Sunday, October 30, 2011

Anime Review: Blood-C

Back when the summer season was starting up this was one of my most anticipated series. I wanted to give Clamp another chance since this seemed like something they could do well, take an existing supernatural/horror/gore series, genres they're familiar with, and do a short series on it. The character designs looked nice, the trailers seemed interesting enough and I like a lot of series that Production IG has done. But, as a Clamp fun, well, this just didn't seem to work.


Summary: With no connection to Blood+ and only a possible tenuous connection to Blood: The Last Vampire, CLAMP takes a crack at Production IG’s franchise and turns vampire slayer Saya into an ordinary school girl who is the only one who can fight the Elder Bairns and try to keep the town safe. But the town is a strange, empty place and some of the people around Saya are stranger still, not that she has anytime to notice with the vauge flashbacks of strange memories she sometimes gets.

The Good: Once things are finally explained towards the end of the series Saya becomes an interesting character and I do wonder just what course of action she’s going to take in the upcoming movie (coming out June 2012 in Japan, it'll be a few months later still until fans in the rest of the world can see it however). The series also employs a trope that isn’t used too often and it takes a little while for the viewer to figure out what trope it is which is good, sometimes it feels like every big “plot twist” is too easy to spot these days so it’s nice to see some where it really is a twist.

The Bad: I never thought I would say this but 12 episodes was too many episodes for this series. The show tried to have nothing happen in the first three episodes to show how abnormal the town is but the fact is that almost all settings in anime, especially ones in fantasy, are strange so I didn’t even pick up on most of it until other people told me. I suspect that if the earlier episodes were really compressed, the pace of the later ones was sped up and the upcoming movie were combined into a 13 episode series it would have been much more tolerable and interesting. I only kept watching this show because NicoNico doesn’t offer it’s back catalog to nonsubscribers, if it wasn’t for that detail I would have dropped this show and waited for others to see if the characters got more likable or if the plot sped up/got interesting/actually showed up and said what was going on because that simply took way too long.

The Audio: Blood-C’s composer has worked on another CLAMP work before, X/1999 which was Naoki Sato’s first work actually. Anyone who has heard one of the X’x trademark themes (Sandame) will instantly recognize his hand in some of the more dramatic music during the fight scenes*. The BGM is solid, the OP is a mash-up of Japanese, Engrish and I believe French (and, if you can find translations, your first hint that things are not as happy as they appear), the ED is a ballad and Saya’s singing really does not work in this series.

The Visuals: The show certainly lives up to the blood part of it’s name, this is easily the goriest show I’ve seen the whole year and I saw Deadman Wonderland earlier in the year which had plenty of gory bits. Here not only is there tons of gore but it’s really well drawn gore, the artists don’t just splash red paint onto Saya, they make the blood run and clump the way real blood would if it was on skin or clothing, if it streaked or if someone tried to dry it off. Many of the monsters in this show also look quite disturbing one way or another (although some of them just look narm-ish) and I’m glad niconico was streaming the censored version, despite how bad the censoring actually was (black and white areas that would cover the entire screen without so much as a gradient). It’s easy to tell that CLAMP did the character designs since they all bear their (recent) trademark look of noodle people and as usual the men look more elongated and awkward than the female characters do. It’s clear from the visuals that this show had a high production quality level (screenshots of individual frames show that there was even some animation in the fights that was much to fast for most people to notice) and I wonder just how good the movie is going to look if this was just a tv show.

I was frustrated by this show, it had plenty of potential yet I didn't like the presentation at all. Still want to check out Blood+ sometime, the only reason I haven't is because it's rather long, but I really can't recommend this show to anyone since I disliked it so much. I do like slow paced stories when there is a good payoff and so far this story hasn't had a satisfactory ending.

*well let’s put it this way, this is the first time I’ve ever heard music by a composer, heard some other work by them and could tell it was by the same person. If someone as musically challenged as me can tell I think most other people probably can, it was actually a little freaky being able to tell.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Book Review: A Wizard of Mars

In case some people missed it, I made a post earlier about how I'm having to change up my schedule again so this is going to be the last book review for a while. But I'm glad I'm ending on a book I really liked and it was also the perfect book for me to read write before NaNoWriMo, something I loved and that made me want to try and write something just as good.

Quick note before the review though, since I have no idea if this is a good thing or a bad thing, I complained in the previous volume that the characters acted much too old for their age and I was confused how they were still so young. It appears I had the timeline wrong and that's why I was confused by their ages and Kit and Nita acted much more like 14 or 15 year olds in this volume but the age thing still bothers me, almost moreso since there's a weird dissonance between this volume and the previous volume in the series now.

A Wizard of Mars by Diane Duane
 The cover fits in very well with the covers in the rest of the series with showing a few of the characters (I believe here we see Ronan, Kit, and Darryl) silhouetted against a colorful scene from the book. I think they're even still using the same font for the covers so I like this continuity.

Summary: Set a few months after Wizards at War, it's summer vacation time and Kit has a new project to work on, Mars. He's been obsessing over it for months, which has everyone teasing him over it, and it looks like there is finally something happening up on the surface of the red planet. Nita meanwhile is developing her visionary talent and still acting as a mediator between her father and her sister and it's those distractions that keep her from immediately noticing that something isn't right with Kit these days.....

The Good: It was nice to see old side characters appear in W@W and some who only had a few scenes got more time here which was very nice and added some continuity to the series. Carmela, Kit's sister who many people are quick to label as a Mary Sue, seems to have her role better defined in this book and has some of the better "ordinary life meets magic" moments (which are my favorite part of the series by far). The book also manages to still feel like a strange mish-mash of fantasy and science fiction (magic is clearly fantasy but the setting, the characters and even the magic itself seems more like sci-fi) and the new world building introduced was rather neat. And again, Nita is one of my favorite protagonists because she thinks the way I do which is always fun to read, although that brings up the age issue again since I'm more than a bit older than her at this point.

The Bad: After the high stakes in the previous book this book felt a little, quiet which was off-putting. Yes there was adventure and high stakes but the stakes just never felt that high so I just felt confused when reading parts of it. I had also heard that the book was a great deconstruction of the "invasion from Mars" sub-genre of science-fiction, which I'll admit I'm not too familiar with, but the book didn't feel like a deconstruction of anything, maybe it pointed out how silly the outfits writers thought that Martians would wear were but I don't feel like that needed pointing out. I also felt like several things in the book didn't happen early enough in order to create the conflict and that also bothered me, restricting some of the characters so others can make dumb mistakes feels like a reverse deus ex machina and I just didn't like it.

