Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The 2013 Wrap-UP

It’s that time guys, time for my big, 2013 wrap up post! As usual I’m going to be talking about all media I consume in one big post since not only is that just easier for me but also because while some areas are easy to talk about (like anime) there are a lot of areas where it’s going to be a little, messy. But I’ll talk about that as I go along! First though a bit of housekeeping, as people have already noticed I’ve started using ads on the site, I’m trying to be more diligent about putting in referral links (should have some to Right Stuf soon, although sadly the reviews that get the most views are the ones which don’t have a physical release yet), and I’m going to change it up a bit more next year as well. When I started the site three years ago the format I chose, breaking everything up into their own sections, was a good idea since it made me consider multiple parts of the show and often made it easier to get going while writing. However I feel like I’ve grown past that point so starting January first I’m going to shift to a more free form style just like almost everyone else uses, and that will be for everything I review. Also, I feel like by doing this the infrequent little essays I write, which for the past year have just been going on my tumblr, will fit in better and I can post those here as well, just trying to catch up to the rest of the blogging community since I like what they’re doing and want to be part of it myself.

So, with that out of the way, here’s what my favorite things of 2013 were!

TV Series Review: The Time of the Doctor (Doctor Who 2013 Christmas Special)

Wow, I thought I would have this up last night guys except 1) I was on a train which did not have wi-fi which caught me off guard 2) I got in amazingly late due to what shall now be referred to as The Great Virginia Manhunt. Sorry about that, my anime review for the week is already up and my end of year wrap up should be up later as well, although I always intended to publish that one on the 31st.

Here we are, it's been an odd ride but it's time once again for the Doctor to regenerate and, oh wait, Moffat is still the series runner too? I'm actually hoping he steps down soon in the next year or two as well not only because it's time for some new blood working on the show but also because this special in some ways summed up all of Matt Smith's tenure on Doctor Who: good parts and bad parts side by side in a single episode.

The Time of the Doctor

Anime Review: Galilei Donna

This has been a bit of an odd year for the noitaminA timeslot. In the winter we had two continuing shows, Psycho-Pass and Robotics;Notes and in the spring the entire timeslot was taken up by a rerun of Katanagatari (which baffles me since the only thing new were the credits and I don't believe it was getting a rerelease). The summer had another rerun, AnoHana (which did originally air in the timeslot and was promoting it's new movie, it still felt like a bit of a slap to have reruns two seasons in a row however) which was accompanied by Silver Spoon (which will be back in just a couple of weeks) and then the fall had two anime original stories, Samurai Flamenco (which is also continuing on in the winter) and this entry. I was fairly excited about it since the art looked nice and the summary made it sound like a family coming back together to go on a quest (which means adult characters, wohoo!), sadly only one of those things turned out to be true.

Galilei Donna

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Book Review: Dark Triumph

With so many new books to keep track of this year it's not surprising that one or two nearly slipped my mind, after all it's not like I'm thinking of medieval, nearly-France, or assassins everyday. However my new library system actually has a section within the young adult section (the section forbidden to over-eighteens after 3pm on weekdays and all day on weekends, for once my ambiguous age appearance works in my favor!) dedicated to new books and that has helped me out quite a bit in keeping track of books. Now, if only all the books I wanted to read would magically pop up there....

Dark Triumph by Robin LaFevers 

Manga Review: Rurouni Kenshin

Well this review has been a long time coming, back in the fall of 2011 I gave in one night, wondering what this series was all about (probably after seeing half a dozen posts on tumblr about the live action movie) and read more than I meant to. I was wondering what to do the next day, especially since I try not to read licensed manga online, when I was in a local use bookstore, looked up in the manga section and found two omnibuses about to beam me in the head and magically enough they started right where I had stopped reading the previous night. Not one to ignore the universe I grabbed those and picked up the next omnibus soon afterwards, I really liked how long they were, but soon after that was when I had to cut my manga spending down to next to nothing to save up money and didn't come across any more omnibus editions at the used bookstore. However, when I moved this time around I noticed that the local library seemed to have all the volumes and recently I decided to take advantage of that and finish off the series in more or less one go.

Rurouni Kenshin by Nobuhiro Watsuki

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Anime Review: Kyousougiga

I might be jumping the gun here a little bit since technically the last episode, 10.5 which is supposed to be a commentary, hasn't aired yet but if anything really major happens in that episode I'll be sure to add it in (at this point I'm just so excited to talk about this show that I want to do it NOW). 

So, two years ago I watched the original Kyousougiga OVA and was totally charmed by it's insane, fast-paced antics. I had to watch it twice to figure out what happened, and realized that almost nothing in the preview (PV) had actually made it to the OVA but I loved it anyway and wanted more. About a year later a series of short ONAs came out, five new ones, all under 10 minutes long which served as prequels, fleshing out different aspects of the setting and characters and while I enjoyed it I was a bit sad since I wanted to see where the story went next, not how it got there. So when a full tv series was announced this year I was happy and excited but not overly excited, although that was partially because of the format. The show has one special (which I suppose is 5.5), two recaps (0 and 10.5) and then 10 regular episodes which were all split into three parts which I took to mean it would be in the same vein as the ONAs, short, semi-interconnected stories (and probably reworking those original ONAs into it) but no real connecting plot.

And it turned out that the first episode was the first recap of sorts, that original OVA being aired as episode 0 so I skipped it, I've seen it enough times that I was able to help establish the tvtropes page for the show and just didn't need to see it again. At the time the summer shows had just finished and I was coming off my Gatchaman Crowds high and was thinking that was going to be my favorite show of the year for show, nothing could even challenge it (well, in the back of my mind I admitted that if anything did it would be my love of this franchise). Yet when I sat down to watch the first full episode of this show I was blown away and realized that a challenger for that crown had arrived and started to realize just how carefully planned out those earlier incarnations of the story had been.


