Monday, July 30, 2012

Anime Review: Zetman

Normally during an anime season I can look at a few shows, seem some superficial, yet oddly specific, similarities between them and declare that the "theme" of the season, like how there were an awful lot of girls piloting ships/mechs last winter (with Bodacious Space Pirates, Last Exile: Fam, Aquarion Evol, Lagrange, and Ozma kinda, and I'm only being half serious/facetious here). The only theme I could cobble together for the past spring season however was "really fast pacing for shows that should've had/really needed more episodes". Kids on the Slope could've used more, Legend of Korra really could've used a few more, and Zetman, while it worked as well could be expected, had the tall order of adapting a 17 volume manga series (which is still on-going in wikipedia is correct) in just thirteen (!!) episodes. I'm not familiar with the source material at all, or even realized there was quite that much when I started following the show, so let's just see if this show works as an anime (since I can't imagine it succeeded as a really good adaptation with those crazy limitations). 

Zetman

Summary: Jin begins the series as a young kid living with his "grandfather", Gorou Kanzaki, actually a former scientist for the Amagi Corporation where he created genetically modified people to fight in matches to earn money. After they began to escape the others saw the damage they had done and created Jin to hunt down those players and Gorou stole him away so he could live a normal life. But that was never meant to be and after several years Jin gets wrapped up in fighting and killing these escaped players and sometimes working alongside of the grandson of the man who created the whole mess, Kouga Amagi   

The Good: The show has a lot of fun playing around with the hero and anti-hero tropes and the most interesting part of the show for me was seeing how those ideas played out. Considering that Kouga started out as the idealistic character, especially compared to how Jin had his destiny forced upon him before he was even born, I was surprised that he was the one who went down the anti-hero route and had some rather villainous moments by the end. And, even though it's very easy to see the series is compressed and moving at a breakneck pace it does in fact work as a stand alone property.

The Bad: I have to admit that I really disliked the ending (I have no idea if it was similar to the manga or on a completely different track by that point), mostly for reasons that involve too many spoilerly details, and I'm also frustrated that in the end it was clear that Jin and Kouga were The Main Characters and, no matter how awesome or sensible they might be, nothing All The Other Characters could do would make a difference in the end. Few of those characters were fully fleshed out, heck the last few episodes created a bit of a plot hole for one important minor character, but that doesn't stop me from feeling frustrated about all of it.  

The Audio: While it didn't have the fun visuals of tsuritama's opening, Zetman's opening was one of my favorites of the season for it's jazzy beat. I have absolutely no idea what the lyrics were (Viz's stream didn't provide subtitles for the OP or the ED) but I still loved it and would love to hear the full version of the song. Other than that though, none of the voice acting really stood out to me and the same for the background music. And, considering my overall feelings on the show, I'm not terribly surprised by that. Nothing was bad, it was just that nothing stuck out.

The Visuals: Like the majority of the music I just didn't see anything super special or memorable about the art. The players were appropriately creepy to look at, the fights looked alright (there were a lot of shows in the spring season with absolutely fantastic fights so that might have made the ones here look worse by comparison), but there just wasn't anything really special about how the show looked overall.


In the end this just wasn't the show for me. It did do some stuff right, Jin turned out to be a more sympathetic protagonist than I would've expected but the show had a lot of problems as well. Viz Media has licensed the show in the US and is streaming it (which, since it's on Hulu, screws over any Canadian viewers who wanted to watch it legally, sorry guys) and have mentioned that it will be part of their new Neon Alley line-up so it'll be getting a dub sometime in the near(ish) future (and, logically, a DVD release later, but this is Viz so that's not exactly guaranteed). In any case, I do wonder if Viz licensed this show because of how well Tiger and Bunny, another superhero show with a different take on the traditional tropes, did last year and if they did I do hope they realized beforehand that these are two very different shows.  

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Move Review: Evangelion 1.11: You Are (Not) Alone

So, last summer (thanks to the local college library) I was finally able to see Neon Genesis Evangelion and, well, I didn't really like it. I seem to fall into the group of people that prefer RahXephon and Eureka Seven when it comes to big mecha stories and I'm okay with that. So why watch the rebuild films? Well, actually I already had a copy of the second film (which I'll explain more when I actually get to that one) and the rebuild films have apparently done some parts of the series very differently so I was curious that perhaps a slightly less "emo" Eva would be more to my tastes. The first film only covers the first six episodes so there's nothing new here yet but does it at least do a good job of introducing the series and can it stand on it's own?

Evangelion 1.11: You Are (Not) Alone


Summary: 15 years after the Second Impact, where an object from space hit Antarctica hard enough to tilt the Earth's axis and the resulting disaster kills half of the people on Earth, Shinji Ikari has been called by his father to his workplace, the mysterious organization called Nerv which seems to exist outside the control of any governmental agency. There he learns that there are strange aliens, called angels, attacking Earth and for some reason (as of yet unexplained) he's one of the few people who can pilot the gigantic mechas called Evas and fight off the angels. And thus the fate of the Earth rest in the hands of this mentally unstable teenaged boy and in the hands of quiet, mysterious girl named Rei who is almost as odd as the angels themselves.

The Good: The one big difference from the tv series I noticed was Misato showing Shinji the real reason Nerv exists which I thought was an interesting choice and that should certainly effect Shinji later on. Other than that the movie is a straightforward adaptation of the first six episodes and, like at this point in the original story, I don't mind Shinji and still find Rei confusing but not so much that I couldn't enjoy the movie. I had actually forgotten how much I liked Misato in the early part of the story (I just didn't like any of the characters by the end of the tv series, not just her in particular) and I'm really curious to see how they change differently in this version.

The Bad: My brother was half watching this movie along with me and, since he normally asks a lot of questions about movies, I was trying to figure out how to explain various parts of the movie and found that it's really hard to do and nigh impossible with just the information given in this movie. Sure you can see that Shinji has problems with his father and people can infer that he has abandonment issues but the movie didn't address why those exist. The movie did say why the angels are targeting Nerv all the time but other than that there was barely any world building and the setting should be important to every story. Heck, that summary I posted makes use of one or two details that I learned in the tv series, they never say what the second impact actually was and I think by this point it's clear that this movie really isn't a good introduction to the franchise if you don't want your viewers to be lost. Perhaps once the series is over I'll have a different opinion on it, I certainly hope so in any case, but this movie cannot stand completely on it's own and that's not a good thing. 