I really did enjoy this book and it got me pumped for doing NaNo, don't get me wrong there, but I don't think it was one of the strongest entries in the series (my favorite is the fourth book, A Wizard Abroad, where Nita spent a month in Ireland, I could probably do a whole blog post on the resurgence of Ireland in YA fantasy actually). The next book, Games Wizards Play, I believe is due out next year and a compilation of short stories (that you can choose to buy e-book versions of first, a new one each month for a year) should also be out next year so hopefully I'll like those a bit more. 

Changing my schedule again

I know I know, I keep having to change when I update here but this time it should only be for November and things will go back to normal-ish for December. Basically there's two reasons for this, one I'm participating in NaNoWriMo again this year and, since I was writing reviews by this time last year, it's really hard to write 1600 words a day in a story plus a full review. By halfway through November last year I was burned out so I plan write some reviews during the month, save them as part of a backlog and then release them when I'm in exam week hell. And that's the second reason, this semester in school is turning out to be just as crazy and then some as I feared so I'm just having a hard time keeping up with all my school work (plus club work and work work) and write these reviews. That's partially where NaNo comes in, I need something to get my mind off of school and obsessing over writing a novel has worked pretty well in the past so I'm hoping it's going to work again, obsessing over writing a review sadly doesn't seem to do it.

So, here's what I'm going to do! I'll put up my last book review for a while later today as usual and then on Sundays I'll post anime reviews (since I still have four summer shows to write-up) and then on Wednesdays and Saturdays I'll post quick reviews (similar to what I did with webcomics back in March) about manga series I'm reading. There will be some unlicensed stuff, formerly licensed but now unlicensed stuff and stuff that is licensed but the US editions are literally years behind and I don't want to go cold turkey and wait three or four years for the next chapter. I don't talk about manga as much as I like to here, mostly because I'm in the middle of a lot of series, so this should be fun for me.

A quick warning though, at this point I have no idea what my schedule for December looks like but updates are likely to be erratic then as well. I think I have actual paper exams in all five of my classes and big projects in at least three of them as well (one of which is already freaking me out a month and a half in advance, yeaaaah) and I already know I'm going to be traveling in December/January. I'll try to get a good backlog of reviews written so I can just post them when I need them. Really wish I could have a more stable schedule but hopefully whatever I review will still be interesting regardless of when it goes up.

Comic Review: My Boyfriend is a Monster 1: I love him to pieces

Sorry for the delay posting this, school and sewing projects just piled on me yesterday and I had no time to sit down and write this. Actually, going to get a post up either later tonight or tomorrow about that, I'm having to change my schedule up again in November, partially for NaNo and partially because I'm afraid that I'm still going to have crazy amounts of homework to deal with.

As for the book, I found it at the local library, looked like a cute zom-rom-com (I do believe that's an actual genre too) and read through the whole thing in about one half hour sitting. It might be part of a series, since I've found a number of similarily titled books on Amazon (all made by different people however) but I read it as a standalone and it worked just fine like that.

My Boyfriend Is a Monster 1: I Love Him to Pieces by Evanne Tsang, Illustrated by Janing Görrissen
Summary: Dicey may be the star of the baseball team while Jack is on track to be the school valedictorian but they get along surprising well when they have to work together on a health project. Well enough that they start getting interested in each other, too bad their first date is the day the zombie apocalypse breaks out in town.

The Good: I like stories that purposefully subvert the jock and nerd stereotypes since honestly those tropes never seemed that true to me and it's just hard to take a story that builds it's characters off of them seriously. So it was fun to see Dicey and Jack get along the way that regular classmates would and then grow more interested in each other as the story went along. They also held their own pretty well in the zombie apocalypse and it was a cute, quick story in that respect.

The Bad: There were some illogical moments in the story though, why didn't Jack/his parents want him to get evacuated and instead wait in the town for the government officials to come? Clearly it was so the story would get to the "my boyfriend is a monster" part but that part felt dumb to me and, since it was the reason a lot of other things happened, I felt like it weakened the story overall.

The Art: The art actually looks a lot like what I would find in a webcomic, there's a bit of manga/anime influence to the characters but it's clear that the artist isn't trying to imitate that style and there is a lot of Western influences in the art as well. I really liked the art style, it was the cute but not too cute style I like, lots of nicely inked details and backgrounds and actually didn't clash with the story despite it's slightly cutesy appearance.

It's not a super special story or one that does anything different but it was cute and mostly worked so I enjoyed it. It's odd to call a zom-rom-com fluff reading but that's what it was for me, a little fun thing to read when I needed something to do and enjoyed doing it as well.   

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Anime Review: Kamisama Dolls

While this wasn't one of the hot new titles for the summer season I did see a number of people hyping the show so I tried out the original manga and just could not get into the series so I didn't try out the show when it first came out. About halfway through the series though I asked if it was worth trying out and was told yes so, especially since I needed something to watch while I was sewing, I caught up just in time for the best episode of the series (episode seven) and discovered that I enjoyed the anime a lot better than I enjoyed the manga.

Kamisama Dolls

Summary: Kyouhei used to be a seki, someone who controls the giant wooden puppets worshiped as gods (called kakashi), in his old village but he swore that he left that life behind when he moved to Tokyo for college. But it seems like you can never truly leave the village after an old foe tracks him down and his little sister Utauo has to come with his old kakashi to take care of it. 

The Good: For one reason or another I thought that the series flowed much better as an anime than as it did as a manga, possibly because the anime adapted the manga at a crazy pace (I believe it covered seven or nine manga volumes in 13 episodes) yet the pacing worked well. All of the major characters and most of the minor characters were at least partially fleshed out (my favorite was Kuuko who was probably the flattest character since she was crazy for crazy's sake) and that helped make the central conflicts all the more interesting.

The Bad: Some of the humor was a bit on the crass side (it's amazing how many people got tazed by the same tazer in this series) and at times I felt like I was laughing at things that weren't supposed to be funny (such as the aforementioned tazer). This isn't a problem per-say but it's not my favorite type of humor either. The ending of the series worked but didn't seem like the best place to end it and the stinger after the credits, as cool as it was, will be completely pointless and aggravating if the series doesn't get a second season (and right now it doesn't sound likely). In the end I would have liked it if the series has been farther along (or even finished) and then adapted everything into 26 episodes, there are still so many hanging plot threads that I had to go and look at manga spoilers or just feel annoyed at the ending.

