Monday, January 31, 2011

Anime Review: Princess Jellyfish

Initally I was going to post this review before Shiki's (since PJ technically airs before Shiki and I post reviews in the order that I finish the material) but there was some weird delay and Funimation posted the last episode a couple of days late. Actually, if they had taken any longer I was going to go looking for fansubs since you do not deny me my josei, heck, I was going to watch this series fansubbed if it wasn't simulcast at all, that's how excited I was for it. So was it worth the wait?

Princess Jellyfish (a lot of fans refer to it by the Japanese name Kuragehime but since Funimation has translated the title that's the one I'm using)
Summary: Tsukimi is a girl with a deep love of jellyfish (to the point where she could be called a jellyfish otaku) living in a boarding house in Tokyo with a bunch of other introverted, terrified of normal people, otaku (who refer to themselves as "The Nuns"). But her life is about to get more exciting when a stylish young lady helps her save a neglected jellyfish and decides to integrate "herself" into Tsukimi's life

The Good: I was surprised that Kuranosuke (the "young lady" that Tsukimi meets) turned out to be just as important as she was in the series and I really loved the episodes he narrated. He's as cosmopolitan as Tsukimi is navie, a bit sarcastic, cynical, and jaded and just a pretty funny narrator and really holds up the show when Tsukimi gets stuck in a rut. Tsukimi is also a pretty interesting main character but for me Kuranosuke stole the show. As for the Nuns, sometimes they bothered me and sometimes their antics reminded me of my dorm and Kuranosuke's family did the same.

The Bad: Ouch that was a rushed ending (sounds like the manga didn't have a good place to stop at so they combined parts of two volumes plus some original material) and it really would have been better with just one more episode. Normally I would call that horrible planning but since they had to wrap up three different plot lines in just eleven episodes it's understandable (and this is a weakness that almost all noitaminA shows have sadly). Also, the Nuns really didn't grow as characters over the course of the series (they're pretty flat actually) and Tsukimi didn't grow that much either. She does seem to have a revelation at the end but there was a lot of her moping around to get to that point. Some of the other characters were missing some development (I know that Shuu changed suddenly in the last few episodes and some manga readers had to fill in a few details) so the problem with Princess Jellyfish can be summed up as this: It really needed more episodes.

The Art: As odd as it sounds, I really like the character designs in this series. Specifically, the Nuns get a makeover or two throughout the series and, even though they do look prettier, they still look like average girls with a good stylist. It's a small detail but I'm still giggling over that fact that Kuranosuke is the prettiest person on the show most of the time (speaking of which, I want his wardrobe now). Nothing else too special about the art, Clara the narrating jellyfish is adorkable and really, all the jellyfish in this show are really beautiful looking, so the visual work well for the show.

The Music: Alright, I have no idea why the opening is a montage of scenes from famous movies (none of the Nuns are movie fans which would've been my best explanation) but it's pretty awesome none the less*. As odd as it sounds, all the character interactions in the OP match their personalities perfectly and the lyrics match both the story and the movies in the OP so it's a really opening. Likewise, the ending song is perfect for the series (I like the interpretation that the song is Kuranosuke singing to Tsukimi) and the lyrics really fit the theme of the series."I really want you to realize that your gorgeous/Why haven't you realized this before?/....I'll be so happy if you just realize your loveliness." Plus the song starts during the last few seconds of the episode itself by playing the lyrics "LOVE IS COMING BACK, BACK" in the background and it's just hard to hate such an upbeat and positive song. As a final note, I was seriously impressed at Kuranosuke's VA, I honestly couldn't tell if it was a woman or man until I looked it up (it's Mitsuki Saiga so a woman) and she was really able to pull off his voice amazingly well, kudos to her!

I fell in love with this series, despite it's short comings, and would love for it to get a second season. However, since this seems unlikely, I'll probably check out the manga (which is sadly unlicensed) and pray that Funimation gives this a DVD release soon. Until then it can be seen on Funi website/youtube/hulu and I believe on ANN as well. Now, to go show off my darling Clara plushie to my friends....

*So, whoever thought "hey guys, let's make the nerdiest anime opening ever because we can get away with it!" you are pretty darn amazing.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

TV Series Review: The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes

And now for the fourth and final season of the Granada Sherlock Holmes series. It's also the shortest of the series with only six episodes (Jeremy Brett's health was pretty poor by this time, I've even heard some say that shooting this series is what killed him) but considering just how many of the SH stories this entire series managed to cover I don't feel unhappy about that. So, how does this season stack up to the previous ones?

The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes
Summary: There are a few more mysteries for Sherlock to solve and they are just as complex and intriguing as the first mysteries.

The Good: I was rather interested to see that we had two stories with very little Watson and one with very little Holmes (Mycroft filled in there) and yet the stories didn't seem any weaker for it. Even though the show is called Sherlock Holmes I still think that's rather good storytelling to leave important characters out and still make the stories work (and the one without Holmes was heavily modified from the original as well yet still worked fairly well, although my complaints in The Bad do apply to this episode in particular). All in all, the mysteries in this series (and not just this season) were solid and actually could be guessed if you were familiar with how Doyle writes yet were never too easy. As a mystery show it excelled and some episodes also worked well as a historical show (ironically since Doyle was writing about the current time) and I would heartily recommend the show to anyone who has enjoyed some of the stories in book form.

The Bad: After the trouble I had following some of the mysteries in the third season I made sure to keep a close eye on the show and I was still baffled by a few mysteries in the end (worse was that some of them were so changed from their original incarnation that wikipedia wasn't able to help me). So, while it is great that the show makes fullest use of it's visual medium, this is not a show to be watched while multi-tasking*.

The Music: As I've mentioned before, this whole series makes good use of appropriate musical placement and the times when music isn't used in an episode. The whole series has been consistently good about this and I really don't have much else to say about it, it's there and done well.

The Visuals: It's really apparent here that Jeremy Brett isn't doing so well, although ironically enough his ill look works well for Holmes considering this is the last season. As mentioned above, the whole series had very good video work and film quality as well as realistic setting and dress. Nothing to complain or nitpick about here, it was well done and that's about all too it.

I must admit, after seeing this good a mystery show I feel a bit spoiled since it blows almost every other mystery show I've seen out of the water** and plot twists in regular shows seem much more predictable now as well. Like I said above, I would recommend this show to anyone who enjoyed the original books but I would probably advise them to look up the episodes regarding stories they liked/were confused by since watching the whole series would take a while. All four seasons are streaming on netflix so go out and watch them now, the first episode (A Scandal in Bohemia) is a well known and well done episode to start off with.

*Which is what I normally do to any show with an English language track. How else do you think I manage to watch so much stuff?

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Book Review: Gamer Girl

I don't think I had checked this book out before but I do remember seeing it around the local library a couple of times over the years but never checked it out since I'm not really a gamer. Sure gaming is fun but I can't multi-task and knit at the same time so usually I don't game (well, that and my brother lost the charger to the DS and I'm not sure where the PS2 ran off to). But hey, it's a book about a nerdy girl, I think I'm obligated to at least try it out.

Gamer Girl by Mari Mancusi
I really like the cover here since it really relates to the story yet someone who was causually browsing can probably figure out that the girl on top is the gamer girl and the girl on the bottom is her avatar. Plus it's an illustration and I just prefer illustrated covers, they seem to allow for greater flexibility, ie, more of a chance that the cover is actually going to match the work.

Summary: Maddy isn't too happy with her life right now but since her parents did just divorce (forcing her, her mother, and her little sister to move out of Boston to a small town with her grandmother) it's fairly understandable. She cheers up when her dad fulfills his promise to buy her the computer game Fields of Fantasy for her 16th birthday and she uses it not only as inspiration for a comic contest but also as a respite from the bullies at her new school.

