Monday, December 31, 2012

Anime Review: My Little Monster

As a reminder, after this and my 2012 in Review post I'm taking a break for the rest of the week (both because I need to prep for an upcoming con and I have a headcold which makes writing cohesive and interesting reviews trickier than normal). In any case, when I first saw this one appear on the fall season chart I wasn't that interested in it, both it and Say "I Love You" seemed to have very similar and, well, bland premises and not even the lure of Brain's Base was enough to make me interested in it. I don't remember why I did check it out, probably due to good reviews or the fact that I had nothing else to watch on Mondays) but I will quite happily admit that I was wrong and that there is nothing bland about this series at all. Oh and on a random note, the title better translates to something like My Neighbor the Monster, I have no idea why the Japanese licensors thought this one was a good title nor to I know why I haven't seen any crossover My Little Pony fanart yet.

My Little Monster (Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun)

Summary: Shizuka is an isolated studybug who doesn't care about friendship or anything like that, all she wants are the best grades. So it doesn't make a lot of sense when her homeroom teacher sends her off with the classwork for an absent (and, according to all the rumors, violent) classmate but with promises of bribes she does so anyway. Her classmate Haru turns out to be rather different than she was expecting, he's just as isolated as her but he relishes hanging out with people and turns out to be quite social if given a chance. Of course, since Shizuka was the first person who "reached out" to him he's quite drawn to her now..... 

The Good: I ended up identifying with Shizuka and one of the other female leads (Natsume) more than I expected and just really ended up liking them. Honestly I liked almost the entire cast and since this is a show that's built around it's character interactions that's a great thing, it was a fun show to watch. Also, I'm not a huge fan of the romance genre but I liked how it was handled between Shizuka and Haru. Well, not some of Haru's stranger out bursts but how the two of them are both in love for the first time and just trying to find their feet but definitely getting more comfortable with each other and even a bit jealous (which normally would bother me but here both of them realize what they're doing and use it to figure out how they feel, which is also so ridiculously characteristic for them). It's a character driven show with a lot of romance but also a lot of time spent on it's side characters and some humor, it strikes a good balance and I'm sad that Brains Base doesn't make many sequels these days.

The Bad: I have seen a lot of people, quite rightly, call out Haru's stranger behavior (which runs the gamut from "he doesn't understand society so it's quirky!" to "NO DON'T DO THAT, NO") especially in regard to some, odd (to put it mildly), turns of phase he uses to talk about his relationship with Shizuka. In the end though I am okay with their budding relationship for one reason, the manga (and the characters) never imply or so that this is a normal relationship and Shizuka is quick to call out Haru when he does something wrong. There are many (too many in my opinion) shojo manga where the male lead isn't quite as bad as Haru but it's portrayed as completely normal and romantic, at least here the story shows that it's off and it's honestly about it. I can still understand why some people might be put off the story for this reason and it does really make me wish that whatever character development Haru is going to get that it came more quickly. I was also okay with the anime-original ending, partially because I had heard that there wasn't a really good place in the manga to end a 13 episode series, and also because it gathered all the characters together one last time to interact and that's as much as I was hoping from it.

The Audio: I honestly wasn't overly fond of the opening or ending songs for the show, although their tone matched well with the perky tone of the show (also, no translations from CR to help me see if the songs actually made sense in context). I really liked all of the acting however, some of the actors were actually pretty new (this is the second role that Natsume's actress had) and for the others their voices weren't as recognizable and I kind of liked that (since I wasn't associating the voice with another character the whole time that is). The character's had a roughness to their voices which made them sound more like high school students than characters in a lot of anime do (plus it looks like a number of the actors aren't even that old) so everything acting wise sounded perfect to me. 

The Visuals: The art was, in a word, fun. It used simplified/chibi versions of the character just often enough to make it amusing (and not so often it felt like the art budget was being stretched) and was plenty colorful as well. I also swear that the school uniforms don't look as ugly as they do in that promo image, somehow the show makes them work.

So, I give this show four out of five stars and sadly of the three shojo series in the fall this was the one that didn't get licensed, even though it's the one I would snatch up in a heartbeat. Sure it's streaming over at Crunchyroll but you hear me NISA? I'd buy this, please license it please! (Or Sentai or Funimation, honestly I'm not that picky about where I get it from) 

Sunday, December 30, 2012

TV (Special) Review: The 2012 Doctor Who Christmas Special

Originally I wasn't sure if I was going to watch this let alone talk about it, just been feeling a bit burned out on Moffat's projects lately (for no real reason), but then I remembered that the new companion was supposed to be introduced in this episode and that's rather important. And, after watching the special, I realized I had a lot of thoughts about it (both good and bad) so I guess I'm also going to talk about it!

Doctor Who Christmas Special 2012: The Snowman

Summary: The events of Angles Take Manhattan are still affecting the Doctor strongly and he has sworn off helping humanity again, although it seems like he can't stay away and can't stop being curious about all the strange and unusual things around him. Like, snow with a memory and a habit for producing snowmen with toothy grins, although it's going to take that and a human girl named Clara to get him back into the saving-the-world business.  

The Good: I really liked how the Doctor was written and handled here, it's immediately clear that the end of the previous (half) season has had a strong effect on him but that he's still the same Doctor we've seen for the past few years, he can conquer grief or at least be distracted from it. And it was fun to see Clara unsettle him and show just how much he likes to show off to his companions (and the audience as well), all in all it was a pretty entertaining episode and reminded me that yes, I would like the second half to hurry up and get here already.

The Bad: I'm in two minds about Clara, on the one hand she's fun, sassy, and the dynamic she creates with the Doctor is fun (since through her actions she shows how set he is in some of his ways, also just how much the Doctor loves to mentor his companions to become greater than they were) but, well, she did come off to me as a bit shallow by the end. Sure it's hard to completely flesh out a character in one episode (and should you really completely flesh someone out in their first appearance) but the show has done that with some of it's side characters before, it's certainly possible. So yes, rather mixed feelings and I'm also a bit worried about Jenna-Louise Coleman's character for a completely different reason, apparently it was a last minute choice to have her play a character in the first half and I'm worried that Moffat is going to make the series more timey-wimey than it needs to be again. Yes Doctor Who is a show that has a lot of camp and a lot of strange stuff in it but it still needs well, call it a base of logic to stand on, rules that it can't contradict, and I'm afraid that it's about to do some very odd stuff that's going to mess with the continuity*.

