Sunday, September 30, 2012

Book Review: Blue Fire

Similarly to Star Crossed/Liar's Moon, I first read The Shifter a year or two back and hadn't gotten a chance to read the sequel since I was busy and hadn't seen it at the library. I did this summer so, again like SC, I checked out Shifter first, speed-read through it to make sure I remembered all the characters and then about a week later went into Blue Fire. Perhaps I'm a bit odd that when reading books in a series I actually don't like to read them back to back, I like to have a bit of space between them partially so I can keep them more seperate in my mind. However, when I got back to school in late August I found that the school library had the last book in the series, Darkfall, and, considering that it was on display just waiting for me to walk by, I've already read and finished that one as well. So this review is going to be a little shorter, it's going to be a while before I get to Darkfall and I've been able to keep them fairly separate in my mind but it's a bit harder to talk about the merits of an individual book when I already know how the entire story is going to end.

Blue Fire by Janice Hardy

Summary: The Isles of Geveg might have escaped one disaster when Nya accidentally killed the Luminary of the Healing Academy (and in the process saved all of the young healers of Greg from his warped experiments) but war still looms large on the horizon as the Duke of Baseeri seeks to bring the islands and the other lands he captured decades ago under tighter control. Nya herself is now in danger as her mysterious Shifter powers have become well-known and there is a bounty on her head. Thus she finds herself on the way to the capital of Baseeri where new, even more terrible things are being planned and if she wants to save her friends she'll have to stop these plans and save everyone.

The Good: Despite the change in location a good chunk of the cast comes along and I really liked that, the bonds Nya had between her friends at the end of the first book was something I liked (especially since most protagonists tend to have only one or two close friends and they are always the opposite sex, more large groups of mixed-genders please!). Some more of Nya's own past is revealed in this book (something I wasn't expecting at all even though, in retrospect, not much was said in the first book) which combined with a few other things helped flesh out the overall conflict (the Duke vs everyone else) a little more and made the conflict less black and white. The idea of healers and healing being something that can be abused was even more explored in this story and by now I can never look at that trope again in the same way. In anime there's always a big hubaloo when a series (at least seems to) deconstruct a widely used trope so the trope is never used the same way again and this has been a huge deconstruction of everything that people normally associate with healers, I'm going to be so disappointed when I go back to stories that aren't nearly this creative. 

The Bad: I'm still not entirely sure of the motivation for anything the Duke did but, given how many people in real life have conquered other nations because they can/ they're "supposed" to be the rightful rulers and people are forever developing new weapons for these causes so I can't call it unrealistic either. Speaking of weapons, to be as vague as possible, that big weapon I thought was one of the weakest points of the book and still feels like a weird, reverse-deus-ex-machina (diabolus-ex-machina?) and I just didn't like it. Thankfully it's not a major part of the story, it does it's job and then gets out of the way, but it still felt rather awkward to me.

So yes, I'm still really enjoying this series, although it'll probably be a while before I get around to Darkfall (ie, probably November), and I plan on buying the whole set someday when I actually have the money for it.   

Friday, September 28, 2012

Comic Review: Shay's Story

Scott Westerfeld, author of the Leviathan series, has written a few other young adult series and by far his most well known was the Uglies series, a trilogy (with a fourth book that's more a companion novel than a true sequel) set about 300 years in the future after humanity almost destroyed itself when a virus destroyed/set all the oil on fire (as far as I recall anyway, it's been a few years since I read these books) which also resulted in society being reshaped. Now people live with their parents when they're very young, dorms for a few years (from around 12 to 16), after which everyone undergoes a mandatory surgery to become "pretty" after which they move out of the dorms into another part of the city where they live out the rest of their lives. I'm saying all of this since this book doesn't really say any of that and none of the original books do either, it's something you have to put together   (probably because otherwise red flags would go up in the reader's minds immediately). However, I think that people do need at least a bit of background to enjoy this story, or maybe a lot of background....

Shay's Story written by Scott Westerfeld and Devin Grayson, illustrated by Steven Cummings

Summary: Shay wants the same thing every teenager wants, for her sixteenth birthday to hurry up and come so she can finally undergo the operation that will make her beautiful and let her live a life of luxury in New Pretty Town for years to come. Shay isn't quite a normal teenager though, she's a bit "tricky" what with modifying her hoverboard to fly higher and faster than the limits will let it and sneaks over into New Pretty Town to pull pranks. She falls in with some life-minded people and they find out about the biggest tricky thing of all, how to escape the city and go live completely in the wilderness. Shay isn't so sure she wants this though, but the things she sees in the city start to convince her more and more.

The Good: While Tally is the main character, the mover and shaker, of the series Shay is an incredibly important character (although mostly because she usually ends up in conflict with Tally, hmm) so it's nice to fill in the gaps of her story and see how she got involved The Smoke which triggers the entire rest of the series. She is an interesting character, even though she's a bit flat here, and it was nice to see what some of the locations in the story looked like since, IIRC, the original book were a bit light on the descriptive details.

The Bad: I don't think this book works if you're completely new to the series because there is simply so much backstory to know to understand what the characters do. Why are the cities bad? While in the first Uglies book a reader could pick up on what was going on there are barely any clues to let a new reader figure out the truth and without that there's almost no reason for the characters to leave in the first place. Aside from Shay none of the characters seem to get any development, Zane is radically different from how he appears in the books (which is on purpose and about the only foreshadowing we get for my previous complaint), David seems more cocky (or like an ass, your mile may vary) than he did in the books, and Tally almost gets the worst of it since her development in the books often happened when Shay was off-screen. So when you combine those two things with the way the story itself flowed (choppy, it was split into a ton of super short chapters, it was impossible to get a grasp on the passage of time, characters came in and out of the story almost randomly) and I just can't say that this book was good or worth reading by any but the most hardcore fan. 

The Art: I shall be blunt here, this is not the medium to tell this story. An all text medium doesn't work really well for the story (it took me forever to catch onto the fact that the "ugly" characters were in fact normal) and a comic doesn't work either since, well, everyone looks pretty and there is supposed to be a huge, noticeable difference between uglies and pretties and, unless you're Urasawa* or someone who does more horror work, everyone is going to look pretty. Recently the Uglies books had their film right's optioned it was announced that they were in talks with the special effects team that did the work on Captain America for the body modifications, that would work but here where everyone is manga-pretty it just doesn't and that means a major part of the story doesn't make sense. If everyone already looks so great then why do people care about the surgery? I have to admit that the art here was in a style I'm not so crazy about (I see it in a lot of comics which  feel a lot like "OEL Manga") which uses a lot of flat, dark screentones which just doesn't work and there were times when it was confusing to figure out what order to read the panels in (something again that I see much more in comics like this than I do in webcomics which just baffles me). It's not a bad looking book, don't get me wrong there, but it just doesn't work.

So yeah, I had heard that some parts of this story didn't work, went in expecting that it would be at the very least okay and came out rather grumpy. It sounds like they want to make more graphic novels to help fill in the gaps of the series and, while on the one hand I'm curious to see what else happened to Shay when she was offscreen, and I can't really say no to books I find for free at a library, I really doubt now how good they would be. 