The Audio: This time around I decided to listen to the English dub (which I believe brings back the original dub cast for almost, if not all, of the roles) and it was a very solid dub. I had heard one or two clips of Spike Spencer's Shinji before which sounded iffy but here he certainly sounds like a 14 year old boy and the rest of the cast also sounds appropriate for their roles. There were one or two spots for many of the characters were they sounded a bit odd, not surprising considering how many years it's been since the original show was dubbed, but I have no problems with recommending the English dub.

The Visuals: I had the pleasure of watching the DVD version of this on our new HD tv where it looked amazingly good (I don't believe our accompanying new blu-ray player upscales DVDs but I could be wrong and that could've contributed). As with the rest of the story, there was barely anything new on screen but what was there looked good. There was some CGI used for the angels but it was well done, the lines on everything were crisp and the animation all looked fine. Since I'm already familiar with what the story should look like there's not really much to say except that it was a very good update in that area.


So, as the story currently stands, you can't watch just the first film and expect a comprehensible story that will stand on it's own which is a bit of a problem. Even though it's a series of movies, movies are supposed to be able to stand and make sense on their own (which I think is doubly important given how long the gap between some of the movies has been, do they even have a release date for the third one yet?). As mentioned earlier I already have a copy of the second film so I'll be checking that out but if it wasn't for that I wouldn't feel terribly motivated to continue on.

Book Review: The Way We Fall

And I couldn't even manage a week straight of constant updates, sorry guys I really don't know why it's been so hard for me to be consistent lately. I will try to get today's (actual) review up later as well, might be a bit shorter but that review was going to be a bit shorter regardless.

Moving along, this is another book I got from the Enchanted Inkpot giveaway and was one I put off for a while since it was a "what if this disaster happened and everyone the main character cared for started dieing?" which just isn't a genre that I particularly like. I wasn't so worried about whether or not the book would be good, I had seen enough people on the internet praise it so I was sure it was going to be well-written, I was just wondering if I would need something extra fluffy to cheer myself up with afterwards.

The Way We Fall by Megan Crewe


The cover certainly stands out here, I'm sure if I was to pull up one of those charts that note how many books have these things/this color on the cover that there wouldn't be many other yellow books and it's a little unusual to use the title to create the imagery as well. Very eye-catching so I think it works quite well.


Summary: Kaelyn lives on a small island on the coast of Canada and only recently moved back after living in Toronto for several years which has helped create a rift between her and her old neighbors. She's trying to repair this crack when an even bigger disaster strikes in the form of a mysterious disease that sweeps the island, killing all whom it infects. Quarantined from the rest of the world the island slowly sinks into a panic where all semblance of normal life vanishes and Kaelyn and her family must try to cope and stay alive until this nightmare ends.  

The Good: While it can't strictly be called a zombie book, people don't come back after they're dead and such, Kaelyn does have a very good line about how this virus is a much smarter one because it doesn't make it's victims turn crazy and cannibalistic but rather crave attention and physical contact so that the disease spreads even faster and that was a really smart idea on Crewe's part and helps keep the story realistic. In nearly every zombie story a character will get infected for a really dumb reason and, while I'm not saying that didn't happen here as well, with that explanation of how the virus spreads it was a lot easier to take the characters actions seriously and the whole story felt stronger. There was some romance that came about very naturally that I liked and I liked how there was a prominent, female supporting character (which, as odd as it sounds, I've noticed lately I'm not seeing a lot of them in books that are single point of view, most often the biggest supporting character seems to be of the opposite gender*).

The Bad: The progression of the story is very predictable (infection starts, characters are told there is no hope for outside help and must wait it out, after some time has passed and the characters/reader feel it's safe someone becomes sick and dies, main character goes through tough situation but because of plot armor remains mostly safe, etc) and, while the story is well-written and doesn't feel constrained by it's genre, I do wish that someday I come across a book that does one of those parts very differently. And that was another reason I was hesitant to read the book, I had correctly guessed that this story wasn't going to do anything that I hadn't seen before and I prefer to read books that promise a new concept. Finally, I was a bit frustrated at how vague the ending is (I almost feel like the author was torn on having a happy or sad ending) but it wrapped up as well as I expected (because again, there's a "usual" way these stories end, it was something I had guessed before the book started, not because of how the story progressed).


Despite my criticisms this is a good, solid book, just not the book for me. As such I'll be donating it to the local library when I get a chance and I'm sure there will be plenty of people there who'll enjoy it much more. Heck, I think that many people who've enjoyed zombie stories in the past will enjoy this one (as long as they're not in it for zombie-killing-gore which doesn't really happen here) so I do hope the book finds it's audience and does well.


*which seems to be that way for (straight) romance purposes frustratingly enough.  

Friday, July 27, 2012

Manga Review: Twin Spica (volumes one and two)

The last of my recent pick-ups for the used bookstore, I had previously read a bit of Twin Spica in a bookstore, normally I try to only read a chapter or less of a book in a store (just so I can get a feel for it), but I was so entranced by the series I read the whole thing so the series has been on my to-buy list for a while now. So I was more than a bit alarmed at the news a couple of months back that publisher Vertical was going to let the series go out of print (and it really does sound like overall the books sold terribly) before I had picked up any. Now that I've got the first couple it seems like I'll pick up the rest of them piecemeal and hope I get them all in time, which makes me amused that here I'm going to try and convince everyone else that this series is worth buying and therefore make it even harder to get them all.

Twin Spica by Kou Yaginuma (volumes 1 & 2)

  
Summary: The year is 2024 and middle school student Asumi wants to become an astronaut and be one of the first admitted to the Tokyo Space School. But her small size isn't the only thing working against her there, over a decade earlier Japan's first manned rocket crashed and burned which eventually killed her mother and cost her father his job for his part in designing it. Asumi is determined however and refuses to give up her dream no matter what the world throws in her path. 

The Good: This is a surprisingly emotional story, even though I had already read most of volume one I still found myself tearing up at parts and have no doubt that future volumes will do the same. I hope that some of the side characters are more fleshed out in future volumes but the story has already hinted at backstory for some of them. While it's paced a bit slowly the story never drags and I never felt bored, even though most of the first two volumes about about testing and getting used to the school. For it's fantastical premise the story is rather down to Earth and touching, I can't wait to get a hold of more volumes.

The Bad: While I did like the two extra chapter at the end of each volume I do hope that these won't be at the end of every volume (or at least if there is that it doesn't focus on Asumi every time, I feel like giving her anymore backstory will be overkill) and I'm starting to have a hard time figuring out where all of these extra chapters fit into the timeline which isn't a good thing. I'm also a little worried that the story will rely on emotion too much to carry the story, if that makes sense, since it's already pulled out one dramatic "twist" in order to keep the story interesting and I hope that doesn't become a regular feature.

