Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Book Review: Huntress

Originally I was going to put up this review next week but I found a really good reason for moving it up. Malinda Lo, the author, is part of a group called Diversity in YA which is, exactly as the name suggests, a group of writers who want more diversity in young adult fiction (such as more books written by/main or secondary characters who are LGTBQ or PoC) and they're holding a couple of contests over the summer related to this. So scoot on over here and get reading!

As for the book itself, last year during the spring I was browsing at my local libraries and getting frustrated at how I just wasn't connecting with the characters in YA literature as much as I used to and that maybe I should start reading more adult fiction to fix this problem. Then I came across Ash (set in the same world as this book, it's a lovely retelling of Cinderella that I really need to go out and buy) which I had heard of and, after reading it, I thought that no, I hadn't outgrown YA fiction yet, clearly I just hadn't been reading the awesome books. So I was really happy when I finally got this book from my local library and, even though it's not a direct prequel to Ash (like I originally thought, one of the main characters in Ash holds the position of the King's Huntress which is where my confusion came from), I was very satisfied with this read as well.

Huntress by Malinda Lo
Malinda Lo has said that, since she is an Asian immigrant herself she always imagined her characters to have Asian appearances as well and was happy that she was able to have this cover reflect that. I hadn't realized that when I first read Ash (the setting, from the location to the food to the clothing, just sounded so European that I simply thought the characters must be European-esque as well) so I'm also glad that this cover does reflect what one of the characters really looks like.

Summary: All is not right in the human world, for the past two years the weather has been strange, all the crops have failed and this year summer has refused to come. The whole kingdom is worried and when an invitation from the fairy queen comes for the king his advisers tell him to go to her, hoping that she has an answer to their disaster. On the advice of his sages, the king sends his son Con, the sage in training Taisan and Kaeda, whom Taisan has seen in her dreams about this journey. It won't be a fast or easy journey to the fairy lands but it's the only thing they can do.

The Good: Huntress is a quest book and most books about a quest are rather lighthearted and fun, up until the characters get to their destination that is. Not here, in Huntress the tone of the book is subdued from the start and makes the problems seem even darker than they already are which is a refreshing change. Like Ash before it, the relationship between the two girls is at the heart of the story and, not only is it nice to see a pair of lesbians (especially since this is a world where LGB characters are easily accepted and any angst the two girls have is for different reasons than over the fact that they love each other) but mature characters in relationships as well. I can't say much about the ending since that would involve spoilers but I was really happy with how the book ended, it helped make the book feel like a very realistic fantasy enough though it was set in a very fantastical world. 

The Bad: Like many other quest books, the pacing in Huntress isn't always even or smooth and it gets less even as the story goes on. When the story starts it devotes a lot of time to every leg of their journey and gives a realistic sense of distance between all the locations. As the story goes on however, less and less time is spent talking about their travels and the characters seem to be traveling even faster over distances that are just as great or greater as the ones earlier in the book (using the map included in the book for reference here). And then, like every quest book, once the task is completed the journey back seems to take no time at all and that really bothered me. The book is so well-written in every other area but that one detail really nagged and bothered me when it was all done. 

So, the characters are mature (forgot to mention earlier but they're all around 18 so they're a bit older than your average YA hero/heroine, the average age seems to be 16) and it's the only book I think of that follows the quest arc-type yet isn't a cheerful, let's-go-adventure! kind of story and I love books that defy tropes. I still prefer Ash a little more, not sure why (guess I need to go reread it then) but this was a great book that I'll be sure to buy in the future.  And finally, here is a short story set after Huntress for those who want a bit more to read.


Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Manga Review: Angel Dust

Back when I went to Animazement at the end of May I was amused at the random stuff some of my friends got in a $20 giftbag and decided to finally purchase one myself and I got quite a wide vareity of things in there. The final volume in an anime, a little figurine with bobble boobs, a figure of Kyo from Fruits Basket and this manga plus a few other things. So it was a lot of stuff for $20, sadly it wasn't a lot of good stuff for $20, although that is certainly some of the fun of a grab bag.

Angel Dust by Aoi Nanase

Summary: Seraph comes from the far future, one where warfare is banned and humans instead merge with humanoid like creatures, like herself, and work out their anger that way. Somehow she has fallen through time and space to present day Earth and makes a contract with the human girl Yuina in order to fight off the people who are responsible for her trip.

The Good: It's a one volume work that wraps up neatly without any loose ends which is always nice (especially since this means I don't have to look for even more volumes to buy). It's an odd mixture of fighting, slice of life and shojo-ai so I suppose if someone likes that odd combination of stories they might like this one, although it's so bland and bad that I'd recommend this manga more for the art than the story and that's a different section of this review

The Bad: This was, simply put, a very poorly written story in every way it could be. Characters do things for no good reason ("Hey, I'm partnered with the girl who tried to kill your partner, although I have no idea how we know this or why I'm even telling you in advance!"), the pacing is so bad in places that I had to keep flipping back and forth to make sure I wasn't missing a few pages and in the end there just didn't seem to be a point to this story. Well, Yuina grew a little but the only reason she needed growth was because of a completely trivial incident years earlier that made me want to beat my head against a wall.  

The Art: The art is alright but, as I said several times back during webcomic review month, I prefer a strong story to strong artwork so having such a weak story made me appreciate the art less. It's shojo art with big eyes, everyone looks gorgeous, sadly almost all the characters look the same and nothing about the art really amazed me. It's pretty but it's also pretty generic.

I expect that I'll take this over to the used bookstore sometime soon and see if I can get store credit there for something I'd rather have instead. This was rather disappointing but I wasn't expecting the book to be that great actually, if it's in a grab bag for a really reduced prices chances are that the sellers couldn't sell it and they couldn't sell it because it was bad, still worth the risk I think though.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Anime Review: AnoHana

And with this begins my reviews of anime that just finished up, mostly from the spring 2011 season but there's one that started back in the winter so let's get started!