*who draws amazingly distinct faces, it's something about the noses 

Monday, September 24, 2012

Anime Review: Natsuyuki Rendezvous

One of the two noitaminA shows this season and, if Kids on the Slope kinda felt like old noitaminA, then this felt like a return to the original premise of the block which is nice considering the weird directions it's been going the past few years (not saying that they're bad, just that the timeslot is all over the place now). Based on a completed four volume manga (not available in the US) it seemed like the perfect fit for the timeslot, it's got the right material, right length, it's josei, this is sure to work right?

Natsuyuki Rendezvous

Summary: Hazuki is in love with the manager at the flower shop where he works, the older Rokka whom he discovers is widowed only when he visits her and finds the ghost of her dead husband (Shimao) floating around. Hazuki is apparently the only one who can see him and, despite saying before he died that she should move on, Shimao still feels rather possessive of Rokka and would like nothing better than to make Hazuki's budding relationship fail. Spurred on by this Hazuki begins to pursue Rokka even more diligently and all the while Rokka herself is trying to sort out her feelings for Hazuki.

The Good: While there are plenty of anime out there that center around romance, most of them deal with high schoolers or maybe every now and then with college students. Hazuki is the youngest person in this entire show (and he’s at least in his early 20s, I think he's a little past college) so between that and the fact that Rokka is a widow make the dynamics a bit different and it’s always a nice change of pace to have older characters (at the very least when they do dumb things it’ll be a different kind of dumb).

The Bad: To put it bluntly, Shimao is an ass and, while a character being an ass in and of itself isn’t a bad thing, I found myself annoyed at how the story tried to make excuses for why he was an ass and which backfired made him even less sympathetic. This is all even more frustrating when it’s shown that his personality used to be a bit different before his death and no reason is given for why he changed (except for an off-hand line that suggests he just went nuts in the three years he’s been floating around). Perhaps the idea was that Rokka was an accidental unreliable narrator, ie that she didn’t really know what a lot of Shimao’s hidden feelings were, but that just doesn’t work either. I didn’t like Hazuki much either, while he still comes off better than Shimao he’s still way too pushy for me to like him and it’s never quite explained why he’s in love with Rokka. He started off with a crush on her before he started working, understandable, but we never see why he loves her or vice versa, it just made the whole relationship feel rather awkward to me. Also, while there are also bits where the viewer can see what Rokka is thinking she still comes off as rather passive, someone who’s stuck and can’t move on. That is understandable to a large degree but in the end I wish she had just been a bit more proactive in the story. Finally, the pacing just didn't work here, 11 episodes was too long for this show and it really didn't have material for more than 8. I've seen one or two people suggest it might've worked better as a movie and I'm a bit baffled by how stretched out the show felt, was the original manga like this as well or did they actually have to add parts in to get it to 11 episodes?

The Audio: Crunchyroll very nicely translated the opening and ending songs about half-way through the shows run so for once I can say that both the tone of the music and the lyrics fit the show very well. I like to think that the opening song is Shimao's feelings for Rokka and vice versa for the ending (although I could see the ending being Hazuki's feelings for Rokka instead) but regardless, they worked well with the show. The voice acting was fine (this is probably the calmest role Jun Fukuyama has ever played and considering he's a mentally unstable ghost that should say something) and I have no complaints with it (which is a good thing considering that this title will probably not get dubbed).

The Visuals: The show is rather colorful, which is rather apt considering that a third of the show takes place in a flower shop, and even though it's colorful the colors work well together and the show never looks too cartoony or over-saturated for it. The character designs are basic but fine, the settings look alright, I really liked the still image used for the ending song (I wonder if you can buy it as a poster in Japan, it seems like a natural choice for merchandise), all in all it was fine. The show was a well put-together one, it was just the story that had problems.

So yes, all in all this series was a miss for me. It started out alright, floundered for a long time and then I was just frustrated with it in the end. I'm not super fond of romance stories anyway but it sounds like a lot of other people were frustrated with this series by the end as well, it's oddly comforting to not be the only one there. So I guess this means, if this was the bad/flop show of the noitaminA timeslot does that mean that Moyashimon Returns was the good one?
And as mentioned above, the show is streaming on Crunchyroll and has been licensed for physical distribution by Sentai filmworks (who will probably start streaming it on their own site soon if not already).

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Movie Review: The Avengers

So finally, months after the rest of the world, I've finally gotten a chance to see The Avengers! The movie came out the week before I started exams sadly and, knowing that it would come to my school's one dollar theater in the fall, I decided to hold off seeing it over the summer because I would much rather see it together with friends than by myself. I'm also a bit amused by how much has changed since I started watching the Marvel films, I remember my brother getting a copy of the first Iron Man DVD and, since we had finally heard about the after the credits scene, fast-forwarding to that and being really confused why that was such a big deal. I mean, it was cool that they apparently mentioned Stark Industries in The Incredible Hulk but people never (that I was aware of at the time) make crossover movies because of all the rights involved, right?

The Avengers

Summary: Building off of the characters introduced in the Iron Man movies, Thor, The Incredible Hulk, and Captain America, Loki is determined to invade and destroy the Earth for perceived slights and government agency S.H.I.E.L.D. determines that their best bet to save the Earth is to gather all of the super-powered people they know and have them fight him off. 

The Good: This was a fun movie. It was paced fairly well, if you've seen the other movies (if you haven't honestly I'm not sure why you're watching) it builds off the already introduced characters, and has plenty of good looking action. I thought it was obvious that Joss Whedon directed this film since the characters were firing off even more quips than usual (all of which did feel in character however) and I didn't even mind the Killing Off Fan Favorite Character (TM) scene because the character seemed aware of what their death meant in the larger scheme, although I still wish they hadn't been killed off. The movie also manages to give all of the characters adequate screen time (which considering the movie poster lists eight major characters is really impressive) so, while I can't exactly say that all of the characters had some development (they didn't really seem to change by the end of it) everyone had a chance to show off which was great. 

The Bad: The internet at large will probably dislike me for this but I just don't like Loki as a villain. Personal preferences for Norse mythology aside, everything he did felt just like a rehash of Thor and I was bored by it. Oh no, we have a villain who has just enough of a sensitive side to get the audience to sympathize with him! Wohoooooo. He was a good way to get all the Avengers together but I still would have preferred another villain (which thankfully is what the during-the-credits scene implied, although I'm sure he'll be back in Thor 2). Oh and I would like there to be more ladies in the film next time. Black Widow was awesome (I winced at first during her first scene and was happy when it was all completely subverted) and all but, especially since everyone swears that Marvel has a ton of great female superheroes out there, I would still like for there to be more ladies with prominent roles in the future.   

The Audio: Even though I just saw the movie a couple of days ago, and remember liking some of the themes when I saw it, I can't remember a single piece of it. Listening to clips on itunes it sounds like, well, standard movie music. It's big, orchestral, heck for a minute I thought they ripped a track straight from Lord of the Rings, so it's not bad, I simply didn't find it memorable. Although, should movie soundtracks be that memorable? When it's all said in done The Avengers is just an action, superhero flick, not a film where the music is integral to the finished product, so as long as it works I guess that doesn't matter much in the end.   

