Saturday, June 30, 2012

Book Review: Two Moon Princess

Another book from the Enchanted Inkpot giveaway, although I'll confess that I kept reading the title as Two Moon Princesses and was rather confused for a while why there seemed to be only one princess in the story (well, only one who can be called a main character in any case). But enough of my silly mis-readings of words, onto the review!

Two Moon Princess by Carmen Ferreiro-Esteban
Summary: Andrea is the youngest princess of the country of Zeltia and would rather be a knight than a princess much to the disapproval of her traditional father and even more traditional mother. But her fate begins to look up when she discovers a mysterious passage between her world and California, the birthplace of her mother, although she may have created a terrible problem in the process.

The Good: While the setting is still Western-European-Medieval it's much more heavily inspired by Medieval Spain than say Medieval England which was a nice change of pace and I can't remember the last time I read a story that didn't have a 12 month/365 day calender. Actually, the setting feels a bit more Renaissance than strictly medieval which is also a nice change of pace, although I wish it had a chance to talk more about the ancient civilization that they keep giving tantalizing hints about.

The Bad: Overall the book was just a bit, well, bland and I could never get into the story even though it had a lot of things that should have endeared me to it such as politics and a bit of a different setting (I will admit that as much as I like that it's set in a world that doesn't have a 365 year day it made figuring out character equivalent ages rather difficult and frustrating). Andrea's story is nothing new, her mother is complicated for reasons that never seem to be fully (or even partially) explained, it's painfully obvious that Andrea's friend from California is an idiot, and the romance towards the end felt a bit awkward. 

I know it's a bit of a quick review but it's true that it's much easier to write a review about something you love or hate and this book was just so bland that there's not a lot to talk about. It did have a solid ending but it's another book I'm going to pass along to the library and hope that others enjoy it more than I did.   

Friday, June 29, 2012

Manga Review: Ooku: The Inner Chambers (volumes 1-4)

I believe I reviewed the first volume of this quite a while ago, I know I've at least read it before (which reminds me, I need to tell the librarians that this series should be in the nonfiction/adult comic section, not next to all the kiddie comics) and while it didn't grab me enough to go out and buy the other volumes un-read it did grab me enough to track down the other volumes my library system had. According to the Japanese Wikipedia there are seven (out of a projected ten) volumes out in Japan right now (and I'm guessing another one should come out soon) and according to The Right Stuf volume 7 will be out in the US in about two weeks. So four volumes covers a good chunk of the series so far and I think it gave me a pretty good feeling for it.

Ooku: The Inner Chambers by Fumi Yoshinaga
Summary: In an alternate Japan, a plauge has struck that spans decades and by it's end the male population of Japan is reduced down to just one-fourth of the female population. Desperate times call for desperate measures with women assuming almost all the major roles of society, from the lowly peasant farmer all the way up to shogun and the shogun's Inner Chambers are now staffed with dozens of young men instead of women. But this was hardly a smooth transition nor a speedy one and everything still feels rather delicate, as if a single action could shatter everything that has been rebuilt. 

The Good: While it can be hard to tell some of the characters apart with such a large cast, by and large all of the major characters are each era are quite well fleshed out and grow as well. The characters are the main draw of the series but I also enjoyed the well-thought out politics and the tiny bit of musing on gender roles the series provided me with (namely that gender roles are more nurture than nature but even with the reversal of men and women that people, usually the guys, will still act in certain ways). Overall it was an interesting, satisfying read, although it did have one huge problem with it.

The Bad: The story starts in one time period (which we are led to believe is present time) and then spends three volumes in a flashback chronicling how Japan went from a male dominated society to a female led one and, while interesting, I would like to get back to the “present” time soon. There is still more to go, I would think at least a volume (going by how enormus the character list on the Japanese wiki is, and while I can see why the story was framed as it was (I can’t deny that it’s much more interesting this way), multi-volume flashbacks just get a bit tedious after a while and I wish that they had either been shorter or somehow connected back to/interspersed with scenes from the present day. Also, as I mentioned just above, since there are so many characters to keep track of I would suggest reading these volumes in quick succession of each other, I think it would be much harder to follow based on it's one-volume-a-year publishing schedule. And finally, a problem that seems to be unique to the US translation, the idea of using psuedo-Shakespeare speak to mimic the old-fashioned Japanese which does not work in the slightest. There were literally pages where I could not understand what the characters were talking about and had to skim until I could again. This isn't a minor problem either, when I first heard about this I thought fans were over-reacting but no, the books are nigh un-readable at parts and that makes it very hard to recommend them.

The Art: Yoshinaga seems to have gotten a bit better at drawing character’s faces since Antique Bakery (ie, she can draw more, distinct faces than she could before, see only six faces syndrome) and while I did have to rely on hair style at times, the cast is so large it’s unsurprising that there is some overlap still, it never looked like she was recycling designs. She also uses chibi faces less, which is more to my tastes, and everything was nicely detailed. I believe these, SigIkki, volumes are a little larger than normal and I also really liked their size and presentation.

So, while I would read more of the series, and there's already only a small pool of people I'd recommend it to, that translation job really prevents me from wanting to re-read the show and is a pretty huge caveat as well. I would just love to know if that was an idea on the part of the American translation staff or if this was some weird request the Japanese publishers made. 

Monday, June 25, 2012

TV Series Review: The Legend of Korra

I have decided to start my end of spring/beginning of summer reviews a week earlier than planned since once again I looked at my list of shows and realized at this rate I'm not going to finish up until August (as it is I might have to start reviewing two shows a week, we shall see) and since I finished up Korra about 12 hours before I finished Fate/Zero 2 it's up first! Obviously I haven't had a chance yet to get along with my re-watch of the first show but given that the second season is still in production (so I'm not expecting it before fall 2013 to be completely honest) it'll give me something to do during the break.

The Legend of Korra
 Summary: 70 years after the end of the first series and 17 years after the death of Aang, the new Avatar Korra has masted water, earth, and fire bending and is eager to start her airbending training (despite the fact that she is the complete opposite of spirituality from Aang and as a result has never been able to airbend). But Tenzin, Aang's son and the only airbending master in the world, has other matters on his plate since he is also in charge of governing a new nation, Republic City (formed from the oldest Fire Nation colonies in the Earth Kingdom whose cultures had become so entwined it was decided that it was better to let them continue to co-exist than separate), where anti-bender sentiments are on the rise. Korra decides that she will go to him then and gets entangled in pro-bending, romance, and politics.

