Monday, May 28, 2012

Anime Review: The Future Diary

I noticed that starting last year I always seem to be watching at least one action-y, gore-y show a season (which sometimes is horror like Blood-C and other times really isn't like Deadman Wonderland). Currently Zetman is filling that slot for me and back in the fall and winter The Future Diary which I had read the first volume (of the manga) a few years earlier and surprisingly managed to avoid all spoilers for the show as it was airing (well, except for one which sounded more like a promise of awesome than a spoiler and didn't make it into the show anyway). With a show that's so heavily twist-reliant I really recommend trying to avoid spoilers but I recommend avoiding spoilers for any series anyway (and as usual I shall try to keep this a spoiler free review, if I have to spoil anything it'll be in the footnotes).

The Future Diary

 Summary: Deus, the god of space time, is dying and with his death reality will collapse as well unless he can find someone to replace him. To determine his successor he selects twelve people, gives each of them a diary that can predict the future (based on how each of them used their own diaries), and the last person standing is the new god. The quiet, anti-social Yukiteru Amano isn't too happy with this turn of events but quickly finds that it's fight or be killed and teams up with another with another participant, the stalker-ish Yuno Gasai, to try and survive the game.

The Good: I was surprised that some of the side characters ended up being fleshed out and rather likable characters, even if they were still completely nuts. The pacing worked well and the twists certainly kept the show entertaining, and sometimes their ridiculous implausibility made the show quite entertainingly, although I suspect the story wasn't going for comedy in those instances. The best way to sum up this series is that it was entertaining in the way a summer blockbuster film is entertaining, fun but in a few years time you'll have seen so many others that you won't remember much about this one.

The Bad: Despite the fact that I grew to like some of the side characters more than I expected I could never get myself to care about any of the characters the way I normally do with a show. Almost everyone became so crazy that they almost stop being characters and are reduced to plot devices so it's a good thing that the plot was interesting. That said, the show is so twist heavy that I wonder how much re-watch value the show has. Yes it can certainly be fun to go back and see things be foreshadowed but so many of these twists came out of nowhere I simply don't see if there would be that much entertainment and for me my favorite shows are ones I want to re-watch because I can always find something new in them.

The Audio: Funimation sadly did not translate any of the opening and ending songs and when I tried translating the first ending song, piecemeal and with google translate, it just turned out to be a very odd love song (which makes more sense in retrospect) so this is one of those odd cases where I liked how the songs sounded more than what they meant. But overall none of the music left a really deep impression on me, if I had watched the show on DVD I would have skipped both of them after the first few times and none of the background music really grabbed me either.

The Visuals: As odd as this sounds when talking about a story in a visual medium, none of the art or the animation left an impression on me, good or bad. Everything was simply there, the art wasn't stunning but it wasn't the cheapest I had ever scene and all of the designs (sets/backgrounds, characters) were like that as well, they didn't add or take anything away from the overall product. And I suppose that is a bad thing, stories should be told in the medium that fits them best and, if the art wasn't contributing to the story, I wonder if I would feel any differently about it if it had simply been a novel instead.

In short, this felt like a series I watched and, while it wasn't bad, simply don't feel the need to purchase or rewatch. I can probably recommend it to a some of my friends and for anyone who is curious in checking it out Funimation has it streaming for the US and Canada and has licensed physical media rights as well (I believe both DVD and BRs). 

Sunday, May 27, 2012

TV Series Review: Sherlock (season two)

Compared to the rest of the internet I'm rather late here but, considering the last episode only aired (legally) in the US last Sunday I'm not doing too bad actually. When my mom and I first heard that there was going to be a five month gap between the BBC and American showings (and I'm rather unhappy at their "we have to edit it to fit American format" excuse, the show is on PBS which doesn't even have commercial breaks!) we guessed that we probably wouldn't be able to wait and did watch the first two episodes in March but weren't able to get to all three because of their length (each episode is a long, hour and a half long), thankfully PBS has them legally streaming on their website for now (abet cut down by eight minutes or so for each episode, I really don't understand why they can't at least leave the full episodes online where there are no time restrictions on it AND they make money off of the commercials).

Sherlock (season two)

Summary: Following last season’s harrowing cliff-hanger, Sherlock (with John in tow) tackle three more mysteries, based and expanded upon the original Sir Arthur Conan Doyle canon, but with Moriarty afoot there might be some things that even Sherlock cannot work out in time.

The Good: I'm not fond of villains like Moriarty, I like them to have more of a motive than what boils down to "I was bored" but here he was just so insane underneath it all, although his last scenes of the season felt a bit contrived, like Moffat and Gatniss had been written into a corner and didn't have a really good way to get out. All of the mysteries were interesting and stayed true to the spirit of the original stories and the new elements worked in well (especially in the case of the Baskervilles) and Sherlock's explanations for the cases make enough sense to be plausible. In short, if you liked the first season (and if you haven't you really shouldn't watch this one first) you'll enjoy this one quite well.  

The Bad: While Sherlock is far from the first mystery series to have this problem it was tiresome after a while to see just how dumb and incompetent everyone around Sherlock is and they don’t even seem stupid by comparison, it really seems like the London police force has exceedingly low standards for general intelligence among it’s employees*. I had issues with Irene Adler as well, mainly since she deviated so much from the original canon (where she was a clever and quick thinking woman who was the one person ever to catch Holmes off guard, here whatever cleverness she has is buried under UST with Sherlock^) and I’m also tired of the “sexually confident women can wear skimpy clothes because they’re that happy with themselves!” idea, it just rings like a hollow excuse for fanservice and that was supposed to be a plot point early on.