The Audio: Hmm, didn't notice anything really new music wise. The intro may have changed but I was a little distracted by the (trippy) visuals to notice. All the music worked however so no complaints here.

The Visuals: Well I finally figured out why Vastra looks odd to me, despite all of the prosthetics on the actresses face it still has a very human facial structure (and eyes), I do wish in that the designers went even father with the design. Other than that small revelation on my part, no real comments on the episode. It seemed weird that Jenny was wearing pants at one point but I don't know nearly enough about Victorian era fashion to actually say if the rest of the clothes were accurate or not and as for the setting, well, you see one Christmas story set in a snowy, especially Victorian, London and you've seen them all.

It feels odd to rate a single episode so I shall sum this all up by saying that while awkward at times this was still enjoyable, even if it makes me worried about what's coming next. Which I guess is also your average Doctor Who episode.....

*for those who want spoilers, doesn't the end of it imply that reincarnation or something similar exists in the Whoverse? Which I think would just make things complicated or I could be over-thinking it, only the second half will tell and who knows when that is coming out.  

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Book Review: Seraphina

Originally my last review of the year was going to be volumes 5 and 6 of Kieli (yes not only  did I finally get both of them but I found time to read them as well!) and I didn't think I'd have a chance to read this book until 2013. But unexpectedly one of my libraries had a copy of this, I got it out, and then proceeded to read it over a day and a half this. This was impressive because not only is the book around 460 pages (which even for me is a bit thick) but those two days were Christmas Eve and Christmas Day where between the two of them I spent over 10 hours in parties and another couple of hours each day getting to/helping prepare for each. So I didn't just read this book fast, I read this book fast for me and I think that alone says something about how I liked it.

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

Summary: In the country of Goredd there has been a tenuous peace agreement between humans and the dragons for 40 years which seems threatened nearly every day due to a lack of understanding of each side. For Seraphina the peace is even more important for her than most, her mother was a dragon (a fact her father didn't know until she bled silver blood while she died giving birth to Seraphina) and her father human making her a hybrid and a fact she hides every day. There seems to be no upsides to her strange parentage and it only seems to have given her terrible headaches and strange mental landscapes to attend to, hardly a desirable thing. But with dignitaries from both sides gathering to celebrate the treaty she'll simply have to deal with everything while trying her best to stay out of the dangerous politics that it seems like she was born into.

The Good: Now THIS is what people should do if they want a medieval-Europe inspired setting! Goredd isn't a dressed up and renamed England or France, it's an original setting which draws heavily inspiration from real world culture (such as the music and the idea of Saints) without falling into some of the traps ("noooo you can't have women with power in a middle ages setting, wait almost all of the named royals are female? Well, everyone has to be whit-oh hell side characters from other countries and clearly described to be not-white!"). The story makes use of it's large page count to create a fairly detailed plot with multiple subplots that come together by the end (like a calmer version of Diana Wynne Jones' books) and there is plenty of politicking and scheming to make me happy. In these ways it feels like a rather mature young adult book, I can easily see that if just a few things were changed that it could be a work of adult fiction. That isn't to say that it should be an adult fiction book, it's simply a book that I think has more crossover appeal than others. 

The Bad: There were some points where it felt like Lucian, who can be a bit touchy but isn't hot tempered, got mad (or madder) at Seraphina than he should've just for the sake of advancing the plot but even then you could come up with a realistic reason for that (being in charge of all the security for the peace treaty celebration will make anyone cranky). I also had a bit of a hard time buying that Princess Glisselda was only 15, she does act like a 15 year old a lot of the time but there are other times when she was too wise beyond her years (which is something I could say for a lot of characters in young adult books actually, so while a bit frustrating it was something I could easily deal with and did half expect).

So I happily give this book four out of five stars, would buy it, and I'm hoping that there is in fact going to be a sequel. There was a note in one of the appendixes which lead me to think so but honestly I won't be crushed if there isn't. Yes there is so much more plot that could happen but after spending this much time with the characters I can see how they could further develop so even if there's not a sequel I can easily imagine how it would have gone down. For those interested there's a prologue which fills in one or two details and gives you a good feel for what the characters and the book is like. 

Friday, December 28, 2012

Comic Review: Aki Alliance

Bit of a weird title here, I think it's actually a print book but well over a year ago I was linked to where you could read the whole thing online, read a bit, did some other things, and never read the rest. Lately I've been trying to clean up my "webcomic to read" folder so I tried downloading the book to see if that made it a bit easier to read (it didn't, you have to continuously scroll down, I was hoping it would be in separate pages for ease of reading). And then I decided to just get through it in one go since with as many things as I have going on these days I'd probably just forget about it for months again otherwise, the problem with having a large backlog.

Aki Alliance by Ryan Estrada

Summary: Aki has a problem, well, two actually. The first problem is that she has tried out and quit just about every club in school. The second problem, spawning from the first, is that she has no friends from alienating every girl at school by doing this and she wants to make friends. So one of the girls in her class proposes a challenge, make friends with every girl in the class before they graduate and Aki accepts.

The Good: When all is said and done the story has a pretty good sized side cast and despite the fact that most of them only appear a few times they all felt distinct and individual. Rounded? Ehhh, that varies but it certainly didn't feel like Aki was running into the same few stereotypes over and over and these character interactions literally carry the story. The other bit that carries the story, in my opinion, is the humor and it's present in spades throughout the entire story. It's zany, only sometimes grounded in logic, and certainly makes the story more entertaining, although I'm not sure I would actually label this story a comedy so that fact that the humor helped carry the story for me isn't a good sign.

The Bad: I was rather frustrated with the ending, it ended up being what I would point to as an example of "telling not showing" which isn't a good thing to be. Aside from that, I was disappointed by Aki in the end. No I didn't expect her to grow and change that much in the story, that's not her character, and she did change a bit but only the smallest iota (that ending more of less proved it). So, what was the point of this story then? It's not heavily plot driven, it's character driven with characters who don't change much, whom I also didn't find entertaining, am I missing something here?

