Monday, April 30, 2012

Anime Review: Nastume Yuujinchou Shi

Apologies that some of my recent reviews have been a bit on the shorter side, I've finally hit exam time so I've been juggling a bit more work than normal and haven't quite had the energy to make as detailed posts. That aside, I suspect that even if I had more energy this particular post would still be on the shorter side since I've already talked about the first three seasons and hate to repeat myself which leaves me with a bit less to say here.

Natsume Yuujinchou Shi

Summary: Takashi Natsume is a high schooler with the ability to see yokai (spirits) and possesses other immense spiritual talents, inherited from his maternal grandmother Reiko Natsume. While this used to bother him and cause all kinds of trouble he has since gotten used to it and now enjoys the company of a number of yokai, people with talents like him and the ordinary people in his life.

The Good: The series has slowly become more and more ambitious and wastes no time getting into the thick of things with a two parter opener and the series first three episode arc rounding off the series. In general I prefer the more plot heavy, multi-episode stories and enjoyed all four of those arcs quite well and was even happier to see that one of those arcs and a stand alone episode both focused heavily on Natsume's past (and even happier one dealt with his parents a bit, it's about time we heard something about his family!). Even the one obligatory anime original episode (featuring a very odd choice this time, the backstory of another exorcist who has appeared a few times) was well done this time and I don't think there was a single episode I didn't enjoy.

The Bad: I have come to the conclusion that it is for the best not to think of this series as a show with four, distinct seasons but rather a show with 52 (!!! never thought we would have so many) episodes. While I liked the two parter that opened the season it just wasn't the right episode to open with and we're starting to have a problem where side characters will appear often one season but barely at all the next which feels a bit odd. Also, again this is given my preference for the more plot heavy arcs (and this is a problem carried over from the manga) I do wish the series would finally give us more information about Natsume's family. This season does clear up a few things about his parents (and Matoba dropped an interesting hint about Natsume's mother) but I think nearly every fan wants to know by now just what happened to Reiko.

The Audio: This is one of the few series where I consider the music to be more important than the visuals, possibly because the original manga is a bit sparse in design, and the music here continues to hit all the right notes and add to what are already emotional scenes. The voice acting continued to work just fine and while I didn't like the opening and ending songs as much as I did the ones for the third season they worked fine here (and as a bonus I did enjoy the ending song from the start, unlike the first two seasons where both of them took a while to grow on me).

The Visuals: Like the third season it seems like the fourth season had a bit more budget, the lines look cleaner, the colors bolder, and there are some nicely animated scenes throughout. I've always thought that while the character designs aren't necessarily plain some of their outfit choices were (I cosplay, I look for these things!) but this season introduced some more elaborate outfits (which caused the fanart community to go nuts) and it was nice to have a bit more visual flair in the series.

So far there aren't any plans for a fifth and sixth seasons (geeze guys, calm down! The show has always been split cour, which requires six volumes of manga and the 13th volume just came out as the fourth season started) but I do hope the show continues since I would love it to continue all the way to the end (and for the series to end in a conclusive fashion someday but I might be in the minority there). All four seasons are streaming for free on crunchyroll for a variety of countries and NISA has announced that all four seasons have been licensed for a US release, more information coming hopefully soon. 

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Movie Review: The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn

There are some films that I plan to see at school since I know I'll enjoy them more if I see them with friends and when I saw the trailers for this film I suspected that might be the case. There was nothing wrong with the trailers for The Adventures of TinTin, it just looked a bit silly, I actually managed to figure out that it was CGI instead of live action when I saw the scene where a pirate ships coasts over the waves of a desert and that scene seems to sum up the movie, silly and often illogical but in an entertaining manner.

The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn

Summary: Tintin is an intrepid young reporter with a nose for a story whose been on dozens of adventures already (accompanied by his faithful and clever dog snowy). So when he discovers that the old model boat he recently bought it part of a puzzle involving centuries old treasure he jumps right into the mystery, where ever it might take him.

The Good: With the exception of a few scenes the pacing worked well, despite it's short run time nothing felt rushed and it didn't seem like the characters lingered too long in any one place for too long.  I found Snowy to be the most enjoyable character to watch and, much like the penguins in Mawaru Penguindrum, any scene that has Snowy in it has him off in the background doing his own antics (sometimes related to the plot and sometimes just as a joke) and I liked that attention to detail, it was amusing and made me appreciate the thought that went into those scenes a bit more. The movie was filled with details actually, more on that in the visuals, but I was happy to see that they went to a lot of effort to make the "sets" feel just as real as the sets in a traditional live action film would be and that really helped.

The Bad: I was a bit confused by the setting, which seemed mostly like France but with some odd British details, which seems to be a carry over from the original comics but other people have pointed out that the movie also isn't sure when it's set with newspapers giving the date as 1938 yet cars from the 30s, 40s, and 50s making appearances. It wasn't enough to annoy me but it was enough to jolt me out of the movie a few times which is never a good sign. Additionally, I am convinced the reason Spielberg decided to make this film in CGI instead of in live action was so that he could completely ignore the laws of physics for a few scenes and, like a certain scene from Super 8, while those scenes were amusing at first they just dragged on so long that my suspension of disbelief was entirely broken and I got bored by it. In a way, even when the characters are doing something completely unrealistic you still need some realism to ground the scene and give the scene from stakes, without that it's just hard to take any of it seriously and be entertained by it. 

The Audio: Even if the visuals make the setting a bit unclear time-wise some of the musical pieces immediately made me think that the movie was set in the 1930s vs the 1940s and that's a good thing, it shows that the music is doing it's job at adding and giving more meaning to what's on screen. Since all the actors did both the motion capture and voices for their characters I suppose it technically doesn't count as voice acting here but in any case everything worked there as well, everything matched up and no one had an out of place sounding voice.

The Visuals: The movie is entirely in CGI, shot using real actors with motion capture technology (and a pull toy for Snowy) and, as tvtropes put it, it seems like we've finally hit the other side of the uncanny valley. It's actually hard to tell at first if the movie is CGI or not and when you figure out it's not because everything looks too perfect or that the characters faces just don't look right, it manages to be both realistic enough that it tricks your mind yet not be so realistic that it becomes creepy. Spielberg takes full advantage of what CGI lets him do and creates elaborate settings, overly complicated chase scenes, and plenty of other things that wouldn't be possible (or at least nearly as easy to do) with a live action film.

In the end I wouldn't call this film an all-ages movie but a kid's movie, I just didn't get enough out of it to justify paying more than a few dollars to see it. It appears that there is a sequel in the works and I might see that if I find it playing at a cheaper theater as well but this film didn't leave me with the burning desire to see the new one as soon as it comes out. 

