Saturday, April 30, 2011

Spring Anime 2011 Reviews, part one!

And for something a bit different again, going to give my thoughts on all the new anime from this past spring season that I've tried (so, if anyone really wants to know what I'll be reviewing in three or six months, consider this a sneak peek). Since I tried out eight different series this spring I'm going to split this into two parts and I'll put the second part up tomorrow, once I write in anyway.

AnoHana (Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae Boku-tachi wa Mada Shiranai. or We Still Do Not Know the Name of the Flower We Saw That Day.)
One of the two new noitaminA shows premiering this season, it's an anime original story about a group of friends who grew apart after one of them died when they were kids and are starting to reconnect almost ten years later. The reason they're starting to re-connect is because Jintan, originally the leader of the group and now a hikkimori, has started being visited by Menma (the girl who died) and is trying to grant her wish so she'll leave him alone again, although even Menma isn't sure what her wish is. It's a surprisingly touching show and, while it is paced fast (it's going to be only 11 episodes long so it has to move fast) everything feels like it's progressing at a natural pace, can't wait to see where it goes!
Sadly this one does not have a simulcast and makes it my one fansub of the season, I'd forgotten how annoying it is to wait around for fansubs too.

Blue Exorcist (Ao no Exorcist)
Taking over Star Driver's timeslot this is a shonen series based on the manga by the same name (now being published in the US by Viz) and so far I like it a bit. The premise is that Rin is the son of Satan (while his twin brother Yukio is not) and after the events of a second episode spoiler has sworn to kill Satan by becoming an exorcist. While teenage rebellion isn't a new thing in anime (or any media) this is a different take on it and Rin is a pretty likable protagonist. I'll confess that after the first episode I read ahead in the manga (I didn't mean to! It just sorta-kinda, well, happened!) so if the pacing stays consistent this should be a pretty fun ride.
Blue Exorcist is being simulcast by Aniplex and streaming on, and not 100% sure what the restrictions are on it but everyone in the US and Canada should be able to see it. Also, I am torn between laughing or being embarrassed on behalf of the ending sequence (animation and song), keep an eye on the tv screens to see what I mean.  

[C]-CONTROL-The Money and Soul of Possibility
FYI, this is another title that has a lot of alternate spellings, I'm fond of calling it C(ontrol) myself but C-Control seems to be the most widely used one*. The other noitaminA show, also anime original, C deals with a Japan a little in the future where everything seems the same except for a mysterious alternate world called the Financial District where people engage in "deals" (battles) with other people's "assets" (anthropomorphic representation of their futures), putting their own futures on the line for riches. Kimimaro Yoga is a full time college student holding down two part time jobs who just wants a stable, normal government job and wouldn't like to be involved in any of this, no thank you, but he's our protagonist and like it or not he's got to continue in these deals now, and maybe he'll learn something about his family in the process.
C is being streamed for US and Canadian residents on Funimation's website (which, now that they changed their video player, let's Canadians watch the videos now) as well as on hulu and youtube. I think that it's also being streamed on ANN for Australia or the UK but I'm not positive. 

Deadman Wonderland
 It used to be that when people in the US thought of "anime" they thought of much darker and gritter cartoons than produced in the US and Deadman would certainly fit that description. Within the first episode our main character Ganta has watched all his classmates be brutally murdered in front of him, been convicted with the murder of them due to some faked footage of him confessing, sent to the only private prison/amusement park in Japan (Deadman Wonderland) which makes all the prisoners put on shows for the customers in order to raise money to re-build Tokyo. Oh, and some of the people there want to kill Ganta before his execution date, if the poison seeping out of his (and everyone else's) collars doesn't kill him first, is that enough action for you yet? I'm a little worried since fans of the manga say that there is no way you can tell the story properly in just 13 episodes and there's a rumor that the series is only planned to be 13 episodes, as long as the story has enough episodes we should be fun.
This one is streaming on I can't seem to find out what regions at this time, and it's streaming on Anime on Demand for anyone in the UK. Final note, this one has my favorite opening song of the series so far, the Engrish was so good I had to double check to make sure they hadn't gotten an English speaking band instead.   

Whew, wrote up most of that between exams (gah, I hate double exam Saturdays) and I'll get the other four reviews up tomorrow sometime. Don't have much else to say (except that I have discovered an amusing number of similarities between Blue Exorcist and The Demon's Lexicon^) so see you then!

*actually, when it was first announced it was just announced as "C" prompting a joke or two that AnoHana stole it's other letters. 
^No seriously, in both series we have a set of brothers, one of whom is actually a demon (Rin and Nick) and the other brother (Yukio and Alan) has A) known about this for years and B) is desperate to keep them safe. Add in the fact that both demon's use swords (although sadly Rin does not keep his under a leaky sink in the bathroom) and both of the other brothers use guns, plus even their "allies" would rather use the pairs than help them. So it's not surprising that my mind made that jump, although I am sad that Mae and Jamie (from The Demon's Lexicon) don't have Blue Exorcist compatriots as well, stories need more pink-haired, totally normal yet still awesome girls/boys and more witty gay boys/girls!   

Friday, April 29, 2011

Book Review: Courtesans: Money, Sex, and Fame in the Nineteenth Century

Back in December I was finishing up reading Flapper and was thinking that I should read more nonfiction books just for the sake of reading something different. A few days later one of my friends posted on facebook that she had just read a really good nonfiction book entitled Courtesans and I thought it sounded fairly interesting myself. My local library didn’t have it so I couldn't read it over the break but my school library did so I slowly worked my way through it over about a month and I’m rather happy I did.

Courtesans: Money, Sex, and Fame in the Nineteenth Century by Katie Hickman
Can't really comment on the cover since my copy of the book didn't have a cover but I do like it, bit too much text though.

Summary: An account on the lives of five different courtesans (Sophia Baddeley, Elizabeth Armistead, Harriette Wilson, Cora Pearl, and Catherine Walters) which explores their lives and the time and place they lived in.

The Good: One complaint I had about Flapper was that the later bits of the book weren’t as structured as the first half (it would start off talking about one girl and then switch to another girl, and then another and pretty soon there would be no connection to the previous girls at all) and Courtesans didn’t have this problem. Each chapter focuses on one girl and, while it doesn’t hesitate to go into the backstory of their lovers or the people around them, the writing works its way back to them and then continues with the girl’s life. I was also hoping for this to be a feminist book and it was, discussing how it wasn’t necessarily the fact that these girls performed favors for money that shocked their lovers but the fact that they were women who were independent from men that did. The book managed to show this instead of having to explicitly come out and say this so I thought it was a very well written book.