The Visuals: Not only does the movie manage to give all the characters adequate screen time but it also flows from fight to fight rather seamlessly as well (there's one particularly impressive shot where it tracks across all of the major fights at once, I'd love to know how they pulled that one off). The special effects look fine (I'm not sold on The Hulk but that can't be an easy thing to make look right) and once again I'm in love with all the technology (both CGI generated and actual props) shown, that was the eye-candy of the movie for me.

So yes, apparently you can make a cross-over movie these days, have it be a financial success, and convince a large part of the population to see all of the other movies as well (I have never seen the line for the school's showing that long and it seemed like a lot of people were there to see it again as well). Color me impressed and yes, I did really enjoy the film, want to get together with friends and have a marathon of the other films (again) and can't wait for whichever film is set to come out next.  

Book Review: Liar's Moon

Yet another book which I really wanted to read but had to wait longer than I would've liked to get it from the library to actually do so. Oh well, at least I'm helping to up the circulation numbers so perhaps they'll get the final book in this series (I think it's a trilogy?) when it comes out. However, despite the fact that Starcrossed was published in 2010 and this book in 2011 I'm not seeing any news on a third book anywhere and, while the first book could have stood alone as a single story this one ends on a game-changing twist so I'm a little puzzled that I can't find any information on the next book at all. It's actually been so long since I first read Starcrossed that I had to speed-read through it again before I read this one, and I remember hearing that that book was a single book deal hence why it was written as if it could stand alone, but I thought that changed for this book. Guess there's nothing to do but wait and see how this story all wraps up.

Liar's Moon by Elizabeth C Bunce

It's a small-ish detail but I like how they were able to use the same model for this cover as well, gives them a bit of continuity which is nice. I also love the color scheme used, the purple is nice and eye-catching and doesn't clash with any of the other colors and (speaking from experience) it must've taken a while to edit Digger's hair so that the purple background showed through.

Summary: After the tulmultous winter where she helped set in motion a rebellion against the king, Digger is back in familiar territory in the capital city wondering what she can, and should be doing, next. She's annoyed, although not completely surprised, to find herself thrown in jail one night but surprised by her cellmate, Lord Durrel Decath (whom she previously met at the beginning of Starcrossed and was instrumental in getting her out of the city). And now she gets to return the favor and get him out of jail by proving that he wasn't the one who murdered his wife. There is a game of politics afoot and Digger rightfully suspects that it runs deeper than it first seems but with so many complications will she ever figure out what is truly going on?

The Good: Hurray for politicking in YA and I'm quite glad I re-read Starcrossed before I read this book. While only some of the cast returns (more than I expected given that the story is set in a completely different location) a lot of the connections Digger formed in the first book do come back which made me happy, I've read a number of stories lately where each book takes place in a different place with very few reoccurring characters and I think it makes the stories feel too disconnected, which was not a problem here. Digger remains a fun character to read, she's clever and quick-witted and I'd much rather read a story where the lead knows more than I do (rather than the other way around) yet gets into trouble more than often enough to feel human. Finally, it's interesting to see how while there is magic in this series, and is directly connected to all the main conflicts, it's never used to solve problems but rather to flesh out the setting even more. 

The Bad: While I can see where the story is going in terms of it's ultimate goal (dispose of the king, his laws, and put a nicer person on the throne) I do wonder how Digger is going to fit into all of it. I can think of a few ways but none of them would really work, it will be interesting to see how the story plays out. Also, there is a very late plot twist in the story which while it's interesting I'm a little worried about. It effectively gives a lot of the story a whole different meaning but just feels a little off, I also feel like it was just thrown in there simply to add in more conflict and I like plot twists to be a bit more substantial than that.

I really loved this book, just wish I hadn't read it so long ago that I could give it a better review (I've even been taking notes on all the stuff I've read to help with that problem) but regardless yes I'd recommend it to my friends and yes I plan on buying it sometime in the future which is really the best praise I can give it.   

Friday, September 21, 2012

Manga Review: GA: Geijutsuka Art Design Class (volumes one and two)

So I'm back in school and near two different library systems now that, while they do have manga, after using browsing them almost weekly for three years don't have much I haven't already looked at. Thankfully they still have some things (such as last week's Wandering Son) and I've also moved in with some other nerdy people who are happy to let me read the comics they brought. So that's how I came across the first two volumes in this series, it's one I've been curious about for a while (and browsed a little in bookstores) but since 4-koma style comics aren't usually my thing I hadn't gone out and bought any of them. So, have I finally found a 4-koma comic I like or is it a good thing I didn't buy them after all?

 GA Geijutsuka Art Design Class by Satoko Kiyuduki

Summary: This series follows five girls at the GA School of Design as they navigate art classes, do weird things, and generally have a good time.

The Good: This story is less "cute girls doing cute things" and more of "art students do weird things" which I think makes it much more interesting. Sure some of the characters do sterotypically "cute" things, but then they grab the strangest food they can for a hotpot, grab pieces to eat with their eyes closed, and then draw an image to represent their mood about what they just ate, while amusing "cute" isn't the first word I'd use to describe that. I was also surprised at how, while every strip has a punchline, most of them are part of a series all leading up to a larger joke*. The characters also got a bit more fleshed out than I was expecting, it still wasn't a lot (is it just me or do comedies rarely fully flesh out their characters?) but it was nice to have some insight into some of them and it all fit in rather well. 

The Bad: The second volume introduces a new group of characters (in addition the original cast) and I'd love to see the two groups interact more since they're both rather amusing (so yes, I do like them, I'd just like them to be a little more connected). Other than that, I suspect that some of the humor will make more sense if you have some experience with art although honestly I can see people who don't know much about art at all enjoying it anyway. There really isn't a lot here that I didn't like, I did have a bit of a hard time getting into it at first (probably because I was reading in small chunks and, while I think it reads better in chunks, I was just reading too little at a time to settle in) but I thought it was a really funny and surprisingly well put together comic.

The Art: The art is on the simple side (not surprising considering how small the panels for 4-koma  comics are)but it's not bad and it's far from being a collection of talking heads. I like that Yen Press went ahead and put a number of the pages in color (it would have been odd to read a page about the properties of say the color green and have everything printed in black and white) although I suspect this is why the book costs more despite the fact that it's only 120 pages, not the usual 180 (the book is also a little larger which might have also contributed to the costs but regardless it's a good size). Sometimes the panels do feel too busy and cluttered but by and large they worked fine.

Now, would I buy this? I'm not sure, I'd like to read more (YP has two more volumes out, no idea if it's still running in Japan) but it is a bit pricey considering the volumes are smaller and I don't feel like rereading it anytime soon (although I think a number of my friends would get a kick out of it). So I suppose if I feel like rereading them, and have some extra money, I'll pick them all up but for the moment I'm fine not having my own copies. 

*so while both newspaper comics and some webcomics are also comedies told in strip form they're actually a bit different from 4-koma which, unless I'm mistaken, is released in chapters, not individual strips, so there's a lot more continuity between individual strips. My observation anyway. 