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Book Review: The Ring of Solomon

Not quite a prequel to Jonathan Stroud's Bartimaeus Trilogy, set in an alternate, modern day London where the technology doesn't seem quite as advanced but where magicans have been summoning spirits (what we, and they, call demons) since ancient times and I enjoyed the trilogy quite a bit. So when I came across this book at the local library, well over a year since it came out (I had seen it around in bookstores before but hadn't heard much of it so I had forgotten to look around my libraries for it) I figured it was about time to jump back into the series and see how it fared.

The Ring of Solomon by Jonathan Stroud

Summary: Long before Bartimaeus was ever summoned to London he served under hundreds of other masters and like many dijinn one day he found himself in Jerusalem under a cruel master who was one of King Solomon’s highest magicians and thus his servitude begins anew. But while things look bright for Israel other nations resent how high and mighty Solomon has become and how he now taxes their nations, if they refuse they will feel the full wrath of his ring that can summon untold numbers of spirits. The Queen of Sheba is the latest person to be approached with these demands which she does not like one bit and so she sends one of her most faithful guards, Asmira, with the daunting task of killing Solomon and retrieving the ring. Of course, given that Bartimaeus becomes involved in this story it doesn’t go nearly as smoothly as anyone plans….

The Good: The story is a nice call back to the original trilogy where Bartimaeus often boasted that he had talked with Solomon, normally followed by a fellow spirit going “well who didn’t, the man got around”, and it’s nice to get more than bits and pieces of his original adventure (although I would have loved to hear about his time with Ptolemy in Egypt even more). The book, even though it's not a true prequel to the story, fits in well thematically, Bartimaeus is lazy but clever (with many footnotes), all magicians/people in positions of power are conniving bastards (with the lone character who fits into none of those categories is supposed to be sympathetic but is a bit dumb), and all the plans end up being more complicated than they probably needed to be (but in a fun way). In short, if you enjoyed the original trilogy you'll like this but if you aren't already familiar with the series this isn't as great a place to start.  

The Bad: One of the things that made the original books so much fun was the multiple points of view (Bartimaeus, Nathaniel and then later a third person named Kitty) and sadly Asmira is not as interesting a character nor as good a balance as those two were (this book actually reminded me of the first book of the trilogy a bit, neither Nathan nor Asmira felt real enough to me as Kitty did). The story never feels grounded enough and with a fantasy story you do need a certain amount of grounding, without that it’s hard to take any detail, fantastical or mundane, seriously and that’s when a story starts to fall apart. I also had a hard time figuring out if Solomon was supposed to be a multi-faceted character or if Stroud decided close to the end that he needed Solomon to be more sympathetic or the story wouldn’t work.

In the end I was disappointed by this, the story wasn't nearly as strong as I was expecting and none of the characters, yes even Bartimaeus, just weren't interesting. The setting was a nice change of pace, I've been studying ancient history lately so it was nice to read something actually set in the time period, but that was all I got out of it. I'm in two frames of mind over whether or not to recommend it; on the one hand I'm sure some fans liked it better than me, on the other I just didn't get anything out of reading it and don't have the urge to buy it (and I do already own the other three books). So I guess the review will have to speak for itself this time then.  

Friday, April 27, 2012

Manga Review: Codename Sailor V (both volumes)

As funny as it sounds, despite the fact that I love shojo manga and that I've enjoyed quite a few magical girl series I have never read the Sailor Moon manga and only saw a little bit on tv when I was a kid, not enough for me to remember anything about it at all (I actually had to check with my mom to make sure I hadn't simply imagined it since I literally remember nothing). Ever since Kodansha started publishing the new releases I've wanted to check out the series but fate seems to be conspiring against me since I have the worst luck getting hold of it (my first friend wanted to read her copies first, fair enough, but got so bogged down with school work that the semester ended and she's studying aboard now and the girl whom I borrowed these from has three other people also reading the series, while also dealing with a lot of school work, so at this point I've given up on getting a hold of them in the next few months). I am actually happy that I was able to read Codename Sailor V first since I do like reading things in chronological order and it seems like even if I forget some of the details from here by the time I get around to Sailor Moon that it won't matter too much.
Codename: Sailor V by Naoko Takeuchi

Summary: Minako Aino was an ordinary, boy crazy girl when one day she is approached by a mysterious white cat and told that she's the reincarnation of Sailor Venus and must use her powers for justice.
The Good: I was pleasantly surprised to see other characters from Sailor Moon making background cameos, especially as the series went on, since it provided a nice sense of continuity and the ending wouldn't have worked as well without those little hints. I suppose the story also works rather well as an introduction to Sailor Moon in general, it seems to give a good feel for the early story and at two generously sized volumes it's not a huge time commitment either.

The Bad: I honestly did not like Minako that much which makes me a little nervous for Sailor Moon since I know that Usagi is supposed to be similar but with more crybaby tendencies. The stories all felt rather disconnected and like the wrap-up arc was shoehorned in at the end and I had to re-read the final confrontation part because I had no idea what was going on which is never a good sign. I was also confused by the whole "Minako and Artemis' boss who sends them on missions" thing, who WAS that? Is this explained in Sailor Moon? That detail, that there is someone else who knows about the senshi and is in charge of giving out orders to some extent completely baffled me and I'm still confused by that point. I think confusion sums  up my feelings here pretty well, there's very little plot advancement, barely any character development for Minako, I'm still not sure where the villains were from or why they were there, I'm just a bit confused why this exists. 

The Art: If someone in America is vaguely familiar with manga and you ask them what shojo manga looks like (once you explain what shojo means that is) they'll probably describe something very similar to Takeuchi's art style since for a lot of people that was their biggest exposure to it. The characters are all big eyed with perfect, bouncy, flowing hair and the way you can tell the good guys from the bad guys is that the bad guys are the only unattractive ones. Screentones abound and the art feels a bit rough at times, personally I'm not a huge fan of the way Takeuchi draws her character's faces but there's nothing wrong with the way she draws them. A lot of the characters look very similar however so I'm curious to see if she gets any better at differentiating people for Sailor Moon since that has a much bigger cast.
So yeah, I just didn't like this and it's making me a bit nervous about the main series. I do really like shojo and have enjoyed a number of magical girl series in the past, this one was just a miss for me. I will still be trying out SM once I can get a hold of the volumes but it's not at the top of my to-read list right now.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Spring Anime 2012 round-up

Once again I am later than everyone else but to make up for it I have all my reviews in one place (so, erm, it's long, I had just hit a fourth page on Word when I was writing these up).Did not try Jormugand, Sankarea, Hyouka, Kuroko no Basuke, or Nyarko-san but might later on if I somehow get bored, they all sounded like something that may catch my fancy but I already have enough shows I'm committed to watching to keep me entertained (plus Funimation still hasn't put up Sankarea, y'all sure you know what the word "simulcast" means?). Still following Bodacious Space Pirates and Aquarion Evol in addition to Legend of Korra, thank god MLP:FiM just finished up or I'd be spending my entire Saturday watching cartoons. Funny enough my one and a half fansub shows this season are both mecha (half since I watch Evol on a weird schedule so it only half counts), and the fact that I was already committed to one and a half shows is why I didn't try out Hyouka (the entire reason this is delayed so much, I had expected it to be simulcast which obviously didn't happen). Enough mindless rambling though, let's ramble about the actual shows!

