Monday, January 30, 2012

Anime Review: Squid Girl 2

And FINALLY, the last show from the Fall 2011 season that ended back in December, wish I could say that I saved the best for last but actually the order I've done these reviews, which is mostly based simply on the order they ended, it's gone from favorite to least. That's a little sad since I really enjoyed the first season of Squid Girl (which aired in Fall 2010) and had even been thinking of buying it since Media Blasters had licensed it for R1. I don't believe they've licensed this season, especially since it sounds like they're about to keel over and die, but I don't really want to purchase this season anyway.

Squid Girl 2 (Shinryaku!? Ika Musume)
Summary: While Squid Girl still has grand plans to conquer the Earth for the moment she's still stuck waiting tables at the seaside restaurant Lemon, dealing with some of the town's even wierder residents and getting into plenty of trouble herself. 

The Good: Squid Girl continues to use the same format that the first series did, 12 episodes split into 3 shorts per episode, and that format still worked really well. Actually, since very few of the skits rely on continuity a new viewer could theoretically start with the second season and pick up as easily as someone who had already seen the first season which is also rather nice. This series also introduces a few more side characters and gives some of the older side characters more screentime so if you enjoyed more of the character based gags of the first season you'll like this one.  

The Bad: Comedy is hard to do and a good sequel is hard to do as well. Put them together and you have to come up with a really impressive product for the show not to feel like a let-down and for me Squid Girl 2 felt like a let-down. What I enjoyed so much in the first season was how the skits and gags felt unique, the main character is a squid after all so almost everything had to do with the ocean or local, on land customs that Squid Girl didn't know about which the series played up. Here however the gags are much more generic and sometimes rely more on "hey, this character is whacky!" for the laughs instead of having really good gags.

The Audio: Not much has changed from the first season except for a change in opening and ending songs. Both of them were okay and but I liked the opening from the first season better than this new one, this one just felt a bit more generic.

The Visuals: The visuals look unchanged from the first season, colorful and simple. It doesn't look like the show got a budget boost for the second season, of if they did it it didn't go into the animation. Nothing looked especially terrible or horribly off but the show just never looked great either, it's one show where I can't understand buying in BR since there's nothing to improve on in the first place.

In the end I was disappointed by this sequel, I just didn't laugh at this season as much as I did with the previous season and don't foresee watching it again. Oh well though, there are plenty more fish in the sea to try out instead!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Movie Review: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Swedish Version)

While I've certainly heard about Stieg Larsson's trilogy over the years I've never tried the books before or really had any interest in doing so. Sure they sounded interesting but never grabbing so I never made the effort to track them down. However, I ended up with copies of the first two books during my family's annual gift-swap and my school's movie schedule for the upcoming semester had just gone up online and I hit upon a plan. First, watch the Swedish version of the movie (which I had found on Netflix before and had heard was very good), read the book, and then watch the American version of the movie (which I've heard some mixed reactions on) when it came to my campus in late March. Hopefully this way I'd have seen each version with a long enough gap between them that I wouldn't confuse them but still close enough together that I'd be able to tell how accurate the movies were and which one I preferred. So the other day I took the first step and sat down to see the Swedish version of the movie which really impressed me, the other versions are going to have to do a lot to live up to this!

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

Summary: Mikael Blomkvist is an investigative journalist who has to spend the next six months in shame and exile from his magazine after he is charged with libel in an article he was set up on. Someone however still wants to make use of him for those six months before he goes to jail, Hnerik Vanger, the head of the powerful Vanger group, who wants Mikael to investigate a 40 year old mystery, the disappearance and presumed murder of his beloved niece, Harriet. And who is the eponous girl with the dragon tattoo? That would be one Lisabeth Slader, a computer hacker who works for a company Vanger used to check Mikael out with first and who still has access to his computer. Mikael becomes aware of her once she emails him the answers to an important clue and her pulls her into the investigation to unravel the mystery.

The Good: It's hard to write a good mystery and harder yet to create one that has remained unsolved for a long time (although, since the characters can only see clues it does seem to eliminate a lot of the problems that visual mysteries often have) but this mystery was both solvable but easy to see why it hadn't been before. I was worried how Lisabeth and Mikael's relationship would work out, I was afraid she was going to turn out to be the cocky, only knows how to use a computer, character and that Mikael would have to teach her and make her less arrogant in the process but she turned out to be not arrogant at all and plenty capable of doing old fashioned research on her own. The plot was gripping, appropriately complex without being over so, and was paced well (even though it's still a two and a half hour long movie) and makes me excited to see the rest of the franchise. 

The Bad: Not specifically a bad thing but a word of caution, this movie has an R rating and it is a deserved one. There are several disturbing sex scenes in the movie (which I did fast-forward through) and the murders themselves are very gruesome as well. To the stories credit none of these events are portrayed as "cool" or "sexy," they're shown to be disturbing events and the audience should be feeling a bit uncomfortable. Again, not a bad thing but I thought I would give a heads up. The story does take a bit of time to get going, it spends quite a bit of time developing Mikael before things really get moving, and Lisabeth still seems quite the mystery by the time the movie is over. Of course, there are more stories in the trilogy, and there were plans for even more before Larsson died, so this was likely the intended effect and some of her back story is revealed towards the very end.  

The Audio: I watched this in Swedish with subtitles and, while the subtitles on Netflix seemed a bit off at times (would put up two lines of dialogue when there was a clear pause between the first and the second, occasionally they would forget to subtitle the first line in a conversation which is very sloppy), I was intrigued to note that it seems like Swedish has a similar word order to English. Doesn't have much to do with the movie itself but it is fun to see movies every now and then in a language you have no familiarity with. The music worked and complimented the scenes nicely so overall a nice job there. 

The Visuals: Even though the entire movie has a rather muted color pallet and low saturation the movie is still visually interesting to look at. I was also impressed at the amount of work put into the photographs from 40 years earlier, it's clear that the props team spent a long time making those look just right, and then the sequence when the images have been animated looked amazing as well, so kudos to them. The actors also looked good especially when it came to facial expressions. I've sometimes thought that European movies and tv shows has more shots of a character's facial expressions when another is talking and I really like those kinds of shots since they are often rather telling. Great job overall with the visuals, I'm not sure how large a budget they had for the movie but it felt like they had a nice sized budget and used it well.

