Monday, May 30, 2011

Book Review: Soulless

Augh, sorry about that guys, I posted on twitter saying this review is delayed but if you don't follow me there and didn't get the message I'm sorry, I was preparing for a con last week and just ran out of time to do that and update here (and the review is up late tonight since now I'm trying to catch up with everything/look for photos of me and my friends, people upload their photos fast these days). So the schedule for the rest of the week is thus, either a movie or anime review Wednesday, comic on Thursday, book on Friday and then back to a regular update schedule next week, I'll even try to write up Monday's review early so that doesn't get delayed.
So, Soulless! I've been trying to read this book for over a year but, despite the fact that it's in the catalog in my local library, I don't think they actually have the book and I hadn't checked to see if the other libraries had it instead. But recently I found out that there was an ebook copy of the book and decided to try that instead and was pretty pleased with it, I'll talk more about that after the main body of the review.

Soulless by Grail Carriger
  Don't have that much to say about the cover, mostly because I'm still embaressed about the time I thought someone had stolen the image (I believe it was Clockwork Couture) and it turns out that Carriger got the image from them and with their permission. The image just fit the book so well that I didn't even stop to think that it was a pre-existing image, which does show how well the picture works for the book.
Summary: Alexia Tarabotti is a bit of an odditity since she is a 25 year old spinster living in Victorian London and fairly happy with her life. But she's actually even stranger than that, in a world with vampires and werewolves and where the amount of "soul" people have determines if they will survive the transformation to the undead, Alexia is soulless and a mere touch from her renders all the undead normal again. All of this culminates in her getting entangled

The Good: While some people may debate this* Soulless is set in a steampunk world (with lots of nice details about the setting) with a more supernatural conflict which is a nice blend of genres and fans of either should enjoy the book (romance fans should also love this story since that's also a major part of the book). I found it to be a pretty quick read and something was always going on in every scene and the romance managed to strike a nice balance between smutty^ and slutty so it a fun little book to read.
The Bad: At times the prose just feels a little off. It has a tendency to repeat itself, the pacing doesn't always feel quite right and sometimes the characters just act/react in strange ways. It almost feels a little too unpolished to be a real book and more like a story you could read online (really good but needs some oversight to make it even better). The plot is a bit predictable, especially with how the romance progresses, so if anyone is reading this book with the hope that the blending of genres might produce something really new and exciting I'm sad to say that nothing really new came from it.  
As for the e-reader, I downloaded an e-reader from Adobe and was fairly pleased with it. I could make the pages/text bigger which was nice and could add in bookmarks to make finding my place easier. I do wish I could scroll down the page (since I like keeping whatever text I'm reading towards the middle of the page) but no matter how I tried to do that (keyboard, touchpad, the side bar) it would just go to the next page instead which was a bit frustrating. All in all however the reader worked much better than I expected and I will be sure to check out other e-book only books my library has in the future.

 *just came across some blog post debating if Soulless "bustlepunk" not "steampunk" which just sounds like an awful lot of nitpicking to me
^which I suppose shows this isn't a YA book, some people get pissy if a YA book even has something as tame as kissing in it

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Comic Review: Houdini the Handcuff King

Another random comic book I checked out from my local library but I have discovered that libraries are excellent places to grab a random book, much better than bookstores or the internet (I tend to enjoy random stuff from my library more than random stuff I find on the internet anyway). It's a fairly short story, chronologically it covers only a day in Houdini's life so it makes for a quick read, also because it's more of a MG comic than an YA comic.

Houdini the Handcuff King by  Jason Lutes & Nick Bertozzi
Summary: It's the early 20th century and the great Harry Houdini prepares for yet another of his crazy escapes, jumping off a bridge in Boston into a near-freezing river while handcuffed. But how does he do it? How does he gather such large crowds to watch him do these dangerous things? Just how does he pull off these stunts and come out alive?

The Good: The story is well paced and doesn't go on for either too long or too short a time, an especially good thing for younger audiences. The story is mostly historical, with some guesses at how Houdini pulled off his stunts, and has some nice notes in the back of the book explaining a few things (like how all the men in the early 20th century wore hats) that the book didn't have a chance to touch on. It's a quick read, educational in an interesting way and manages to tell a complete story in the space it has.

The Bad: There's a nice piece about Houdini at the beginning of the book that gives his history and raises the question, why does this book focus on this particular day in his career? It wasn't towards the beginning, end or height of his career, this wasn't his most elaborate or dangerous stunt and nothing strange happened during it. So why this day out of any other day the authors could have chosen? Perhaps it was just to show an ordinary show of Houdini's, one that left some time for them to show other parts of his life as well, but it still feels like an odd choice. There has to be a reason to tell a story, something has to happen/change during it, and that just didn't seem to happen.

The Art: The art isn't as elaborate as many other cartoons but it actually has a good deal of detail (just look at the crowd scenes). And, even though the cover of the book is in gray-scale the art is actually done in all shades of blue (not for any particular reason as far as I can tell) but it is a nice change. Occasionally it was hard to figure out which panel to read next* but plenty of comics have that problem, although of course that does mean the comic could have been a bit better organized.

So, while it's not my favorite comic book so far this year (which is more because there are some comics I just adore) it's a good one that I probably would have also enjoyed in middle school and I'm glad my library has books like this. Even if all their kids/teens comics are in the teen section of the library (the teen section in the adult section, not the teen section in the kids section, it's all a bit confusing) I still really like that they have such a wide variety and I can only hope that people manage to find the books they want.

