere else, and no I actually don't mean scanlations.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Anime Review: Squid Girl

Another show that was totally under my radar until I saw some good reviews for it when the series started. I don't usually watch that much comedy anime actually since usually I'm just not in the mood for it but somehow just an episode or two of this show every week felt right and it was pretty funny.

Squid Girl (Shinryaku! Ika Musume)
Summary: Squid Girl has become fed up with the way that humans pollute everywhere and has decided to conquer the world in order to stop it. She makes a small restaurant by the sea her base but, between working there to pay off damages and the fact that no one takes her seriously, this could be harder than she expected.

The Good: One reason I normally avoid comedies (and this really applies to all mediums actually) is that it's really hard to be funny and stay funny for more than a short period of time. Squid Girl gets around this by having three parts to each episode (so about seven or eight minutes long each) and each involve a different situation that Ika-chan is experiencing. The show actually reminds me a little of Yotsuba&, everyday situations that Ika-chan is completely mystified by and does some pretty strange/amusing stuff in reaction to it.

The Bad: The show tried to end the season by using two sections to show Ika-chan's farewell and what happened next but I honestly don't think it worked very well. Yes since there is no guarantee of a second season you do need to come up with an ending but it just didn't feel right. And of course, some skits worked less well than others (the one with the turning dolls was more creepy than anything else) and that will come down to personal preference more than anything else.

The Art: The picture up there pretty much sums it up, it's pretty cutesy (I would even call it semi-moe), simple style of art that works with the unserious manner of the series and there's not much else to say about it. Although, Squid Girl's design is really cute, I might need to make a plushie out of her sometime soon.

The Music: Now that is a peppy opening song, it almost scared me off the first time I watched it. It certainly does work within the series but it honestly feels like you took an already peppy Japanese idol, gave her a week's worth of sugar in one go, and then had her sing the song. The ending song is much more mellow (note, I have no idea what the lyrics for either song are) and I liked how a few details changed from episode in the otherwise still image. 

I've seen a lot of people say this show is similar to Sgt. Frog (and the premise does sound similar I'll admit) but I haven't seen any of the anime/read the manga recently enough to comment on that. It's on my to-watch list actually, just very low on it.