The Good: I will admit that Korra isn't a terribly original character if you were to genderflip her, she's rather similar to a lot of shonen protagonists, but I still do love the concept of having a late teenaged, female, not-white, protagonist of a show, not in a school setting, who is, well, brash and young for lack of a better phrase. I do believe Korra grows in the show, not tons but certainly some, but more than that I do hope her presence of tv (combined with stuff like The Hunger Games and Brave) show off that yes, people will watch action shows with a female lead. I do like a lot of the characters on this show regardless, Asami in particular (I do like how she and Korra were female characters but more nucanced than "one is a girly-girl and the other is a tomboy") but also some of the older cast including Tenzin and Lin Bei Fong. I also loved the setting, partially because (as I have made it clear before) I love the 1920s as a setting and technology was always a part of the original show from very early on so I didn't find it jarring. Finally I was amazed at just how political a kids show got to be (yes people, this is rated Y7 or youth, seven year olds, Nick is clearly crazy) and those episodes were my favorite ones of the show. 

The Bad: One big thing that the internet has been practically screaming about for the past few days, yes this show had some serious pacing issues which were most apparent in it's finale. Given how well the original show was paced I cannot believe that the creators weren't aware of the problems here (which I know I know, doesn't make it better) and, based on some information from interviews, I do wonder who made the final call that the show should be 12 episodes instead of 20, Nick or the creators. Again the finale had the most trouble here, it also created some problems with the romantic subplot I wasn't as happy about (although I have no trouble with that subplot as a whole) and I desperately hope that the second season ties up some of the loose ends here otherwise I will be unhappy with it. The show simply had too many things it tried to include (hence my thoughts that it was the decision of Nick, not of Bryke, to make the show only 12 episodes) yet I cannot figure out a way to cut anything major in order to help with the pacing.

The Audio: The Track Team returns in to continue composing for the show and, while I don't think they quite suceeded with the premise of "if jazz was invented by the Chinese" the tracks were gorgeous regardless. There are some more jazzy pieces in this series and there are plenty that make full use of the more traditional instruments that serenaded the original show and really hope that the music gets a full release this time around. As for the voice acting, I didn't like some of the voices oddly enough (Older!Aang and Older!Toph sounded off to me and Dante Basco's character sounded at least five years younger than they looked) but overall I liked the main cast and thought they did a good job throughout.

The Visuals: While there were several shows airing this season that had some great looking fight sequences, such as Fate/Zero 2 and Accel World, they often had so many effects and fast cuts that the fights themselves were almost hidden from the viewer and at times it was hard to tell how good looking everything was. Korra never had this problem and was able to show off it's amazing choreography to the fullest and even when the characters weren't fighting there was a great amount of detail in the backgrounds. I do wonder if Nick plans to release this show on BR (given that the original show was released on DVD I do believe there is at least a DVD release planned down the line), although I'm not 100% sure that the visuals are enough to make me choose a BR over a DVD.

In short, I still love the show but there are certainly problems with it (outside of the finale the biggest problem is that there weren't any downtime episodes to get character development, I think Asami probably had more than Mako and certainly more than Bolin did) but hopefully those next 14 episodes will help. Fingers crossed in any case! 

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Movie Review: Redline

I've been interested in this movie for a little while now, not because of it's plot (which reminds of the Speed Racer movie, which isn't a bad thing but rather a silly thing) but because of the gorgeous looking visuals which reportedly took ten years to draw and there isn't a drop of CGI to be found in it. Got the DVD out from the local college library (I had forgotten there is a two-dvds-at-a-time limit there though, grrr, this messes with my plans a bit) and well, onto the review!


Summary: Every year the most dangerous car race in the galaxy is held, Redline, only open to a select number of racers and held in a new, surprise location each year. This year the setting is Roboworld, whose rulers are not happy at the prospect of the racers coming and possibly discovering their military secrets, and among the racers is driver Sweet JP whose been in and out of jail for helping to fix races in the past. But here he's in it to win it this time, although to do that he'll first have to survive it. 

The Good: In short, this movie was just plain fun to watch and really engaging, I wasn't bored for a minute and the movie had my full attention the entire time. It was also paced incredibly well, it perfectly balanced the build-up to the race and the race itself without either part feeling too drawn out or too short. JP and Sonoshee, another racer, were both more fleshed out than I expected and I was rather happy to see that Sonoshee wasn't just a pretty face but had some brains and character, honestly I wasn't expecting that out of any of the characters. It was a thoroughly fun watch which I would recommend to any fan of animation, although I don't think the appeal is wide enough for a non-animation fan to really get into it.

The Bad: I do wish that the setting had been explored a little more (some parts, such as Roboworld, are surprisingly fleshed out so I wish the characters had worked in a sentence or two about some of the other worlds as well) but that’s just a little nit-pick of mine, clearly the film works just fine without that.

The Audio: The music here reminded me quite a bit of the soundtrack for the JRPG The World Ends With You although they appear to have different composers. Actually, it appears that the man who did the music, James Shimoji, hasn't done any other work but I'd be rather interested to hear some more from him, the music had a real style and flair to it and impressively enough managed to not be overwhelmed by the visuals but rather add to them. I watched the Japanese dub since I have heard that the English one is not outstanding and the voices here worked fairly well. Nothing amazing but this wasn't a movie which required the actors to voice a wide range of emotions so this wasn't a problem at all.

The Visuals: The visuals are the biggest draw for this movie by far, I’ve heard that it took a full ten years to animate and there’s not a single piece of CGI used both of which I would believe. The art looks incredibly retro and not quite Japanese or American, while I can think of many Western series that have varied aliens and alien settings there’s just something Japanese about the designs. And, despite the fact that the art looks incredibly retro, there’s never been another movie or show that looks quite like this, certainly none with that art style and fluidity of motion, and it made me feel oddly nostalgic for something that didn’t exist. After seeing this movie I really wanted to check out more films like it but artwise there simply aren’t any other like it, despite the fact it looks like it’s from another era where there should be a dozen similar looking shows, and it’s a strange feeling to find something that seems familiar yet at it’s heart is completely new.