The Good: I remember ranting during Geektastic that every time anime/manga pops up in a modern day YA book it's either a really general anime reference or Ranma 1/2*. This book actually mentions a lot of current day manga offerings and, while that will date the book in the long run, it was really nice to see proof that our protagonist really is a fan instead of having to take the author's word for it (and I also had to giggle at how Svetlana Chmako made a cameo).

The Bad: There was one thing about the divorce that did bother me in this book and it was how it's implied in the end that the divorce happened because of Maddy's dad and only because of his actions. Like I said earlier, my parents divorced (heck I was even Maddy's age when it happened) yet it wasn't either of my parent's "fault," they just grew apart and I feel that the story used the blame game to avoid really getting in deep about the divorce. Whenever I come across divorce in a novel actually, if it occurs during the story time frame it's always one of the parent's fault and that really feels like a cheap cop out to me. Other than that, Maddy whines a lot, her school seems rather cliched, the romance was fairly predictable (but I predict almost all romantic subplots anyway) and the ending felt a bit like bad fanfiction but it was the divorce issue in the book that really bugged me.

So, not the best presentation or really idea but I have to give the book at least a couple of points for making the protagonist actually come off as a real world nerd. Hmm, speaking of Svet, I should have a review of her latest series in a couple of weeks although I had some issues with that series too...

*I'm not kidding either, I have seen Ranma 1/2 used so many times. Seriously, by this point I'd love to see any other 1980s anime reference and would probably hug someone if they referenced one that had a better plot than Ranma.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Comic Review: The War at Ellsmere

A rather slim comic this time but most American comics I've seen are one volume affairs. The art looked a bit Scott Pilgrim-ish but that's not a bad thing, no real other first impressions so onto the review!

The War at Ellsmere by Faith Erin Hicks
Summary: After being offered a scholarship to the prestigious Ellsmere boarding school, Juniper takes the chance to increase her chances at getting into Med school. But this school is filled with almost nothing but snooty rich kids who get their kicks with bullying the scholarship kid each year and Jun's attitude won't help her out here.

The Good: The book may be short but it manages to wrap itself up quite well in 156 pages. That's pretty impressive but, as I mentioned above, most American comics I read are shorter so I guess they have practice. Yet it was still open enough in the ending to create a sequel if there was ever a demand for it, I honestly could see the story going either way but I think it was stronger as a one volume work in the end. 

The Bad: In the end, this book felt like a poor man's Gunnerkrigg Court (probably because I read it first). It didn't have the length or the complexity of GC and the setting was much weaker as well. And the story suffers from the classic cliche "oh look, all the adults only listen to the clearly evil character and this is used to create even more problems!" which has always bugged me, it's never a good sign when the author has to resort to unrealistic stereotypes to create drama*.

The Art: The art really does remind me of Bryan Lee O'Malley's art for some reason and I'm not sure quite why. I like the style well enough (probably because it's "animesque" and I really do prefer how anime art looks to most comic styles) but there was nothing really special about it that made it stand out to me (weirdly enough the designs of Jun and her friend also mimic the designs some of the characters in GC, pretty sure that's a coincidence however).

It's not a bad book in the end, I just feel like I've read better and this book just didn't satisfy my need for either a complex plot or a really in depth character study so eh, a dud for me. However, I didn't realize this until I was search the author's name, she did do a webcomic called Demonology 101 that I have bookmarked for reading someday so I'll probably check that out rather soon and see if I like her long form better.

*Also, as an adult now I'm actually a bit insulted by the stereotype, as if I can't understand someone's problems just because I'm old enough to vote now.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Anime Review: Shiki

I first came across Shiki a couple of years ago actually when the same group that was scanlating Pandora Hearts said they would start scanlating Shiki as well. So I read the summary and go to the "small village with people mysteriously getting killed off" and did a "AUUGGG, HIGURASHI! *flees*" sort of deal. However I enjoyed this series way more than Higurashi and it was one of my favorite anime of 2010. A quick note however, while it's not very hard to figure out what the "mysterious phenonmenon killing off the villagers" is, I do try to write spoiler free reviews so I'll just refer to them as "monsters" and have a spoilery footnote here about that element of the show* (and try not to look at the tags).

 Summary: The village of Sotoba is a quiet place with a tiny population of only 1500. But the isolation may not work to their advantage when the population suddenly starts dying off for no apparent reason and most of the village refuses to believe that there is a reason.

The Good: Over the past year I've noticed that fewer and fewer movies/tv shows are scaring me and anime never does. This is the one exception to that and Shiki actually did really creep me out from time to time just the way a good horror series should, both with suspenseful cliffhangers and things-that-go-bump-in-the-night way. I ended up liking a lot more characters in this series than I expected and felt that most of them were reasonably fleshed out (although there were a few instances where a manga reader had to provide some additional details) and many of them turned out to be pretty badass in the end. And finally, this is one of only three noitaminA series to go beyond 1 cour so pacing by and large was not a problem.

The Bad: My biggest problem was how unsympathetic all the minor human characters were for at least 3/4ths of the series (and then when they did become sympathetic, well, it makes sense in context but the shift still seemed abrupt). They didn't even come off as characters but rather as flat cutouts to cause more problems for some of the characters and force the story down a particular path. What really annoyed me was how the characters were claiming that they were being "logical" when they were instead refusing to listen to anything they didn't want to hear (ie, lots of people were dieing and something is up) and this is hardly the first time I've seen this (very badly done) argument of religion versus science come up in anime in recent years (and it was presented as "oh we aren't superstitious, ie religious, anymore so we think all those deaths were a coincidence). It makes me wonder if Japan is undergoing a major mindset shift and the authors are doing a bad job of incorporating it into their works.

The Art: Yes the characters look really strange in this series, although watching House of Five Leaves almost everything looks more normal. There's no rhyme or reason for why one person has a relatively normal, abiet spiky, haircut and why another has giant pink pig tails but you get used to it after a while.

The Music: Hey, I can actually remember some of the background music! I don't remember much of the music but a remember a couple of bits played that were appropriately creepy and added well to the atmosphere. As for the openings and endings, I preferred the first opening to the second and the second ending to the first (ironically enough the first opening and second ending were by the same group, Buck Tick) but I didn't like the endings that much (probably because the second one had really weird, clip art avante garde imagery). But the first opening was pretty awesome none the less.

I may get some crap from this but I actually really liked the ending of this anime, which I know a lot of people didn't. However I noticed something, most of the people who were unhappy with the ending either really, REALLY wanted some of the characters to live/die and were pissed when that didn't happen. These were also the same people who spent about five weeks debating the morality of the monsters and the people all killing each other and frankly that got boring after about two or three weeks of debating. So if you find yourself watching this show and getting really attached/disgusted by some of the characters prepare to not like the ending. Personally I'm waiting for the two extra episodes to tie up some loose ends but I'm pretty confident that they'll work. Not sure yet if I'll check out the manga (the anime series is actually based on the manga adaptation of the original light novels which have a couple of major changes), I probably will after those episodes (since the manga has a lot of little details the anime left out) but I'll hold off until then.

*Okay, ready? SPOILER TIME: It's vampires. Ack no, don't go away, this is a really good vampire story! The original novel (written by Fuyumi Ohno, also the creator of Ghost Hunt) was written in 1998 and, since it was before the current vampire craze, the vampires (or shiki) are a lot creepier than modern day ones. They can't be in sunlight, holy objects hurt them, they have to feed at least every other night and, while they don't drink a lot of blood each time, after four eatings they kill the person, a detail that doesn't usually come up in most vampire literature.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Movie Review: Escaflowne: The Movie

I caught the first few episodes of the tv series, The Vision of Escaflowne, and really liked what I saw but haven't seen the rest (mainly because, like most older series, it's just not streaming online). So that was enough reason for me to grab the movie when I saw it at the local college library and the checkout guy warned me it was pretty different from the tv series (which I actually already knew but it's nice to see anime fans looking out for each other).