Monday, September 17, 2012

Anime Review: Hyouka

Hyouka was my late spring pick-up, partially because it was subtitled and partially because, well, I like big mysteries and this show said straight up that it was only going to focus on smaller, "everyday" mysteries and frankly Dusk Maiden of Amnesia seemed like a more interesting choice there. But, funny enough a situation that has happened to me several times with the same result, I was bored, had a lot of sewing to do and needed something to watch so I sat through the first few episodes and, after a couple of episodes of not liking the characters, something happened, the characters started to grow on me. And that is the series' strength, it's an absolutely fantastic character-driven show which did so much with a shorter than usual run time.


Summary: Houtarou Oreki is a high-schooler whose motto in life is "if I don't have to do it then I won't" which sums up his entire mindset of doing as little as possible in order to conserve energy. So he decides it's not worth the energy to defy his sister when she asks if he could please join the Classics Club at school, the same club she was in that's about to be disbanded since there are no members left. Figuring that no one else will be there and he can use it as a place to nap Oreki agrees, only to find out that his friend from middle school (Satoshi), his friend Mayaka, and their energetic classmate Eru Chitanda have also joined. It's too late for Oreki to back down however and he is soon dragged all over the place to help Chitanda satisfy her enormous curiosity with the small mysteries of life (and alarmingly for him he seems to be rather good at it as well).

The Good: The show, based on some Japanese novels (NOT light novels which does explain a few things) has three major arcs with a number of one episode stories between them and, while some of the stories are connected together, it's not a plot heavy show in the slightest, what connects everything together in the end are the characters and their development. And holy cow was there development, each of the four characters had at least some and the effects of it could clearly be seen in later episodes, something that impressed me since none of the characters completely change but rather begin to in the way that teenagers do. Normally I don't say this but there is an OVA from one of the DVDs, numbered 11.5, and while it's not a great mystery (IMO the weakest of the series) it's a good idea to watch it between episodes 11 and 12 since it cements the character development Oreki is going through and also shows how the dynamics of the group have begun to change, they really are a group of friends by that point which wasn't how they started. Once the show has hit it's groove (which is a bit before that part) it's just fun to watch the characters interact, how they think, and the show isn't afraid to poke fun at itself, the rest of the club knows exactly what they're getting into whenever Chitanda hears of a new, strange incident and Oreki even spends an entire episode coming up with the most outlandish theory he can to try and get her to stop taking all his theories so seriously. The fact that I can say that this episode was mostly about two characters talking to each other and it was fun shows just how strong the writing is, kudos to both the original writer and the script adaptor(s?) for pulling off such interesting yet ultimately realistic characters*.

The Bad: The story was smart by choosing to put it's most "serious" arc first in order to draw in viewers since this show does have a really slow start. It took about four episodes for me to get into it and a few more before I started really looking forward to it. While the characters aren't exactly unlikable in the beginning they aren't really likable either, it takes those first few episodes for the story to hint that these characters aren't static which is what ended up drawing me in. With many shows I can say "if you like such and such episode you'll like the rest of the series" since by that point the show has found it's groove and will continue along the same way. While Hyouka does settle down quite quickly the best parts of the series, the parts that made myself and many other fans fall for it, don't occur until around the middle of the show, there's a bit of a slump between the first and second major arcs which I'm afraid might make people dismiss the show and I really don't know what to say there. The show doesn't end on a big arc, rather it ends on a number of small ones which allow for Chitanda's character development to fully come into play, so you need to be able to like both the small stories and the big ones and be able to sit through rather deliberate pacing for both. Other than the slow beginning I can't even call that a weakness of the show, it's simply a work that requires commitment and if people like character-driven fiction I think it will pay off in the end (although personally I would have liked the story to end on an arc instead of a collection of side stories but that's just personal preference on my part). 

The Audio: Apparently this show used a LOT of big-name seiyuu for minor character roles but, since I recognize maybe seven Japanese voice actors on a regular basis, I didn't really care about that. I did think that the voices for the main quartet worked out pretty well (although Chitanda could be a bit shrill at times) and both sets of opening and ending themes worked well (even though for the first few episodes I was confused if the show even had an OP, I don't recall if it just wasn't played the first couple of episodes or if it just took a while to sink in since I can recall it just fine now). My favorite of the group was the second ending theme which I'll admit was more because of the visuals but it's a catchy song regardless (the second opening has equally catchy, although completely different, visuals to accompany it). Finally, one thing that impressed me on the very first episode of this show was the foley, they actually made an effort to add in this little background sounds of life (like crosswalks that beep), much like they did with the visuals, and those little details really caught my attention in a good way and I wish that other slice of life shows would go to the same effort to make their settings real.

The Visuals: Studio Kyoto Animation is known for having the large budget needed to make a good looking show and wow was this show amazing to see. While the character designs are certainly anime-ish the backgrounds weren't and they loved throwing in photo realistic props as well. A number of the shots, especially in some of the earlier episodes, reminded me of how a truly great photographer can make any old mundane thing look fascinating , finding the beauty in the ordinary I suppose, since even an empty coffee cup looked good on this show. Not that everything was in that art style, each time Oreki had to explain a mystery the art style would change (sometimes to some rather odd choices, ones that always ended up working I'll note) which was a brilliant way to keep the show from being merely a bunch of talking heads. The characters also seemed to be animated a little better than usual, I noticed more facial expressions and body language here which was great (and hilarious during the second arc which involved a student film) and also added to the show. Often I feel like that the lack of that kind of subtly is a weakness of animation, I've seen a few shows (Steins;Gate comes to mind) where the voice actors are putting out amazing, emotional performances yet the characters on-screen aren't emoting at all which takes away from it. Here that was never a problem and for a show that depends on it's characters so much it was a real blessing.

In short, it took a while but I eventually fell head over heels for this show and goddammit it's not licensed or streaming anywhere currently. I can't imagine it'll stay unlicensed forever (worst comes to worst I will import this from Australia or the UK, PAL to NTSC conversions and region locking be damned) but it does make it a little harder for me to recommend the show since I know there's no way to support the creators while watching it. So if this interests you but you have other things to watch now, just hold off a bit and see if this situation changes. If it interests you and you want to watch something in the gap between seasons/nothing from the fall season has caught your eye (I don't think there are any mysteries lined-up for the fall, although this show really isn't about the mysteries) then yes, watch it and hopefully marathoning it will make it work a bit better than watching it week by week. 

*I'll admit it, Oreki's inner monologue is about as snarky as mine usually is which did mean I started sympathizing with him pretty on in the series. Your milage may vary there, and it's not like there haven't been snarky characters in anime before, but his observations and comments felt less like what a "character" would say and more of what an, admittedly mature, high schooler would. 

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Movie Review: This is Spinal Tap

I'm in a video class this semester at school and for our first project I came up with a mockumentary-ish idea and a few people said that I should see Spinal Tap since it was the best example of that. As an added bonus it's on Netflix streaming and a pretty short filming, clocking in at just 82 minutes, so even though I wasn't really familiar with the genre they were parodying I decided to give it a shot.

This Is Spinal Tap

Summary: Director Marty Dibergi follows the British heavy metal band Spinal Tap as they tour the US to promote their new album and the internal drama the band has. 