Sunday, December 22, 2013

Movie Review: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

A bit of book-keeping first, as people have probably seen I have finally gotten the ads working on the site, wohoo! So yes they're supposed to be there, nothing to be alarmed about. And I'm experimenting with the formatting of the reviews a little bit, I was never happy with how far you had to scroll down on the main page so I'm going to experiment around and see if I can find something I'm more happy with.

Alright down to the review, even thought I was rather grumpy with the first Hobbit film I was still a bit excited for this one, guess all of Peter Jackson's conditioning to make the world get overly excited whenever their's a new Tolkien film has worked. Funny enough I did hear recently that the extended edition of the first film actually works a lot better than the theatrical cut, explains a few things and the mood shifts work a little better. I'm not sure the same is going to happen to this film but I have to admit I am curious about rewatching the first one now.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Book Review: Out of the Easy

Since the end of the year is very close by now this means two things, one that all of the books I read that came out in 2013 get priority for being reviewed (so that everyone knows what I'm talking about in my end of year wrap-up) and two that I'm now suddenly finding all of said books at the local library, it seems to happen this way every year. I seem to recall hearing about this book this past summer and while it's not quite my cup of tea (straight historical fiction which I could tell from the setting was going to be running into a lot of ugly stereotypes) it sounded interesting enough so I was more than happy to pick it up when I came across it in person.

Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys

Manga Review: Fushigi Yugi: Genbu Kaiden (volumes one through ten)

So, many years ago (I almost want to say this was back in the OneManga days) on a whim I decided to try out this series even though I wasn't that big a fan of Yuu Watase's other series. I liked Alice 19th but I'll admit that series was total fluff for me, tried the original Fushigi Yuugi, didn't like it, and was a bit confused by the tone/story Ceres Celestial Legend was telling (having read about how that series ends, yep not one for me). But somehow this one worked better for me, it was just my kind of fluff in an art style I liked and I went through everything I could find pretty quickly. So when I spotted the first nine volumes at my local library I checked them out and discovered that very ironically they didn't even cover up to where my scanlations had ended, thankfully volume 10 was already on order and that did progress farther but I couldn't help and laugh, it's actually a pretty good example of why trying to keep up with current manga releases using only libraries is nigh-impossible (as of writing Viz has put out volume 11 as well and the final volume is due out in English this spring). But regardless I had it all and really was curious if I would still enjoy this fluff years later or not, the fact alone that I checked it out should give you a good idea of what I expected my answer to be.

Fushigi Yugi: Genbu Kaiden (volumes one through ten) by Yuu Watase

Summary: The year is 1923 and Takiko is adjusting to life in a new town after she and her mother move away from Tokyo to help her mother's tuberculosis. They both know the end is near and Takiko is furious that her father is still on his trip to god knows where and not with them. And when he finally reappears in their life he's a changed man, possessed by a fervor to finish translating the ancient Chinese text he was researching, The Universe of the Four Gods. The story itself is surrounded by stories and when Takiko is accidentally sucked into the book her father is horrified to realize that she is now the main character in the story who will team up with other super-powered people to summon an ancient god and that the path to get there is filled with danger. 

The Good: Yup, this is still my kind of fluff and more or less the closest I ever get to having a "guilty pleasure." I like the art and Takiko is a confident and strong-willed main character and actually does use her naginata skills more than just once in the first chapter (as opposed to the "look they have a weapon and used it once so they're a Strong Female Character!" trope, obviously she doesn't compare to all the super-powered people around her but she does use what skills she has). The pacing flows pretty well, Watase knows to give the character's a breather between big fights/revelations, they never feel too long or like the story is just dragging it's feet, and the story manages to flesh out all of the main characters just enough to make them sympathetic and distinct. It's not a super deep read and while I can't call it great I can easily say I enjoyed it and that it's certainly not terrible.

The Bad: Not all tropes are bad, on one level they're just short hand terms to describe common plot occurrences. However, common plot occurrences are just that, ordinary and predictable and this story is rather trope-y. None of the characters are super deeply fleshed out and often, especially earlier on, fall into the "he's the hot headed one and he's the calm, silent one" archetypes and Takiko is also really fixated on the fact that her father had wished for a son, not a daughter, early on in the story which gets tedious. This isn't a story with a super deep story either, Takiko has to gather the seven celestial warriors to summon Genbu and that's what they do, obviously they run into trouble along the way but it never deviates that far from the basic plot (although I did like the side-plot of Takiko and her father rather well and thought it fit in well with the rest of the story).

The Art: Part of the reason I consider this "my kind of fluff" is because I really like how the story works, it's rounded, soft, detailed shojo where all of the characters look great even when they're in the middle of an energetic fight scene. It's funny because I recall not liking how some of Watase's other works looked (like the original Fushigi Yugi and Ceres) but when I looked at them again for this review the art didn't actually look that different (well, aside from the male characters having those super long cheekbones that every male shojo character in the 90s had). The characters are distinctive enough and Watase designs some really cute costumes for everyone, I have to admit that even I have started eyeing a few of the characters going "yeah, that would be a fun cosplay....."

So obviously I intend to read the last two volumes (if I can I'll review both at once so don't expect anything before April or May) and I suspect I'll probably end up buying this series as well. While not the best thing ever it is just the kind of thing that I like to relax and reread every now and then. It is also available on Viz Manga's website and they have a preview of the first chapter for those who are curious about checking it out too, no account required to see it.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Anime Review: Servant x Service

This summer I ended up watching a record number of shows for me, a record low that is since I finished with just four shows left. I've been cutting more and more shows this year so that I can try and make time to get through my backlog faster (although funny enough I ran the numbers and I believe I actually tried out the exact same number of shows as I did in 2012) but I am trying to keep an eye on a few of the shows and come back to them later if it seems like other reviewers ended up liking them. When I originally watched this show I got a few minutes into the third episode and then dropped it, of course, as I later worked out, it seemed like the "three episode rule" was in full effect for this show since it seemed to even out and figure out what it wanted to do later in the episode.