I was hoping I'd enjoy this movie, although not certain I would since I like my stories heavy on the plot, but it was quite fun and I can easily see myself getting a copy of the blu-ray someday and rewatching it. 

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Book Review: Spice and Wolf volume 5

So it appears that before I did have a good reason to worry that Yen Press had only licensed the first six (novel) volumes of Spice and Wolf since that was the case, however recently they announced they had licensed I believe the next three which actually makes me less worried. Sure the whole, 17 volume series isn't licensed but licensing through volume 9 shows that there is a market for them (or at least, the series is selling at or above what they predicted) and that they will license more if there is demand for them. So I guess my job now is to keep reviewing the books and convincing everyone else that they're worth buying huh?

Spice and Wolf (volume five) by Isuna Hasekura, illustrated by Jyuu Ayakura

Summary: Covering the same material as the second arc of the second tv season, Holo and Lawrence have arrived in the town of Lenos where they have heard a town chronicler might have more records of where Holo’s elusive home of Yoitsu lies. A fellow merchant introduces them to him but they want some help in return, help with a risky endeavor involving the town’s fur trade that might end up being more than they can chew.

The Good: The books continue to excel in creating secondary characters that don’t feel like repeats of an earlier side character and are rather fleshed out for characters who (probably) won’t ever appear in the series again. This is a bit easier to accomplish in a story that spends a lot of time with the characters sitting around and talking but when you think about it it’s impressive just how many characters Hasekura has been able to create without repeating traits (and there are still 12 more books to go!). There was also some very good foreshadowing this time around and once again felt like a solid installment.

The Bad: So far the stories have been rather good at explaining the economics and politics that make up the various situations and I’ve been able to follow along (and having already seen many of the stories in anime form has helped) but this one did confuse me quite a bit. This didn’t make me like the story less per-say but when everything was said and done I wasn’t quite sure what had happened and I do hope the economics in the next book are easier to follow.

Despite my trouble with the economic parts I still thought this was a good installment, although I must confess I'm more excited for the next book since then we'll be dealing with completely new material again. Funny enough by now I really want to watch the anime series again, it's been a few years since I've seen it, I've now read all the source material, and Funimation has some rather good prices for both seasons now, hmmmm.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Comic Review: Cautionary Fables and Fairy Tales

Back in 2011 I remembered hearing about Womanthology (a comic anthology that was going to be filled with comics only by female creators) and, while I found the idea interesting, after learning that the creators weren't getting paid from the kickstarter (I think all the money was going to printing with the leftovers being donated to charity) I wasn't really keen on supporting it. So when I saw this one where I was already a fan of some of the creators and they said that they were getting paid for the work here I decided to put my money where my mouth was instead of putting my foot in my mouth. I wasn't sure if I should review this or not at first however since it seemed odd to review something everyone else can't buy but I have since found out that you can still purchase a copy of this anthology, you can go to this page for more information for where to buy. Anyway, this will be more of a summary/general thoughts on the anthology since each story is rather short and it's a bit hard to review short things. But hopefully it'll still be a good overview of the anthology and give people an idea if they want to get a copy for themselves or not.

Cautionary Fables and Fairy Tales (anthology featuring Kate Ashwin, Kory Bing, Mary Cagle, KC Green, Kel McDonald, Joe Pimenta, Katie and Steve Shanahan, and Lin Visel)

An anthology featuring eight stories from nine different comic artists, all based off of classical fairy tales with some being better known than others, most never before published in print or online.

About half of the anthology featured stories I was already familiar with (such as Jack and the Beanstalk and Rapnuzel), and the other stories were completely new to me (Bisclarvet, The Nixie of the Mill Pond)which made for a nice balance. The only story I really disliked was K.C. Green’s The Singing Bone and the story wasn’t bad, I simply don’t like the way they do storytelling and their art style, it’s just a matter of personal preference. On the other end of the spectrum, Bisclarvet (by Kel McDonald) was my favorite of the group and felt like something I could have seen on Jim Henson’s The Storyteller since it was paced so well and told a very tidy story with no details left unused. There was a nice variety of stories, some sort, some long, a completely silent one, some comedy, and a whole range of art styles. I think all of that makes it a rather successful anthology and, while I might re-read it on a regular basis, I am happy that I supported the kickstarter for it.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Anime Review: Ozma

It seems like every season there is one show that airs a month or so earlier than everything else and this time around the show was a six episode OVA based on a concept by Leji Matsumoto. I haven't seen any works that he's actually, well, created since I don't think he had much to do with this project, so I thought this might be a good place to dip my toes into the Lejiverse and then try out some other series later. Although it turns out this might not have been the best one to start with....


Summary: At some point in the future Earth has undergone a massive desertification and the only people left seem to be "Ideal Children" (seemingly immortal people who were created through genetic modification long ago) and "Naturals" (who were also modified long ago but have since lived and reproduced normally). Sam Colin's belongs to the later group and while looking for the legendary sand whale OZMA one day he comes across the mysterious Maya who is being chased by the army of the Ideal Children. He brings her back to the sand ship captained by an old friend of him and his brother, Bainas, and the resulting power struggle for Maya could set the course for the future of the entire planet.

The Good: The battles in the sand were genuinely interesting and tense to watch, you don't often see submarine style tactics in a show and I thought those were the best parts of the show. The side character Mimay got more development than I was expecting, probably more than Sam did in the end, and oddly enough the other character I thought was the most fleshed out was the captain Bianas, odd simply because they were two female side characters, not the leads. The premise had the potential to be interesting but sadly it just didn't deliver in the end.

The Bad: I've heard that the original concept of Ozma was for a movie and it shows, the plot already feels stretched over just six episodes and despite that it feels rather lacking in a lot of areas. Every single character, except perhaps Bainas, needs more character development, and the setting needs a lot of fleshing out as well. We, the viewers, know there is a conflict going on but the details about what it's actually about are rather scarce, overall I was more disappointed than impressed by this work.

