Wednesday, February 27, 2013

(Audio) Book Review: Shadows on the Moon

So, many moons ago, the author Zoe Marriott had a contest on her blog which involved people all commenting and keeping up with their writing goals for each month and I talked about keeping up with my blog entries and when I fell behind (I think this was last spring so I was dealing with final projects at the same time, yippee). She then collected everyone who had commented on all the posts, put them into a drawing, and someone I won and recieved a mystery package which turned out to have a few different things in it including an audio book copy of one of her books, Shadows on the Moon. I'll confess, I was okay with audio books when I was on long car rides in elementary school but even back then they weren't my favorite method of getting to know a story since I could already read faster than they could narrate and just wasn't fond of how the voice work was handled. So I put off listening to this one for a long time, even though I was interested in the story, until December when I made myself get into the habit of listening to it working on various projects and thankfully once I got in the groove of putting it on and just letting it play I was able to get into the story and enjoy it regardless of my personal preference for these things. 

Shadows on the Moon by Zoe Marriott, performed by Amy Rubinate

Summary: Suzume lives a happy life with her family when the Moon Prince's men show up one day to slaughter her entire household on the charge of being a traitor and only she and a cinderman manage to escape. Ever since then she has to hide not only her feelings but what she really is, in the attack she discovered that she's a shadow-weaver (which is exactly what it sounds like) and, while it's certainly not illegal is hardly something she wants to tell the people around her and it becomes another tool she uses to hide behind. But living with that many lies takes a tole on a person and soon she begins to lose sight of everything except her goal, revenge.

The Good: I completely did not expect the story to get as dark as it did, I haven't had to do this before but people who are trigged by acts of self-mutilation should probably stay away here. It's not glorified or idealized but rather those are some rather, raw scenes, yet I liked how Suzume struggled with these problems since I can't remember the last time I came across someone with troubles like these in a fantasy book and I'm all for crossing of the genres in literature. As for the rest of the book, I have read some other really creative retellings of Cinderella so it's hard for me to say which one I thought was the most creative but this one is pretty high on the list. It's a very liberal interpretation/retelling and only keeps some of the barest themes but there's still enough to make it clear that this is a retelling. The setting, based on feudal Japan, seemed fairly realistic although honestly what I liked the most was how there were characters from that world's version of Africa present since again that was something I completely didn't expect*.

The Bad: The story wraps up a little too rapidly with an almost deus ex machina for a villain (which was vaguely hinted at earlier on but I still wish had had an actual explanation) and just super fast pacing for the last five chapters or so, especially in comparison to the other chapters. It made the ending feel a bit, well, messy and I wished for a little more conclusion on some of the characters, one or two seemed completely forgotten in the very end, so as long as this book was I wish it had gone on a tad bit longer just so it was a little smoother.

The Audio: Personally I'm not that fond of audio books that have just one person doing all the voices (although come to think of it I don't think I've ever heard a full cast audio book) but Rubinate keeps all the important character's voices distinct and never sounds tired or bored which I was impressed by since since book clocks in at nearly fourteen and a half hours (although since it is her job I guess I should expect such professionalism, although I still appreciate it). After a while I was able to get into the voices and such so I can say that yes this was a good audio book, it just didn't really change my preferences for print over audio books.

So I give this book a 4 out of 5 stars and plan on buying a print edition for myself (especially since that I've already donated the CD to the local library, since I couldn't get it to work on my old boombox I had just put it into itunes so I could listen to it on my ipod) and now I'm even more curious about her other works, to the library! For those interested, you can read the first chapter for free (and legally!) right over here, don't know if Audible has a preview of the audio book online however.

*although, looking over Goodreads I discovered that some of Marriott's other books seem to be set in an African-inspired fantasy setting, I wonder if there is crossover between the two....

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Manga Review: Sailor Moon volumes 2-8

And I'm back with even more Sailor Moon! Technically I also requested the 9th volume from my local library but they don't actually have it yet and, since I have no idea when that will happen, I thought it would just be best to go ahead and talk about all these other volumes which does continue the first arc, completely covers arcs two and three and starts a fourth, that's more than enough material to talk about!

Sailor Moon by Naoko Takeuchi

Summary: Sailor Moon finds the rest of the sailor senshi (both those representing the inner planets and some unexpected other allies) and they continue to fight against the myriad enemies hellbent on taking over Earth and remember their own past lives in the process.