First up we have one of the noitaminA shows, specifically the moe looking show with an ultra long title. Back when the series was announced I was excited, heck I even started a thread for it on a pretty big forum, but as the winter wore on I got more and more alarmed by the "Fractale debacle" and started getting worried that maybe noitaminA had lost their touch for creating shows that I dearly loved. I mean, not only was this show about teenagers (not adults, the normal protagonists for shows in this timeslot) but it was also an original story so there was no way to check the source material to see if it was any good. So, with some trepidation, I tried out the first episode and by the end of it I was convinced that Fractale was more or less a fluke and noitaminA was still going strong.  

AnoHana (Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae o Bokutachi wa Mada Shirani or We Still Do Not Know the Name of the Flower We Saw That Day)

Summary: When they were kids, Jintan, Anaru, Menma, Yukiatsu, Tsuruko and Poppo made up the "super peace busters gang" and were the closest friends you could imagine. Then Menma died and that was the first event that eventually forced them all apart and made them what they are today, a mixture of average and yet deeply hurting teens. Then one day Jintan, once the leader of their band and now a shut-in, discovers that Menma has returned as a ghost and in order for her to finally move on to heaven she needs help fulfilling her wish, one that needs the whole gang back together to grant.  

The Good: This show understands that it's really hard to tell a complete story in just 11 episodes so, instead of trying to tell a story that really focuses on a central plot, it instead develops five characters, all of whom are a little or a lot messed up after Menma's death and even Menma herself gets some character growth (which is rather impressive considering she's been dead for at least five years). So it's difficult to say much about the show without giving away it's secrets yet it's also very simple to explain why it's so good, the characters really do grow and it's simply satisfying to see an inherently good yet flawed character become a happier and healthier person by the end of the story.

The Bad: At times there is an awful lot of crying in the story (mostly by Menma which is understandable, she hasn't had a chance to really grow since she died) and it was enough to really irritate some people*. Tsuruko and Poppo never got an episode that was devoted solely to fleshing out them (Tsuruko is fleshed out over a few episodes but poor Poppo only got his right at the very end) and those would have been very satisfying episodes to see, especially when the show lagged a little bit towards the middle. Yukiatsu was perhaps too realistic in that, while he did get better, he was still a jerk to nearly everyone for most of the show and Jintan seemed a bit slow to develop at times as well. So, not surprisingly, the strongest part of this show was it's characters but they were also it's weakest link at times.

The Audio: For a number of the episodes the ending theme (which is a cover sung by the girl's voice actresses) starts playing during the last minute of the episode itself and really adds to what's already a pretty emotional scene. I have heard that the opening song is also a cover, although I can't find enough information to confirm that, but the lyrics match the show so well that I'd be surprised if it was. And not only the words but the melodies of the songs really fit well with the series. In an emotional series you really need strong music, almost more than you need strong visuals, to make it all come together and the music certainly succeeds here.

The Visuals: The show never has a need for extravagant animation but thankfully A-1 Pictures never uses this as an excuse to slack off on their art. The backgrounds have a nice amount of detail (probably because the town is based on a real town) and the characters even change clothes between episodes (or sometimes within an episode, depending on how much time has passed)  which is something that few anime bother to do. Heck, apparently the kanji on Jintan's shirt change to reflect his general feelings as the show goes on and both Anaru and Tsuruko have multiple hairstyles and Anaru even switches between her glasses and contacts during the show. That's a lot of little details that, while they weren't necessary, just felt appropriate for a show that is all about it's characters and the world they now live in.

I mentioned in my Doctor Who review that at first I wasn't sure how I felt about the big, mid-season finale reveal since I had seen so many people predict it and it was just less shocking for me (yet this did mean it had a lot of foreshadowing so the reveal made sense). Menma's wish was the opposite, I didn't see anyone else predict it exactly yet it also made complete sense in the context of the show which, even though her wish wasn't a twist or anything, made me think that this is more of what I want in shows. I want reveals that make so much sense that no one bothers to think of them beforehand (actually, I've heard that that's how the climax of Madoka Magica was), so kudos to the writers for this series. Sadly this series was my one fansub of the season, so I can't point anyone towards any links that would support these writers, but if this series got licensed in the US (which I think it has a decent chance ot) I would be sure to go out and grab it.  

*as for me, I've seen both seasons of Tegami Bachi/Letter Bee and Lag cries in nearly every episode, it's going to take a lot more than what was here to annoy me.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Movie Review: This Film is Not Yet Rated

While I've got a nice sized buffer for anime and books right now and a small one for comics, I don't have any for movies/tv shows so I was a bit worried this week when I realized I wasn't going to be able to get to my planned movie after all. After a bit of frantic searching on Netflix I realized that another movie I was planning on watching, This Film is Not Yet Rated, was playing so I turned that on and almost turned it off after the first few minutes which, erm, had an awful lot of censor bars for a reason (although, if the film is not rated, that's not just the title, does that mean they even needed the censor bars?). I'm simply not really a fan of sex/tons of nudity/really graphic violence in general (although it was more of the first two here) but since I've heard a number of good things about this movie I turned it back on and I'm really glad I did.

This Film is Not Yet Rated

Summary: In this documentary by Kirby Dick, he explores the shadowy MPAA's rating system, how they decide what to rate a film, how the appeals court works, discovers the identities of the mysterious raters and talks to some directors whose films were rated NC-17 and why they felt that this was an unfair rating. 

The Good: The film has a number of interviews with various directors (and one or two actors) on what made their films NC-17 rated (if they knew, sometimes the MPAA won't even tell them what they need to cut) and why they thought it was unfair and honestly, it was an awful lot of evidence that the MPAA is a flawed system. There were many examples, confirming things I had already heard, that violence is okay, sex is bad, men enjoying themselves might be okay, women enjoying themselves is bad, straight sex might be okay, gay sex is not, ect. The reveal of who the members of the MPAA board was done in a great, dramatic yet not overly dramatic fashion and really feels like a crowning moment of awesome for the film, it's almost hard to believe that the film still has a few tricks up it's sleeve after that. 

The Bad: There is a good reason that the identities of the MPAA raters aren't known, these days people will send death threats over everything it seems, although the film points out that these raters aren't the kind of people the MPAA says they are and, after seeing how everything works, that argument doesn't hold as much water as it did in the beginning of the film. The film also doesn't suggest an alternative to the MPAA, which would have been a nice, final nail in the coffin for them, but since the purpose of a documentary is to report on how things are, not necessarily how things should be, I'm not sure how well that idea would have worked in the film. 