The Audio: This may be just me but whenever I hear one of the main themes played in Sherlock I always feel as if it’s drawing inspiration from other Sherlock Holmes adaptations. I don’t mean that in a bad way at all, and it’s possible that I’ve seen so many series I’m trying to see connections that aren’t there (by my own count I’ve seen roughly 60 hours of Sherlock Holmes tv series/movies), but the music for this series has always seemed like a perfect and seamless fit here.

The Visuals: The show has created a very distinct looking style of cinematography with many quick shots, overlaid with text to give the viewer insight into Sherlock’s methods, often in close-up with a very shallow depth of focus, combined with some tilt-shift shots of London every now and then as transition shots, which serves to re-emphasis that Sherlock has a strange mind that sees the world in odd ways. As I believe I mentioned last time, I’ve seen a few of these quirks appear in various Doctor Who episodes but never with the frequency that they are seen here and they do keep the show interesting in a unique manner.

One thing that does puzzle me is that I saw a lot of praise for Molly online once the show finished it's British run and I'm not entirely sure why. People mentioned a speech of hers and I'm wondering if that was part of the 8 minutes that were cut, she did have a speech but it just didn't seem, well, strong enough to merit that much discussion I saw. My mom and I feel like a scene with her was also cut for a few other, spoilery, reasons, if anyone has a list of the cuts made to the US version (for any of the episodes) please share since I would love to know.

*I feel like I’ve had this problem with Moffat’s work before too, he loves to build up his main characters but doesn’t quite seem how to flesh out the side characters as well 
^funny enough I don’t have a problem with Sherlock being interested in her, mainly because being asexual does not mean you can’t have romantic feelings for someone and Mycroft says point blank in that episode that Sherlock was a romantic. Holmes originally was certainly both asexual and aromantic but, possibly this is after seeing the two recent American Sherlock Holmes films and how they played with Irene Adler I’m willing to give the series a pass on that point

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Book Review: Kieli volume 4, Long Night Beside a Deep Pool

Unforutnatly it appears that my plan to take March off to catch up with my reading seems to have backfired, currently I'm still talking about books I read back in March so apologies if some of these reviews have been a bit short, I'm starting to get a bit hazy on all the details. Of course, I'm a bit hazy on details of previous light novels in general anyway so there might not even be a difference here. Also, I've decided that since I'm well into each of these light novel series that I'm going to stop talking about the art. By and large the art hasn't evolved much and, rather than say the same thing over and over, so I'll be dropping that part of the reviews unless the art undergoes a major shift.

Kieli volume 4: Long Night Beside a Deep Pool by Yukako Kabei

Summary: After the incident with the spaceship in the third book, Harvey, an Undyding (a super solider from a war decades earlier whom the Church has vowed to hunt down and kill on sight) has left to look for more information concerning Kieli’s mom and it’s been a year and a half since then. When they get a short note from him Beatrix, whom Kieli has been living with all this time, Kieli and the Corporal, the spirit possessing an old radio, set out to find him again. But things haven’t been going well for Harvey since then

The Good: The story continues with a plot point picked up from the second novel, the mystery surrounding Kieli’s parents (particularly her mother) and a few details are answered here (such as who the Undying who was traveling with her). Not all is explained, of course, but it was more than I expected so I felt satisfied there. The story also has developed another interesting thread, Harvey seems to be dying (or at the very least not truly an Undying anymore) and given that none of the characters seem to have realized plus their tendency to get into all kinds of trouble this is sure to become even more important as the series progresses.

The Bad: I’ve realized by now that most of the light novels I read aren’t meant to be read with a 6+ month gap between them because of the way they flow from one story to the next not like separate installments in a series but rather likes parts of one whole story, and I’m having some trouble enjoying them as much. Actually, I thought that alone was the reason for one of my issues in the book, Julius. As far as I could recall he had been a rather young character in the second book, around 8 or 10 at the oldest (younger than Kieli in any case) yet here he acted and had the privileges of someone who was closer to 17 or 18. I went ahead and checked the illustrations of the second book and no, I was right the first time around, Julius feels much too mature for whatever his age is and that really bothered me.  

Friday, May 25, 2012

Manhwa Review: Travelers from the Moon

And here we have the third and final manhwa that I found at my library recently, really there's not much else to say to introduce it. I have to admit that all of this has sparked by interest in what else is out there, I had always wondered how large the manhwa industry is in Korea and it must be larger than I had previously thought, but I'm not sure where to go from here to keep looking into titles.

Travelers of the Moon by Lee Na Hyeon

Summary: “There’s nothing more important than friendship!” In a world where vampires are nearly extinct, Yuh-Ur wakes up one morning to discover that the injured bat her father brought home from a trip is not only fully healed but also a vampire. Unsure what to think about this she becomes even more worried by this development when it appears that a fellow classmate has been attacked by a vampire, although Ida doesn’t seem like the type to go around hurting people….

The Good: Plot-wise this was the strongest of the three manhaw I had checked out, feeling neither like a rip-off of something else and having a plot that made sense and did make me curious about what happened next. The characters also had a pretty good debate about whether or not to trust Ida and their ideas and experiences fleshed out the side characters much more than I was expecting. There is a limit to how much story you can tell in one volume in an on-going story but this story did a lot more in it's first volume than a lot of stories I've read.

The Bad: I did wonder if the first chapter was meant to be a one-shot that later got picked up for a full story since it focused on a completely different character, Ida’s personality seemed rather different, and Yuh-Ur didn’t even make an appearance. I also had a hard time keeping all the character’s names straight, partially due to the odd order and pacing of the story and finally, while there certainly is room for a longer story I think I would have been happier if this had been a single volume work. That’s just personal preference on my part, although perhaps future volumes would be able to explain the series’ odd title. Also, that quote in the summary is the only bit of information on the back cover of the manhwa and you really need more than that if you hope to get buyer/library goer's attention.