The Audio: Funny enough the opening song was in English on the legal English streaming sites but was in Japanese for the Japanese broadcast, don't think I've ever seen a show do that. Other than that, none of the music really stuck out to me. Actually, the ending music was so plain that I didn't even watch it all the way through and missed the foreshadowing in it, oops.

The Visuals: As I am quickly discovering, Matsumoto draws a lot of rather similar character designs and the not-important characters had incredibly simple designs (which in an odd way dated the show, or at least the concept) and the show wasn't as visually interesting as I was hoping for. I've seen a number of other people complain that the animation was cheap looking and, although I still can't differentiate between average and crappy animation unless I'm really paying attention, since I saw that complaint from so many people in multiple places that I'll take their word for that.

So a miss, the show is streaming on Crunchyroll and Viki but honestly I wouldn't recommend it to anyone, there are better desert sci-fi shows out there and I suspect there are much better Leji Matsumoto shows out there too.   

Sunday, June 17, 2012

TV Series Review: Supernatural (season one)

And it's back to the tv shows! Ever since I started this blog and started making a real effort to try out more American/British tv shows (that weren't animated) I've been amazed at just how much stuff is out there and just how much time it's going to take to try out everything that catches my eye. And for that reason I'm quite grateful to Netflix Instant, since I have quite a few friends who love Supernatural it was invertible that I would try out the show someday and I was quite happy that I didn't have to resort to renting one DVD at a time from Netflix (which, while it isn't the worst way to watch a show is not my preferred way). In any case, onto the review!


 Summary: Sam and Dean Winchester were raised by their father after their movie died under mysterious circumstances while Sam was just a baby and grown up learning the family business, killing demons. Sam wants nothing to do with any of this but when Dean shows up at his apartment telling him that dad hasn't been home for a few days he's drawn back in, especially when he learns that their dad was on the trail of the demon that killed their mom.

The Good: Regardless of medium I'm always curious to see how American-set shows deal with the supernatural since the US doesn't really have it's own mythos to draw from. There is an eclectic collection of urban legends and tall tales that are uniquely USian and parts of European fairy tales are often weaved in as well (less often someone will draw inspiration from one of the many Native American mythologies). All the influences Supernatural uses fit well and managed to feel like a cohesive, American, mythos of sorts. The episodes were very well paced (very formulaic but still well paced) and none of the episodes felt like misses. Both Dean and Sam showed some character growth and overall this show kept my attention and was interesting to watch, I fully plan on continuing.

The Bad: The season did however end on a cliffhanger (not as bad as Grimm's admittedly, not by far) and, when I think about the season as a whole, very few of the episodes related back to the overarching "we're trying to find the demon that killed our mom" plot that is supposed to tie it all together. I have been told that the first five seasons are supposed to make up an ever larger arc (it sounds like what the first five seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer did) which would explain it but I do like each episode in a show to have some connection to a larger plot if there is one and, despite the fact this show is very episodic, there is one. Also, perhaps it's just because Netflix would pause at the worst moment each time and buffer, but was it really necessary to have a "PREVIOUSLY ON SUPERNATURAL" segment at the beginning of each episode? I'm of the opinion that recaps should only be used when shows have multiple plot lines running and need to remind the viewer what is important this week, something that was not a problem at all on Supernatural and simply annoyed me every single time.

The Audio: The theme I remember best from the show is the one used to close the credits with, the show didn't have many other themes I found distinct and had an even shorter than usual clip for the title card. I was more interested in the visuals than the sound but I thought everything worked well on that end.

The Visuals: I don't know if someone on the production staff took issue with bright colors or such (I kid, I know it was on purpose) but the colors are much less saturated than normal and everything looks a bit gray. It's a distinctive look, much more distinctive than American tv shows look, and for a show about demons and such it works. Other than that note, don't have much else to say about the visuals of the series, there wasn't a lot of CGI used which I thought helped but that's because I'm rather picky about CGI.

So again, I plan on watching at least the next season (I'm aware I probably just committed myself to the next four, don't expect me to be done with this before November), it just won't be for a little bit since I have a few other things I want to try first.  

Book Review: Mistwood

The second book I received from the Enchanted Inkpot giveaway and there's not much else to say to introduce it. I had a basic idea of what the plot was and thought it had potential but I actually went in completely unbiased which is a bit rare for me. In any case, onto the review!

Mistwod by Leah Cypress

I like the font here, it's fancy but not unreadable, and while the colors don't perfectly blend (I find the hair color just a tad too jarring, although the title picks up the color of the eyes nicely) I do like the concept here and think it works well.

Summary: The Shifter is a mysterious, some would say mythological, being that is bound to serve and protect the royal family of Samorna from any and all harm. Or so she is told, she can't recall anything about her life before she ran wild in the nearby woods but accepts these duties and the name Isabel and goes along with them. But snippets of her past begin to emerge and she realizes that the past Prince Rokan has told her isn't the complete truth and that the truth is very messy indeed.

The Good: While it would be erroneous to say that all main characters share the same traits but there are a number which crop up quite frequently and makes them feeling "main character-ish". Isabel however doesn't feel main character-ish in any way yet is undeniably the MC, not a supporting protagonist as her status as body guard might initially imply but a rather interesting character who grows and ends up being quite complex and fascinating to read. The fact that she's one of the best portrayals of a non-human protagonist I've seen in a long time helps and her internal struggles and conflicts with her past and present make perfect sense and are interesting to watch unfold. When I first heard of the book I thought that it was based on a fairy tale and, while I can't find any references saying it was, it has a lot of real fairy-tale aspects to it (like the ever present theme of transformation).

The Bad: Quite honestly I thought this was an amazingly solid book without any major flaws. The only part that bothered me a bit was that there it seemed like there was a murder the hypotenuse to prevent a love triangle from eventually forming, I couldn't see any other reason for said character to be killed and that frustrated me. Other than that, I wasn't sure what the author was trying to accomplish with the character Albin at times, I suppose she was trying to create a more morally ambiguous character which got muddied along the way, but again this was a strong book without any large failings that I noticed.