All in all I was really surprised at just how much I enjoyed this movie and I'm eager now to read the book and see how the two versions compare. Bit less excited for the American one since I've heard mixed reviews on it but I'll worry about that when I get to it. 

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Book Review: Lament

Way back in August Maggie Stiefvater was doing a signing not that far from me (the same store I saw Scott Westerfeld in actually) and, since it's generally considered polite to buy a copy of the author's book at the bookstore (and I really didn't like Shiver) I got a copy of Lament which is from a different series and that I had read years ago and remembered liking quite a bit. I was hesitant that I might not like it anymore since it had been four years and that plus my habit of putting books I own at the bottom of my to-read list (after all, my books don't have due dates/fines) it took me a really long time to get around to actually reading it. It seems like I waited the right amount of time though since the second book in this trilogy has been out for a while and the third one is being written so hopefully there won't be another year wide gap between reading those two.

Lament by Maggie Stiefvater

Summary: Deirde is an up-and-coming harp player who has a fairly normal life with a few quirks. Her life gets a bit quirker after a local music competition, strange boys appearing, clover blankets her front yard, her dog reacts to things only the two of them can see, so she's only half surprised to find out that faeries exist and they have taken a possibly deadly interest in her.

The Good: I really liked how Luke was upfront from the beginning that yes, there is something supernatural going on and is willing to try and see how much he can say to give Deirdre a fighting chance at surviving all the weirdness going on*. And I liked how James, Deirdre friend, also noticed that something odd was going on at how he was a bit special himself. I’m used to seeing a major supporting character, often a male love interest, become magical/powerful as the story goes on as a way to keep them in/so they can keep up but it’s unusual to see them like this from the beginning and I also loved the scenes when the two of them sat down and tried to figure out just what was going on.   

The Bad: There was a character death and a betrayal by another character which both caught me off guard, even though I kinda thought I remembered something like that happened, and while both of the events had a bit of foreshadowing they still came off too suddenly for me. Also rather curious how this is going to tie into other books in the trilogy since the story here was neatly wrapped up (and it sounds like the second book has little to do with these characters) yet the first words in the third book are apparently "Luke Dillion". Not a bad thing per say but something that always makes me nervous, I've been seeing a lot of odd sequels (admittedly in anime) lately that I'm extra wary of them these days.

So I was pleasantly surprised to see that yes, I still liked this book and still enjoyed it a lot more than I did with Shiver. Maybe it was because Shiver is primarily a love story and this one isn't, that could be it....

*he actually reminds me of Mark from Guardian of the Dead (by Karen Healey) in that respect and I really LOVE when characters admit something strange is going on, considering how obvious it is to the read it can be frustrating to read about genre blind protagonists all the time.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Manga Review: Hiro no Isu

Earlier in the month I was browsing some of the submissions to the Natsume Yuujinchou group on deviantArt and came across a piece of fanart with some characters I didn't recognize. The artists comments explained that they had drawn the main characters from three of Yuki Midorikawa's works, Natsume Yuujinchou, Hotarubi no Mori e (both of which I had recognized), and then a third character from another work of her's Hiro no Isu. I hadn't really done any searching to see if Midorikawa had done any other works besides Natsume and Hotarubi, turns out she's been published since 1998 and has done seven series of various lengths and this one was her longest one before Natsume at 10 chapters over three volumes. It's never been released in the US and the scans were rather easy to find so I decided to give the story a shot and ended up immedately falling in love with it.

Hiro no Isu (The Scarlet Chair/Throne) by Yuki Midorikawa

Summary: Setsu is a girl from a small town in the countryside and has traveled to the capital to see an old friend. She was one of the few who knew that her childhood friend Luca was actually the illegitimate child of the king and years ago he was summoned by one of the retainers to become the new king and take the scarlet throne since he was the only living descendant left. But when Setsu comes to the city she's in for a surprise, there's an impostor in his place and he seems to have been expecting Setsu to come someday.

The Good: This series is clearly a shojo manga, it has a female protagonist and was published in Hana to Yume based on the cover, but it doesn't feel like a typical shojo series at all. There's a bit of romance but not much, it's more implied than anything else*, the main character isn't that girly but this is never a reason for teasing or angst, she just doesn't seem to care, and she's proficient with a sword which never seems to raise any eyebrows. Actually, there are several female characters who are skilled fighters and no one ever questions this, I'm so used to seeing series where female characters have to fight their way to the top to be accepted that it's always odd when there isn't sexism, I certainly prefer it this way though. And I also prefer the lack of romance, there is a big focus on friendship instead and I really liked seeing those grow and develop between all the characters. The series ended a bit differently than I expected and was a bit bittersweet as well but I felt satisfied with it once I was done so I'm happy.

The Bad: The series is an odd length and I wonder if this was originally going to be a one-shot story that was approved for a full series or a full series that was cut short. Perhaps it was only intended to be a short story from the start but occasionally the pacing felt a little odd and made me wonder. While I don't think the story could have worked if it was any shorter I do think it could've also worked as a longer series which would have been nice, some of the reveals towards the end came too quickly and felt too messy. Overall though the plotting is strong enough, it just feels like it could've been even better.

The Art: I know this has surprised some people before but I'm actually not super-fond of Midorikawa's art style, it's a bit too sketchy and inconsistent for my taste. It does work surprisingly well for action scenes, of which HnI has many, but it can become difficult to distinguish the characters from each other. I found it interesting to compare her art here to her work in Natsume, she's certainly improved  but there is still some charm to the art here.

If this was ever to be licensed in the US, highly unlikely but hypothetically, I'd buy it for sure and squee over it all over again. It's shojo, which I love, but different from other shojo titles which I love even more. Wonder if I can find out more about any of Midorikawa's other works now....

*something interesting however, apparently the reason there has been so little romance in Natsume, this is all at least third-hand information, is because Midorikawa's editors made her put in more romance than she wanted in her previous work so she's really trying to avoid it this time. Chronologically this would have been the work right before Natsume so I wonder if the editors made her put in the hints in the end, no way to know however. 

