Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Schedule change!

Like last year I've decided to spend  all of March reviewing webcomics instead of my usual mix of just about everything and I'll have more details about that up tomorrow. I will still be updating Sunday, Monday, Friday, Saturday however so keep checking back whenever you normally check in and there should be something new!

Monday, February 27, 2012

Anime Review: Aria the Animation

Nozomi Entertainment/Right Stuf is still uploading more and more of their shows onto youtube for limited streaming and the latest title to catch my eye was the first in the Aria  series. Years ago I read the two volume prequel to Aria, called Aqua (the new name for Mars which the series is set on) and a few volumes of the series itself but it was too slow moving for my taste. So I was hoping that approaching the series from a different angle, watching one episode a week and having it on in the background as I worked on knitting or other crafty endeavors.

Aria the Animation

Summary: Aqua, formerly known as Mars, has been terraformed so that the majority of the planet is covered in water so that in many places, including the city of Neo-Venezia, boats are required to get around. Akari is a trainee gondolier who will one day show clients all around the charming city but for now she's still learning about the city herself.

The Good: There's a very small sub-genre in anime of  "healing shows," ones that are so simple and charming that you feel better merely for watching them (and the director is almost always the same as this one, Junichi Sato) and that description fits Aria to a T. You can watch it to cheer up or to relax, with it's simple and charming stories it doesn't demand a lot of it's watchers and lets you settle into the mood.

The Bad: The show doesn't start with the material from the Aqua prequel and assumes that you are already familiar with some of the characters, which I was, so fans who are completely new to the series might want to give the wikipedia page a quick glance over when new characters appear. The other real issue with this show is not that it's slow paced but rather that not much actually happens. I can enjoy a plot light show if the character grow and develop but there's very little of that actually going on here, only one side character got development and that was simply to make her a bit less shy. I generally don't enjoy shows where you can watch the episodes in any order and honestly there is so little change in the show that you could do that fairly easily.

The Audio: The show doesn't have a set opening sequence but has a rather lovely song that gets played over the first few minutes and the sound is well-mixed too, the character's dialogue and the song never compete with each other and generally the first few minutes are set up so that nothing on screen competes with the song as well. The ending song is less memorable but still fits the mood well. This series does not have an English dub but the Japanese voices work well enough that it doesn't seem like a big loss.

The Visuals: The show doesn't need to have spectacular visuals to make the series work but it does have some rather nice ones. The backgrounds look lovely, and make Neo-Venezia's connection to the original Venice more aparent, and I've heard a story of how the production team went to Venice, realized they had animated all the sculling the gondoliers were doing backwards and reanimated all the scenes they had already done to fix it. Everything looks nice and clean and it does help add overall to the feeling.

So, not the show for me but, since I don't hate it, I think I will continue watching it. Nozomi is currently streaming the first couple of episodes and has started streaming the sequel, Aria the Natural, and I'd recommend people checking this out, you can probably start watching with the Natural and not miss tons of stuff.  

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Comic Review: Friends with Boys

No I didn't run out of movies/tv shows to review again, I decided the circumstances were right to break with my normal schedule for today. Starting Thursday the 1st I'm going to keep my normal Sunday, Monday, Friday, Saturday update schedule but, like last March, I'm going to spend the entire month reviewing webcomics instead and initially this comic was going to be talked about then. Then I found out this was less of a webcomic and more of a graphic novel that was being put online in it's entirety as a preview and that all but the first 16 pages were going to be taken down in a week and a half so I really couldn't wait until April to actually review this. So in light of all of that, plus my next tv review was going to be the first season of Life on Mars and really didn't want a month plus gap in the reviews between seasons, I'm just going to be different today and talk about Friends with Boys.

As mentioned above, the comic is actually a graphic novel that has just been put up online as a preview of sorts for the physical copy (which comes out any day now) and was done by Faith Erin Hicks whose works I've reviewed a few times before here. Unlike the last one I talked about, Brain Camp, she not only did all the artwork but also came up with the story much like her other work I've seen, The War at Ellsmere, and I was curious how that would work. I was a bit cautious about trying this one out because of the hype surrounding it (sadly I just don't seem to like a lot of webcomics that have a lot of hype surrounding them, not sure why but it just seems to be the case) but now I would like to add to the hype and say yes, this was really pretty good.

Friends With Boys by Faith Erin Hicks
Summary: Maggie, like her three older brothers, has been home-schooled all her life and is now starting her freshman year in high school in the local public school system which makes it even more terrifying than high school normally is. But while it was her parent's and her brothers' decision to go to a public high school instead of continuing with home-schooling Maggie doesn't have that choice, her mother has recently left (it's implied that it's partially the stress of having to home-school four kids) which has left an understandably big gap in her life. So Maggie must deal with all of this, make friends with the people whom her family doesn't like and figure out what the deal is with a local ghost that likes to haunt her. 

The Good: Ever since my parents separated when I was 16 I've been keeping a close eye out for books that deal well with that wonderful situation and Friends with Boys does a better job than most stories I've seen. My situation and Maggie's are really different but that raw feeling of unhappiness that sometimes seems like it's consuming your entire life is pretty accurate and I wasn't surprised to see that Hicks based quite a few things in the story off of her own life. Some of the high school bits seemed a bit off to me but since I went to a small, private high school and I didn't see anyone else complaining about that I think that's just me and that the setting also holds up well. Maggie was a fun main character, her brothers felt like brothers, and the story also felt like it was paced just right.  

The Bad: I was hoping for a slightly more substantial ending but, since life sometimes doesn't exactly resolve itself but rather simply continues, it works (and it helps that Hicks herself said she was expecting a different resolution as well and was surprised that this was what fit the best). It was rather frustrating that Maggie's father, who seemed like a sane, reasonable parent in his initial appearances, seems to be suddenly grasping the idiot ball at the climax where he refuses to listen her and judges others on their looks, especially since in his initial scene he was having to change his appearance because of how other would judge the new sheriff if he had long hair. That little bit ended up bothering me a lot more than the entire climax (since I can at least sympathize that when your world is that that confusing that you are going to do stupid stuff, although Maggie's actions were pushing that a bit). 