Escaflowne: The Movie

Summary: Hitomi, a sleepy and depressed high school girl, is drawn into the land of Gaea and plays an important role in a war that is tearing apart their world.

The Good: Having not seen that much of the original, I can say that the plot is accessible and easy to follow if you aren't already a fan of the series. The story, while fast moving, holds together well, accomplishes what it needs to and we get some character development starting about halfway through. It was a solid fantasy movie with no glaring errors and managed to be accesible to people who weren't familiar with the original.

The Bad: I don't quite remember everyone being this depressed in the tv series so that was an abrupt change. Hitomi goes from a cheerful girl on the track team to a depressed girl who quit the track team and thinks about killing herself. Van is more depressed as well but that actually has a reason, Hitomi's mood shift just struck me as bizarre and, even if this is a retelling I couldn't figure out the reason for it short of "moar emotional drama plz/we couldn't think of anything else to help drive the plot!"The plot itself was compressed but that was expected. Even so, I get the feeling that I will probably enjoy the tv series more than this movie.

The Art: I'd forgotten that the movie was cel animated so it does look a little dated to me. Still good looking but the art does reveal it's age. The only thing that bothered me about the art was Hitomi's design for some reason. I liked how she looked in the tv series but here there was just something off, maybe it was because it looked like she was always wearing lip gloss? Having not fully seen the tv series I'm not sure which designs I prefer but it's probably the tv series.  

The Music: It may be Yoko Kanno music but none of it really stuck with me (the ominious Latin chanting of "Escaflowne" from the original series did however). After seeing the first few episodes of the series dubbed I made sure to see this one subbed but I didn't really like either Hitomi or Van's voices, not sure why but they just didn't feel right to me.

While it was a well done movie I just didn't feel it grip me the way the first few anime episodes did. So, off to get the series sometime soon I suppose!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Book Review: A Conspiracy of Kings (reread)

About four years ago I came across the first book in this series, The Thief, at my local library and I liked it rather well. However, the library system didn't have the second book and upon reading the blurb for the third book (which they did have) I determined this was not a good series to read out of order. So there wasn't much I could do, I checked every now and again but, to the best of my knowledge, the library still hasn't gotten the second book. But sometime last year I came across fanart for The Thief and got linked to a fan club for it*which informed me that the series wasn't a trilogy, like I'd thought, but instead was going to be a six book series with the fourth book coming out this past spring. Went to the college library and hey, there's the second book! They got the fourth book in pretty fast too so I read that last spring and didn't think about it again until I was thinking about my top three books of the year and realized that was on the list. Right after that I came across a copy of it in the used book store and decided now was as good a time as ever for a re-read!

A Conspiracy of Kings by Megan Whalen Turner

I really like the covers for this series. Even though each cover is rather different from the previous one they still feel thematically similar and manage to reflect what's going on in the book itself. Also found this funny little post about the making of the cover which is pretty cool.
Summary: Sophos has been missing for a while now and all of his friends are worried. So this is Sophos story, how he became a slave, became a king, and then had to do the hardest thing of all, win back his country.

The Good: MWT took a big risk with the second book (and the rest) by not focusing on Gen (the protagonist and narrator of the first book) and instead having other characters narrate and it's really paying off (as a side note, I think this is the only book I've read that's at least partially in the second person which is pretty awesome). Each of the main characters is strong and well-defined and, while the fans do love Gen the best, this book really proves that the series can stand without him being the focus. She's set up a complex world with plenty of subtle details that have double meanings that the fans love to work out. I also really liked all the politics present in the book and it's well balanced out by all the action, plus the politics stays simple enough that even people without an interest in it should be able to follow it. Finally, a set of books is only called a series if they have some overarching theme (defeat this villain, uncover that mystery, ect), otherwise you have a main book and companion books to it. While the books have felt like a series before there was one small scene at the end that confirmed what the real focus in this series is. To say more would be spoliery (especially if you haven't read the series) but it was reassuring to see that MWT knows where she wants the last two books to go.

The Bad: While I normally like all the little details with double meanings there were a couple of ones I didn't understand the first read-through, mainly those concerning Gen. Even the other characters remark that he's got a case of "well we've changed, now where do we stand with each other because I'm scared to find out"and the stilted communication makes it really hard to get into Gen's head (although it does make it even easier to sympathize with Sophos and Gen was meant to be written like that). Still, if I couldn't figure out some things after two readings and some thinking that's not a good sign. Also, this series really needs a map by now, can we pretty please have one in the next book?  

So, good plot, interesting characters, nice setting (basically it's alternate Greece in the Renaissance, just Greece as three different countries), different kind of narration from normal, and plenty of room for speculation? Yep, totally my kind of book and I'd recommend it to almost anyone who enjoys YA fantasy. It's going to be another couple of years before the fifth book is out but as long as it's less than eight years (the longest I've ever had to wait for a book, thanks Bruce Coville) I'll be a happy camper. Just as a final quick note, I managed to avoid all but one or two spoilers in this review (mainly because you can't describe the book without at least one) but this series (the title of which is actually a bit of a spoiler) has a big twist at the end of the first book and one at the beginning and another at the end of the second book so just be careful when looking up reviews of them!

*Sounis, they're on livejournal and are the nuttiest fandom I have ever seen for any series, book or otherwise, hands down and believe me, I've seen some crazy fandoms.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Comic Review: The Big Kahn

Another book I picked up at the local library over winter break and not for any really good reason. Sometimes I feel like I read too much fantasy and try to read some realistic fiction to balance it out but usually I find myself feeling more annoyed than balanced after reading it.

The Big Kahn by Neil Kleid and Nicolas Cinquegrani
 Summary: On the day of his funeral, David Kahn's brother reveals to his family that David was never Jewish and spent the past forty years as their Rabbi living a lie. The congregation is now mistrustful of the entire family and the family has to rethink how they viewed their husband and father and determine just what this means for them.

The Good: The book focuses on Kahn's wife and three children (with more emphasis on his oldest son and rabbi in training Avi) and their reactions to the whole situation felt very real. I didn't agree with how any of them ended up dealing with the problem but I think that's just from having different religious and cultural views, their final decisions were very in character. It's a well done character study and an interesting take a religion/culture that is different from that of mainstream America.

The Bad: While the internal struggles of the family were done well (even if I didn't agree with them) the outside conflict with the congregation felt forced. In the very first chapter it's established that Jewish ancestry is traced through the mother's line (so all the kids are Jewish, regardless of what their father was) and all of them were raised Jewish as well. So seeing the rest of the synagogue make comments about how they really aren't Jewish was frustrating, yes I know that people really can be that mean but people are also logical. Seeing the entire congregation (and yes, it appears that almost no one is on their side) change their views about them so quickly feels unnatural and instead of making me sympathize with the family more it just left me feeling rather annoyed. Maybe the point of the story was how Kahn was more Jewish than those who were born Jewish but I really don't think it was and I feel that subplot could've been dropped from the story without any negative effect on it.

The Art: Fans of animation are probably familiar with the terms "key animation" and "in-between animation." Key animation are the important frames, the ones that people actually see,  and inbetween frames are the ones that link them together and, since they are less important, they are drawn by less skilled animators/outsourced which has lead to some screenshots of horribly off model characters and just badly drawn in general. That's what Kahn looked like for most of the time sadly and you can't even say it was because of the artist's style. They were clearly going for a fairly realistic style yet the characters often looked awkward and unnatural and this could happen at any point in the book, not just the emotionally charged moments (if it had been only then then I could've made a case for it being the style). I was actually surprised how bad it looked in places, most of the webcomics I follow have more consistent art than this does.