The Audio: Almost all the audio in the movie came from either the interviews with the various directors, from the footage of the various films, or from the investigation. Even when the characters are going undercover with the secret cameras the audio is alright, although for several parts towards the end they had to use actors to re-create the audio. Still, that's hardly the director's fault and those extras bits really do help add to the movie.  
The Visuals: The film is a documentary so there are no frills or gimmicks added to the visuals, it's just video and pretty consistent in it's quality. As with the audio, there are times they use undercover cameras and the film quality is noticeably poorer but that's expected with spy cameras, if you have a camera that small then it doesn't have much room for the technology needed for a nicer picture. 

I was surprised at just how interesting this documentary was, especially since I had already heard stories about how the MPAA is sexist/homophobic/thinks violence is better than sex, and there was plenty of evidence from the various films that there is some kind of double standard going on in the industry. Personally I only use the ratings on a film to figure out how much violence I should expect ("hmmm, Zombieland is R rated, there's going to be a lot of gore in it isn't there?") but now I worry that too many people rely just on these ratings and don't check out wonderful movies because of them. So I really recommend this movie, it's on Netflix and I found it at the local college library as well so hopefully everyone else can find it as well!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Book Review: Raised by Wolves

Right, since I apparently have a hard time sticking to an update time these days anyway, this blog should update Sunday-Wednesday, 5 to 9pm EST, which yes means that this update is going up late, sorry!
Anyway, I came across this book at my local library and the title seemed a little familiar, I thought I had heard some other authors talking about how much they liked the book (even though, yes, it's about werewolves) so I grabbed it and hoped that it was the book I was thinking of. Still haven't found that original recommendation but, considering that the book matched up pretty well with the summary I remembered and I saw another author on twitter celebrating that they had sequels being released on the same day, yeah I'm pretty sure this was a recommendation that I actually liked.

Raised by Wolves by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
  Nice color scheme on the cover and I like the font used for the title but, is that the moon halfway down the right hand side? I'm a bit confused how the moon is somehow between the woods and the mountains but o-kay.

Summary: When Bryn was four she survived a werewolf attack that killed her family and was adopted into the pack by the werewolves who saved her. She's never been quite able to remember what happened that day and when she comes across a newcomer to the pack, another boy who survived she's desperate to talk to him and unravel secrets of her own past.

The Good: One of the major conflicts in the book was Bryn's struggled to maintain her sense of self/be separate from the pack-hive-mind and also having to accept the pack-hive-mind as a requirement to see Chase (the new werewolf). It's rather nice to see Bryn have to give in to other's athority at times yet still remain true to herself and it also helps that her foster mother serves as a counter-balance by being very unhappy at what Bryn is doing (well, it helps in that it shows the readers that yes, it is reasonable to be annoyed at Bryn at this point). Actually, the book has a good sized cast and, thanks to the length of the book, all the important supporting characters get fleshed out which is always a good thing.

The Bad: To be blunt, the way that the villain's plans actually work is, dumb. Can't say anything more due to end of series spoilers but, in a nutshell, villain is doing something that no one else should be able to do (and hasn't been done for all of werewolf history) and the reason why they can do it feels not very well planned out. The book also seems a bit too long at points (character development is good and all but the book could have worked perfectly well without all of it), things went a bit too easily for Bryn throughout the entire book and she's much to young to be as mature as she was. At first I believed she was 17 but in fact she was closer to 15 and she was acting years too mature for her age* which always drags me out of a story, when a book tries for realism but messed that part up it just really rubs me the wrong way.

In the end, I did like the book (although not enough to buy a copy of it, maybe an e-copy someday) yet I'm a little confused why a sequel was just released back on the 14th (titled Trial by Fire). The ending, while it could leave room for a sequel, did wrap up all the events of the book pretty nicely and honestly, unless the author introduces some game changing plot details that weren't in or even hinted at in this book I really don't see a need to read it right now.

*let me put it this way, I've always been mature for my age so if a character is way more mature than I was at that age then it's unrealistic, I wasn't nearly this mature and clear thinking at 15. Plus, there's no reason for her to be this young in the book so geeze, why NOT make her a few years older?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Comic Review: Fagin the Jew

Another book I picked up from the local college library and it wasn't until I got home that I noticed the author of the work, Will Eisner, and then my eyes bugged out. I'm not familiar with any of his other work, or even know much about the man, but the Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards ("the Eisners") are named after him and that's a major award in the comic world. Heck, recently I've seen a number of people on deviantArt lately supporting one of this years nominees in the webcomic category, the awesome Lackadaisy Cats, so I was really curious to see what was so amazing about this man's work.

Fagin the Jew by Will Eisner

Summary: Unhappy with the way that Fagin ("the jew") was portrayed, Eisner recreates Oliver Twist with Fagin as the main character and shows how he became the person he was.
As a quick note, I've never read Oliver Twist but, as far as I can tell from sparknotes, Eisner keeps the original story intact and mostly expands on Fagin's backstory/what happened when Oliver wasn't in the scene.

The Good: Eisner does a good job at making Fagin's backstory a mixture of good and bad moments, with more unhappy ones, without making it over-dramatic and Fagin becomes a more sympathetic character than you would expect. The pacing was good and every scene shown (except for possibly the greatest scene in the entire book) was integral to the story. The events from the original book are also included and explained so readers don't need to have read Oliver Twist, although having a basic idea of what the book is about is a good idea,  

The Bad: While the new parts of Fagin's story manage to be sad but not overdone, the compressed version of Oliver's story makes his seem more like a soap opera and melodramatic. I found myself bored by those parts and hoping that the story would quickly go back to Fagin's explanations of the events. It was probably not Eisner's intention to make Oliver so unlikeable but I found myself wondering why so many people like Charles Dickens work after reading this*,

The Art: The art is done in a sephia colored ton, like the color except less intense, and it almost looks like it was colored using watercolors instead of ink (or perhaps very watered down ink washes?). The color works nicely for the period feel and, whether it's a page with more text on it or filled with comic panels instead, the space is used well and I had no trouble figuring out where to look next. The backgrounds are nicely detailed and all the characters look distinct (which is even more impressive when you see just how many background characters there are) so it's clear that Eisner is not only a good writer but a great artist as well.