Servant x Service

Summary: Lucy (abbr) is a new clerk in the Health and Welfare Department and while she's an efficient civil servant she's joined for one reason, to find the clerk who approved her birth certificate and give them a piece of her mind. At least her workplace is filled with nutty characters to keep things interesting, although interesting usually means "causes even more problems for her."

The Good: No, the show is far less dirty than that title makes it sound (also not related to Inu x Boku Secret Service although that might be a good or bad thing depending on your point of view), I'm honestly not quite sure what it's supposed to mean but it does work, kind of. Once the show gets going it is a fairly funny comedy which makes an effort to follow around all of the characters and the core cast (the three newcomers Lucy, Miyoshi, and Hasebe plus Chihaya, Ichimiya not so much) and once the show evens out I really did enjoy watching them get through their lives and everyone's interactions (heck, even Hasebe's romantic pursuit of Lucy turned out much better than I expected from the first few episodes). Some of the jokes really outstayed their welcome (like the Tanaka grandson, it's weird that I like how half the cast is written and find the other half to be practically two-dimensional) and in some ways it's not that different from high school comedy-with-a-romantic-subplot story, aside from the setting, but even those little differences made it more enjoyable for someone whose long out of high school.

The Bad: Two things drove me away from the show to start with, one was the side character Touko (who is a annoying, tsundere younger sister who appeared far too many times for an unfunny character in the first few episodes) and the other was that Chihaya's really air-headed tendencies when it came to cosplay just rubbed me the wrong way. Thankfully both of those do get balanced out later (Touko doesn't pop up every five minutes and Chihaya gains some other character traits) but that doesn't change the fact that they both bothered me enough to initially drop the show. And as I noted above some of the characters really do feel more like one joke characters than something fleshed out (Touko gets a bit better but the Tanaka grandson and the section manager really never do, plus it is a bit hard to take Lucy's unhappiness at her name 100% seriously all the time, but at least the other characters agree with me there).

The Production Values: The opening song is ridiculously catchy and the ending theme rather grew on me as well (I didn't even notice that they switched singers for the ED, oops) but I doubt I'll remember either of them a few seasons from now. I will probably remember how the opening looked with it's weird choice to portray the characters in their workspaces with everything flying apart while they stand still but other than that the series didn't look very special either. 

While I don't plan on buying the series, I just don't see myself rewatching it and given that it's an Aniplex title it'll probably be more expensive than I'd like, I did end up enjoying the series enough to give it a good 3 or 3.5 out of 5. And it's made me even more curious about the original author's other work, Working!!/Wagnaria!! and I'll probably bump that up my to-watch list now that I'm done. Both shows are streaming on crunchyroll for those interested in checking them out. 

Monday, December 16, 2013

Movie Review: Frozen

Initially I had no intention of seeing this movie and my list of reasons why was pretty long. From the fact that, in retrospect, the marketing was terrible (someone has to reassure me, and I had to do it in turn afterwards, that the snowman actually wasn't this terrible character who ruined the movie), compared to the original story (a girl saves a boy and goes on an adventure to do it!) the summary for it (a girl must save her sister from becoming evil and a guy helps her do it!) sounded rather, uninspired. The character designs also rubbed me a bit the wrong way, both the fact that Anna and Elsa looked like they were Rapunzel's sisters (especially once again compared to the original designs, plus there was a comment from one of the staff about having to constantly make the girls look pretty which didn't sit well with many) and the reminder of how many stories we get about cute, young white characters and so few about non-white ones (the This Could Have Been Frozen tumblr both has some really cool art and for me was a reminder of how rarely you see non-white characters as leads in traditional American media). So why did I try it after all? Because at the heart it's a, non-romantic, story about a relationship between two sisters and that's a kind of story I want to see and I was hoping that the story was strong enough to make up for all of the things I just listed.


Summary: Anna and Elsa are sisters in the kingdom of Arendelle and while Anna is a happy, outgoing child Elsa is a bit more withdrawn and quiet, terrified that she'll hurt someone with her strange ice creating powers. When she ascends to the throne her secret slips out and she accidentally turns their sunny, summer land into a winter wonderland and Anna has to set out to apologize to her sister and bring her back so that everything can be set right again.

The Good: That was a way better story than I was expecting, hurray! Unlike what I predicted Elsa has not turned evil and it's up to Anna to use the power of love to restore her heart, nope Elsa is just a combination of scared and embracing the new freedom of not being where she can harm people (and as many people have pointed out, this is one of the rare times where a Disney film has shown that the parents, while well-meaning, were certainly wrong). The movie questions the idea of love at first sight, makes it clear that familial love is just as important and great as romantic love, and actually has a plot twist that caught my theater by surprise (I figured it out once the movie started but Disney waited just late enough that I had started doubting myself so kudos to them). I liked Anna and Elsa's character arcs and felt like the story stayed true to itself by the end, this wasn't supposed to be some very very silly comedic story, it's a fun story with plenty of funny moments but at it's heart it's about two sisters and it remembers this all the way to the end.

The Bad: Really, whoever was in charge of the marketing (in the US anyway) did a terrible job at getting across the real mood of the film, if I hadn't looked up reviews and heard some good word of mouth I never would have seen it this soon. As for the movie itself, I felt like it dragged on in one or two points in the last third/half (especially since this was when there was a time-specific plot point) and there were times when Anna/Kristoff felt like a little too anachronistic compared to the rest of the cast (as much as I like Anna and I'm sure tons of little girls feel like she's just like them she feels a bit like they were trying really hard to inject bits of a "modern teen/pre-teen" into her).