So, my favorite of the Inkpot books and a keeper for sure. The author has a second book out now, which I believe is unconnected, that I plan on checking out sometime (just when my to-read pile gets smaller, at this rate I'll have enough books to talk about until September). And on one final, slightly unrelated note, I love how all the books I got from this were also autographed; normally I don't care if I'm able to get a book autographed or not but in an odd way it gave this contest a more personal feel and it just made me happy.   

Friday, June 15, 2012

Comic Review: Will Supervillians be on the final?

....oh come on, with a title like that how could I NOT pick this one up? When I first came across this, via a review on ANN, I thought that the title made the story sound like a train-wreck waiting to happen, especially when I found out that the author was the same author of the "Napoleonic War with dragons" series. Also, I've noticed over the years that I tend to like less/think aren't done as well stories that have a prose writer at the helm with an artist or comic adaptations of a book. Granted, I know that DC and Marvel don't always (often?) have someone who both writes the story and draws the comic and their stories seem to work (well, sometimes) and I have seen many collaborative webcomics that have one person who is the primary writer and another who does all the art but in those cases the result generally feels like a cohesive work. Here, well it's not so much that the story doesn't feel cohesive, rather, I'm not entirely sure why this story was told in comic form at all (although I can't see it working any better as an all prose work either...)

Will Super Villains Be On the Final? Written by Naomi Novik, illustrated by Yishan Li
Summary: Leah Taymore is nearly at the end of her rope, with prodigious super powers she's been enrolled in the college for superheroes two years early but with all of her (orchestrated by a villain of course) bad luck it doesn't seem like she'll be able to remain. Will she somehow be able to stay, save the day, and get the guy?

The Good: Leah isn't a terribly well-rounded character but she's likable enough and despite her powers and hardships doesn't feel like a Mary Sue. I also liked two of the side characters, twins who are the resident advisers for Leah's floor managed to get more fleshed out than I expected and I found myself wishing that they had more screen time (especially the girl of the pair). The story also concluded better than I expected, it's clear that there is much more to it than just this volume but it ended at a good place.

The Bad: A classic episode/chapter in a school story is to have the characters go to a philosophy class, have the teacher propose a question about morals (which doesn't have a "right" answer) that is strangely relevant to the plot, and then have the characters mull over it. This time this scenario is partially explained by the fact that the philosophy teacher is the villain but the question was so dumb I nearly threw the book across the room. It's a question dealing with events that happened before the story so I won't get into details but believe me when I say that it wouldn't have generated much debate in my high school classes let alone my college ones and nothing makes a writer appear dumb when they try to pull off something "clever" like this and fail. And this whole story feels like someone was trying to be clever with a new idea (never mind the fact that the idea of "school for superheroes" has already been done plenty of times before) but didn't have any new ideas to bring to the table to make it work. Also, I can't tell if some of the guy characters (and apologies that I'm not using names here, I honestly cannot find them online and forgot to write them down) were out of character at times or if the artist actually drew the wrong one which is a first for me. Also, co-ed bathrooms, really? Sure I've been in dorms that have a small, gender-neutral bathroom so there can be mixing of the sexes, but the idea that the only bathroom for an entire floor (which appeared too small, I've been in dorms with only one huge bathroom for 40+ people) that is mixed gender was a pretty stupid detail.

The Art: Another complaint I have with these collaborative works is that the art more often than not is just boring. By which I mean, sure the art is there and I saw over 100 pages of it but don't expect me to recognize the artist if I saw their work again, the art didn't feel like it had any style to it at all, rather that the publisher said "we need a comic with generic, 'manga-inspired' art" and that was it*. Interestingly enough there were a few pages in the back with original sketches and prompts for what the characters should look like which were kinda interesting but most so for Leah's roommate. The prompt calls for her to have a more chubby, best-friend look, and I wouldn't have described her as anything except average weight/build. Perhaps that idea was scrapped but it did make me think of all the talks and writings I've seen about re-enforcing the idea that only thin is beautiful, both because the best friend, not the star and the second most important female character, was supposed to be not thin and that if that's their definition of "not thin" then they have a sadly screwed up definition.

The story did turn out better than I expected (probably because my expectations weren't high, think a few inches above the floor) but still had enough weird, dumb details and didn't do anything new/interesing with material I've seen before that I have no intention of recommending it to anyone. No idea if there will be more books forthcoming, the publishing date was last year but Amazon doesn't seem to list a volume two (also worth noting is that you can get new and used copies online for just one cent, never a good sign) and I really have to wonder why Del Ray financed this project in the first place.  

*ironically enough, did a quick search on Amazon and it turns out Yishan Li has done a number of "how to draw manga" books before. 

Monday, June 11, 2012

Anime Review: Moyashimon

I plan on someday getting around to just about every anime that has aired on the noitaminA block in Japan and so when I heard that the show Moyashimon was getting a sequel this summer I decided this was the perfect time to watch the original show. The premise was a quirky one but I hadn't tried it out before since it wasn't licensed, although the manga was at one point and Funimation streamed the live-action tv drama version a couple of summers back, but by this point it looks like it probably won't be licensed in the US (unless this was the "classic" anime license that Funimation hinted at in an ANNCast from a few weeks back). In any case, there's still enough time before Moyashimon Returns for people to catch the original show so let's get on with the review so I can explain just what this show is about.

Moyashimon: Tales of Agriculture

Summary: Tadayasu Sawaki has been able to see microbes floating all around him since he was young and by now it's a normal, if annoying, part of his life. But when he and his best friend Kei Yuuki head off to college they find out that his skill is quite valuable indeed and, as the sons of a yeast maker and a sake brewer respectively, find themselves dragged into the schemes of Professor Itsuki and his students.

The Good: I had forgotten that Wandering Son was not the first noitaminA show to have a transgender character (actually, Paradise Kiss probably was) and I thought that character was very well done. I had remembered hearing there was one before, and from the snippets I had read about reviews of the live action series I had guessed who it was, but there were some very good visual foreshadowing to tip off the viewers. Actually, the show had a good sized cast and managed to give several of them much more character development than I would have thought possible in 11 episodes. The show was also paced well, I've heard that they had to skip some things to get to the point they did but I thought that everything flowed well and that none of the events took too long or were too rushed. I will say though that I feel more confident recommending this series knowing that there's a second half coming since the show really needs more time.