Monday, January 23, 2012

Anime Review: Sekaiichi Hatsukoi 2

While I had some issues with the original Sekaiichi Hatsukoi I did like many of the characters enough to check out the second series (which aired in fall 2011, bit behind here) streaming on I suppose that theoretically this second series could be watched without having seen the first series but in a series that rests entirely on it's characters and their developing relationships I can't see why you would skip the first series. I will note however that I did skip the episode that focused on characters from the original manga-ka's other work, Junjou Romantica, since I have not seen that show and don't plan on it so it just didn't hold any entertainment value for me.

Sekaiichi Hatsukoi 2

Summary: Ritsu Onodera is still the rookie manga editor for the shojo magazine Emerald but he's starting to get a grasp on all the stuff that gets thrown his way. He's also starting to get a grip on his growing love life with his boss, Masume Takano, although progress on that front is moving even more slowly. And the second and third set of couples also reappear as they navigate the ins-and-outs of being men in love.

The Good: Ritsu actually admitted to himself in the first episode that yes, he does love Takano so all kissy/sexytimes between the two of them seem to be consensual now which clears up my big problem with the series, even if Ritsu won't formally tell Takano that yes he loves him. This made their relationship much more interesting, and less icky, in my opinion and the story covered the rest of their past which was also a nice touch.

The Bad: As mentioned earlier, there is an episode in this series that is devoted entirely to characters who aren't even in this series (although yes they do have a tenuous connection) which I frankly don't see the point of and wish had been an unconnected OVA instead. Also got bored very quickly of the tension surrounding the second couple, Chiaki and Hatori, which has devolved into a silly love triangle involving a mutual acquaintance of theirs and just didn't find it interesting at all. Likewise, I was sad that the third couple, Kisa and Yukina whom I prefer, didn't have that much screen time and their story this time was a bit stupid as well, I actually felt a bit cheated by that. 

The Audio: The voice acting was the same as the first series and still worked here, although I did have a few moments wondering how embarrassing/how many times the voice actors must have just broken down and started laughing while recording some of the lines, and it works well enough. The OP and ED were okay and I was happy that the previews were done the same way they had been in the first season, with Ritsu reading off a bunch of explanations for what goes on in the manga publishing industry super fast yet never quite managing to finish in time.

The Visuals: Same as before, this series is being produced by Studio Deen who frankly does not do very great work. A lot of stuff looks awkward, there are plenty of scenes that are just shots of talking heads (and the original manga-ka isn't very good at creating distinct looking characters which adds to the mess)  and it's just not the most visually interesting series. This time however there was actual animation in the ED which is a step-up from the first series.

This season I think was stronger for the main couple and weaker for the two other couples oddly enough but it worked. Not sure if I would see a third season of this show unless it was meant to the last, there's just a limit to how much will-they-or-won't-they I can take, but as before I would seriously consider buying this is Nozomi was to license it.  

Sunday, January 22, 2012

TV Series Review: Tinker, Tailor Soldier, Spy

I haven't had a chance to see the new movie adaption of John le Carré's book, which I've also never read, but I did find time to watch the 1979 BBC tv mini-series adaptation of the book since my dad actually had a copy of it. The American version, which I had, is six, one hour long episodes (apparently the original version was seven episodes long and some shortening/altering happened for the US version, no idea why they went to that trouble) which I watched over the course of a few days and has made me more curious than ever for how a two hour movie could hope to adapt this huge, detail heavy story.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

Summary: The Cold War is on and the head (Control) of the upper division of British Intelligence (the Circus) believes that there is a mole in their midst. When a mission to collect more information about the hypothetical mole goes disastrously wrong this all but confirms it but nothing else is done to the case until George Smiley, who was forced into retirement after Control's death and remains bitter about that, is given the task to pick up where the investigation left off and figure out if it is the tinker, the tailor, the soldier, or the poorman who has turned turncoat. 

The Good: This is a very meticulously plotted series without a wasted minute and yes, it is possible to figure out the mole before the reveal (I actually did although I wasn't completely positive until the last minute). You don't need to know much about the Cold War to understand the movie, really just the basics, to understand the intrigue going on which is good since it's one less thing the viewer needs to keep track of. The series is well paced, there is always enough going on in each episode to keep it interesting and I always wanted to see the next one afterwords, but that doesn't mean that this series always made sense, see below.

The Bad: This may be due to the cuts but glancing through the Wikipedia article before I started writing I was surprised to see that some parts of the show were flashbacks since I hadn't picked up on that at all. Actually, this is a very plot dense story and if you don't have some kind of crib sheet with you (wikipedia, handy list of characters and terms that came with the DVD) then you're going to get lost fast, marathoning is not recommended for this series since that will only make it worse. That isn't a bad thing per say but you do need to be prepared to give your whole attention to this series and give yourself some time to watch it.

The Audio: Surprisingly enough this series does have distinct opening and ending themes (not 30 second clips of songs as they frantically scroll credits but proper little songs) and both of them grew on me, the image is actually a shot from the opening sequence. Other than that, the show was a bit quiet so I kept having to turn up the volume but that could've been a problem with the transfer to the DVD.

The Visuals: This series was shot in the 70s and it looks like it was (which isn't a good or bad thing, just a thing). There's not much to say about the visuals either, while they are necessary to this story it's also easy to see that this was originally a book and how this story could work in a text only environment as well.

Did I like this story? Well, honestly I'm not sure. It was well done and interesting, and I do wonder now if some of the problems I had were because of the US cut, but it just didn't grab me in the way that my favorite shows do. It didn't give me a burning desire to read the book or see this series again, although I am curious how a two hour movie version of this would work, but I still think it was a pretty good work.  

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Book Review: Crashed (now titled Shattered)

The next book in Wasserman's trilogy, I'm actually only 80 or so pages away from finishing the last book so that review should be up in two weeks as according to schedule, and there's not much more to say to introduce it. It's another book that I got from Wasserman herself with her knowing I was going to review it and it sounded like she thought my first review was a fair one (phew) so here's the next one!

Crashed by Robin Wasserman (now titled Shattered)
 Once again, this is the original US version, I have a copy of the British paperback (whose cover I like more this time around, neither of them are amazing but the tattoos on the American version just look so badly done, really needed a gradient and probably should've been put in overlay blending mode as well) and here is what the new American covers look like.