The Art: It's interesting to compare the art here to the art in her currently on-going webcomic, The Adventures of Superhero Girl, since it's clear from the character designs that this is the same artist but there's a lot more detail work, the backgrounds are more complex and there's a lot more shading. I like how her style looks here*, the character designs are distinctive and a little quirky looking, as I said there's a lot of nice details everywhere you look, and in general I prefer pen and ink shading to using a lot of screen tones**. It looks cartoony but in a very natural-ish way, not as if Hicks set out to draw things in a "cartoon style" but that this is her normal style which is simply cartoon influenced. I do think the drawing of Maggie on the cover looks a bit odd, probably because an upward looking angle on most people simply isn't flattering, but other than that I didn't have any problems with the art at all.

So, my favorite work by Faith Erin Hicks and I'll be sure to grab a physical copy sometime. Like I said, for the next week and a half it's still up online and I would really encourage everyone to check it out and see how you like it. Oh and if you do check it out make sure to look at the author's comments under the pages, Hicks has a lot of great blog posts about working in comics, why Fullmetal Alchemist is an awesome manga, and on homeschooling. I believe those blog posts will stay up after the rest of the comic goes down and I really encourage people to look at those as well. 

*and in ASG but that's for later in the week
** I blame reading too much shojo for that one, I've just seen so many series that abuse the screentones that it often comes out looking cheap to me.  

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Book Review: The Last Little Blue Envelope

I didn't have this book on the list of 2011 books I hoped to get around to reading in 2012 but that was because I had forgotten that Maureen Johnson had put out two books last year, not just The Name of the Star. Actually, I was also a bit surprised that this book exists, it's a sequel to one of her earlier works, Thirteen Little Blue Envelopes, which I thought stood perfectly fine on it's own and didn't see why it needed a sequel. In the original, Ginny Blackstone has received a package of letters from her dead aunt encouraging her to go on a crazy journey all across Europe, grows as a person, discovers more about her aunt (who had been rather eccentric and hadn't been in her life a lot the last few years) and eventually comes across her aunt's hidden collection of paintings and auctions them off. In the process however the last of the thirteen envelops is stolen along with Ginny's backpack and she's resigned herself that she'll never see the real thing, even though she figured out what the contents must've been. It's one of my favorite realistic fiction YA books because it's rather whacky, and who wants to read boring realistic fiction, so even though I was rather confused why it needed a sequel I was completely up for more crazy adventures.

The Last Little Blue Envelope by Maureen Johnson
  I'm not particularly fond of this cover for no real reason (well, it's pretty clear to me that the title was added onto the envelope in post-production which bothers me) but it works. Maybe I just don't like all of the pinks, reds, and blues together, the colors seem to clash a bit.

Summary: Ginny Blackstone's adventurous summer is long gone and, as she's racking her brains trying to come up with a way to fit it into her college application essays, she gets an email from someone who has found her missing envelope and tracked her down. There's a catch however, the boy who found her envelope (Oliver) won't simply give it to her but insists on accompanying her as she follows the final instructions in yet another jaunt across Europe. Ginny's kinda-boyfriend from the first adventure, Keith, and his sorta-girlfriend as they all get involved in various hi-jinks.

The Good: The tone that I liked so much in the first book returns here and Ginny's adventures manage to oddly feel more realistic because of it's weirdness. The main events are certainly stuff that would only happen in a novel (breaking into a restaurant to steal a table? sure!) but I really did love a lot of the little moments, like when all four characters and said table are all trying to fit in a small car. I know that my life has plenty of quirky little moments in it so for me these two books feel a lot more realistic and like my life than most of the realistic fiction out there and it's a nice feeling. I also liked how Ginny progressed here, she's regressed a little bit from the end of the previous book (which is to be expected after she went back to her ordinary life for four months) so it was nice to see her grow back into herself and see that she finally gets some closure about her aunt's death. Really that was my favorite part, seeing her get that closure that she always wanted in the first book and didn't quite bit and letting that help her move forward in life.

The Bad: A small nit-pick, Ginny is applying for colleges in late December/early January (assuming she really did wait until her adventure was over to finish writing her essays) which seemed really late for the US*. As for bigger nit-picks, I understood why Keith was in the story again (Ginny has a history with him and that subplot is unresolved) but he just didn't add anything to the story. His girlfriend for me added much more, even though she seemed a bit extraneous, and Oliver's story felt rather unfinished. It's a short book, just under 300 pages, but I thought for someone who is so important to the story that Oliver would really get more development and in the end all there is is a bit of an awkward relationship. I was also sad that Ginny's uncle Richard didn't get more page time but since he's in London and the story spends over half of it's time not in London that's fairly understandable.

So I liked the tone of the book, really liked Ginny, and thought that every other character came off as unneeded which is odd since without these other characters the story wouldn't have happened in the first place. In the end the book was alright but I really need to reread the first book now to see if Keith really wasn't as nice as I remember or if his apparently personality change happened between the two books.

*in the US you generally apply in October for early admission, where you hear back in late January, and then by late November/mid-December for regular admissions (where you would hear back in the spring). I suppose applications might be open until December 31st but I recall doing mine a few years ago much earlier and with how studious Ginny is set up to be that bugged me.   

Friday, February 24, 2012

Comic Review: Chicken with Plums

Came across this one in the school library and, while I had seen some of Marjane Satrapi's other work in the school booksore (other than Persepolis I mean), I hadn't had a chance to read any of it and I was curious to see how she tackled a non-autobiographical story. Turns out this one is still semi-biographical (my copy of the book didn't have any blurbs on it so I didn't realize this until about halfway through) so I'll have to keep looking if I want to see how she does with a work of complete fiction.

Chicken with Plums by Marjane Satrapi
Summary: Nasser Ali Kan, Satrapi's great-uncle, is a renowned tar player and his crushed when his wife breaks his tar. Unable to cope or find a tar to match his he instead decides to die by starving for eight days.

The Good: It's a rather slim book but manages to have a lot of back story (and what-happened-next) on quite a few characters which surprised me. The story also has a clear beginning, middle, and end, although it is told a bit out of order, so structurally it works just fine. Like Persepolis it's interesting to see stories set during one of Iran's more unstable periods and the setting certainly had an affect on the story.