In the foreword, Eisner talks about some of his previous comics where he had minorities as characters and realizing that, unintentionally, he was feeding stereotypes and became more concientious about his writing. He also started writing stories involving Jewish characters (he is, well, was since he died in 2005, Jewish)  and Fagin's backstory, especially at the beginning of the book, would not have been nearly as strong if he had cut out all of the underlying prejudices and hardships faced bcy Jews in England at the time. I know that this should be obvious, the word Jew is even in the title, but it really was that extra background Eisner brought to the story that got the story moving and grounded.

*although I recall having similar thoughts when reading Great Expectations back freshman year of high school, a classic case of reading "classic" books when I just didn't have enough reference to enjoy them and now I hate them. 

Monday, June 20, 2011

Anime Review: Neon Genesis Evangelion

So here it is, one of the best known anime titles that is literally known and loved/hated all over the world and one that many people say changed the mecha genre. I haven't seen that many mecha shows actually (I don't dislike the genre, I just never seem to end up watching most of it) and I don't believe I've seen any from before NGE so the show never felt really "revolutionary" to me in that respect, but plenty of non-mecha fans have loved the show as well so why not try it? Plus, now that I finally had both the time and the access to the local college library that had a copy of the Platinum collection what did I have to lose? Well, 13 hours of my life but that's not really so bad....

Neon Genesis Evangelion

Summary: The year is 2015 and the world suffered a terrible disaster around the turn of the century which destroyed Antarctica, changed the global climate and wiped out a large chunk of the human population. But soon they have even more pressing concerns, the world is being attacked by beings called "angels," believed to be responsible for the aforementioned disaster, and the only weapons that can defeat the angels are the evangelion series of mechas, of which there are disturbingly few and can only be piloted by equally disturbed young teenagers including our protagonist, one Shinji Ikari who will do anything to get praise from his father including piloting one of these mechs. 
Also, just to make things clear, I watched episodes 1-20, the directors cut version of episodes 21-24, episode 25 and 26 and then watched End of Evangelion so I think I've seen all the important parts from the tv show and I have not watched the Rebuild movies yet.

The Good: I enjoyed the ending of End of Evangelion more than the end of the series so I'm glad that was created, also because there was some plot related stuff that was finally confirmed/explained in this installment. The side characters in the series (such as the bridge trio, Shinji's classmates and a number of the adults) were surprisingly well-fleshed out and Nerv itself is one of the more capable evil-fighting, government organizations I've seen in a while*. And, while none of the characters are mentally stable by the end, a few of them do seem to (at least temporarily) overcome their issues and do what they needed to do and this feels particularly satisfying considering how long it took. 

The Bad: For most of the show I didn't understand why there has been so much hate over how whiny Shinji is over the years, there have been plenty of unlikeable protagonists after all, but the final two episodes of the tv series really tried my patience and simply felt really dumb. If I had seen this show back when I was still in high school and a tiny bit depressed maybe then I would have been able to better emphasize with the characters but instead I found myself getting more and more annoyed that there was no one to help these characters, the fact that a lot of the plot moves along because of there are no therapists just feels like sloppy plotting. I was also puzzled by what all the "Christian symbolism" people keep going on about in the series since I didn't see much of what I would call symbolism. There was some Christian imagery, and End of Evangelion certainly had some symbolism, but other than a few instances I really didn't see what everyone was talking about^.  

The Audio: While the opening song is surprisingly catchy (and almost prophetic in a few lines, "Just like the vengeful angel/young boy become a legend") the ending song just grated on me with it's English lyrics that didn't quite make sense. I watched the Japanese dub for the show and thought it worked well, Rei's voice was not as emotionless as I expected surprisingly, although Asuka's German sounded forced and rather bad. 

The Visuals: I watched the Platinum collection which, as I understand it, has the best video quality but the show hasn't aged well in places. At some parts the darker areas of the screen became grainy, the colors weren't always as vibrant and the lines sometimes weren't as nice and sharp. And at other times everything looked perfectly fine which left me a bit puzzled. 

So, other random thoughts, Misato is a total badass, Shinji is gay for Kaworu (seriously, how else can a one episode character have that big an effect, I don't even ship this!) and what was the production team smoking when they thought that episode 26 would be a good end to the series? All in all, no I didn't really like it (although I liked some part much more than I expected) and yes I will be watching the Rebuild movies for two reasons. One, I've seen a number of people who didn't like the original series like the movies (specifically, people who also have similar tastes to mine) and two, I somehow already have a copy of the Eva 2.22 blu-ray (would love to know how Funimation got my address) so I feel like I should see the movies, even if I don't have a BR player to watch it on....

*not telling everyone the full story? Sure, being manipulated by other government agencies, oh yeah, but actually doing their jobs with what they have? Yes and that's a lot more than what a lot of other fictional government agencies can say.
^I'm also fairly familiar with Christian imagery, having been raised/spent 13 years in a Catholic school and deliberately looking out for it in my English classes so I'd have something to write about in my essays and I honestly didn't see that much stuff. There was some random imagery but imagery isn't symbolism, symbolism needs to have meaning attached to it and the stuff that other people have pointed out online just didn't seem to have actual meaning, the stuff was just kind of there for visual effect. 

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Movie Review: Ever After

While a lot of my book recommendations come from The Enchanted Inkpot on livejournal I think this is the first time I've gotten a movie recommendation from them. I forgot how it came up but the movie was mentioned as an example for something (I think it was because the end of the movie subverts a normal movie trope) and, after looking up more information about the movie on tvtropes , I decided that this sounded exactly like the kind of movie I wanted to see (it's one of the few fairy tale retellings than I can think of that has absolutely no magic involved) and was happy to see my local library had it. Had a bit of trouble getting the movie to play (the disc was unmarked so I stuck it in upside down at first and had some trouble getting my computer to spit the disc back out) and watched it all in one go even though it was getting late.