The Good: As I think I mentioned in the first review, this is surprisingly solid and a lot better than I expected so yes, I am enjoying this series quite a bit. The characters have started developing (I was really surprised to see that Tuxedo Mask actually gets fleshed out, abet kidnapped/brainwashed often, given how many people I've seen poo-poo him over the years, I guess they only saw the anime?) and the story does it's best to give all four of the supporting sailor senshi adequate page time. For me the fun part of this story isn't seeing all the action scenes (more on that down below) but seeing the girls just interact with each other and grow and there is a fair bit of that here so again, I really am enjoying this more than I expected and I find it interesting to see just how much of Sailor Moon is, well, unique to the series and hasn't really been copied by other shows (since there are plenty of people out there who swear that every single magical girl show since this one has been influenced by it which I would make a strong argument against at this point).

The Bad: I've seen/read a lot of magical girl anime/manga and they all follow fairly similar formats, a balance of the girl's daily lives and then showing them fighting whatever they need to be fighting. Sailor Moon has barely any of the girls' everyday lives in there and the constant action/making plans that will result in action, et cetera left me feeling rather exhausted and I would have liked small moments in the girls' mundane lives, especially for characters other than Usagi since there the manga does show her and Mamoru outside of fights a fair bit. Also, this series is paced really fast as you probably realized when I mentioned that technically the seven volumes here cover 3 different arcs which also lead to my fatigue. Actually, thinking about all of that, I wonder if that's why shonen series with similar premises (ie lots of fighting and "elevator bosses") are so long, because you really do need the downtime between action scenes and to pace your action properly which is going to eat up page space pretty fast. 

The Art: Someone on twitter warned me that Takeuchi's strong point isn't fight scenes and that they tend to get really cluttered when there are a lot of characters involved and yep, that is exactly what happens. Heck now I'm looking forward to the reboot just so that I can follow along with the fights, at least on screen I won't be trying to look at half a dozen different panels at once. The actual art hasn't changed much either, the characters faces are still a bit, fluid and Takeuchi still seems to have no earthly idea how to draw a cat. But the human characters look pretty regardless of consistency, the backgrounds are detailed enough, and the screentones aren't overused.

So, continuing along merrily with this and hoping that my local library gets volume 9 in soon (they might get 10 in before I graduate but I have no idea how I'm reading 11 and 12 legally since, even though I'm enjoying the series I'm not 100% sure I want to go buy all 12 volumes, money and shelving issues aside)!

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Anime Review: Crest of the Stars

Oh geeze, I bought the first volume of this when I came across it at my library's bookstore two summers ago since I had heard good things and then grabbed the completely collection during a big Bandai sale after they announced that they were closing their doors and just haven't had the time to watch it since. But, since I crunched the numbers and realized I was going to need a few more series to tide my blog over until March I decided it was high time I watched the rest of this series, especially if it turned out I liked it and I wanted to get the sequels (Banner of the Stars I & II) before they went horribly out of print. So, better late than never!

Crest of the Stars

Summary: In the far off future mankind has spread all amongst the stars and, like the rest of human history, there continues to be tension and violence between various groups. One group has been steadily rising in power for centuries, the Ahb Empire whose citizens aren't exactly human after genetic modifications to make them better suited to live in space and they have been conquering as many places as they can in order to seize control of vital travel points. Jinto's planet was one conquered by them and, thanks to negotiations by his father, he's now an Abh nobleman on his way to military school when the slow rumblings of discontentment throughout the galaxy reach a boiling point.

The Good: I wasn't expecting the series to be as heavily character driven as it was but Jinto and Lafiel (an Abh who initially was there to escort Jinto to school but then the two of them end up stuck together even longer) really bounce off of each other nicely and the show balances out it's more dialogue heavy early episodes with quite a bit of action later (which still has a lot of talking in it admittedly, just more phasers as well). I feel like the 90s/early 2000s were the golden age of space opera anime (that is, science fiction set in the sprawling stage of space) and while there have been shows like Bodacious Space Pirates in the past few years they're all just lacking something, epic that these shows from that time period had. I'm curious how this story continues in the sequels, clearly this was one, big introduction arc to get the viewers familiar with the characters and the setting and I wonder how exactly this story is going to end which is enough motivation for me to keep watching.