The Bad: This story unfortunately reminded me a lot of the literary fiction I had to read for my upper level English classes in high school, a sad, "deep," story about a man having a midlife crisis that involves death. Perhaps I'm still too young to really appreciate these stories, that is entirely possible, but I couldn't connect with Kan at all. I do understand to an extent the effect his tar being broken had on him but I just couldn't see why his only course was to kill himself afterwords. The story just wasn't able to show me why this was important, even when it showed Kan's backstory, and left me feeling rather frustrated when the story was over.  

The Art: The art remains unchanged from Satrapi's style at the end of Persepolis and it works. It's still fairly simplistic, pure black and white in a stark, almost graphic style which works for the story but I don't think adds much to it. This story does work better in comic form but I didn't feel like the art drew me further into the story or gave me a greater understanding of it, it was simply there and doing it's job.

In the end I was simply frustrated by this story. I couldn't connect with Fan at all, found nearly every character to be unlikable, and just didn't get anything out of the story. At least it was short so I didn't feel like I wasted a lot of time on it.  

Monday, February 20, 2012

Anime Review: Angel Beats

I've gotten anime to watch from quite a few sources over the years but I do believe this is the first time I've ever had a friend come up to me, shove a dvd at me and tell me to watch it. Fine by me, I've wanted to check out the series for a while, I'd heard plenty of great things about the series but it never got legal streaming on hulu/netflix/crunchyroll so I hadn't had a chance to watch it. I was a bit hesitant since it's an original story by PA Works (although it sounds like the prequel Light Novel series was completed shortly before the show started airing) and I haven't seen a ton of their works, actually I don't think I've completely seen another of theirs since I keep dropping them (Hanasaku Iroha, Another). Again, I just had a DVD set shoved at me, of course I was going to try it out.

Angel Beats

Summary: Otonashi has just woken up outside a school with no memory of who he is, never mind where he is, when he's greeted by the spunky Yuri who informs him that he is dead, this is the afterlife, and as such he cannot die. That last part is important since Yuri and her friends, the SSS, are all also dead, lived crappy lives, and in an effort to not reincarnate are fighting against a girl they call Angel and not being able to die really helps in the fight. Otonashi doesn't believe them, walks up to Angel, and is promptly "killed" again. After this he is dragged into the SSS activities as they rebel a god who seems to care nothing about them. 

The Good: This was a surprisingly touching story about, as one might expect, coming to terms with passing on and the plot progression feels very natural. It's hard to say much without spoilers but the progression of events which leads Otonashi to a very different conclusion work quite well, possibly since I was expecting something similar to be the case, and I was really a fan of seeing how the characters reacted. This show stands on it's characters and by the end of the show you could think of any two reoccurring cast members and know exactly how they would interact with each other. That's no to say that everyone got a lot, or even any, character development but the show nicely balanced out who got screen time and few of the characters were boring or annoying. 

The Bad: I've heard that the show was originally supposed to be two cour but got reduced down to one and at times the show does feel a bit rushed. The story writers do an admirable job with the time they have but out of the huge cast (a few wide shots make it look like there were 20-30 people in the SSS and there were about 16 regularly reoccurring characters) and only six of them really get a resolution. Truthfully I have a hard time imagining the show filling up a full 26 episodes but I can see them easily expanding out to 18 and then throwing in a few fillers to hit 22 episodes, especially since I think there was a bit plot point that never got covered. Again, the show did work the way it was but it's not hard to see how it could have been even better and that makes me sad and loose plot threads like that are really it's weakest point.

The Audio: When my friend gave me the DVD she also told me to watch the dub and normally I would but this dub has gotten a ton of flack. A few months ago I did see the first episode dubbed (Sentai Filmworks had it on itunes as a free preview) and there it was fine but I've heard after that the directing/re-writing gets really odd which most people blamed on the director, Steven Foster*. So I watched the Japanese dub which worked just fine in all areas. The acting was good, the singing bits were good, and the opening and ending songs worked nicely. I wasn't as impressed by the "changing" opening as many people were, mostly it was similar to Baccano! or Durarara!! where scenes from the episode were inserted in, but the music still worked nicely.

The Good: From the other bits of PA Works shows I've seen they look pretty good and Angel Beats looks quite nice. All of the fight scenes look smooth and well-choreographed and even the slice of life moments still look visually interesting. There's not much else to say, it looks nice on DVD and I'm sure it looks even greater on Blu-Ray.

I really ended up enjoying this show, quite a bit more than I expected, and I was surprised that it made me tear up a few times as well, that's fairly rare for anything. As a quick note, it doesn't seem to have been on the English DVDs but there's a 3 minute short called "Another Afterlife" and if you're in the mood for a more somber take on the ending check it out, by this point I have no idea which ending (especially if you count the OVA as an ending, I thought of it as a filler episode) is the "canon" one. So Angel Beats is now on my to-buy list for when I get a Blu-Ray player. Oh, on an unrelated note, next week's anime review is going to be the last one for a while since in March I'm just reviewing webcomics, I'll make a post about that in the next few days. 

*I think the only work I've seen him work on is Red Garden which I remember since it was apparently his decision to make all the singing sound awful since, apparently, it was done on purpose like that in the Japanese so I am a bit skeptical of his, interpretation, of stories and it sounds like he's best known for making dubs just really crass these days.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Movie Review: The Muppets

My school has finally started showing movies that I want to see again, although I had to have a friend drag me out to see this movie to get me out of a funk (which it succeeded in doing quite nicely). Now that I think about it, I haven't seen that many Muppet things and most that I have seen (Muppet Treasure Island, a Christmas movie or two) I saw over ten years ago so I don't really know that much about the Muppets in general. Which would explain my confusion when I realized the movie was a musical, that really threw me off god.....

The Muppets

Summary: Walter has been the biggest fan of The Muppets ever since he found out about them as a kid and leaps at the chance to visit their old studio in LA with his brother Gary and his girlfriend Mary. When there Walter discovers a plot to destroy the studios to drill for oil underneath, finds Kermit to warn him and then the three of them end up bringing The Muppets back together for one last show to raise the money to buy the studio back.