Summary: Lia Khan has now moved away from her home, unable to live comfortably with her family who only considers her a copy of the daughter they lost, and lives with other mechs, people whose brains have been downloaded into a robotic body (some willingly, most are the "survivors" of accidents and had the money to afford the process) in a remote mansion. While not much of note goes on in the mansion, other than all the relationship drama, there are big things going on in the world including what looks like a set-up to frame Lia and the other mechs for a heinous crime and more people pushing for the de-humanization of mechs.

The Good: I complained in the previous review that not much actually happened action wise, it was a lot more of characters trying to feel their way around and figure out where to go next, and thankfully the plot does progress here. I wasn’t happy with a lot of the progress but things were happening and you can see things being set up for the final volume as well. I was surprised at how well Lia’s romantic relationship went (it was obvious from the first chapter that it would happen but it occurred much more naturally than I was expecting) and I really hope it’s still there in the final book.  

The Bad: Those who read my other reviews know that I’m following an anime called Guilty Crown right now (technically I just dropped it but details) and I’m struck by the similarity between the character Gai there and the character Jude here. Both are leaders of resistance/outside groups of people who have a large group of followers who hang onto their every word, presumably because of their large amounts of charisma, but the main character is always wary of them. But what really struck me is that I’m in agreement with the main characters of both of these works because neither Gai nor Jude appear likable or charismatic in anyway so I, like Shuu and Lia, am completely confused as to just how this all works and I ended up sympathizing with Lia more because of it. This goes under the bad since I’m not sure if Jude was supposed to come off this way or if the writing just didn’t convey something it was supposed to*. Other than that, Lia has a tendency to go on for  paragraphs, if not pages, about why she doesn’t know things (the condition of living in the cities, recent history). The story never makes clear if these things are common knowledge or not, it does insinuate however that Lia really needs to brush up on a lot of areas, but what really annoyed me is just how long each defense of why she didn’t know any of these things took. Finally, this book unfortunately helps show why I really like books with older protagonists, teenagers, even teenagers without hormones running their brains, are often really dumb and simply aren’t creative enough with their plans for me^.

Reading so many of these books back to back makes me glad that I decided to write each of these reviews before I started the next book, I'd be much too muddled up otherwise. And like I said, almost done with the final book and then I get to dive right into my current to-read pile (minus a couple of books that I forgot to put in).

*pretty sure Gai in Guilty Crown wasn’t supposed to come off this way though. Actually, funny enough, Gai seems to be less crazy than Jude, and considering the (unitentional) crazy that is Guilty Crown I never expected to type that.
^for the record, there have been VERY few characters in fiction who have been creative enough for me, I can only think of one instance off the top of my head, but it does get frustrating to read about characters being convinced that there are only two solutions, the bad solution and the not-so-bad solution, when I can immediately think of a few more. Then again, see this comic. 

Friday, January 20, 2012

Manga Review: Alice 19th (reread)

A few weeks ago I went to a small, local con and by the time Sunday rolled around I had spent barely any of my money in either the Artists Alley or the Dealers Room, there just wasn't much to interest me. Sunday made up for that however, there was an event called the Otaku Flea Market where anyone could bring in old (anime) stuff they wanted to sell and there was plenty of stuff to browse. I snagged the second omnibus for Jyu-Oh-Sei and volumes 4 and 12 I think of Please Save My Earth at one table for $15 (so to everyone who says that PSME is good y'all had better be right, that was a total blind buy) and from another table I got all seven volumes of this series for $25. I've read the series before years ago, I think it was mostly volume by volume whenever I was in the local Barnes & Noble, and it is my favorite Yuu Watase series so even though I wasn't sure how much I'd still like it I thought it was worth a buy.

Alice 19th by Yuu Watase

Summary: Alice Seno is a painfully shy high school girl who is secretly envious of her older sister, Mayura, and wishes she had the courage to do more things. She finds her courage one day when she rescues a rabbit from the middle of traffic, with the help of her sister's crush (Kyo, also her crush), and discovers that she has the power to use the Lotis Words, magical words that posses great power. Alice was hesitant to start training her powers but after she accidentally banishes Mayura to a realm of darkness she and Kyo begin frantically training before Mayura unleashes the end of the world.

The Good: I'm rather impressed with how Mayura comes across especially early on in the manga. She's a very realistic sister, she and Alice do love each other despite their little fights and the event that causes Alice to accidentally banish her could happen in real life as well, they just had the bad luck to have magic involved. Early on Mayura feels like the most realistic character out of all of them, although her descent into darkness makes her become more stereotypical, and I was really impressed at all of that. Alice and Kyo also have a ton of character development, have reasonable fears, and both of them admit early on (to themselves and other characters) that they love each other, it's nice not to see romance dragged out. The plot also flowed well and at a good pace so it's clear why I like this work the best.

The Bad: The characters introduced later in the series sadly don't get much backstory which, compared to the characters who appeared early on, is a bit jarring and the motivation for the mini-bosses falls rather flat. Mayura after her face heel turn also feels much less interesting. The story certainly still works at that point, I just wish that it had been structured a bit differently so there was more time to give some of the characters more depth and not make the pace feel quite as frenzied.

The Art: I'm a fan of Watase's art if nothing else and reading through the manga again reminded me why I've wanted to cosplay as Alice, she draws nice outfits that are simple enough to stay consistent yet detailed enough to be visually interesting. The character's faces, especially the guys, do look a bit similar and there's nothing super special about how the backgrounds are drawn but the series is still fun to look at and I think it's an improvement on some of her earlier series.

After reading this again yep, still want to cosplay Alice sometime and I was reminded of how much I want to sew a plushie of Nyozeka, the rabbit, as well which I think speaks for how much I enjoyed it. It's fluffy shojo, nothing super amazing, but I enjoyed reading it and would certainly recommend it to other shojo lovers so the series certainly succeeds in being non-mind numbing entertainment.  

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Winter 2012 Anime Reviews

So it's that time again, a new season of anime has started and there's all sorts of stuff to try out. Only one post from me this time since, as is usual for winter seasons, there isn't a ton of stuff that interests me but there are still a few shows that caught my eye. I've seen the first one or two episodes of each series, for once all of these shows are legally being simulcast so I might be a few days behind some of them, but normally my opinion doesn't change too radically from my early impressions so onto the mini-reviews!