Not connected in any way to this review but the Fractale simulcast is back! So, short of this turning out to be the worst noitaminA show ever, except a review that come April.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Anime Review: Oreimo

Initially I had no intention of checking out this title (just look at the title!) but I heard a couple of good things about it and ANN was streaming it so I gave it a shot. Right after I tried it the second episode got leaked and they had to remove both this and Togainu no Chi for about a month. But they did get the shows back up so I tried them both and continued with Oreimo for the whole run*.

Oreimo (Ore no Imouto ga Konnai Kawaii Wake ga Nai or My Little Sister Can't Be This Cute)

Summary: Kyosuke is a rather normal high school guy but his little sister Kirino is something else. She's in middle school and a popular and atheletic student who also has a modeling job on the side. She also loves eroge games, especially the ones that involve brothers doing naughty things to their little sisters which understandably freaks Kyosuke out. But she blackmails him into helping her out and Kyosuke is a decent guy so he ends up getting more an more involved in his sister's life.

The Good: To start off with, it's not nearly as incest oriented as the title would lead you to believe. In fact, although their are enough implications to spawn a thousand doujinshi, there is no incest and Kyosuke seems quite uninterested in it. The first few episodes, the ones that focus more on Kirino making friends with Kuroneko and Saorin, were pretty funny and the scenes with people meeting up in real life for the first time were pretty similar to the meet-ups I had in the US.

The Bad: I'm not sure what happened but after the first few episodes I just felt like the story got less interesting. The story did focus more on Kyosuke at this point and, since I came for otaku related hijinks, I found those episodes a bit dull. Also, Kirino is pretty unlikeable since she's one of the brattiest and most self centered characters I've ever seen who doesn't change (also creepy considering the games she likes**). She is kinda nice to Kyosuke in the last episode, which I suppose was supposed to show how she's grown over the course of the series, but that episode felt so out of the blue and out of character it didn't work (plus, since this was the "good ending" it will probably be retconned for the "true ending" episodes coming out this spring, I predict incest).

The Art: Fairly generic, somewhat moe, art which, while cutesy, didn't draw me in. Each opening sequence was a bit different (showing which characters that episode would focus on) but I didn't pay attention to the opening after the first episode (and wouldn't have even known if a blog I was following pointed it out). One thing that did make me laugh was all the parodies of eroge/anime eroge that Kirino had, the designers went all out and had tons of references there that weren't super obscure. This might be less of an art thing and more of a good thing but it was still amusing in the end.

The Music: Like the art there's nothing too special here. Nothing bad but nothing that really stood out to me either. I did laugh when someone pointed out that the magical girl show (within the show) was using the same voice actress as Nanoha for it (which explains why the show appeals to a perverted girl like Kirino)

Like I said earlier, Oreimo also suffered simulcast problems and, since ANN was able to get new episodes back up in a month, that's how long I give Funimation to try and talk sense into the Japanese right holders about Fractale. Not as confident (since Oreimo was a leak, Fractale's problem is that the internet exists) but I'll still give them a month. Also, about those upcoming DVD only episodes for Oreimo (the ones with the "true ending"), unless ANN streams them I probably won't watch them and even then I'm not so sure. I'm not actually that interested in the ending and if there's a second season (and based on the DVD sales that sounds like a good possibility, plus their are still more light novels to adapt) I probably won't watch it either. Oh well, hope that ANN gets some simulcasts that are more to my taste next season!

*I did drop Togainu after two episodes however, I felt like I was playing a game except without the button mashing opportunities between each cut scene (and yes I know this was based on a game that probably didn't have button mashing in it at all, clearly not my kind of franchise).
**Which yes, still creep me out when a guy plays them but there's something extra creepy about a little sister playing games where the protagonist's goal is to hook up with as many of his little sisters as possible. I'm also in the camp that this is what happens when your kids don't have siblings, creepy things happen.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Movie Review: The Secret of Kells

When I really got into anime four years ago I was only interested in Japanese animation and didn't bother to look at animation from the rest of the world. After all, I had been generally unimpressed with American animation for years and didn't know that much about animation from the rest of the world, but recently I've become curious about what the rest of the world is producing. The funny thing is that I still find out about most foreign animation through anime websites like this movie. I believe I heard about it when it was nominated for an Oscar, looked at the trailer, thought it looked fairly cool, and then forgot about it. But recently I was browsing through Netflix and came across this streaming and got around to watching it with my mom and I think we both enjoyed it.

The Secret of Kells

Summary: Brendan is a young monk in an abby in a remote village in Ireland who wants to become an illuminator. He clashes however with his uncle, the Abbot Cellach, who is obsessed with building a wall to surround the village and protect it from Viking attacks. 

The Good: The movie has a much more cohesive plot line than I thought which, while basic, works and makes this a movie, not just a very nice looking series of images. Upon browsing tvtropes I discovered a lot of little details in the movie I hadn't noticed earlier (like a lot of references to Irish fairy tales and poetry) so this was a well thought out movie as well. Also, I remember when I was a kid I could always find a fantasy or two set in Ireland but that's not the case these days so it was nice to have a little nostalgia moment while watching this. I can see myself enjoying this movie as a kid (even if it would've scared me a bit*) and being able to recommend a movie to a wide range of age groups is a good thing.

The Bad: One thing that did bother me about the movie was how most of the movie seemed to take place over a few days and then towards the end there's a five or ten year time skip and then the movie ends. It's a bit jarring, if necessary, and I really don't know how to pace that bit better but it did seem odd. There were also a few things about the movie, mostly small references but one or two things considering Aisling as well, that I didn't understand until I looked them up. This isn't a bad thing per say, but people who are big fans of Irish mythology are going to enjoy this movie more than someone who isn't.

The Art: If you're watching this movie, chances are you're watching it for the art and it's very interesting to look at. I'm not sure if the whole movie is CGI or a CGI/traditional animation combination but the animation itself has a different kind of movement to it than I'm used to seeing in either US or Japanese animation. The art itself is very stylized and detailed while still using very basic shapes (visually the most similar thing I can think of is Kemono no Souja Erin/Beast Player Erin's more stylized sequences) and is simply gorgeous. I would recommend this movie to people based on the art alone and wouldn't mind buying this on Blu-Ray just so I could stare at the imagery again.

The Music: I didn't notice that much music in the movie actually, I'm sure there was plenty of background music but I was too distracetd by the visuals to hear it. The one bit that stood out was Aisling's song about Pangur Bán and while that was a neat song I didn't really get it until I discovered it was partially in Gaelic (well, I still don't understand what she was singing but point made). If I saw the movie again I'm sure I'd notice the music more but the visuals really outshone it. 

Sorry if this review sounds a bit disjointed, I've had a headache for most of the day so it's a little hard to focus but I really wanted to get this review done and out of the way. Originally I was hoping to get two done today and tomorrow but it looks like that won't be happening. I'll get at least one done tomorrow and fingers crossed that it'll be two but no promises!

*But honestly that's more because I was easily freaked out as a kid, you'd laugh if you heard how long Fern Gully gave me nightmares....

Friday, January 21, 2011

Book Review: Star Crossed

I was a bit hesistant to start this book since it didn't sound like anything special and I hadn't liked the author's  previous book, A Curse as Dark as Gold (a retelling of Rumpelstiltskin). But it was at the library, it was the start of winter break, Inkpot had recommended it so what did I have to lose?

Star Crossed by Elizabeth C. Bunce
 The cover here works (it's actually one of those covers which makes more sense once you've read the book and looked at the image on the back cover) but I still don't like it that much, I guess it's just a little busy for me (I think I would like it better if the girl wasn't in it). As a side note, I love how the first book is called Star Crossed (I'm pretty sure the title is two words anyway) and the sequel is called Liar's Moon, if there's a third book I hope the title has something to do with the sun just because that would be really neat.