The Art: The art is on the simple side, especially in the character designs, but the backgrounds are detailed enough and I never had trouble telling any of the characters apart. In some ways Twin Spica is a very simple story and for that reason I think the art fits the story perfectly, it accentuates but never overwhelms it.


As mentioned earlier, this is one of the few series where we have explict, advance notice that it's going out of print and indeed, already volume 11 has vanished from a number of online sellers. I've snagged a copy of that (and have an order at TRSI for volumes 5, 9, and 10, all of which are very low on volumes as well) and I will be trying to grab the others as soon as I can. I suggest that anyone who is interested in the series do the same, but try and leave a copy or two behind for me 'kay? 

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Anime Review: Kids on the Slope

The other noitaminA show and one that received a bit more pre-airing hype since it reunited director Shinichiro Watanabe (Samurai Champloo, Cowboy Bebop) with composer Yoko Kanno (Wolf's Rain, Aquarion) for the first time since Cowboy Bebop and, well, people over here really like that show. The show had the tall order of adapting a nine volume (already completed) manga series in just 11 episodes so I had already lowered my expectations from "perfect thing that will never be equaled" to "has a rather good chance of being excellent".  A quick note  though, this show isn't JUST about jazz, as I'm afraid a lot of people thought when they went into it. It's about growing up so sure there's a lot of jazz but there's also friendship and a good deal of romance. If you want a show that's just about music that's fine, go watch Beck Mongolian Chop Squad, but I really hope that part alone doesn't turn people off from this series.

Kids on the Slope (Sakamichi no Apollon)

   
Summary: Kaoru is a military brat in 1960s Japan and Kyushu is only the latest in the long line of places his had to move to because of his dad's occupation, transfer schools, and generally feel alone and bitter about all of it. He does enjoy playing classical music on the piano a lot and that's how his luck changes as he meets classmates Ritsuko (whose dad owns a record store) and drum-player Sentaro and gets dragged into playing jazz in the basement of the record store. From there his life becomes more interesting as he begins to meet and open up to more people and finds out how painful a love triangle can be.

The Good: This is the kind of show that lives or dies by it's characters and thankfully Kaoru and Sentaro are characters that turn out much more interesting than they first appear (the rest of the cast is also interesting but it's these two boys and their friendship that holds the show together in my opinion). Kaoru noticeably, if slowly at times, grows from a cold, self-centered person whose been lonely all his life and Sen turns out to have problems of his own which greatly affect how he handles hardships. But the best part of the show is when the characters are interacting with each other, I feel like by the end of the show you could name any two characters and I'd be able to predict pretty well how they'd react (some of them wouldn't be interesting interactions but that's another thing altogether).  

The Bad: I do wish Ritsuko had gotten a bit more character development, or at least earlier on in the series since for too long she feels more like a role, "the childhood friend" or "the love interest", than an actual character. My bigger problem with the series however is that there are a lot of unexpected time skips and I'm not sure if this was a problem from the original manga or if this was a problem from the adaptation (ie, they had to cut stuff out which resulted in some rather awkward transitions). While I do believe this show was paced as well as it could've been I also do wish it had been 22 episodes instead; the characters could have been even better fleshed out and the pacing would have flowed smoother but other than that this was a solid show. 

The Audio: While this isn't my favorite Yoko Kanno soundtrack* it's really solid and all of the jazz scenes are spectacular. The music works well and I can easily see myself re-watching just the clips of the jazz sessions on youtube which is rather unusual for me. The voice acting work is solid and I really liked the opening and ending themes for the show. Both of them had subtitles by the end of the run and I like to interpret them as the opening is supposed to be Kaoru singing about how meeting Sentaro changed his life and the ending as how his relationship and infatuation with Ritsuko again changed him. I have no idea how much control an anime production has over the opening and ending themes (I know sometimes the composer helps compose the songs, other times I feel like the higher ups just try to get a up and coming group to try and get sponsorship money from their company) but regardless they worked really well here.  

The Visuals: The show did a good job making the series look like it's set in the 1960s and I really liked all the details in the backgrounds that made it feel like another time and place. But by far the most interesting part of the show was, again, the jazz sessions because of how fluid they looked. I don't believe they used rotoscoping (although apparently Kanno did choose two young, talented musicians for Kaoru and Sentaro's pieces and the grew set up tons of cameras around both of them from all angles for references) but the show is on par with Nodame Cantible for and accurate representation of characters making music. Normally this isn't a show where I would be gushing over it's looks but I was really impressed at how well those scenes turned out and everything else looked great as well.

So while in the end I enjoyed tsuritama more I still thought this was a solid show and plan to buy it when it comes out in the US (it's licensed by Section 23, fingers crossed that they get the rights to all the shows in the show). People interested in watching it can go over to either crunchyroll.com or theanimenetwork.com to watch the series legally in it's entirely. The original manga has not been licensed in the US but I, ahem, plan on looking into it at least a bit anyway to see just how the anime compares. 


*weirdly enough for me that would be Wolf's Rain, which is only weird because I didn't really like the show in the end

Monday, July 23, 2012

Anime Review: tsuritama

One of the two noitaminA shows for this season and the one I was drawn more towards at the beginning (since I seem to always be drawn more to the "underdog" of the two shows, odd) and while there wasn't a lot of information about the show (in English anyway) the one thing I did know made me simultaneously interested and hesitant: the director. The director was one Kenji Nakamura, a man who has worked on five other noitaminA shows (and directed at least part of all of them) who has created several well-acclaimed works but his only work I had seen previously was [C] Control from the previous spring's noitaminA line-up which, while it had an interesting concept, had some major pacing issues by the end (and budget issues as well but that's another problem entirely). The general consensus seems to be that he's a rather good director, indeed he worked on part of Ayakashi: Samurai Horror Tales and not only was his part considered the best by many people it recieved it's own spin-off, Mononoke, so I was really hoping that [C] was only a slip-up and that with an extra episode this time the pacing would be much better. 

tsuritama


Summary: High school student Yuki and his grandmother have recently moved to the small island of Enoshima to help with her health and Yuki is resigned to once again being the new kid and school and not making any friends (since he makes, unusual facial expressions when under pressure). But there's another new kid in town, the upbeat and claims-to-be-an-alien Haru whose taken a shine to Yuki and is determined to make friends with him and for both of them to learn how to fish. And after being dragged around a bit Yuki begins to make friends and discovers that fishing is a lot of fun, a good thing considering there's an even bigger reason Yuki want him to learn how to fish.