Ever After

Summary: Once upon a time, there was a girl named Danielle whose father loved her very much and would often read to her about philosophy and he hoped she would get along with his new wife and children. But soon after her father remarries he dies and her new stepmother has Danielle work as a servant. This doesn't break her spirit but ten years along Danielle doesn't have a very bright or interesting future ahead of her, that is until she runs into a prince...

The Good: Danielle is a strong and interesting heroine and completely beats the damsel in distress trope into the ground. From one of the first scenes where she charges after a horse thief, hurtling apples at them (with a pretty good throwing arm!) to later on when she challenges the prince's political philosophies she proves that she's a real character, not just a collection of tropes, and her confidence and intelligence make her one of the most interesting (and sympathetic) protagonists I've seen in awhile*. If this story had been told from the prince's point of view she may have come off as a maniac pixie dream girl to the prince (since she's the one that instigates his character growth, she's also certainly more interesting than the prince) but since this is her story Danielle was given the extra time needed to show her as a real character. Also, Leonardo da Vinci (who is a supporting character) gets some really funny lines in this movie, who would have imagined that he could be comedic relief!  

The Bad: Despite how interesting Danielle is, the prince isn't nearly as interesting and in the end almost all the side characters feel like they didn't have enough screen time (with the exception of the ste-mother and -sisters). One character that does get enough time is the younger step-sister but she feels a bit odd since she's a bit of a mismash of tropes. In almost every Cinderella story, the other step-sister is a complete bitch and the younger step-sister (there are always two) is either nicer, usually having a heel face turn halfway through the story, or just a complete airhead. This sister does both and it seemed to be a bit of an odd choice, as if the writer changed their minds halfway through. The ending isn't a particularly climatic or dramatic one (which I think is what The Enchanted Inkpot had been complaining about in the first place) which isn't bad per-say but might disappoint a lot of people watching the movie.

The Audio: Since this was a live-action movie I payed less attention to the audio than I normally would (that is, I usually pay closer attention when it's just voice acting, not regular acting) so I don't have much to say about the music. I thought that the music played during the credits was a bit odd (I thought it was a song with vocals but I don't have the DVD with me anymore to double check) but everything else worked fine.

The Visuals: I'm not familiar enough with Renaissance clothing to tell if the costumes are completely period accurate (the movie would have taken place around the year 1500) but the outfits looked as if some research had gone into them and they were quite lovely. All of the dresses, except for what the servants wore, were very nice looking, the step-mother had a few interesting looking headdresses and all the men had cool looking hats so it's safe to say that costume buffs would like the outfits here. I'm also not sure how accurate the landscape was (the movie is set in France) but again, it felt as if some research had been done and that the set designers weren't relying on old cliches such as "everyone lives in a castle" for ideas. The various buildings and bits of forest used for the movie certainly looked as nice as the outfits did so, accurate or not, the movie was pretty to look at. 

In short, I love Daniella as a protagonist and really wish that I see more characters like her in any medium. Maybe I should go and pull that old book of fairy tales from my room for a re-read, might have to fix the binding again first though....

*actually, she reminds me a lot of the heroes and heroines from the fairy tales I read as a kid (yes, at least half of the stories I read had female or animal protagonists rather than the standard male hero and almost all the rest had a vital female character in them, clearly I read the awesome fairy tales as a kid) and one reason I admired those characters so much was because not only were they physically strong but they were also very clever and most characters these days just don't seem as creative or genius in comparison.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Book Review: Tyger Tyger

This is another book which was recommended to me from The Enchanted Inkpot (well, I believe so, when I went to delete it off of my "to-read" list it was rather high up on it so I've had the recommendation for a while). Not much else to say about it, except from the title I was expecting it to be a book dealing with an Indian setting/mythology (or maybe even something dealing with the British in colonial India) but apparently I was thinking of the wrong country that starts with the letter "I".

Tyger Tyger by Kersten Hamilton
  While the cover of the book makes sense (I'm assuming this is an image of the entrance into Mag Mell) the title doesn't make much sense to me. The poem "Tyger Tyger" is only mentioned twice throughout the entire book and doesn't have a lot of special meaning either time, it's a strange name for a book.

Summary: Teagan lived a happy life with her family, a normal life, but when they take in her cousin Finn strange things, things from fairy tales and her mother's past, begin to happen and Teagan has to go on a journey to salvage what parts of her life she's left with.

The Good: It was a nice surprise to learn that Finn was not a "bad boy" or even a "jerk with a heart of gold" character (as his status as the love interest would initially suggest) but it actually a nice guy and doesn't try to hide it. The revelations about Teagan's family was a nice twist but had enough foreshadowing that it doesn't jerk the reader out of the story or feel unbelievable and it also explains a few things.

The Bad: One problem with kind of setting is that, well, it doesn't make a lot of sense. Once the lead character learns how to see the supernatural they see tons of creatures everywhere causing tons of trouble and, more likely than not, killing people. So, why aren't there more unexplained deaths in these settings or a more superstitious public? The setting isn't just a backdrop for the characters to act against, it's something that should motivate and interact with them and, in this case and like so many others, it just doesn't work the way it should. Other complaints include that the characters actions don't always make sense (why are they even trying to enter Mag Mell if they know that they shouldn't be able to get in? Do they only do this so that they can show later that they can and that there is something going on that they don't know about?) and the relationship between Finn and Teagan ends on a rather weird note (due in part to Teagan having a sudden bout of insecurity about herself*).

The book is set to be the first in a series (don't know how many books) but honestly I don't feel an urge to read the next books, partially because it works really well as a self-contained story. Just take out the last few lines and there's no sequel hook at all, but it's also because for me this was only an okay book. Alright but not fantastic, if my grumbling over certain tropes hadn't already clued you into that, and with that, I'll be back Sunday with a new review folks, see you then!

*bit of a spoiler here but that's why this is in a footnote. One trope I really don't like these days is when the protagonist finds out that they're not quite human/not all human/not human at all and breaks down having an existentialist crisis because of it. It's perfectly understandable that a character would be thrown by the revelation and confused but when they start questioning everything about themselves, everything they've ever thought or done, because of this one thing, that's when it gets annoying. This applies to many other characters as well by the way but, it seems stupid for them to think that they're a different person just because they know more about themselves, they still have the same thoughts, emotions, feelings, hopes, desires, ect after all don't they? Just wanted to get that rant out, the tomato in the mirror trope is being used a lot these days and that part of the trope just bothers me every time it comes up.   