The Good: Despite the fact that I haven't seen many, if any come to think of it, rock band documentaries I was still easily able to see what the movie was mocking and it was still an amusing watch. I would have enjoyed it more if I had been familiar I think but none of the humor seemed outdated and I was amused throughout so I think it succeeded. If it was a real documentary I'd say it had a really good balance between interviews, "non-scripted" segments  and commentary from the director and was a good length which I suppose I can praise here as well. As odd as it may sound, it was a well put together film and it was rather fun. 

The Bad: Even saying all of that, if you aren't really familiar with what a rockumentary looks like or a fan or parodies in general I don't know how much you'd enjoy this film. It's also quite crude (it's NSFW) which will turn some people off but it's not crude without reason, it's very deliberate and feels very in-character for the movie.  

The Audio: I'm not sure if this was on purpose or not but there were a number of songs by the band where it would start out and I would think "oh, this is actually a decent song, I kinda want it" and then it would get terrible, given the tone of the movie I think that was on purpose. I was also amused by how the band kept switching genres, although that has less to do with the music and more with the narrative, but it was still amusing.   

The Visuals: It's a film shot in the 1980s on what looks to be a pretty small budget, there's not much to say otherwise. It doesn't look that great today, I doubt even a remaster could make it look good, but I don't think that detracts from the film either. 

With something so short that's more character driven than plot driven and is a comedy there's really not much more for me to say here. So yes, I enjoyed it, more than I expected, and can see why my classmates/teacher were advising I'd watch it as well. It's streaming on Netflix so it's easy to find so if people want to see it, go for it, at the very worst it won't take much of your time.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Book Review: Glow

Looking back on my summer I didn't read nearly as much science-fiction this year as I did last year which is kinda interesting, I guess I'm just in more of a fantasy mood right now (I'll just blame the hype for The Hobbit for that one). I think this was the only really sci-fi work I read this summer and if I had known that I would've chosen another book.

Glow by Amy Kathleen Ryan

Summary: In the future Earth has undergone even more trauma and in an attempt to make sure that some of humanity survives on other world two ships were constructed and sent into space to make a decades long journey to another world. But people will be people, that is to stay manipulative, deceitful, and just plain petty and the children born in space in the journey, namely the viewpoint characters Waveryly and Keiran, are pulled into the fight between the two ships where everything for both of them is at stake.

The Good: I did like some of the science in the book, mainly the idea of using a constantly increasing acceleration to create artificial gravity (although I have no idea if that would work in real life) because where's the fun in science fiction if they don't at least think about how different the future will be? The setting was really where I enjoyed the story the most, it's been a little while since I read sci-fi set in space (I guess Space Opera is the term for it?) and it felt like Ryan really put some thought into how everything would work.

The Bad: I'm not a religious person these days and, although I've had my fair share (if you could call it that) of crazy people yelling that I'm going to hell for not belonging to their faith I like to think that I'm fairly chill when it coms to people and their religious beliefs. I do wonder however if Ryan had even more crazy people screaming at her since by the end of the book it seems to be actively pushing the belief that religion can only be used to hurt people and people never have a choice in it. From the Space Pilgrims (no really, the New Horizon and Empyrean were split between the religious, all of whom seem to belong to the same group, and the secular plus those of other religions, and from the beliefs to the dress of the people on the New Horizon there are some pretty clear parallels) to the sermons at the end it's clear that differences of/about faith are going to be the instigator of even more trouble later in the series and I feel like Ryan said "see, faith can be good too! Nah I'm kidding, people will still force it against others regardless." Also, while there are events in any story that the main character(s) have no control over and have to deal with some authors pull this off better than others I just didn't like how it was done here. Waveryly especially had to go through a ton of stuff, had no control over any of it, and it was frustrating to see that there was no way for her to take control given how young she was. The story could have worked if the characters were older and, now that I think about it, I would have liked that since the characters would have had more options and felt more like, well, characters rather than items being manipulated by the plot. All in all it was a very unsatisfying book to read and I really did consider throwing it while reading it several times.

So, a bust from me and I won't be checking out the rest of the series at all. Guess that'll give me time for more books later on, and I did read some other books with sci-fi elements this summer, although I didn't necessarily like those a ton either.   

Friday, September 14, 2012

Manga Review: Wandering Son volume 1

Back in winter of 2011 I caught the anime version of Wandering Son and really enjoyed the show and was curious about how it compared to the manga (especially since the anime skipped the first arc of the manga which sounded like a weird choice). The first volume has been out for over a year now and honestly the reason I didn't pick it up is because I usually buy my manga either in bulk at a TRSI sale (by which point I've already hit the free shipping quota and don't need any more and this is the only comic by Fantagraphics that I'm interested in) or sometimes in ones and twos at a local Barnes and Noble and I've never seen Wandering Son there. So, in short, money is once again a factor so yet again I'm thrilled to come across this at my school's library and hopefully plenty of other people check it out and read it too.

Wandering Son (volume one) by Takako Shimura 

Summary: Shuuichi Natori is a lot quieter than most boys and Yoshino Takasuki comes off as a tomboyish girl to many people around them but neither of those statements reflect who they really are. Both of them are transgendered children (people born as one sex but mentally identify as the other) but are only beginning to understand that idea themselves and how it affects every part of their lives. 

The Good: There is a lack of transgender (and genderfluid now that I think about it) characters of any age or gender in fiction and I can't think of the last time, if ever, I saw characters like that so young (or even more than one in a single story, outside of webcomics I'm drawing blank for multiple transgender characters). Some people might find it unrealistic but I've been reading some news articles over the years, especially in the last year or so, and talking to friends I have and it sounds like no, kids really do know themselves well even at a young age and given how slowly Takatsuki and Shuu put into words what they're feeling I thought it was realistic enough (plus, of course someone in that situation is going to start seriously considering gender identity earlier than someone who doesn't have that pressure). Takatsuki and Shuu really are interesting, intriguing characters and even if the story is a bit slow I like reading about them and I would like to at least read the manga up to the point where the anime started. 

The Bad: My biggest problem with this volume was that it was really hard to tell when the chapters started which is a bit of an odd problem. A lot of times there would be a couple of pages that looked like the start of a new chapter and then a random image (a shot of a character who doesn't appear in the scene at all, a title page, etc) and I was always thrown wondering if that image had any relevance to the story and if the pages before and after the image were set at different times (hence the use of an image to separate them) or what was going on. Other than that that the pacing was fine but that's kinda a big problem and I had to re-read a number of sections multiple times to try and get a grasp on the story and the story itself isn't terribly complicated. Finally, I can see why the anime choose to jump into the story at a later point since not much actually happens in this volume. It takes a lot of time to set up, doesn't really deal with a lot of the cast (and one thing I liked about the anime was how it showed a lot of variety in that way people act contrary to/within gender ideals) and it just feels a bit flat. I feel like it might be a good idea to recommend that people read the first few volumes close together (admittedly I haven't read the others that are out in English yet) or even show them the anime first since this is a bit slow going and I think that would turn away a lot of people who'd otherwise like the story. 