Ano Natsu de Matteru (Waiting in the Summer): High school student Kirishima Kaito is expecting to have a laid back summer shooting a movie with friends but then he apparently gets crushed by an alien space ship. Oops. So far he hasn’t remembered that detail but since the offending alien, and the one responsible for bringing him back, has now transferred to his school, agreed to help out with the movie and somehow moved in with him while his sister leaves for the summer, it might not be so quiet after all. Ignoring how much of that sounds like Birdy the Mighty Decode (since there have been plenty of shows with a similar arrangement of tropes) I was surprised at how much I liked this one. It took some classic romantic tropes, such as the mysterious and hot new transfer student moving in, and actually played around with them and made them funny again. Sure there were still some facepalm worthy moments when things became too clichéd but so far I think the writers stand at good chance at making this a fun little show.

Another:26 years ago, a talented student who was beloved by everyone died. Yet her classmates pretended that she was still alive up to graduation and there seems to be even more to the story than that. Fast forward to 1998 and Kouichi Sakakibara has moved to the small town of Yomiyama and will be attending the same middle school while his father is off researching in India. He spends some time in a hospital first however and from there the story starts creating an atmosphere that “not everything is as it seems!” and by creating atmosphere I mean beating you over the head with all the shots of people looking uncomfortable, shots that drag out way too long with “creepy sounds” played, and too many close-ups of people’s eyes dilating dramatically. The show does sound interesting and a like a lot of it but after two episodes I just can't take the "this is atmosphere!" moments seriously and I just become too annoyed at the show. I might pick it up later but for the moment the show is dropped.

Bodacious Space Pirates (Mouretsu Pirates): …..I am never typing out that title again if I can help it. Contrary to the title however, this isn’t a fanservice show (or at least not yet)! In the future there have been many planets that have been colonized and one of them, the Sea of the Morningstar, gained it’s independence from it’s mother system only 100 years ago with the help of privateers, space pirates who attack enemy ships with permission from the government (a “Letter of Marque”). This is all fairly unimportant for Marika Kato, an ordinary high school student who is very active in her school’s space yacht club, until she learns that she is the only living descendant of the captain of the ship Bentenmaru* and therefore is the only person who can be the next captain. Marika isn’t so sure about all of this pirate stuff but I definitely be checking out a few more episodes since this one seemed like a fairly fun show and I liked Marika a lot as well, she seems fairly sensible so I’m curious how they’ll convince her to become the captain. The show also has had the sense not to rush Marika into her new position, even if it’s clear to the audience that she’ll be the next captain, and I’m really enjoying the world building build up right now.

InuxBoku Secret Service: Ririchiyo is the newest tenant of the Mansion de Ayakashi, a super exclusive apartment complex where each person is assigned their very own Secret Service person. Ririchiyo, who moved in to try and work on her habit of covering up her true emotions by speaking disdainfully to people, doesn’t want her assigned Secret Service man but Soushi might wear her down yet. I read some of the manga for this series before this and it took me a few chapters to get into the swing of it and I feel like that might be the same case here. It’s kinda interesting but not a very gripping first episode, I did like the OP though which was nice since I haven’t liked most of the OP/ED I’ve seen this season.

Lagrange: The Flower of Rin-ne (Rinne no Lagrange: Flower Declaration of Your Heart): Madoka seems to be a fairly ordinary student, abet one who helps out everyone who asks and because someone asked her she ends up piloting a robot in the fight against alien invaders (she does object when she finds out this wasn't a one time thing however). It certainly feels like a lot of mecha/space/sci-fi-ish shows this season (this, Aquarion Evol, that pirate show, Senki Zessho Symphogear, Ano Natsu to a degree), I guess this is the accidental theme of the season (and perhaps the year) just like young girl detectives were the theme last year. I didn’t like the first episode that much, it felt bland and predictable, but I started warming up to the show in the second episode as Madoka and some of the other characters started to get a bit more fleshed out and there was a small twist on the monster-of-the-week style episode I was expecting. The show is (split) two cour so it has time to build up and I really hope that’s what they’re doing right now.

Natsume Yuujinchou Shi: You really shouldn’t be watching this show if you haven’t seen the previous three seasons and if you’ve seen them then you already know the drill here, Takashi Natsume can see spirits and inherited the Book of Friends from his grandmother who could also see spirits and decided to release all the names contained within it. He gets into trouble a lot however and mostly unrelated to the book such as the trouble he gets into in the two-parter that starts off the season. I like the more serious arcs of Natsume myself, especially since we might even get some back story on his parents this season (it popped up recently in the scanlations), and the theme of the season so far seems to be Natsume actively helping out yokai, but regardless which way Natsume goes I’ll be sure to keep watching.

In case you guys couldn't tell, Funico have been surprisingly mum about their pick-ups for this season, so far they only announced the DxD boobs show and honestly there aren't many other series this season I'm curious in trying. Possibly The Daily Lives of Highschool Boys or the new Aquarion Evol show but for the moment I'm good. I have 5 continuing shows, at least 5 new shows, Once Upon a Time, Grimm, MLP:FiM, 3 Nozomi shows (although the last episode of Emma streamed yesterday and the last episode of Antique Bakery streams next week), plus a few other things to watch so it's not like I'm getting bored anytime soon.

Soooo, what is everyone else trying out that they absolutely adore so far? 

*whose name keeps reminding me of a mash-up of Bettenou from Un-Go and Bishamaru from Kyosougiga, which is a pretty funny image 

Monday, January 16, 2012

Anime Review: Fate/Zero (part one)

I know that a number of bloggers have decided to do just one review for Fate/Zero but I don't trust myself to be able to remember the first half perfectly come late June when the second half finishes airing so I'll just be a little different and talk about it now. As a heads up, I have never seen Fate/Stay Night and don't particularly want to either. I've read a lot about it (after the first episode of this show I went over to tvtropes, skimmed the F/SN page and looked at the characters to figure out who was related to who), read some reviews for it, and know the general gist of the plot but finding out that Studio Deen produced the show really didn't make me want to watch it. So why did I try out F/Z in the first place? A little after I had finished up my fall previews I went to a meet-up with some local anime fans I knew, we've all been friends for years now, and one of them was talking about how much she was enjoying the show ("Oh Rin, your father was SUCH a bastard") and you could tell she was honestly loved the show so I thought why not? And sometimes that's all it takes to get me to watch something, sometimes anyway.