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Comic Review: The Originals

I don't actually have that much to say about this comic. For starters, it caught my eye when I was at the library but, when I flipped to the back cover for a synopsis, there was nothing there, not even a blurb by another author telling me why this book was awesome and that I should love it. And, going out on a limb here, it would seem like it's a bit hard to get people interested in a book that doesn't tell you what it's about at all and they just have to read to find out, heck, I couldn't even figure out when the setting was supposed to be until a good dozen pages in and basic information like that should really be avaliable for the reader to easily find. 

The Originals by Dave Gibbons

Summary: Set in a future that looks an awful lot like Britain in the 1960s, Lel and Bok are bored by mainstream pursuits and activities so they join up with a gang called The Originals

The Good: The story, which is rather similar to some other stories like The Outsiders, is simple to follow and moves quickly, the entire book is only a bit over 150 pages and doesn't need to be any longer or shorter. Viv was a surprisingly well-developed character, probably the best one in the entire story, and she was much more interesting than the love-interest-of-the-main-character normally is, although it would have been nice if she acted more instead of just talking.
The Bad: While it's not a bad thing to have characters curse in a story, if it's in character, the characters here managed to say the f-word 143 times in the course of 160 pages and it simply didn't have the same effect by the end of the book, it just felt a little annoying to see the characters curse yet again. Another, slightly bigger complaint about the story, why use a setting based on the past instead of creating a new one? While the setting worked, and the author was using it to connect to the 1960s, it always seems a bit lazy to have a story set in the future yet have a fictionalized, historical setting*. Finally, in the end, was there any point to the story? Even if nothing else happens in a story, something is supposed to change and, in the very end, it just didn't seem like anything had changed.

The Art: All of the art in the story is in black and white (with plenty of shades of gray, looks to be computer shaded) and, as odd as it sounds, it works well with the futuristic setting. It's a futuristic setting that draws heavily on a historical setting and the black and white color choice helps blur the distinction between these two times even more. The setting is also heavily influenced by the 1960s Mod fad and that's apparent in the character's clothing, rides, and even to an extent in the buildings the story takes place in. 

Weird, when I was double checking character names on Amazon I glanced at the reviews there and found someone claiming that this was the first comic ever to deal with the idea of "rebellious youths." The review is a few years old (from 2005) but even then this is hardly a new concept, I know two young men whose names are Kaneda and Tetsuo who would like a word with this reviewer.....

*I remember making a similar complaint about Black Hole Sun, planning on  (eventually) writing a proper blogpost about this trope.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Anime Review: Zoku Natsume Yuujinchou (rewatch)

As I said yesterday, despite how much I love my plot-heavy stories there are a few shows I watch specifically because they are more episodic and character-focused and Natsume Yuujincho is one of those stories. 

Zoku Natsume Yuujinchou (Natsume and the Book of Friends Continued)

Summary: As in the first season, Natsume is the owner of the Book of Friends, a book containing the names of dozens of spirits that he has power over, and is constantly being haressed by spirits who either want the book all for themselves or who want their names back (and most of them think that he's his long dead grandmother, Reiko, the creator of the book). But this doesn't bother him as much as it used to since, even though he's distrustful of many people (human and spirit alike) he's begun to grow closer and trust some of them. 

The Good: This season season gives us our first two parter (two of them actually) and a couple of the characters either pop up a few episodes early or simply make more appearances which add some nice continuity to the story. Even if the story is episodic, each episode should build on the previous ones and having little reminders of previous episodes (such as reoccurring characters) is a nice way to do it, also adds more rewatch value to a show. The one anime-original episode this season (the one concerning a spirit whose name was tied to a tree 50 years ago instead of being put into the book) was much better than the previous season's episode and it's interesting to see that both of them focused on Reiko a good deal. There's another episode focusing on Reiko which gives her some much needed character development (and some backstory) and also provides a bit of background for Natsume's caretakers as well. 

The Bad: The episode focusing on Reiko, as good and useful as it was, does bring up an important question however, will the story ever say more about who she was (or about the rest of Natsume's family) or will the story only talk about her every now and then? While at first glance it doesn't seem like her story has much to do with Natsume's, the title of the story is Natsume and the Book of Friends, not Takashi (his first name) and the Book of Friends so the story is about him and his family. Partially I bring this up since, as the story goes on, more and more characters recognize Reiko's name and have even met her so shouldn't someone know what happened to her? One character is even surprised that Natsume doesn't know what happened to his grandmother so, while it's not completely needed, more backstory concerning some of the other characters in this series would be an amazing thing.  

The Audio: Once again the opening and closing themes are left unsubtitled, although it's easier to find translations for these than it was for the first season's songs. However, the lyrics to the ending song don't seem to match the images (singing about leaving someone as more and more people appear in the ending) and the lyrics to the opening song are just rather strange. A lot of the background music is re-used from the first season but, considering how well it worked there, this isn't a bad thing at all (also, more continuity!). And once again, the music in this series does an amazing job at setting the mood and tone of a scene and it's the music that makes you just as likely to tear up at the end of a happy episode or a sad episode, it's perfectly placed and knows exactly how to mess with the watcher's emotions.

The Visuals: As with the first season, the anime art style is cleaner and smoother than the manga art style  but this time around the ending theme is drawn in the manga art style and it looks rather good in that context. Since this season is set in winter the colors are a bit more muted than the first season (not that the colors were especially vibrant then either) but, like the music, the color scheme help contributes to the overall mood of the show and in a story involving spirits and the otherworldly it's the art that helps keep the story grounded while it's the music that really draws the watcher in.

Apologizes that this is up so late, just had trouble writing this review since I do love the show so much and really want to do it justice. That said, I'm a bit sad that the third season probably won't address the backstory problem I have since I believe I've read all the manga that the next season will cover (in fact, if anything, based on what one character says this new season will raise a whole new set of questions about one of Natsume's other relatives and not the one I was expecting). Regardless, I'm still eagerly awaiting the new season and who knows, maybe I missed something the first time I read it (for some of the chapters it would have been a while) and I'll be surprised!