The Bad: A time line would have been a nice bonus with the book since, by the end, I was starting to get confused with what happened when or even what time period the events were in. Not a necessity but I would have liked the book to mention dates more often so I could ground myself a bit better. Other than that, each courtesan’s story seemed to build on the one before it and all were different enough to make the book feel like five connected stories, not one story told five ways, and I’m impressed it pulled that off, it’s a very well written book.

Tomorrow and Sunday I'll be doing something a little different, instead of regular reviews I'll do a two part summary on the spring anime I've tried so far, partially because it's exam week for me right now and I'm hoping these reviews will be easier to write than my regular ones. Then I'm going to take Monday and Tuesday off for my last exams/moving back home and I'll start posting again on Wednesday hopefully. I probably won't be posting everyday this summer (mostly because I've gotten through most of my buffer now and don't have a lot of reviews yet) but I'll still try to get up four a week, I'll figure out my schedule once the summer really gets going for me. 

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Manga Review: Mai the Psychic Girl (volume one)

Another book I had seen lying around the local library near my college and, since I needed more manga to read and they had all four volumes (ie, if I liked it then I’d easily be able to read the rest of it) I decided what the heck, let’s go with the 1980s, flipped manga!

Mai the Psychic Girl by Kazuya Kudo & Ryoichi Ikegami

Summary: The Wisdom Alliance is a powerful and mysterious organization that seeks to control those with strong psychic powers and, as the title suggests, Mai is one of these people. But her father isn't having any of that and and the two are soon on the run to keep Mai safe.

The Good: The story gets moving right off the bat and moves along at a good pace through the entire volume. There aren't too many characters to keep track of either so the story makes for smooth reading. So far the story hasn't done much to distinguish itself from many other stories like it but it's moving along well enough so far.

The Bad: Mysterious psychic powers? Everyone knows kung-fu? Must be the 80s then, the story really does date itself with a lot of elements that well, just aren't that cool anymore. Mai isn't that interesting a protagonist so far, bubble-headed teenagers rarely are, and the premise of "girl/boy with special powers that everyone wants to use for themselves" isn't that interesting either. Perhaps once the villains are fleshed out a bit more (using the term "villain" lightly, clearly there is a big, possibly governmental organization behind the scenes but their intentions are completely unknown) the story will pick up but there's just as good a chance it won't.

The Art: As mentioned above, the book is flipped, not surprising since it was published in the US in the late 80s, unflipped manga wouldn't become the norm until the 2000s. Aside from that, there isn't anything special about the artwork that stands out, wikipedia even says that the manga was chosen because it was neither "too Japanese or too American" and this is reflected in the art as well as the story.

So, in the end there isn't anything in it that really makes me want to continue with the story so I think I'll spend my time reading something a bit more to my taste (also, moving out in less than a week so I don't really have time to read the other volumes, guess it all worked out in the end!).

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Anime Review: Level E

I almost didn't try out this title when it started airing back in Winter 2011 since it was on almost none of the lists of winter anime, couldn't find out more than a basic summary on it, and the promo image (displayed below) looked rather strange. True the original manga was by the same manga-ka who did Yu Yu Hakusho and HunterxHunter (Yoshihiro Togashi) but I didn't like YYH that much, although I did like HxH and between that and deciding to try more comedy anime (since I was pleased with the ones I saw in the Fall 2010 season) I gave it a whirl, that fact that it's streaming on also helped my decision there. 

Level E

Summary: There are hundreds of alien species coming and going on Earth all the time (some peaceful, some violent, some who just don’t care) and only the humans are unaware of these activities. Yukitata has just transferred to a school out in the sticks to play baseball and arrives at his apartment to find a strange visitor already there, a beautiful young man with no memories but who swears he’s an alien. Hijinks ensue.

The Good: For those who thought that Orihara Izaya from Durarara!! was the greatest troll ever, I give you Prince (the aforementioned alien and the central character of the show). This is a comedy and with Prince the joke will play out, keep playing, and then long after most people would have told the punch line the “twist” will finally come and be almost nothing like the viewer expected. It takes old clichés, parodies them, and manages to be a fun and interesting story despite all the clichés, an impressive feat*.

The Bad: People who prefer character driven stories to plot driven stories will be unhappy that the cast from the first three episodes is not the main cast for the entire series, but they do return for the last couple of episodes (and Prince, being the character that ties this anthology of stories of sorts together, is in nearly every episode). The other characters in the series are hardly bad or uninteresting but, since the original manga is now over 15 years old, even the parodies of some of cliches have become cliched and the story doesn't bring anything new about them anymore.  

The Art: There is a lot of conspicuous CGI in this series (mostly concerning the aliens but, since the aliens are rather important in this series, that means it comes up fairly often). The art style changes a bit from arc to arc, depending on who the arc is focusing on but it’s never a very drastic change.

The Music: The opening sequence wins the “Most Stylish” award of the season (and hints that very few of the characters will be reoccurring characters) and the Engrish “do not phear!” combined with the comedic circling of the UFOS in the ending sequence makes the ending almost a parody as well. Neither of the songs were translated on crunchyroll (again) and there were no insert songs in the show.

I’d also argue that this show had the strongest ending of the season. All the shows ending this season had good endings (well, except for Fractale but I didn’t like the entire show anyway) but this one had me giggling for a good five minutes once the episode was over. Perfect in tone and great execution, there was no better way for the show to end. And, for those wondering where the title of the show came from, the original manga-ka thought that the word “alien” started with an E in English, apparently he was confused by the title E.T. (which does make sense, “extra terrestrial” and “alien” mean the same thing, although where the word “level” came from, that’s also in English, I haven’t a clue).