The Art: The art is rather conventional, no odd panel shape or placement, lots of screen tones used to fill in objects and backgrounds, there’s not a lot worth noting. While I do have complaints on how the story was paced the panels themselves flowed well and all in all I don’t have any complaints about the art, just no praise either.

As a heads up, I'm heading to a con tomorrow and Sunday so tomorrow's review will be up rather early. I would say that Sunday's review will be up late but since I'm posting this one near midnight anyway (I will blame my brother's graduation for that one) I don't think most people will notice a difference there. 

Monday, May 21, 2012

Anime Review: InuxBoku: Secret Service

Almost done with the winter shows I swear! Actually, technically this is the last winter show since next week's, The Future Diary, started last fall and then after that I get to start talking about spring shows since Ozma is already done and we're halfway through the season anyway. In any case, this anime is another series where I saw it on the listing for the winter charts, found the manga, tried out a few chapters, and liked it well enough that I caught the anime while it was coming out. In case anyone hasn't picked up on it by now, I like fantasy in all forms, from high fantasy Western novels to anime involving any and all kinds of spirits and, something that also should've been pretty noticeable by now, even if a show is just mediocre I generally don't drop them. So yet again I have come across an anime with some strong points but a lot of weak points as well.

InuxBoku Secret Service

Summary: While Ririchiyo comes off as a classic, cold-hearted tsundere she's actually quite embarrassed by her rude tendencies and moves into the Masion de Ayakashi to help deal with that problem. But there is more to the Masion than meets the eye, like the name suggests it's where descendents of ayakashi (spirits of sorts) come to live, some as residents and others as bodyguards. Ririchiyo is initially very unhappy with her new bodyguard Soushi but realizes that dealing with all of this is the first step to changing her character.

The Good: When the show deals with the characters, especially Ririchiyo and Soushi with their backstories, it's rather interesting and manages to just toe the line between being emotional and being over-dramatic. Better yet, the characters do develop some and the show has a solid ending, not a "tune into the manga for more!" ending but a real ending that wrapped everything up satisfyingly and that's a bit rare with manga/light novel adaptations.  While the story could have worked fairly well without the supernatural aspect (not perfectly but pretty well) in the end I didn't feel like it was an extraneous detail and was satisfied with how that part of the story fit in.   

The Bad: The show ends on a strong note but a lot of the middle episodes are forgettable and not that important in the long run. The show is only 12 episodes so it can't have been much shorter, likewise I believe I've heard that the first 16 chapters of the manga makes up one arc so there wasn't much more to use, honestly I'm stumped at what they could've done better but it's clear that this wasn't as great a show as it could have been. Perhaps if the show had had real character development, instead of half a dozen comedy episodes, it would have been a stronger show, as it is aside from a few episodes it's a rather forgettable one.

The Audio: Much like Otome Yokai Zakuro, this show features several different ending songs, each sung by different voice actors (sometimes as solos and others as duets) depending on who was important in each episode and I like it when shows have more than one ending song and use it to reflect the mood of the episode. Of course, none of these songs were subtitled on Crunchyroll so I think I missed the meaning of a lot of the songs that way, guess I'll just have to check out the streams by The Anime Network and see if they translated any of them. I also liked the opening song fairly well so no complaints in this department.

The Visuals: Actually, no complaints here either, Studio David Productions hasn't done a lot of series so far but the show looked very nice. The original manga designs contributed, while more than a few of characters are rather eccentric but they're good looking eccentrics. The show actually manages to provide fanservice for both genders with shots of Ririchiyo in a short skirt and high socks (yet not actually revealing anything) and Soushi in suits and glasses. It's some of the least obtrusive fanservice I've ever seen and it seems like it worked too.

As Lost in America pointed out the sales figures so far for this show are interesting, a very unusual split between DVD and BR sales and, based on past surveys/people paying attention to the buying habits of the sexes, it seems to indicate that the show was bought by equal numbers of guys and girls. Honestly I think this proves my point about the fanservice, sure there was some for both but both of them were unobtrusive enough that no one minded. In any case, the show is currently being streamed on both Crunchyroll and The Anime Network and Sentai Filmworks/Section 23 has also picked up the series for a US release.    

Sunday, May 20, 2012

TV Series: Once Upon A Time

It's official, fairy tales are in and that led to a funny situation where last fall the US had two new, original property, fairy-tale based shows airing (and the US doesn't air nearly as many shows at once compared to anime), the other being Grimm. And of course this led to two things, people discussing how one show would probably end up killing the other (since you can't have two shows with the same concept airing at once!) and then people endlessly debating which show was "better." The shows ended up being rather different, and as far as I know haven't killed each other (I believe both even got renewed for a second season), and from the start I preferred Once Upon A Time over Grimm (which I believe I was in the minority for). Why was that? Well it's time for the review to elaborate!

Once Upon A Time
Summary: Once upon a time all the (western) fairy tales you can think of were real and lived in their own land. But the Evil Queen, feeling jealous and revengeful, cursed the kingdom and dragged them all to Storybrooke Maine where there was no magic and no happy endings. Or so she thinks, before the curse took hold the child of the King and Queen ("Prince Charming" and Snow White), one Emma Swan, was whisked away following a prophecy that she would be able to break the curse once she turned 28. Now 28 she's been contacted by her son Henry who she put up for adoption and ended up in the care of the Evil Queen (now called Regina and the Mayor of Storybrooke) and while she doesn't believe in magic or curses she does seem drawn to this small town and decides to stick around a bit longer.