The Production Values: I heard the song "Let It Go" before the movie and wasn't sold on it but somehow when it played in the movie it just worked. That was easily my favorite song of the film but I thought that everything sounded fine. I know some people on tumblr have been up in arms about some moments of shoddy animation but even when I stared at the cam-rif-gifs of the scene in question I still couldn't spot it so I feel like I can say that the movie looked pretty good too. Still not thrilled that Anna and Elsa have easily the most boring faces in the entire film (as I mentioned earlier that just felt like, well, a cop out considering what's previously been done in animation) but the rest of the designs (character, clothing, and setting wise) were rather pretty.

For being actually a really good movie and having the kind of plot I've wanted in a story for years I'm giving this film a 4 out of 5 and just hope that Disney A) Actually changes the faces for the female characters in their next film and B) Realizes that just because you have one black/Middle Eastern/Asian female lead of a film doesn't mean you should wait another five, eight, or more years to make the next film (and for god's sake you can put them in the backgrounds too, non-white people appeared in the background in just ONE scene!) 

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Book Review: A Confusion of Princes

Like a lot of people I'm most familiar with Garth Nix's Abhorsen series than any of his other works (think necromancers fighting zombies with bells, which works a lot better than it sounds) even though he's actually written quite a few books. I don't keep up with what he does as much as I do for some other authors so I was pleasantly surprised to find a newer work by him in the local library and surprised that it seemed to also be a stand-alone story. The premise didn't quite make sense to me (and my history with choosing YA sci-fi has been, colorful at least) but I was willing to at least give it a shot and hope that it was only suffering from the "overly complicated back blurb" and that the actual story wasn't too clever for it's own good.

A Confusion of Princes by Garth Nix

Summary: Khemri is a prince of the Galactic Empire and has grown up dreaming of when he becomes an adult and will be able to go on swashbuckling adventures and win the fame and adoration of people worlds over. The actual truth is far from that, while he is technically immortal and gifted with powers that normal people don't have he's in constant danger of being assassinated by other princes and is quickly on the run for safety. But yet it seems to him that even among princes he is special, perhaps he will have a shot of becoming emperor one day and standing above them all after all.

The Good: Yup, while it's a lot of terminology and ideas to take in at first the story really does work. It's a bit of an odd story, it's hard to tell where it's going to go from the first few chapters, and certainly doesn't get there in the way I expected, but despite the oddness in style I thought it worked out well. In fact it might be for the best that it's hard to tell where the story is going since when it deviates a bit for character development doesn't feel like padding out the story or like the pacing is off, it just seems to fit in well. It's a bit hard to describe Khemri's character development, on the one hand a lot of the story is breaking him down so that he's not an asshat but on the other hand he's still not terribly mature when the story ends. I suppose I could sum it up by saying "he starts off as a bratty teen and is still a teen by the end but more like an 18 year old than a 14 year old" but that doesn't really sound like anything happened does it? 

The Bad: As I just discussed, Khemri is a bit of a brat which I'm sure is a turn-off for some but I think it actually works. Not because he was a prince raised in luxury but because his worldview makes him a potentially unreliable narrator so I was always questioning if he was truly special or just stuck up. Normally I don't like unreliable narrators but here I did like that unpredictability so I'll take a main character who in some ways doesn't actually grow up a lot by the end of the story. There were a few details that stretched my suspension of disbelief in the story (namely the sheer number of princes, given that they're not biologically related and who knows how large this empire is one could say that the story has explained that detail well enough but it still just felt weird to me, I just couldn't "turn off" the part of my mind that kept going "but wait, all the resources!"

I know this review isn't one of my best but hopefully I've been able to get across the point that yes I did like this book. In some ways it felt more like fantasy than science-fiction (not in terms of plot or setting but just the general term) and it's easily better than a lot of the YA science fiction I've read in the past few years (occasionally I get hits on those posts so they pop u on my dashboard and I can't help but wonder what poor sap is about to be disappointed) and I'm going to give it a 3.5 out of 5. It is a standalone novel so there aren't any sequels for me to keep an eye out for and I'm already a fan of Nix's work, just can't wait until that Abhorsen side story/prequel comes out!

Comic Review: Bayou (Volumes 1 and 2)

Sorry for the delay guys, for some reason I seem to be stuck working closing shifts all the time at work (I've been home for dinner once in the past seven days, hurray) and once I get home I'm so spent from dealing with prissy holiday retail customers and from dealing with your usual mix of coworkers (some great some not) it's hard to write something that I'm satisfied with. 

As for the actual review, if I had realized that this wasn't the full series I might have chosen not to review it, since my library had two books I just assumed that was all their was. Of course, having done a little research now I can see that the second volume came out in 2011 and there doesn't seem to be any word on when a third volume will be out which is always worrying. I'm fairly sure that volume two isn't supposed to be the final volume not only because I don't see anything saying that it is but also because, well, it's not a good stopping point for a story.

Bayou (volumes one and two) by Jeremy Love

Summary: Lee and her father are sharecroppers in rural Mississippi and life isn't good, or safe, if you're not white. Determined to prove that her father was wrongfully imprisoned Lee goes on a journey to another world to bring back the truth.

The Good: It's not easy to set a story in the historical American South (historical fiction these days is usually defined as stories set pre-1950 but that statement holds true up until at least the 80s) because all of the opposing forces of American culture and politics, especially in regards to personal beliefs and people's rights to exercise them are amplified to the extreme. Therefore it's hard to write a story that acknowledges them, since they are at least on a basic level a part of everyone's life, and Love I feel like greatly succeeds with his refusal to romanticize or attempt to explain roughly Great Depression area Mississippi near New Orleans. With that as a base the rest of the story flows well, in the real world at least, and I did like the mythology he created, it was both old and new and felt really interesting.