The Good: The Muppets is a silly, over the top movie and thankfully it acknowledges that and sometimes completely forgets that there is supposed to be a fourth wall in the first place. It's both funny when the movie acknowledges that something is weird (such as the big singing and dancing number in Smallvile) and when it completely ignores it (Mary's number in the diner). The plot was on the simple side but with spot on humor like this I didn't mind. And I was also surprised at how well the two main human characters, Mary and Gary, worked in the movie. Their subplot worked out nicely and they meshed quite well with the original cast.

The Bad: Funny enough, it was the parts of the story that focused on Walter, not Mary and Gary, that felt the most out of place and it felt a bit like a self-insert fanfiction of the The Muppets (kid suddenly has a chance to become part of a group of people he's admired for years? Sure everyone has had that dream but that doesn't make it any less fanfiction). Even by the end of the movie I just didn't care about Walter's story, it just felt awkward (such as his immediate bonding with the other Muppets)

The Audio: As noted earlier, this movie is a musical, which caught me off guard, so there are quite a few singing and dancing numbers throughout the film. All of the major character are at the center of at least one, some of them are huge group productions and others are one person acts and all of them seem well choreographed and composed. Many of the acts were ridiculous but this is the Muppets after all, the idea of them having a completely serious musical number is silly!

The Visuals: Once nice thing about the Muppets is that their puppets, no need for fancy and/or imperfect CGI and it is nice to see a movie every now and then which doesn't have a lot of special effects. That's not to say there weren't any special effects, a few "expensive looking explosions" and "traveling by map" but by and large the movie felt like a medium budget production (although as tvtropes pointed out this is Disney and that all the rods controlling the puppets had been digitally removed and that must've taken forever and some serious money) yet that fit the mood perfectly.

In short it was a fun movie and again I'm glad I had a friend to drag me to it. I can't say that it made me want to hunt down and watch other Muppet movies but I enjoyed it and would/will recommend it to all my friends and family. 


Saturday, February 18, 2012

Book Review: The Scorpio Races

This was one of the books from 2011 which I really wanted to read before the new year but just didn't have a chance, happily it appeared in the school library sometime while I was away (I'm starting to think I should just do a feature in June once I've had a chance to track down and read all the 2011 novels). I was a bit cautious going into this book since I liked Lament quite a bit on it's reread but didn't like Shiver and, while there are a few authors who change up styles often enough that I only like part of their works, normally that doesn't happen so I was half expecting to really dislike the book. Thankfully that wasn't the outcome, even though I still like Lament better.

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
I think this is a pretty neat cover for a few reasons. One, I like the font used for the title itself (the little ~ under the o reminds me of a wave which I'm sure was the intent), the red background cover works well considering how dangerous the races are, and the silhouette (which I'm assuming is of Puck and Dove) clearly shows that this is a book about horse races, not about racing some odd kind of scorpion.

Summary: Every November the island of Thisby hosts the dangerous and infamous Scorpio Races where people (ie men and boys trying to become men) tame horses that come from the sea itself (capaill uisce) and then race then along the beach for fame and glory. Puck actually doesn't know too much about races, her family never followed them and since the capaill uisce killed her parents she and her brothers haven't wanted anything to do with them, but in a desperate bid to keep one of her brothers from leaving the island and to get the money to buy their home she decides to race on her regular horse Dove and take her chances. By contrast, Sean is the reigning champion who plans to race on his almost-tame Cor in order to win the money to buy Cor from his owner. 

The Good: It's an odd little detail but I was surprised at how the American tourist who seems rather interested in Sean comes across. Normally tourists in stories are loud and stupid, especially if they're Americans, but here he felt almost like a audience surrogate and  a clever one at that so I liked his inclusion. As for the bigger picture I liked the idea of the story, it felt like Misty of Chincoteague meets Hildago with some kelpies thrown in for good measure, that's a fairly creative mash-up and it never feels like Stiefvatater has ripped off those stories, rather that this is a story with some similarities to them. In short, the concept makes an old idea feel original which takes skill and is well-grounded in it's setting. It's also a great example of how a setting should affect all parts of a story, none of the conflicts would exist without the island and the culture it's created, so that really pleased me.  

The Bad: A lot of this book consisted of "Puck and/or Sean wondering if they should do something" which, as I've said before, really isn't my cup of tea and the story does take a little while to get going. It's not slow paced per say but to give a good description of the story, like the one I put up, you have to mention things that don't crop up until almost halfway through the story. There is plenty of character interaction and a few subplots that happen but in the end those don't end up mattering a that much and I did just get a bit bored by the earlier bits.

Overall it was an enjoying read and I'd love to see a movie version come to fruition, I know the rights have been bought so who knows where it'll go from there. Now if you'll excuse me, Stiefvater has created a recipe for a fictional dessert she put in the book and I need no excuse to go bake cakes, especially book inspired ones.   

Friday, February 17, 2012

Comic Review: The Courageous Princess

I was a bit thrown when I came across this book in the school library, sure it looked like a comic aimed at the MG audience and was shelved appropriately, but it was published by Dark Horse and I can't think of any other kid's comics they've published, they have a very different kind of niche. Having read the story now I'm still confused, and I can find a few other versions of the book published by other publishers (the original three slim releases published by Antarctic Press and then a possible re-release a few weeks back, also by Antarctic but the Amazon information for it simply lists the publisher as Diamond Comic Distributors, although it sounds like that might not have been published since Amazon doesn't have any copies of it), would love to know the story behind all of that.

The Courageous Princess by Rob Espinosa

Summary: Princess Mablerose is a spirited young girl from a small kingdom and finds herself being kidnapped by a dragon in exchange for a ransom from her parents. Mablerose decides to try and escape on her own however, especially after hearing that no one has ever defeated the dragon and fearing for everyone's safety, and thus begins her adventures across the hundred kingdoms where she comes across many other fantastical creatures, friend and foe, in her journey to return home.