*No really, I read a number of webcomics that are parodies of the fantasy genre or such, managing to parody an idea and still tell a good story is even harder than you’d think, most people can only pull off one aspect of it.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

TV Series Review: Buffy the Vampire Slayer (season 7)

Wow, sorry this is going up to late folks. As I mentioned on my twitter earlier, I didn't realize until mid-afternoon that I had a mandatory meeting for school right after my anime club and I've been working on papers for school almost all day so I really had no time to do this earlier (also annoyed that said meeting kept me from doing more homework, I sense an oxymoron there). So, in light of my brains being fairly close to mush right now plus this is the final season of Buffy (ie, it's hard to talk about it without comparing it to the other seasons) this one is going to be a bit more informal than the other reviews I've put up lately. Again, sorry about all of this, all I can say is that I really want the next two weeks to be over with asap.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Summary: Things are mostly normal in Sunnydale, or as normal as it gets in that town anyway, but there is a bit of a cause for alarm amongst the scooby gang after the old high school is finally rebuilt (destroyed at the end of season three) in it's former location of right over the hellmouth. Not only that, but the First, said to be the greatest and original evil of them all, seems to be taking an interest in the hellmouth and it may be more than what just one slayer can put an end too.

The Good: Before the season started it was announced that this would be the last season of Buffy (not counting the currently ongoing comic books) so the wrap up to this season also feels like a good wrap up to the story as a whole (much better than the original ending which was the end of the fifth season). Dawn is finally more than a bratty little sister who keeps getting kidnapped (although she isn't nearly as prominent a character as in the previous two seasons), Giles is back for most of the season (it seems like the scriptwriters keep trying to write him out and the fans keep bringing him back) and the solution to the final, climatic fight addresses a problem I've had with Buffy for seven seasons.*

The Bad: Just about every complaint I've voiced about the previous seasons holds true here as well sadly. Buffy is less emo that she's not in a relationship but I really didn't like the undertones that she's not allowed to like both Angel and Spike. It was also surprising to see Williow bounce back so fast after the events of last season and find someone who completely accepts her and the new girl feels less human for it^. Didn't like Andrew at all, really didn't like the episode that he narrated and I felt like, in the end, he could have not been on the show as long as he was and that would have made no difference, characters are supposed to be in a story because they do contribute in some way and he stayed on long past that point. 

The Music: The opening song remains untouched (and still highly danecable, wonder if I could find a dance-remix of it on youtube) although the ending sometimes used a different song or two (the ending credits also seemed much shorter than the ones in the previous seasons as well). Again, there were some insert songs (not one every episode, more like one every three or four) but nothing that really caught my ear and how could they? You hear part of a song, once, while you're trying to hear what the characters are saying, I honestly don't know why there are so many insert songs in this show.

The Visuals: This last season is from the early 2000s and wow, what a difference the years make in video technology. The video quality alone proves that this was never a high budget show (especially compared to the video quality of stuff that the BBC puts out these days) but the more dimly lit scenes aren't as grainy as they were in the very first season. The fights still look good but this was never a show I was watching for the visuals. 

Whew, I AM DONE WITH THIS, THANK THE POWERS THAT BE! I've been watching this show since last August and, wait, what's this?!? ....craaaaaaaaap, my inner completeist demands I watch this as well, baaaaaaah! Well,  Torchwood is actually going to take priority here (there's a new season coming out in July and I'm halfway through season two with all of season three to see) but yes, I'll be intermixing that with Angel (the series) and hopefully I'll wrap that up sometime early fall and who knows what I'll try next!

*If anyone must know, it's the fact that there's one Slayer to protect the entire world and frankly, Buffy has her work cut out for her in Sunnydale. Combine that with the fact that there are other hellmouths (they mention that Cleveland has one and, having lived there, I could believe that, could explain a few things) so making every potential slayer a Slayer made a lot of sense to me. Also, to be completely honest, I have this problem in almost every series that has "a chosen one," this is not a Buffy-specific complaint for once.
^also, oh hello there first lesbian sex scene on tv, just still not a fan of any kind of sex scene regardless of the pairing.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Movie Review: Banff Mountain Film Festival (2011)

This is the review that was meant to go up last Thursday by the way and tomorrow's review will be on the last season of Buffy so I'll be getting back on track tomorrow.

I first heard about the Banff Mountain Film Festival when my school sent out an email announcing the dates for it and had a link to this seriously amazing trailer. I almost didn't see it however but, after some convincing by my dad and his girlfriend, and having some extra cash on hand, I bought one of the last tickets and saw it even though I was feeling really under the weather that day. I'm super glad I made the effort to get out and see some of the films though, not only is it breath taking to see all of these films on a two-story screen (I think seeing that trailer beforehand in the auditorium did take my breath away) but these were also amazingly good films (I can barely look at the ones in my video class now).
For the world tour, about six different films are shown each night (for two nights) and, since I wasn't feeling well, I only caught four films, this is out of a total of 64 films I believe. So, since none of these were longer than 40 minutes, I'm going to do this similar to my webcomic reviews back in March and just write a quick thing about each of them. And honestly, they were all amazing, I don't know if I have anything bad to say about them anyway.

Wildwater Directed & Produced by Anson Fogel
This is actually the film that I liked the least but that's out of a group of amazing videos so it's not a bad film at all. One of the longer films, it's a documentary on white-water paddling and the direction of the video makes it look like a stylish National Geographic documentary. If not for it's length it wouldn't be out of place at all on a TV channel such as National Geographic or maybe the Discovery Channel. It was paced well, none of the shots went on too long, had interviews with some interesting people and the visuals just make you want to take up a paddle and tackle a river yourself.

Chimaera Directed by Dave Mossop
The complete opposite of Wildwater, Chimaera is a short, surrealistic piece about skiing with no talking, lots of filters, and generally a very stylish little film. I'm not quite sure what the film was trying to say (other than, skiing is amazing!) but it was an interesting choice to put right after Wildwater and is a great example that your film doesn't have to be a documentary to be shown at Banff.

Eastern Rises Directed by Ben Knight
If you had told me before this night that I would see a documentary about fly-fishing in far eastern Russia and I would laugh my ass off at it, I would have looked at you funny. That said, I can see why this won the "Best Film on Mountain Sports" award since, speaking as someone who has no interest in fly-fishing, it was an entertaining film and completely accessible. There's a lot of well-done humor in the film (narrator talks about one guy's bigfoot obsession, cut to bigfoot wandering around on the other side of the river as the guy is fishing and then appearing in more clips later on) so, as casual as they may seem, a lot of thought must have gone into planning, shooting, and editing this film. 