The Audio: One very clever thing that anime does is that each kakashi has a distinct melody that plays when they're being moved around and the music changes if it's being controlled by a different person which actually confirms a few things the manga hinted at but never stated outright. The opening and ending themes are both rather catchy (don't know what either of them said since crunchyroll didn't have subtitles) but the music in this show worked very nicely.

The Visuals: I will be blunt, Hibino's (the love interest, the one in purple in the image) boobs are just plain strange. They're huge, stick out like bullets (I was actually reminded of the fourth comic here, bit NSFW, that's seriously how it looks like her boobs were drawn) and are just distracting and I'm plenty used to male oriented fanservice. Other than that the traditionally drawn parts of the show looked just fine. The CGI used to animate the kakashi was fairly good, better than I had been hoping, although it doesn't always mesh into the traditionally drawn backgrounds and props. The opening was the most stylish one of the season (mixing the screentones/colors used in the manga with the anime color schemes) and it was nice to see that both the OP and the ED hid the characters who hadn't appeared yet so they weren't huge spoilers.

It was a surprisingly fun show, one that I would buy if it came out cheaply on DVD (it seems like the kind of show I can see either Funimation or Section 23 going for) and my anime club would probably enjoy it. I've tried out the manga (it's unlicensed) again but I still can't seem to get into it though, a pity since that's probably the only way I'm going to be able to finish this series as it currently stands.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Book Review: Spice and Wolf (volume four)

Funny story here, I didn't actually mean to get a copy of this book when I did. Back in August I had my mom place a RightStuf order for me (since I was going to be out of town when the final Utena set went on pre-order and I was afraid they would sell out of the rings before I had a chance to order) but a few things went screwy, my mom accidentally placed two orders instead of one and I didn't know about this until TRSI had a Yen Press sale and I went to add this volume to my cart and discovered that not only was it already in one of my orders but it had shipped as well. Oops, although I wasn't too unhappy at this turn of events since I wanted to read the volume soon anyway, especially since volume four was not covered by the anime (season one covered volumes 1 & 2, season two covered volumes 3 & 5) so I was curious to see if there was a reason Brains Base had chosen not to animate this novel.

Spice and Wolf by Isuna Hasekura, illustrated by Jyuu Ayakura
  Here is the American cover which is also better than the previous ones but the plain white background bothers me, sure there are regular novels with white backgrounds but it's usually a very minimalistic style cover and this just isn't minimalism, especially with that kind of font used for the title.

Summary: About a week after their last adventure, Holo and Laurence are searching for an abbey they heard about in Kumerson that has a large collection of pagan tales and hopefully more information on Holo's lost hometown. But when they arrive in the village of Tereo they encounter unexpected resistance and an interesting arrangement between the village and the nearby town of Enberch.

The Good: I'm not sure why this story wasn't adapted into the anime version (perhaps it's too similar to the next story?) because it was a fairly solid story that uses yet another point of commerce for it's conflict and has a rather clever solution in the end. Holo and Lawerence's relationship continues to progress forward slowly (it's a little hard to remember that the novels only have a short gap of time between them, that makes the speed the relationship is developing at seem much more realistic) but there certainly is progress for both of them.

The Bad: The ending does feel a little bit like a deus ex machina (funny enough, it both kinda is and is supposed to be seen as one) but I still thought it was a clever solution. Elsa (the priest in Tereo and one of the major characters) felt a little flat to me despite Hasekura's attempts to make her a more rounded character however. She had quite a few scenes and made decisions but never seemed to have a lot of personality to me and I simply had a hard time caring about what she was doing as a result. The other side characters were much more interesting (such as the village elder, the miller and the bar keeper's wife) so I was sad that Elsa felt so dull for the entire story.

The Art: The illustrator for Spice & Wolf is the same as the previous novels so the art remains unchanged. The designs are a little too simple for my taste (which is odd, generally light novel art is more intricate than manga art which is turn is more complicated than anime artwork) but I really do like Holo's look on the cover.

So another good addition to the series, now to hope that it stays that way for the remaining 13 volumes. Funny enough this is the only Yen Press series I'm not behind on, really hoping that next year I can take advantage of more of TRSI's sales so I can try to stay that way since it's so frustrating to be volumes behind on the releases.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Comic Review: Anya's Ghost

Wow, sorry for the delay guys, I had a big midterm project (gaaaah) that ate almost all my free time last week (that and watching a few more shows before I did the fall review page) and I just haven't had any time to write this thing. So today's usual book review is being pushed back to Sunday and there won't be a movie review on Sunday since again, haven't had any time to watch any movies. There are a few movies my roommates has that I've been meaning to watch so I should have something for next week and then November is going to get interesting....

The cover of this book caught my eye at the local library (it was on display with some other comics) and after a minute or two of browsing I remembered that I had read a short preview for it on (you can see it here) and liked what I saw but didn't think I'd have a chance to read the rest. So, since I had this wonderful chance, and it's getting close to Halloween here in the US, I thought it would be an appropriate read.

Anya's Ghost by Vera Brosgol

Summary: Anya isn't a popular girl in school but she's getting by most days. Until she falls down a hole, meets a ghost and then has to deal with a seemingly helpful ghost in her love life.

The Good: The story was short, flowed well and was a fairly fun read. The supernatural element worked well, the resolution to the romantic sub-plot was different and, while some of the things about Emily weren't the most original plot points either, they worked well and made sense. It's a nicely done story that I can see working for either the middle grade or young adult crowd and I enjoyed it.

The Bad: The very ending of the story felt a little cliched (some of the conversation does anyway, Anya's actions seem sensible) and I thought her change in heart towards her family was just a little too fast. I'm not sure how it could have felt more believable in that respect, the story was moving so quickly at that point, but it made the ending feel a little too neat over all.

The Art: The book has the same color scheme as the cover so you can see that it's not in full color but it's not in black and white either, is there a term for a three or four color scheme? Regardless, the page layouts flow well (although I do wish the book had been split into chapters or something, it's easier for me to read books in chunks these days rather than hope I find a good stopping point in time) and the art worked well. Anya managed to look like an actually curvy teen (as opposed to looking rail thin and the audience having to take her word for it), all the characters looked different from each other and it was a nice touch to see how Emily's design changed a little over the story as foreshadowing. 