Summary: Digger is a poor girl who has to go on the run after a job (stealing a stack of important letters) goes horribly wrong and she ends up becoming the maid to Merista Nemair as a way to escape the city of Gerse. Although she isn't happy at the idea of being stuck in a lonely castle in the mountains for the entire winter it's better than being killed and Digger wants to stay alive. But this lonely castle in the mountains has more secrets that most would guess and Digger has to stay on her toes if she wants to stay alive after all.

The Good: About halfway through this book I realized it was one of my favorite new books of 2010 which far exceeded my expectations of it. Digger is a smart main character and much more fleshed out than the stereotypical thief character I was excepting her to be. She's clever and while she does do something things she doesn't want to to survive she also manages to have a conscience and tries to set things right again before her actions come back to hurt her. The politics in this story also really caught me by surprise, as did the magic actually, and it's rare to find YA that includes politics in it at all* and I thought it was logically done and included enough mystery in it to keep the politics interesting.

The Bad: The first few chapters are a bit slower than the rest of the book and has a different mood than the rest of the book (the first bit makes the story seem like it's going to alternate the slow life of the nobles with the fast paced life of the streets, the rest of the book has a more standard fantasy with a bit of mystery mood to it) and I've seen some people mention that. There is a large cast of characters to keep track of (thankfully this is made easier by a list of characters and terms in the back)  and a map would have been a nice luxury. 

So a good book all around and I'm looking forward to the sequel (not sure if this is a two book set or what, I'm not sure what the end goal for the series is actually, it's going to involve the legalization of magic and probably the overthrow of the king but I'm not sure). One thing that did strike me as I was reading was this book reminded me of Tamora Pierce's Trickster series and I actually think this book was better done than them. Tamora Pierce is one of my favorite authors but I've seen other fans agree, the two Trickster books were not her strongest and I think that Digger is a more realistic lead than Aly (who was a bit Sue-ish now that I think about it...). Very similar settings, which I'll chalk up to coincidence here, but I consider Star Crossed superior character-wise. It's on my to-buy list now and my wait-impatiently-for-the-sequel list as well.

*And of course whenever one does it's accompanied by people saying "it's rather good, for a children's book anyway," which has become a  pet peeve of mine (hence why it's in this footnote instead of the main review). I'm hard pressed to remember any literary fiction (ie, adult fiction of a kind) that dealt with politics and just because the politics is simplified doesn't make it bad at all. Frankly it comes off as elitism, I still maintain that the politics in books such as Moribito or The Queen's Thief series were well done, "children's" books or not.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Manga Review: Merupuri (volume 1)

It's a tradition for the anime fans in my area (and some not in my area) to get together around Christmas and, among other things, have a game of Chinese Auction/Bad Santa/Yankee Swap, ect, whatever your region of the country calls it. Since I didn't get to keep the giant Domo-kun plushie, either of the nerf shotguns, or a small stack of anime I settled with a couple volumes of manga (with the plan being that if I didn't like them I could sell them to the local used bookstore for some credit). I ended up with Speed Grapher volume 1 (just as graphic as the anime so I only skimmed it) and the first volume of Merupuri. I'd heard of this one, it's by the same manga-ka of Vampire Knight, but unlike VK this title ended up boring the heck out of me.

Meurpuri-The Marchen Prince by Matsuri Hino

Summary: Ari Hoshina has never had a boyfriend, not because she doesn't want one but because her standards for men are way too hard, something all her friends point out to her on a regular basis. So when an abnormal boy appears in her life (appears from her family's heirloom mirror and has been cursed by his half brother to grow older each time he's in the dark) maybe this is a sign that she's finally found the guy for her?

The Good: While I'm not sure if I would've liked this in high school I am sure that my friends would've loved a title like this back then. It's light-hearted, easy to follow, has cute guys, it's pretty much everything a high school girl could hope to read in a manga. These days I'd rather read something a bit better written but it strikes me as something I could easily see in the teen comic section of a library, nothing near offensive enough to worry people but still attractive to it's demographic.

The Bad: Huh, I thought this was a multi-volume series but the initial conflict has been resolved, wonder what will happen ne-wait, they didn't fix Aram's problem after all and intend to drag it out for romantic and comedic purposes in further volumes?!? And I didn't like the "Aram gets older when he's in the dark" to start with, mostly because Ari treats Aram as a child when he looks like a child (ie, she's a bit dismissive of him actually) and then when he gets older, and she is fully aware it's the same guy with the maturity of his younger self, she's pretty actively trying to hook up with him and that strikes me as a little disturbing actually. So, ick, not a huge fan of harem anime/manga anyway (and this is a reverse harem for sure) so I'm going to pass on future volumes.

The Art: The stylized eyes make this clear that Merupuri and Vampire Knight share a manga-ka but unlike VK it's rather hard to tell the male characters apart in this series (in VK the guys at least had different hairstyles/colors). I'm not really a fan of Hino's style to start with, sure it's cutesy but there's nothing beyond it or anything to really set her style apart, and in the end even the art couldn't hold my attention for very long.

In a completely unrelated note, I probably won't be able to continue following Fractale this season, lovely. I don't know yet if I'll resort to fansubs to finish watching it (yes, by taking away the legal stream they just created more pirates of the show, I think all the fans have figured out this irony) but I will give Funimation some time to try and remove every illegal copy of it on the internet first. ....yeaaahhh.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Anime Review: Legend of the Legendary Heroes

When I first heard the title of this series I was told it was a parody of the over-dramatic titles you often find (or at least a joke) and I assumed that the whole series was a bit of a parody of the heroic fantasy genre. That's actually not the case here, yes there are plenty of lighthearted moments in there but it has a pretty solid and serious central plot. So, not a parody (although I do swear it is poking fun at itself at times) but I'm hardly complaining, anime needs more fantasy no matter what the variant is.

Legend of the Legendary Heroes

Summary: Ryner Lute, the strongest magician of Roland and bearer of the cursed eyes the "alpha stigma" would much rather be napping than being dragged around the continent with his partner Ferris in search for the legendary "heroic relics." True these are powerful weapons and in the hands of his king and friend, Sion, they could make Roland into a strong and peaceful country, but Ryner would rather nap anyway. But there are strange forces at work both outside and inside the country and Ryner is going to have to at least stay awake if he wants to stay alive.

The Good: I'm not quite sure what it was about this series but it really managed to draw me in and I can't wait to rewatch it on DVD. The plot ends up being more complex than I expected (more fractions involved and some unexpected mythology) and as soon as the anime finished I raced to track down the next novel series. The story turned out to be a lot more plot driven than I expected, which is a plus, and the plot itself got more complex as the story went on*. I actually liked the story better for the plot than anything else but Ryner and Ferris really grew on me by the end of the series as well as a few of the other characters. Some of the other characters whoever....

The Bad: The pacing never felt horrible to me but the anime whipped through the original light novels at a crazy speed (11 novels in 24 episodes) and I do wish they had a few more episodes to use on some of the larger arcs. The characters' backstories were explained well enough but after a few novel readers filled in the details it became clear just how fast the anime was having to go through everything. Some of the characters were also rather annoying, and I'm afraid to say their backstories don't help much there, and I really wish the story could've done without them (also, who names their kid Milk?!?). The story is also having a hard time making some of the villains likeable (since it's clear that the story is trying to set up the countries of Roland and Gastarck as being very similar in ideals, probably to set up some grey and gray morality but it's not working) so probably about half of the cast is disliked and that's not a good thing.