Life Cycles Directed & Produced by Ryan Gibbs & Derek Frankowski
The first few minutes of this film are amazing, so amazing in fact, that they could either be their own film or be a very expensive advertisement for a bicycle brand and wow, I would buy those bikes in a heartbeat. But no, the film keeps on going and and shows that these guys can shoot more than nice product shots, they can also do amazing action video. The scene of a bike flipping over tall, yellow grass from the trailer is in this film and there are some amazing composite shots of a bike rushing through a landscape that changes seasons as it passes through. The amount of editing those shots must have needed is amazing and every other shot in the film looks gorgeous as well, lots of saturation and good light balance as well. This was my favorite of the bunch, it just looked stunning and somehow managed to tell a story without any words at all.

AZADI: Freedom Directed & Produced by Anthony Bonello
Another longer film, set in the Kashmir region of India, this is the story of a formerly war-torn region that is coming back to life as more and more tourists return to it's sky slopes. The fighting over nearby Tibet seems to overshadow the trouble Kashmir has had in recent decades (it honestly sounds like it needs to be it's own country since Pakistan and India have been fighting over it for so long) but this film was about how the area is getting back to it's feet but it really needs it's tourists to revive the economy and quite honestly the ski slopes look amazingly good. This was a very down-to-earth film that talked with a lot of people in the area, both young and old, and there is a great sense of hope for the future, one can only hope that this area gets a second chance at peace.


Sunday, April 24, 2011

Book Review: Victory of Eagles

Well, it’s been a few months since I reviewed one of these books but I finally got around to finding the fifth book in the Temeraire series (ie, what if there were DRAGONS in the Napoleonic Wars and they were used like ships?). Knowing that this series has a few more books to go (I believe the plan is for it to be a nine book series) does make the series a bit less enjoyable (you know that no matter whatever the heroes do, they aren’t going to beat Napoleon yet) but only a bit.

Victory of Eagles by Naomi Novik
One change I noticed here was that the books are finally normal hardcover sized, no more tiny paperback sized books! Made it much easier to hold the book and gave it more room to have a proper illustration on the cover which I also liked (am I the only one who thinks it wouldn't look out of place on a Master and Commander book?).

Summary: After Laurence's treason at the end of the previous book, Laurence is waiting to be executed and Temeraire has been separated from him and now resides in the breeding grounds. But idealistic Temeraire refuses to sit around for the rest of his life and convinces the rest of the dragons to leave the grounds and help fight against the French and earn some money for building pavilions in the process.

The Good: Since the two have been separated, Temeraire actually gets more screen time and more pages devoted to what he's thinking and planning than in the previous books and he's a very interesting character. Laurence often comes off as an cautiously idealistic character, or at least a cautiously optimistic one, but Temeraire is so idealistic that he's a radical and it's a nice contrast to Laurence since he's not quite himself in this book. Since this book is even more war focused than the previous four there's not a lot of opportunities for the characters to do much other than fight and think (or emo) but the book does set some interesting groundwork for what Temeraire might accomplish later on.

The Bad: It still seems odd that humans have domesticated dragons for centuries at this point yet only now (the time line of these stories) is it beginning to change history. Dragons haven’t changed the outcome of dozens of wars but they do let Napoleon actually land on and invade English soil and that’s a rather large change*.  Another unrealistic point is jut how much the dragons need to eat to stay in combat shape and that England manages to supply them all. The amount the dragons need to eat doesn’t sound unreasonable (based on the sizes given for them it sounds perfectly reasonable if not too little) but it does seem rather improbable that one small nation could feed them all without much trouble, especially after seeing the supply problems in this book.

So, not my favorite book in the series so far, mostly because it was so much fighting and becauseLaurence loses it for a while (and for the rest of the book he comes off as  "woe is me, I am to die and I can't protest it because I have MORALES" never mind the fact that he has a perfectly good reason not to die). But the next book will have a change of setting, always interesting, and we draw ever close to the end of the series which is also exciting. 

*and the books could have hand waved this by saying that the domestication of dragons in most parts of the world, except China since they’re isolated enough to not really matter here, was a recent thing so there hadn’t been as much of a chance for them to interfere with history, that would have been a perfectly valid explanation.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Comic Review: Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword

I had heard of this book a few times before I found it at the library (I believe over at unshelved and The Enchanted Inkpot ) and it sounded like a fairly interesting book. Specifically, in an interview with the author (Barry Deutsch) he mentioned that his inspiration for the final battle scene came from the two-page spread of ballet in the manga Swan (which I loved) and that turned out to be even more amazing than the interview said it was*.

Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword by Barry Deutsch

Summary: Mirka is an orthodox Jewish girl growing up in the Jewish village of Hereville but she wishes that her life was a bit more adventurous. In fact, she wishes to go dragon slaying and after an encounter with a witch and her talking pig she might just get her wish.

The Good: Most middle grade^ and YA books don't deal with religion at all so it's interesting to see a story not only make religion a major theme in the book but to also make it a really accessible story for anyone who isn't an orthodox Jew. The story doesn't shy away from using Yiddish vocabulary in the character's speech (which helpful notes at the bottom of each page) and it's clear that the religion is a big part of all the character's lives and really does influence in them (ie, religion is the setting for this story and works beautifully as one). Mirka is a fun protagonist who does some stupid things for very understandable reasons and acts like a real kid would, really hoping that Deutsch publishes more stories about her.

The Bad: There are a few plotholes in the book, or at least details that aren't fully explained. Mirka's stepmother warns her away from the witch quite vehemently but never offers any explanation for why she reacted that strongly. Was it just because she was a witch or was there a deeper reason as well? Also, at one point Mirka's mother appears to her and she spends some time worrying that her mother is an unhappy ghost and her stepmother just waves it off, saying that "when people hold their breath for a very long time they see some very strange things. " Again, was that all there was to it or was there more to Mirka's vision? Yes it's explained but it's not satisfying to see a one panel explanation for a multi-page problem.

The Art: The art leans more towards Western comics than manga but the art style feels very distinctly it's own. It's a color comic but most pages use a color scheme based around shades of one color (such as orange or purple) and this helps give the story more of a fairy feeling. The lines are smooth and the simplistic designs are consistent, it feels like the perfect artwork for this story.

This book actually reminded me of a lot of books I read back in middle school (back when I got a lot of my reading recommendations from the amazing literary magazine Cricket) and I would have loved this just as much back then as I did last week. It's not a "must buy!" for me but I'll certainly keep an eye out for it and try to grab a copy sometime.