The Bad: It's clear that the show didn't have a really good place to end so they chose the end of an arc and made it work as well as they could (and after the credits make it clear that they really want a second series). The show does provide a bit of closure, the characters have started to grow and move on but the ending still feels rather abrupt and there doesn't seem like there was any way to fix that. Tvtropes has also pointed out that, for a college set at an agricultural university the story doesn't seem to like some of the newer, "green" advances in technology which is a bit odd when you think about it*.

The Audio: While both songs were a bit odd, especially the ending song, neither of them really stuck with me and I listened to both of them the full 11 times. The voice acting was fine, I especially liked how all the microbes had different voices (even the ones that were just variations and not something completely different). Overall there's not much to discuss here, although for an 11 episode show that doesn't put the characters through a roller-coaster of emotions or through scenes requiring dramatic music that's not especially surprising.

The Visuals: The show continues with the un-official noitaimA tradition of having a really weird looking opening/ending sequence (in this case a live-action/CGI mash-up opening and closing) but aside from that everything looks rather normal. Some of the character designs are a bit odd (both body-type wise and the fact that an awful lot of characters have blonde or a reddish-orange hair color) but nothing that would throw a non-newbie anime viewer. There's actually not that much else to mention here, everything remained consistent and there weren't any scenes that merited extra fluid animation or such so the visuals were never pushed to the animators limits, everything just worked in a very quiet way.

While not one of my favorite noitaminA series it's a cute little series and I would recommend it to people who like more comedy/slice of life titles, just be prepared for some really disgusting descriptions of how fermentation works (I normally watch anime while eating lunch/dinner and found that was not a great idea for this show, I didn't even know humans ate that much rotten food).

*full disclosure, I'm minoring in green technology at a school that's got a fairly good department in it so I have to raise an eyebrow when the characters can't get a biofuel tractor running, in my town the school's buses use so much biofuel that we use the oil from I think every fast food place in town. So I'm quite biased here, although I am willing to cut them a bit of slack since it has been a little while since the original manga was published.   

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Movie Review: Voyage of the Dawn Treader

And now for Sunday's normal review! I remember that my school was going to show the movie a while ago (I guess a year or year and a half ago) but removed it from their line-up which is never a good sign (for reference, the only other movie I can recall them changing was The Last Airbender). I was also a bit worried by the fact that this film came out in December 2010 and there's been no word since (plus, I seemed to recall it didn't do so well in the US). A quick google search reveals that the situation has gotten a bit complicated, personally I'd like for them to produce The Silver Chair next (they even had a tie-in to it at the very end of this film) since I would hate for them to change actors and the same actors are needed in The Silver Chair and to an extent in The Last Battle (teeeechnically in The Magicians Nephew and The Horse and His Boy as well but those would be much smaller roles involving characters who haven't had as much screen-time), but I like The Magicians Nephew so I wouldn't mind seeing that either, provided that at least one of them is made sometime before 2018.

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

 Summary: In England, World War II is still raging on and, while the older Pevensie children are abroad, Edmund and Lucy are staying with relatives including their horrendous cousin Eustace. All three of them are dragged through a painting in the spare bedroom to find themselves in the sea east of Narnia and are quickly rescued by Prince Caspian (of the previous story, about two years have past) and join him, less than willingly on Eustace's part, to find out why a mysterious green mist has been haunting the seas and spiriting people off to the unknown.

The Good: It's clear that the producers want to make more Narnia films and went to the effort of putting in a few details foreshadowing which characters will be important in future films which was a rather nice touch. The returning cast, and new character Eustace, all act well, although I do wish some side characters had more chances to actually act.  And, as odd as it sounds, after the movie I checked out the deleted scenes to see what got cut and I agree with all the cuts made. Sometimes I wonder why scenes didn't make it into the feature film but here I could see why so, regardless of how I feel about the writing, it seems like they at least knew how to edit. 

The Bad: When I was a kid I loved this story because it was an adventure for the sake of adventure. Narnia is safe, well-ruled, so Caspian has a chance to go out, explore, and possibly find out the fate of a some of his father's closest followers who were exiled by his uncle. Here the story has been tweaked so that each of those retainers actually has a magical sword and together all seven of those swords can kill a people-eating, green mist which has started running around in the past few months because, um, well, they really don't explain that. They take some original ideas and ideas from the books, mash them up, put them out of order, and even mess with the character growth in the books* so it ends up being a very messy tale. A messy, watered down tale that I can't really recommend to anyone, especially since the other films are in limbo now so people don't even need to be concerned about keeping up with them for at least another two or three years.

The Audio: A lot of the music feels rather, well, standard fantasy-ish, like the composer got their inspiration from listening to just the Harry Potter soundtracks over and over. Even though I saw this movie less than a week ago I had to go to itunes and listen to clips from the soundtrack to remember the themes, the music simply isn't that memorable or different and that's never a good sign. The song used during the credits was odd too, I'm not a big fan of "wordless BGM for the whole movie and then song with lyrics used during credits" style since it just feels too out of place for me.

The Visuals: While not the best special effects I've seen of late, the movie looks fine on all accounts. The CGI is solid, the props, setting, and costumes look fine as well, although I do suspect that in another half decade or so much of it will look horribly out-dated. The film did have a smaller budget than the other two ($75 million smaller than Prince Caspian but only $30 million less than The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe), and for some reason the scenes set on the deck of the Dawn Treader never quite looked real to me, but for most people the movie is going to look just fine.

All in all a weak adaptation and that makes me rather sad since this was one of my favorites of the books. I was unhappy with a lot of the changes, especially the ones that changed the character's growth since a lot of those used the Christian theology/imagery that CS Lewis sprinkled quite heavily throughout the story which gave a lot of those scenes deeper meaning, here the characters appear much more shallow (and for god's sake can they please stop doing the "Edmund is still battling the darkness in his heart" bit? Poor guy can never catch a break). Don't foresee re-visiting this movie anytime soon, although regardless I hope it's sooner than 2018 than the next movie comes out since I would like there to be a full, seven movie set (or six, as much as I love The Horse and His Boy I can live with it not getting a film) for the sake of completion.