The Art: Apologies on not posting a picture of the cover tonight, apparently photobucket is throwing a hissy fit and won't let me upload anything. In any case, as the manga-ka herself notes in the back of the book, the art is pretty simple both in regards to character designs and backgrounds (although given that this particular part of the story is nearly 10 years old I have no doubt that's changed at least a bit). It was a little hard to tell some of the characters apart (the simple backgrounds didn't bother me as much) but hopefully just getting used to the art style will help me out.

When I was looking around for this series I came across a few statements that made it sound like not only does the art improve quickly but the plot picks up very quickly as well which does make me more likely to keep reading the manga. Of course, given that the anime isn't licensed in the US if I want to own this story at all I'll have to buy the manga, guess I need to make more of an effort to put a few volumes in my future shopping trips. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Anime Review: Tokyo Babylon OVAs

While I was watching X TV it occurred to me that I should check these two little OVAs out since, as I'm not reading the Tokyo Babylon scans since it is licensed in the US (Dark Horse, are these omnibus editions coming out anytime soon?) and I've started following a few people on tumblr who lately have been talking about the series an awful lot. I'm a little curious about the live action movie made based off of TB (which I only found out even existed this past summer, I've almost never seen people talk about it) but for the moment my curiosity has been satiated.

Tokyo Babylon

Summary: Subaru Sumeragi is an omyonji in Tokyo who spends his days dealing with spirits and other magical things as well as spending time with the only two people he's close to, his twin sister Hokuto and their friend Seishiro (a local veterinarian). Subaru cares a lot about his job and tries to help people no matter what, often putting his own safely on the line. 

The Good: I'm not sure if the two stories were based on stories from the manga but considering how well they were paced I'm inclined to think they were original stories. Both stories were rather different from each other, interesting, and in an odd way it reminded me of why I liked xxxHolic, Clamp just seems to be better at writing more episodic series than plot-central ones. I did enjoy these two shorts, even if I was wincing at some of the weird 1980s styles that had crept in, and wish it had been a full series, partially because of a problem I'm about to bring up below.  

The Bad: If you don't know anything about TB this is not the series for you, while it briefly touches on Subaru and Seishiro's connection (which ends up being a huge deal later in the story) it's still rather vague. The stories here don't require you to know much about the characters but when they don't explain anything at all it's clear who the show is aimed at. As I mentioned last week with X, that show works a bit better if you know more of Subaru's backstory and, since that is explained there, I could see these OVAs working if someone was to watch them and immediately follow them up with X to get a better grasp on how Subaru has changed in the 7+ years that separate the two. Other than that I really can't recommend this to anyone who hasn't already seen it, it just doesn't have that wide an appeal when it's almost completely lacking in backstory/explanations.   

The Audio: I about started snickering when the first OVA had a classic, let's-play-music-over-unrelated-images moment, such an 80s thing to do (heck, even the way a lot of shots are framed in the series feel not exactly dated but old school). I was a bit surprised that Subaru was actually voiced by a male voice actor (I've just gotten so used to hearing female VAs do male roles) but it really worked well. Hokuto was rather screechy early on but thankfully mellowed down by the end of the first OVA and the rest of the (Japanese, I don't think there's a dub) was fine. 

The Visuals: Please note the above image has nothing to do with the actual OVAs, it was the best thing I could find on google that wasn't a screenshot (or involve some of the story's more, interesting, outfits). In any case,  I watched this on an incredibly crappy stream (which occasionally had subs when people weren't talking/saying something different than what the characters actually were saying) so I don't really know what to say about how the OVAs looked. They're from 1992 and I'd imagine that they'd look fine if they were remastered although I did see some weird looking animation in places. Aside from that, and I've already established that these OVAs were channeling the 80s like it was going out of style (wait), the only thing I have left to say is that yes, Subaru is pretty damn adorable and one I would actually call moe (and I'm nigh-positive I'm not the only person who would say that).

So, hasn't aged that well in terms of looks (although if it was remastered that would help) and has a narrow appeal, come to think of it you can probably apply those statements to a lot of Clamp shows (or will be able to in another decade or so). I had fun with this but hopefully next week I'll finally be back to shows where I can whole-heartedly recommend them to people.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Movie Review: Oblivion Island: Haruka and the Magic Mirror

I don't pay as much attention to films, animated or live-action, that come out in Japan as anime (just because there's such a large gap between when they come out and when anyone not in Japan can see them, legally or otherwise) but the trailers Funimation put out for this one caught my eye since it's an almost all CGI film that didn't look, well, terrible. Quite frankly while I think that some animation studios in Japan have become very good at blending 2D and 3D art together I rarely see any all 3D projects that don't look terrible (and they're certainly not the worst productions I've ever seen, but that's because when I was a kid my brother and I watched a number of VHS tapes with incredibly early CGI shorts which I've never been able to find anywhere since*). And this film looked not terrible at all so when Funimation put up the entire moved subbed on their youtube channel (I believe it's still there) that's all the incentive I needed to go check it out.

Oblivion Island: Haruka and the Magic Mirror

Summary: In the town where Haruka and her oft-absent father live there is a story that little foxes go around and collect everything people have forgotten and take them to a far off place. When Haruka tries to find a keepsake of her mother's, an old hand mirror, she gets to see first hand how true this story is and how hard it can be to get back something that was lost.

The Good: Despite the fact that Haruka is 16 (and you generally age the protagonist to either be the same age or a little older than the intended audience) I feel like this is more of a kid's film than a family film (it's missing all the winks and nods that family-friendly movies/tvs in the US have to entertain it's older viewers) and it works quite fine as one. It's quick paced, doesn't drag, Haruka and Teo both grow, and the simple plot  works fine. It's cute, fluffy fare which I think could easily be shown to kids who've grown up watching Pixar (although they'll probably pick up that it's not American quickly which should be fine, I figured out pretty quick that Pokemon was Japanese and that didn't make me enjoy it anymore or less) and it doesn't have any content that would warrant above a PG rating. 

The Bad: It's not a very ambitious movie due to it's rather simple plot and, while I can easily recommend this to kids who like animated movies, I feel like it might bore a lot of teens/adults who want something more than a simple, cute flick. The villain was also more than a bit cheesy, another reason why I feel like this film is more a kid's movie than a family/all ages film, and after seeing the movie once I feel satisfied and don't think I'll re-watch it. If not for the visuals I doubt I'd remember it in a few years, it's a solid piece of work but not a stand-out one. 

The Audio: Funimation only had the Japanese dub posted so I have no idea how the English dub fares but the Japanese dub was fine, honestly I can't remember the last time I saw a Japanese dub that wasn't fine. Quite honestly I don't remember much else about the audio in the movie but Haruka and Teo's voice both fit well (Miyuki Sawashiro continues to amaze me due to just what a wide range she has) and I often have trouble talking about the audio in movies anyway, there's just so much less time to show off what the composer can do.

The Visuals: There are a few shots early on where it's obvious that it's a 2D background with 3D characters/objects but the movie is 95% CGI and it looks great. The backgrounds are colorful and really feel 3D (the best comparison I can make is that they look like background in an area in a video game, they have depth), the animation seemed smooth and while the character's faces looked a little too plastic it's nothing that an animation fan hasn't seen before (just think of some of Pixar/Dreamwork's films from a few years ago), especially since the film is from 2009. It's not perfect (by which I mean "Pixar level quality" since they are the best out there) but it's more than passable and, while I think the movie could have also worked as a 2D movie it, it works.