The Art: Half of the chapters are done in what I'd call the stories "normal" art style and the other half are done in wildly varying styles which sometimes match up with the chapter at hand and other times don't. I think I would have been a bit more forgiving of these shifts if they had been more evenly spread out, the other styles appeared more and more as the story was going on and to me it felt like Estrada was growing tired of his story and was having to spice it up any way he could (which I'm sure wasn't the case but the thought did cross my mind). Again, this is just personal preference on my part, and some of the art styles really did match the chapters at hand really well, but I wish they had been more evenly spread out.

In the end I give this just 2.5 stars out of 5. Should you read it? Weeeeell it's free, but then again you can find free anime streaming and free books on Amazon and I wouldn't recommend you consume all of those, there's some real tripe out there! In the end this just wasn't a story for me and I can see it appealing to more of a middle grade audience but even then this wouldn't be the first thing I'd think of if asked to recommend titles for middle schoolers. 

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Book Review: Glamour in Glass

Getting close to the end of the year here! For the record, I'm going to take the first through the fifth off, partially so I can sew for an upcoming con and also because I've done such a great job getting everything reviewed I'll be basically out of stuff to talk about by then! Besides, just about everyone who took a break took one this week so it's not like there will be a dearth of content elsewhere.
In any case, I attempted to get this book through an interlibrary loan, failed, discovered it was at my local library back home, got it from there once I got home for the holidays and then got a response from my college library saying they had it. I have absolutely no idea what they're doing now, especially since I was well into the book and knew I was going to finish it long before I got back to school and there doesn't seem to be a way to cancel the request. Oh well, what matters now is that I have read it and through entirely legal means to boot!

Glamour in Glass by Mary Robinette Kowal

Summary: Jane and Vincent are now happily married and working together producing glamurals, even though Jane worries that she's not helping enough or that her contributions to the work are overlooked by everyone except her husband. However they decide to take a brief break and go on a honeymoon on the continent now that Napoleon has been disposed of and visit an old friend of Vincent's where Jane has a rather clever idea.

The Good: As odd as it sounds this book made me a bit interested in the history of the time and not the history of Napoleon and his wars but of society and the differences between countries in Europe. Possibly not what Kowal expected people to take away from it but I want to go off and read more about the time period now which I think means the book did at least a few things right. As for the story itself, it was cool to see how the magic changed and grew, although the story didn't focus as much on the magic so I almost want another book which focuses on it more. 

The Bad: I'm venturing dangerously close to spoilers here but the heck with it, despite the fact that it gives the book it's title the glassmaking ultimately didn't play a very large role in the book and I felt like it was almost disposed of by the end. Sure you could say it was only a plot device but I think it was a badly used one. And the book overall was, well, boring and I never found Shades of Milk and Honey boring. I've seen people that it is much harder to write a story about people staying in love than one about them falling in love and that certainly seemed to be the case here, even if it was nice to see Vincent be more open it was just more boring overall.

In the end I give this three stars out of five and found it much less interesting than it'd predecessor  It's not a full "you have to read this to know the entire story " sequel so read it if you want, if you don't then don't. I'm probably being a bit hard on it but, erm, oh well, I'm sure it's just to balance out how lenient I was on Kyousogiga yesterday. 

Monday, December 24, 2012

Anime Review: Kyousogiga ONA Series

Last December a one-shot OVA came out from Toei which was sorta-kinda a Buddhist themed Alice in Wonderland story, ish, which I really enjoyed and wanted more of. So I was happy when a series was announced and then saddened when I learned it was going to just be five OVAs from August to December. There's also a manga adaptation out there it turns out which also helps fill in the gaps between when Koto came to mirror Kyoto (which was the end of the first episode here, from now on episodes here will be referred to as  season two) and the original OVA, none of the materials is recycled in the second season or the OVA so fans of those should check that out as well.


Summary: Less a sequel to the OVA and more an all over the place prequel, season two focuses on fleshing out the major players from the OVA and talking more about the strangeness of Mirror Kyoto.

The Good: There were a lot of questions I had after the original OVA (not that it was bad, just that it deliberately left a lot untold) and this season answered quite a few of them and some other questions I hadn't even thought to ask. Most of it was character related, although it did help flesh out just how odd Mirror Kyoto is as well and I enjoyed it. I didn't think that any of the episodes were wasted, although I would've chosen to focus on different thing for a few of them, and it showed that the OVA wasn't just a one-off thing, the writer(s?) really do have some interesting ideas and I'd like to see more of it. 

The Bad: Ack, so short! I think the longest episode was only 12 minutes and I'm really sad that this idea hasn't been given a full series which details the story from start (wherever they think it should start, technically this series went back to the very beginning) to some sort of end beyond where the OVA did. All of this world and character building is quite nice, don't get me wrong, but there seemed to be a few rumblings of an underlying plot and I'd love to see what it really is. So, financial backers, get on this please, I want more!

The Audio: There were only two new characters with large speaking roles so there wasn't much change from the OVA. Everyone still sounds just fine, all of the characters have a wider range of emotions than you'd expect out of a short series and all of the actors did a fine job at making the characters sound like themselves no matter what was going on . 

The Visuals: I only found some low-quality streams to watch so I don't know if the show looked quite as nice as the OVA did, it did seem a bit less detailed but the OVA was extraordinarily detailed so that's no surprise and not a failing either. Everything still felt as creative as the OVA however so I'm satisfied regardless, I can live with a less detailed series as long as it feels like the team put just as much effort into it quite happily.

I'm not sure I can even rate this series given how short it was, hopefully it will suffice to say that yes I liked it and if you have a few spare hours to check out the original OVA and this season, it'll take less than three hours and it'll be a fun three hours. And, if you have the time, give the manga a look as well (as I mentioned earlier, none of the mediums repeat any of the stories so it's all new and the manga also really helped flesh things out for me, now if only they would put all of this together into one, cohesive story). 