*Additionally, if he thinks the two page spread ballet "fights" in Swan are interesting he should really check out Princess Tutu since that takes the idea and runs with it even farther.
^recently I read that "middle grade" books are actually books for high school students, not middle school students as I had previously thought (since, you know, they both have the word "middle" in them). However, since I've said before that YA books are not about "young adults" (people over the age of 18 but not much more) but rather "children"-who-are-almost-adults I'll continue to call books aimed more at the 11-14 year old crowd "middle grade" books.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Anime Review: Wandering Son

Wow, sorry for not posting yesterday, was traveling yesterday and didn't realize just how long that was going to take so I didn't have anytime to write up a review. Also, I was planning on reviewing the films I saw at the Banff Mountain Film Festival but I forgot to bring along my flyer which said which films were playing (I only saw five of them). So this week the schedule is going to be a little strange, I'll get that review up Monday and then the next film review Tuesday to get back on track, please just bear with the weirdness, it's almost exam time so everything is about to get weird for me.

So, the anime I'm reviewing today (which, funny enough, should have gone up today anyway) is the other noitaminA show this season, Horou Musko/Wandering Son based on the manga of the same name. I've never read the manga (it should be released here soon so I've held off) but I squeed when I heard this was being animated because honestly there are times when I look at a lot of the anime coming out in Japan today (male, otaku oriented with a weak plot, suspiciously similar character designs, and large amounts of fanservice which just don’t interest me) and I moan and lament about what anime has become. And then I come across titles like this and go “wait, a story about transsexual kids, a topic that is barely touched upon in ANY  literature*, in my favorite timeslot (noitaminA) PLUS by the same manga-ka (Takako Shimura) who did Aoi Hana/Sweet Blue Flowers, one of my favorite series? …okay, you had me at ‘transsexual middle school kids,’ Western literature, WHY ARE YOU NOT THIS AWESOME?!?”  

Wandering Son

Summary: Nitorin and Yoshina are entering middle school but they aren’t your "normal" middle school kids, Nitorin is a boy who wants to be a girl and Yoshina is a girl who wants to be a boy (ie, they’re both transsexual). Middle school is hard enough on it’s own so add in that, romantic and friendship problems and you’re left with a story that is all emotion and character–driven drama, one that will tug at most people’s heartstrings.

The Good: Middle school is tough enough if you're cisgender so there is plenty of natural-feeling drama to start with and the story is very careful to avoid going overboard with the melodrama. The characters have their triumphs and their failures, people who support them and people who mock them, and the story feels very real because of all of that variety. Even though this show is dealing with big issues, it doesn't need big problems to elicit an emotional response from the audience. By the end of the series, even the hint of the character going through even more trouble will draw the viewer in for another episode.

The Bad: One problem with the story, that can’t be changed easily because of the way that the story goes, is that all the kids are much more mature about the issue of transsexuality than many adults are (although some adults today could stand to be more mature and accepting of the matter). While all the emotion and drama in the series are real there are times when the characters are too calm, too understanding of the world around them which disrupts the flow, in some areas the kids are just too perfect to be kids. 

The Art: The art has a rather distinctive style to it where everything seems slightly washed out with watercolor like colors. The art evokes a gentle feeling in the story, perhaps to contrast with the more mature themes going on (however, since the art is based off of the manga art and Aoi Hana had similar art as well this may just be the manga-ka’s style with no deep reasoning behind it). The backgrounds are surprisingly realistic looking but again, everything is slightly overexposed and washed out so the focus remains more on the characters, not the physical world surrounding them.

The Music: The opening and ending aren't translated on crunchyroll but the little bits of Engrish in the ending theme are perfect for the series. “I wanna cry for you….I wanna dream for you….” In a sense it sounds like the song is the watcher or the friends of the main characters singing about the series, how they want to help them get through all these situations and not shoulder these burdens alone, it’s a very sweet song. The opening is more upbeat but, without a translation, I don't have anything else to say about it.

In a nutshell, THIS is what I expect out of noitaminA, shows that would never get shown on other channels because of their mature-thinking content, not because of gore or porn but because most audience would hate to even think about transsexuality. The anime actually starts 33 chapters into the series (skipping the entire elementary school arc) so I'm even more excited for the manga coming out so I can see just what we missed, although I doubt the anime will ever come out in the US (I will buy it in a heartbeat if it is though). Oh, also, "episode 10" on (where this is streaming) is actually a compilation of episodes 10 and 11 and "episode 11"  is actually episode 12, noitaminA is only a 11 episode timeslot, which wasn't going to be enough to tell the story, so the producers had to play around a little to show the whole story, can't wait to see the full versions of 10 and 11 when they come out on DVD in the fall.

*in all my reading, not counting anime, I can think of two, maybe three transsexual characters, one in one of Tamora Pierce’s books (Bloodhound) and one I barely remember (it wasn’t until years later that I understood that the character wasn’t just a crossdresser but actually transsexual, I think I read this is early high school which would explain it, I knew very little about non man/woman relationships at that point and even less about people do deviate from societies’ two gender standard) Luna by Julie Anne Peters. Ironically enough, I can think of a few other anime that featured prominent transsexual characters (Tokyo Godfathers and Shangri-La being the first two to come to mind) but this is the first anime I’ve seen where these characters are The Main Characters and this is very much their story.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Book Review: Spice and Wolf (volume 3)

Wow, I remember reading volume two way back in August but I just had so much else to read/buy that I didn't get this volume until my local Borders hosted their going-out-of-sale sale back in March. Fans of the anime will recognize this arc as the first half of season two (which is streaming on Funimation's website I believe but not yet out on DVD) and, as before, if you haven't read the previous books or seen the first season of the anime you're going to be a bit confused. Yes the plots of each book is rather self-contained but this is a very character driven drama and, if you don't know where the characters are coming from, you can't really appreciate where they're going.

Spice and Wolf by Isuna Hasekura
This is the only picture I could find of the American slipcover (I'd provide a better photograph myself but my copy of the slipcover is two hours away) but they're getting more and more similar. My only complain there is for them to get an actual tail and ears for the model to use, the airbrushing in photoshop looks awful and, speaking from experience, the tail and ears aren't even that hard to make.