Accel World: Set a few decades in the future, high school life in Japan is similar to today’s except that the technology has rapidly progressed and everyone is now permanently wired into the ‘net. This works in Haruyuki’s favor since he uses his favorite online games to escape the bullying at his school and it turns out that someone has noticed his skills, student body president who is only known by her handle Kuroyukihime, and recruits him to help her in a different kind of game called Brain Burst. I checked out the first chapter of the manga adaptation which didn’t really catch my attention but the anime did. It’s paced well, looks good (do wish Haruyuki was a bit less deformed but I’m not going to obsess over that like some viewers have) and while the plot is a bit on the simple side it works just fine. I can’t tell at this point if I’m going to keep enjoying the series as much as I have, especially since it’s “plot twists” seem rather predictable at this point, but for the moment I’m having fun with it.

Accel World has been licnesed by Viz Media and can be viewed by USians either on hulu or on their site using the hulu player, Canadians are in a pinch here.

Dusk Maiden of Amnesia (Tasogare Otome x Amnesia): Many years ago Yuuko was a student at a strange high school and died under mysterious circumstances and now her body lies beneath the Paranormal Activity clubroom. She claims that she’s not interested in why she died or any of those details, she can’t even remember them to start with, but when Teiichi comes along and is able to see her she starts to become a little more curious and starts the club in order to find out. Honestly that’s all that has happened in the first two episodes (the majority of the first episode was taken up by a hilarious segment showing the episode first from the point of view of the club member who can’t see ghosts and then from the POV of the two who can) and the show has more fanservice than I care for* but somehow the show has grabbed me anyway and if it’s going to be a short series then I’ll be sure to stick around and see what ends up being revealed.

The show has been licensed by Section 23 and for the moment can be viewed on Crunchyroll.

Eureka Seven AO (Astral Ocean): The follow-up to the original 2005 show Eureka 7: Psalm of the Planets (which I have seen, it was just back in 2009 back when Anime News Network was starting to stream shows), Ao has grown up in Okinawa under the guidance of a local doctor when his mother (who is clearly Eureka) vanished while he was small (no mention of his father but it’s Renton almost for sure) and has endured harassment ever since for being an “outsider”. But when a monster emerges from the alien scrub coral and starts spreading havoc it seems like Ao is one of the best chances they have to save the island. But for older viewers a few things seem off, the series is set on a modern looking Earth in 2025 (instead of 12005 on a changed Earth like the original series) with scub coral attacks dating back to the 1940s. I think it’s an alternate universe here so on the one hand I want to say that people who have read a bit about the original but not seen it can follow but at this point it’s not quite safe to say. Ao is a more likeable protagonist than Renton so far and I never disliked Renton to start with, although I am a little hesitant on who seems to be the female lead Naru but I’m warming up to her fast. At first glance the two shows seemed very different but I can now see a number of similarities and I think I’ll end up liking this a lot.

Fate/Zero II: Continuing mere minutes from where the first half left off, Fate/Zero is a record of the fourth Holy Grail war (10 years before the 5th war in Fate/Stay Night) where pairs of Masters and Servants (heroic spirits summoned just to fight in this war) fight to the last pair standing to receive the wish granting grail. And fight they do, almost half the servants are gone by the time I write this and there has been fighting amongst the pairs as well, much like the first half the show loves to have long monologues on philosophy and morals between characters and then spend the next ten minutes showing a beautifully done fight sequence. I’ve really gotten into the show now, enough that I’m planning on watching F/STN over the summer once this finishes and even though I’ve guessed/been spoiled enough to figure out how this story is going to end I can’t wait to see it play out, as triumphant or tragic as it may be.

While not licensed per-say in the US, each new episode can be viewed on the Japanese NicoNico site with English subtitles and on Crunchyroll a week later. 

Hiiro no Kakera: When Tamaki's parents suddenly get jobs oversees, something that seems a bit suspicious to her, she moves in with her grandmother and discovers that she was brought there to be the next "Tamayori Princess," someone who deals with the spirits in the area and whose power seems to be growing. In a twist that shows it's dating-sim roots there are five attractive men assigned to look after her and the chemistry begins! While I can easily see the appeal of dating-sim games I don't really see the appeal of the animated adaptions since they take out the best part, actually getting to choose what to do and which guys to get closer to. So this one gets a pass from me, although I am tempted to make a plushie out of that adorable fox ghost mascot.

Hiiro no Kakera is streaming on Crunchyroll. 

Kids on the Slope (Samakichi no Apollon): One of my most anticipated shows of the season, Kids on the Slope makes up half of the noitaminA spot and focuses on transfer student Kaoru who has just moved to Kyushu in 1966 for his father’s job and expects this move to be like all the others, another chance for him to be isolated and lonely in his new surroundings. But things go a little differently this time around thanks to the friendly class president Ritsuko and delinquent classmate Sentarou who introduce the piano playing Kaoru to a new kind of music, jazz. I’ve only had a chance to check out the first episode so far but I really liked the vibe it gave off. The setting was different, the music was great and the characters already feel a bit rounded. I am really worried at how this show is going to compress all nine volumes of the manga into just 12 episodes, especially since it sounds like their aren’t any subplots that can be easily cut out, but fingers crossed and hoping for the best!

Section 23 has already licensed the show and it can be viewed on Crunchyroll.