Book Review: Book Girl and the Corrupted Angel

So, the reason this is going up a day late is that I just plain forgot to write this last night (I was thinking my Saturday seemed remarkably boring but just used the time to do other things instead). I am hoping to get out Sunday's regular post today as well to make up for it however, you would think after having the same schedule for months and months that I would forget things like this less often. Then again, considering that there is now a couple month gap between when I started a book and when I actually get around to reading it it makes a bit more sense. I certainly remember what happened in that latest installment in the Book Girl series, but after reading so many other books since then I had almost forgotten that I had read this one as well. Also, as noted on the Kieli review, unless the art completely changes or is completely amazing I'm not going to include an Art section in the light novel review anymore.

Book Girl and the Corrupted Angel by Mizuki Nomura illustrated by Miho Takeoka

Summary: Book Girl Tohko is busily preparing for her college entrance exams, although Konoha has his reservations if she'll actually get in anywhere. Konoha however finds himself helping out fellow classmate Kotobuki in the music room after school and becomes increasingly involved with her when one of her friends goes missing under strange circumstances. Without Tohko to lead the way Konoha has to fumble through the steps and try to figure out if life is imitating The Phantom of the Opera (who is alluded to in the friend's messages and notes) or if the truth is rather different.

The Good: It took me a long time to get into this story and a big reason for that was because I find Tohko the more likable of the two leads but this story did clear up a few things about Konoha. Before I had been rather skeptical of his panic attacks, he (like many characters in light novels I've noticed) is always so internal it can sometimes be hard to tell just what is going on but this book confirms that yes, he really is still messed up after the events involving his friend Miu years earlier. But around the two-thirds point of the story, when it started to diverge more from The Phantom of the Opera that's when I really got into it and I thought it was a satisfying story. Kotobuki also got some character development here which was good not only because she has ended up being the largest supporting character so far but because, unless I am completely missing the mark, her feelings for Konoha are going to become even more important in the following books (especially with Miu set to finally appear in the next volume).

The Bad: As I mentioned above, I prefer Tohko to Konoha as a lead character since she's much more decisive and interesting so I am a bit nervous now for later books where she may no longer be around (there are only about three months in-story until her graduation I believe). Konoha can hold the story together but he really, really needs a lot more character growth before I can tolerate him for more than a couple chapters at a time. And, another reoccurring complaint of mine, while I know full well that many people do have less than ideal lives where terrible things happen to them or they become so twisted from their own ideas that they almost cause terrible things to happen to them I'm still a bit incredulous about how many of those people Konoha and Tohko run into. I could find the situation involving Kotobuki's friend believable but some of the other characters had to be so twisted to make this story happen that I wasn't able to suspend my belief the entire time and that's just not a good thing.

So, I'm coming to the same conclusion that I did for Kieli, that these books are best read with a smaller gap between them (say one or two months) than the gap caused by the release pattern in the US (six months, although seven this time since the next volume got pushed back a month). I also came to this conclusion after watching some of Hyou-ka, a currently airing mystery anime which has a similar feel to this one, that perhaps a more serialized publishing schedule might work better for stories which have small, volume long arcs but with a more ambiguous overall arc that grows more and more important as the story goes on. Not sure what to do in that case, the final volume won't be out in the US until January 2014, maybe I should start making cliff notes for each volume as well...    

Friday, June 8, 2012

Comic Review: The Promise part one

As promised, more Avatar: the last airbender stuff! The Legend of Korra takes place 70 years after the original series and in a completely different setting so the creators (Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino) decided to create a short, three volume comic to show how the new setting was established and hopefully wrap up a few plot threads from the original series that were never resolved but that's for another review. Sadly not all of the books came out before the series premiered, the second volume came out just a few days ago, and it's going to be a while before I get to the second book but for the moment, here's how the first volume shapes up. As a note, this review is a bit more spoilery than normal but, considering how a lot of stuff in here can already be inferred from Korra/the Republic City game on the Nick site there's not much I can do about that.

Avatar: The Last Airbender The Promise Part One written by Gene Luen Yang and illustrated by Gurihiru (lettered by Michael Heisler)

Summary: It's been a year since Aang defeated Firelord Ozai and agreement has been reached between the Fire Nation and the Earth Kingdom for all fire nation colonists to return to their ancestral homes to help change the world back to what it was 100 years ago. But the world has permanently changed in those 100 years and the new conflicts have arisen, ones that don't have any easy solutions to them. 

The Good: Much like the anime Last Exile: Fam of the Silver Wing from earlier in the year, The Promise tackles a question that doesn't appear as much in non-historical/realistic fiction, at what point do "immigrants" become "natives", much like one of the problems that plagues modern day Israel. Korra watchers know what the solution here is but it'll be interesting to see how the characters manage to come to it. The comics also incorperate a number of plotlines that were left hanging at the end of the tv series (such as whatever happened to the Earth King after his last appearance in the comics and perhaps, finally! closure about Zuko's mother) and starts bringing in plots that will connect to Korra (such as Toph's earthbending school which would later become where she trains the first metal bending cops). This mini-series has a lot of ground to cover but it making good progress in dealing with everything.

The Bad: It may be dealing with everything but goodness is it short and fast paced. It's only about 70 pages long, it took me under 20 minutes to read the whole thing, and much like Korra is means the characterization feels a bit rushed. I felt like some parts (such as Aang's decision that he must kill Zuko after all) felt almost random they were so rushed and, even though I have always been an ardant Kataang shipper, I'll admit that Katara and Aang calling each other "sweetie" and such did seem incredibly out of place with the language previously used in the series*. I was a bit underwhelmed overall by the volume but hopefully the next two will make up for that.

The Art: The book was drawn by a team of Japanese artists called Gurihiru (which as some people have pointed out could technically make this manga, I think of it as a comic since the original creators are American as I believe Gene Luen Yang is as well) and they do a pretty good idea sticking to the original art style of the series. It helps that over the years I've seen a number of other ATLA comics (all of which I believe have been collected in The Lost Adventures) so I don't mind that the style was slightly different from the tv show. I'm a bit surprised how well the pages flowed together, sure the comic didn't use a lot of elaborate panel layouts but the artists were still working left to right instead of right to left and having that kind of flexibility is rather impressive.