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Movie Review: Rise of the Guardians

When I initially heard about this project I wasn't that interested in when it was announced, heard a bit more about it and was interested, once it came out I noticed that people were only talking about the art/how dreamy the characters were (which, while not necessarily a bad sign, isn't usually a good sign about the art), and then decided to see it with a friend once I was done with finals. So here I am now, my friend and I were actually the only ones in the theater when we saw this so we were free to snark all we wanted (which turned out to be a good thing since there was a lot of snarking....)

Rise of the Guardians

Summary: Santa Claus (North), the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, and the Sandman are the four guardians of childhood but with the Boogeyman (Pitch) growing stronger and stronger the mysterious Man in the Moon tells them that there is now a fifth guardian, Jack Frost. Jack is as confused as the rest of them, he doesn't remember his past and nobody believes in him so nobody can see him, how in the world is he supposed to help save it?

The Good: There was a lot of decent to amusing humor in this film (while it felt like it was a little much at times it didn't feel nearly as forced as say the humor in Brave did) and it was a new and interesting take on characters like the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny. The film looked great, more on the later, and if we're calling it a Christmas movie (I'm not sure since it's actually set right around Easter) it's one of the best Christmas movies I've seen, normally I can't stand that little genre. The plot, while not complicated, did have some good bones to it, but it was buried under a lot of not so good stuff....    

The Bad: I saw some people say that if you see this movie you see it for the art not the plot, that I think was the understatement because holey moley, my friend and I were convinced that this movie went through multiple directors because of how all over the place it is (which isn't the case so I'm more confused). The action scenes, while cool looking (I've seen some people call it the kiddie version of The Avengers) go on way too long, some of them probably could have been cut altogether, and the final battle really didn't make that much sense. Afterwards I went online to compare the movie to the original books it was based on (which it turns out are set 200 years earlier) and man I wish they had kept some of the stuff about the characters in there, they had some rather interesting backstories. And speaking of characters, Jack Frost is as flat a main character you can get. I hardly know what his personality is like (other than "mischievous" and really he barely does anything like that), no wonder he's confused about being made a guardian, I'm confused too. Confused sums up my feelings on this whole movie, how in the world was this supposed to work as a cohesive story with so little exposition (either told or shown)?

The Audio: Sooo, my friend and were I debating who had the worse accent, North or the Easter Bunny, and it turns out that Hugh Jackman (an actual Australian) voices the Easter Bunny so I guess my friend won (Alec Baldwin apparently can't do a very good Russian accent, if I didn't know he was supposed to be Russian I wouldn't have been able to guess). Jack sounds much too old but oddly enough I got used to his voice rather fast, Pitch's voice seemed a bit off though (Tooth for the record sounded just fine from the get go). Didn't really pay attention to the soundtrack that much, I was too distracted by the pretty.

The Visuals: Yes this movie looks really great, apparently Dreamworks had to come up with new software for all of the sand special effects (which I think they even released as freeware in hopes that the rest of the industry will use it as well) and honestly the only time I thought it looked weird was North's beard. Specifically, it didn't look like it was growing out of his chin but rather pasted on, and out of an hour and a half long movie that's my only compliant which is rather fantastic.

In the end I give this movie 2.5 stars out of 5 and don't plan on seeing it again (unless it's a fancut where they cut down all the action scenes, god know how short the movie will be at that point then). So, I'm in a bit of an awkward position since the rest of the internet seems to adore this film and it's no secret that it hasn't made nearly the money Dreamworks was banking on and at this point the planned sequels may easily fall through (see, cutting down those action scenes would have helped in multiple ways!). I'm seeing a lot of people saying to see it anyway because of the potential in the film but did I see potential? Potential is what I see in a webcomic where there's one author-artist who may or may not have a critique partner who is fumbling along learning how to write, edit, and illustrated at the same time. But when you have a project with tons of people involved, enough people that no one person has to do all these things and where there are people to say "no this isn't quite right, let's rethink this" then I don't want to see potential, I want to see the actual thing. And I didn't really see potential here, I saw a very confused movie which doesn't quite work and, well, I can't really recommend it, sorry folks. 

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Book Review: Team Human

Another book which I had to coax the interlibrary loan system to give me (and then make a special trip to the library to get) which I'll admit I was hesistant about reading when I first heard about it. I was a bit grumpy that this wasn't the 1930s book that Justine has been working on for a while and I still haven't finished SRB's Demon's Lexicon series so I wasn't sure how well I was going to like her contribution. Heck, even though I had read Justine's Magic or Madness trilogy, How to Ditch Your Fairy, and Liar I wasn't the biggest fan of her work either, why was I excited about this? Internet hype and the fact that I really like the blogs of both of them I guess, but the more I heard about this book and the few snippets I read of it made me more interested in it which is always a good sign.

Team Human by Justine Larbalestier and Sarah Rees Brennan

Summary: In the town of New Whitby you might have a larger than normal vampire population but life for its human residents is the same that you might find in any town and for Mel is had been rather vampire free. That is until a vampire decides to transfer to their high school (for unexplained reasons), her friend Cathy falls hard for him, and then it's up to Mel to keep her friend from going completely over to the night side and to try and cheer up her friend Anna whose dad has mysterious vanished. So life is a bit busier than usual but nothing she can't handle, or so she thinks until things start getting really weird in New Whitby.

The Good: Hmm, character with parents who are at least semi-active in her life, ditto for siblings, has an actual group of friends which is mixed gender and has to do homework before a lot of her adventures? Ladies and gentlemen I give you one of the most accurate portrayals of the average American teenager in years and it's from an urban fantasy (oi realistic fiction, you're looking a bit bad by comparison). So the setting worked, the characters worked, the plot had enough hints and clues to make it predictable but not in a way that it was so obvious to take all of the fun out of the story. 

The Bad: There were one or two lines by the characters that betrayed the fact that neither author is a native USian (I think someone said like "a dime for your thoughts" or something like that, tiny detail and the fact that that was basically the only time I remembered that is a good thing). I also do wish that the book had had a small line about how exactly someone is turned into a vampire, again a tiny detail in the grand scheme (and perhaps it was in there and merely mentioned so quickly I missed it) but I would have liked it. Other than that, I'm sure Mel comes off as too rude and prejudiced for some but, well, that's pretty typical human behavior (not to mention teenager) in the face of the unknown and potentially dangerous sad to say. Plus, you know a character like that is going to change (if they're the main character) so while I winced a few times I knew it was going to be for a reason in the end.