Lupin the III-A Woman Named Fujiko Mine: I saw the first episode of this show on accident actually, I was watching a livestream and the streamer decided to show the latest incarnation of the Lupin the III franchise (which can be summed up as Lupin is a famous thief who likes to steal difficult things because of the challenges they present).  As I had already figured out from the reviews I’d read, this isn’t the show for me but it’s a pretty cool show. I’m not a big fan of Lupin, like many my only experience with the franchise is The Castle of Caligstro (which I didn’t  like that much) and the whole phantom/gentleman thief genre is hit or miss with me to start with. All of that said, you don’t need much familiarity with the Lupin franchise to follow this show and it looks gorgeous (to quote a friend, “they blew the budget of three anime studios in the first five minutes of this show”) in it’s super detailed retro style. Funny enough the copious amount of fanservice in the first episode didn’t bother me either which I think might be because the show not only has a female writer (Mari Okada whose work I’m plenty familiar with) but also a female director (Sayo Yamamoto who did Michiko to Hatchin which I still need to get around to seeing) and I wonder if that had just enough of an influence on the show to make the fanservice less annoying. In any case, Funimation is now streaming the show and if this sounds at all interesting I recommend people check it out (just be careful where you do however, the first episode is seriously NSFW because of Fujiko’s frequent stripping to distract the male characters).

Show is being streamed by Funimation on their website, you do need a free account to view it however due to the boobies.

Medaka Box: Tried this one out because, well, it was on Crunchyroll and I was bored? I also had a raging headache at the time and I’m not sure if that contributed to my feelings on the show or not but this just didn’t quite work. The premise is simple enough, Medaka is the new president of her high school and her first act is to create a suggestion box for the students and her first request is to clean up the kendo dojo, and by clean out they mean kick out all the delinquents who have taken up residence there. The problem is that Medaka just isn’t that interesting a character, she feels a bit like a Maniac Pixie DreamGirl to the male lead whom I suspect is actually the main character, and is simply so out there (with her proclamations that she will fix everything for no reason other than the joy of helping others) that I couldn’t take the show seriously and didn’t find it funny either. The premise reminds me a lot of Sket Dan, which I read the first chapter of a year or so ago, but at least there the series focused on comedy, here the show just feels disjointed and like it’s trying to do two different things at once.

This show is streaming on Crunchyroll as I mentioned earlier.

Polar Bear Café (Shirokuma Café): The lone josei offering of the season is a strange one, a comedy series set in a world where humans and animals live everyday lives with each other, the first episode shows the character Panda (who, true to his species, is rather lazy and would rather lay around all day eating bamboo) trying to find a job and eventually ends up with part time work as a panda in the local zoo. A large chunk of the show also takes place in the eponymous Polar Bear Café which shows off the best bits of the series humor with it’s strange puns and odd situations (plus, if you’re familiar with Japanese seiyuu then there is plenty of humor to be had in hearing them voice various animals). I did laugh a few times but I don’t think that this kind of humor would stay funny to me for an entire season (and in general I prefer series where humor is a secondary genre, not the main one like here), but I’m sure plenty of other people will enjoy it enough to make up for me.

Currently the show is unlicensed but it is streaming on Crunchyroll.

Saint Seiya Omega: I’m not familiar with the original Saint Seiya at all, beyond a basic plot synopsis that is, but I really liked the art style for the show and that I was familiar with. From the same people who did Casshern Sins and Heartcatch Precure (which I really need to see) I had been reminded of just how much I liked their retro-esque designs last fall when they did an episode of Mawaru Penguindrum and I decided that was enough of a reason to give this show a shot. And it seems that not much knowledge of the original Saint Seiya is needed to get this show, it seems to be a sequel where we start off with main character Kouga who is being put through some brutal training to become a “saint” who will one day protect the goddess Athena and he’s not particularly happy with this choice. It’s a super shonen-esque show with calling your attacks, hot blooded determination trumping experience and mysterious mentors calling upon Kouga to use some kind of inner strength he has, although I have no idea if the original show had magical girl-esque transformation sequences as well (looking at the team’s previous work I could easily see this being their own flair). In the end the show didn’t do enough things differently for me to want to continue, think I’ll just track down Heartcatch Precure sometime to get my fill of the artstyle that way instead.

Saint Seiya Omega is streaming, like a lot of other things this season, on Crunchyroll.

Space Brothers (Uchuu Kyodai): Set a few decades into the future, brothers Mutta and Hibito both had the same dream as kids, to become astronauts and explore space. Of the two however only Hibito has been able to achieve this dream while Mutta has been recently fired from his lucrative job as a car designer for head butting his boss. But even if Mutta has pretended to forget his dream his family hasn’t and he soon finds himself taking the JAXA [link] exams to become an astronaut. Hmm, realistic, near-future science-fiction (can it even be called that?) with an older protagonist? Sounds fun and sounds different, the pacing is a bit slower than most of the other shows out here but it sounds like the show will be running for a full year so it has the time to set a steady pace. I am a bit amused that Mutta has the same VA and similar appearance to Kotetsu from Tiger and Bunny last year, then again I remember the VA (Hiroaki Hirata) joking last year that after that role he’s now the “ojisan” actor and maybe that’s coming true…

Streaming on Crunchyroll.

Tsuritama: The other half of this season’s noitaminA timeslot and from the same director who did [C], Mononoke, and Trapeeze, Yuki is also a transfer student as he moves to Enoshima, has also moved around a lot and despite that also still gets panic attacks whenever he tries to introduce himself at his new school. Given the, odd nature of his panic attacks (outwardly he just makes strange expressions but inwardly he imagines being swallowed up by a rising wave) he’s also short on friends and not expecting to make any but self-proclaimed alien Haru, also a transfer student, has taken an interest in Yuki (as well as moved in with them) and seems intent on dragging him and two other guys all over town fishing. This show gave me a lot less to go on than Kids on the Slope and if it wasn’t noitaminA I would’ve considered dropping it since it was just so odd (actually, given who the director is and my strong feelings on the ending of [C] this still isn’t out of the picture). Right now I’m going to give it a few more episodes and see if I get into the swing of it since I have absolutely no clue right now what it’s trying to do.

Like Kids on the Slope, Tsuritama has been licensed by Section 23 and is streaming on Crunchyroll.

Zetman: In a dark and edgy setting, Jin was created as an experiment, a “player” with superhuman and near demonic abilities, but rescued as a baby by a man he grew up to call Grandpa. His grandpa was killed by a rouge player and soon after Jin’s own powers activated and ever since he’s tried to not get close to others to keep them safe. Another case where we’re getting a severely compressed adaptation (the entire manga series in one cour, sounds like they’ve already had 20+ chapter timeskips) but it wasn’t the pacing or such that put me off the series, as a non-manga reader the first two episodes flowed alright even though you can see it was compressed, I’m just tired of seeing “dark and edgy” shows. I might give this a go again later if I get bored, although given how much I have to watch I don’t foresee that happening. So it’s a case where the show isn’t bad, just not for me.