So I'm happy that I got this one out and it was a nice read for the Halloween season. Speaking of which, next week's comic is also going to have a bit of a supernatural/horror theme, the horror/supernatural/magic genre really is a bit one in comics isn't it?  

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Fall Anime 2011 Reviews: Part two!

For those who missed it, I did update the first post with my thoughts on Last Exile: Fam (what I'm most disappointed about with it is just how much the fandom for it is complaining, about having a predominately female cast, possibly a yuri hint or two, a bit of fanservice and it's not like the original show didn't have most of that as well) this post should cover everything else I've tried so far this season. Looks like I'll be watching more shows than I planned on which makes me pretty glad that I'm not watching much non-anime stuff right now (Doctor Who is done, Project Runway is almost done, My Little Pony is starting up again but that's not a bit thing, might finish up Legend of the Seeker on Netflix soon), although I do have some older anime titles I'm trying to finish up now as well, balancing all of this and school work could get tricky soon....

Persona 4
In case anyone is worried that I suddenly forgot how the alphabet goes yes I know this should have gone before Phi Brain but I only tried out this show a couple of days ago and didn't want to mess with my previous post any more than I had. In any case, I've never played any of the Persona games so I went in with only a basic knowledge of the plot and managed to keep up and understand everything pretty well. Yu Narukami is sent to live with his uncle and cousin in a small town as his parents work overseas (weird, I thought it was standard for anime characters to live at home by themselves), awkwardly meets some people, accidentally discovers his can now phase through tvs and ends up fighting some monsters with his new friends. The pacing bothered me more than anything else, it felt really choppy in the first episode (as if they were just showing the cut scenes from the game and cutting out the game play parts, I had a similar problem with Toganu no Chi last year) but the pace in the second episode seemed much smoother and felt like a better speed. I've seen some people worried about how the studio is going to compress a 80+ hour game into a bit under 11 hours but I'm going to remain optimistic for the moment. In the US this is being simulcast by Sentai/Section 23 through their site, The Anime Network but it looks like they're using the hulu player so you can also watch it that way. 

Sekaiichi Hatsukoi 2
Starting pretty soon after the first season left off, Ritsu is still working for the manga publishing magazine Emerald and he's now in a supervisor position so there's even more work for him now. More importantly, it seems that in two episodes Ritsu and Takano have made at least as much (if not more) progress than they did in the entire first season, I was rather impressed since I was expecting the story to continue the "will-they-or-won't-they?" story to the very end. Also happy to see they're still censoring out the sex scenes (which is just because I don't like porn of any kind that much*) although I'm sure the hardcore fujoshi fans aren't so happy. The visuals are still below average, this is a Studio Deen work so that shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone and I haven't really noticed the music that much. Next week the story is switching to one of the side couples so fingers crossed that it continues to improve on the first season.
The second season of Sekaiichi is streaming on crunchyroll and you can watch the first season there as well. 

Squid Girl 2 (Shinryaku Ika Musume!?)
Squid Girl also continues more or less where the first season left off but after four episodes I'm just not loving it as much as I liked the first season. I remember that I marathoned a good chunk of the series the first time and maybe that's what I need to do now to get back into the show. It has the same set-up as before, three sketches in each episode, but only one or two of them have felt really funny to me, some were a bit amusing and others just fell flat, the humor just doesn't feel as creative anymore. The show is taking a break in the upcoming weeks (to give the stations that started late a chance to catch up) so maybe a little break is what I need. 
Like it's predecessor, Squid Girl is streaming on crunchyroll.

I didn't watch the original Tamayura OVAs when they came out since I saw mixed reviews about them but decided to try out the tv series for a few reasons. While I normally have no interest in the cute girls/boys doing cute things kind of plot this was a story about cute girls doing photography, my thing, which was interesting and the show is being directed by Junichi Sato who did the series composition for Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth this past summer and I really enjoyed that show so I thought I would give it a try. Tamayura just didn't work for me however, while Croisée managed to have a "healing" feeling by being a very low-key, character growth oriented show it felt like Tamayura was trying too hard to capture that same feeling and came off feeling forced to me. Maybe if this series got licensed I would give it another chance but for the moment I'm not going to follow fansubs for any series I don't completely adore.

The other noitaminA show this fall (funny enough, the same two studios, Production IG and Bones did both the shows for the summer block and the fall block, this is Bones' show) and it's adapted from Ango Sakaguchi's post WWII mystery stories, this time set in the near future after a war. Shinjurou Yuuki is "the defeated detective" since it always seems like he makes incorrect deductions and he's accompanied by his assistant, and by far the strangest element in this show, Inga. While the mystery was nothing special (I honestly think it's harder to do a mystery in a visual medium and in serial mediums, keep meaning to write a blog entry on that) I did like how the surrogate audience character was NOT the detective's assistant for once and that she could be an interesting character later on. I didn't really like how Gosick turned out but I've never been able to find out how much of the ending was Bones and how much of the ending was the original work so I'm hoping I'll like a story that's almost all Bones a bit more.
UN-GO is streaming for multiple countries on crunchyroll.

So there you have it, 10 shows, 2 I'm dropping, 8 I hope to follow and who knows, I might even try out Fate/Zero later on when I have the time. Not now though, apologies that this entry is up so late but this week has been crazy for me and tomorrow's entry might be up really late (like, a whole day late) as well. Fingers crossed that everything will go smoothly tomorrow but I'm not counting on it.

*believe me, I've seen hardcore yaoi before, although there's a bit of a story behind that one.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Anime Review: Natsume Yuujinchou San

More Natsume! And there will be even more next year since the fourth season has already been scheduled for the Winter 2012 season which makes me and I'm sure all the fans who buy the DVDs in Japan (it's Studio Brain Base's second biggest title, their number one title is Durarara!!) are thrilled about this as well. Actually, there was a similar gap between the first two seasons (the original was in the summer and Zoku was in the winter) so I wonder if San and the next season had been planned as a split 2-cour from the beginning and that's why there was a few year gap between 2 and 3. I think split cour shows are a pretty good idea myself, the gap gives the animators time to get ahead again and have enough time to work on everything, gives fans a chance to save up for more merchandise later on and it gives people who either didn't know about the show from the start or got behind in watching it a chance to catch up and then see the next part as it airs. 