The Bad: I believe I've said this before at some point but making a story by re-imagining another, older one is hard. Doing that with a well-known, trickster character is harder yet and I think a large reason why the second volume just didn't sit as well with me was because of Br'er Rabbit. He was so different from the stories I heard as a six or seven year old and in such a way that it felt like Love was trying to be "edgy" not "an alternate look at a well-known character". The story also seems to be setting itself up for a reveal I'm not a very big fan of in fiction, one that I feel like exists to suddenly give another character sympathy without having to do anything and when that appeared in the last few pages it really did sour my mood on the entire story. Other than that, I do feel like the pacing doesn't quite match the plot, in some ways Lee's story has a very tight deadline but the story seems to meander a bit to give the character's more time for, well, meeting other side characters I guess?  

The Art: The art style isn't one I favor, I just don't like the too-soft, as if everything was colored using the gradient tool, art style and the designs were a bit strange as well but there's certainly nothing wrong with it. Although, when you combine the fact that I'm not wild about the art with the fact that I think the story is about to do something I dislike I'm not exactly foaming at the mouth waiting for the next installment.

It's a little hard to rate this, there's not much wrong with the story, aside from the pacing a bit, yet it just didn't connect with me. I think that if I was reading the completed story at once then I probably would have liked it more but again without even a whisper of when the third volume will be out that's not going to happen anytime soon.  

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Anime Review: The Daily Lives of High School Boys

This is actually a show I've meant to get around to watching for a while now since I heard a lot of good buzz about it but it actually hasn't been on the internet legally streaming until just recently. With the way my anime watching schedule is these days (one show on Tuesday, four on Thursday, and one on Friday) I'm finding myself with a lot of time early on in the week to catch up on older shows and since this was a short one I decided to see if I could just knock it out before NISA put out their box set.

The Daily Lives of High School Boys

Summary: Tadikuni, Yoshitake, and Hidenoir are three classmates who are more or less friends and do what high schoolers do everywhere, really strange hijinks that don't make a lot of sense in retrospect.

The Good: For people who have seen one too many "cute girls doing cute things" shows and are feeling jaded check out at least the first episode of this show, you'll feel much more balanced afterwards. I've often felt like those cute girl shows were a bit odd since they were nothing like the high school life I had (or that any one I knew had) but this show feels a lot closer for capturing the just plain weirdness of high schoolers, heck some of my friends probably could have one-upped the characters from here at times (although the reoccuring after the credits bit, high school girls are funky, felt too strange to me a lot of the time, too chunni). And that's where the fun of the series comes in, the sheer absurdity of the skits and gags, and a lot of them are connected as well so the show has a pretty good sized cast by the end, for some people this will be just the kind of series they need to see.

The Bad: Humor is hit or miss for everyone and sadly this show was largely a miss for me. I did like one or two skits in each episode but simply didn't find most of them funny. It wasn't that they were too weird or random (well, a few were but that wasn't the reason for the majority of them), I just found that I didn't really care about the characters and when you don't care it's hard to care about what they do. Also, I know that there are times when repeating a joke to death becomes a gag itself but it's not one that I found funny and sadly the show did, we just had very different ideas of humor and I even contemplated dropping the show a few times since I was getting too bored by it.

The Production Values: I will probably annoy a number of fans out there but I didn't really like the voice acting in this series. Why? Because it's a series about high schoolers yet nobody sounds a day under 22 and that's being generous, it just got really disconcerting and some of the characters were taking me out of the story every time they talked. I imagine you could write that off as a gag in and of itself but it just didn't work for me in the end.

So while it's not a bad show, tedious at times but not bad, this just wasn't my thing in the end so I'm giving it a 3 out of 5. For those who want to check it out it's streaming on hulu currently (which means US only sadly) and the US anime licensor NIS America has picked it up and will be releasing a box set sometime in 2014. 

Sunday, December 8, 2013

TV Review: The Day of the Doctor: The Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Special

As long time readers of the blog probably already know, my feelings towards Doctor Who are mixed. At times I love it and at other times I grumble with my friends over what the show is doing and a lot of the news about the 50th had me grumbling. There were two ways they could have done this, one would have been a silly thing that was more about celebrating the show itself and the other was using the 50th as a chance to have a big story that would affect the entire show. Given the fact that the pre-revivial Doctors were saying that they hadn't been invited, and the news that they were suddenly adding in another Doctor, which really messed with the "mythology" of the show, it was clear they were taking the second route and I was getting rather nervous about it. I felt a bit reassured when they put out the Night of the Doctor short just before, and interested to see that in doing so they seem to have canonized a lot of the Big Finnish radio dramas (which I still really need to get around to listening to), but I was still a bit nervous going into the simulcast, who knew what was going to happen!

The Day of the Doctor (Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Special)

Summary: The Doctor has just been summoned to UNIT (with Clara in tow, having just picked her up for another round of adventures) where he runs into a series of curious things, a painting of Gallifrey as it burned, pictures with their frames broken from the inside and missing figures, and a time vortex which seems to lead him to a past self we never knew of who is just about the destroy his home planet. Wait huh?!

The Good: I really did like about 2/3rds of this story (the part I liked the least was of course the ending so I can't really talk about it here) and the story was a far better one than I expected. The story was a large enough one that it made sense that there were multiple Doctors involved and it was fun to see Smith and Tennant bounce off of each other (and the show did a good job at keeping the side characters involved but without dominating the story and detracting from that interaction, I feel like the writers have finally hit their groove for how to balance Clara into the story and I like that). Really that's what made it for me, the UNIT side of the story would have been a pretty good episode if it had been just a regular tv one and I enjoyed it quite a bit. It's just the other half of the story, dealing with the impending blowing-up of Gallifrey, that I had some problems with.