Just like this post started, Zetman has been licensed by Viz Media and is being streamed by them as well.

And that's all from me! So, seven new shows to follow, two continuing, four or five I might try/follow anyway (since it seems like every season I end up following one show I don't even mention here), and a giant backlog for when I get bored. And, given that all the shows I watch air between Thursday afternoon and Sunday evening I do get a bit bored by Wednesday, or I could use that time to catch up on live action shows.... 

*yes Japan, boobs are squishy and bounce when you don’t wear a bra, moving on

Monday, April 23, 2012

Anime Review: Last Exile: Fam the Silver Wing

It's been a while since Studio Gonzo did a full and proper tv show, the last one was Shangri-la from 2009 which had a rather cool premise but completely failed by the end (and the main reason why I get nervous whenever I see a sci-fi story trying to throw mysticism in, reaaaally didn't work here). Despite that I was curious to see Gonzo's newest offering, a sequel to the original Last Exile series which I enjoyed quite a bit. I don't consider the show a masterpiece as I have seen many other people do, the middle/two-thirds mark falls too flat for that, but like Hugo from yesterday it's a great example of a story starting out with a small premise and growing into something that encompasses the characters entire world. I was a bit confused by some of the early promotional material ("okay, how did Earth go from having one moon to seven, did we really mess up the planet SO MUCH that we destroyed the moon in the process or something?") but thankfully those details were cleared up by the series, even if some other important ones weren't.

Last Exile: Fam the Silver Wing

Summary: Set two years after the first series and now on the planet Earth, Fam is an orphan who was taken in by the Sky Pirates when she was just an infant and loves nothing more but finding adventure in the skies with her friend Giselle as her navigator. But the two of them quickly get out of their depth as they become entangled in a brewing war between the imperialistic Ades Federation and find themselves siding with the young heir to the opposing Turan kingdom Millia.

The Good: If the viewer considers Millia instead of Fam to be the main character in this story (despite the fact that her name is in the title Fam feels and acts more like a supporting protagonist) then the story works very well showing how Millia starts out as a pampered and privileged young girl who must quickly grow up and seize control of her world lest it be completely wiped out. There are some returning characters from the original show and, while sometimes they aren't given enough screen time (and by that I mean multiple times they disappear for three or four episodes without the show having a 30 second scene showing what they are currently doing) they manage to have important roles but never upstage the main trio. The show is exciting and fun overall but when you look too closely at some of the details it starts to lose it's glean. 

The Bad: If the viewer considers Fam instead of Millia the main character and lead of this series then it starts to fall rather flat. I have no problem with Fam being an optimistic character, indeed with how dark the series gets at points it's needed, but her character development is spotty and occurs much too late in the series (and there's really no reason she should've had so little, even side characters need to grow in a story). But a bigger problem than Fam is the overall villain and their plan which just doesn't make sense. At the heart of the conflict is a land war similar to the Israel-Palenstine conflict of today, who is supposed to live where? Do the original settlers who were displaced for hundreds of years have a right to take the land or do the people who moved in the intern and have no other "native land" than that have a right to stay? The problem here is that not only does the story contradict itself, the returnees from the first show have found livable land far away from everyone else so there clearly is more land to go around, but I'm also highly skeptical that the only liveable land is right around what the fans believe to be the Mediterranean Sea, the creators seem to have completely forgotten there's more than 2/3 continents here. Not only is this conflict had to take seriously because of it's flaws but the villains actions in the end just don't make sense and it's frustrating because some of the other characters could have made better villains. While many of the staff from the first series returned the writers did not and it's a difference that is keenly felt.  

The Audio: Both the original and LE:Fam share musical composer Hitomi Kuroishi and, as a fan of Celtic inspired music, I was very pleased with this choice and the music sounds gorgeous. The music has a very similar feel to the music from the first series and is well-placed. The opening and ending songs aren't as memorable as the ones from the original but they work alright and don't feel out of place. The voice acting is solid as well, I believe all of the returning characters except for Alvis used the same voice actors as before, although it sounds like the English dub will have a hard time doing the same*.

The Visuals: The art was surprisingly a mixed bag here, while the CGI looked rather good in many places (and blending CGI with traditional 2D animation is one thing Gonzo used to be good at) there are many times where if you pause and look closely the regular art looks a bit sloppy or the characters look off. LE:Fam is hardly the only show to do this (and I'd argue that it never gets as bad as the background messiness of Persona 4 the Animation) but it is distracting to have some very gorgeous scenes right alongside overly simplistic details. In the end I still liked the look of this show very much and  hope that some of it was cleaned up/corrected for the DVD/BR releases.

It may not sound like it but I did really like this show, it just went down in it's second half and is certainly not as good as the original. There is one more problem with it that didn't quite fit in with the review, there were several events in the show where viewers went "wait, that's different from the original show, how did that happen?" and everyone had to throw up their arms and go "we don't know!" There is a manga that is set to bridge the two series, Travelers of the Hourglass/Sunadokei no Tabibito but it only started running the same time the anime aired so that so far has raised more questions than it has answered. Honestly I wish that manga had started back last February or March when the anime was announced so it had more of a lead and started to cover things (in an ideal world it would've been finished before LE:Fam or been a show itself) but hopefully in another couple of years this show will make at least a bit more sense. For US/Canadian readers the show can be viewed for free on Funimation's website. 

*to clarify, Last Exile was original licensed and dubbed by the now-dead Genon with California actors and both shows are now licensed by Funimation who is based in Texas. Worse yet I've heard that Dio's voice actor no longer does much acting and I might have heard that another actor had passed away and there's still another half dozen or so returning characters that they'll either have to match or make special accommodations to make this work.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Movie Review: Hugo

I only heard a bit about Hugo when it first came out but during movie award season (which I don't care about but can't seem to avoid hearing about on twitter) I heard a lot of buzz about the movie and it sounded like the movie was a really good one. I'd already been planning on catching it at school but tried to get too hyped for it, after all it's unusual for me to enjoy movie on the same level that I love my favorite book and anime series, what were the odds of that happening here?


Summary: Based on the book The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brain Selznick, Hugo is a young boy who after the death of his father and being taken in by his uncle takes care of all the clocks in Paris' Gare Montparnasse train station. Whenever he has a moment however he is tinkering with an automaton that his father discovered in a museum and was unable to fix before his death. To find the parts for it Hugo has stolen a few toys from a toy store owned by the bitter old Papa Georges who one day catches him and takes his father's notebook in retaliation claiming it couldn't be his anyway. Hugo enlists the help of Papa Georges' young ward Isabelle to get his notebook back and in the process they discover that Papa Georges' is far more than he seems.