Summary: 10 years before the Fifth Holy Grail War of Fate/Stay Night there was the Fourth Holy Grail War where once again seven magi, Masters, summoned seven heroic spirits, the Servants, in a battle to the last Master/Servant pair and the winners get one wish granted by the grail. The story follows each of the Master/Servant pairs but puts special focus on Kiritsugu Emiya and on his servant, the same Saber of F/SN, as they as they try to survive and win the deadly game.

The Good: Unusually for me I really dislike about half the cast of this show yet I'm still interested in what most of them are plotting and, once the show gets into the swing of it, even the talking dominated episodes are rather interesting. It's particularly interesting to hear not why the Masters are participating in the Grail War, since many of them don't have a clear goal in mind, but what the Servants hope to achieve and fleshed them out much more than I was expecting. And, even if I may despise some of them, I'm happy that each Master-Servant relationship is different and many of them already feel very nicely fleshed out as are the characters in general. You can imagine any two of the Masters or any two of the Servants meeting and already know how their encounter would go, not every series can boast that kind of character depth, especially after just thirteen episodes.

The Bad: The place chosen to break the series in half wasn't an especially good place to stop, couldn't they have at least shown a few moments of a fight scene to tide us over until the spring? I've seen some novel readers say they expected the series to stop here, so I guess that means there isn't a much better stopping point farther along, but that does make me wonder why they choose to make a split cour series after all, give the animators time to catch back up? The start of the series also wasn't so great, 40 minutes of talking with some necessary world building but I really think that some of it could have been spread out more, it's a real test of your patience if you aren't already a fan of the franchise (likewise, for the episodes that were focused on conversations between characters I didn't really like were also a bit of a drag to get through but that was because of personal taste, not bad writing).

The Audio: I was so focused on the visuals that I didn't pay as much attention to the audio in this show but it worked well. The characters were well voiced, I liked the opening and ending themes, none of the background music felt jarring or out of place, it just worked.

The Visuals: Part of the reason I don't want to see Fate/Stay Night is because Studio Deen does not produce very good looking anime and this is one of the best looking series from all of 2011. Gorgeous fights, loads of details, and it's clear that the same people who worked on Garden of Sinners worked on this as well, they used the same distinctive blue and red color combination for some of the magic scenes and made it look good, they have an excellent grasp on color. In short, the show is eye candy (although not just eye candy) and looked consistently great for 13 episodes and I applaud Ufotable for that.

I'm looking forward to the second half of the show coming out in the spring (good lord, there's already so much spring anime that I want to watch!) and I can see myself owning this someday, probably even on BR because of how gorgeous the show works, but no way in hell am I going to buy that $300+ BR set of the first 13 episodes. That's five different kinds of crazy and I can only hope that Aniplex does put out a reasonably priced (like, comparable to Funimation or Nozomi prices) sets, 13 episode or full season, in a year or two. 

Sunday, January 15, 2012

TV Series Review: Neverland

Every year or two the Syfy channel debuts a new, original mini-series in early December that's an retelling of a classic story (not fairy tales so far) and I was excited when I saw the trailers for the latest one, a new take on Peter Pan. I really liked the first mini-series Syfy had done, Tin Man, which I thought was a great example of how to take visual and naming cues along with themes from an original story and incorporate them into a new one, but I didn't like their other work, Alice, nearly as much*. I was hoping the show would be good but a few people on my twitter were live-tweeting it as they watched, I'd had to tape it and wait until I got back home to watch it, which gave me a heads up that this one was closer to Alice than Tin Man.


Summary: How did the cast of Peter Pan get to Neverland to begin with? A re-imagining of the origin story of Neverland, how all the characters got there, why Peter can fly, and why Peter and Hook hate each other so much.

The Good: I liked the premise for the series and in the end it worked well as a prequel, it fleshed out the series some without contradicting the original story (the opposite of the other shows which are implied to be set long after the original story happened). The overall setting was also interesting and left plenty of room if Syfy ever decided to do something with this idea again.

The Bad: While the general idea is rather interesting the execution of the story is not that great and I was disappointed. Most of the acting felt wooden and awkward, occasionally it was hard to figure out why characters decided to go from point a to point b, the beginning took too long and the ending felt awkward as well. As I mentioned earlier, I had heard that this series wasn't great but I heard it from people who are fairly cynical anyway so I don't think that influenced my feelings on this, I really was disappointed by this series.

The Audio: I didn't notice anything particularly special about the music here, possibly because I was distracted by the visuals. In fact, the only thing I seem to remember was that I had to keep turning up the volume to hear the characters talk, I feel like they might have been miked just a bit too low.

The Visuals: For all the advertising Syfy did for this show they didn't seem to give the show itself a huge budget and I winced every time there was CGI on-screen or at some of Peter's flying scenes. Some of the more traditional aspects, like actual sets and costumes, looked alright but there was just so much CGI that I was actually glad that I was knitting at the same time I was watching this, glad that I had something else to look at instead of cringing for five or ten minutes at a time.

So overall another disappointment for me, drat. Although it did remind me that someday I need to go ahead and buy a copy of Tin Man but for now I'm not so optimistic about the new imaginings that Syfy might do in the future (and apologies if this post looked weird, blogger is having one of it's moments).

*the setting was still really cool, I can't think of any others works of fiction with a 1960s mod setting that I've seen actually, but I got frustrated at how Alice was apparently a really good martial arts instructor yet got her ass kicked all over the place and at how she seemed to be falling for Hatter very quickly. You're engaged, presumably to a monogamous relationship, and that's supposed to mean that you're sure you're not going to love someone even more! I only saw the first episode however so I have no idea what actually happened in the second half, I actually disliked the first half enough to drop it.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Book Review: Flygirl

Well I feel rather silly, in my rush to get out reviews of books from 2011 out before the New Year I completely neglected this slightly older book I read around the same time and I feel really dumb because I liked this book, it wasn't even a mediocre one you could be forgiven for forgetting! Thankfully the picture of the female firefighters from Pearl Harbor is still circulating around the web that that jotted my memory that hey, I read a (fictional) book that also involved women, women of color, and world war II recently, I need to talk about it!