So, worth watching if you want to see an almost all CGI anime done right or if you have kids, otherwise there's not much of note here and you can pass on it. As I mentioned earlier Funimation was streaming this movie on youtube when I saw it (which was about three or four weeks ago) and it's probably still up there although I'm betting that it's region locked as well. 

*to emphasize how early these were, a lot of people have seen one of Pixar's early shorts involving a snowman in a snowglobe right? A masterpiece compared to what we were watching and a heck of a lot more coherent.

Book Review: The Night Circus

I'd seen this book around for a while before I read it, the bookstore at my college had it proudly displayed with a lot of other books which I walked past frequently, and I had heard a lot of good things about the book online but what drove me to try it out was a combination of seeing some cosplayers say they were going to try and make cosplays from it (and they planned on outfits from other books I liked so I knew we had similar tastes). I think I saw someone say that it read a lot like a YA book despite the fact that it's adult fiction which also made me curious. I was sad about one thing however, the copy I got at the library was a large print edition and yet the print was still much too small for me to read without glasses, I remember when I could read those books without my glasses back in high school.....

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

I love the papercut look of the cover and I love how the image is a reference to a clock mentioned in the book, I just like when covers go the extra step to reference a detail from a book instead of having a generic cover. That image is the one for the hardback and the paper back one is also interesting, it still has the clock in the middle but also has silhouettes of Celia and Marco on either side, it works equally well and I think it's a rather clever way to change the cover but still make it obvious that it's the same book. 

Summary: A magicians duel can take many shapes and can take years to finish so the onlooker might find it rather boring at first. But not in this case where the Cirque de Reves is the stage for Celia and Marco, two young magicians bound at a young age by their parent/mentor in a fight to the death simply to see whose student is better. Both of them grow up knowing about the duel but knowing nothing about it and have no choice but to go along as fate slowly draws them together collaborating more often than fighting, a choice that could bring disaster to both of them. 

The Good: I don't often come across stories that follow characters for years as they grow but I like the concept since so many times I'll come across stories where all kinds of big, world-changing events occur from start to finish in the space of a week. The Night Circus neatly averts that as it takes years to set up the titular circus for the duel and then the duel itself lasts years, that extended period of time makes the plot feel more "real" and it was easier to become attached to characters after seeing the grow up. The characters were interesting and sympathetic, the descriptions were amazing (I can only wonder what a movie version would look like if it had the budget and a screenwriter clever enough to make the story fit two and a half hours, it simply wouldn't work as multiple films or a serialized story in my opinion) and this is all made even more impressive when you realize that this was Morgenstern's debut novel. I enjoyed it quite a bit and highly recommend it to anyone who has ever enjoyed a fantasy story, be it high fantasy or urban fantasy, before.

The Bad: This book contains both timeskips and some out of order sequences so if you don't pay attention to the dates at the beginning of the chapters it's easy to get confused, I got particularly annoyed at one subplot which was introduced rather early on and I completely missed the fact that it was set 20 years later on. On a related note, the story starts when the two leads are quite young and doesn't finish until they're in they're in their late 20s at least so there is a lot of time when not much happens in the story. There is character development and there are some subplots which move along for sure but I wonder if the pace might be too slow for some people.

Another really strong book, something I won't be able to say next week (in case anyone was getting bored by all of my praise of late) and one I could easily recommend to half a dozen people I know. I'll have to keep an eye out for Morgenstern's next book whenever that will be since I liked how she did practically everything here and would like to see more of that.   

Friday, September 7, 2012

Manga Review: Kitchen Princess (volumes one and two)

Yep, two food related shojo manga two weeks in a row, bit odd but considering that's what the library had that I was interested in it just happened (funny enough I checked out Honey and Clover at the same time but I won't be talking about that since I think I already finished reading the manga regardless). I'd heard some good stuff about the story but had put it off for years since it turns out I was confusing it with yet another shojo cooking title, Yumeiro Pastissiere which just sounded too young for my tastes. Bit of a silly mistake, especially since the titles sound nothing alike, but better late than never right?

Kitchen Princess written by Miyuki Kobayashi and drawn by Natsumi Ando
Summary: Najika Kazami is a young girl whose always loved to cook and enrolls in the prestigious Seika Academy not only to learn how to cook but to meet her "flan prince," a boy who saved her from drowning years ago and then gave her the best flan she's ever tasted. This is a school for the rich and talented however and when orphaned Najika shows up without any obvious talent to start with it's clear that she's in for a rough time while she finds her place.

The Good: The story has some unexpected dark aspects to it which, rather than feeling like an attempt to draw in older readers because of how "edgy" it is, feels like the genuine kind of darkness you find in a lot of kid's stories. Those moments work well and give Najika time to develop and Najika herself is a likable character who tries, succeeds, fails, and tries to give up at times which makes her feel more rounded than some other shojo I've read lately. She reminds me a lot of Tohru Honda from Fruits Basket actually with her determined cheerfullness yet breaks some of the time. It was a much more engaging story than I expected and if I came across more volumes, I'm regretting not grabbing more from the library when I had the chance, I would keep reading it. 

The Bad: I really couldn't find much wrong in this story after just two volumes. I would like there to be a slightly more central plotline, which I doubt would happen since that just doesn't feel like the manga's style, and I hope Najika makes some progress finding her prince soon (tvtropes accidentally spoiled who it was for me, although I had already guessed before the first volume was over). The series is at least eight volumes long so it seems silly to complain about stuff like that yet so I'll say it again, this was a much stronger series than I expected and if you like shojo, give it a shot.

The Art: The cover gives you a good idea what all the character designs look like (another reason Najika reminds me a bit of Tohru, they both have those extra huge eyes) and it has a lot of other normal shojo hallmarks as well. It's nothing new for shojo readers and will probably put off non-shojo fans a bit (if the premise doesn't already scare them off since it is a rather girly one) but it's consistent and detailed so it didn't bother me.

As I mentioned earlier the omnibus editions that are coming out now (by Kodansha I guess since Del Ray doesn't exactly exist anymore) are tempting me since it would be a pretty cheap way to collect the series, although I have so much other stuff to buy that it's going to be a while before I get around to them, maybe during a sale on TRSI next year. 

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Anime Review: X TV

Moving right along with the Year of Clamp livestream we've gotten to X TV, the animated version of one of Clamp's more infamous works which I had been curious about for a while but hadn't tried out either version since I hadn't read all of Tokyo Babylon (to which it's sorta-kinda a sequel, more a spinoff but knowing what I did of Subaru's story made the parallels between him and Kamui much more obvious and tragic). But that sounds like something I should put into the actual review so onto the review!


Summary: The year is 1999 and with the new millennium upon them the world has come to a crossroads, unbeknownst to all except for a few magic users in Tokyo. They are the Dragons of Heaven and the Dragons of Earth, those who wish the save humanity (and bet the eventual fate of the world on the belief that the humans won't destroy it) and those who wish to end humanity so the world can be born anew. At the heart of this conflict is Kamui, an angsty teen whose presence causes fate to shift who doesn't seem to care much about the conflict one way or another but both sides are determined to bring him around.