The Good: Part of the reason I'm so skeptical about a lot of the fairy tale re-imaginings is because fairy tales are short, there's not a lot of material to start with. Here however the show melds quite a few western fairy tales (wish a dash of Greek mythology as well, basically the Disney canon) and while the timeline gets a bit confusing the stories work surprisingly well together and my hat is off to the writers for pulling that off. Obviously the more central characters get more backstory than the supporting cast but over a dozen characters were fleshed out and for just 22 episodes, which also had to deal with what was going on in the present day, that's quite impressive. I was worried that the ending of the season might be weak since it got picked up for a second season (ie, they didn't have to wrap everything up since they had more time) but, although rushed, it was surprisingly satisfying and left room for the second season. I do hope the show is completely wrapped up after the second season, simply because I get worried about American shows getting canceled or ending before the show can be completed, but I am really looking forward to the second season. 

The Bad: For me the first few episodes felt rather rough and many of the Storybrooke versions of the characters were rather dull before the story got moving. It makes sense why they were so flat, they've literally been living false, unchanging lives for 28 years before Emma came, but it still took a few episodes before the fairy tale and Storybrooke halves of the story felt like they were balancing each other out instead of one being much stronger than the ever. I do feel like the eventual "reveal" for August was a bit underwhelming*, the ending was a bit rushed, especially concerning Emma (although the writers had written themselves into a bit of a corner there), and it was just enough to make me wonder if they had to re-write it for a second season in a bit of a hurry, but overall I thought this was a pretty strong fantasy show by the end of it.

The Audio: These days I'm used to the music that accompanies the beginning and end of a show, whether it's a full sequence or just a 15 second clip, to sound wildly different from each other but here the pieces both sound like they actually came from the same series. Other than those two bits however I can't recall much of the music from this series and itunes only has four pieces for sale that I could find. I'm sure if I was to hear the pieces again I'd remember them but for this show I was more interested in what I was seeing on screen, not what I was hearing.

The Visuals: I had the pleasure of watching the early parts of this show while I was taking an intensive photoshop class so I found a lot of the early CGI, especially when it was used for backgrounds, a bit painful to watch. Either I got used to it or the CGI got better as the show went along, I suspect the later, and the show was good at knowing it's limits and rarely needed the tons and tons of CGI the early episodes (which had to quickly establish a lot of background information involving the fairy tale land). In retrospect it's impressive that the show never looked completely terrible, considering that just about every episode involved the fairy tale land in someway so that meant probably some CGI, more settings, more costume and make-up changes, this can't have been a terribly cheap show but it did well and never made it seem like the budget was strained.

All in all this show ended up being much stronger than I expected, honestly I was thinking that I would be dropping this and Grimm within their first seven or so episodes, and now I guess I need to figure out where to go for news so I know when to start tuning back into Hulu. Hulu has the whole show streaming, the problem is that only the last five episodes are avaliable for free users, all the others can only be seen if you have Hulu plus, and I do not believe the show is up on Netflix yet.

*partially this is because I had a rather fun fan-theory of my own and also after it was built up with twists and turns the reveal just seemed a bit, boring and seemed to go against some of the rules of magic that the series had already established. 

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Book Review: The Hobbit

I've technically never "read" The Hobbit or any of the Lord of the Rings books before, what happened was that my dad read them all out loud to me, along with a few other books like Tom Sawyer, years ago and I decided that with the film coming out this year that I should go ahead, actually read The Hobbit and the other books as well (in addition to the obligatory movie marathon that is). So, right before I won a few contests and had a ton of books coming, I checked out an old looking copy of the book at the local library, was surprised at just how short it was and wondered how it was supposed to be split into two films.

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
Not the exact cover I had (a very plain green hardcover with some embossings, the spine actually had The Hobbit written in runes and left me hunting all around for the book at first) but this cover looks a lot like the illustrations in the book and apparently is based off a design Tolkien did (tvtropes says this is the dustcover of the first edition). Yes, my copy actually had illustrations in it which I believe were done by Tolkien himself. There weren't a lot of them, hence why I didn't give this review an art section, but it was an interesting touch and I liked it.

Summary: While Bilbo Baggins comes from a family of hobbits that sometimes has adventures, a most improper thing, he has never felt the urge to venture any farther from his hobbit hole than he has to and doesn't see that changing anytime soon. But an old friend of the family, the wizard Gandalf, drags Bilbo into an adventure with thirteen dwarves to reclaim a horde of treasure stolen from a dragon and Bilbo takes to adventuring better than he expected. 

The Good: Having now read the story myself I do think there is enough material to make two movies out of the story and that this isn't just a "money-grubbing move" by the studio, while short there is a surprising amount of stuff that goes on. The story itself isn't very complicated and doesn't have any real twists to speak of either but again, more happens in the story than you would expect and it's a rather satisfying read. By the end of the story you've seen Bilbo and the other characters get in and out of nearly half a dozen situations and it feels like a full, complete story.

The Bad: The pacing is bit odd at points, sometimes there are action scenes back to back to back and other times it seems like there's a long gap between events, hopefully with the movies adding in some additional stories the pacing will be smoothed out. One thing I didn't recall was how a large number of the characters are a bit unlikable and hard to sympathize with. Everyone knows that elves are snobs and I remembered that some of the people from Long Lake were less than friendly but for the first part of the book Bilbo seemed like he was a character being dragged around by the plot instead of interacting with the plot (tvtropes even lables him on the sliding scale of anti-heroes for this part) and I had forgotten that the dwarves also have their moments. This might not bother some people but I was rather surprised and I'm curious to see if they'll keep such things as Bilbo's early unlikability in there (I hope they do since it really makes him and Frodo very different characters).

As I said the book is a bit on the short side so there's not a lot to talk about without getting into specific plot points but I was happy to see that I enjoyed this more than I expected and I really want to go, (re?)read the Lord of the Rings, watch the movies, and then catch the new movie when it comes out in December. I suspect I'll enjoy LotR more, simply because I like complicated, political high fantasy, but this was still a fun read. 