Monday, June 13, 2011

TV Series Review: Doctor Who (season six)

As promised, a Doctor Who review that's a day late since I expected that I would need the extra time to get my thoughts in order and boy was I right, I'm still having fridge brilliance/horror moments after the reveal at the mid-season finale. So, just to make this extra clear, this is covering the first half of season six of Doctor Who (nicknamed 6a), aka the part that has aired (not counting the Christmas Special in here since I consider that part of season five). Ordinarily I wouldn't review only half a season but, since the second half isn't starting up until the fall, I'm going to make an exception here. Also, this will be a spoiler free review like all my other reviews are. Onwards to the review!

Doctor Who

Summary: Our hero is called The Doctor, he's a 900+ year old alien who flies a big blue box that's bigger on the inside (and really a time/spaceship) who keeps inviting people to come along with him on adventures since he gets bored. These companions would be Amy and Rory, a newly married couple from the present day who traveled with him during the previous season and are ready for even more adventures with the Doctor, no matter where or when they may end up going.

The Good: To start with, The Doctor's Wife (the hotly anticipated Neil Gaiman penned episode) may be my favorite Doctor Who episode of all time now. To say exactly why would be spoiler-ish but the episode was done in such a way that everything that happened made complete sense, not just within the episode itself but within the Doctor Who mythos as a whole. Another reason why the episode was so good was because the acting was very good in this episode but to be honest, the acting in this season is stronger than the previous season and that's always a good thing. Matt Smith seems more sure of himself (even as the Doctor seems a bit more unhinged), Amy is no longer just the little girl who waited years for her "raggedy doctor" and Rory is no longer just Amy's fiancee. River, who shows up in a few of the episodes, also feels so much more fleshed out and the character has come a long way from the confusing person she was back in season four.   

The Bad: As odd as it sounds coming from me, Doctor Who is one of the few shows I watch because I like it's episodic nature so having more plot heavy episodes felt a bit odd and out of place at time (they probably wouldn't have felt so out of place if the season had been a full 13 episodes but it wasn't so they did). It also seems strange that The Rebel Flesh/The Almost People was a two part episode but the episode afterwords, the mid-season finale, was only one episode and it really felt like that last episode needed a bit more time. The first half was a bit rushed, the pacing seemed much smoother in the second part, and there are some people saying that this was a two-part story and that the first episode of 6b is the second part (which is a really baffling idea). TRF/TAP also didn't feel like it needed a full two episodes to tell it's story*, plus some of the characters acted differently in the first episode versus the second episode, but the weakest episode of this half-season was The Curse of the Black Spot easily. The idea wasn't bad at all, and the episode played with a few tropes, but had a few too many plot holes even for Doctor Who

The Audio: The opening theme remains the same from the previous season (which is hardly surprising, it still sounds very similar to the original show's theme almost 50 years ago) and, as I've said before, I don't notice background music as much as some people do. But, while I did think "oh that's rather nice music" at various points during the series, I never though "ack, that doesn't match up at all!" and the music never pulled me out of the viewing experience so clearly the background music is doing it's job, registering on one level with the viewer but mostly serving as a way to draw them even deeper into the story.

The Visuals: I got to see this on the BBCAmerica HD channel on a nice tv so I must say, the video quality on this show is pretty spiffy these days (I believe they started shooting HD in the interim year between season four and five). Only the mid-season finale episode called for a ton of special effects and thankfully that involved more costumes than CGI which tends to look better these days if you don't have a full movie budget. Out of the whole season the only thing that bugged me (visually) was that during the last episode at one point it looked as if the film suddenly switched to a higher frame rate (the characters movements seemed different and usually that means a higher frame rate) but that doesn't make any sense. I did hear someone mention that BBCAmerica speeded up a scene with the Doctor running (which was around the same point) so I wonder if this is actually a problem here, not from the original production^.

So yes, I liked this half-season and really want more (and more Sherlock, ie, the reason the shooting/producing schedule for Doctor Who is so strange this year), too bad I won't have access to the nice tv/BBCAmerica at all when the second part starts. And that reveal, even though I had seen a lot of people speculating and getting it right online, I really liked. I saw someone post that it seems to be the people who pay more attention to speculation who saw it coming and the people who only watch the show from week to week who were surprised by it and that they were sad at first that they had managed to guess the twist. And then they said no wait, it was foreshadowed and wouldn't it have been even more annoying if the twist had been something that had come out of nowhere, something no one could have been able to predict? That sums up how I feel about it now, yes it would've been awesome if it was something that no one had been able to predict but the reveal was set up so that it does make sense and that's even better honestly. Oh okay, a friend and I spent two and half hours right after the show talking about all of this so of course I'm okay with this, now to get the rest of my friends to see the finale so we can keep talking about it!

*which actually felt more Russel T. Davies-ish than Steven Moffat-ish, Moffat likes to go for scary stories, RTD really liked questioning "what is a human?" which was the main issue in that story (and this isn't a bad thing, just an observation, also aware that Moffat didn't write that particular two-parter).
^and if anyone has seen the American the British broadcast, please post in the comments and I'll say what scene it was, don't want to say anything even vaguely spoilery in this review.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Book Review: Adventures in Japan: A Literary Journey in the Footsteps of a Victorian Lady

Wow, sorry for not posting yesterday guys, I had a good sized headache all afternoon and evening yesterday and couldn't think straight enough to write up a review (and I don't have a buffer right now although I'm working on that). Fair warning, this happens semi-regularly and, while I have written reviews before with a headache, they're usually not very good so I try not to.

Anyway, it's a book! Sometimes I like to wander through travel section at my library and pull out all the coffee table books with pictures from other countries and stare at those for a few hours and other times I'll pick up a travelogue or two and spend a few hours staring at words describing a foreign culture. This one was the later which caught my eye because of it's slender size and the quote on the front of the book, "only the strong should travel in northern Japan." Not being very familiar with the north of Japan I was curious why the speaker said that and hoped that the book would explain and to an extent it did.