Flygirl by Sherri L Smith
Summary: Ida Mae has loved to fly after her daddy first took her up in his crop duster years and years ago but there are two big problems in the way. First, she is a woman in the early years of World War II and secondly, an even bigger problem, she's African-American. She is however light enough (in skin tone) to "pass" as a white lady and makes the bold and potentially very very dangerous decision to apply and then train as a Women Airforce Service Pilot since it's the only way to get back into the sky she loves.

The Good: The book is a work of fiction, inspired by real WASPs but they were all white, but the entire book feels so believable that it's hard to remember that sometimes. The problems that Ida Mae and her friends (both her African-American friends and the other WASPs) face felt realistic and the book struck a nice balance showing the privileges Ida had when she was passing as white and yet how even they have so many restrictions on what they can and can't do (which can be hard to remember at times). The progression of the story also felt very natural, there were both hardships and successes and you need both of those to make a story feel real and on that level Smith has really succeeded.

The Bad: The historical setting almost worked against itself at times, if you know any US history involving women, people of color especially, and world war II it's just so hard to believe that the story will end well that it makes the book a little depressing at times (I was just waiting until someone caught her passing so the book got extra tense at times). Not much the author can do about that however and really that was my only major complaint about the book. There was a mention or two that Lily was Jewish and I would have liked that explored a little more but the book doesn't feel like it's lacking anything.

Excellent book, really need to read more historical books, and I could easily recommend this to quite a few people out there.

Also, new schedule starts tomorrow, not that anything is going to be any different tomorrow, just as a final reminder about that!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Manga Review: Gate 7 (volume 1)

As I believe I've said before, I'm a pretty big fan of CLAMP's works but recently I haven't been loving them as much as I used to. Gate 7 was giving me particular trouble since CLAMP decided to start referencing a lot of Japanese history that is a bit obscure for someone who hasn't studied it in depth and I eventually stopped trying to follow it and said "fine, this is licensed and will probably have tons and tons of translator notes so I'd rather read the story that way then being confused all the time." That said I was still hesitant to actually go and pick up the first volume, at this point the story could be alright or really terrible, but thankfully tons and tons of people were holding contests for it and I eventually won a copy from Dark Horse themselves via twitter, good enough for me!

Gate 7 by CLAMP

Summary: Takamoto was an ordinary high school student who loved Kyoto but his first trip there wasn't what he expected, with all the mysterious people jumping in and out of a dream like setting and using magic. But he's even more unnerved when strange circumstances force him to transfer to Kyoto three months later and he's once again mixed up with these sorcerers.

The Good: There are six pages of translator notes in the back of this first volume and they are invaluable in understanding all the names being thrown around or what the many kinds of noodles mentioned are. The story was also easier to follow a second time around, now that I knew what was going to happen and using the translator notes to fill in the blanks but I think that with those notes to start with most people won't need a re-read. The basic plot premise is fairly simple and has promise to be interesting so hopefully Clamp will try for a simpler approach than with their more recent works.

The Bad: I remember reading the original premise for the series (part of which I think got incorperated in Clamp's other recent work, Blood-C) and I'm sad the series changed so drastically since I really liked their original idea. Right now the series has a lot of potential to go bad, there are so many characters and none have been fleshed out, Hana seems more like a plot device than a character and Takamoto is just very dull right now, although the setting is being used nicely. At this point I just don't have a reason to care for any of the characters or their motivations and I really should be able to after reading a few chapters.

The Art: The people are slightly less noodle-y than the character designs in Tsubasa: Resevior Chronicles and xxxHolic which I like and the rest of the art is as intricate as anything they've ever done, honestly I was looking more forward to seeing the art up close than rereading the story when I won my copy. Lots of double page spreads, intricate detailing, and lush backgrounds, the characters also manage to look fairly distinct from each other but some of them already are starting to look like some of Clamp's other characters.

I've held off so far from getting the second volume and I'll probably wait until I hear reviews of the third volume (which would be entirely new to me) before deciding whether or not to continue this series. Also sad that the original project this was going to be part of, the mangenettes, never worked out, I was more excited by the idea of simultaneous manga releases than the story itself and the plan was for that to come out in 2008 or so and by 2012 we have one, possibly four, manga that are being serialized on US sites simultaneously and legally with the Japanese releases (the only one I know of for sure is, of all things, Soul Eater Not). 

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Continuing shows for Winter 2012

I should have a post up about the new winter anime I've been checking out next week (since I'm always one of the last people to post anyway) but today I've got a quick rundown of the two cour fall shows I'm continuing with and what they're doing right now. I've seen the latest episode for each of them (which means anything from episode 11 to 14) and I'll try to keep the spoilers down since that's never fun for anyone.

Chihayafuru: I still love this series but I’m loving Chihaya herself a little less now, I just wish she would train and get better already instead of having a freak out in nearly every match! For a josei show there are an awful lot of shonen tournament tropes in here and I’m really hoping the series moves away from them in order to let the story flow more naturally and to let the characters have more development.

Future Diary: It's odd but I am enjoying the show despite the fact that almost none of the characters are likable (I'm actually like Akise the most now and I was pretty sure I'd hate him when he first appeared). In a weird way the show has been fun, a little twisty, and I am really curious to see where it goes in the end (although I don't see myself buying the DVD/BRs of it).

Guilty Crown: Yes I’m still watching this and no I’m not entirely sure why. I almost wish I was blogging this show weekly because each episode does do one or two things right which makes me happy (characters freaking out after they kill people! Characters who don’t immediately want to team up with what amount to terrorists! Shuu’s mom appears to be a capable and smart lady!) but then they do so many things wrong or just plain odd (people in the Funeral Parlor: can someone PLEASE explain why you’re following Gai? No seriously Shuu’s right, your blind devotion to him is creepy!) that the overall review of this thing is going to be hard. It isn’t great and isn’t always even good but it does do enough things right that I want to see just what the heck they pull out of this series in the end.

Last Exile: Fam of the Silver Wing: The art is up and down (generally it’s the characters that look less detailed while the backgrounds are still nice, hoping that Gonzo has enough time/money to retouch bits for the DVDs) and some of the characters need more development (I swear that Fam is a shonen hero who got genderbent and put in here, her general confidence with small moments of self-doubt that she tries to hide from everyone else) but I still love this show. The world building is well done, the latest flashback episode shows that they put a lot of thought into the politics of the various countries and the characters have developed enough for me to be satisfied. I am a little worried about how this show is going to end, it’s almost half way done and no matter what the character’s end goal is they still have a long way to go, but I’m going to keep crossing my fingers and hope for the best.