The Good: Well damn, aside from a bit of a wobbly opening this show was paced perfectly and told a complete story in 12 episodes, that's not easy to do! It pulls off the "first half character development, second half plot heavy" set-up quite well and the four boys all develop quite a bit by the series end. As a non-fisher I didn't find some of the more technical parts fascinating but I didn't find them tedious or boring either which is good sign. In short, it was a fun show that did both comedy and drama surprisingly well and isn't afraid to be silly, something which many shows don't do.

The Bad: This show is both serious and silly at the same time during it's climax (serious in that well, it's the climax, it's a tense time, and silly because when you step back and think about what's going on it's a bit ridiculous) and you need to have the right mindset or you won't enjoy this show at all. It does build up to that point well and pull it off well but it is such an odd scenario the characters find themselves in that I wouldn't recommend it to every anime fan I meet. The show also takes a couple of episodes to get into it's groove, for the first two I really wasn't sure if I would continue with it or drop it, but if you get through the third episode and like the show then you'll like the rest.

The Audio: The tsuritama opening song was hands-down my favorite opening song of the spring 2012 season. Perhaps it was also because the song had a cute and silly little dance that went along with it (psst, Japanese staff, EVERYONE wants to see the full version of that dance as a DVD extra, just saying) but regardless that song made me perk up and grin every time. For once I wasn't even bothered by the fact that the crunchyroll stream didn't have the song subbed, The Anime Network has subs for it and the lyrics fit the show alright as it turns out, and the ending song was cute as well (although I'm of two minds whether or not the lyrics fit that show, for some lines they do and others they don't). Continuing with an odd noitaminA tradition of sorts, Yuki's voice actor is a newcomer but he does a bit of a difficult role quite well and that's true of all the characters (I've heard some people say that Haru's voice annoys them, which I can see since he is pretty high pitched, but that wasn't the case for me).

The Visuals: The show is amazingly colorful; the promo image above gives you an idea but isn't nearly as saturated as the actual show is. It manages to be vibrant and eye-catching without feeling childish which is rather impressive and I didn't notice any decrease in quality as the show went on (then again the show wasn't as detail heavy as some other shows to start with so that must've helped). The ending theme was done in an interesting cut paper look, which I suppose fits in with another (unofficial) noitaminA tradition of sorts (ie, making sure that either/or the opening or ending sequence looks different from 99% of the other shows airing at the time) and while I didn't find that as interesting as the opening with it's silly dancing it worked fine.


tsuritama has been licensed by Section 23/Sentai Filmworks for the US and Canada and can be viewed either on their website or on Crunchyroll for free. I plan on picking up a copy of the show when it comes out here (probably sometime next summer) and then seeing how many of my friends I can get hooked on the show as well.  

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Movie Review: The Artist

And I'm back and everything should be back to normal around here. Well, not quite normal actually, since I have such a large backlog of anime to review I'm going to start posting review on both Monday and Wednesday until when I go back to school around late August (I'm forever behind when it comes to reviewing recent anime and at least this will help me catch up).
In any case, I finally got around to seeing The Artist which has been on my to-view list since last November or so when I first heard about it. I adore the 1920s and it's true that I've only seen one silent film (Metropolis which I rather enjoyed), I hadn't seen any when I first heard about the film, that just made me more curious about it. So, how did the film actually fare then?

The Artist
 
Summary: George Valentin is a star of 1920s Hollywood silent films, seems to have it all, and is helping a new girl, Peppy Miller, get her foot in the door as well. But with the advent of talking films, and George's steadfast refusal to become involved with them, it soon becomes clear that Peppy with be the bigger star than he is and the film star has to decide if he can adapt or if he'll become obsolete.

The Good: The movie was structured and paced well and even if I found some parts of the movie too over-dramatic for my taste they never felt out of place in the movie (ie, even if I didn't like some scenes they did work and fit in thematically as well). Peppy and George both felt a little flat to me in the end but they both certainly underwent character development (maybe it's because they were never fleshed out beyond "they're an upcoming star/has been") and the movie takes place over enough time to make all of those changes feel believable. 

The Bad: My biggest complaint with the movie was that it was shot like a "talkie" movie, not a silent film and they are rather different things. When I saw Metropolis the actors made good use of body language to convey conversations (and a number of cards when the conversation got too complex for gestures alone). The Artist by comparison had a lot of scenes that were merely people talking and it was impossible to lipread all the conversations, I had a difficult time following what was going on in a number of scenes. I watched the film with a few other people who thought that this was a stylistic choice, to shoot a silent film the way you would shoot a talkie to symbolize how George was clinging to the past and refusing to move on but for me that felt like too much interpretation, to much thinking about the actual set-up of the film to be the case.

The Audio: This entry might seem a bit superfluous, the movie is billed as a silent film after all, but even a silent film isn't completely quite*. There is accompanying music in nearly every scene and the few scenes that had sound in them were used to great effect.

The Visuals: Oddly enough I wasn't as enamored with the sets and clothes as I expected to be (since again, I really like the 1920s style and that was a big draw for me) but regardless all of that worked. The sets looked real, the clothes looked authentic, the hairstyles looked right, overall everything looked right but it just really didn't draw me in.




So in the end I was rather disappointed with the film and didn't enjoy it nearly as much as I hoped, heck I didn't really enjoy it at all by the end. I've been joking that clearly in order to balance out Hugo (which I liked much more than I expected) I was going to come across a film I really wanted to like but didn't. Oh well, onto the next thing!


*something that our rather annoying closed captioning made clear.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Book Review: The Cabinet of Earths

Another book from the Enchanted Inkpot giveaway, I'll admit I was a bit confused when I got this package since the return address was, if I recall correctly, the Slavic department at UNC Berkly. I figured out what was going on quickly enough but it was an amusing moment none the less.

The Cabinet of Earths by Anne Nesbet

It took me a little while to recognize what scene, and characters, were being shown on the cover but I love the art on it regardless. It's very true to the book and has a lovely amount of detail on it and is certainly eye-grabbing.
  
Summary: In order to help her mother recover from cancer, Maya and her family have moved to Paris and Maya is less than pleased about this.  But her unhappiness soon turns to curiosity as Paris turns out different than she expected with strange relatives and seemingly magical houses and then to alarm as her relatives seem to have sinister plans for her younger brother.

The Good: The setting was very neat both because of how it was described with tons of detail and because I come across fewer stories set in Paris (well, France in general) so it feels fresher to me vs another fantasy story set in Generic Small Town America (TM) or England. I also liked how magic worked it's way into the story since it's not another story with magic and wizards on every corner but with magic hiding off in a corner yet very obviously present at the same time. It feels more like magical realism (believe I have the right term here) than urban fantasy and I don't see much of that genre so that was rather nice. 