The Art: By and large the art for this series is consistent and I like the style a bit better than the style used in the light novels. There are a few episodes however where the art is a bit sketchier because of the fight scenes and those scenes seem a little more animated than normal. It's a noticeable shift (also noticeable is that some of the girls get larger assets in these episodes, and again it's noticeable even to a causal viewer) but the characters still stayed relatively on model so I didn't mind. There's nothing that special about the designs but it's still a good looking show.

The Music: I wasn't that fond of the first opening (I just found it really forgettable) but liked the second opening better (it was more dramatic and for a show with this title you need semi-dramatic song). Also liked it better than both of the endings since I didn't care for either of the endings as well (both were soft and ballads and just didn't work for me). And I think I really need to start writing these reviews closer to when I watch the shows since I can't remember the background music at all (aside from one or two dramatic points when they played the opening and that doesn't exactly count).

I mentioned that the series is based off a series of light novels so a quick word on that. Originally the author was planning on writing a fantasy series but, as he tried to figure out how to work in the backstory, he realized there was so much that it would be easier to write that out first as it's own series and then do the rest. So we now have Legend of the Legendary Heroes** as the first series (11 volumes), Toriaezu Densetsu no Yuusha no Densetsu (Legend of the Legendary Heroes Anyway, a collection of side stories and more backstory, 11 volumes), Dai Densetsu no Yuusha no Densetsu (Legend of the Great Legendary Heroes, currently 9 volumes) as the story he originally wanted to tell and another side series Ochita Kuroi Yuusha no Densetsu (The Legend of the Fallen Dark Hero dealing with Shion's rebellion, currently 6 volumes). There are fans translating the series (and they're starting with the sequel too!) but the writing is very Japanese and comes off as pretty awkward in English. Sentence fragments, repeating sentences, sentences without subjects (to the point where there are whole sections where even the Japanese fans don't know whose talking or about whom), I found it frustrating to read at times (especially when the characters start monologuing). But if you really want to know what happens next I would recommend them since the DVD sales for this series were hideously low (I forget if it sold more or less than Shiki but I remember Shiki selling only about 600 DVDs each time). But it is streaming on Funimation's website (/hulu/youtube) for US viewers and hopefully it has a bigger fanbase overseas than it did in Japan, the youtube viewing numbers would suggest so anyway.

*I swear, I think I need to make a chart of everyone's alternate personalities, former personalities, and which one is currently in control, it's a bit confusing especially since some of them share the same names.
**Also, apparently the title doesn't sound as awkward in Japanese, Densetsu no Yuusha no Densetsu which is the name a lot of fans use of the series (either that or the Japanese nickname DenYuuDen). I like the English title however because the abbreviation of that is LOL Heroes which just bemuses me.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Movie Review: Tron Legacy

I saw the original Tron again a few months back (I was showing it to a friend who wanted to see the original before she saw the movie) and afterwords I was thinking that this might make a nice Christmas gift for my brother and checked out the prices on Amazon. Wow, holy cow, I have never seen a used VHS go for that much money before, one of my friends swears she's going to gold plate and hang her VHS on the wall if they go for that much. I've heard a rumor that Disney has a lot of the old DVDs and was also telling retailers not to sell them, fearing that people might not want to see the new movie. Having seen the new movie I believe that Disney is crazy and missing out on a chance to make even more money, sure the old one looks bad but this new movie looks really good regardless.

Tron Legacy

Summary: After Kevin Flynn's escapades in the original Tron he now leads ENCOM International and spends most of his time working but still finds time to tell his son Sam stories before bed. He vanishes one day however, breaking Sam's heart and the trust of everyone in the company except his old friend Alan. A couple of decades on Sam is drifting through life with no real purpose, except to mess with the heads of ENCOM once a year, but soon enough he's pulled into the world of Tron just like his father was and it's a race against time to get out.

The Good: There were several little details in the cyberworld (The Grid?) that I thought were really neat and unique. To say more about them would be spoiler-ish but I'd love to see some video games that explored the world more (maybe a prequel when Kevin was creating the world?). The plot may be lacking but the setting and ides surrounding it are not and, of course, the visuals are pure eye candy and the music is pretty cool too. So, the package for the story is very cool and it's worth seeing for the visuals alone. The other stuff however....

The Bad: I think the original movie actually accomplished more in terms of plot than this one actually. In the first movie there was an actual bad guy that had to be defeated to "save the world," here the plot isn't quite sure what it's doing. It's a quest of some sort and in the end it's just a beat the clock quest which is rather dull. But no one really came to see the plot of this movie so, a few other problems. There were a couple of subplots that I felt got axed halfway through filming so the basis for them (programs rebelling against CLUE is the one I noticed) is still there but nothing ever happens. Also, Quorra's character was just odd. Sometimes she acted like a regular person and other times it seemed like she didn't know how to interact with the other characters and that random inconsistency (well, along with her flatness which plagued all the other characters as well) didn't make me like her that much.

The Music: I actually did not like the music as much as I hoping and that made me quite sad. Derezzed was a pretty awesome song but not much else on the soundtrack stuck out to me. Oh well, at least I can buy Derezzed separately and put it on repeat.

The Visuals: I didn't see this movie in 3D, so I can't exactly comment on that, but I suspect it probably would have looked good in 3D. The CGI was slick and, while the film was visually dark, I never had any trouble making out details on screen. Someone (or more likely, many people) had a lot of fun creating the visuals for this movie. The CGI isn't as far ahead of it's time like the original Tron was but the visuals are fantastic none the less.

I was really disappointed with the plot here (I was expecting it to be lacking but not this lacking!) but I'm still glad I saw it for the visuals. Would I buy this, or the original Tron, on DVD/BR in the future? Probably not, but I can see my brother buying this or a friend so if I ever want to see it again I should have no trouble finding it.

Monday, January 17, 2011

First Impressions: Winter 2011

No regular review tonight but, partially to help me build up a buffer again, I decided to post some quick first impressions on the new 2011 winter anime. It's not a bad season for anime actually, winter is usually the weakest season for me (I think last year I was just following Durarara! and Tegami Bachi) but this year I've I'm following six shows and four of them are new ones. So, synopsis taken from ANN/MAL (usually I write my own summaries but, since I've only seen one/two episodes I can't do that yet) and now in alphabetical order:

Fractale (noitaminA)
"The story takes place in an island, where a "Fractale System" is beginning to collapse. One day, Clain finds an injured girl called Phryne under a cliff. She disappears leaving a pendant. Crane sets out for a journey with the girl-shaped avatar Nessa to look for Phryne and discovers the secret of the Fractale System."
Only seen one episode of this so far but I can say that the island mentioned appears to be Ireland which is interesting (I honestly can't think of any other anime set in Ireland and several Irish anime fans have said that it's definetly the setting for sure). The plot of the anime didn't grab me to start with (and I have accidentally gotten into an argument with people on the internet whether it was weird or not that Phyrne strips in the first episode...) but the setting seems part Laputa with a bit of Summer Wars thrown in and that has me interested. I love a show where I don't know the plot and can speculate about it so, unless it turns out to be super crappy, I'm sticking with Fractale. For US/Canada viewers it's streaming at Funimation's site/youtube/hulu.

 "GOSICK takes place in 1924 in a small, made-up European country of Sauville. The story centers on Kazuya Kujo, the third son of a Japanese Imperial soldier, who is a transfer student to St. Marguerite Academy, where urban legends and horror stories are all the rage. There he meets Victorique, a mysterious yet beautiful and brilliant girl who never comes to class and spends her days reading the entire content of the library or solving mysteries that even detectives can't solve."
  So far this anime hasn't lived up to my expectations of it sadly. The mysteries in both episodes so far have been ridiculsy easy to solve (I figured out the solution before the situation was fully explained) and for a mystery series that's really bad (I'm told it gets better but at this point I'd really hate to see it get worse). None of the lovely 1920s fashion/architecture so far that I was hoping for (outside of the lovely looking opening song) and I wonder what's the point in even setting the series in the 20s if the characters are still acting like it's the Victorian era. It is streaming on crunchyroll (NA/SA, UK, Africa, part of Europe, ME, Malaysia and the Philippines) and I do have lower standards for what I'll watch legally streamed vs what I'll watch that's fansubbed, so for the moment I'm going to get the most out of my CR trial and keep watching.