Persona 4: Much like Guilty Crown I’m not entirely sure why I’m watching this show. I haven’t played the game (although I am watching the Let’s Play of it that Giant Bomb did, I prefer to listen to stuff in English when sewing so this was the perfect thing to watch recently) and it’s clear that the pacing is not the best here but, well, somehow I’m enjoying this. Mostly it’s the unintentional comedy in it (or sometimes the intentional bits) that keep me giggling but I am enjoying this for some reason or another. Enough to want to say buy fanart of the series, as well as continue watching the series and the LP, but not enough to buy DVDs/BRs down the road.

Again, next Wednesday I should have some quick blurbs up about the new shows this season I've tried out and at the top of yesterday's post I posted my new schedule that goes into effect next Sunday.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Anime Review: Un-Go

And I'm back! Survived my con, bought some manga I'll be reviewing soon (got 11 volumes of various stuff for $40, yessssss), had time to finish up a book, introduced one friend to Tiger and Bunny and convinced two friends to try out the Soul Eater manga, might have even convinced them to give Steins;Gate a try as well, good weekend for dragging friends over to the dark side. Quick note before the review however, changing up my schedule again because it looks like Tuesday and Thursday will be my worst days this semester and I have to go to bed early on Wednesday so I can wake up too early on Thursday. So here is what my blogging schedule is going to look like until at least mid-May, possibly until mid-August.
SUNDAY: Movies/tv shows/OVAs/ONAs sometimes
MONDAY: Anime/cartoons in general (full series)
FRIDAY: Comics/manga/graphic novels
SATURDAY: Books (mostly YA fiction but some nonfiction works it's way in, includes officially translated light novels).
Onto the review!

When the noitaminA line-up for the fall was announced I wasn't terribly excited by it. Plenty of people had high hopes for Guilty Crown but I had a sneaking suspicion that the show just wouldn't work for me and would probably crash and burn to be honest (I just kept quiet about my fears since I knew that no one really wanted to hear that). Un-Go however interested me a bit, it was also an original work which might help with noitaminA's pacing problems and I like mysteries. True there were an unusually large number of detective shows last year but this one had a bit of a different set-up and was legally streaming on Crunchyroll (it's now streaming on The Anime Network, the US licensor, and hulu as well) so why not give it a shot?


Summary: Yuuki Shinjuro is called "the Defeated Detective" by many, not because his deductions are wrong as most people assume but rather because the cases he investigates are always covered up. Set in the near future after Japan has suffered from a large war and many terrorist attacks, the government continues to manipulate and control the flow of information and many of the truths that Shinjuro uncovers are then manipulated by Rinroku Kaishou, a private consultant to the Japanese government. Based off of the Aoi Bungaku Series by Ango Sakaguchi set after WWII but I don't know how heavily (going by Inga's rants in the episode previews however, probably very loosely).

The Good: Un-Go does a number of things differently than the other detective shows this year did, the biggest one is the set-up between Shinjuro and his "assistant" Inga. In many stories it is the detective's sidekick who is the more normal of the two and the dumb audience surrogate, here it's Kaishou's daughter Rei who is more of an audience surrogate (if anyone, the show never seems to assume that it's audience is dumb) and Shinjuro is far more normal than Inga. The story also successfully uses the "first half unconnected stories, second half connected episodes" set-up, which is amazing since this is only 11 episodes long, and never wastes a minute with it's time constraints. There is a prologue "episode 0" movie released in movie theaters in Japan, which I have read extensive spoilers for, but even all the information in there that is necessary to the case on hand is revealed. The setting is very well done, the writers clearly understood how a post-war, heavy handed government setting would affect the characters and how it would affect all of them differently (from Shinjuro's "defeats" to Rei's creative ways for getting around a few laws). Finally, I was impressed how the series was able to fully explore both Shinjuro and Kaishou's reasons for doing what they do and yet didn't present either them as fully right or wrong. They both came off as well-intentioned people with flaws which is hard to pull off.  

The Bad: If you haven't either seen episode 0 or read at least basic spoilers for it then you might be disappointed/confused that Inga is never completely explained in the story which will bother some people more than others. I would have actually liked the earlier cases in the series to be a little more connected to the final case but they were connected enough that this didn't bother me. A number of people have complained that the cases were too simple which I don't exactly think was the case, this story was always more about the reason why than what actually happened, and I also think that it is much harder to tell a good mystery in a visual format than a text only one and it's hard to blame a story for the short-comings of it's medium. Finally, I agree with many other people out there that this should have been the two cour noitaminA show since it could have gone on much longer (I think the story is nice and completed now but I really feel like the writers could have created some more interesting stories if there had been the time for it).

The Audio: Inga's VA, someone who is known for doing all female roles before this, does a good job with Inga's strangeness. Following in one of noitaminA's unofficial traditions of using new VAs in main roles, Shinjuro's VA has done barely any other work in anime but I liked his often deadpan and calm take on the world around him. Funny enough one of the minor villains was voiced by Yuuki Kaji whom I had started to pigeonhole because of his role in No.6 last season and Guilty Crown this season (both leads and both noitaminA shows as well ironically) but surprised me by having more of a range than I thought. As for music in the show, I found the opening sequence very catchy and the ending sequence was interesting as well (normally I don't pay attention to bands but the opening was done by School Food Punishment who also did the ending songs for the other noitaminA shows [C]-Control and Eden of the East and Lama, who has very distinctive voice, also sang the ED for No. 6).

The Visuals: This is a Studio Bones show so it looked good throughout it's run and they even managed to work in one of their signature fight scenes without it feeling out of place. There isn't actually a lot to comment on since the show looked so smooth that nothing jarred me out of my viewings or particularly caught my eye, which is to say that that the art and animation worked the way they were supposed to.

Sentai has already licensed this for a US release which I'll be sure to get, especially since they have announced they will also have Episode 0 on the discs, I wonder if they might also get the Inga Nikki shorts as well since those are on the Japanese release of episode 0. You can watch them (unsubbed) on the official website and they're pretty short, funny little animations which are mostly talking between Shinjuro and Inga. I'd love to see them translated just so I can see what they're talking about, I got the joke for one or two but they're just talking too fast for my crappy Japanese.