So four out of five stars and going on my to-buy list for sure. The book is a stand-alone so it's a complete story and it really is nice to read a stand alone after reading a whole bunch of books from various parts of their series, it's rather satisfying to see a beginning, middle, and end all in one place.  

Manhwa Review: Lizzie Newton: Victorian Mysteries Volume 1

Now here's a title I wasn't expecting to talk about today, somehow (I think I saw it as an ad on a webcomic) I found a website that Seven Seas had set up where they were going to upload a few pages each week of this book until it's release and I read along and enjoyed it quite well (although I just found out that they only had license to have it up as a webcomic for a year and that expired earlier in the month). However I thought they were missing the last chapter/half a chapter since A) the page count number didn't match up and B) it was a rather awkward place to end since the criminal had been identified but not caught (and I wasn't going to review just part of a volume). Today however I was in a bookstore and caught site of the book so I decided to see how much was left and I discovered that in fact the entire first volume had been published online, the remaining pages were devoted to a one-shot. So this is now totally fair game for me to review, good thing since I was really wondering how to classify this one and when I'd get around to it otherwise.

Lizzie Newton: Victorian Mysteries Volume 1 story by Hey-Jin Jeon and art by Kiha Lee

Summary: Elizabeth "Lizzie" Newton is a young lady who is more interested in writing her mystery stories (which she's become rather well known for) than dealing with some of her more tedious social duties but when she stumbles upon a crime scene during one of these events she can't help but investigate a bit herself. There she discovers that what looks like a simple suicide is in fact a murder and drags her fiancee Edwin into her investigation to solve what the police don't even know is there. 

The Good: While you can't exactly figure out the mystery yourself from all the clues (something which happens very rarely for me in any mystery regardless of medium however) the characters are rather meticulous explaining the details later so it feels like a well-thought out mystery that's complicated enough to remain unnoticed if you're not looking for a mystery but still within the range of what a clever person could solve. Lizzie is a spunky heroine and, while not highly original, is likable enough and her banter with Edwin worked well (although the story dropped a few hints that there's more to him than we/Lizzie know and I just hope the story won't take forever to address that). It's a first volume so it's rough around the edges at parts but it's completely grabbed me and I would quite like to read more and see where the series ends up going.  

The Bad: As alluded to earlier, this volume ends in a really awkward place and has the page room for more story and I much would have rather had this story completely wrapped up in one volume. Unless the story was just a bit too long for one volume and they decided to delay it to stretch over two volumes instead of having it carry over just a bit and then start a new story, that would actually make sense. That is my biggest complaint and, well, an unsatisfying ending is a rather large complaint especially with the two volumes (I don't know if the second one is the finale or if the series is on-going) being published six months apart. Pretty much everything else that can be called a flaw (not yet rounded characters, character interaction also comes off as a bit flat at times) can be easily explained by the fact that this is a first volume, it's a really solid first installment all things considered.

The Art: Ms. Silverman on ANN has already talked about the details in the art with more authority than I have so go read her review for that and I'll just talk more generally. And the art is pleasant, I was actually surprised to hear that this was a manhwa because previously the art I've seen from manhwa has been much more stylized (in different ways though) and this just looked like a webcomic that has more shojo roots than some.

So I give this 4 stars out of 5 and fully plan on buying this and the next volume when I get a chance, especially since it looks like this is the end of the free preview on the site (which makes sense since it was more than generous, just wish there had been a little note saying "End of Volume 1" somewhere) 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Book Review: Diva

And finally I get to the finale of the Flappers series, finally since I got this book from Random Buzzers back in the summer but then had to spend all that time tracking down copies of the first two books and, well, finding time to read them (plus everything else I had). So there's not much to say here to introduce the story that I haven't said in previous reviews, it finishes up the tale of Gloria, Clara, and Lorraine (with Jerome providing two or three point of view chapters) as they come into adulthood in New York City in the 1920s and make a whole bunch of dangerous mistakes along the way. Hmm, I feel like that would make either an excellent or terrible tagline for a book, probably terrible since I wouldn't pick up a story like that.....

Diva by Jillian Larkin

Summary: Gloria is in jail, Jerome is in danger, Clara is estranged, and Lorraine is being Lorraine (that is, meaning well in her own mind but causing trouble for everyone around her). But Gloria has a chance to work out a deal with the FBI and Clara and Lorraine realize that Clara's former beau is being roped into a scam, none of them have a chance to just sit around and watch life unfold around them if they want anything to work out well so it's time to undo some mistakes and get into even more trouble in the process.

The Good: I was okay with the very end, Gloria and Jerome's choice seemed somewhat logical (I keep meaning to actually look up details-that-are-spoilers to see if it really would have worked) and I couldn't think of a better ending myself. It was nice to see Clara "redeem" herself after the previous book and Lorraine finally became a semi-likable character for me which impressed me. The real story of this trilogy has been the romance or the various troubles the girls get into but one big character arc for each of them and by the end I was satisfied with those arcs. It seemed like each girl had a good beginning, middle, and end and, while not overly creative in some places, each girl had become a more rounded character by the end and that's always a good thing.

The Bad: The climax was, eeeehhhhhh I stand by my assessment last time that while Larkin does okay drama she seems to have trouble coming up with really grand finales that actually make sense. I'm of mixed feeling about Lorraine's ending, on the one hand it feels like a "pair the spares" move but on the other hand it's completely in character for Lorraine. The climax certainly didn't do Marcus any favors and honestly I just couldn't find the effort to care about the story that Gloria had found herself involved in and didn't really feel strongly one way or other when everything was all said and done.

So in short, as I expected after the second book the final book here didn't end up wowing me although it wasn't terrible. I give it 2.5 stars out of 5 and, well, if I was to come across any of Larkin's future books I'm honestly not sure I would try them. Granted there are several authors where I don't like their initial book series but then like books they write later on but at this point I'm not going to keep an eye out for her name just in case this turns out to be the case here. 