Level E
"Tsutsui Yukitaka is a freshman who has finally convinced his parents that he is ready to live on his own. When he arrives at his new apartment, he is surprised to find that someone has arrived before him; A young man who claims that he is an alien and that he is suffering from amnesia."
Despite predating Men in Black by a few years, that and Birdy the Mighty: Decode are the most similar titles I can think of except for the fact that this doesn't involve any alien fighting so far. It's a comedy dealing with the fact that there are dozens of alien species living on Earth and the only people who don't know are the humans. I'm loving the humor so far (which ends up being a two man routine between Yukitaka and Prince, with Prince being far stranger than any of the characters guess) so this is a keeper for me! It's streaming on crunchyroll in the Americas, Western Europe, South Africa, and Australia/New Zealand.

Puella Magi Madoka Magica/Mahou Shojo Madoka Magica
 "Beloved family, good friend, laughs and cries. Just an ordinary life that Kaname Madoka, a second grade student of Mitakihara City Middle School, has lived on. One day, a mysterious encounter has come to her. Was that encounter a chance, or inevitable? She still don't know. An encounter that cause her fate to change, that is a beginning of new magical girl story."
I do like a number of magical girl series and I do like the genre, just not this one. When the story was in dark-what-the-heck-is-going-on mode (complete with trippy imagery!) it was fun but the everyday life parts of the story were rather boring. The show certainly has potential to be really creepy and dark but I'm not that fond of shows by Shaft and since people are calling this the next Nanoha (which I didn't like, side note, never marathon that entire show in one day) for now it's a pass. But I will be keeping an eye on the reviews to see if it ends up being good after all.

Wandering Son (noitaminA)
"Shuicihi Nitori appears to be a shy and quiet preteen boy, when he transfers to a new school he quickly makes friends with the tomboyish Yoshino Takatsuki who sits next to him. It soon becomes apparent that both Shucihi and Yoshino are more than simply a sensitive boy and masculine girl, they both are transgendered. Together they decide to take the first steps toward becoming the people they want to be."
Dear Western YA, why can't you be this awesome? When I think of everything I've read/seen I'm hard pressed to think of more than ten transsexual characters and most of them have been side characters in anime*So when I heard this was being made into an anime (and the story is by the same manga-ka as Aoi Hana which I adored) I was pretty excited. The story is starting in medias res (having skipped the first 33 chapters actually) but from all the summaries I've read I haven't felt lost yet but don't feel connected yet either. Not worried about that however, usually it takes a few episodes for an anime to click with me and I can't wait for more! Streaming on crunchyroll in NA, UK, AU/NZ, Brazil, and parts of Europe.

Yumekui Merry
"Ten years ago Fujiwara noticed he had a power to see multicolored auras surrounding the person's body. Ever since then he's been having a weird dream about a war with cats. Then one day a mysterious girl falls on top of him..."I really wanted to like this anime, the premise sounds cool and Merry reminds me a lot of Alice from Pandora Hearts (which I love). However, between the first episode and the few chapters of the manga I read, it's just not as cool as I hoped for. Also, this show isn't being streamed and I try to watch fansubs only when the show is amazing and I'll buy it for sure once it's licensed. Like Madoka, I'll keep an eye on the review but ultimately, if it does turn out to be a good show I'm sure it'll be licensed and I'll check it out that way instead.

In addition to those four, I'm also still following Star Driver (still fabulous and I haven't had that much fun speculating about a show in a long time) and Letter Bee/Tegami Bachi Reverse (which has me a little worried now that we seem to be getting into anime original territory to set up an anime original ending, also realized that the scanlations fell behind and looked up the RAWS only to discover that what the manga is doing is way cooler). So expect to see reviews for all of those except Gosick sometime in April! Actually, speaking of end of the season anime reviews, my next anime review is the first end of the fall season anime review I have and I still have a ton more reviews to put up. At this rate I'm going to be putting up a review a day until Feburary so look forward to it!

*Let's see, to name them all, the protagonist's sibling in the book Luna, side character in Tamora Pierce's Bloodhound, a number of sides and one main in Satoshi Kon's Millennium Actress, a couple of side characters in the anime Shangri-La, two mains in the webcomic Khaos Komic, and that's it. Might be able to come up with one or two later but since it took three mediums for me to come up with that many I think my point is made.

Manga Review: Afterschool Charisma (volume 1)

When I pulled this off the shelf at my home library I initially thought it the title said Afterschool Nightmare (which, ironically enough, I just tracked down at the other public library) but since this is another Sig Ikki title I checked it out anyway and was quite pleased with it. I seem to like a lot of the Sig Ikki titles actually, thankfully the libraries seem to have a number of them and I've been keeping an eye out for the other titles.

Afterschool Charisma by Kumino Suekane

Summary: Shiro Kamiya is the only non-clone at St. Kleio Academy and, while he obviously can't sympathize with some of the issues the other clones have, he doesn't seem to mind being there. But the administration has some dark plans for these clones and they're not the only enemies they have

The Good: Something about the characters just clicked with me, maybe it's because I get a kick out of Freud telling Shiro he has daddy issues but many of the characters have amusing quirks. There's also plenty of set up for an interesting plot later and, having read the next two volumes on the Sig Ikki site, stuff does get moving in the next volume. There are plenty of different ways the plot could go and should provide a couple of good twists either way so I'm excited for the rest of the series. 

The Bad: The whole volume is build up and introducing character which isn't horrible, considering that the series is only four volumes long now and is paced rather slowly, but is a bit frustrating that the central plot hasn't made a real appearance yet. Sure there are hints and plenty of mysterious, shadowy people making cryptic comments about using or killing of the clones, but nothing solid yet. As a side note, most of the characters are either well known figures from history but I had to look up a couple of them online, a little character guide at the back of the book would've been nice.

The Art: I am mildly puzzled why the clones don't look anything at all like their originals, even taking in a more modern diet to account for height change, since the whole series is about how clones are doomed to repeat their original's history. I'll admit that all the characters look very pretty, and that probably gives the manga a wider female audience, but considering the main theme of the manga (so far anyway) is that the clones are doomed to be exactly the same as their originals it doesn't make a lot of sense.

This volume was mostly introduction and build up for the later volumes but I still really enjoyed it and went to read the rest online afterwards on the Sig Ikki site (what they do is they have the first chapter of each volume that is currently released up and then the chapters from the unreleased chapters up and add one or two new chapters each month). It's the best commercial site I've seen so far for reading manga online (although I still prefer the set up of scanlation sites) and they have quite a bit of stuff up there as well. Wonder how well their iPad app works then, hmmmm....

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Book Review: Hex Hall

Another book recommendation from The Enchanted Inkpot but I liked this book less than some of their other recommendations. I liked the cover and the premise but I would've had second thoughts if I had seen this cover instead, which really isn't what the book is about at all, actually, both of the covers for this book confuse me.

Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins
 One thing about this cover puzzles me, they went to a great deal of trouble to match up the girls and even flip the title text around in the water, so why throw in a cat? It was stated pretty early on that Sophie is allergic to cats and there weren't any cats in the book so why? And the darn thing is on the cover for the second book as well, seriously, does anyone know?