The Bad: This was a book I wanted to like, thought I would like, and gave it a fair shot but in the end it just didn't grab me at all. I think part of this is that the book feels more like a middle grade book (which are aimed at late elementary school to middle school) vs a young adult book (late middle school to high school) and just didn't have as much "crossover appeal." By that I mean, Maya is young and feels young, she's not as creative about her situation as a slightly older character might be and is more easily manipulated which, when you know how the story is going to end (since books with a genuinely tragic ending are rarely, if ever, published for this age group) and you stop caring about what the character does you stop caring how they get to that point as well.


So in the end this is another book I'll be donating to the local library once I get back to school with the hopes that other people enjoy the story more than I did. It's not bad, it's just not as enjoyable if you don't regularly enjoy middle grade books. And, unrelated to the review, again I am taking next week off so that I can try and reset my schedule so I can get back in the habit of blogging (on time) the week after. The schedule isn't changing, that will probably come late August, September for sure, I'm just trying to adjust a few things on my end in the meantime.  

Manga Review: Moyashimon (volume one)

*facepalm* Yep, next week's break will be good for me so I can finally get re-used to my blogging schedule. And I had even planned this one out, I talked about the first Moyashimon anime series early enough so that if anyone was interested they had time to try it out before the second season aired, talked about the second season on Wednesday, and then I was going to finish up with the first volume of the manga (which I stumbled across at a used bookstore and thought "why not?") so that the show would be even more present in people's minds and (hopefully) they would be more likely to try it out. So let's see if that plan still works, abet a day behind schedule.....

Moyashimon: Tales of Agriculture by Masayuki Ishikawa

 
Summary: Tadayasu Sawaki and Kei Yuuki are freshman at an unnamed agricultural university near Tokyo and somehow end up as lab assistants to an eccentric professor who has a passion for all things fermented. One might think that he would be more interested in Kei, the son of a sake brewer, but instead Professor Itsuki is more interested in Sawaki and his curious ability to see microbes and talk with them. 

The Good: So far the anime seems to have been a rather good adaption of the story and all the strengths (and failings) of the manga transferred over well. The pacing is roughly similar, there's only one short chapter in here that wasn't animated and I can see why it was cut, overall everything just flows rather well. It sets a good tone for the rest of series and I now feel bad for holding off reading this series for so long now.

The Bad: Again, the manga has the same strength's and failings as the anime so some of the problems I had in the anime (such as the fact that an agricultural university doesn't seem eco-friendly, which seemed like a rather large research failing) are present here as well. I'll also admit that I preferred Professor Itsuki's long explanations of microbes in the anime to the manga since it was much easier to tune out after a few seconds in the anime than to try and skim in the manga, and even if you do try to read everything that panels are so packed that it's hard to make out the words as well (I don't know if the Japanese panels were as packed or if this is partially a problem that came because of translating it into a language which generally uses more space letter/character wise).

The Art: First off, I love how the US cover was done (the original Japanese covers, from what I've seen, were a plain green cover with yellow text on it, this one is quirkly eye-catching) and it looks like the trend of recreating countries' flags with microbes would have continued if the series had (in the US). As for the actual manga, the art doesn't use many screentones and the pen and ink style gives the series a surprisingly gritty look (which stands out even more compared to the anime, especially with the art shift for the second season). It's also much more detailed than I expected and the characters look much more distinctive, it's not what I was expecting at all but I rather liked it.



So, there was one more volume of the manga released in the US, which was partially why I hadn't tried it before (there didn't seem much point in trying out a dropped, two volume series) but now I'll keep an eye out for it. I don't plan on making an effort to go out and look for it but if the series popped up on say JManga or if it got re-licensed then sure, I'll go and support the series, otherwise I'll just follow the anime and that'll be it.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Summer 2012 Anime Write-up

Following up last week's continuing spring shows I'm enjoying post it's time for me to talk about all of the new shows I've tried out in the past four days (yes, I've seen all of this in four days, fear for my sanity). As usual there were one or two shows that sounded like they might have been kinda interesting that I didn't get around to watch but might pick up later. I'm trying to be picker with what I watch so I have more time to catch up with older series and, since summer is one of the "weaker" anime seasons, I might actually have some luck with that this time around! So I'm just going to go and make one post for all the shows, sorry to anyone whose using an RSS reader since I probably just killed your feed.

Arcana Famigila (La Storia della Arcana Famigila)
The Premise: On a small island ruled by the local mafia, the head of the family is retiring and has ordered all members who have made a contract with the tarot (as in tarot cards) to participate in a fighting tournament to determine the next head and marry his daughter. His daughter is not happy about this and decides to fight as well.

Another anime adaptation of an otome game and I was looking forward to this one based on the original artwork, which was of course made rather generic looking for the anime (I know I know, it's easier to animate, still doesn't make me less sad about it). As for the rest of the show, that wasn't a very good opening episode, I'm hard pressed to think of a single well-done part of the episode. Everything felt clunky and wooden, all the characters felt like walking stereotypes (yes they haven't had character development yet but plenty of other shows manage better than this in their first episode), and the info dumps seemed rather pointless. Between all of that and news that the show is probably going for a romantic route I wouldn't like* I've dropped this show and am starting to lose faith that good, interesting reverse harems show exist.

Arcana Famigila is streaming on Crunchyroll and has been licensed by Section 23.


Campione!
The Premise: Japanese tourist Goudo goes to Japan to return an artifact owned by his grandfather, kills a god and receives the title (and powers) of Godslayer.

Honestly I tried out this show just because the idea of  a "Godslayer" amused me and I certainly enjoy flashy action shows, provided that they have a plot that holds together. At this point it's a bit hard to tell if Campione has that however, the first episode was paced much to fast (according to fans of the original novel they compressed an entire light novel, which run about 200-ish pages in my experience, into one episode) and instead of starting out in media res (as the first novel does, I read some of that and it worked alright there) they also chose to adapt the third novel, which was a flashback to how Godou got his powers. I can understand why they did this part first and fast but the episode could have been much sleeker and really makes me worried how the rest of the series will be paced. For the moment I'm giving it another few episodes but I'm much less optimistic about it now.

Campione! is also streaming on Crunchyroll and has been licensed by Sentai Filmworks (another name for Section 23).  


Humanity Has Declined (Jinrui wa Suitai Shimashita)
 The Premise: In the far off future the world may look bright and cheery but the human population has dropped precariously and many places struggle with things such as food shortages. Our protagonist, let's called her Mediator, is from the UN and her job is to mediate between humans and faeries, tiny, perpetually smiling creatures who now have a larger population and more advanced technology than humans.