*when there are two panels on the same level next to each I read the one on the left first and then the one on the right (reversed if it's manga of course) and then I read the next one down the page. Sometimes the pages had this set-up but you were supposed to read the panel on the left first and then read the one beneath it and then go to the next column on the right hand side. Normally I don't have a problem with this when I read webcomics (99% of which are read Western style) so I don't think this problem was my fault.

Monday, May 23, 2011

TV Series Review: My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic

Yes yes, after seeing a lot of my friends on facebook say that this was actually a pretty cute show and I had already seen other people say it was really well written for a kid's show for a toy line. Besides, I really needed something cute to balance out everything I've been watching (Deadman Wonderland and Torchwood: Children of Earth in the same day? Sure, why not!) and this is an adorable show.

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic
Summary: Twilight Sparkle is the student of Princess Celestia, ruler of Equestria, and a rather reclusive little unicorn who would rather read a book than actually go out and make friends. But for the sake of the world she needs to go out, make friends, and learn that you have to rely on other people at least some of the time.

The Good: The show really is well-written for a kids show and, as silly as it can be, it always feels like an intelligent kind of silly, not one where everything is dumbed down for the audience. The main cast is well-rounded and the show shows that it's okay to be a girly-girl, a tomboyish girl or anything in between (which sounds a lot like the cheesy "you can be anyone you want to be" statement but the show let's the characters show this so it doesn't come off as forced at all). Each pony had a lot of screen time, none of them are in every episode but none of them are absent from more than a couple of episodes at the time, and the show also develops a some of the side cast and has a lot of reoccurring background characters. It's a character based show with fun and relatable characters that I probably would have liked as a little kid.  
The Bad: It seems a bit odd that the first two episodes are a big, grand adventure about saving the world and the rest of the show is about more mundane, everyday problems (such as being jealous or keeping secrets). It's all done well but it is a bit of a mood-whiplash, it would be nice to see the cast have one or two more adventures like the opening episodes.

The Art: As probably a good portion of the internet already knows, this show was flash animated (as opposed to traditional animation), I personally can't really see a difference in the animation but then again I normally can't. The character designs are simple and very cute with all the bright colors and clean lines without any noticeable quality slips. The backgrounds also look good and the "special effects" are fine as well, it's a good looking show as well as a well-written one. 

 The Music: There was an awful lot of singing in this show, surprisingly enough, and a number of the songs are really catchy (Rarity's song about sewing almost feels like it would fit on Project Runway). Funny enough, while a lot of the ponies have the same voice actresses a lot of them also have different voice actresses for the singing bits. Seems odd that they would go to the trouble for casting two people for a lot of parts but the singing voices are pretty good matches for the regular ones.

So yes, I really did like this show (it's not like I have time to watch anything "ironically") and I can't wait for the second season. I do wish that it was streaming somewhere legally (or at the very least not showing just on a cable channel I don't get)  and hope that it is on hulu by the time the second season rolls around.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

TV Series Review: Torchwood Children of Earth (season 3)

So, I know I said I was going to watch Angel next but I tried a few episodes and decided that, since I wasn't in love with the show, that I might as well watch something else that I was more likely to enjoy. Which is a bit odd for me, I've noticed I tend to drop shows more often if it's currently airing, but unless someone else can convince me otherwise I just don't feel the urge to try Angel again. Speaking of dropping shows, I wonder if I would have dropped Torchwood if I had been watching it when it aired since this show has just never managed to grab me the way that Doctor Who has. I think I liked this mini-series (just five episodes long with one, continuous plot) more than I would have liked Angel but I'm not sure, I did want to yell at my computer screen every ten minutes or so...

Torchwood: Children of Earth

Summary: While Torchwood 3 is smaller than ever it's remaining employees are still dedicated to keeping Cardiff, and the rest of the world, safe from alien threats. But this time the threat may be bigger than they can handle, between worldwide reports of mind-controlled children and the government trying to kill them it's certainly not going to be easy to save the day.

The Good: The characters have finally found their stride on the show and they are amazing. Gwen is likable, badass and caring all at once, Ianto is more active than he was in previous seasons and proves that he's just as capable as Gwen is in the field and Jack has already proved himself to be all of those things. A number of side characters all get a chance to shine as well, Louis's actions (a stand in for Martha, they even look a bit alike) are vital to Torchwood, Ianto's sister Rhianno and her husband Johnny are the most capable civilians in all three of the seasons (aside from Rhys who practically is a member of Torchwood at this point, the actor is even given equal billing) and it's always nice to see civilians clue in and figure out what's going on. Even more characters have a chance to shine later on (saying who would be spoilers) so anyone who watches Torchwood for the characters (which would be a lot, if not most of, it's fans) will really enjoy watching the characters take action and do something.  

The Bad: As strong and interesting as many of the individual characters were this season the government (of the United Kingdom), the reason the plot progresses the way it does, is thoroughly unsatisfying as a psuedo-antagonist or even for what's supposed to be a group of intelligent people. The first few minutes of the first episode reveal that over 40 years ago 12 children were taken by aliens (presumably for nefarious purposes) and strongly hints that the government had a hand in it. Combine that with the fact that the government is desperately trying to keep both alien fighting organizations (UNIT and Torchwood) from doing their jobs, even though both groups are very good at keeping Earth safe from alien threats, and there is no reason to sympathize with the government at all. The series spends a great deal of time trying to make the government sympathetic (too much time, the series could have been four or possibly even just three episodes long if some of those conversations were cut down) and portraying in a realistic fashion how the leaders of the UK would respond to the fact that they have mere days to gather up huge numbers of children or risk planet wide extinction. However, this is not a realistic show, this is a show where there have been shown to be at least one, if not multiple, weapons that can take down alien spaceships from orbit and that makes it even harder to sympathize with the people who got the whole world into this mess. 