Monday, December 17, 2012

Anime Review: Heartcatch Precure

I've heard a lot of good things about this series for a while (for one thing, I've seen a lot of people debating over what series within the Precure franchise are actually good and this one and the original are the ones that just about everyone seem's to agree on) and dammit I don't watch enough magical girl shows as a self-professed fan of the genre, clearly I need to fix that. I'm going to make a real effort to watch more magical girl series next year (provided that my currently airing and school schedules give me enough time) although I am a little worried that since I enjoyed this one so much my expectations for everything else is going to be too high.

Heartcatch Precure

Summary: Tsubomi is a shy girl who has just moved to a new town so her family can be closer to her grandmother and is trying to change her personality as she enters her new school. She's helped by her new friend Erika and the two of them also find themselves fighting to protect the Earth from the Desert Messengers by turning into the legendary Pretty Cure. They're not very good at first but they have some unexpected allies and the more they fight the better they get and the more they grow too.  

The Good: This show is an odd combination of things even for the franchise (since I'm unfamiliar with the other works I doubled checked these things on tvtropes, as always correct me in the comments if I mess up). On the one hand it has some very blatant merchandise pulls with the tools the Precures use, which reminded me that at it's roots it's a kids show meant to sell toys, but it's also surprisingly dark in places with rounded characters who grow and have some rather badass moments. Honestly if you doubt that a magical girl show can actually be called badass, look at this list which sort of compares Madoka Magica and Heartcatch by laying out all of the badass and "grimdark" moments from the show (not really spoilers unless you don't want to know how many dragons were punched in the face in either show). The plot also isn't very complicated, neither the overall plot (the Desert Messengers want to turn the Earth into a desert and the Precure have to defeat them) nor the week to week plot (a new character is shown who has a reasonable insecurity that's exploited to turn them into a monster and the Precure have to return them to normal). I do wish it had varied from it's victim of the week formula at times (there were some episodes which I honestly think could have worked without a monster and that kind of deviation can be really leave an impression if you're a kid) but it does everything well and I didn't get bored with it. Also, I don't want to say much for fear of spoilers, but I ended up really loving the main characters (especially the third and fourth precures) who all go through a good bit of character development (it's more obvious in the third and fourth precures but Tsubomi and Erika really do grow as well) really that's why I was able to get through such a long show which had, well, a number of periods where not a lot happened.

The Bad: Precure series are meant to run for an entire year so there is a lot of filler in here (defining filler as "periods when nothing plot-shattering happens") and I really can't advise people what episodes to skip if they don't like filler. The good news is that it's not bad filler, the show makes an effort to bring back all of it's side/victim-of-the-week characters (heck, the third and fourth precures appear a lot before they join the group) and it lets the girls develop as well. The bad news is that this is a 49 episode show so this isn't something you can necessarily blow through in a few days. Also, assuming that their transformation sequences take about two and a half minutes each episode  (and by the end of the series they are quite elaborate) I've calculated that they take up the equivalent of four full episodes which is rather impressive. So in short, where Heartcatch falls short is where many long running magical girl shows do but not in either it's character or plot department.

The Audio: I didn't really like the opening or either ending for the show and at times the faeries voices got a little too squeaky for me but by and large the show sounded fine. The characters didn't exactly sound like real kids but they didn't sound like adults trying too hard to act like kids so I was satisfied there. Honestly I was paying more attention to the art (which was one of the reasons the show caught my eye in the first place) so let's just move onto that.

The Art: If the art looks familiar then yes it probably is! Funny enough the character designer is the same person as the one who did the designs for for Ojamajo Doremi ( Toei's big magical girl franchise before Precure) but more notably the staff also worked on Casshern Sins, and episode of Penguindrum, and are currently working on Saint Seiya Omega*. So, as tvtropes puts it, the art changes from it's normal look to an even more stylized look whenever it damn well wants to and holy cow guys, I don't recall the last time I saw hand to hand fights in anime look that good. The fourth precure is especially good at them, the fights in the last few episodes look simply spectacular, and it's a nice change to pace to magical girls whose primary means of fighting is to punch the crap out of something. I mean, sure there final magical attack is awesome in a bit of an amusing way but there's an unexpected almost hilarity to having a show for little girls have the characters defeat the monsters in such "un-girly" ways.

In the end I give this show 4.5 stars out of 5 which is really high for me but hey I enjoyed it, why not rate it highly. I also had a chance to watch the franchise movie which doesn't need to be seen to watch the show, however the characters from it have a blink or you'll miss it cameo in one of the final episodes and a character has a line or two of foreshadowing there as well. It's a plot that wouldn't have fit well into an episode/two parter of the series so I think it was a good fit for the movie. I'm not sure if I would buy the series if it ever came out in the US (which it won't but hypothetically speaking) since it is so long but I did enjoy it a lot regardless, going to check out at least the first Precure series next year as a result and I'll see if any of the other catch my eye as well.

*which makes me joke that the fights here aren't Saint Seiya Omega levels of badass, the fights over there must be Heartcatch Precure levels of badass. Or they could both just be Casshern Sins level of badass, I guess the niche for these guys is retro art style combined with awesome hand to hand combat.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Book Review: Raven Boys

Another schedule update, I was so busy with exams/my plans to see The Hobbit fell through this weekend so I actually don't have anything for Sunday. But on Monday I'm talking about Heartcatch Precure which does have a (really short) movie so I'm going to watch that and then talk about that briefly at the end of the review on Monday. Not ideal but I honestly have no ideas what to watch that also happens to be streaming on Netflix, this has just been a pretty bad year for movies for me.

But not for books weirdly enough, this year not only have there been a lot of YA books that I've been interested in but I've also been able to get a hold of them, huzzah! This one did require that I put in an interlibrary loan request (and then the library failed to notify me about it and I only figure that out since I was obsessively checking out the status of all my requests and realized one seemed to have already been checked out to me) but this is what you're supposed to use a college library for, right?