The Good: This story reminds me a lot of the fairy tales which I read as a kid which is high praise; it has a capable female protagonist who, even though she needs and receives help from all kinds of characters throughout the story (which is a staple of fairy tales anyway) is gracious enough to take help and clever enough to know when to best use it, knowing your own strengths is part of being a strong, mature person. Mablerose also takes initiative, when she's captured by the dragon she doesn't wait to see if help will eventually come but goes about engineering her escape and similarly in the animal kingdom doesn't hesitate when she sees a chance to free the king and save the country there. After seeing so many stories where the characters take a long time to think over their actions before they do them, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, it's nice to see someone basically jump in and improvise on the fly*.  

The Bad: I have one really big question about this story, was that it?! As far as I can tell this volume is a collection of three shorter volumes and, while the last arc does resolve the problems brought up on it, it's left with a very big sequel hook yet as far as I can tell the story is nearly ten years old yet there hasn't been a second collection/fourth issue. There are so many things left unresolved (Mablerose isn't home, her father is away from home trying to find her, her mother is being courted by an unsavory gentleman while her husband is away) that I'm tempted to find Espinosa's email address and ask why there isn't more of this story out there. Normally I don't consider the fact something is on-going to be a bad thing but since this story seems to actually have been dropped I feel like I do need to warn people and it really put a damper on the entire story.

The Art: The comic is done in full color which is a great choice for a fantasy setting like this. The colors are bright and lively and, while the artwork isn't super detailed like some other comics, it has more than enough and overall is fun to look at. One thing I especially liked is that there is a small time skip in the story and Mablerose does look older as the series goes on. It's true that she might've aged too much for only a few month time skip but given how quickly kids can grow when they're right in that stage in puberty I can see it happening.
I was rather surprised at how much I enjoyed this story and would recommend it to the MG group wholeheartedly. I don't think I'll try to track down Rob Espinosa however, this is just such an odd cliffhanger that I just have to ask why there isn't more of this/if there are any plans for it.

*and not in the shonen jump protagonist sort of way. 

Monday, February 13, 2012

Anime Review: Antique Bakery

Sorry again for no post yesterday guys, I've just had a weirdly odd time finding tv shows/movies for me to watch, especially legally, but things seem to be in order now so I don't foresee anymore problems there.

On the other hand, there is no shortage of legal anime to watch out there and I've been rather pleased at how Nozomi has really been making an effort at putting their shows up on their youtube channel lately. I've read all of Antique Bakery before but I really wanted to see the show since it was shown on the noitaminA time slot which I (generally) adore. As is the case with Nozomi's shows, only the first couple of episodes are up now but it's enough to give you a taste for the show.

Antique Bakery

Summary: Tachibana, the only son of an well-off family, decides one day that he is bored of his office job and wants to start a bakery. His family supports this idea and gives him the money to buy a shop, get the best pâtissière avaliable (who turns out to be an old classmate of his, Ono), get an assistant to help with the baking (Eiji, a young man who can no longer wrestle and wants to pursue his other dream of making and eating sweets all day long), and his old family servant Chikage. They may all be adults but there is still character development to be had, especially for Tachibana who still has reoccurring nightmares from the time he was kidnapped as a young child.

The Good: I was rather curious how the show would be structured, not because it was only 12 episodes, the original manga is only four volumes long after all, but because each volume of manga was structured so that all the characters introduced in that volume were connected. It was really well done in the manga so I was curious how the anime would handle this, essentially the episodes were a bit less connected than their manga counterparts but the story still felt whole and conclusive in the end so it works as an adaptation. It's one of the few stories where I would prefer people to see in whichever medium they prefer, manga or anime, instead of favoring one over the other, the adaptation was that solid. Some things were actually made clearer in the anime for me, such as the reason behind Tachibana's homophobic slurs to Ono back in high school (it's subtle but there is a real reason there which is rather tragic). As with the manga I'm really happy with how Ono was portrayed, he's gay, perfectly fine that he's gay, his "gay demonic charm" is supposed to be amusing, and the characters are okay with all of this (which is the most amazing part sadly, occasionally anime makes it seem like all of Japan is homophobic). All of the characters are great but Ono's characterization stuck out to me the most. 

The Bad: Parts of this show is set on an unbelievable premise (Tachibana's real reason for setting up the shop and the fact that it works) which still continues to bug me and makes me wish that hadn't been so, over the top dramatically. Other than that, not all of the characters got equal development so if the show had had more time that would have been nice but I still feel like this was a solid story and the anime really knew how to pace itself.  

The Audio: The show made a smart move with not having a J-pop song for either the opening or ending sequence and I liked how both of them were done by male singers as well (since the main cast of the show is male it would have just been a bit odd to have a female singer in my opinion). Both songs fit the show well and Nozomi has included subtitles for both songs as well (many streamers these days seem to leave the songs untranslated so I appreciate the shows that do translate them even more now). All of the characters were well voiced and I really can't imagine the show dubbed in English, it's atmosphere is just so different from the average anime, and with much more natural voices, that it's hard for me to imagine most American VAs doing these kinds of roles*.

The Visuals: The show continues with an un-official noitaminA tradition by having an opening that isn't traditionally animated (here with animated cut-outs of characters in a mock-up of the cafe) which looks rather clever. The character designs remain mostly unchanged from their manga counterparts and the show looks fine. There are some odd moments where the animators opted to use CGI instead of traditional CGI, mostly for architecture, which shows (the show is from 2008 so it isn't terribly old but CGI gets so much better each year that it's understandable why it's obvious).

I'm not so sure I want to get the special edition of the show that Right Stuf is currently selling of the show but I can certainly see myself getting a plainer release of it some years down the line. And with this show I have now seen 19 and a half noitaminA shows (dropped Guilty Crown halfway through) so I am certainly making progress in my quest to try out (almost) all the noitaminA shows. There are a few I don't think I'll go around watching but I still have a lot of shows to look forward to!