The Good: I know the anime ending is radically different from the manga's cliffhanger (I've actually seen that bit) but you know what, I liked how it ended. It made sense logically and thematically and I was satisfied with it, although I think I can hear manga-readers disavowing me now. While I do wish that Fuuma had been explored more (especially after the mid-point of the series) I was surprised at how much screen time nearly every other side character got and was pleased to see that many of the Dragons of the Earth had a reason that they were on that side, even if I didn't agree and I felt like overall what side they were on had almost nothing to do with free will and was all predestined instead (which did bother me). If you're already a fan of Clamp's work and want to see more of their series I recommend this one over a few others I've seen this year although I know in my case if it wasn't for that I probably would have dropped it after four or five episodes. 

The Bad: I should probably note that I didn't see Episode 0 but I have heard that it spoils a lot of the anime if you're a new viewer so people should choose carefully if they're thinking about watching that first (also, I had no trouble understanding the show without seeing it so clearly it's not crucial viewing material). As for the show itself, it took me a while to get into the show and I only really started enjoying it once Kamui stopped being so much of an ass. While I certainly liked most of the side characters long before that point they just weren't enough to keep me interested in the story for whatever reason. And speaking of the side characters, I feel like at some point the production team said "oh right a lot of people are supposed to die, let's kill off these characters and we don't care how" because that would explain a lot. I'm tempted to look up what has happened to the characters by the end of the manga (given the sheer number of Clamp fans out there someone must have a comparison chart or something) and I really hope the deaths felt less random than the ones here.

The Audio: Well I hope you like the track "Sandame" (which I believe means destiny) because you're going to be hearing it at least once an episode if not more. It's actually such a distinctive piece that after hearing it just a couple of times and then watching the trailers for the anime Blood-C I was immediately able to tell that it was the same composer, although I'm not so sure that's a good thing. I didn't really care for either the opening or the ending themes (possibly because I kept going "KAMUI, WHY ARE YOU A VAMPIRE, THIS IS NOT TSUBASA" at the opening sequence....) so I skipped them almost every time and I watched the show in Japanese and I thought the voices worked well there (and I'm a bit curious, and a bit worried, about how some of the accents must have translated, even though I don't know much Japanese I could tell that Sora had a really thick dialect). 

The Visuals: While the show was made in the early 2001s the original manga was started back in the 1990s so it looks more than a bit like 90s shojo (is it just me or did eye size for shojo seem to peak in the 90s and go down since?) which I was cool with. I don't recall any usage of CGI in the show, it was produced by Studio Madhouse (who also did Cardcaptor Sakura amusingly enough) and they don't seem to use a lot of CGI in most of their shows, even the ones they produce today.

So, now all I need to see is Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicles and xxxHolic and I will have seen every full length tv anime based on a Clamp work, wohoo! Except that's still around 70+ episodes all total, I don't really like the art of the Holic anime and I'm told that TRC can get dull in places, hoo boy. For those who want to see X it can be viewed on Hulu, although they are missing Episode 0 and I don't know if there's a legal place to watch that online, weird.  

Monday, September 3, 2012

Movie Review: Jade Warrior

EDIT: Sorry guys, I got distracted, started this one too late last night, planned to finish this and the anime review today and woke up at 6:15 to my toilet flooding and just didn't get enough sleep after that to deal with the rest of the day and write two reviews. So, anime coming Tuesday, hopefully everything will be back on track by Friday (and hopefully I'll be able to finally get my schedule for this semester settled, the first few weeks are always hard for me to readjust to and that hasn't been helping either). 

Here's a title I've been meaning to see for years since it's a favorite of a friend of mine, a combination of Finnish and Chinese mythology set in modern day Finland about a smith. You can't say that any part of that is a regular in movies (heck, I can barely think of any stories, across mediums, that have a smith as a main character and that's the most normal part of the last sentence) and I had found a copy of it at the local college library a few years back so I made sure to find some time at the very tail end of my summer to see how this movie even worked.

Jade Warrior

Summary: Centuries ago in ancient China a half-Finnish half-Chinese warrior named Sintai was tasked with killing a demon that threatened to enslave all of humanity and was to be rewarded with Nirvana if he succeeded. Along the way however he falls in love and realizes if can never come to pass if he kills the demon (since he cannot be with her in this life and won't have any other lives if he succeeds) which leaves him conflicted over what path to take. Now in modern day Finland the smith Kai is feeling the effects of his previous life and must now choose how to finish that same task laid before him. 

The Good: The plot sounds a bit complicated on paper (I'm afraid I might've said too much actually but that was as far as I could pare it down) but it actually flows well and neither story line spoils the other surprisingly enough. The movie has a lot of ideas in it which I found rather new and it takes a path with the romance that isn't often done which made me happy since not only was it different but it worked within the story.  

The Bad: Despite my earlier comments about the plot, this wasn't really a plot heavy story or even a character heavy story for me, it was more about atmosphere than anything else. I still enjoyed it but I think that would make it harder to recommend to people (right now I can see myself recommending it to fans of the wuxia genre or if someone is a big mythology buff but outside of those two niches I don't know if many people would like it). I know that often I say that I can't recommend a story to a lot of people like it's a bad thing and truthfully it's not technically a bad thing, but the fact that I don't think a story will interest people and it's not full of anything like, facts that only a hardcore history buff would know and a non-buff wouldn't get/enjoy the story because of it, I think does mean that it hasn't worked the way it should. That's simply my opinion however, although I really don't think that this film is going to interest most people unless they want to sit through a slow, mostly atmosphere film that's told a bit out of order and doesn't have tons of character development either.

The Audio: Due to some circumstances on my end I had a hard time hearing the movie (it was in no way shape or form the fault of the DVD, I just had a really loud fan blowing) and I honestly can't remember if there was an English dub for the movie (Amazon doesn't list on in any case) because I was watching the original audio. If I remember correctly the audio itself is something interesting it's half-Finnish and half-Chinese depending on what timeframe it's focusing on and movies that are bilingual are, while not unheard of, fairly uncommon and I can only think of a one or two others. Obviously I don't speak either of these languages so I can't say how good the acting was, and with the cast being a mixture of Finnish and Chinese this choice also makes some logical, filming, sense, but I still thought it was a neat idea and worked fine for me since both parts were subtitled. 

The Visuals: There were a lot of interesting settings in the movie, like Kai's forge and the desolate Chinese landscapes in the flashback, although there is some CGI used in points which seems rather obvious to me now (the joys of using a technology that is still advancing rapidly). I've seen a few complaints about how the fight scenes looked and, while I didn't see anything that seemed really off they certainly didn't grab me as much as the ones in say, Hero or Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

In the end I enjoyed the movie more than I thought I would (given it's weird premise), can't really think of anyone I know to recommend it to and don't feel the need to re-watch it anytime soon. Although writing this review reminds me that I never saw all of House of Flying Daggers and other than this it's been quite a while since I saw a wuxia film.....