The Music: On Wikipedia it says that there was a second soundtrack for the series released which consisted of 40 tracks used in these five episodes but the music didn't feel that new. A lot of the pieces played at various points felt familiar and the series iconic opening is cut down to about ten or fifteen seconds and the credits were shortened as well so there's barely any music there. So, as before, the music worked well as background noise, so well in fact it's hard to tell that it's new at all.

The Visuals: As said above, the shows opening sequence is incredibly short this time but the white background with red text (as opposed to black background with red text) accompanied by the "duuun" in the background with the date (Day One, Day Two, ect) makes it seem even more dramatic. There's no problem with video quality or shots that are over or underexposed, not surprising since this was shot very recently, so it all looks rather good. True the aliens aren't as convincing as they would have been on a full movie budget but if you aren't used to that yet then you probably never will be. 

I apologize if I got too rant-y in the bad section, I honestly tried to keep it down but I really have so many complaints with this season. One I didn't even bring up, given all the events involving aliens in both Torchwood and Doctor Who, events that are common knowledge at least in Great Britain, how did the government even think they could keep the truth about this quiet? Does this world not have Wikileaks or something? It's mentioned in the episode that the government hacked Torchwood years ago even (hell, didn't Mickey hack it at least partially back in season two of Doctor Who?), I will admit that this series was made before Wikileaks got big and it's hard to write about something that doesn't exist yet. I will probably make a big blog post about this over on my livejournal (not this week, too busy preparing for a con, I'll try to get it up in about two weeks) with even more complaints on this because frankly, for a plot-centric and plot-heavy mini-series, the reason the plot became what it was was a really stupid reason that seemed more unbelievable than a group of aliens mind-controlling every prepubescent child on Earth, at least that part was in character for the series.   

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Book Review: Tongues of Serpents

Sorry I didn't post this yesterday, got really wrapped up in my sewing and just wanted to get a project finished up and by the time I did it was pretty late. Such is life, so here's my review on the latest (and currently the last) book in the His Majesty's Dragon series.

Tongues of Serpents by  Naomi Novik
A nice, relativly simple cover here with some nice, abeit confusing details. I would assume that the black dragon is Temeraire and that the bronze one is Iskierka, it does seem a little odd to have both of them on the cover along with the European sailing ship, that bit continues to confuse me. 

Summary: Now that Napoleon has been, at least temporarily, pushed off of British shores the government has gotten around to sentencing Laurence and Temeraire for their treason back in Empire of Ivory. They are sent to Australia until further notice along with three eggs and when one of the eggs are stolen they set off chasing the thieves across the continent to retrieve the egg.

The Good: It seems that this book round off another multi-book arc in the story, one that focused a lot on Laurence's character development. While the larger arc of the first three books entailed showing how this world's Napoleonic Wars are going very differently from how ours went, books four through six showed Temeraire's gradual influence on Laurence's way of thinking and at the end his character seems to have changed. It's also nice to see this world be continuously expanded and diverge further and further away from what our history did.

The Bad: Much like the last time one of the books focused mainly on a cross-continent adventure (Black Powder War) the book just doesn't feel as satisfying. While Novik does successfully convey just how large Australia is and how long it takes anyone to cross it, even if they're going by dragon back, she will omit parts of the journey if needed (such as the return trip back to Sydney here and the return to England in Empire of Ivory) and that makes this amount of detail put into the trips seem a bit, pointless. Yes there was some character growth in there and some world-building, but at the end of the day the book simply seems like it could have been much shorter and still covered exactly what it needed to.

So, not my favorite book in the series (that would probably be The Throne of Jade) but it's not horrible. Actually, I'm starting to hope that Temeraire and Laurence's next adventures will take them to the Americas after a little more background information about the America's appeared in this book. Honestly at this rate I have no idea what the story is going to do next so all I can do is hope that it's going to be interesting!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Manga Review: Antique Bakery

Well, if I forgot to review The Sacred Blacksmith for a few months I should apologize for not reviewing this, I actually read three volumes of this way back in December but wasn't able to get the fourth volume at time (this was all through my local library) so I had to hold off of it for months. Actually, I'd wanted to read this title for a few years but for some reason all four volumes were listed in the same entry in the library catalog so I had a one in four chance of getting the one I wanted (they were all at different branches too). One day I actually went ahead and emailed them about this problem and then the next day each volume had it's own entry, really wishing I had done this years ago now. 

Antique Bakery by Fumi Yoshinaga

Summary: One day, seemingly on a whim, Keiichiro decides to open a bakery in what was formerly an antique shop (hence the store's name Antique). He hires Ono, a "gay of demonic charm" who was a high school classmate of his, as his pastry chief and eventually also hires Eji, a 21 year old former wrestler, as a kitchen assistant and another old friend of his, Chikage, to help in the shop as they enchant all kinds of people with their delectable sweets. 