Summary: Continuing in their travel's north towards Holo's homeland, Holo and Lawrence end up in the town of Kumersun and plan to stay a couple of days to enjoy the festival. But when the young fish merchant, Amati, becomes smitten with Holo and resolves to pay off her "debt" to Lawrence the two end up with a much more exciting stay than they bargained for. 

The Good: It's a new book which means a new economic quandary for Lawrence (and Holo, although she is more the cause of if here and doesn't help out as much) and the solution is very different from what the characters have had to do so far. The book also provides more information on Holo's hometown of Yoitsu (and seems to foreshadow who they will talk to about it in the next book) and hints that there are even more supernatural forces in the world than the duo have encountered so far. The book also tests Lawrence and Holo's feelings for each other even more so the story manages to have character growth, central plot progression and a story that is neatly wrapped up in one volume, not bad at all.
The Bad: Despite how well the story explains the various economic escapades, it's still going to take a little while to understand for the average non-business person to understand Lawrence's plan*. It's also frustrating to see Holo, who is always held to be the more mature one of the pair, simply break down, Lawrence's inability to explain what was really going on and, in the end, it's still somehow his fault and he's the one who has to apologize. Hasekura says that he has finally remembered how to write his characters but they still don't seem quite like the duo from the first book.

The Art: For an 18 or so year old boy, Amati looks awfully young. He looked rather young in the anime as well actually and now it's clear that wasn't a mistake on the animator's part, it comes from the original illustrations. Aside from that bit (which was distracting admittedly, it's hard to take his marriage proposal seriously if he looks that young), the art is consistent with the designs from the other two novels and the cover is rather pretty as well.

So, still liking the story well enough and I believe the final volume has now come out in Japan (volume 16, either that or the final volume will be a collection of short stories, volume 17, haven't seen anyone confirm which one it will be yet, although dammit I found a detailed, unmarked spoiler of the ending on a forum the other day, not happy about that). So just another six more years or so until all the volumes are out in the US, jooooooy.

*I'm speaking from my own experience here, I have a general grasp on economics but it still took me about fifteen minutes of mulling his plan around in my brain before I finally grasped how it was supposed to help him.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Manga Review: Biomega (volume 1)

I dropped by the local library looking for more comics to read for here (I'm working my way through the rest of the Akira manga but it takes me more than four days to read five volumes of manga, these days anyway) and I stumbled across this one at the library. It looked interesting, is part of the Sig Ikki line (whose books I've enjoyed before, like Ooku, Children of the Sea, and Afterschool Charisma) so why not?

Biomega by Tsutomu Nihei

Summary: The year is 3005 CE and the majority of Earth's population are now zombie-like drones, courtesy of NSS virus. However, there still appears to he hope for mankind in the form of people who can transmute the virus and it's Zoichi Kanoe's job to find these people and protect them.

The Good: The story is low on words but big on action and the action sequences are well done, the eyes just glide across the pages and the transitions from panel to panel feel very smooth. Because of that the volume is a fast read, not that a volume of manga takes particularly long to read anyway, and the action barely stops making it go faster still. There is a small epilogue to the volume, titled "Interlink" which provides a hook for the next volume with some information that wasn't on the back cover and which suggests that there is more to the story than there first appears.

The Bad: There are stories that go for "show don't tell" and others that go for "tell not show." And then there is Biomega which barely shows nor tells, it takes almost the entire volume for all the information on the back cover. True most of the backstory can be gleaned in the first few chapters (clearly something has gone wrong on Earth that has resulted in massive environmental damage and zombies) but the story so far is moving quite slowly. There does seem to be a rather large plot hole in the series (namely, a colony on Mars that hasn't had contact with Earth in seven centuries also has the virus yet, the virus is seven centuries old, then it really should have spread even farther than it has) but hopefully future volumes will clear up exactly what triggered this epidemic. Also, why is there a talking bear who can shoot guns? Has science progressed far enough that there are now genetically modified bears or does this just come under "rule of cool"?

The Art: There is nary a screen tone to be seen in this work, a few gradients in the background perhaps but everything else is meticulously done in pen and ink. The rough edges make the art work perfectly with the setting, a broken world with many unpolished edges of it's own and it's a good thing too since the art is the main focus of the book. As per usual, the Sig Ikki books are slightly large than the standard US manga volume which makes for easier holding and really show off the art. Also, the cover is slightly darker than the above image, that cover seems to be from a different edition actually but it's essentially what the US cover looks like.

So, barely anything is explained and nothing, other than the sketchy pen and ink style, set this manga apart from half a dozen other cyberpunk stories. Do I want to read the next one? Eh, nothing compels me to seek out the rest of them but if I come across the rest of the volumes (wikipedia lists six in total) I'll certainly check them out.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Anime Review: Tegami Bachi-Reverse

Also known as Letter Bee (for some reason the fans prefer Tegami Bachi over the English translation, even though it's a literal and pretty straight forward translation, even Viz uses TB for their titles), this is a direct sequel to the first season that aired back in Fall 2009. So, for those of you who haven't seen the first season, this review is going to have some spoilers, heck, that image down there is a spoiler and there's just no way around them. You've been warned and, for those of you who want to go ahead and watch the first season, it's streaming on (as well as the second season) and I'd advise watching episodes 1-11, 13, 17, 21-25. The rest are filler, some better than others, and you can certainly watch all the ones you want, but that cuts out the worst of the filler.

Tegami Bachi-Reverse

Summary: Continuing from where the first season left off on a cliffhanger, Lag is a Letter Bee (postal carrier) who delivers letters in the sunless world of Amberground and searching for the missing Letter Bee who inspired him, Guache Suede. Things have just gotten more complicated however with an anti-government conspiracy and the slow revelation that the government itself isn’t that nice either.

The Good: Tegami Bachi is one of the few manga I follow these days and I just love how the manga-ka (Hiroyuki Asada) puts together their story. It flows well, all the characters are fleshed out and smart, and Asada knows how to put subtle hints about TB’s larger plot into the background*. So when the story follows the manga I love everything about the story and consider it a great piece of work. The story uses all the characters on a regular basis, slips in foreshadowing early on (in fact, the anime-original ending was hinted early on, not just manga plot points) and many of the side characters are given development without having to veer away from the main plot.