The Bad: So a lot of people have been complaining about adapations of light novels lately, because people love to complain, and I'm not surprised to see that this anime was based on a series of what I believe to be light novels for two reasons, the amount of technical detail (not a bad thing) and a really random middle of the story arc (a bad thing) which I've seen come up in a number of other long running series. I kinda see what they were trying to do with the, erm, let's just call it the middle of the season, introduce more conflicts and ideas that will shape the characters later as well as set up the third part of this season, but it was just odd enough that I just wanted to finish it and I just feel like they could have written this much better. 

The Audio: I watched the Japanese sub (since I don't even want to think about the quality of dub, it might not be terrible but it must have been made before they started getting consistently good) and that was perfectly good. Actually I was rather surprised to see that Jinto and Lafiel were voiced by women in their 30s/20s respectively, they both sounded really realistic to me (they had a lower pitch to their voices that I normally associate with a real child/teen doing voice work) and, this might sound a bit silly since I've never read the original novels, but their voices sounded like they were perfect for the characters to me. They were able to give the characters extra dimension, emotions, suggest things through the voice acting alone that I wouldn't have picked up just for the animation, I feel like I'm stating the obvious here but there was real acting involved here and I'm more impressed here than I am with most anime I see for that reason. Aside from that, I found the intro music terribly boring, skipped the ending most of the time so I'd have more time to watch another episode and thought it was cool how the opening narrations were in a completely made up language (which I think was based on French but don't quote me there, I still thought it was cool regardless).

The Visuals: As far as I can tell this show hasn't received a remaster (it's from 1999 or 2000 if I recall correctly) and obviously the DVDs I have aren't which is sad since while the art isn't terrible it is rather dated and some clean-up would make it look nicer for sure. The art style itself is dated but I didn't see anything wrong with the animation itself and it's not like people won't watch a show more than 10 years old (especially if you're a sci-fi anime, American, fan) although I do think that this art style probably helps turn some people off of the show.

So a solid 3 out of 5 stars for this show, now for me to figure out how I'll watch the rest of it (buying it is the obvious option but my budget for entertainment is now non-existent so this is going to take longer than I'd like). 

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Movie Review: First Position

Technically this is a documentary and, even though I'm not sure if documentaries are actually movies I'm still going to count this for my movie/tv series review of the week anyway. I heard about this a few weeks back somewhere on the internet where someone made a passing comment about how this was a surprisingly good documentary and I of course had to go see if it was on Netflix and since it was only 90 minutes I decided to give it a shot. I've had fairly good luck with documentaries people recommend to me and I like ballet alright so why not?

First Position

Summary: Every year the Youth American Grand Prix is held in New York City, the world's largest international dance competition where kids from 9-19 compete for medals, scholarships, and contracts with dance companies. This film follows six kids from different backgrounds who have all dedicated their lives to ballet and how they advance and perform.

The Good: I was impressed, I'm so used to documentaries hamming up the drama that comes with human life that it was a nice change of pace to see a film not do that. There is some tension of course, all of these kids are competing very seriously and devoting this much of your energy towards one goal is going to cause stress regardless of what your goal is, but it was all presented in a very natural, matter of fact way. The film also didn't make you feel like "oh this person deserves this more than this other person because of their life" and impressively it made me connect with all of the kids in just 90 minutes and really care about how they did in the competition. I don't watch many documentaries but I'm really glad I saw this one and I'm not surprised to see that it was pretty well received as a whole. 

The Bad: I do feel like the film could have gone a bit deeper if it had wanted to, also considering it's only 90 minutes it could have gone longer and gone farther into the kids' lives but it didn't and I don't think it suffers for it (and the pacing was great so I'd hate to mess with that). It did feel a little impersonal at times, unusually I actually have no idea who the director was since I didn't feel them insert themselves into the story at all, but again that's more a stylistic choice than a flaw. I didn't really think this film had many, if any, big or little problems and overall I'm quite impressed with it.

The Audio: I've done some video work and audio editing was always something I had trouble with so I'm impressed at how well they handled it for the kids' performances. Obviously they aren't going to show their whole five minutes of dancing but you can't just cut in and out of shots with the music changing as well, that would be far too disjointed, so I thought the way they edited together the music and the dancing was done very seamlessly and I wish I could learn some tricks from whomever did it.