*this is in no shape or way an insult to American VAs, I'm just so used to hearing a certain kind of acting from them that it's hard to imagine them doing something which is almost the complete opposite.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Book Review: Changeless

As a quick heads up, it looks like there won't be a review tomorrow since I've had just a hard time getting a hold of tv shows/movies to watch. I hate to miss an update like this but I just don't have anything and, looking ahead, I'll have plenty of stuff for the next month or two afterwords. My school has simply spent the first month and a half playing movies I have no interest in and I've had a time and a half getting a hold of Life on Mars (plus I kinda thought that Once Upon a Time and Grimm would be done by now and now it looks like neither of those will be finished until May). Again, sorry to do it but after this I don't foresee this problem popping up for another few months at leas.

So, as for the actual review, I read Soulless quite a while ago and hadn't gotten around to the sequel since I was having even more trouble finding a copy of that then I had of the first book. No idea why but I eventually had to utilize the inter-library loan system to get a copy of the book from half-way across the state and it looks like I'll have to do something similar to get the next few books as well. It's a shame that it's been so hard for me to find these books, it's a fun series, it's regular adult fiction (or possibly romance fiction, I'm not 100% sure) which I don't read that often so it's a nice change of pace and I just don't know what my libraries seem to have against it, maybe it's the publisher?

Changless by Grail Carriger

Summary: Picking up where the last story left off, Alexi is now married to werewolf Alpha Lord Conall Maccon and has settled into her role of prenatural (ie, completely unmagical to the point where her touch turns werewolves and vampires into humans again) adviser to Queen Victoria. Recently there have been some strange events that have puzzled everyone in the supernatural society, a "normalization field" where all ghosts in it are exorcised, vampires become human, and werewolves are unable to transform. Conall chooses at this time to run off to Scotland to deal with pack business with a personal connection for him and Alexi has to chase after him, especially since the normalization field is tracking north to Scotland as well.

The Good: Alexi is a clever and competent lead who is quick on her feet and holds her own in arguments, I really enjoyed her as a main character, she's just fun to read about. I also like a lot of the supporting cast, special mention goes to newcomer Madam Lefoux whom I have heard is a reoccurring character in future books, although I was a bit sad that the change of setting meant that some characters got less page time than they had in previous books. The story does a good job at expanding the setting and further establishing it as an alternate reality and I hope that the next book expands it even farther.

The Bad: Unfortuantly a good bit of the conflict in this story arises simply from miscommunication and it's just not a good thing when you have to have characters willing not act in their best interest to draw out a plot. To the story's credit however this was only done by side characters and Alexi is quick to point out how stupid this all is so none of the main characters had to grab the idiot ball for this to pan out (well, mostly, there is some towards the end to create the conflict for the third book which made me wince). There were points in the later half where the story moved a bit too slowly, again mostly because of some obvious and infuriating miscommunication, but the first half moved quite quickly. Also, really don't understand the choice to shove Alexi's half-sister into the story and make her travel with them as well, I really don't understand that choice and don't think she needed to be in the story at all.

I really enjoyed this installment and as soon as my to-read pile becomes a more reasonable size again I'll put in another request for the next book. The fifth (and I believe final?) book in the Parasol Protectorate comes out in March so I don't think I'll have time to read all the other books before that, as was my original time, but hopefully some library will have a copy of it once I get through the next two. 

Friday, February 10, 2012

Manga Review: Cross Game (Omnibus volume 1)

I never saw the anime version of Cross Game, it simply never caught my interest, but I have heard all of the heaps and heaps of praise that people gave it. I've also seen several people, who I don't believe have seen the anime, praise the manga quite a bit so when I came across the first volume at the local library there wasn't any reason not to check it out. Viz has made the (wise IMO) choice to publish this series in a set of omnibus editions that each combine three volumes from the original Japanese release so it's a hefty book but I feel like it gave me a really good feeling for the series.

Cross Game by Mitsuru Adachi
Summary: Fifth-grader Ko Kitamura is more of a salesman than a baseball player but he enjoys hitting a few balls at the batting range owned by Tsukihima family. Of course he could be going over there to see his classmate and sorta-kinda girlfriend Wakaba, it's certainly what her sister Aoba suspects, but for the moment he's just taking life easy. Fast-forward four years and Ko still isn't really a baseball player but he finds himself playing the game more and more, and getting better and better than his peers, and finds the game becoming a bigger and bigger part of his life. 

The Good: For fans of the slice of life or sports genres Cross Game is something you should really check out, either the manga or the anime, since it works really well for both of those. While it's more than a tad unbelievable how good at baseball some of the characters are, given that they're all under 18, it's done well enough that it's not going to really bother anyone. The story is already spending a lot of time developing it's characters so it's clear that it's setting up for a long haul so again, most slice of life or sports fans are going to see a lot of things they really like about the genres in here done well and will enjoy it.

The Bad: This is a slow series and, as someone who generally enjoys a slow series, this was almost too slow for me. A lot of anime viewers will say "AND THEN THE END OF THE FIRST EPISODE HAPPENS!" but here the manga readers have to say "AND THEN THERE'S THE END OF THE FIRST VOLUME," there is actually little enough plot-wise going on that nine or 10 short chapters were able to be adapted into one anime episode. Other than that, after the time-skip the characters are starting to enter high school and the characters suddenly start having deep discussions about baseball and how unfair it is that the secondary team are treated more as staff than players. They think and speak more like old men than 15/16 year olds and I found that really jarring, enough that it kept taking me out of the story and the characters ceased to feel real.

The Art: The story takes care to introduce every character which is a good thing, while the characters look kinda distinctive from each other they looked close enough that I had trouble telling a lot of the side characters apart. Also, there's a four year time skip yet the characters don't seem to age at all, I was surprised to find out that the characters are supposed to be in the ninth/tenth grades, they still look like they're 11. The designs are consistent however and the backgrounds are well drawn so there's no problems with the art, I just normally don't have much trouble telling minor characters apart from each other and had some trouble here.

In the end, I was disappointed by this. It was too slow, the characters felt like fiction characters instead of people and I just couldn't empathize with their problems at all. I'll admit that the "twist" is one I'm exceptionally snarky about so it made me roll my eyes instead of having the normal emotional response and I just don't see myself checking out the next volume. My library does have it if I get the urge but for the moment I think I'll leave it for someone else to check out.  