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

Summary: Blue's mother believed in not ordering children around so she's never told Blue to do anything in her life until now, stay away from Gansey she warns or something terrible will happen. Blue has already realized that on her own, when she was young her mother and her other fortune telling aunts predicted that she would cause the death of the man who fell in love with her and Blue has seen Gansey stumbling in the parade of the dead-to-come with her own eyes. But when she eventually runs into Gansey and his group of fellow students she's intrigued by their quest for a dead Welsh king and finds herself drawn in regardless and how could she fight her fate anyway?

The Good: Really quick since it's basically the same thing I said about Lament/Ballad, I like how Stiefvater sets her stories in The South (Virginia again in this case) and yet it's never made stereotypical or exaggerated (heck, there are multiple times when a character's accent is mentioned and it's clear that she lives in Virginia since she understands the different between the old, gentry country accents and the small town/out in the country accents, really small details but I like the small details). I like how the magic is worked into the setting, it's so subtle that it feels realistic but you don't doubt for a second that it's not real (the setting is too small-town for it to really be called an urban fantasy but it has the same causal approach to magical things that an urban fantasy does). Gansey and Adam grew on me more than I expected and, for a final little detail (I just love her detail work apparently), I love the thought that went into the names of the characters. Blue comes from a bit of an eccentric mother so she has an odd name, Gansey is short for his full name which works considering his background (old money, actually I only started thinking about this after I saw his sister was named Helen and went "hey that's a name that hasn't been popular for about a hundred years, wait a minute that would actually make sense here), Adam is a common name but there have been many great people named that, and Ronan is as Irish and wild as you can get. And now I want to go back through Stiefvater's other books and analyze all the names in there to see if they match up as perfectly....  

The Bad: I found Blue to be the most interesting viewpoint character and everyone else to be, well, varying from merely less interesting to one or two who I wish had been cut completely. I understand why the characters were viewpoint characters, I can't think of any other natural way to convey the information they had, but that understanding didn't make me any less bored. I am also a little curious about what the next book in this series will cover which is a bit funny since, while there a lot of open ends, the book feels like it ended rather neatly and I'd almost be okay if this was a stand alone book. I guess the best way to put it is that you expect that a sequel expands upon the first book and this book worked so well I'm really not sure where the story can go from here.

So 3.5 out of 5 stars to this book and I'm interested in reading the next book (no idea how long this series is supposed to be). It still hasn't ousted Ballad as my favorite Stiefvater book but I like it a bit more than The Scorpio Races, I guess the trick for me is that her books have to have romance as a secondary genre instead of it being the primary one for me to like them.  

Friday, December 14, 2012

Manga Review: Soul Eater Not! Volume 1

And now for today's regular review, won a copy of this in a contest from The Manga Critic although I'll admit that I did read some of this story as scanlations. I stopped once Yen Press started serializing it in their magazine, since it wasn't a manga I enjoyed enough to pay for an entire magazine each month but I'm not going to be such a big douche that I'd continue to pirate it, and also from the summaries I was reading it seemed like the story was starting to make less sense as time went on. So I was curious, would I still enjoy these early parts or has my love for Soul Eater faded entirely by now?

Soul Eater Not! by Atsushi Ohkubo

Summary: Set shortly before the main Soul Eater starts, Tsugumi is a new student and DWMA and unturned weapon whose excited and scared to start this new life. And so far it's up and down, she has people fighting over being her partner but they're all girls and some of her other classmates are mean. But all in all things seem to be going well, although there are some darker things going on behind the scenes.

The Good: There's a surprising amount of background information in this series which, while not vital (why some of the students have weird names, more on how DWMA works) I'm a bit surprised some of it didn't make it into the main story (like the third Gorgon sister). So if you like Soul Eater then yes, check this out, it's a fun companion to the story, however if you haven't read Soul Eater I'm not sure how much you'd enjoy it (especially since I think SE is the stronger of the two). 

The Bad: Yeah just for some reason this story just isn't grabbing me as much anymore, before I thought the relationships between the three girls was rather cute but now it comes off as pandering and just rather dull. I think part of the reason Soul Eater worked was because the characters weren't raw newbies and here none of the characters seem to know what they want to do yet and it's a bit dull. There's nothing new on the take and filling in details for the main series (which I stopped reading awhile ago after getting frustrated at it) can only go so far. 

The Art: I'm not sure why but Yen went with a different kind of cover for this book. Instead of being a straight up luster (shiny) cover it's actually matte (not shiny) with raised shiny bits for the title, a bit like embossing. It's pretty nice, the cover has a nice texture to it, although it did throw me off when I opened up my package. In any case, the art is what Soul Eater itself looks like these days (which has evolved a bit since it's early days, it's a little more rounded and cutesy but still recognizable) and it works. Ohkubo can draw fairly good fight scenes and the characters look distinct enough, although honestly that's because everyone's hair and clothes are rather distinct, just look at the cover to see how similar the faces are....

So I suppose if I found future volumes of this at the library I'd get them but otherwise I don't feel a burning need to own this series. As for SE, honestly I'd like to buy it digitally up to where I stopped liking the series (around 14 or so, Yen hasn't even gotten to their yet) but you have to buy it through the Square Enix shop and last I checked you have to have a PC to read the manga and frankly I don't want to have to install a completely different operating system and dual boot my computer just to read manga. So for the moment I'm in a bit of a pinch, I don't have the space to buy these series but would like to support the part of the story I did really and truly enjoy, Square Enix can you guys just get with the 21st century and update your store? Please?

Book Review: Thieftaker

Augh, sorry this is late, I started writing this early yesterday but then got hit with a headache that could've felled an ox and decided to just go to bed early instead of staying awake (and in pain) trying to finish this. I will try to get today's regular post up as well although that will be up closer to the usual time. put up a short excerpt for this book a few months ago and when I had a chance to win an ARC I jumped on it. And then, continuing with my recent pattern, it took a while for me to get around to actually reading it since I had so much checked out from the libraries and enough homework to fill up all the time I had between classes. But eventually I found the time and this makes the third historical-novel-with-fantasy-elements I've read this year, can't tell if that counts as branching out for me or not. 