Oh where to begin with this show, if you want weird, black comedy this is the show of the season, I'm torn between thinking the show is too strange and over the top and laughing at the worst of the jokes. All of the comedy involves some form of absurdism, dead-panning on the part of at least one character, and for good measure some of them involve puns as well (oh kami....). At this point I'm kinda torn about continuing the show or not, at times I find it too strange but I am enjoying it and it's only one cour so for the time being I'll continue following it.

HhD is streaming on Crunchyroll and has also been licensed by Sentai/23.


Lagrange- The Flower of Rin-ne (season two)
 The Premise: Continuing about a year from where the first part ended, Madoka has never quite recovered from making the closest friends she's ever had, Lan and Muginami, to have them leave her, go to fight in opposite sides in a war, and her own abilities to pilot the mysterious Vox Aura have vanished as well. But all of a sudden Lan comes back into her life with Muginami in hot pursuit, although it seems like both of them want Madoka for their side's own, manipulative purposes, all the while Madoka's cousin attempts to puzzle out just what happened all those thousands of years ago to spark the legend surrounding the Flower of Rin-ne.

I am quite happy this show is back since it developed into a great show last winter that took a number of old, mostly mech, tropes and just slightly subverted or played with them. By now Madoka is broken for sure (she probably wasn't in the best mental state when the whole show started but by now she really doesn't seem to be in a good place), the politics seem to have gotten a bit more complicated, and Earth is in serious trouble this time when two of it's three Voxes, the only hope they have in case either of the "alien" sides decide to fight, are now possibly against them and the last is out of commission. While I don't like the new ED and miss the old OP the rest of the show is firing on all cylinders so far and, while I don't expect the show to end in tragedy, I am curious to see how much of a happy ending it can produce and what the characters have to do to work for it.

Lagrange is licensed by Viz media and can be found streaming for US audiences on Hulu.   


Moyashimon Returns
The Premise: Not more than a month after the first season ended in-universe, the gang returns for more hijinks involving fermentation, college life, and microbes with microbe seeing Sawaki as the main character.

Well, if you've seen the first season you know what to expect and if you'll enjoy it, if you haven't you really need to start at the beginning of the show. Actually, the most note-worthy thing about this first episode (which, like many other shows, had weak pacing which I'm hoping will get better) was that the character designer was different this time around which resulted in some of the characters looking radically different, stolen from RandomC (here's the comparison for Sawaki as well, ultimately all the characters look much less detailed this time around). Between those two things it didn't make for the strongest first episode but I do like the series so I'll obviously be sticking around.

Moyashimon Returns has not been licensed/simulcast by anyone so fansubs are the way to go for this show (unless you know enough Japanese to keep up with a discussion on microbiology and fermentation that is).  


Natsuyuki Rendezous
The Premise: Hazuki, a man in his 20s, has a crush on the owner of a local flower shop and gets hired on as part time help after several months of stopping by nearly every night to buy flowers. He's trying to grow closer to her when he discovers that not only is she a widower but he is the only person who can see the ghost of her husband who is constantly nearby.

The second noitaminA show of the season and I enjoyed the first episode much more than I expected it to. It was a paced quickly but perfectly, no scene felt too short or too long and, considering that the original manga is only four volumes long (and completed!), I think this show might fit perfectly into the 11/12 episode constraint of the timeslot. I'll need another episode or two to really like the characters but already they've started being fleshed out and I also really like the look of this show (I know everyone is talking about HhD and SAO but I really liked the use of color here and the character designs were nice and distinctive). The show is a slice of life romance, not my favorite combination of genres, but hopefully with older characters I'll enjoy it.

The show is both streaming on crunchyroll and has been nabbed by Sentai (proving that they don't really care what a show is as long as it stays still long enough for them to grab it).


Sword Art Online
The Premise: The year is 2022 and full immersion virtual reality video games have finally arrived and the creator of the technology (a helmet like apparatus) has created his own game called Sword Art Online and limited the sales to just 10,000 volumes. But after the beta has ended and all the new players have logged in they discover that there is absolutely no way to get out of the game, unless as a collective group they beat all 100 levels of the game without dying since death in the game means death in the real world too. 

Probably the most hyped and anticipated anime of the summer season, written by the same author who wrote the Accel World light novels^ I seem to be in the minority here by finding the pacing a bit rough. Funny enough it's similar to the problems I had with Campione!'s first episode, I can see why they had so much happen in one episode but felt like a few things could've been cut down (do we really need to know so much about how the mechanics of a game that we can never play work?). Also unlike most people it seems (well, unlike most non-light novel readers anyway) I actually didn't have any problems with the "there is no way out of SAO except my way" part, I'll admit that I've read so much background on the show that I've forgotten exactly what was outlined in the episode (and hopefully the parts that were left out of the first episode will be addressed soon) but they went to such extremes to show how there really is no way to get out of the game internally or externally^^ that I have no problems with the set-up. So with all of that out of the way hopefully the pacing will smooth itself out a bit and make for an interesting ride.

While not licensed, people are speculating that Aniplex plans to release this series themselves (oh god those prices) the show is legally streaming on crunchyroll.  


Tari Tari
The Premise: After screwing up in her club's musical performance last year, Konatsu isn't allowed to sing this year. To get around this she finds four other classmates to join her club so that she can sing as part of her new club.

I feel so odd for saying this but I do like slice-of-life, there just happens to be more than one kind of sol and this isn't the kind I like. The characters, even the Austrian exchange student (do the Japanese really think the travel guides are written so poorly?), are just too mundane to be interesting and sadly the characters look just enough alike that I started confusing some of the female characters, something that I do rarely. The show looks pretty, really pretty and makes me wish that I liked the show more, but it just bored me and I see no reason to continue further with it.

Tari Tari is streaming on crunchyroll and has been added to Section 23's ever-growing horde of anime titles. 


UtaKoi (Choyaku Hyakunin Isshu: Uta Koi)
 The Premise: A "liberal interpretation" of the hundred poems used in games such as karuta, each episode focuses on one or two of the poems, all of which are love poems, and speculates on how they came to be.

I'll admit it, I wouldn't have looked twice at this series if it wasn't for Chihayafuru and I imagine most wouldn't have either (which makes this either great planning or the luckiest coincidence ever for the show). Love stories on their own generally aren't my cup of tea but, due to their short nature and the visuals of the show (which indulges in the non-moving plaid technique and adds a thick line around all of the character which produces an effect I rather like) I'm hooked. I'll admit the animation isn't very high quality (and considering I normally can't tell that's a bad sign) and the ending song is the strangest pairing I've ever found for an anime (the opening song is hit or miss it seems, the singer certainly could be less nasally but the song has charmed me) but so far I've had fun with this show and at one season I can spare the time to watch some more. 