Monday, February 6, 2012

Anime Review: Victorian Romance Emma: Second Act

Nozomi has really gotten on the ball recently about putting their shows on their youtube channel, I have no idea if it's just for R1 viewers or if anyone can see their shows, so the week after the first Victorian Romance Emma season finished up they started posting episodes from the second season. As before the episodes are only up for a limited amount of time, I believe for about a month each, so unfortunately you won't be able to check it all out there now, I'd recommend anyone whose interested in Nozomi's shows to follow their twitter to keep an eye on stuff like that. But enough about that, onto the review!

Victorian Romance Emma: Second Act

Summary: Emma has left London and found employment as a common maid in the Malders household where she tries to forget about William. William is also trying to forget about Emma and find happiness in his arranged engagement with Elanor and slowly finds himself growing into the family business. But fate gives them one more chance to meet and they discover that no, this just isn't going to work.

The Good: It's lovely to watch a romance where the characters don't spend the entire show trying to spit it out that they love each other or become suspicious and jealous of their significant other, rather this is the story of Emma and William realizing that yes, they do love each other and love each other enough to overcome the circumstances between them. Also nice is that both of them do seem to have at least a little bit of feelings for other romantic interests in their lives, after all it's odd for people to only fall in love once, and I thought those were handled fairly well (and by that I mean they were realistic and messy, while the show does present a rose colored view of love it does also show that love isn't the solution to everything). The show also added on an epilogue which I hadn't seen before, apparently it's from volume 10 of the manga and I stopped reading it when the main storyline stopped (the last few volumes are just short stories) which was a pleasant surprise that I enjoyed*. 

The Bad: This may have been just since Nozomi didn't stream episode 0, a recap episode that fits in between the two seasons, but people unfamiliar with the manga might be rather confused how Emma ended up with her new appointment and I'm really curious why the show didn't simply put that in the first episode anyway. Elanor's father comes off as a very flat character, I don't remember him being such an ass for the sake of being an ass in the manga, and that made some of the later problems a bit harder to take seriously. And once again there are a number of coincidences that allow Emma and William to meet up again but if you were a fan of the first series, and you must to be watching the second, I doubt that will bother people much at all.

The Audio: The opening and ending themes are done in the same vein as the first season, instrumental only music that sounds quite European and a bit folksy, something that sounds like it could've been played 100 years ago. In fact, the op and ed might simply be variations on the ones from the first season, I believe the ed is and the ops sound rather close. There are some additions to the cast but all the voice acting is as solid as it was in the first season and all of the characters manage to sound like real people, not like cartoon caricatures of people.

The Visuals: As I said in the previous review, the visuals work here but they just don't quite work for me. Something was lost in the change from the manga to the anime and I just didn't find the show as aesthetically pleasing in animated form. I will admit that the lack of variety in character designs bugged me, especially the lack of variation in eye and hair colors (it's true that in real life many people in England could be expected to have blonde hair, but there are many different shades of blonde hair and this anime only had one color yellow for hair, honestly that bothers me a lot more than characters in a realistic setting having "unrealistic" hair colors). Conversely, I did like the color schemes for the many outfits in the series, a lot of shows seem to be scared to use bright colors in a Victorian setting so I'm glad to see a show that went ahead and did so.

Another lovely installment in the series and it makes me want to buy the limited edition sets from TRSI even more (provided I can save up enough money before they're gone and, considering all the stuff I need to pre-order/buy from Bandai and such it's looking less and less likely sadly). I actually wish this series was a bit more well-known since I know of so many people who don't normally watch anime (mostly YA authors I follow on twitter who are suckers for romance) who I think would adore this show, not sure how to go about making the show more well-known however.

*provided that you don't remember, as tvtropes points out, by that point World War I is just around the corner and realizing that the rest of their lives would be filled with the World Wars and Great Depression

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Movie Review: Metropolis

A professor at my school, don't know him or even what department he's in, seems to have organized a film festival of sorts where the school's movie theater (an actual theater, not the auditorum where they normally show movies) shows a different, classic German film every two weeks or so and the first film up was Metropolis which is basically the granddaddy of modern science fiction. I don't know if the version I saw was the most complete one out there (it was missing two scenes), poking around it seems like this is the most complete one that is missing only about five minutes out of it's 2+ hour run time, and the professor talked a bit too much during the film (some of his points were interesting, like large objects representing authority, others not so much) but none of those are the film's fault, even if the talking really got on my nerves at times.


Summary: In the future there is the great city of Metropolis where the rich live in every comfort and the workers toil beneath the city to keep it running. Freder is a youth living in the upper part of the city who is distraught to find what kinds of lives the workers live and feels called upon to be the foretold mediator between the two groups. But his father, the creator of Metropolis, doesn't wish to see the workers gain that kind of power and conspires with the inventor Rotwang to use his newly created robot to infiltrate the workers and destroy them from the inside.

The Good: I was really not expecting Metropolis to have such a complex plot with deep themes so the movie really blew me away. Part of the reason I had been holding off watching it for years was that I was worried that I would be disappointed but it didn't disappoint here at all. It balanced several points of view well, looked great for the time, had a strong plot, and had some real concepts that were interesting to think about later on. It's not surprising that so much of this movie has been an inspiration for later stories (it's considered by some to be the first disaster movie, has the first transformation sequence in a film, etc) and I was rather in awe. And while a lot of the acting seems a bit over the top one place where I felt it was well done was for Maria and Fake!Maria, the same actress did both roles in the exact same costume, I don't think even her make-up was changed, and obviously without sound, but she was able to create such different personalities with just her movements alone that there was never any doubt which character she was supposed to be at the time, that takes an amazing amount of skill and I can't remember the last time I saw someone pull off something like that so well without using other visual or audio cues. 

The Bad: As I mentioned above, the physical acting is done a bit differently from today's films, the actors' movements are much more stylized and, in some cases, over the top which takes some getting used to and I think will probably bother a lot of modern day viewers. Another thing that modern day viewers have to be prepared for is that the movie is quite long, two and a half hours and it's pacing is on the slow side. I think that it could've worked a little better if parts had been sped up (I've heard that there is a shorter version out there, not sure if it's just missing scenes or if it's been deliberately cut to fix this problem, but apparently it really didn't work).  The movie just takes it's time setting up atmosphere and laying out the groundwork for the plot but there were still a few scenes where I just wanted to yell at the movie to get on with it.  