The Good: This is a very strongly plotted story that starts off with a small idea, Hugo trying to repair the automaton, and expands to a very grand scope by the end. The story does not rely on action or romance or over the top explosions to move the story along and distract the viewers but instead carefully paces itself and builds up parallels and metaphors along the way to make the story deeper. Part of this might be because it was based on a book, perhaps I'm biased but I often find richer writing in books than I do in screenplays, but the movie never feels like it's compressing the plot/adding in details to fill out time so it feels like a very smooth adaptation. Hugo and Isabelle come off as realistic kids, Isabelle in particular with her large vocabulary that could easily be explained by her reading and how she enjoys adventure but isn't too reckless*, although it did seem like Hugo was able to repair the automaton a little too easily for someone with his experience. I was pleasantly surprised to see that this film turned out to be a movie about making movies and even more so when I did some research later and discovered that many of the characters were real people and that all of the films they showed were real ones from the period. While it still doesn't justify some of the actions by Papa Georges his back story made him much more sympathetic and I found myself completely empathizing with what was really a tragic story. 

The Bad: As I was glancing on tvtropes I was reminded of a few subplots that the movie failed to fully explain by the end (such as the fate of Hugo's notebook) and it sounds like some of those details were resolved by the book but not the movie so that would be the fault of the adaptation (and in it's defense the movie did wrap up quite a few other subplots successfully, it had a lot on it's plate by the end). There are some other small inconsistencies in the movie (if Hugo's uncle was gone who was getting paid/how was Hugo eating) but I don't see those problems bothering anyone but the most detail oriented.  

The Audio: I didn't pay quite as much attention to the music as I did the visuals but the music was rather sweet and matched the film well. The music sounds a little whimsical and old-fashioned, I swear it sounds like there is a hand-cranked organ in some of the pieces, and the music helps the movie from becoming too dark overall. It doesn't attempt anything too grand or over the top and that's just fine for this movie and works wonderfully.

The Visuals: I'm a little sad that I didn't have a chance to see this movie in the 3D version since I've heard some surprisingly good things about that but I also didn't feel like I was missing out with anything in the 2D version. It may sound odd to say this about a movie that wasn't overly arty or made copious use of CGI and other grand effects but this movie looked really good. The details in the props, clothing, and locations really add to the setting and manage to establish both the time and the location** without the story explicitly needing to state them. The physical setting of the movie looked gorgeous and the costumes looked like authentic clothing, like someone spent some time researching clothes and didn't raid a costume store and make all the female cast wear flapper dresses.  

So in short, I adored this movie and when I was home recently and came across my family watching this film I was unable to sit down and focus at my computer and instead just watched about half of the movie again with them. This is hands down the strongest plotted movie I have seen in years and I'm going to try and read the book this summer to see how similar and different they are (it sounds like the author really liked the adaption so I'm hopeful, also when looking up a few things for this review I came across the book and facepalmed quite hard when I saw the cover since I have seen that book a dozen times yet never made the connection).

*I will admit that I was partially biased to her character from the start since I always love the bookworm characters and it's been a bit of a while since I saw one. Isabelle's balance between obviously loving stories and wanting to have adventures of her own with the carefulness she shows because she knows that her life isn't one of those stories is refreshing since so many people take shortcuts and write bookworms as characters who can't tell reality from fiction which in my experience isn't true at all.
**the location actually wasn't that hard, all you need is a shot of the Eiffel Tower and everyone knows it's Paris but I digress. 

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Book Review: Zombies vs Unicorns

Considering my overall impression of the Mars anthology was only lukewarm at best it may seem a bit odd that I decided to read another anthology immediately afterwords, the only explanation I can offer is that I'd been meaning to read this book for years (I followed Justine's blog back when she was still able to update and might have been around for the original blog post). So, knowing full well that just because an anthology is hyped well and has a lot of authors in it that I like doesn't mean that it's going to be good (I'm looking at you Geektastic) I decided to give this one a shot anyway.

Zombies vs Unicorns edited by Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier

I'm curious how the paperback cover works since the hardcover book here has the black dust jacket with cut-outs of a zombie and a unicorn which can be removed to show a mural of unicorns and zombies fighting each other printed onto the book cover itself. I think the dust jacket idea is clever although I'm not that fond of the art style used for the images themselves, it's a neat idea regardless however.
Summary: Originating from a debate in the comments of author Justin Larbalestier's blog, she and Holly Black head up this anthology which compare zombies and unicorns with 12 stories from well known young adult authors who try to prove why their side is better.
The Good: I was quite pleasantly surprised to see that not every story in the anthology involved romance, I simply like a break from it sometimes, and that there were two LGTB romances in the anthology as well (oddly enough both zombies, "Love Will Tear Us Apart" by Alaya Dawn Johnson and "Inoculata" by Scott Westerfeld), a very nice change of pace overall. There are some stories in here which I’m confused if they were written to be parodies (all unicorn stories, Meg Cabot’s "Princess Prettypants" and Naomi Novik's "Purity Test")*  but they ended up being so genuinely hilarious that in the end I ended up not caring, I had fun reading them. Fun actually sums up a lot of the anthology, given my bad track record with anthologies I really wasn’t expecting much out of this one yet I enjoyed it and can see why so many other people have as well.
The Bad: I’m simply not a big fan of dystopias, for reasons that deserve their own post someday, and since a number of the zombie stories were set in dystopias I didn’t like them as much (which may sound harsh but as I’ve said before, it’s not plot but setting that’s the most important part of a story for me and that’s extra true with such stories like these). None of the stories were bad however, there were just some not to my taste and only about half of them stuck in my mind only a month after I read them which speaks volumes on it's own.

Probably the best anthology I've tried in the past few years but since it had been at least six months between whatever my last anthology was an the Mars one that's not as grand a statement as it sounds. Not sure if I would want a copy of my own for rereading but I'd certainly recommend this to many of my friends, it's a fun book with variety that I can see appealing to a lot of people.
*so zombies do romance and unicorns do comedy? No wonder I like unicorns better

Friday, April 20, 2012

Manga Review: A Bride's Story volume 2

Once again I'm rather behind in this series, I got the second volume right when everyone else was getting the third volume, but since this series comes out so slowly I don't think this is going to end up being a problem in the long run.  It does leave me with a bit less to say since it feels like everyone has covered all the important details. It also feels a bit odd to be covering a volume of work in the middle of a series (instead of the first one or the series as a whole) but since I've already reviewed the first volume I'll give this a shot and see how reviewing indivdual manga volumes go.