The Visuals: I did have a few issues with some of the film, why the heck were the performance parts so noisy?!? For each performance the video quality suddenly went down, as if they had to use camcorders on auto to shoot the kids actually competing, and it was rather distracting since the rest of the documentary looked fine. There were some points, again during the competitions, where I wondered if we were dropping frames, the movements looked just a bit off (I especially noticed it for Miko when she was spinning with a long dress, a shot I've seen in other movies and it just looked a bit off here and not because of her). I know there's a big difference between shooting a movie and shooting a real performance, I know from experience just how limited the range of a camera really is and how much light you need to make it look natural but I was still disappointed by these points since the rest of the film looked just fine.

So, as odd as it sounds to rate a documentary, 4 or 4.5 out of 5 stars and a hearty recommendation to anyone who likes ballet/dance in general to check this out. It's streaming on Netflix USA and apparently on Amazon Instant as well. Now, I really want to pick up Swan again after seeing all these dancers work so hard.... 

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Book Review: Anne Dressed in Blood

SO, last summer I read a book called Death Watch, didn't really like it (the pacing just dragged) and completely unrelated to not liking it I just had a nagging feeling in the back of my mind that this was a lot different from what I was expecting. And you guys remember how last week in my Chime review I said that normally when I read a book and it's completely different from what I thought I had heard about it that means I confused it with another book? That was foreshadowing for this review actually, apparently I confused Death Watch with this book. In my defense, kid comes to new town having taken up the mantle of his father which involves dealing with malevolent ghosts and his mother seems to be connected and there's a dead girl as the love interest? That's enough specific detail to get me mixed up easily, especially considered how little information a blurb/jacket copy gives about a book anyway (personally I think that a lot of jacket copy is crap but that's a rant for another time).

Anna Dressed In Blood by Kendare Blake

Summary: Cas, like his father before him, kills the ghosts that linger around and cause trouble for the living which involves a lot of moving around and a fair amount of danger. So when he gets a tip about a particularly vicious ghost he and his mother head on up to Canada to deal with her and find a much thornier problem than they were expecting.

The Good: I had an amusing thought reading this book, normally the way that an urban fantasy/supernatural YA book plays out is that you have a girl in town, an ordinary girl, and then a strange guy comes to town and she's dragged into adventure. This book is actually told from the point of view of said guy, which has been done before I'm sure but I can't think of any titles off the top of my head, which has the real benefit of making Cas seem, well, not like an ass and he comes off as a fairly likable and sympathetic main character. The side characters also come off pretty favorably once the story gets moving along, I was really surprised at how sympathetic Anna came off considering, well, just look at the title.

The Bad: Originally I was going to say "I really hope this book has a sequel since it has just enough loose ends that it really needs one" but I actually found a cover for what I assume is the sequel (Girl of Nightmares I believe is the title) when getting the cover for the review so nevermind! I am a little worried that there won't be enough material for another book (I'm also seeing this labled as the the Anna Series and, considering you usually have more than two books in a series, usually anyway, I have no idea how there's enough material left for two books) since Anna's backstory is explained, Cas's backstory is explained, there's a good chance he'll be elsewhere which means new side characters, considering how solid this book was I'd hate to see (quote unquote) ruined by a less-than-stellar follow-up, crossing my fingers that this next one is good!

So 3.5 out of 5 stars for this one, don't think I'll reread it so I probably won't buy it but I'll certainly recommend it to people who like their supernatural YA to have some horror in it (which I don't know if there's simply less of or if I don't run into it as much, probably both). Getting closer to being back on schedule folks, just bear with me until March and then it all changes again!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Manga Review: Lonely Wolf, Lonely Sheep

Continuing with me "well it's not licensed in the US and it's rather niche so it probably won't but it's finished and I want to share it with other people" manga reviews, this was a title that was recommended by someone, I forget exactly who, on my twitter feed and I follow people on twitter because they have tastes that generally match up with mine so when someone recommends something I take a look at it. Plus, I've noticed lately that I'm not reading nearly as much yuri /GL as I would like as I would like so why not take a chance on a one volume story and hope for the best?

Lonely Wolf, Lonely Sheep by Mizutani Fuka

Summary: There are two Kakimoto Imaris, the tall, more tomboyish "Big" Imari and the cuter looking, artsy "Little" Imari and not only do they share the same name and almost identical birthdays but they also end up at the same hospital with the same injury. What's different about them are the secrets they keep and the ways they deal with them.