Natsume Yuujinchou San (Natsume and the Book of Friends Three)

Summary: Ever since he was young, Takeshi Natsume has been able to see yokai (spirits) and it's only when he moves in with his current guardians that he learns that his grandmother Reiko had the same power and many of the same hardships. Thus he inherited her most precious belonging, the Book of Friends which contains the names of the yokai she befriended/defeated in a fight and Natsume is trying to return them all. And as time goes by Natsume finds himself interacting with more and more people and spirits and finds that he's making friends as well.

The Good: Like the second season, the third season of Natsume has a few two-parters (and other episodes where multiple chapters were compressed into one episode) and it's nice to have some variety since this is an episodic show to the core. On the subject of individual episodes, the one showing how Natsume met his current caretakers was one of the best of the entire series, from the pacing to the characters (even if some of them were more rounded in the manga) and hit all the right emotional notes. This season also introduced a reoccurring side character, Matoba (who was mentioned in the second season) and his character is an interesting contrast to Natsume's. He's also the most villainous character so far, someone who really only thinks of yokai as tools to be used, which makes him even more interesting. All of the other reoccurring characters feel very well fleshed out by this point and it's great to see some of them (like Taki and Tamuna) get more and more involved with Natsume (especially since that helps to show Natsume's own growth). 

The Bad: Even though some of the individual episodes were very strong and the whole season was rather enjoyable, I didn't feel like it was as strong as the previous seasons overall. Both of the previous seasons seemed to have an overarching theme (Natsume opening up to people and then starting to open up to yokai more) but this season seemed a bit all over the place. It did focus more on Natsume's past than the previous two seasons but the season lacked a theme that it need to tie together everything in it (which is the danger of being an episodic series, you need a strong overall theme or the story risks falling apart).

The Audio: This is the first time I've liked one of the ending songs from the start so it's my favorite out of the three so far and the opening song was good as well. I wasn't as fond of the visuals in the opening (showing clips from the past two seasons seemed a bit cheap to me) but the song sounded nice (another case where crunchyroll hasn't been able to translate the songs) so I was happy. The show has some very distinctive background themes by now and I was happy to hear a lot of old ones come back and was happy about their placement.

The Visuals: It looks like the show might have gotten a slight budget raise since since the art looks a bit crisper than before, or perhaps that was because I was watching this version in 720p on crunchyroll instead of standard definition. It's a subtle change though and the art still looks the same way it always has, like a cleaned up, slightly cuter version of the manga art and everything still looks consistently on model with appropriate color schemes.

Not my favorite season of the show but it's still one of my favorite shows and I do wish it would get licensed over in the US (or Australia or the UK so I could import it). So, Nozomi, NISA? Could one of you guys license this in a nice fancy package with extras? Heck, I wouldn't mind if Sentai licensed this as a slightly over-priced sub only deal, I just want a physical copy of it with subtitles!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Movie Review: Super 8

Back when Super 8 came out over the summer I was a little curious was about, read some reviews, and figured out from the reviews that this wasn't my kind of movie at all. In fact, it seemed like it would probably be a movie I would rage at and feel like it was a waste of money, unless I was seeing it with friends on campus for a dollar that is. So that's what happened, I waited until school started, grabbed some friends and I saw the movie with all the nickles and dimes I had left over from doing laundry.

Super 8

Summary: In a small town in Ohio, 1979, Joe and his dad are still getting over the loss of Joe's mom a few months earlier and Joe seems to be coping better by helping his friends make a zombie movie for a local film festival. Things are going swell, the director is happy, they managed to convince a cute girl in their class to play a small role in the film, but when a military train derails at their shooting site it's only the first of many strange things to happen to their town.

The Good: Not much fiction is set between the 1960s and the 1990s (that wasn't written as contemporary fiction in that time period to start with) so I always like to see stories set then and it was fun to see people walking around with new walkmen, late '70s fashion and the dated details on the insides of the houses. It was also fun to see the kids going about making their movie and, even if I wanted to strangle some of the kids at times, I thought they felt like real children. 

The Bad: This movie ended in the wrong place and even seeing the kid's finished movie playing during the credits didn't make me much happier about it*. Others have said the movie felt like two movies smashed together and it really did feel that way at parts. Sometimes the contrast between ordinary life with soldiers in the background doing mysterious things worked and other times it just didn't. I also felt like the movie was trying too hard to make Joe's dad a really badass character that I should root for but after his line "it's us against the world Joe" I just couldn't like him. Here's a man with a hard job but he does have friends who believe him and is now in a position of authority, why the heck is he trying to isolate himself and his son?

The Audio: I thought that the sound effects managed to perfectly mimic the way that a homemade film produced a few decades ago would sound (especially one made by kids, I think someone had fun editing that whole thing) and that the background music in general was good.

The Visuals: A friend had told me beforehand that there was a scene in here that put Michael Bay to shame and there is one, way over the top (so over the top it draws you out of the movie) action scene which was just nuts. Aside from that scene, which almost felt like it should be in another movie, everything else was consistent, the CGI worked fairly well and even a few of JJ Abrams trademark lens flares managed to find their way into the movie.

I didn't end up hating this movie and didn't dislike it as much as I thought I would but it was still a silly thing and I'm confused why so many people liked it, nostalgia? Then again, I don't get why my friends still love bad movies from their childhoods either, nostalgia is a strange thing....

*I was joking with friends that after seeing District 9 and Super 8, both of which end with non humanoid aliens fixing a spaceship and taking off into outer space, that I want a movie that ends the exact same way next year with the number 7 in the title.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Book Review: Sapphique

When I was reading Incareron I wasn't sure if I would read the sequel but I saw a quick review over on Bibliovermis (which is the only place I've seen, other than the webcomic Unshelved, that does picture reviews of books without pictures) and that convinced me to try it out. Okay, I found it at the local library without even needing to look as well, if I can find it easily I'm more likely to try it which I'm sure someone has noticed by now. 

Sapphique by Catherine Fisher
  The cover here is composed similarly to the first book's cover (which I think is a good thing, might help the casual browser remember the series and then check out the next book) and again I like the images used and think the font used for the title looks really cool in small doses like this.

Summary: Starting soon after where the first book ended, Finn has escaped the prison Incarceron and returned to the real world where he is now being groomed to be the next king, something Claudia very much approves of, while the Queen plots in the shadows to hold onto her power. Meanwhile Attia and Kiero are still trapped inside the prison and are searching for a way out, namely trying to acquire a legendary glove that once belonged to the mysterious Sapphique and all the while the prison plots a way for it to escape into a new body and leave it's old form behind. 