The Good: While the story is character focused, not plot focused, each volume has it's own larger arc with a few reoccurring characters and that's a nice thing. It's a slice of life story but a really good slice of life story won't use new characters in each chapter, rather it knows when new characters are needed and when already introduced characters will keep the story going. As for the characters themselves, it's nice to see characters who aren't high school students (the youngest character, Eji, is already 21) and it's a bit surprising since this story is shojo, not josei, and the characters really needed to be older for this story to work. The characters deal with more adult issues and choices in life, which again is a refreshing change.

The Bad: The beginning of the first volume was rather confusing since it introduced numerous characters who wouldn't reappear for a few chapters and left me flipping back and forth through the pages, trying to figure out who was who and, more importantly, which guys were the main characters. The story does something similar in each volume but it's the most confusing in the first volume, it makes the storytelling feel a bit choppy in places. Also, reading this series will give you an incredible desire to go out and eat/make pastries with each new chapter which, while not precisely bad, could be bad for your health and wallet.

The Art: The art  is rather restrained for a shojo work, a lot of panels are plain black and white drawings of the characters talking without any background art and and it doesn't go tone crazy like many shojo series do (you can see why I thought this was josei to start with). The characters look a bit similar to each other at times, especially early on in the series when a lot of characters are being introduced at once, but they all look different enough (and each one has a well established personality so they all act very differently) so that readers shouldn't be confusing them too often.

I really enjoyed this (even if I did have the constant to urge to make crazy pastries that I had no clue how to make) and would love to see the anime. The anime is licensed (and out now) by Nozomi but, since they very rarely stream anime on their youtube channel and never anywhere else, it's likely to be quite a while before I get a chance to check it out. 

Monday, May 16, 2011

Anime Review: The Sacred Blacksmith

Well this is slightly embarrassing, I actually watched this show over the course of a week or two back in February or so and completely forgot about it until relatively recently when it popped up on the Shelf Life column on ANN. I believe that says something about my opinion of the show right off the bat (if it had been really good or really bad surely I would have remembered to review it!) or maybe it just makes it really clear that this just wasn't a show that was made with my interests in mind.

The Sacred Blacksmith

Summary: Cecily Campbell is a knight of the city of Housman where she helps keep the peace, something that is becoming increasingly difficult with more and more people making demon contracts and going on rampages. During one of these rampages she is saved by passing blacksmith, Luke Ainsworth, and she is so impressed by his sword that afterwords she keeps showing up at his store and bothering him about making one of her own.  

The Good: Didn't put it in the above summary but there are several characters who are swords who can turn into humans (think Soul Eater but reversed) and it was nice to see these characters questioning their purpose in life throughout the series, not just in dramatic situations to make things harder for everyone else. There's not much else to note about the show that is exceptionally good, it's a solid show without any large plot holes or inconsistencies but it really does follow standard RPG tropes so there's not a lot of innovation in the series either. Which again isn't a bad thing, the show works and is entertaining, it just manages to do so without doing anything new.

 The Bad: The series ends in a rather strange place, it honestly feels as if the anime is missing a 13th episode and it really doesn't make sense that the series doesn't have one. Another bad point, and if it's not truly bad then it's at least strange, is that Cecily really isn't that much of the action girl and the series tries to portray her as one. Apparently she is much more of an action girl in the original light novels and in the manga adaptation (of the novels) so why that was changed for the anime, which would be the best of all three mediums to show off said action, is a bit bizarre.

The Art: The show is rather colorful (just look at the character designs up above) which makes it nice to watch, although the fanservice is much more male oriented than female oriented (so expect Cecily's breastplate to break several times, yes it's specially shaped to fit around both of her breasts, and not nearly as many pretty boys as there are pretty girls).

 The Music: There are points when the upbeat ending song just feels out of place, sung by the Japanese VA for Lisa, but thankfully the also energetic opening song doesn't have this problem. The Japanese voice acting is solid and, based on the dub clips posted on youtube, the dub seems to work equally well so problems there.

There's not much else to say about this series (and next time hopefully I'll remember to review it sooner, honestly I just don't have anything else to stick in the animation spot this week), it worked but it just wasn't for me. I prefer my fantasy to deal more with the setting/conflict than just the characters and this series did the opposite. Also, after seeing the umpteenth boob joke I was really wishing there had been more fanservice for the ladies in the show, would have been nice to balance it out after all....

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Movie Review: Akira

When I was home briefly for Easter I noticed my brother (who barely reads or watches anything) was interested in the Akira manga and I hatched a plan. A simple plan, get a copy of the movie (hello local university library!) and make him watch it. Since he seemed to get more out of the movie than I did I'm calling my plan a success.


Summary: Kaneda and Tetsuo are punks living in Neo-Tokyo and spend their time riding their bikes with the rest of their gang and generally pissing off the authorities. But one day they get caught up in a decades old government conspiracy and some interesting facts about the city come to light.

The Good: Now that's an action packed movie and it has a better plot that most action movies which is rather nice. The visuals are as good as everyone makes them out to be and it's easy to see why this movie was such a hit with American anime fans for years. It's not a kid's film at all, looks great, is paced pretty well, dystopias are always popular and there is a bit of a plot. All in all it makes for a satisfying film and there are still few, if any, animated films in the West that are anything like it.

The Bad: While there is a plot in the movie for sure, and it is certainly based off of the manga, a lot of the manga's plot has been stripped away or simplified to fit into the time constraints of the movie and for more explosions. A couple of the characters are completely changed (such as Lady Miyako), the outcome of certain plot points is changed and the plot is more less comprehensible than the manga's. For someone whose never seen the manga the movie probably makes complete sense* but someone whose seen the manga first may be a bit confused as to what's going on since the two do diverge.