UtaKoi is streaming on crunchyroll.


There's an interesting bit of variety for me this time around, including my continuing shows I'm watching two mech shows, one or two more with strong sci-fi elements, three action heavy shows, two romance heavy shows, a few that are half slice of life half something else, a mystery show, and two shows where one of their genres is "just plain weird." It's a nice mix, and I'm watching some high fantasy on the side to balance out the sci-fi, so here's to a summer with a few unexpected gems and hopes that none of these shows crashes and burns!   



*the only reason I'm squicked out is because it appears they are going to pair up Felicit√° with either her cousin or her nephew, which I do recall noticing in the preview material but ignored. Actually, I agree with this poster on what the best route would be since that would totally be the route I'd go for in the game (well, if there wasn't an option for dating everyone, if it's a dating game I demand the option to date as many people as I want!)

^all the author has given a no-comment comment on whether or not the two series are related thus far (from what I can tell there is an extra story somewhere where the leads from the two series have a duel, somehow) although I'm inclined to think that they are alternate universes. Honestly I just can't believe that the NerveGear technology from SAO had progressed so far in just eight years (it's only about six or nine month's old at the start of SAO) that people were putting the internet connectors onto babies (which is one of the rules for brain burst in Accel World and the oldest brain bursters would have been born around 2030). Someone could probably make a very good argument to convince me otherwise but for the moment I'm sticking to my position.

^^unplug them? Has a battery. Battery is unconnected too long? Explodes. Try to disconnect battery? Same idea. Hack the servers? Government tries, fails, can only monitor from the outside. Take helmet off? Explodes. People die of starvation? Creator left a two hour window and info for all players for the government to move everyone to hospitals. Shouldn't safety concerns have been raised? Dude created SAO AND Nervegear and was the first to completely take advantage of all of it. Plus, see that this platform is less than a year old and has a battery that likes to explode when people mess with it, might not have been reverse engineered yet (I will also say that the original web novels for this were in 2002, before everyone and their mom started jailbreaking iPhones and the like, it was written in a slightly different culture). I'm also betting on the theory that he did almost everything on his own and that the company doesn't really exist so there was no one to stop him.  

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Anime Review: Aquarion Evol

Ack, my schedule yesterday was a bit thrown off so it wasn't until long after I went to bed that I realized I had completely forgotten to write this post. I've been in a bit of a blogging slump lately so I've decided that I'm going to take next week off to see if that helps (since this is hardly the first post I've forgotten to write recently). 
In any case, Aquarion Evol! I started watching this with a friend to cheer them up one day without having seen the first show but after a bit I decided to watch the first show as well to understand the back story better which I decided not to review since I have complicated feelings on it. In short, the ending was strong and I liked the premise (darker than I was expecting), but it had too many comedy episodes which made it seem like they had forgotten the premise which ultimately didn't mess well and made the series feel awkward. However, Evol does a very good job summarizing the important parts of the original series so you don't have to watch it to watch Evol (if you do so desire however, Funimation has licensed it for Region 1 and it can be found on Hulu). So, how does it's sequel, because that's what it is (the original series even has To Be Continued after the last episode), fare in comparison? Well, again it's a bit complicated.

Aquarion Evol

Summary: 12,000 years after the events of Genesis of Aquarion (and 24,000 years after the war between angels and humans that started everything) Earth is facing a very different kind of threat, people from another world in another dimension who have come to try and steal away women in hopes of finding their "true eve." Not that this concerns Amata, a boy with the odd power of being able to fly whenever he has strong emotions (via wings on his feet), and Mikono, the untalented sister of Neo-Deva's most talented aquarion pilots. But fate has brought these two together and to Neo-Deva to fight and perhaps fate has even more in store for them.

The Good: Quite honestly I started watching the show because the premise of "teens ride in mechs that combine in a three-way orgasm" sounded utterly amusing (hell, I always giggled when the characters in Star Driver started yelling about how libido affected their piloting abilities) and no that's not an exaggeration or simplification of the show, that is literally what happens. Unexpectedly, with a show that has almost-sex as a major part, there's a lot of romance and I ended up liking a lot of the side characters and their romances more than I expected. It's a fun show most of the time for it's over the top and regular random moments (and believe me, Fudo is never as strange as he was in the original here) never failed to have me laughing, although I don't think all of those moments were meant to be funny.

The Bad: Ultimately the stakes never felt as high here as they did in the first show, even when the story was at it's climax it felt forced and silly. And speaking of the first series, the "twist" regarding this round of reincarnations (since there was a twist in the first series that meant there had to be one here as well) makes very little sense considering the first series and produced some weird continuity problems*. Finally, while Mikono and Zessica (another female character) both had their good moments neither of them were as well fleshed out as they could be which bothered me. It's true that the guys weren't much better but both of the girls had a lot more potential to be deeper, more interesting characters so this was rather unfortunate (as was the choice in Zessica's outfit, I try not to get too annoyed by what female characters wear, otherwise I would be annoyed all day long, but her second outfit was facepalm worthy dumb).

The Audio: Yoko Kanno returns to work on the music (and either one or both of the openings, at a glance it seems like ANN doesn't specify which) and the music is quite fun. It's big, often over the top, and blood-pumping which fits with the show very well. Both of the ending songs are a bit sadder but tragedy is part of the story as well so in the end they both fit well (although it took me some time to get used to the second ed). The music was some of the most fun parts of the show and, while I don't feel the need to buy the show on DVD, I would happily buy the soundtrack regardless.

The Visuals: Evol has different character designers from the original series (which is immediately obvious during the flashback scenes) and overall I liked how this series looked more than the original. Sadly this show isn't very visually distinctive, there's no stylistic flair in the designs, coloring, backgrounds, etc. and even the mechas don't look so distinctive that someone unfamiliar with the genre would be able to recognize them (compare to say the mechs from Gundam or Neon Genesis Evangelion which are immediately recognized by most anime fans). So, while the show is pretty, it's not something that will stick in most people's minds a few years after the fact.



In the end it was a fun show but not an especially good one. I was entertained, I had fun watching this is with my friend, and in that way the show served it's purpose, but considering some of the problems it had I just can't call it a good show despite those reasons. The show is not licensed in any way, shape, or form in the US but has been solicited for an Australian DVD release if people really want to buy it and don't want to pay Japanese DVD prices. 