The Good: The story handles the increase in number of viewpoints very well (in addition to Finn and Claudia, Jared's viewpoint is shown more often and Attia becomes a major viewpoint as well) and the story never feels like one character is favored/more important than the other characters. More of the world, both outside and inside the prison, was expanded on which was also useful and it corrected a few incorrect assumptions I had made based on the first book (such as just how long it has been since the Years of Rage). The plot progresses logically and the ending works in a sense, it certainly wraps up all the plot points but it certainly had some issues.

The Bad: It's been a while since I've seen the "character sorta-kinda becomes Jesus" ending to a story (it is an actual trope but thankfully it's used very sparingly) and it seemed like Fisher was trying to create a flashy ending in order to distract the reader from all the plotholes in the backstory. One would hope that a book named after a character would shed more light on the character (especially as Sapphique has become more and more mysterious as the story goes on) but nothing ever is and it feels quite frustrating*. Also frustrating is the technology in this story, Clarke's Third Law is in full effect and, while I half-predicted part of this, the technology didn't quite make sense and since it's such a big part of the setting that really bugs me**.

So, technically the story worked but I felt really frustrated by the ending and I don't really want to check out any of the author's other works now since I had so many issues with her world building. I feel like I should add this to my common problems with sci-fi post, authors not quite understanding how technology has to work for it to actually work in the story....

*I have a personal wild theory that Sapphique never existed at all, rather he was a myth created by the prison at it's creation which somehow got spread to the real world as well and was told so many times that the prison itself began to believe that it was real. There are still plenty of plotholes with this theory but it would at least explain some things in a rather poetic fashion.
**what I predicted was that the "real world" would actually be just another faucet of the prison. That wasn't the case but there was apparently a lot of technology in the world masking what everything looked like and the electrical power to maintain the masquerade is stripped away at the end to show what the real world really looks like. It's rather poetic and all of that but there's no way that that technology could have worked in the first place without the characters have brain augmentation or such so that they didn't just see a pretty building but also could feel it, not feel a rundown building with wires running everywhere (and then Keiro should have seen that immediately since he was born in the prison). There are plenty of other ways this shouldn't have worked but that's the biggest one, you can put really advanced technology in books but you HAVE to put in at least a small line explaining them. And don't get me started about the stuff about at least partially destroying a Moon and stilling the tides, contrary to popular belief it's pretty hard to mess up a celestial body THAT much.   

Fall Anime 2011 Reviews: Part one!

Well then, Funimation is actually not doing a same day simulcast for Last Exile: Fam of the Silver Wing and since the show isn't airing until Monday I'm just going to leave a blank for it here and fill it in later on, I just won't have the time to do both of these posts later in the week and I've seen everything else I'm interested in. I also don't have a mid-season retrospective for what I'm still following this time around since the only show I'm following that halfway done is Mawaru Penguindrum (I ended up dropping Nura since it wasn't doing anything for me and I don't regret it) and I didn't want to make a post about a single show. I'm still loving the series to pieces for it's strangeness and strong plotline and between this and Star Driver earlier in the year it's really obvious now what parts of Utena were from Enokido and what parts were from Ikuhara, I might need to do a big post comparing all three when this one finishes up.

As for the new shows I'm doing this in the same style as before, I've seen at least one episode of each new show (more in some cases, it just depends on when the series aired) and I will try out the first series via fansub if I'm really curious about it. However, since I try to watch one (if that many) series fansubbed each season and I'm still following Penguindrum I won't be watching any new series that don't have a simulcast no matter how promising they seem.

 Chihaya Furu
Originally I wasn't interested in this series when the charts started coming out (I've enjoyed sports anime before and I've even read a large part of the Hikaru no Go manga) but I normally don't find the shows that interesting. Then I heard that this was a josei series so I decided to give it a shot and at least try to show that there is a small demand for more well done shojo/josei series, plus it was being simulcast over on crunchyroll and I still have a membership there. The first two episodes have been mostly flashbacks explaining how Chihaya became interested in the Japanese card game furata and those two episodes just blew me away. While Chihaya is oblivious and naieve she also has some remarkably perceptive moments, is stubborn and has a strong sense of what's right and wrong, what else can you want in a heroine? I'm curious to see how much of her personality, if any, has changed once all the flashbacks are over but I can see myself really enjoying this show (especially since it has 2-cour to try and pace everything right, too bad the manga it's based on isn't finished yet).

Future Diary
If I had posted this even one day earlier I would have said that this seemed like a cool series but since it wasn't being simulcast I wouldn't continue watching it but lo and behold it got a simulcast earlier today with the Funico agreement so I can watch it after all (a similar thing happened with Croisee in the summer season actually, makes me glad I wait a little bit to post these reviews). I read the first volume of the manga years ago and thought it was interesting so I was curious to see if it was as cool (but kinda disturbing) as I remembered and it appears that yes, this is a story with an insane yet cool premise (god of time and space gets bored so he gives 12 people future diaries to kill each other with and the victor takes his place, doesn't help that this god seems to like chaos) and characters who are just plain nuts (because sane people wouldn't take this as an opportunity to go murder each other). This show is also two-cour and the manga is finished at 12 volumes so I hope that's enough to tell the whole story.

Guilty Crown
The first of the two noitaminA shows, Guilty Crown is a curious show since it follows in noitaminA's recent trend of anime original stories and is only the fourth show in this timeslot to be two-cour, hopefully this means that the story will end up being better than the timeslot's other recent anime original stories (Fractal, [C]). All of that said, this is not a traditional noitaminA show and really shows how the timeslot it now trying to appeal to 2channer's/anime fans with deep pockets instead of it's older/more fringe audience from even a year ago. The premise is similar to Code Geass (with whom it shares some key staff) or any other show that has an apathetic/weak male lead who is given a mysterious power by a beautiful, out of the ordinary girl with connections to a group of rebels in Japan's dystopian, ruled by a foreign power future. It's not original but so far it's really pretty, the first few minutes before the title rolled were beautiful and would have dragged me into the show even if I hadn't already been interested in it. Funimation has the simulcast for this series and I hope it does well for them, also hope that the plot does well since I'm tired of being disappointed by noitaminA shows in the final act.