The Art: One of the things that Akira is best known for (especially the movie) is the incredible amount of detail in the artwork and it is rather stunning. Coming from an era where everything would have been meticulously hand-drawn, that makes the art even more impressive than it already is. However, this DVD seems to have been remastered so the colors are incredibly bright, bright enough that blood now looks more like orange juice than, well, a red liquid. It's a bit strange to see everything so bright and over-saturated, was the original movie really that brightly colored?
The Music: Since our DVD player is an anglophile my brother and I watched the dub, the Animax one, which by and large was a strong dub. The voices didn't match the lip flaps all the time unfortunately, and the three children's voice actors were incredibly stiff but everyone else was more or less solid (although the fact that everyone mispronounced "akira," putting the emphasis on the second syball instead of the first, was cringe worthy every time it happened). There was one theme that was used several times during the movie (generally it would start up halfway through Kaneda yelling "TETTTTSSSSUUUOOOO!") and it was a really overdramatic piece, almost overdramatic enough to the point of being cheesey.  

Not much else to say about it, my brother loved the film (wish I had known this more than a couple of days before his birthday) and I liked what I've read of the manga more. I've always been more of a plot person so this is hardly surprising, but I am happy that I've seen the movie now, now to see if I can track down the rest of the manga. 

*except for that ending, I believe that elicited a WTF out of both my brother and I.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Book Review: Toads and Diamonds

Initally I grabbed this book when I had only a few days of school left (but I knew I would still need something to read) and promptly requested a copy of it from my home library since I knew I wouldn't be able to finish it in two days and I was really enjoying it. As the title suggests, it's a re-write of a class fairy tale Diamonds and Toads where two sisters are each given a "gift" by an old woman they each meet at a local well. One, for her good and sweet nature, has precious stones and flowers fall from her mouth every time she speaks* and the other, reflecting her mean-spirited nature, has only snakes and toads fall from her mouth. And that's where the similarities between the original tale and this story end, everything else about the story (from the nature of the girls to the setting) is quite different.

Toads and Diamonds by Heather Tomlinson
 Very colorful cover, almost too colorful but, since colorful clothing and dowry bangles are important parts of the setting the cover works.

Summary: Diribana and Tana are stepsisters living with their widowed (step)mother who are very clever in their own ways and genuinely do like each other. But one day they both receive unique gifts from a local goddess, gifts that are both a boon and a curse to them and that will draw them both into conflict with those who just want to use or destroy these gifts.

The Good: Set in a fictionalized India, based on the Mughal period, the setting is vibrant, different, and very well thought out. There are two distinct cultures presented (one with a Hindu influence, who are all vegetarians strangely, and one that is clearly influenced by Islam), each of which feels familiar but still has a new, fantasy feeling to it. There's an interesting twist on the original fairy tale that neither of the gifts is actually a curse and that both of them have problems associated with them as well. It's a nice take on the fairy tale and manages to be both identifiable as well as adding a lot to the story.

The Bad: The ending is a bit weak and odd. A few chapters before the end it seems like everything can't possibly be resolved in just one book, Diribana and Tana's separate plots both seem like they have the potential to be even bigger and it seems like both of the girls then have the power to change a lot of things that are wrong in their province. But then they both seem to just give up those chances to do something big and the outcome of the entire story is that they seem to have learned something about themselves (really can't go into more detail without spelling out the ending). Character development is grand and rather vital to the story but it really seems like the plot had a chance to do something spectacular, thought about it, and then retreated at the last possible minute leaving a rather bland ending instead.

I enjoyed the book right up to the ending (and here I was going, wait, maybe we'll have a sequel, WITH POLITICS?!? :D ) and I still really love the setting of the story. But, since the ending does annoy me, I don't think I'll be either rereading or buying this book anytime soon, although I do recommend it to anyone who is tried of standard Western/Easter fantasy settings or to anyone who likes a retelling of fairy tales since it does do those parts excellently.  

*although, as pointed out in Dealing with Dragons, this would be a horrible gift if you sleeptalked, thankfully neither of our heroines had this particular problem.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Free Comic Book Day 2011

Hah, for once it wasn't my fault that this didn't go up yesterday! Blogger was doing some maintenance late afternoon/evening for me so I wasn't able to log on and write this up, I swear I really was going to! Hmm, guess this needs I'll need to put up a post Saturday to keep on schedule then, ah well, technical difficulties happen.
So, comic book fans in the US have probably heard of Free Comic Book Day which is exactly what it sounds like, various comic book stores all around the US get some free, sampler issues of comics from various publishers, put them out, and then on the first Saturday in May (to coincide with the first superhero movie of the summer, Thor this year) people come in and grab what looks interesting (and hopefully pick up something else at the store). I didn't grab anything else at the store since it turns out that the store near my home is strictly comic books and practically nothing else, the store I went to last year (near my college) also had manga and a big tabletop area set up but this store wasn't quite as varied. Oh well, it would be nice to support local, indie retailers but FCBD really does cater more towards comic book fans than fans of comics in general (like manga fans, indie fans, manhaw fans, ect). I didn't grab everything this year, there were a surprising number of comics aimed at elementary school aged kids actually, but a number of things still caught my eye:

Avatar: the Last Airbender (Dark Horse Comics)
By far what I was most looking forward to, the preview of the collection of A:tLA comics coming out this summer. Hardcore fans have known for years that there were a number of comics (which can be set anytime during the show's timeline) that never got published in the US Nickelodeon magazine. They were published in some of the foreign editions of the magazine (such as the German one) but for years American fans had no way to easily read the comics*. And now somehow Dark Horse Comics got the rights to publish them all in one complete book coming out this summer and put out two of them in the preview issue. Someone who isn't already a fan of the series (or not familiar with it) probably wouldn't get the jokes, the comics don't stand very well on their own, but for fans of the series this will make a nice read during the wait for the Legend of Korra, due out next year.