A Bride’s Story (volume 2) by Kaoru Mori

Summary: Despite interruptions by Amir's family life continues as it has with Amir discovering new things about her adopted culture and deepening her relationship with Karluk.

The Good: The plot picks up a bit with the conflict between Amir and her family which, while not permanently resolved, concludes satisfyingly for the moment. This bit of plot development provides a bit more character development for Karluk and some development in his and Amir's relationship which works nicely. A few new characters are introduced and while they're not fully fleshed out they don't feel like 2D cutouts. In short I believe this was a stronger volume than the first and can only hope that the third volume is even stronger yet.  

The Bad: It appears that after this volume that the manga is shifting gears and will be focusing on other characters instead which will probably be a good thing in the long run but does make me a bit sad since Mori created some very likable characters and I hope the story comes back to them sometime later on. In some ways this "arc" was tied up a bit too neatly but, while it's clear that Mori is going for realism here she's also made it clear in Emma that she won't be a slave to it if it gets in the way of her storytelling so that's to be expected.

The Art: The art continues to stun and shows what an incredible amount of visual research Mori must have put into the series. The scenes that show the characters sewing could be used as a step-by-step guide to teach people how to sew those stitches and her art makes the relatively humble art of baking fascinating. The action scenes also show that she can show dynamic movement without having the details overwhelm the image/sacrificing her trademark detail work.

Bit of a short review but again, it seems like everyone else has already covered everything worth saying about this volume plus it is slice of life, there's a bit less to talk about to start with. Not sure when I'll get a hold of volume 3, probably the next time TRSI has a Yen Press sale so most likely in 2 or 3 months, and I'm eagerly looking forward to that volume as well.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Anime Review: Persona 4 the Animation

As a quick note, I'm hoping to have my little round-up of the new spring shows next Wednesday (the 25th), just a bit delayed since I don't have a crunchyroll subscription this seasons, Hyou-ka airs really late, and Funimation still needs to put up their simulcasts so I can check them out as well. So hopefully it'll be up the 25th, if not then I have no idea.

Moving along, I've never played any of the games from the  Shin Megami Tensei 'verse/it's spin-off 'verses so I was mostly unfamiliar with the Persona franchise when I started watching this. However, as I went along I also started following the Persona 4 Endurance Run over on Giant Bomb, always watching bits after the episodes had already aired, and even though I haven't finished watching them (I think I'm at part 110 out of 150-ish) that gave me a pretty good idea of the differences between the original game and this adaptation. And yes I am well-aware that the ending for this hasn't "technically" ended yet, the anime ran out of time for the "true ending" route (which as far as I understand has two more boss battles and a lot of explanations for what was going on this whole time) and went for the less informative "good ending" route. That ending is enough to wrap up the story and I really don't want to wait until August to write this review (especially since there's a good chance I won't remember enough of the story to do so) and at this point I doubt that one more episode is going to seriously effect my views here, especially since I already know all the things it explains.

Persona 4 the Animation

Summary: Yuu Narukami has moved to the town of Inaba for his second year of high school and doesn't expect to get much out of the sleepy town. When following up however on an odd urban legend Yuu and his new friends soon get drawn into a strange world inside the tv where people's darker selves manifest, often with disastrous results. But ordinary people can't simply fall into this tv world, someone is throwing them in and it's up to the investigation team to put a stop to these attempted murders.

The Good: None of the individual elements in the show are new (new student transfers in right as things start to go strange in town and only a band of teenagers can solve it) but the concept it pulled off well and doesn't feel tired. There's an unexpected amount of humor in the series (partially because Yuu mimics the original game protagonist who starts off as a blank slate and only develops a personality as the game advances which leads to some amusing socially awkward moments) which I think is important when doing a story involving teenagers (so many people forget that teenagers are snarky by nature, especially when they're stuck in a small town that half the cast doesn't want to be in). I also liked how Yuu's family (his cousin and uncle whom he's living with) got as much if not more development than some of his friends and they were involved in his life.

The Bad: The original game takes 60 to 80s hours to play through and to it's credit the pacing there works. A lot of the time there however is spent on sidequests, which end up being vital to the main plot, and it just doesn't quite work in the anime. All of the characters get quite a few scenes of character development in the game but the anime everything is reduced down to a single scene (so a number of the character's problems come off as much more simplistic than they really were*) and the show clumsily shoehorns in sidequests which aren't completely vital to the main plot. The game's plot is a bit formalistic, which again works because it's a game and it has the time to make work, but the anime just doesn't pull it off quite right. I can easily see why people wanted an anime adaption of this show but I feel like the directing was just off enough to make it not work for me. 

The Audio: The show makes use of some of the same tracks from the video game and they are quite catchy, although the second ending song occasionally caused accidental mood-whiplash more than once towards the end. An interesting effect of watching both the anime subbed and the English release of the game was that I ended up preferring some characters more in one language than than the other. I can't stand the Japanese voice of Kuma/Teddie, Naoto's voice is much more convincing in Japanese (not that the American voice acting is bad, it simply makes a twist completely predictable), and the acting for Chie's American voice wasn't as strong as her Japanese one. Although I don't plan on re-watching the series I would like to check out an episode or two of the dub to how it fares compared to the game (plus, unless one major role is recast, there will be a funny case of talking to himself and I'm curious how that will be pulled off).

The Visuals: It's certainly nice to have a fully animated series since the animated cutscenes in the original game were few and far between but the actual quality here varied quite a bit. In general the fights look interesting and well drawn but pause during one of the quieter scenes and look at the background characters, chances are they'll have a rather odd facial expression. Some of that seems to be getting cleaned up for the DVD/BR releases but very few scenes look as nice as that promotional artwork above.  

In the end the anime didn't do much for me but oddly enough the Endurance Run I mentioned earlier did. Part of the reason I stopped watching, aside from time constraints, was that it really made me want to play the game myself (never mind that it's an 80 hour game) but the anime never made me want to seek out the game. I'm not sure who this adaption was for, it didn't feel like it was for newcomers like me (since there was so much cut out and the pacing was so choppy) but it sounds like the same things I disliked were the same things that put some fans of the original game off as well. For fans and non-fans alike in the US the series is streaming over on The Anime Network and they are reporting that the original game cast will be returning for the dub, although it sounds like they first need to tell the actors about that plan.