Summary: Sophie is a witch and after a love spell gone wrong, only the latest in a long line of failed spells apparently, she is sentenced to Hecate Hall, a school for fledgling witches, shifters and fae, for the next two years. The reason behind this is to make her safe to society (ie, not cause catastrophes every few months) but Hex Hall might be more dangerous for Sophie than the real world.

The Good: The boarding school of magic has been done to death by now and, even though this book reminded me a bit too much of the House of Night Series, it was done well enough. The characters were somewhat genre-savy and the plot ended up being a bit more complex than I expected (wasn't expecting there to be two sets of villains, that's a bit unusual) and it has plenty of material for a sequel.

The Bad: I did like the first part of the book but by the end there were too many cliches present for me to really enjoy it. Oh look, the bad-boy-our-protagonist-has-a-crush-on-really-has-a-heart-of-gold-after-all! And the libby becomes semi-likable! It just wasn't original enough for me in the end with either it's setting or characters, plot twists notwithstanding, and I don't really feel the urge to read the sequel.

Not much to say about it I know but this book just didn't really stand out to me. It did some stuff well but other things were just average. If I see some really good reviews for the sequel I'll check it out but otherwise I'll read something else (and never know why there's that silly cat on the cover).

Anime Review: Canaan

I don't think I've seen any of the other "girls with guns" anime (been meaning to, just haven't gotten around to it) and since I ended up enjoying Canaan I think I'll move them up higher on my list (and this is another one that goes on my "BR to buy someday" list).


Summary: The indirect sequel to the 2008 game "428: In a Blockaded Shibuya"* Marie Owasa and Minoru Minorikawa, a photographer and writer respectively, are sent to Shangai to cover the upcoming anti-terrorist conference. While there Marie runs into trouble and is rescued by an old friend of hers, Canaan, and both of them quickly get tangled up in the actives that Canaan's old rival Alphard is planning.

The Good: I'm not usually a fan of summer blockbuster action flicks but that's essentially what Canaan is and I loved it. It looked good, sounded good, and the action never lets up for very long. By and large the characters were fun (with the taxi driver being the coolest unnamed character ever) and the setting was neat as well (both the parts in Shangai and somewhere in the Middle East). I have a weak spot for characters who are photographers**, even if Marie isn't the most likable character in the series she's likeable enough. Even though most parts of this anime don't stand out on their own there was just something about the composition that made this series work and I enjoyed it for what it was.

The Bad: I was glancing over a review of the series as I was watching it (never a good thing) and it pointed out that Alphard never has a real reason for any of the things she does in the show. And since the majority of this show's plot is in response to Alphards actions that's a big failing. Her backstory fails to explain her current actions and doesn't explain her previous actions as well and Canann's backstory doesn't completely explain how she got to where she was in the beginning of the anime either. The story lives for the moment and, while it doesn't create as many fridge logic moments as you would expect, the plot suffers for it.

The Art: I often don't like watching action movies because either there are too many wide shots where you can't see all the action or the camera jumps around more than a monkey on steroids and it's still hard to see what's going on. The nice thing about animation is the lack of a real camera so the animators can technically draw any shot they want and the action in Canaan looks gorgeous for it. The first episode sticks out the most to me and between the festival and Canaan's fight it's one of the best looking things I've seen all year.

The Music: I actually saw the first half of this series dubbed and the second half subbed and I really liked the dub a lot better. I can't believe that Alphard's VA is a newbie, I really liked her take on the character better than the Japanese one, and I know more than a few people who were alarmed of the fact that the psychotic Liang Chi is played by the same VA who did Chiyo in Azumanga Diaoh. A very good dub and the opening song was very catchy and high energy as well. The closer was less memorable but the show has some very solid voice acting and music in it. 

I came for an action flick and got some very nice action with enough of a plot to keep me happy (although the plot is steadily less and less present as the series goes on and I'll admit that I didn't like the ending but to explain why is spoliery). I do wish the plot was stronger, and that I could find the 428 game in English, but I'm content with how the series is.

*No you don't need to play the game or even know what it's about to watch the anime, I only looked up stuff about it after I finished the series. Sure there were parts where I could tell there was more backstory than the anime was going to tell but nothing that interfered with the plot or characters.
**even if I had to laugh at the idea of a modern day photographer still shooting film and developing it in the hotel bathroom, especially since I believe this is set twenty minutes into the future.

Movie Review: Black Swan

One of the movies I got around to seeing over the break and it made me doubly sad that I wasn't able to see The Nutcracker this year. The last time I saw it (live) I must have been six or so and I was exicted to hear that one of my aunts had discounted tickets for it since my cousin was in it but with how crazy my Thanksgiving break was I didn't have a chance. Someday I guess, someday I'll be able to see a real ballet again in person instead of just having to watch stories about them. 

Black Swan

Summary: Nina is a rising ballerina who really wants to have a bigger part in the shows her company puts on. Initially it doesn't look like she'll get the role of Odette/Odile* since she's too sweet and too much of a perfectionist and it's only after she does that she discovers just how much her perfectionism is going to hurt her.

The Good: Wow, most movies when a character goes insane the movie starts with them behaving normally and then shows their descent into madness. Black Swan wastes no time there and starts with Nina already unstable and takes it the whole way. I can't remember the last story I saw that took this approach (the closet I've heard about is Satoshi Kon's Perfect Blue) and this was a very creepy and intense movie in parts. At points it was tricky to figure out what was real and what wasn't so the movie succeeds in being a physcological thriller very well.

The Bad: Once the fridge logic set in the ending felt a bit cheap. Yes I know the character is going mad/mad for the film and that this film is being “told” through an unreliable narrator but the film still has to make logical sense in the end (even if the character isn’t sure what is going on/presents a distorted version of the events there still needs to be a way for the audience to work out what actually happened). Also, I know so many people will disagree with me on this, but I must’ve been one of the few people going in who didn’t know about the lesbian sex scene and ack, most awkward thing to watch with your mother ever (and I’ve said it before, I just don’t like reading about/watching sex yet I’m only really annoyed by it when I don’t know it’s coming

The Music: I can't remember much about the music (I was too busy staring at the ballet) but I seem to recall hearing a few well-known pieces of classical music (I thought I heard "Dance of the Sugarplum Fairies" in there but, even though Tchaikovsky composed music for both of those ballets, I think I'm off). The music worked, I would have remembered if it didn't, but like I said above, I was much more interested in the visuals.

The Visuals: Interesting camera work in this one, the camera was almost constantly moving (and a little jerky as well, as if it was being held by a person and moving around instead of moving on a track) which also added to the tense and off balance atmosphere. I’ve heard that the long shots of Nina dancing where not done by Portman and, since I was looking for this and didn’t notice during the movie, that was very well put together. Portman’s dancing looked alright to me (it has been years since I’ve seen a ballet together) and, like the filming style, there were many little details in the background that added to the uneasy air in the film. Visually the film felt very put together and the movie would not have worked as well if it had been a novel instead.

I'm still not sure if I liked this movie or not. My feelings on it, well, it made me want to hide under a blanket with chocolate, something to hug, and something fluffy to read and NOT think about ballet for a while. The funny thing is that all the stories I know that involve ballet are more serious than lighthearted. Swan was melodramatic, Princess Tutu (which I am currently re-watching actually) had more dark moments than you'd except something with that title and, having done some dance during my life** it is a serious sport that lends itself well to these kinds of stories. So, while I'm unsurprised that Black Swan turned out to be as dark as I expected, and I know I'll rewatch it at least once sometime, I'm still trying to figure out if I liked it enough to buy or not.

*Who are traditionally played by the same person, this isn't the movie trying to create tension, this is actually how the play is done!
** More Irish dancing than anything else however, much more lighthearted, just listen to the music!