The Dark Crystal: The Origin of the Dark Crystal (Archaia)
I've never seen The Dark Crystal (the movie), although it's certainly on my list, but I didn't have any problems getting into the story. This comic seems to be a prequel to the story (that's what the title suggests anyway), so no prior knowledge of the story of the story is needed (beyond, it involves a giant, magical crystal) and that's a good thing. The colors are a little muted but the artwork seems to be pretty faithful and, if the story is canon, I'd be interested in reading the complete comic after I see the movie.
Elric (Boom! Comics)
I grabbed this comic because it looked interesting and boy was I confused. This seems to be an attempt to tie together a multiverse by saying that various characters from different series are the same character in different realities but, without knowing all the other stories, I just couldn't get into this story. The art wasn't quite to my taste either, there's just something strange about shading in superhero comics, so this one gets a pass from me.

Mouse Guard (Archaia)
The back half of the The Dark Crystal comic, I remember that there was a sampler for this series last year as well and I've even seen the books for this at the local library near my college, I just didn't have the time to pick them up. The story is rather Redwall-esque, a story centered around a group of human like mice who are living in a medieval world with predators all around and who rely on wits and fighting to survive. This section from the story is a short, self-contained tale that made me more curious about series and really makes me want to check out the first book when I get a chance. 
Silver Scorpion (Liquid Comics)
The only real "superhero" comic I picked up and I honestly liked this one way more than I expected. Created in conjunction with the Open Hands Initiative, the comic stars Bashir Bari, a cocky Arabic teenager who gets his legs blown off due to a landmine (in a rather ironic fashion) and through various events ends up with superpowers which he uses to fend off the local thugs. It's paced pretty well, fits an origin story neatly into a pretty short page count and has room to expand upon the story later. I liked the art well enough (still superhero style art but less stylized than Elric's art) and I wouldn't mind reading more, provided the story doesn't drag on for another 30 years.

Star Wars: The Clone Wars (Dark Horse Comics)
The back half of the A:tLA comic, set during the Clone Wars arc of the Star Wars 'verse I was pretty lost during this one. I'm not that familiar with the Clone Wars time line that much (I liked the five minute, traditionally animated shorts on Cartoon Network way back when, the newer CGI animated series not so much) so this comic didn't make much sense to me. I had no idea who any of the characters were in there (did they just kill Jabba or is that his cousin or something?) and this one just didn't click with me. So, pass!

Witch & Wizard (Yen Press)
Last one folks! Another one I was really interested in (and it looks like I grabbed one of the last few copies from my comic book store, making this one of the more popular titles) this was the lone output from a primarily manga company and this technically isn't even manga. I'm not really a fan of James Patternson's writing (tried the first volume of Maximum Ride, the book, didn't really like it) but I do like Svetlana Chmakova (the artist) and was curious about what project was so pressing that Nightschool seems to be on hold^. Well, I really can't say any good things about this series (other than the fact that I still like Svet's art) because that was a crappy opening. Over zealous new government regime determined to kill off any one with super powers and our main leads just so happen to have their powers manifest for the first time right as the police come to arrest them? I've seen webcomics pull off the "kid gets their powers for the first time, stuff goes south" plot so much better and when you have people who write for a hobby create better stuff than New York Times bestseller authors, we have a problem. It's true that a lot of this could have been changed by Svet (or the other person listed working on the story, Gabrielle Charbonnet) from the original story but it doesn't feel like Svet's writing so I don't think that's the case. In any case, it's getting a pass from me, just didn't come off as that well done.
 Whew, one last bit folks, allaboutmanga has a nice little entry about the lack of manga on FCBD that's worth a look. I'd love to see more manga samplers myself, it's a nice alternative to being a manga cow in my local Barnes and Noble/scanlations so someone make it happen!

*and this is by far not the weirdest thing that happened to this series, Nickelodeon just did some weird stuff with this title, they still haven't put out a soundtrack for the series despite people lobbying for it for years. 
^true the series did have an ending but it sounds like Svet wants to continue it and that YP likes the idea as well, and I really had issues with that ending, silly ret-cons.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Anime Review: Last Exile

Back in October 2009 declared the whole month was steampunk month and I thought it would be fun to watch a steampunk anime to celebrate along with them (well, and enter every contest they had, didn't win anything at the time but I did win one of their posters later on!). But the thing is, there isn't a lot of anime out there that could be called "steampunk" even if it has recently become incredibly popular in the west. One of the few titles I found, and one that I recognized, was Last Exile which I rather enjoyed, even if immediately after finishing it I had to go look up all sorts of information to understand the ending. I had been thinking of re-watching it sometime but didn't have the motivation until a trailer for the sequel, Last Exile Fam of the Silver Wings (airing this summer), came up and made me super nostalgic for the series, bring on the re-watch!