The Good: There are two things I don't like which keep me from enjoying a lot of BL and Gl, too much angst and explicit sex and happily for me this story has neither of those things. The Imaris have a relationship that's more like friendship than a romance for most of the story and while they do have some issues to move past they do move past them so the story isn't drowning in tears and sadness. Both of them are reasonably well-fleshed out by the end of the story, which a few (I feel almost obligatory by this point) twists on stereotypes and the story is paced well also making for a short yet sweet read.

The Bad: A small complaint that is rather unsurprising for a one volume story, things just worked out a little too simply for them especially when it came to resolving their problems. I call this a small problem because hey, life isn't always angst filled and while both Imari's had problems they both also were unhappy about them and did deep down have the desire to fix them, plus who knows exactly how much time passed between several of the events. I didn't like how Rika ended up being rather two dimensional by the end, she's much more of a plot device than a character, but in a weird way the story didn't even need a character for her, what it needed was an event and she did fulfill that role perfectly fine. 

The Art: Normally I don't post a spread of a cover like the one above but it was just too adorable to pass up and seeing the characters in color makes me wish the entire book had been in color too. The art is a bit simple, there's a lot of white with little screentoning and nothing has a lot of detail in it but I think the feel of the art fits in well with the feel of the story, short and sweet with no additional fuss.

So I give this 3.5 out of 5 stars and would certainly buy it if it became available in North America (either in print or digitally). Actually, considering it's only one volume I wouldn't mind buying it in Japanese but, since I live at least a few hundred miles away from a store that sells books in Japanese in the US and have no time to figure out how to buy books on Japanese websites I'll just cross my fingers and hope this one gets released in the US so I don't need to worry about that. 

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Anime Review: Rose of Versailles

When I first started hearing about this show I of course heard about how great it was, how much of an influence it had on later shows, about the Tarazuka performances but one other thing I heard was that even fansubs were apparently hard to find, hence why I never looked around for the show itself. So when Nozomi announced last year that they had licensed the show (a feat that took them literally ten years, holy hell how do you have the dedication to do that?!) and that they were streaming it I figured this was a pretty good sign that I should watch it. Started watching the streams a bit after they started but once I got a few episodes into the show I found that I was enjoying it quite a bit for a show that was over 10 years older than I was, making it by far the oldest bit of anime I've seen and also a rather unique one in some ways.

Rose of Versailles

Summary: When his fifth daughter is born General Jarjayes of France decides that if he and his wife can't seen to conceive a son then he'll just have to raise one of his daughters as one and christens his last child Oscar and raises her as his heir. Her gender is fairly well known, and she seems quite comfortable not having to deal with the petty squabbles of 1700s French court women, although with the French Revolution building that inane life might have been a safer one for you.

The Good: I was a bit worried when the story started with Oscar being just 14, no offense to 14 year olds but you guys just aren't the best main characters for epic stories, so I was pleased to see that this story takes place over years and years with a good sized cast coming in and out of the story. The show is also surprisingly faithful in regards to real history, you can look up just about any of the major events in a book (or wikipedia) and see just how similar it all was. The story takes bigger liberties with it's characters, certainly there was no one like Oscar around and several characters had their backstories changed or expanded upon, although ultimately none of these changes were enough to influence the history which is exactly what I hope for in good historical fiction, a very solid and well-researched setting with characters who are influenced by it but still have their own problems and goals.

The Bad: My biggest gripe here is how hard it is to figure out how much time has passed from episode to episode. As far as I can tell the show starts when Oscar is about 14 and ends sometime in her late 20s/early 30s, if I had really and throughly studied French history I could have picked up more clues in context and figured out her age but I haven't and the voice actors remain the same for all the characters, plus some of the characters look young/old for their age, so it was a bit frustrating to try and keep track of that.

The Audio: The show uses the same voice actors for each character regardless of age (which certainly didn't help me with keep track of Oscar's age but I can see why they did it) and the music didn't change much over the course of the show either. It kept it's opening and ending theme throughout and it's most distinctive themes should be quite familiar to the viewers by the end of the show. Everything sounded fine, the music was a bit overly dramatic at points but that's just a matter of taste and the acting was certainly fine, no problems here!