The Audio: The film is a silent film which doesn't mean there's not any sound at all, it just means that there's no talking. Back in the day it would have most likely been accompanied by a piano player in the theater improvising but here there is an actual soundtrack, I believe it's supposed to be a reconstruction of the original score. There were a few points where the music didn't seem to quite match up with the scenes but by and large it worked well and it didn't feel like anything was lost by not being able to hear the actors.

The Visuals: The film was shot back in 1927 so it's in black and white and some parts of the film are remarkably well preserved. I'll admit that I'm fond of black and white photography, I've had to spend three semesters shooting it so it grew on me, so that aspect didn't bother me, although there are some parts which have been very badly preserved. The film also had a huge budget for it's time, I'm not sure how to adjust for inflation but it was around 5 million Reichsmarks and the movie used it well in building multiple elaborate sets, some of which were built in miniature and then filmed through a mirror which I never would have guessed, and having some rather advanced special effects for the time. The costumes were rather plain, although for costumes you really need color, but overall I was very impressed at the sets.

All in all I was really impressed with this movie and can see why it's still so well remembered even 80 years later. I'd completely recommend it to anyone who likes science fiction or movies in general. I feel like you HAVE to see this just to see where things didn't exactly start but where a lot of things got moving. Doubt I'll ever see the animated version of Metropolis however, apparently Tezuka hated his own work, vowed to never make it into a movie and then the director of the movie waited until he died in order to do it and the movie wasn't that great, think I'll stick with the good version then. 

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Book Review: Wired (now titled Torn)

And here is the final installment in Robin Wasserman's trilogy, whew, only took me a month and a half to read and then review all of them which I suppose isn't too bad. So there's not much more to say at this point to introduce the book, onto the review!

Wired (now titled Torn) by Robin Wasserman
As before, this is the UK paperback cover, the kind I have, and again I prefer it to both the old US cover and the new set of covers as well. It's not the greatest cover, I just think that it's really hard to pull off a rainbow color scheme well and this cover isn't doing it, but the lighting on the old US covers bugs me and I feel like the new covers are too non-indicative of the story. 
Summary: Lia is back living at home as repayment to her father for the events in the last book and things continue to get more and more dangerous for mechs. Despite her and Biomax's best efforts to change the public's mind there is more and more violence against mechs but then the unthinkable happens, the mechs actually begin to die and Lia and Jude, with a few unlikely allies, are in for their most dangerous fight yet.

The Good: I was happily surprised to see a theory I had thought of reading the first book confirmed, slightly different but it did provide a bit more backstory to the series. I also liked how Lia's sister, Zo, got more character development since she was overdue for it and there have been hints for the past two books that she's more than she appears, the same goes for their mother and Lia's tune-up expert.  

The Bad: This book confirmed a nagging feeling I had had for the past two books, this really should have been one, huge, book instead of a trilogy. None of the books have the right balance of thinking and action and there are large parts where nothing happens. Turning this into one book possibly isn't the best solution, even paring down the books it would make for a 600-800 tome, but I feel like the pacing would have worked better and would've made for a more satisfying story. That aside, I should have been it coming but I disliked the ending (it's the exact same trope I disliked way back in Brain Jack) since I'm not fond of those kinds of tropes and it just makes me roll my eyes and drags me out of the story.

Bit of a short review but really that's it, I feel like the story had some good parts but that this story shouldn't have been a trilogy and that really hurt it pacing wise overall. Would I have liked it more as a single book? I think so, I'd still have problems with some of the subplots (I couldn't bring them up since they started getting more spoilery than I like to in reviews, not that I have any trouble with spoilers in the comments below) but it would avoid one problem I had with the series as a whole, characters appearing one book but not being important until later and feeling rather static until they became important.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Comic Review: Brain Camp

Sorry that this one is going up so late and that it's a bit short, no excuse for the former but I've just burned part of my hands for the second time in the week so I really don't want to do tons and tons of typing. This is a pretty quick book anyway so there isn't tons and tons for me to type, found it at the local library and recognized the title since I had seen Faith Erin Hicks, who did the art, talk about it (currently reading her Friends with Boys and Adventures of Superhero Girl comics) and I read The War at Ellsmere sometime last year (I believe I have an unflattering review of that lying around here somewhere but would rather not dig it up) so I decided that I should give this book a whirl as well.

Brain camp by Susan Kim, Laurence Klavan, and Faith Erin Hicks

Summary: Neither Jenna nor Lucas are the apple of their parents' eyes and so when their parents get the chances to send their kids to Camp Fielding, an exclusive summer camp which seems to turn average kids into geniuses, they leap at the chance and deposit the protesting teens there. Neither of them can stand the camp, or each other, but quickly realize that the camp is more shady than it already seems and that some truly horrific events are going on behind the scenes.

The Good: I'm always amused at what settings horror writers will use next and I can see the logic in using a summer camp, some of them are pretty horrific on their own. The horror bits were well done, they came across as strange and scary and the strangeness made it even creepier without coming off as, pardon the pun, camp.

The Bad: The pacing seemed just a bit off here, everything flowed much too quickly, I ended up reading the whole book in just about half and hour because of it’s fast pace, so the story never had anytime to really sink in. Of course that might have been for the best, all of the adults are flat, one-dimensional characters (a common problem with children’s stories, you have to keep the adults from getting in the way of the plot so why not make them idiots?) and the romance that sprung up really felt unexpected to me. I should’ve expected romance given the kinds of characters and age group the story was aimed at but when categories, not the plot itself, explain the story better then you have a problem.

The Art: As I said earlier, I picked up this book because of Faith Erin Hick’s name on it so the art was as I expected. It was solid and worked well, the characters looked different, emoted, and the backgrounds were well drawn, the art was a good fit for the book.

I was a bit disappointed with this book overall, I was just expecting a bit more out of it overall. Oh well, it is a short book and it's much harder to great something really great and grand in a shorter space .