*Kanji seems to suffer the most from this. From what I've heard, in the game his development is him struggling with figuring out if he's actually gay since he likes sewing and other traditionally "girly/gay man" hobbies or is he simply a straight man who likes sewing. Almost all of that is removed in the anime sadly, combined with Yosuke's homophobia it did not feel like a progressive show, or even a tolerant show, in the slightest.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

TV Series Review: Jim Henson's The Storyteller

I'd heard a few people recommend this series in the past year, most recently the fairy-tale webcomic Erstwhile likes to include recommendations to other works which are adaptions/re-tellings, and found out that convientely enough it was streaming on Netflix. I haven't actually seen any works involving Jim Henson's puppets except for The Muppets (to my knowledge anyway and I think I'd remember something like this) but this seems like as good a place as any to start.

Jim Henson's The Storyteller

Summary: Join and old storyteller and his dog as they retell old tales, happy and sad alike, around the fireplace

The Good: The series is on the short side, clocking in around six hours all told and each episode is a bit under a half hour, and I thought that the pacing worked well and that none of the tales were compressed or overly drawn out (I'd imagine the length also probably helped this reach a wider audience of younger viewers, it feels more like an All-Ages show than one strictly for children or adults). I've read a number of fairy tales over the years so it was nice to see some old ones reappear (such as Stone Soup which was a staple of my childhood) as well as ones I didn't know (such as All Fur, funny enough it's also the same tale Erstwhile is currently adapting). The stories are from all over Western Europe, with one or two coming from Russia of course, and that diversity also let each tale feel distinct. Best of all there were no attempts at shoehorning in a morale at the end of each story, while some had an unstated lesson in them some of them were just stories and sometimes that's what they need to be, just tales told around a fire. 

The Bad: A story told in tv or movie format has two very important aspects to it, audio and video (aside from plot, although occasionally some directors seem to think that one is optional) and I'm always more drawn to the visuals of a story than the audio. So when I have a story where the visuals aren't as strong, which was mostly due to the aging which I talk about below, I have much less incentive to actively watch the video instead of simply playing it in the background and I really had that problem here. The stories were interesting, just nothing that demanded a visual and audio medium instead of a text medium and I might have payed more attention in that area. This isn't a fault of the story per-say, it simply didn't grab me enough to make me want to see and hear every detail instead of just listening and popping in and out with the video.

The Audio: The show has the right balance between narration by the storyteller and letting the story progress on it's own and aside from the narration there was some background music but not a lot that stuck with me. A few did, most notably the music played with the ending credits, but perhaps in such a dialogue heavy show it's good that the music didn't overshadow the meat of the story.

The Visuals: The film itself has aged poorly and looking bad by any standard which is always a shame. The puppetry and costuming looked fine, although with the grain and small size of Netflix's viewer it would be nearly impossible to see strings manipulating the puppets or such anyway. It does take a little bit of time to get used to see puppetry instead of CGI, the movements are much more fluid than what CGI can make and that realistic motion almost makes them appear "too real" and in the process stand out even more. It's an interesting change of pace for someone whose so used to CGI and I'd love to show a few episodes of this to other people who also aren't familiar with Henson's works just to see their reactions as well.

An interesting show but I doubt I'll be checking out the other part of it, it seems a few years later the same crew make a second series focusing on Greek myths (which I do like, with a name like Helen you simply can't avoid them) but I don't feel like I'll get anything out of it. Ah well, both series are streaming on Netflix instant for those interesting in trying it out themselves.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Book Review: Life on Mars: Tales from a New Frontier

Back in January when I was at the library trying to find the tv show Life on Mars I was also hunting around to find a few books which didn't seem to be on the shelves like they were supposed to be. So I decided to check out the new books section as a last resort and, while I didn't find the books I was looking for, I found a book called Life on Mars just staring me in the face. I'm not sure if this was the universe's way of mocking me or an apology for the tv show being out but in any case I decided to check this one out, especially since there were a lot of authors in there I didn't recognize (the only authors who I was familiar with were Nnedi Okorafor and Cory Doctorow*).

Life on Mars: Tales from the New Frontier edited by Jonathan Strahan

Not much to say about this cover, it works well showing what the book is about but honestly with a title like that the cover doesn't need to do much explaining. I did like the color scheme used though, it was a smart move to use that dusty red-color to tie everything together since that is a color people associate with Mars.

Summary: 12 authors and 12 different takes on Mars, our next frontier, and what kinds of lives we’ll live there.

The Good: There were some genuinely interesting stories in this anthology, I liked the few that dealt with the health aspects of living on Mars (“Goodnight Moons” by Ellen Klages and “Martian Heart” by John Barnes, even though those stories were a bit more tragic) and the ones that focused more on the kind of technology in the future (“The Taste of  Promises” by Rachel Swirsky), and one towards the end which was about the very first steps to Mars (“Discovering Life” by Kim Stanley Robinson). In short, I liked the ones that spent a bit more time thinking about their setting and making it the focus of the story instead of, well, the background. There were details in nearly every story that I found cool (like the journal in “The Old Man and the Martian Sea” by Alastair Reynolds, it reminded me a bit of the books in The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson) and it is harder to fill a story with details when it’s only 20-30 pages long but in an anthology it’s the details that separate the okay stories from the great ones.   

The Bad: I know that most, if not all, of the stories would have been written without knowing what the other contributors were doing and that you should therefore view each story separately but I was still surprised (and annoyed) at the sheer number of unlikeable lead characters in the stories. I think I only really liked two or three leads (all from different stories), the rest were simply too ignorant, mean-spirited, or just plain boring and I didn’t care about them. I was also sad that out of all of the stories none of them were set on a fully terraformed Mars far in the future, there’s a limit to how many stories you can read set in the exact same setting before it simply gets tedious (I read these over the course of a week and a half alongside another book so it’s not like this was even the only thing I was reading at the time and they still got tedious).

Not a super strong anthology, honestly I would rather recommend people a whole slew of other science fiction books to read instead but who knows, this could still appeal to some people out there I suppose. And it looks like this might be my last science fiction review for a while, glancing at my to-read list it looks like it's once again dominated by fantasy (with some realistic fiction in there, no clue where that came from), little sad that I'm ending such a long streak of sci-fi reviews with a whimper instead of a bang.

*ironically enough, I think both stories by them fit into the canons they had created in the books of theirs I have read. I can easily see The Martian Chronicles game being a progression of the games in Little Brother and For the Win by Doctorow and Okorafor's young adult books are set in a post-apocalyptic Earth where people have developed magical like powers, the same ones described in her short story (although I didn't realize this until I finished reading the story, her works are also set in a 'verse with alternate worlds, an odd combination with post-apocalyptic and it's been a few years since she had a YA book come out).