*since I need to get specific here, spoilers for Genesis and Evol: in the first series it's implied that Fudo Gen is 12,000 years old and that he was the third pilot of the original Aquarion which I thought was a neat idea (the OVA/movie version of Genesis introduced a new character for that but that's an alternate continuity). In Evol however it's revealed that he is Apollonius, the angel who fell in love with a woman and jilted his lover (Tohma/Mikage) and started the whole mess which wasn't implied at all in either series and something like that NEEDS foreshadowing. Also, that means that Apollo (and by dint his reincarnation in Evol) was not the reincarnation of Apollonius but in fact a dog which had about three minutes of screen time in the original (which I only noticed because I saw fan theories that Rena, who either is Crea or reincarnated into her for Evol, was that dog reincarnated 12,000 years later). The only thing it does is explain why Touma is still angry and reincarnated (since at the end of the original series he seems to have accepted his fate and not be mad at Apollonius anymore) but I'm pretty sure the story could have figured out a way to work without him.  
 

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Movie Review: Cowboy Bebop the Movie: Knockin' On Heaven's Door

It took me much longer to get a hold of this movie than I would have liked so believe me, the almost year wide gap between me talking about this movie and the tv series was not intentional. I don't think it matters if you watch the movie after the show or when it's chronologically set within the show (which I believe is around episode 24), and while the story is self-contained enough that a newcomer could probably follow the movie it does provide some foreshadowing for the end of the series which makes it a more enjoyable movie for someone who has already seen all or part of the series. We did show part of the movie at my school's anime club and it seemed like everyone, fan and newcomer alike, enjoyed it but I do think a fan is going to get more out of it.

Cowboy Bebop The Movie: Knockin' On Heaven's Door

Summary: It's almost Halloween night and there's a criminal on the loose who wants to play a "trick" on the capital city of Mars, releasing a deadly virus that's almost impossible to detect and cure. So when the government puts out the largest bounty ever for his arrest the crew of the Bebop all get to work tracking him down in their various ways but will they be able to find him in time?

The Good: The story feels exactly like an episode from the later part of the story, the characters have been mostly fleshed out, they each track down Vincent exactly how you would expect them to, and there is some foreshadowing about Spike's past and future thrown in as well. The setting feels just right, from the looks to how everything interacts with each other, and all in all the movie felt cohesive and rather fun as a fan of the series. It was exactly what I expected to get from the movie, was entertaining, and made me want to re-watch the original show again which is the best thing a movie like this can do.

The Bad: Technically the movie doesn't add anything to the story so some would consider it a cash-in attempt where the creators made it just for the sake of making money. If you feel that way about franchise movies then avoid this since you'll just be grumpy about it, but with a story like Cowboy Bebop's (which was held together more thematically than with an overarching plot) I think it works fine. Vincent, the criminal's, backstory is a bit confusing at points, I still don't know if he fought in a war as a modified solider or if there was no war, just scientific testing, but in the end it's not a detail that really matters so even with some confusing parts like that the story still manages to stand strong. 

The Audio: I of course watched with the English dub and the cast all sounds pitch perfect, like there wasn't a break between dubbing the show and dubbing the movie (I don't know if there was or not but point made). The new characters also sound rather solid, I was a bit confused why one character had an Australian accent (I can only guess they had an accent in the Japanese version), but other than that everything was spot on. It was nice to hear the Cowboy Bebop music as well, there weren't any new tracks that stood out to me but overall everything fit very well.

The Visuals: As is the case with many movie properties of anime series, the movie looks a bit better than the series with crisper lines, richer colors, and doesn't skimp on the fight scenes which all looked really good. There wasn't any really noticeable CGI in the film, and while I have nothing against CGI it just feels more impressive to see everything really well cel-animated, and I was overall impressed at how good a ten year old movie looked.

So I'm adding this to my to-buy list as well (and it reminds me how I need to get a move on on these Bandai titles, ugh) and really there's not much to say. If you like the show you'll like the movie and you already know what to expect, there's just not much to say beyond that.  

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Book Review: The Book of Blood and Shadow

I won this book in a twitter contest hosted by Random Buzzers (one of your standard, retweet this tweet and we'll choose winners from that pool) which was rather nice since I've read Robin Wasserman's Skinned trilogy and, since one of my big problems was that it went on too long, I was curious to see how she would do with a one book story instead. With that in mind, onto the review!

The Book of Blood and Shadow by Robin Wasserman
  I actually didn't have this cover on my copy, it was an ARC with a plain black cover with the title in a red script, and while this cover isn't exactly to my taste it's certainly a good and very interesting cover. I love the detail in her eye and it's rather eye-catching.

Summary: When Nora is assigned to translate some old letters instead of the rare book her classmates are working on she's initially rather unhappy, although any chance to be away from her parents who aren't stay together "for the sake of the children" but for the memory of her dead brother is welcomed. And then she discovers that while the book talks about a mysterious, mystical device called the Lumen Dei, her writer actually dealt with the machine and are much more valuable. So valuable in fact that centuries later there are still groups of people out there willing to do anything to get their hands on them and while some of them view Nora to just be in the way others want to capture her as well.

The Good: This is a very tightly plotted book and pulls off the remarkable task of making it not only believable that Nora is able to find and translate all of the letters, most of which have been hidden for at least four centuries, but also that the letters have remained hidden for so long. It's very hard to make that set-up look natural, and considering the story rests upon that it's critical to the story at large, and it's pulled off perfectly at here and never once did one of those revelations jolt me out of the story. And, despite my nitpicks later, the story felt well paced with no revelation coming too quickly or taking too long. Nora wasn't the most memorable lead I've seen but she was strong and well-fleshed out so I certainly liked her, I just don't know how much I'll remember about her (as opposed to the story itself) in a few years time.

The Bad: As I had been afraid, this book still felt too long by the end, my copy clocks in at 430 pages, but again I'm not really sure where to cut it down. It's both long and dense, I felt rather exhausted by the end of the story and feeling like I would have liked it to be a little shorter. Other than that there weren't many problems with it and certainly no major problems that stood out to me. It was a little exasperating at times that Nora had no idea she was about to be betrayed, which was clearly obvious to me as a reader, and likewise it was also frustrating to see that none of the characters seem to realize they were being manipulated at certain points, especially since none of them were portrayed as dumb. I felt like Adriane's characterization was a little flat compared to some of the other side characters but again that wasn't a major issue in the end.


I really liked this story a lot more than I was expecting to and I plan on buying a copy of the book for myself in the future (I'll donate the ARC to the free basket at my library's bookstore, since book has already been out for over six months I don't feel like that'll be a problem and since you can't sell an ARC there's not much else I can do with it). A very strong story and one of my favorite books of 2012 so far (mind you I haven't read many but that doesn't stop it from being a favorite within the category).