Manhwa Review: Ark Angels

Originally I wanted to have a post about the comics avaliable on Free Comic Book Day but decided that since A) it was already over a week later and B) I still can't figure out where the print copies I got went (I just had to move all my stuff again and it seems like those comics are what got lost this time) so it seemed a bit pointless. I will say however that I was pretty disappointed with the two I had to get online (my comic book store, which is now tiny, out of the way, and has absolutely nothing I want to buy, didn't have copies of them), Infernal Devices and Finding Gossameyer were both completely underwhelming, although when you only have FOUR pages it's kinda hard to make a good impression (I can't remember the last time the first four pages of a comic really made me want to read the rest, stuff like this and the JManga previews confuse me greatly). So instead you get the next installment in "random manhwa found at my library" and it's spelled correctly this time too!

Ark Angels by Sang-Sun Park

Summary: Shem, Hamu, and Japheth are three sisters who, when filling in for their father at a conference to discuss Earth’s future, were given the task to travel through time and save endangered animals (seen through their eyes as anthropomorphized animals) and turn back Earth’s doomsday clock. When not traveling they’ve transferred to a new school and one of Japheth’s classmates may not be what they seem…..

The Good: The three sisters were a bit more rounded than I expected, especially the main character Japheth, and there was just enough intrigue to keep me interested. The chapters that focused on rare animals dragged a bit but overall the volume was well-paced and I was curious enough that if I came across another volume I’d try it out as well, although not so curious I plan on actively seeking it out. It does seem to be completely published in the US and only runs three volumes and oddly enough that short length does make me more willing to read more of it, although it makes me wonder how basic the plot will become (or if it will stay as basic as it is) with such a short length.

The Bad: This manhaw reminds me an awful lot of Petshop of Horrors and, as I mentioned before, maybe if I hadn’t read so much of PoH first then I might have liked this better*. I doubt it though, PoH was interesting, could tell the same basic story over and over again before it lost it's luster, and had a polish that this series simply doesn't have. In the end I'd recommend Petshop of Horrors over this story and can't think of any situation where I would recommend this story at all.

The Art: The art feels rather standard and, well, exactly what you would expect for a series featuring anthropomorphized animals aimed at a female audience. I really liked the illustration on the cover with the soft watercolors and I wish the art had looked a little more like that (it wouldn’t have worked in watercolors the way it is, the panels are just too full and almost cluttered, but I can almost see it looking something like DOOR: ToiletGenie if the art had been tweaked some). As I find myself saying so often these days, nothing wrong with the art but I’ve just seen so much that looks like this that I want something a bit different.

Stronger than last week's title but still nothing worth writing home about. I do feel rather bad that it seems like I don't like manhwa at all but rather I just don't run across many titles that I like which makes me think that manhwa is very much like manga, there's a lot out there but not a lot that anyone person is going to like. Of course, if ones that nobody likes get published and nobody likes them then the publishing companies won't keep licensing them, a chicken and egg situation...

*on a funny note, this was an older Tokyopop release which had recommendations on other series by the editors including one for the author’s other series, Tarot Card CafĂ©, where the editor compared that to Petshop of Horrors, I guess that one had the shop part and this one had the magical animals part?

Monday, May 14, 2012

Anime Review: Ano Natsu de Matteru (Waiting in the Summer)

One of the winter shows I followed that I wasn't crazy about but gave me something to watch while I was waiting for my laundry to finish up, if it had aired as part of the larger Spring or Fall seasons instead I probably would have had too many other things to watch to dedicate time to follow this. Oh, and a funny bit that doesn't really fit in the review, I've been studying Japanese for three years now and have a very, very basic grasp on it so despite all of that I still rely on subtitles quite a bit while watching most shows. However, the dialogue was so basic here that I could understand over half of each episode without looking at the subtitles which does sum up the show in an odd way, it's nothing inventive or worth getting extra excited over and if you've been watching anime for a few years and have seen your fair share of romantic comedies there's probably nothing here for you.

Ano Natsu de Matteru (Waiting in the Summer)
Summary: Set in the same 'verse as Please Teacher and Onegai Twins, but not requiring knowledge of either, Kirishima Kaito expects to have a quiet summer vacation with his care-taker sister out of town and spending his time making films with his friends. What he doesn't remember however is that one night while shooting his was struck by a small spaceship piloted by alien Ichika who used some of her technology to heal him. She quickly transfers schools and manages to live with him for the summer, both to make sure his recovery goes well but also to look for a place on Earth based on a memory in her mind, a memory implanted by her ancestors that no one knows the meaning too.

The Good: This series can basically be summed up as "a more light-hearted Super 8 with slightly older characters" and I really liked the parts it did differently from Super 8. No giant militaries chasing the characters around and providing a convenient antagonist to move the plot around and causing the plot to forget it started off as a story about kids making a movie, nope Kaito is still filming even when things get heated towards the end. There are a few subtle hints throughout the series, mostly in visual details, that the story isn't set in the modern day and it was fun to see how the kids were making their movie with all the cheesy special effects (and probably much more romantic than watching them sit around a computer and carefully time noises to video sequences). Also happy that the show never forgot that part of it's premise involved an alien and that the resolution to Ichika's problems didn't feel like a hastily slapped together solution, rather it fit in with everything else nicely and cleanly.  

The Bad: The biggest difference from Super 8 however is that what romance there was there was pretty straight-forward, here Ano Natsu has a full-blown love-polygon which wasn't really my cup of tea. I must give them credit for at least making it complicated, there are no simple love triangles or such here, and all of the threads were well resolved by the end (sure some people had their hearts broken but they were starting to move past it by that point which is what I hoped to see). Those parts do get a bit cliched though, the main reason I could follow so much of the dialogue without seeing the subtitles was because I had heard all the conversations a dozen times before, it may have been resolved well but it certainly didn't do anything new.