Last Exile: Fam of the Silver Wing
Not counting the flash anime they put out the summer season, this is Studio Gonzo's first anime in a few years and it's a good thing that such a controversial studio (they've produced some good work and some awful work over the years, their last series Shangri-La was sadly one of the later) is starting off with a sequel to one of their best known titles. Starting a few years after the first series ended, Last Exile: Fam is set on Earth where the Ades Federation is slowly conquering all the lands and has now turned their eyes to the Turan Empire. This doesn't concern Fam and her copilot Giselle as much, they're sky pirates and beholden to no one, but after seeing the Ades turn against Turan in the peace talks Fam offers to save the two princesses of Turan if the sky-pirates get their ship later on. In some ways it's a lot like the first two episodes of the original Last Exile (ordinary pilots getting caught between two warring countries and might possibly have a way to end the war) and while the art worked has been slightly "moe-fied" compared to the original show the characters already feel like real people and not cardboard cut-outs. Finally, a great thing about this show is that people are finally posting links to all the backstory about the original story and I'd encourage everyone whose seen the original series to read it (this timeline is a great place to start), partially to refresh your memories and also because it really clears up the ending of the original and helps explain the background of this series. 

Phi Brain
I saw a few other reviewers say good things about this show so I decided to give it a whirl, although it took me a few minutes since I was sure I had seen crunchyroll pick it up for a simulcast but it appears that I was mistaken and this show is unlicensed thus far. However, while the premise of the series sounded interesting (a puzzle obsessed world and the main character is really good at solving them), the presentation just didn't work for me since the show took itself way too seriously and in doing so felt too illogical. Supposedly hard puzzles that the rest of the cast couldn't solve seemed quite simple to the audience and a secret underground (literally) society that, erm, does something with life-threatening puzzles just felt too silly to me. Maybe if this was simulcast I would give it another episode (although it seems as if the second episode was worse than the first) but for the moment I've dropped it.

And here is part two!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Comic Review: To Dance: A Ballerina's Graphic Novel

A slim book that I picked up at the local library, this was a book that looked more like middle grade reading than young adult but it seemed interesting and I flipped through a few pages which also seemed fairly interesting so I thought why not. I'll also admit that the next few comics I'm reviewing are rather large so I wanted a few shorter works as well in case time got tight and I needed to read something really quickly to keep the reviews here balanced. Besides, I like stories where dancing is a major focus so this kind of story seemed right up my alley.

To Dance: A Ballerina's Graphic Novel by Siena Cherson Sigel and art by Mark Sigel

 Summary: An autobiographical story of Siena Cherson Sigel growing up dancing in the 1970s and 80s, first in Puerto Rico and then at the American School of Ballet in New York City.

The Good: It's a quick and charming read that's sure to make the reader wish they did ballet (or that they could go see one soon) even though Siena mentions some of the hardships she had doing ballet. That said, a lot of sports stories focus a lot on the pain and the things the athlete has to give up for their sport (sometimes leaving the reader wondering why they keep doing the sport in the first place) but this book maintains a happy, positive tone the whole way through and it's easy to see why Siena was willing to give up other parts of her life for ballet, her love for it comes through clearly.  

The Bad: Sometimes the transitions between sections were a little rocky and it would have been nice to have even a single reoccurring minor character, very few people in the story are even named which is a bit unusual for any story. This could be explained by the fact that that story was rather short and every panel had to be important but I would have liked the story to be a little longer and give more details on various parts of Siena's life. The story felt complete but I felt like she could have kept the readers attention just as well if the book was a little longer. 

The Art: The book is in full color and the art style is a light and slightly sketchy style which I feel like I've seen in other graphic novels aimed at this age group. The art is a little simple but it works well to compliment the story and, with something as visual as dance, it adds to the story and I think makes it work much better than if Siena had tried to explain everything using just words. 

I think this book is a good example of middle grade writing that's interesting and done well enough to appeal to older audiences as well (which is why I keep reviewing it, I'm trying to find those books that are good regardless of your age). I would love to know more about Siena's life or read more stories in general that feature ballerinas, too bad that not many come to mind right off hand. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Anime Review: Tiger and Bunny

Eeek, I still have seven more anime series to blog after this one and this is my fourth review of the summer anime already, really wish I had the time to post more here but I really do have too much school to make that work, lovely. Also, on this tangent, I'm hoping to get the first half of the fall short reviews up on Friday (just waiting on those noitaminA shows and Last Exile: Fam) and the second half up next Wednesday (not tomorrow but the one after that) which is also a bit late but I always put those posts up later than everyone else anyway. Onto the review!

As I believe I've said multiple times now, this show wasn't even on my radar during the spring preview because come on, an anime about Western style superheros that's trying to market itself to the 14-22, male Western comic book fan audiences? That's almost the exact opposite of my tastes but it was one of the first shows to air back in the spring, got some good reviews, was streaming on Hulu so I tried it out, found the first episode to be much better than I expected and as the show went on it turned out to be centered around a central plot instead of the episodic, villain-of-the-week kind of show I was expecting. I really found myself loving the show more and more as it went on and I know I wasn't the only one, it's one of the best selling shows of the past season to the surprise of just about everyone.

Tiger & Bunny

Summary: In an alternate Manhattan (here called Sternbild) there are people with special powers, called NEXT, and some of them act as a kind of corporate mascot by becoming superheroes and taking down crime, all while wearing logos all over their outfits. Kotetsu T. Kaburagi is the superhero Wild Tiger who isn't rated very high, doesn't have a lot of popularity and has a habit of causing property damage chasing criminals and costing his sponsor company money. The company folds and he's brought into another company to be part of the first superhero team with newcomer Baranaby Brooks Jr (Bunny), too bad neither of them really want to be partners.

The Good: As I pointed out in my second Diversity post, this show has quite possibly the most diverse cast of characters I've seen in any story, any medium (barring webcomics which are a bit special) recently. None of the characters come off as stereotypes and many of the side characters get their own focus episode to develop more which is great, the show is focused around a central plot but it's incredibly character focused. All of the major and minor characters have been fleshed out well enough that if you were to put two of them in a room together the viewer would know exactly how they would react, no matter the situation. The plotlines, while no the craftiest bits of writing ever conceived, were good and interesting to watch.