The Bad: I'm still confused as to what the purpose of the UNIT lab assistant wearing a homemade version of the Doctor's scarf was, I've seen people say she was supposed to be a stand in for the fans (and the show has done that several times since the revival) but I'm still rather confused about it. Minor quibbles aside, it's been two weeks and I'm still a bit torn on how I feel about how the story ended. On the one hand it does neatly tie up a problem that the story has had since the revival and gives the Doctor new purpose again, on the other hand I feel like it cheapens some of the emotions the Doctor went through and considering that the current doctor is going to regenerate in his next appearance, well, I feel like that quest just won't have the same emotional punch as it could have been. So I am left with the same feeling I have had after many an episode of the show, while I really did like parts of it I can't help but feel like they tried to write a "cleverer" story than needed and in the process made it weaker instead. I know that a lot of people liked John Hurt in this as the War Doctor but honestly I never warmed up to him, I can see they were trying to imitate the dynamic that The Three Doctors had but for one it just didn't work since we didn't have that connection to him (I saw a lot of people saying that you could tell the lines were written for Nine and, while I didn't feel that way when watching the show itself, I have to admit it would have worked so much better if he had consented to come back*). Two, you have to be a broken person to truly believe that eliminating every man, woman, and child of two races is the best solution to an unwinnable problem and Hurt didn't seem that broken to me, I just had a hard time believing that this character was supposed to have already been pushed to that point which made a lot of the conflict feel rather flat. Finally, I also feel like the plotline with Queen Elizabeth I was just odd, yes I know it culminates in a call-back (multiple ones actually!) but her acting just felt odd to me the entire time.

The Production Values: I guess the BBC realized they needed to give the show a larger budget than usual considering how many sets the characters go through. I thought everything looked fine, the zygons didn't quite work but having seen some 3rd/4th Doctor stories with some terrible alien costumes I'm just thankful it wasn't worse. Honestly I don't have much to say on it other than the fact that I really did like how the story had so many different sets and all the visual bonuses in them, that should make rewatching it with friends sometime rather fun.

Despite how lengthy that bad section is I did enjoy this way more than I expected and even if my expectations hadn't been super low I feel like I would have said the same thing. In many ways the ending is fitting but if it had just been a bit different, if it had been Nine's struggle, a character whom we've already seen deal with the fall-out, and knowing that Eleven would be the one to deal with a different kind of fall-out from the event, then I think I would have been much more satisfied with the event.

For those who have already seen the series and need more to watch, or haven't and want more to watch anyway, in addition to the short mentioned earlier I recommend The Five(ish) Doctors for people who are fans of the original show (in short, the fifth, sixth, and seventh Doctor's all team up to try and appear on the finale with a heck of a lot of in jokes and shout-outs for classic fans) and I still need to see An Adventure in Time and Space, a documentary on making the show, myself. Sadly it looks like neither of those are legally available online at the moment but since Netflix currently has all of NuWho streaming I bet both of them will pop up in the next few months or so, just when we need something to tide us over between the Christmas Special and whenever the next season starts!

*and from what I've read I understand why he didn't, sounds like the tensions were high when he had to leave and it has to do with the particular set of classism that still exists in Britain and not quite anywhere else.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Book Review: Cinders and Sapphires

So, I just realized that my last manga review for November never actually posted (what the heck blogger) so that's up now right below this post, talking about a manga called Qualia the Purple which, odd as it sounds, might fit in well with Verical's line. Since I already needed two reviews tonight I'm going to call that my first review and get on with writing this one, all these late nights for work (getting home just a bit before 10pm and with a headache most nights) is just not helping my blogging schedule, even if I start writing the posts earlier in the day.

There's no special reason why I picked up this book at the library, I believe I had heard of it before (and I do make a point to try and grab as many books as I can that have come out in the past year) but the setting interested me more than anything else. I'm only half joking when I say that since I didn't watch this year's season of Downton Abbey (looked at the summaries of it and decided that I didn't want to deal with those plot twists) that I needed something set in Edwardian England to tide me over and this seemed like the next best thing!

Cinders and Sapphires by Lelia Rasheed

Summary: The Somerton estate in England is in a tizzy not only because the lord of the manor is coming back with his family after spending years as an administrator in India but because they've just learned he's to remarry immediately after he returns. And that's not the only love in the air, it seems like nearly every other character has a secret tryst going on and if any of them were revealed it could damage the reputation of the entire household.

The Good: I will first admit that it's been a little while since I read this, had I realized how long it would be (and how many books I would read in-between) I would have written a rough draft of this review earlier. I didn't however and I must say this, I'm having a hard time recalling any parts of the book I truly liked. This isn't to say the story was written poorly, the characters were consistent, the problems they encountered made sense for the setting and I liked how the growing movement for India's independence became a subplot in the story (the world can't truly be called global in the pre-WWI era but that doesn't mean characters in stories have to be ignorant). But despite all of this bits of solid writing it just never connected for me and I'm having a hard time recalling any specific details that I did enjoy. 

The Bad: The story is comparable to Downton Abbey not just in terms of setting but also in the number of characters, all with their own subplots, that it tries to balance yet I feel like ultimately fails. It tries too hard to make everyone sympathetic and I just couldn't care about the main relationship since it was one where the characters had an immediate attraction and then started to get to know each other, this means that by extension the readers were being told to care about these two characters before we were ever given a reason why. In the end I never ended up sympathizing with any of the characters and, since this is a story about these specific characters and their lives more than anything else, ultimately that means the story failed for me.

Overall I was rather disappointed with the story and am giving this book 2.5 out of 5 stars. I don't plan on reading the next book in the series, guess I'll have to look elsewhere for my Edwardian England fix!

Manga Review: Qualia the Purple

And that's all for November Month of Manga folks! Even though I got way off schedule with some of my posts I had fun, namely because usually when I was off schedule it was because I was doing some more casual writing (like, reaction/speculation posts for various manga updates) on my tumblr and even though it wasn't NanoWriMo I remembered how much fun I have writing. I think in the upcoming year I might change the format of the blog around a little so I can do more posts in the same style of these, free-form rather than strictly structured, or maybe I'll try over on my tumblr to do more episodic anime posts, lord knows I've practically done that for Kyousogiga at this point anyway.....