The Audio: While there were some nice visual details to the opening and closing sequences the music wasn't memorable in the slightest so I don't have anything to say about it. Nothing really to say about the voice acting as well, it worked (well, at least I THINK Remon's voice was supposed to sound a bit odd) and I didn't have any problems with it. Again, see my statements that this show just didn't do anything new, just older stuff well.

The Visuals: While the character designs look a bit different from generic "anime character" designs overall the series isn't hugely inventive visually either. I did like the visuals used for the ending song and for the science-fiction parts, those looked rather cool and I liked that the show had a lot of little details to indicate that it's not set in modern day Japan (it's actually so subtle that I doubt everyone picked up on it but there were actually a lot of hints as the story went along). I do swear that half of the episodes were created just for an excuse to put the girls in bathing suits or yukatas (which I would actually accuse a lot of series doing) but everything looked good, regardless of what the scene actually was.

So, if this does sound interesting to anyone (and I imagine aficionados of romantic anime will try this one out) it is streaming over on crunchyroll and was licensed as part of The Anime Network's big licensing spree last winter (probably won't be out until way later this year or early next year and I think they only got DVD rights for it but it is licensed). Funny enough next week's anime also involves a lot of romance in it, guess it's to make up for the fact that the past five or so shows didn't have a lot of it (well, depending on your interpretation of Fam, Rin-ne, and Chihayafuru certainly had romance, it just more of a minor theme than a major theme over all and I'm sure people would argue with me on that).  

Sunday, May 13, 2012

TV Series Review: Life on Mars (season two UK version)

Unlike the previous season it was incredibly simple for me to get a copy of Life on Mars season 2 (walking into my school's library, go to the basement, grab the DVDs and go). I love it when it's this simple to watch something legally, then again I have no idea why it's so much harder to find illegal streams of a British tv show from a few years ago versus a subtitled stream of a 10+ year old foreign cartoon. In any case, onto the review!

Life on Mars (season 2, original UK version)

Summary: Following where the first season left off, Sam Tyler is a DC in Manchester 1973 but he's really from 2007 where, as far as he can tell, he's in a coma following a car accident. He continues to obsess over what has happened to his life while solving cases and dealing with his coworkers in 1973 but doesn't seem to be making much progress as his 1973 life gets even more complicated as it goes on.

The Good: It's fun to compare this show to Grimm, which is another cop-show-with-a-twist that I've been following lately, since with Grimm I can play it in the background and still basically follow along, here the show really demands your full attention if you want to really get something out of it and it's interesting enough to hold your attention for a full episode. Each story was interesting, it never felt like the writers were taking the same plot from an earlier episode and just mixing different details in, and while the solutions weren't so simple they could be solved within the first five minutes there were enough hints for the viewer to put together the case and it's solution by the end. The characters were also fun, I was glad to see that Annie had an even more central role in this season, and overall I thoroughly enjoyed this show from beginning to end.

The Bad: I have, mixed, feelings however on the ending of this series, even despite the fact that I had accidentally found out how the show ended before I even started it. The ending wasn't bad and certainly made sense with the themes the show had set up, I just have some mixed feelings on it. Part of the reason for the mixed feelings is that there is a lot left unexplained, Sam Tyler's story does seem well wrapped up by the mechanics of how the setting worked were barely touched upon and I do want to check out Ashes to Ashes to see it explained. That was my main gripe with the show, which is more because I'm a little more obsessed with settings than most people, overall it was a very strong show.

The Audio: I think the show used even more period insert songs this season than the previous and all of the choices seemed to fit in really well. I wasn't familiar with many of the songs but when looking at the lyrics it was very clear why they had been chosen and they usually provided a bit of foreshadowing as well. The rest of the music didn't stand out quite a much but the bits I do recall that it all seemed to flow well.

The Visuals: There's no change in the visual styling from the previous season, everything still has a slight sephia tone and overall the styling seemed spot on. I've seen some comments on wikipedia that there were some background details that appeared in the show that weren't period appropriate but nothing in there ever stuck out so much that it drew me out of the show.

So, not much else to say except that I need to figure out where I can find a copy of Ashes to Ashes to keep on going before I completely forget about the details here!  

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Book Review: Click

I noticed this book at the library for the cover, you simply don't see a lot of twin-lens cameras on the cover of books, and checked it out for the premise, ten authors all writing a different chapter in a cohesive story. Something that ambitious has the potential to fail horribly of course but with an idea that different I couldn't help but be curious about it, plus it was a fairly short book (around 200 pages, most books I read are around 300-400ish) so there wasn't any reason for me to not give it a go.

Click by David Almond, Eoin Colfer, Roddy Doyle, Deborah Ellis, Nick Hornby, Margo Langan, Gregory Maguire, Ruth Ozeki, Linda Sue Park, Tim Wynne-Jones

Summary: When Grandfather George "Gee" Keane dies he leaves behind a few gifts for his grandchildren, a box of sea shells for Maggie and photographs for Jason. But as a photographer he touched many more lives than just his grandkids and had a few secrets that even his family didn’t know

The Good: There were a few chapters in the book that focused more on the grandfather and, contrary to my expectations, I really liked those stories. One chapter focusing on the girl who thought she was a fish (I believe it's the second chapter, Annie by David Almond) was a great example, someone else’s story with the grandfather only appearing briefly as a side character, it reminded me of some slice of life anime I’ve seen over years where there’s a central, reoccurring character but not every story they appear in is their own. I think I would have liked the book more if the stories had been more like that more about how the grandfather affected their lives than the grand plot it created that tried to go beyond that (another other chapter in the book that was like that was Jiro by Ruth Ozeki, again this chapter felt like a complete short story and didn't contradict anything the reader had already read).