The Bad: When the story is not following the manga plot line however, it just doesn’t feel right. In fact, the two split at the same point that the scanlations halted at but I was immediately able to tell because of how the characters started acting (the next chapter came out soon after and confirmed it). It’s hard to describe, but the all characters simply feel a bit less mature, less complex, and less competent, causing them to solve the same problems very differently than how the manga did. They take a different approach to taking down Reverse, have different emotions over the problem, and simply don’t seem quite like the same characters from earlier on. The writing isn’t bad, solidly average but hardly bad, but fans of the manga are less likely to enjoy the anime original ending. 

The Art: One thing lost in the transition between manga and anime was the manga’s unique color pallet (here versus the above image, interestingly enough, the lighting in the manga is probably more accurate to what a world lit by an artificial sun would look like) but the second opening (which appears a few episodes after the song changes, opening 1.5 is a clip show) and episode 33 & 34 had interesting color schemes (involving green instead of the manga’s orange) which looked simply gorgeous with intense color rivaling what Star Driver was doing.

The Music: The second opener was sung by the same artist who did the first opener in the first season which was a nice way of connecting the story, especially since most anime don't reuse singers. The closers follow the tradition of having chibified versions of the characters running around and the second closer had a particularly catchy song. 

In the end, I liked the anime at times because I loved the manga and when they split I just couldn't get as excited about it. I'm still buying the manga (so glad that Viz is now going to release three volumes a year instead of just two) and I'm not sure if I would buy the anime if it got released over here. It would probably depend on the extras offered but for now I just won't worry about that.

*I’m impressed at anyone who can put in major foreshadowing in the first four pages of the manga and have no one notice because they were too busy looking at the other possibly foreshadowing imagery, that’s talent.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Movie Review: The King's Speech

When I initially heard about The King's Speech (back in December or so) it sounded like a movie that might interest me but I just wasn't interested at the time. I was busy and I was also pretty sure that my school would be showing it later on. So lo and behold they did show it and I managed to get a friend to come along so I wouldn't be lonely (side note, I have no idea how I keep getting friends to come see movies they know nothing about with me, guess they should be glad by now I have good taste).

The King’s Speech

Summary: The Duke of York, second in line to the throne of England in the 1930s, has a terrible stutter and, as a result, a phobia of speaking. He wishes to get over this, to an extent anyway (he doesn’t seem to want to do much though so he comes off as rather spoiled), and events going on in the background of the story suggest that it more important than ever that he be able to rally the nation with a good speech.

The Good: Huzzah for historical dramas! A friend commented that this movie was made just to win an Oscar (I disagree that that was the intention in making the movie, but we both agreed that if that is the reason we get some good movies each year we’re perfectly okay with it) and it was a nice change of pace from what I normally see. Even without the dates the visuals of the movie clearly and quickly set up the time period and manages to show the passage of time through the years, from the late 1920s to Britain's entrance into World War  II.  Despite covering so many years the movie is well paced

The Bad: As a quick note, there seems to be a PG-13 version of the movie airing in the US as well as the original R rated version and, since the R rating would be only because of language, people should really see the R rated version (also, the one scene with the most cursing is hysterical). As for the movie, Albert can be very hard to relate to throughout the entire film, even knowing all the stress and pressure he's under. At times he comes off as a spoiled prince who hates to be told to do things and takes a long time to come around and trust Lionel's help. It also appears that this movie is a bit historically inaccurate which, while a given in most historical movies anyway, does make me question how much of it was accurate then.

The Music: I liked how all the music played over the radio or all the speeches had a slightly scratchy noise to them, just a little detail that I thought gave the movie a little more authenticity. Other than that, nothing about the music really stood out to me in the film and since I don’t remember having any complaints about it it certainly wasn’t bad either.

The Visuals: Over the past couple of years I’ve noticed a couple of differences between British and American cinematography now and just from the video I was able to tell this was a British film. Specifically, it was all the close up shots of people’s faces as they are listening to someone/thinking so you see their face and then get the reaction a second or two later, I just don’t notice that in American films as much. I liked that and it really worked here since the whole movie was about Bertie and Lionel so it makes sense to have that much visual focus on a character driven movie. 

Whew, glad I didn't try to post yesterday after all, I might have just been at a mini-con but it wiped me out. I thought about trying to write up another post for my buffer but was too tired to even do that. Anyway, thing should be normal around here for the next two weeks or so and then my exams start and summer vacation starts so the updates may get a little wonky, I'll be sure to post and say if I'm not going to be able to post some days.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Book Review: Small Persons With Wings

When I saw reviews/blurbs about this book a lot of people were comparing the general feel of the book to a Diana Wynne Jones book (fantasy and magic in an everyday setting with everyday problems as well as magical ones) and, since that’s the exact reason I loved her works, I was intrigued and entered a contest on Deva Fagan's blog for the book and lo and behold I won!* So I zipped through that recently (have I mentioned how nice it is to be reading fiction again? I’ve just had too much to read in my classes lately) but I’m not quite sure where I stand on it.

Small Persons With Wings by Ellen Booraem

Summary: Mellie once had a fairy friend (they hate to be called fairies though, they prefer “small persons with wings”) but after he vanished one day she became convinced he was a fragment of her imagination, the resulting teasing from her classmates over her "imaginary friend" didn't help either. As a result, she threw herself into only reading and being interested in “the real world.” But with the death of her grandfather Mellie is moving to a new town and into his old inn where she finds that she was right all along, her friend wasn’t imaginary at all.

The Good: Lately there has been an overabundance of books that try to mess with the norm, in this particular case by writing "edgy fairy tales" that occupy an odd place between the original Grimms fairy tales and the lighter and softer versions for children these days. SPWW does not follow that format however and manages to have a story with somewhat friendly yet dangerous fairies without being pseudo-edgy, a good choice especially since this is a middle grade book (where being edgy would seem out of place).  Mellie by and large acts her age and has age appropriate problems (or, as age appropriate as one will find in a fantasy book) and the ending of the book was fairly satisfying, if a bit predictable.

The Bad: I think my main problem with the book can be summed up in that it is just aimed at a younger audience than me (Mellie is 13 so the book is aimed at the middle school audience, more at sixth graders than eighth graders at that). I didn’t like how the adults were so dumb (to the point where the author has to create a plot device for why they can’t be useful to the story), which sadly is common in MG fiction and I think I just like my protagonists to be closer to my age so I can sympathize with them more. However, that was also one thing that DWJ did very well in her books so that was something I was expecting to be handled well here and was simply disappointed. I think the story would have been richer and more interesting if the adults were given real roles to play, it may have made the villain reveal at the end less painfully predictable too, so I’m curious to see if this author will continue writing MG or if she will also write YA in the future. 