The Bad: Sadly some of the heroes didn't get their own focus episodes and the second league of heroes only appeared once after they were first introduced, hopefully if there is a second series both of those groups will get more attention. Sometimes the plot twists, especially towards the climax in the second half, were painfully obvious or the characters were being a bit dumber than normal which could get frustrating at points, the show does have it's cheesy moments. And if there isn't a second season after the stinger thrown in at the very end then Sunrise might have an angry mob on their hands which is never a good thing.

The Audio: It's been a while since I was surprised by a change in an anime's OP/ED but that happened here which was a pleasant surprise. The first OP/ED weren't bad per say but I found the second set (especially the ending theme) to be much more catchy and generally liked them more. I don't really have anything to say about the voice actors aside from saying that all of the acting seemed well-done without any odd moments and I'm sure there are many other reviewers out there who can talk more about the details.

The Visuals: Another reason I was so hesitant to watch this show was because it was obvious from the promo art (like this piece) that a lot of the heroes would be done in CGI on traditionally animated backgrounds which I always find to be really jarring. It is jarring for the first couple of episodes but you really do get used to it quickly and at least this way the heroes are never off model. And, while the rest of the show looks fine it is interesting to see all of the TV series/Blu-Ray comparisons, Sunrise has been doing a lot of touch-up on characters facial expressions so they look more natural and, in one case, adding in the elusive background character "scarf-tan" whom fans had fun finding in all of the later episodes.

The show is finished now and feels complete but there are still tons of things a second season could be about, most fans would love to see it deal more with the crime syndicate Oroborus and it seems the most likely direction a new season would take. Viz is streaming this in the US using Hulu (so Candian viewers can't see it, sorry guys!) although they haven't formally announced if they have the DVD/BR rights everyone wants them to get on it, dub it, and then put in on TV since it would probably be a hit there as well. It's really funny to compare this oddball show from Japan who no one thought would succeed to the recent reboot of DC Comics, the creators of Tiger and Bunny seemed to effortlessly make a great reconstruction of the superhero genre with fun, diverse characters (even the apparently "obligatory girl superhero in sexy outfit" Blue Rose is a well-rounded and interesting character and is barely used for fanservice, compare that to any of DC's female characters) and it has tons of fans. 750,000 people wanted tickets to the Tiger & Bunny live event in November, I don't know if any single volume of DC comics released in the US cracks 100,000. Over the past few weeks I've realized that I actually do like stories with superheros in them and that there are a lot of fun ones out there, it's just that none of them happen to be done in the style of traditional American superhero comics, how strange is it that it took a show from Japan and a few webcomics for me to come to that conclusion? 

Sunday, October 9, 2011

TV Series Review: Doctor Who (season six part two)

And here's the current Doctor Who review! Again, this is the second part of the sixth season so you need really need to see the first part and I would recommend watching season five since that's a good place for a new viewer to start (there are multiple good places to start in DW but season six is not one of them). Other than that, there's not much I can say to introduce this show that's not a spoiler, this season has been heavily structured around a central plot arc, although it does still have some episodic episodes, and I'm a little torn because I wanted a more central plot focused season but this didn't quite seem to work.

Doctor Who

Summary: Following the game-changing revelation at the end of the first half, the Doctor is traveling across the universe trying to find Melody Pond and after a summer of waiting Amy and Rory are tired of waiting, meet up with him again and join up. But another big revelation is just around the corner which changes everything again and the Doctor is becoming more and more worried about his impending death from the very first episode. 

The Good: Overall I like what Moffat is doing to the Doctor, Russel T. Davis made him into a larger than life character (one who was occasionally declaring himself as a god by the end) but Moffat seems to be bringing him back down to just "a mad man in a box." This season had two episodes that were both very good at doing this, The Girl Who Waited and The God Complex, which were both excellent episodes on their own and I thought were among the best of the combined season. The Girl Who Waited really let Karen Gillian (Amy) show off her acting chops (I'll admit, Amy is sometimes such a static role that I was wondering how good an actor she is, this episode removed all doubts in my mind) and Closing Time was a really good episodic episode that did what it needed to, provide a quick chance for everyone to catch their breath and then move into the final episode.

The Bad: The final episode was both convoluted and too simple, complicated in execution and simple in result is probably the best way to put it. I feel that there was a better way to tell this story so I did feel a bit disappointed with the final episode. I also wish that Night Terrors had been kept in the first half of the story like it was supposed to and either had that push A Good Man Goes to War back one episode or nixed The Curse of the Black Spot (the episode it switched with) entirely and put in a different episode which showed the characters dealing with the big twist of Let's Kill Hitler. I feel like that revelation was dealt with partially but really needed more screen time, perhaps not a full episode but at least a full scene which it never got. I do believe that this season actually could have been better if they weren't constrained by the 13 episode limit/requirement (especially with the mid-season split*) but that's a part of the series that the writers know from the start so it's their job to make it work one way or another, not to leave someone like me wishing they had more or less episodes to do it in.

The Audio: No changes have been made to the opening theme and I feel like I'm starting to notice the background music for this series more and more, there are a few tracks from it I would love to own but have no idea how to find. Other than that there's not much to talk about, it's silly to talk about voice acting instead of regular acting for a live action series, and there was some creepy children chanting but that did it's job well also.

The Visuals: It's rather obvious that a good chunk of the budget was spent on CGI in the final episode but a lot of the imagery still felt awkward and obvious, I would have liked it to have been toned down a bit to make it look better. The rest of the series, both CGI and traditional sets, were good and I thought that the settings for some of the episodes (such as The Girl Who Waited and The God Complex) were really well done. So all and in all this season looked pretty good and I, like pretty much every other fan, love the Doctor's new green jacket, such a nice cut.

I didn't like this season as much as I hoped to which made me sad but I hardly think it was the worst thing ever (good lord, the last time I saw so many passionate people trying to explain why a show is the best/worst thing ever was all the debates that people had over my summer reading book my freshman year of college, even in the anime fandom I've never seen arguments this vehement and often). I'm a little hesitant about the Christmas Special since I generally don't like those as much (also, I'm agnostic, it's strange to see a tv episode focused solely around a holiday that I don't have a religious connection to any more) but I've seen a few production pictures for it which did make me a bit excited for it. Until then, back to the Classic Who! 

*which reminds me, if the reason for the split was Sherlock, which I know they started filming back in April, then why isn't it out yet? The BBC recently made some budget cuts but I'm suspecting they've had budget issues for a while and that's the real reason this season was split and why next years is delayed.