Last Exile

Summary: Living on the world of Prester, Claus and Lavie are vanship pilots who make a living delivering messages all the while tuning up their vanship so they can one day cross the Grand Stream, an area of aerial turbulence that splits their world in half. But one day they come across a downed pilot who entrusts his delivery to them, a little girl who every power wants and needs so they can use her to change the world. 

The Good: It's surprising that this anime isn't better known in the steampunk fandom since the first half of it is a really good example of the genre (better yet, the anime is from 2003, a few years before the current craze, so it doesn't feel like the creators are throwing in random trappings to attract these fans, it feels like a very organic setting). The show starts feeling less steampunk-eque around the middle of the series, when the goals of the characters change a bit, but the story is still well plotted and is mostly well paced. It's a very satisfying show in the end, there is a clear beginning, middle, and end with explained backstory and reason for the characters actions (mostly) and there is real change in the end.

The Bad: Oh the ending, there's such a thing as an open ending and there's such a thing as a "we ran out of time!" ending*. What the show really needed to do was reduce episode 25 (a breather episode) to half an episode, put the first half of episode 26 as the second part of 25, and then expand on the rest of 26 in it's own episode, it desperately needs more explanation. The middle of the series has trouble too, there's a period where nearly every female named character has a crush on Claus (the romance in general could have been handled a little better to be honest) which makes most of them act horribly out of character for no other reason than "they're jealous," despite not being jealous before or after this bit. These aren't little details either, these are big details that, in the end, are a bit hard to ignore or forget and make the show less great that it could have been. 

The Art: The show is from 2003 so the CGI looks outdated and then you throw in the fact that it was created by Studio Gonzo and the CGI is rather conspicuous and, since it's used on all the vanships and airships, it pops up a lot. But other than that, the characters all look distinct, everything stays on model, each group of people (Anatory, Disith, the Guild, the vanship pilots) have a distinct look and aesthetic to them so it's clear that a lot of work went into the designs for the show. 

The Music: There is only one opening and one ending theme for the series and both of them are rather memorable and a bit haunting. The opening starts off with some strange engrish (although the imagery is far weirder) but flows well and the ending is a well done ballad. Sadly neither of the songs are translated on the Netflix stream but, as far as I can remember, the lyrics made sense the first time I saw the show. Speaking of which, the first time I saw the show I saw it subbed but this time around I watched it dubbed and I'm pleased with both languages. Some parts of the dub felt a little flat and merely average and some of the voice acting was spot on, the only voice that felt odd was Dio who came off as a bit creepy in the dub and sounding like certain spikey haired characters from Digimon and Wolf's Rain.

So I'm really happy I re-watched the show, although I'm annoyed that, even after a year and a half piecing together everything I could about the ending, (it appears there was some more information on it that never made it's way out of Japan and was never translated) it's still confusing. And now I'm even more excited for the new season coming out this summer. It has a lot to live up to (and a lot to explain!) and if it's anything less than amazing I'll be sad, which leaves me vaguely terrified since Gonzo's last work (Shangi-la) was a mess and I just don't want this to be a mess.

*Normally I'm alright with an open ending but in this case, where it's not entirely clear what PLANET the characters are on, that's a bit of a problem. Based on a few scenes plus material for the new show I think the end was on Prester but you could make a good argument that it was on Earth instead. Also, one character, who I always thought had died (since they were last seen in a situation where they practically couldn't make it out alive) appears to have lived after all and, while I'm certainly happy they're alive, the fact that it took eight years to confirm this is not a good thing.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

TV Series Review: Torchwood (season two)

Wow, sorry for disappearing like that, I was just really busy Sunday and had a horrible headache Monday (and I know my reviews are rather crappy when I try to write with a headache) so I just didn't get around to it. And sorry to say that I'm not going to be able to put up reviews every day in May after all, partially because I don't have quite enough stuff for that and also partially because I'm sewing like mad to get stuff ready for a con at the end of the month. But I clearly have a review for today so let's move onto that shall we?


Summary: Torchwood 3, created by Queen Victoria to combat the threat of aliens (ironically, mainly the Doctor from the original show Doctor Who) is based in Cardiff and has their fair share of problems, mainly because of a time-space rift running near the town. So, like it or not, they find themselves in danger, being shot at, nearly being killed and actually dying on a rather regular basis, no wonder the whole city knows about them!

The Good: For those who are less fond of Gwen (the audience surrogate character and one of the more central characters) rejoice, she isn't quite as prominent as she was the previous season. Ianto, Owen, and Tosh all get a chance to flesh out their stories (as well as Jack but his was pretty well known to start with) and Martha from Doctor Who also makes a cameo for a couple of episodes. The plotting of the episodes is stronger in this season (tvtropes sums it up as "the plots were saner and there was less rampant sex) so people who were on the fence about the first season will probably enjoy this one more.

The Bad: While not quite as prevalent as it was in Doctor Who (when they both shared a showrunner, Russel T. Davis) it sometimes feels like the team is saving Cardiff from total destruction each episode and it makes it harder to believe that most people in the city actually don't really know what's going on. The city is supposed to be operating under a masquerade but the strength of that varies from episode to episode (much like Buffy honestly) and it just makes it a bit harder to take the whole show serious (ly enough to enjoy it that is). 

The Music: There were few, if any, new themes in this season but the music still backs up the show and works well. The short opener remains unchanged as well, even the visuals seem the same, but, since nothing really needs to change, everything works fine.