In any case, oddly enough I did not find this manga through tumblr, rather a number of people on my twitter feed were talking about it as the scanlations were starting, probably because everyone was saying "oh, this seems to have a bit of a yuri vibe to it!" While they weren't wrong I don't think that any of us predicted the direction that it ended up going in.....

Qualia the Purple (Murasakiiro no Qualia) original story by Ueo Hisamitsu illustrated by Tsunashima Shirou

Hatou Gaku makes friends with an odd girl at her school named Marii who is absolutely convinced that everyone is a robot. She says that she even sees people as robots so while it gives her some odd insights into other people (like predicting someone is a good runner since they can see boosters on her legs) it does isolate her quite a bit but Gaku forms a friendship with her anyway. Then Gaku has a chance to learn that, while Marii's reality isn't hers it truly exists and that Gaku might be able to save Marii from the people who want to use her but if she also alters her world-view.

Since it's rather hard to articulate in the summary I'll just come out and say it, this manga is an adaptation of a science-fiction novel that came out within the last few years in Japan and won some awards for how it deals with quantum mechanics. I've read a bit about quantum mechanics over the years and the little bits I know (mostly that it deals a lot with the idea of two choices being able to exist at once until acted upon/observed) was enough for me to follow the story easily, if you're not familiar with the theory at all then just think of this as a story that involves time-traveling using the multi-timelines idea. Which honestly is a bit confusing as well, if you're not a fan of science fiction that's medium "hard" you probably just won't like this series, you have to be willing to spend a little bit of time thinking about what's going on in order to understand.

And now I probably have a few people going "hey, what about that yuri you mentioned earlier?" Well, Gaku is running through time and space to save a female friend who she's very close to, and in some incarnations does seduce/manipulate another girl to help her, but there's much less yuriness in the story than I would have expected after the first few chapters. There's enough in those early chapters for shipping of course but since Gaku and Marii aren't together (as in, in the same place) for most of the story you can't really say they have that kind of relationship.

So what IS this story about? Well, it starts out being about the friendship between two girls and that's ultimately what drives the rest of the story. I could say that it's about uncovering a huge conspiracy and fighting time and space itself to change it for very personal reasons (rather similar to Steins;Gate actually) but that makes the story sound too grandiose, it's much more introspective and quiet than that. Gaku isn't trying to change the world, she's just trying to save her friend and using how she now perceives the world to do it. The story throws a few weird twists at you, if you accept that quantum physics is determined in a large part by how you perceive the world then the twists will feel strange but thematically appropriate, if not the story might as well be fantasy and run on magic. It's nothing like what I thought it would be but I like it, although given how long it's been since the latest chapter came out I'd probably have to reread the past few chapters to familiarize myself (a classic case of "I remember what the overall plot and goal is but I can't seem to remember how we got here since everything moves so fast"). As with all the titles I talked about this month I'd buy it if it was in English and loan it out to as many friends and I would think would enjoy it. 

As for licensing chances, well, this is probably the only time I'll ever say it but I feel like the series would work better at Vertical than any other current US company. Vertical is a bit of an odd company, they want to both publish edge/underground types of manga and they want to publish things that will be mainstream hits, this would not be a mainstream hit. However it does fit in with their more underground titles, the semi-hard sci-fi premise with a high school girl protagonist reminds me a bit of 7 Billion Needles actually, and since it's already complete at three volumes they could even possibly put it out as a single omnibus (like 5cm a Second, assuming that that would be more profitable sales-wise, the Vertical panel at Otakon showed me just how little I actually know about how sales work and was really cool that way). I know I suggested the series to them in their last survey and I'll probably do it for their next survey as well. But not the one beyond that, if they haven't licensed it by that point I'll accept that they aren't interested and move on, although given that the fan translator has said this series is a bit hard to translate (sounds like it lifts a lot of the lines straight from the book) I'm not sure I'd buy it myself to work on anytime in the near future.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Anime Review: Library War

I noticed recently that there are quite a few noitaminA titles I haven't seen yet so I'm going through and rewatching a few which I haven't seen in years and trying out the rest and this title was first up on my list since it's been at least five years since I saw it. In fact I remember watching it pretty clearly just for the fact that I somehow managed to marathon it in two days even though this was back when I had only an hour and a half of computer time each day (I have an idea of how I pulled it off but I'm still rather impressed at my high schooler self). Also, there was a movie for the series that came out in 2012 and fansubs hit the internet earlier this year and I'm going to be reviewing that along with the tv series here since it's a clear continuation of the story and, unless I miss my mark, is also where the original novel series ended. It certainly feels like a good, solid ending, the tv series one wasn't bad at all but where that felt more like the story had been thematically concluded the movie gave the actual story/plot an ending as well.

Library War (Toshokan Sensou)

Summary: The year is 2019 and Kasahara is the latest recruit in the Kanto Library Defense Force which is exactly what it sounds like, a military force created by the libraries to fight against the censorship happy Media Betterment Committee who aren't afraid to use guns and underhanded tactics to scare the public and the libraries into giving up their rights to freedom of expression. Kasahara was inspired by a member of the Library Corps who helped her out in high school and hopes to meet him again someday, but for the moment she first has to improve her own performance so she doesn't get kicked out! 

The Good: I had forgotten just how much I like Kasahara and Shibusaki (her roommate whose in the information division) because they are really awesome characters. Kasahara starts out as the typical rookie, a bit cocky, doesn't quite understand everything they've gotten into, prone to punching bears in the face (wait what) but she really grows over the course of the story and matures into a much more level-headed young woman. She never loses some of her rash thinking but you can really tell that she's grown up with her quick thinking and how she disobeys her orders far less. Shibusaki is also a really interesting character, she deals with information and plays a role that's rarely on the side of good and when it is, is usually done by a male character. She's not a spy or femme fatale or a seductress, just someone who is very good at manipulating people (even when they're well-aware of her intentions) and putting together the pieces she gets, all of which is also done without the "oh but are they really good or are they actually evil???" tropes that seem to get attached to characters who usually deal in information. In this story there are clear good and bad guys, something I would complain about until I look at recent US politics* and while there area some characters that toe the line I never felt like it was for shock or drama and that it really fit with the story.