The Bad: As mentioned in the intro, each of the ten chapters was written by a different author and the final result is a bit schizophrenic. Some of the characters have completely different personalities in different chapters (the son Jason was the worst recipient of this, there’s no way he could’ve dealt with all his issues as quickly as he did) and there were simply some really strange themes in there, like some of the characters having the ability to create living duplicates of themselves and live separate lives (while the original is still completely aware of what the duplicate is doing). The time-skips also felt rather erratic, sometimes stories took place one after another and other times there are decades long gaps, it makes me wonder just how much planning, if any, went into the overall flow of the story, it feels more like a round robin than an anthology and just doesn’t quite work.

While some of the individual stories were alright I just can't recommend this book since it just does not work as a cohesive work. Most oddly put together work I've read in a few years, can't say it really made me want to check out the other works by these authors either. 

Friday, May 11, 2012

Manhwa Review: Moon Boy

So I realized a few weeks ago that if I didn't do anything I would be out of reviews by today (I never did a chance to read my friend's copy of Sailor Moon) and decided that to be on the safe side I should go ahead and grab a number of manhaw titles I had come across at the library before, thought they looked kinda interesting, and just check them out. So here's the first of that bunch, I've got three volume ones to talk about, let's get started!

Moon Boy by Lee Young You

Summary: Myung-Ee is a regular fifth grader, abet a bit more boy-crazy than most of her friends, but does have an odd quirk, her eyes turn red when the moon rises. She mentions this to a boy in her class, Yu-Da Lee, who has the same thing happen to him and it turns out that they are both rabbits from the moon who fled to Earth to hide from hunting foxes. Shortly after this he vanishes and no one remembers anything about Yu-Da until Myung-Ee finds him five years later only to find that he doesn’t remember anything about his old life either.

The Good: It’s an interesting concept, I don’t know a lot about Asian mythology (especially Korean mythology in particular) but I wouldn’t be surprised if the idea of rabbits living on the moon was an actual story and not just made up for this manhaw and I’d like to see that idea expanded upon. Right now the pacing is a bit awkward so while Myung-Ee does not come off as much of a self-centered, annoying lead as you would expect it’s hard to tell just what she is since she hasn’t had any time to even take in what’s happened so far. And at this point that’s really all I can say about the story, it could be rather interesting but so little has actually happened that it’s hard to say how well it will turn out.

The Bad: As odd as it sounds, I really liked the story before it time-skipped, odd because it’s about a boy-obsessed fifth grader and nothing is explained but I just didn’t like the characters introduced later on. While the conflict had some potential for cool the random characters just me completely uninterested in the plot and didn’t make me want to pick up another volume. If the pacing had been smoother, and one or two more events had happened, I probably would have looked around for more on the story but just the promise of a possibly cool story just isn’t enough to sell me on it.

The Art: Much like my complaints with the story, I greatly prefer the pre-timeskip character designs to the regular designs, I couldn’t even tell Yu-Da was the same character until some of the bad guys confirmed that Myung-Ee wasn’t crazy. Style-wise the art here looks a lot like generic manga art that I’ve seen dozens of times before, lots of screentones, background only appearing when necessary to a shot and more chibis than I’d like. It’s not bad, unless you count some characters changing so much in five years that they’re unrecognizable bad (and in all fairness that does happen to some people with puberty), it just didn’t catch my eye.

It appears that Yen Press has taken over the license for this series (unsuprisingly, they've licensed a lot more manhaw that most people seem to realize) and I might pick up the second volume if I ever came across it but right now I don't have the urge to go out and actively look for it.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Anime Review: Chihayafuru

Again, apologies that my updates got a bit thrown off here, exam week is always a rather strange week (funny enough due to the way mine ended up being scheduled I actually have slightly more time than normal to watch anime). I feel especially bad for slighting what was one of the best anime to come out of last year, Chihayafuru, although it feels ironically appropriate since I wasn't even interested in it at first. It was only when some people mentioned it was a josei title, and by this point I had figured out that neither of the noitaminA titles were josei (which is normally what dominates the timeslot), so I figured that if this was the one title that season aimed directly at me, an 18-40 year old female, I had better well check it out. And boy am I glad, I've seen some people complain that this show has been over-hyped and all I can say there that this review is entirely my own views on the show and, even if I hadn't found a number of other people who also eagerly awaited Chihayafuru Tuesday/Taichi Tuesday, I still would have fallen in love with this show.

Summary: As a kid Chihaya was introduced to the card game karuta (a game where players memorize one hundred poems and then try to match phrases read out loud by a reader with playing cards on the field) by her classmate Arata and even after he moved she spent years playing and slowly moving up the ranks to achieve her goal of becoming the Queen (the highest ranked female karuta player in Japan). So when she gets to high school it's natural that she wants to start her own karuta club and tries to recruit her other childhood friend Taichi to be her first member. But it takes more than two people to become a club and despite it's lack of popularity the other competitors are fierce, will Chihaya ever get closer to her dream?

The Good: The story starts in the current day before engaging in a multi-episode flashback to Chihaya, Arata, and Taichi as kids and I was honestly worried that the story wouldn't be nearly as interesting once the story go back to the current day. Thankfully this wasn't the case and, while I was correct that some of Chihaya's traits weren't quite as adorable once she got older, all of the cast developed over the course of the story so much that this wasn't a real problem. I was also impressed that the other club members, who while important characters weren't The Main Characters, also got some development as the story went on. At first this sounds like a no-brainer, like all over sports anime Chihayafuru is heavily character-driven but this story is so much Chihaya/Taichi/to some extent Arata's story that I was surprised the story devoted as much time as it did to the other character's dreams and struggles with karuta. I was also surprised that the story found a good place to end and where exactly it ended. I wasn't completely thrilled with the minor cliffhanger it had but the events right before it were an interesting choice to end the series on yet in a sense summed it up perfectly, that our characters are forever chasing after a hard to achieve dream with gigantic obstacles in it's path yet they aren't going to let that stop them or even get them down along the way.  