Thieftaker by D. B. Jackson

Summary: Ethan Kallie has an unusual job in pre-Revolutionary War Boston, he's a thieftaker and uses magic to hunt down thieves for his clients. He tries to not advertise the fact that he can use magic but when he's hired for a murder case it seems like everyone already knows his secret and that if he doesn't use magic he'll never figure out the killer.

The Good: In my copy (an ARC) there was a note on one of the early pages which I think said that there would be a map in the published edition which I think is a great idea. I've been to Boston just once and a lot of times during the book found myself wanting a map so I could figure out where everyone was, especially since they were using real locations in the story. The concept of magic here is interesting and works, my main worry had been that the magic would be so flashy that it would be unbelievable that this world had followed the exact same history as our world had with that giant difference. However the book made clear that magic users had by and large always stayed hidden (lest they be burned as witches) and for me that made the setting work which had been my biggest fear going into it. 

The Bad: Despite the fact that the opening excerpt Tor posted really grabbed me I was just, well, bored with this book by the end. I feel like it was wavering between becoming really dark and being less dark, and trying to decide just how much it wanted to use real historical characters. I didn't like Ethan as much by the end (honestly after seeing so many anime with a character going "oh god two girls like me what do I doooooo?" I have a much lower tolerance for that, especially when the character in question is an adult man who should be able to figure out what to do with his life) and just felt like the entire climax was awkward, not tense. All in all it doesn't make me very excited for the next book, I probably won't look for it at all.

So sadly a dud and I'll try to toss it in my library's free pile soon and hope that whoever gets it next enjoys it much more than me. Giving it 2.5 stars out of 5 and I'm hoping that I'll have a chance to read one more piece of historical fiction this year and that I'll enjoy it more.  

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Book Review: Ingenue

Another e-book, this was the book where my library didn't have the first book in the series (Vixen), only had the second book as an e-copy, and I won the third book (Diva) so I finally had some motivation to track down the first book. I should note one thing though, apparently I misremembered the end of Vixen and Gloria does in fact follow Jerome to NYC, not sure how I didn't remember that but they're together at the start here so clearly that's what happened. 

Ingenue by Jillian Larkin

Summary: A lot has happened since Gloria’s party, she’s now slumming it in New York City with Jerome and trying to find work, Lorraine has ended up working for a club in NYC run by mobsters, and Clara is now writing about the clubs and flapper lifestyle in NYC. In a city of millions you would think their lives wouldn’t cross but Jerome’s sister Vera is banking on it, someone has ordered a hit on Gloria and Jerome and it’s a race against time to find them first before they find themselves dead.

The Good: Vera was a new addition to the cast and I liked her a lot. When I think about it she’s actually a little more fleshed out than she first appears (ie, someone whose only goal is to find someone else, in general I find people’s whose goals center around someone else to be a bit flat) and she was certainly the most sensible of the viewpoint characters this time around. Even though I’m still not a bit fan of Lorraine she did have some good development and I’m sure many people would find her to be the most interesting character.

The Bad: What do you mean that the subplot about the assassin barely had any impact on the rest of the story? It's not like that wasn't the entire point of involving Vera in the story (who, spoilers, is not in Diva), or like the story could have worked without that convenient way to kill off a few undesirable characters. This book could be summed up as tension for the sake of tension both concerning the plot and for half of the relationships as well. In retrospect, having read Diva as well, I wonder if this series might have worked better as either a duo book set rather than a trilogy because honestly there just wasn't much here when everything is said and done.

As said, I've already read Diva as well, should get to that one next week, but as the series goes on I'm becoming less and less interested in it which is sad given how few books are even set in the 1920s. I give this book 2.5 stars out of three, let's see if Diva can do any better! 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Book Review: Witch Eyes

Back in late October/early November I heard from that this book (which I had wanted to read for a while but hadn't found at any of my libraries) was available as a free kindle download. So I figured out how to run kindle on my computer (which was dead simple, I use chrome and it just plugged right into the browser) and I discovered that I really liked the format of the kindle reader better than the adobe reader I had been using for e-books previously, had two columns of text instead of one which made it much easier for me since my problem before was that you couldn't scroll down so you had to read an entire page without moving the text around (which most people are used to when reading stuff on a computer these days). Still couldn't scroll down without going to the next page but this was still a rather nice improvement, I think that e-books are finally growing on me. 

Witch Eyes by Scott Tracy

 Summary: Braden was born with what for lack of a better term his uncle has dubbed "witch eyes," eyes that can unravel a spell in an instant or see the future randomly and uncontrollably. He wears sunglasses to help keep his power under control (although he still gets headaches and the like from it) but that doesn't stop him from seeing one day what will happen if he doesn't leave his uncle and go to the town of Belle Dam and upon arrival Braden finds that he's part of a centuries long power struggle which might very well kill him and that he has no way of getting out of, for better or for worse. 

The Good: I had been interested in reading this book for a while since it had something that I wanted to see more of, a character on the LGTB spectrum (in this case Braden in gay) yet the book isn't a "problem book." Sure apparently this causes some tension with his uncle but Braden's main problems involve magic and such which is exactly what I want more of in books, people who aren't white/cis/straight/all of that yet the book isn't about how they're different, it's just part of their lives. In any case, I liked the magic here, I liked the setting (since it's a town where at least some of the people have realized there is something big going on behind the scenes, I can never buy a setting where no one has figured that out), everything just went together well. There was nothing daring about the book (I refuse to believe that some people would consider a non-straight protagonist daring because that's just stupid) but it was certainly enjoyable and I want to read the next book. 

The Bad: Well, there was a villain, they were defeated but the larger problem remains and so I feel a little unsatisfied at the ending. I know this is part of a series (I believe a trilogy and, if that's the case, then it's completed) but that doesn't completely help. Bit annoyed at the character of Trey, I suppose you could just say "oh he's a teenager and hormones make them strange" but some of his actions seemed rather inconsistent and just for the sake of drama. Although this is a series so hopefully things will get a bit better in both of those regards in the next book.

So, three and a half stars out of four and if I can find the next book I'll be sure to read it too, coming from me that's a pretty good recommendation!