The Bad: Oddly enough out of the five main cast members it's Dojo, whose arguably the second most important character in the series, who gets the least amount of character development. Kasahara and her fellow new trainee Tezuka both grow and deal with their own problems, Shibusaki and Komaki are more established but do change some (although Komaki has arguably the least amount of screen time) but Dojo just doesn't really change and he really needs to. I think the idea was "the growth Kasahara is going through is the growth Dojo already had (therefore he doesn't need to keep growing)" but considering how often he loses his cool around her and such, yeah I'm to disagree there. I'm sure that some people will make the argument that those moments are meant to be more comedic and not a reflection of his character as a whole, I'm going to again disagree and say that it felt like lazy writing.

The Production Values: I was a little sad when I realized that the character designs had changed very very slightly for the movie since one thing I really liked about the anime designs was how Kasahara looks like a sturdy, somewhere between stocky and built, tall young woman but in the movie it looked like she had lost some muscle in an attempt by the animators to look prettier. However, considering I watched both versions practically back to back I imagine that most people won't notice, or care, about such little differences. Other than those little nitpicky details there isn't much to say about how the series looks and sounds, the ending song is really catchy however and I was surprised to find that I still remembered some of the lyrics after so many years.

I'm giving this whole series a 3.5 out of 5 for being something that I really did enjoy, not quite as much as when I first saw it although I expected that, and something i would totally buy if I could in the US. However it's not licensed (bootleg version of the series at my local second-hand store notwithstanding) and given how many years it's been since the series was created I don't ever see it getting licensed. Same for the original novels, I seem to recall hearing that they were rather technical as well (explaining why I could never find that much translated or summarized online), and considering that the series and movie covered all four volumes there's no real need either. There is also a manga adaptation of the books (well two, we never got the one volume shonen adaptation) which is being released by Viz. I've noticed that my local library has some of the volumes so I plan to check it out soon, however I noticed on Viz's website that volume 10 (the latest one out here) seems to cover the material episode 10 does so while I probably will buy the manga someday (since that's the only way I can support the series) it looks like this might end up being a rather long series.

*the whole story makes more sense when you realize it's a metaphor for federal vs state rights, the national government putting out new censorship laws for the "betterment" of the people and the local governments/library branches going "hell no". This section of the wikipedia article shows the real-life inspiration for the story and anime/manga fans who follow the news will probably remember hearing about the Youth Ordinance Bill a few years back.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Movie Review: Thor: The Dark World

I haven't been able to see many films this year since I was so busy with my last semester of college and once I graduated boom, no more $1 movies and tickets around here are about $12 each, ew. However my aunt found a unused giftcard recently to a local theater and I discovered that the morning movies are $10 instead of 12 so I'm going to have a chance to see just a few movies before the year ends after all! Part of the reason I wanted to see this one was not only because it was an Avengers film but because one of the recent episodes of SHIELD tied into it and I was curious about what happened in the film. I was able to watch the episode and understand it perfectly fine without having seen the film but it did make me even more eager to see the film, hurray for cross-marketing!

Thor: The Dark World

Summary: Sometime after the Battle of New York (and presumably Iron Man 3), Jane Foster is still looking for Thor and her search has lead her to London where she's finding strange things (including her former science partner, now not being over-shadowed by Loki, to be crazy-pants, or crazy-pants-less most of the time). And it seems she's chosen the right, or possibly wrong, time to be looking for Thor, strange events are happening and with the villains plotting how to use them and it's going to take Jane and Thor and all of their friends from Midegard and Asgard to keep the world's safe.

The Good: I had fun with this film, like the first Thor film there's just something about it that doesn't quite hang together in the end but there's also something about the way it's done that keeps it amusing anyway. I did feel like the climax worked well though, everyone had an important part to play and while the first film felt like Thor's story, with Jane as a side character, this story really felt like Jane and Thor's story which I enjoyed (and also find interesting, Marvel was already courting the female fanbase a bit more with the first film and I wonder if this is them continuing it by having a superhero movie with a female co-lead). 

The Bad: I feel like for the first film everyone was talking about how Jane was a rather flat character and then suddenly before the start of this film she was everyone's darling when really, she still is a bit oddly flat. I feel like the writers were going more for "eccentric" (since that's probably how I would have read a male version of the character) but she just feels a little off to me (but at least I can see why the fandom likes her, after this film I just have no idea why they like Loki, but I say that about every villain). I also found it a bit odd that Sif was being set up as a potential romantic rival in the first film and then here they shoot down that idea in what seemed like the first five minutes of the story, it seemed like the writers realized they had to scrap one sub-plot for the sake of time and just couldn't think of a better way to have it disappear.

The Production Values: This film looked and sounded like what a big budget superhero movie should and I was satisfied with it. I didn't see it in 3D, didn't want to spend the extra money, although I am curious what they did in the 3D movie to make it, well, 3D since I don't see how that would have added much. I did have a moment in the theater however where I thought "Dear god they've done it, they've convinced Americans, people everywhere actually, to turn out in droves multiple times a year for big budget fantasy/sci-fi films, yesssssss" which made me rather happy. I'd of course love to see more big budget fantasy and sci-fi films and tv shows (adapted and original properties) but for the moment this satisfies that itch for me quite nicely.

So I'm giving this a 3.5 out of 5 for being fun, would watch again with friends but I'm unlikely to buy. Oh and I'll warn people now, there are two after the credits scenes! The first one is during the credits (and according to other nerds is helping to set up the Guardians of the Galaxy film that's coming out in the next couple of years) and then the second one is actually after them, make sure to catch both!