Sorry this is so late folks, I know it's not even Friday anymore, I just had a crazy busy day and, since I know tomorrow will be even crazier (going to an all day mini-con) so no post tomorrow. There will be one Sunday but I know I just won't have time tomorrow so I'm not going to even try, see you then!

*Sorry to say I thought the email was spam first but opened it anyway, glad to know that I’m willing to give my computer a virus if it means I get a free book.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Manga Review: Akira (volume one)

Being a newer anime fan, I still haven't seen a lot of the classic movies/series and Akira is one of those movies on my "to-watch" list. Clearly this isn't the movie but my school library does have all the volumes and I've seen a few people say they didn't like the movie because they liked the manga so why not at least give this a shot?

Akira by Katsuhiro Otomo

Summary: In 1992 Tokyo is destroyed by a nuclear weapon and this triggers WWIII causing world-wide destruction. The year is now 2030 and the setting is Neo-Tokyo, built near and upon the ruins of the original Tokyo, a city filled with violence and crime. Kaneda and Tetsuo are members of a biker gang and love nothing more than doing whatever the hell they want but as Tetsuo awakens as an esp-er and Kaneda becomes involved with anti-government rebels their lives are about to get a bit more dangerous.

The Good: The story is fast paced and deftly sets up the stories background without needing much time at all. Half a dozen characters from all the different factions (the gangs, the government, the rebels) are all introduced and, while the motivation for the rebels and what exactly the government wishes to accomplish with it's mysterious "akira" project is unknown, it would have been shocking if the manga did reveal all it's mysteries up front.

The Bad: Perhaps it's because this is a 20/30 year old manga (depending if you date it from the start date or the end date) but so far this manga hasn't done anything new or done anything better than the rest of the cyberpunk genre. There are hot blooded young punks (are these kids seriously only 15?), government conspiracies, people with psychic power, fairly standard fare for cyberpunk these days. Hopefully the story will do something truly amazing with these parts in the later volumes (this volume also felt a lot like it was merely setting up the story, not actually performing the story), there must be a reason for all the hype!

The Art: The movie version of Akira is adored by animation fans worldwide for all the detail in it and the manga has an astonishing amount of detail in it as well. The over-sized volumes let you get a great view of it and appreciate all the details. 

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Anime Review: Fractale

The first of Winter 2011's noitaminA shows, Fractale is an anime original story (there is a novel being written at the same time but I don't know if it's out yet) and is streaming on Funimation's site. A quick note, some of the character's hair colors were switched last minute (honestly, Phryne and Nessa having purple hair actually makes more sense), ponytails has red hair and the other girl has brown hair, I honestly couldn't find any clean images with the correct colors, sorry!


Summary: About a thousand years into the future, humanity is completely dependent on the Fractale system. It provides for everyone’s needs, creates a virtual world around you so perfect that many people don’t interact with each other anymore, and an unforgiving government system. However, there are people who resent this lack of control over their lives and some people who just hate the system and a young boy named Clain, who doesn’t hate the system but does love antiques, falls in with these people and has a chance to change the world.

The Good: The setting, while not completely original, was an interesting one that I wish had been explored more. There are plenty of futuristic stories about supposedly perfect societies having corrupt governments and Fractale did a good job grounding itself there (also, for some reason I just liked the fact it was set in Ireland, probably because I’ve never seen an anime set there so the change was nice).

The Bad: As much as I liked the setting for this story I really ended up disliking the characters and the plot of this story by the end. Clain and co are caught in the middle of a fight between the Temple (maintainers of the Fractale system) and the Lost Millennium (a bunch of freedom fighters who want the system destroyed) and, even though each side is shown early on to be a bunch of extremists who will kill civilians if necessary, Clain sides with the LM, which I didn’t understand, and if the point of the story was how people are too dependent on technology (which makes it bad) then the story was way too heavy handed with it. As for the characters, I feel that even after 11 episodes we still didn’t really know any of them, either that or they were extraordinarily simple characters that I still couldn’t sympathize with. The show had a lot of filler strangely enough, yet it was devoted to silly antics, not to fleshing out the plot or characters, and the whole story (especially the ending, the Wolf’s Rain ending made slightly more sense) left a bad taste in my mouth.

The Art: The art looked marvelous in some episodes, off model in others (the character’s faces looked off model in all of episode 10, shame because the faces also seemed much more expressive), there were some times were the animation got more jerkly*. Several bits of the early episodes are set in real Irish towns (screenshots here) which I thought was cool and the inside of TOWN looked stunning, a really colorful feast for the eyes.

The Music: I almost didn’t notice at first that the ending song is a Yeats poem sung with a very heavy accent, it’s a nice choice but the singer really does have a very heavy accent there. Funimation didn’t translate the opening song but I found a translation on youtube and it seems that the song is about trying to get closer to people knowing that you might be hurt, like a hedgehog. Since Clain’s struggle at the beginning of the show is to grow closer to others, something he’s never had to do, I thought it was a very appropriate song for the series.  

When I first saw the above image, one of the first promo pieces for the show to come out, I thought that Clain and company would meet, meet the L.M, meet the Temple, decide that both of them have their good points and bad points, steal that airship, and then travel the world looking for a third option that was the middle ground between those two groups and each episode would explore a different take on Fractale and really explore the technology vs tradition, free will vs being completely taken care of aspect of the show. I would have loved that but instead I got an entire episode about how one character wears a fundoshi, that would be annoying enough in a 26 episode show but an 11 episode show? Gah and honestly, this just didn't feel like a noitaminA show. noitaminA actually has a fairly specific audience (josei lovers mainly, like me) and this show just wasn't mature enough to show here, it neither dealt with tough issues (like the other show this season, Wandering Son) or feature older characters (like nearly every other noitaminA show) making this the first noitaminA show that I've seen and didn't like, gaaaaaah.

*and, since I have gotten some crap for pointing this out on some forums, there is a time and a place for changing animation styles and these cases weren’t it. The changes in SD were cool and the animation shift in Birdy the Mighty: Decode 02 were well timed (and I really liked it there) but here it just felt like they were pressed for time and had to make do with less.