The Bad: While Taichi receives some character development early on it takes an annoyingly long time for Chihaya to realize that some of her traits are grating on others and to figure out what her weakness in karuta is and how to improve on it. I suspect the manga will be a long-running title and therefore paced like a long-running story (ie, you're not going to have your characters develop in the first five chapters if the story is going to be around for 100+,  you hit a point where you can't develop them anymore and everything stagnates) but I think that Chihaya could have started developing a bit earlier and then just gone more slowly than it played out here. I also wonder how much longer the "love-triangle" will be dragged out, since, well, to keep spoilers to a minimum one character believes there is a love triangle, something the other two aren't aware of, and that's the only reason they haven't done anything which has just dragged on a bit too well. This too is a carry over from the original manga (and probably has a similar reason to Chihaya's character development) and, while it was nice to see a love-triangle play out a bit differently than normal I'd much rather have it done with and let the characters move on. 

The Audio: Sporting lovely opening and closing songs (the closing song is one of my favorite closing songs from last year) I've heard some people remark that the background themes sounded a bit Disney-ish (I asked some friends unfamiliar with the show to listen and they agreed with that statement as well) which might sound like it would be out of place for an anime but they actually worked very well. The show overall is a very upbeat, hopeful one and all of the club members triumphs wouldn't have felt nearly as satisfying without the music backing them up.

The Visuals: Produced by Studio Madhouse Chihayarfuru looks very nice overall. I have seen some people complain over the CGI used in some of the card tournaments but, even though I myself could see that CGI was being used for some of the shots, never found it distracting and thought that those shots did add to the tension in those scenes and therefore served their purpose well. Nothing else about the art in Chihayafuru was different enough from the norm for me to comment on and all in all it was a lovely show to look at.

As mentioned earlier, the anime is based off of a currently running manga, neither of which have been licensed in the US (pst, NIS America, this is TOTALLY your kind of show!). However, there are a couple of bilingual editions of the manga avaliable in Japan which I plan to order sometime (the shipping prices and time has been what has kept me from doing it so far, geeze people, it's only coming from another continent, not the moon!). In the meantime the show can be streaming on Crunchyroll and I highly recommend everyone give it a shot sometime.  

Monday, May 7, 2012

Movie Review: Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

WOW, sorry about that folks, it's exam week for me over here so my schedule is a bit different from normal and I completely forgot about updating until half an hour to midnight last night and decided it would be best to simply push everything back a day (so the review of Chihayafuru will go up tomorrow and from there everything should be back on track). This might not have been helped by the fact that I found the sequel Sherlock Holmes movie to be the most boring one I've seen all semester so let's get to the review to elaborate on that.

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

Summary: John Watson is about to move out of his apartment, shared with his friend Sherlock Holmes, as he gets married, despite Holmes’ mixed feelings on the matter. But the honeymoon will have to wait as Moriarty, the one person to ever truly equal Holmes and the man responsible for the events of the first film, launches another grand scheme that Holmes must prevent lest it plunge all of Europe into war.

The Good: Making Moriarty into a weapons dealer was interesting, I don’t actually recall what his exact profession was in the original was but here it worked well with the story and did explain how Moriarty wielded such power. And, quibbles about the setting aside, considering that Moriarty is a thread to all of Europe (not just Great Britain) the choice to have Holmes and Watson travel outside of England was a good one and showing the extent of his plans certainly helped out. I also enjoyed this movie's "designated female side character (who is never super vital to the plot" Simza much better than Irene Adler last time around although she, as was every character that wasn't Holmes, Watson, or Moriarity, felt largely unnecessary by the end.

The Bad: I did actually enjoy the first movie for the action-y fun it had but here it tried much to hard to have a “serious” plot which didn’t work so I didn’t enjoy this film. It didn't feel like a mystery, and when you are adapting a story about one of the greatest fictional detectives that’s a problem, and it was just very hard to take everyone’s schemes seriously. From the Indiana Jones-like secret passages to the “the fate of Europe rests in the hands of one man” deal (while Moriarty profession makes sense it still doesn’t explain how he has that much power), everything just felt very fake and movie-ish and it’s hard to take a story seriously enough to get attached to it and care about it.

The Audio: While the some of the music felt very similar to the first movie’s music it just didn’t grab me the same way. Actually, a lot of it felt rather boring with some more modern sounding pieces mixed in with the more bouncy “Sherlock Holmes” themes plus some generic “gypsy music” as well. I’ve been listening to a lot of Hans Zimmerman music lately actually, between the films I’ve seen and a film score radio I set up on Pandora, and this just didn’t impress me as much as his work normally does.  

The Visuals: Done in the same style as the first, the setting looked very gritty and dirty and, while Victorian Europe did have it’s not so pleasant underside for sure, it feels out of place for Sherlock Holmes since the original cases always had a veneer of respectability to them, not stories that dragged Holmes back and forth across the underworld. I question a number of the costume choices here, specifically the ladies clothing (which I remember having a problem with in the first movie as well) but sometimes everything was just so grimy I couldn’t tell. The bullet time was used sparingly which I thought was a good choice, it did convey how Holmes saw the world well and wasn’t used so often that it felt merely like a gimmick.

In short, I have seen quite a few Sherlock Holmes adaptations (these movies, Sherlock, all four seasons plus all the specials of the Granada series which covered 42 of the original 60 stories) and this is the weakest I've come across. The actors never manage to feel like the characters, the setting is weak, the plot never feels like a mystery plot and if they were to ever make a third film (at this point I hope everyone simply moves onto other projects) I'll be sure to avoid it.