Adventures in Japan: A Literary Journey in the Footsteps of a Victorian Lady by Evelyn Kaye
 It's a nice touch to have the cover of a book be a collage since the book does cover the author's journey to many different places in Japan, not just one place that could be summed up in one image.

Summary: The biographer of Isabella Bird, a lady from Victorian England with a passion for travel, decides to follow in Bird's footsteps and visit the same places she did in Japan.

The Good: Most of the things that I read about Japan are either related to anime/manga or to Tokyo so it was interesting to read a book that covered a much different topic. Although the book is over ten years old, the way that Kaye describes the countryside and the places she visits, some of them unchanged from when Bird saw them, makes it sound as if this is a part of Japan that hasn't changed much over the decades and it's a very different image from the tech-savvy Japan that the west usually envisions.

The Bad: At times it seems that Kaye isn't sure of how much of Bird's travels to put into her story and the transitions between the sections feel a bit sloppy. She gets much better at balancing out the two stories as the book goes on but the beginning of the book is a bit weak. She also adds in too many unnecessary details at points (some hotel tvs in Japan are change operated, interesting! A cashier at a store gave her change back, boring!) and again, this problem occurs more towards the beginning of the book and everything is flowing much more smoothly at the end.

So, an interesting read but in some respects a very light read and I don't feel the urge to add this book to my collection. As a quick note for next week, I'll be posting my next review on Monday, not Sunday. I'm planning on that being a review of the first half of the latest Doctor Who season and, since I'm only getting around to seeing episode 7 on Saturday and I like to give myself at least a day between finishing a work and then reviewing it, I'm going to push back all the reviews just one day next week. See you then!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Manga Review: Not Simple

I was browsing the manga section at my local library and noticed this one when I saw the Sig Ikki logo on it and was even more interested when I saw that the manga-ka was Natsume Ono. I haven't actually read any of her works but I did really enjoy the anime version of House of Five Leaves (a noitaminA show from Spring 2010) so I decided this was as good a place as any to start.

Not Simple by Natsume Ono
Summary: Ian has had complicated and not quite happy life but this is the story of his journey across continents to reunite with his sister.

The Good: Despite the odd order of events the story was not that hard to follow and didn't even require a second glance through to piece together the parts of Ian's life. The whole story is wrapped up nicely at the end of the volume (a bigger book at 320 pages) and manages to feel rather complete, even if the beginning is the end and the reader doesn't find out the resolution until the last few pages.

The Bad: While reality (and fiction) can be very strange at times yet completely true, there is a point when a story becomes too strange, too coincidental, and too fantastical and Not Simple crossed that line. Too many strange things happen to Ian to really be believable and that made it harder to sympathize with him as well. The novelist, Jim, also feels a bit out of place in the story, almost as if Ono wanted even more tragedy and decided late in the planning stage that Jim's actions would work nicely.

The Art: Ono's style looks strange in all of her works but here it looks extra odd and unrefined. Every character is drawn in blocky shapes, the eyes are huge and flat, and the art feels more experimental, unlike her later works where the art is still different but feels like it tries to be different on purpose.  

So, not my cup of tea after all, oh well, although this does make me want to go and rewatch/find the manga for House of Five Leaves now. And apologies that this entry is going up later, I'm starting to do more cooking and I normally write these entries in the hour before dinner so they might go up a bit later all summer, hope that won't inconvenience people too much!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Anime Review: Natsume Yuujinchou (rewatch)

I’ve seen both seasons of this show before when I was still new-ish to anime and decided to finally get around to re-watching them with the third season coming out this summer. I didn’t need to do this, the show is slice of life so the order of the episodes almost doesn’t matter and there’s no myth arc in the first two seasons but I really do love this show and just wanted to see it again. I think this was the first slice of life show I really enjoyed and now I really like slice of life shows so I suppose I have this one to thank for that.            

Natsume Yuujinchou (Natsume and the Book of Friends)

Summary: Takeshi Natsume is a high school boy who can see spirits and has always resented this ability because of how it always distanced him from other people. But, after he’s been passed to yet another distant relative to live with, he discovers that his grandmother Reiko could see spirits as well and collected the names of those she defeated in fights in her Book of Friends. This book is now in Natsume’s possession and he’s about to find himself interacting with even more spirits than usual, both those who just want their names back and those who want to kill him for the book's power.

The Good: One thing the anime does better than the manga is that it takes a number of background characters (like Natsume’s classmates) and makes them reoccurring characters which helps link the episodes together a bit more and really gives Natsume a chance to connect with other people. The whole point to the story is Natsume beginning to understand people better, both humans and spirits, so having characters that he can build a relationship with over a series of episodes is a really good thing.

The Bad: The only episode that feels a bit weak is the one with the train ticket (about halfway through the season) and not surprisingly that’s the only non-manga story in the anime. There’s simply something that’s a little bit off and the information about Reiko in the end feels a bit odd as well. Also odd is just how quickly Natsume begins to open up to others again, especially spirits since he's always blamed them for how they separated him from other people (poor Natsume's gift is so strong that he's not always sure what's real and what isn't). The whole story is about him connecting with others again but it seems strange that he still is willing to connect in the beginning, he was less open in the manga as I recall. 

The Audio:  Neither the opening or ending songs are translated on crunchyroll but the ending sounds a little bit like a sad ballad and the opening has one or two parts that sound sad as well. The rest of the show has a number of good and distinctive themes and all the voice acting is solid as well (special props to Nyanko-sensei’s voice actor who I believe does both of his forms, that’s an incredible range).

The Visuals: The original manga artwork has a sketchy style to it the art in the anime looks much cleaner and smoother. The palette of colors is a bit muted, not even the spirits are done in excessively bright colors, but the colors really fit the calm and more introspective feeling of the series. There is a bit of stock footage used for when Natsume returns a name but it’s very pretty footage, can’t be more than 15 seconds long and isn’t used in every episode so most people shouldn’t mind it at all.

Heh, I wrote this yesterday and just forgot to post it until now, so much for my planning skills. And yes, there will be a review of the second season up soon as well, I could have put both seasons in one review but decided that, since I've reviewed seasons of the same show separately before, to continue with this approach instead.