The Visuals: As before, some aliens look more realistic than others (the same can be said of the CGI) but none of it looks really great. The effects say quite loudly "we only have a tv budget and we're making the best of it!" So the historical episodes (which need fewer special effects and more fancy clothes, much easier on the budget) look a bit better than the ones that focus more on aliens but it all balances out in the end.

So, still have to see the ultra-depressing third season of this, Children of Earth but for the moment I'm off to do more sewing. Expect a review as per usual tomorrow however, I should be able to spare the time to talk about an anime that is getting it's long overdue sequel this summer. 

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Book Review: Book Girl and the Famished Spirit

The second installment in the book girl series (which I believe has six or eight main books, three collections of short stories and then another set of three or four side stories) which came out back in January and I've had it since then, I've just had so much to read between then and now. But with this I've managed to catch up with all of the books I currently own so hurray for that, to the library for the next batch!

Book Girl and the Famished Spirit by Mizuki Nomura illustrated by Miho Takeoka
As with the previous cover, Yen Press has taken the original image (of Touku) and then made it part of a collage for the cover with the backwards letter blocks (literally, real letter blocks would go the opposite way) spelling out the title. It works fairly nicely and it's nice to see at least some of the original cover art retained, but I do wonder if Yen Press really needs to remake the cover each time, is it really selling them that many more copies?

Summary: Konoha Inoue is still writing stories for Touku Amano, president of the Book Club and literature eating goblin, and Touku still has the Book Club's mailbox set up for receiving juicy love letters, a favorite treat of hers. But this time around they instead find letters full of strange numbers which were apparently put there by a ghost, a ghost that looks an awful lot like one of the other students, Hotaru Amemiya, who has a very strange and twisted tale to tell.

The Good: Once again Book Girl delivers a surprisingly dark and grim story about how unhinged people can become, not exactly what you expect out of teen literature. The plot is interesting, even if it's a bit too twisty and hard to follow for it's own good at times, and all the characters get ample page time. Like the previous book* there are certain sections which are told from an unknown point of view so the book has reread value which is always a good thing. So, while there still doesn't seem to be an overarching story yet (which I've heard there is) it's still a very solid installment. 

The Bad: The book draws a lot of themes from Wuthering Heights, specifically the romance, and I really hated the romance in Wuthering Heights. It just completely rubbed me the wrong way so the way the romance was resolved here completely rubbed me the wrong way as well and left a nasty taste in my mouth. That left me rather unhappy with the later part of the book and I think I was supposed to sympathize with some of the characters in the end and just couldn't because of how twisted the romance was (in my opinion) and that's just not a good thing.

The Art: Book Girl uses the color pages at the beginning of the book to introduce the cast which is a nice touch. While several of them are returning characters (Konoha, Touku, Maki) others are new (Hotaru and Ryuto, although Ryuto seems to be set up as a future reoccurring character) and each one is accompanied with a quote that sums them up. Other than that, the pictures are interesting and a bit memorable but not necessary to the story as a whole.

I didn't like this book quite as much as the first one but I really didn't like Wuthering Heights when I had to read it for school (the joys of AP English Literature) so I'm not surprised. The next book isn't due out until August so clearly no reviews until then but I definitely plan on getting the third one!

*at least, I recall the first book doing something similar but I don't have my copy with me right now to double check.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Comic Review: French Milk

Well, I had HOPED that this would be a review of the rest of the Akira manga but someone else at my school went around and snatched up all the books with a week left to go in school so I wasn't able to get to the last two books. It's a bit odd that those books were checked in all year and that someone checked out books five and six while they still had a request on book four (which I had out), I'm calling it a conspiracy until further notice.
SO, I grabbed this book at my local library simply because it had the same color cover as The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam which seemed like a good reason to pick it up. Plus I like travelogues so travelogue+comics=my kind of reading!

French Milk by Lucy Knisley

Summary: To celebrate her mother's 50th birthday, almost 22 year old Lucy and her mother decide to rent an apartment in Paris for five weeks and just take in the sights and experiences of the city.

The Good: The story flows better with pictures than if it had been all words and the entries have dates so it's easy to track their progress on the trip. It's a light read and a quick one as well (I think I read it in about a day, not that graphic novels that horribly long to read to start with) and it's not badly written at all. It's just a bit, fluffy.

The Bad: In the end, the book feels a bit shallow. Lucy complains a great deal about being stressed (understandable to an extent), not sleeping well, and missing her boyfriend a lot (but shouldn't she have expected that one?). All of that combined over the whole book made it hard to keep sympathizing with her, it makes you wonder why she even went along to Paris in the first place. Also, part of the fun of a travelogue is finding about neat little places that guidebooks don't mention and really getting a feel for the place through the writer's experience. That didn't really happen here, Lucy and her mother visit just the normal tourist destinations in Paris and it didn't feel like they or the reader learned anything new about the place during their trip.

The Art: There are a few photographs scattered throughout the book but by and large the book is told through hand drawn pictures/hand written accompanying text.  The art isn't particularly detailed, it's actually rather simple looking art, but it moves the story along and stays consistent. 

So, starting off the summer vacation with a dud, not a very encouraging thought now that I think about it but, since I've nearly gone through the libraries collection of graphic novels anyway, I'm not sure how many comics I'll be reviewing this summer anyway. Guess I'll just have to get creative as to where I'm getting my reading material then....