Again like LE:Fam, I really wish this in-between comic had been fully released before the start of Korra since so far nothing in here has spoiled Korra (indeed it's been the other way around) but it is doing a fairly good job filling in the gaps and I hope it does improve from here. It'll be a while I suspect before I get the second volume (just due to me needing to budget even more carefully than usual) but I do plan on buying the second and third volumes as well (and the third won't be out until September I believe).

*it also kept reminding me of River Song from Doctor Who but that one is my own fault. 

Monday, June 4, 2012

TV Series Review: Avatar: The Last Airbender (Book One: Water)

So, back in 2005 I had just recently been introduced to Miyazaki and had been seeing a lot of advertisements on Neopets for a new, American cartoon airing on Nickelodeon called Avatar: The Last Airbender. So I sat down to watch it the first night it aired and it was a bit different than I had expected, which was okay, but it hadn't quite grabbed me. The third episode wasn’t what I expected at all, I had been expecting something like Pokemonwhere the villain, Prince Zuko, chases the characters across the world in strange hijinks every week, not genocide and seeing other characters who Zuko went up against who seem like the real villains. So I kept watching and then the mid-season episode, “The Spirit World” happened. By this point I was already enjoying the show and, since this was the age of nigh-nu-programmable VHS players, I had to resort to watching this episode as I babysat a two year old neighbor instead of missing the episode and the bits that I caught blew my mind. The idea that the series would have a clear and concise beginning, middle, and end and that the episodes would not be random ones that could be watched out of order but rather following a cohesive plot was completely new to me and I loved it and that's what kept me coming back for the next three and a half years.
So where does that leave this review? Well, despite being a huge fan of the series I’ve never re-watched it entirely and there are a number of episodes I’ve only seen once so I had planned on re-watching the whole show before The Legend of Korra premiered. However, since Nick only announced the show a month before it’s air date (given their other, scheduling issues in the past, I thought I’d have a few months heads-up) that didn’t happen so now I’m trying to balance it out with everything else I’m watching. So here's the first season of the first show with both my current thoughts on the show and remembering how this seemed to a 13/14 year old with no experience with long form stories being told in anything other than books or magazines and certainly no experience with cartoons actually looking good.   

Avatar: The Last Airbender (book one, water, re-watch)

Summary: In another world there is a very specific kind of magic that allows people to manipulate one of the four elements (water, earth, fire, or air) called bending. Out of all these benders there is only one person who can control all four elements at once, one who is the reincarnation of the planet itself’s spirit (fittingly called The Avatar). But something has gone wrong, one hundred years ago the Fire Nation declared all out war on the rest of the world (the two Water Tribes, the great Earth Kingdom, and on the four Air Nomad temples) and completely wiped out the air nomads, the nation the avatar had recently reincarnated into and the avatar vanished. Things have been bleak ever since, that is until two kids from the Southern Water tribe, siblings Sokka and Katara, discover the avatar encased in an iceberg, named Aang, and set off to train him in the other elements so that he can save the world.

The Good: Re-watching the show I was surprised to see just how sarcastic the characters were all the time (I remembered that Sokka was, it’s in his nickname, but not how snarky Katara and even Aang could be) and the dialogue really felt like something my friends or I would have said in high school which is really hard to pull off. The characters do act rather mature for their age, to the point where it’s odd to see Aang act more like a 12 year old (especially compared to the later seasons), but they never seemed so mature that it jolted me out of the show. In addition to all of that (and as I mentioned earlier, a sturdy central plot) the show never treats it's viewers like idiots which isn't the most common thing for a show aimed at 8-12 year olds, the fact that a show aimed at such a young age group has such a large following in older fans is testament to how strong and engaging the writing, and really the whole show, is.   

The Bad: There are some random episodes in this season (special mention goes to “The Great Divide” which, when I first saw it, didn’t think it was so bad but was cringing when I re-watched it) and has the most “filler” of the three seasons. I don’t mind the “filler” episodes as much, they help establish characters and introduced others that would reappear in larger roles later on, but only about half of the 20 episodes were truly crucial to the overall plot. I did notice on the re-watch though that Zuko is especially slow to grow and develop and I wish he had grown a bit more here (especially considering how the entire show is set over just one year meaning that most of his latter character growth is in the course of just a few months). And I was a bit confused by Iroh, he doesn't undergo character growth like Zuko does but he's portrayed quite differently by the end of the series which again seems like such a huge change I wonder if that was something added in last minute.

The Audio: As I’ve said time and time again, I often don't pay much attention to the music in a show but I have been doing so more and more with each year. Even before I re-watched this show I could clearly remember specific bits of music when I watched this show in it’s original 2005 run, that’s pretty special music. I still adore the music used and it really does add to the scenes, I remember seeing “The Southern Air Temple” and being suspicious why there was such triumphant music being played during Zuko’s parts (I didn’t know the term anti-hero back then but the music tipped me off that Zuko was more than a bad guy, without it I never would have picked up on that). 

The Visuals: Re-watching this on Netflix has reminded me that this show didn’t have the largest budget when it started but they made good use of it. There is some rather conspicuous CGI on various fire nation vehicles (I remember seeing the tanks as the kid and being confused why they looked a bit different from everything else but couldn’t figure out why) but the numerous battle scenes look amazing every time. The choreography in this show is great, since the show aired I’ve seen some clips and demonstrations martial art styles and whenever I see one that was used in the show (Tai Chi*, Northern Style Shaolin, etc) I can immediately see where the inspiration came from and a few times I’ve been able to look at a clip and tell what style it was, the show managed to capture the martial arts just that well. I was surprised on the re-watch to see just how “cartoony” the characters and their facial expressions sometimes got, one thing I had liked about the show was how it seemed less cartoony than anything else on Nickelodeon/Cartoon Network/Disney/Kids WB but after seeing literally hundreds of other comics and cartoons since my take on that has changed a bit. It’s not a bad thing, just not a thing I had been expecting to discover.

So, when I find the time next (I'm currently watching 11 different anime series among other things) I'll continue on with book two and continue my re-watch. Actually, I've got another Avatar related review later in the week as well.....

*not technically a martial art but oh well