The Visuals: This is a show that's been around longer than I have so obviously it's not going to look as pretty as a show produced in the last two or three years and very stylistically different from a show produced in the last decade or two. The show uses a lot of still images for dramatic effect (usually with the camera moving out or in to dramatic music) yet at the same time it doesn't shy away from having quite a few sword fights between characters which are fully animated (I'm sure some people who know more about animation than me can say if they're as fluid as fights in more recently shows, they didn't seem quite a fluid to me but regardless my point is that even though the show cut corners in some places they went all out in others). There wasn't as much shaking as I expected (or maybe I just got used to it, in the past shows I've seen from the mid-90s earlier had so much shake it was like they decided to scan in the frames during an earthquake) and again the colors aren't quite as vibrant as something painted digitally but given the setting of the show that's perfectly fine. A lot of the characters look alike (to be perfectly frank, I'm still not 100% sure who a few of the characters in the above image are) and a lot of the, apparently, lavish outfits of the cast look plain to me, probably because the coloring is a bit flat so a peasant's outfit seems to be made out of the same fabric as Marie-Antoinette's (which might sound weird to some people yet after years of cosplaying I can figure out the texture of an outfit in a show from looking at it for just a few minutes, here I really couldn't do that). So yes, the art is dated and animation is limited from a modern viewers perspective but I could just as easily pull out a show from the past few years and show where RoV surpasses it in both departments, whether you can get used to the art or not is going to be a matter of how willing you are to give it a shot and try to overlook or understand it's shortcomings.

So I'm giving the show a solid 3.5 out of 5 stars and recommending it to anyone whose ever been even vaguely curious about it or who really enjoys modern day shojo, it never hurts to see how the genre has progressed over the years and all 40 episodes are streaming for free on Viki (Nozomi will be releasing it in two sets sometime this year). Heck, after seeing this I really want to pull out of my Revolutionary Girl Utena sets and rewatch that show now that I can see where Utena must have gotten a lot of it's influences (I'm told that both of them were influenced by Princess Knight and I'll probably watch that someday too, just with a bit of a ranty write-up based on what I know about it....). Also feel like rewatching Le Chevalier D'Eon for comparison's sake too, which now that I think about it must have been at least partially inspired by RoV. In any case, will I buy this? I don't know, I liked it quite a bit but I just don't know if I want to rewatch it and I only buy stuff that I want to rewatch. Hopefully Nozomi will have the sets for sale for a while so I'll be able to think more about it, I'm sure my wallet will be happier for that too.   

Friday, February 15, 2013

TV Series Review: Doctor Who: The Aztecs

So the BBC (or at least BBC America) has decided to show a serial from each of the previous Doctors, one a month in order, this year and started with a well-known serial from the first Doctor's run, The Aztecs (well known for it's line about how you can't change history, funny enough the producers, of the current episodes, were quoting it in the behind-the-scenes look left and right even though they like to ignore the idea when it suits them.....). First time seeing the first Doctor, hoping that Netflix has more serials to help tide me over until the new episodes in March.

Doctor Who: The Aztecs

Summary: The Doctor, his granddaughter Susan, and school teachers from 1960s England Ian and Barbara have landed back in ancient Central America at the height of the Aztec civilization and Barbara is mistaken as a reincarnation of a former high priest. The group goes along with it, mainly since they accidentally locked the Tardis in said former high priest's tomb and can't get it out but all run into cultural differences as they try to sort their way through the political structure and choose whether or not to try and interfere with history.

The Good: One difference I’ve noticed between the classic doctor who and Nu Who is how the companions feel less like people who accompany the Doctor and more like people who are just traveling along with him. In Nu Who the Doctor comes in, something is strange, and he, along with the companion(s), try to fix it. In Classic Doctor Who, the Tardis lands somewhere, the Doctor goes off to explore, everyone else goes off to explore and everyone ends up having, well, adventures that end up intersecting throughout the course of the story. It makes the companions feel much more like rounded characters instead of the story devices they sometimes come off as in the new series (heck, in the new series it’s been stated that the Doctor keeps people around to keep him from doing stupid stuff, the story even acknowledges that they are partially devices). I’m finding that I prefer this approach a bit more than the way it works in the Nu Who series, although I think part of the reason the new series doesn’t do this as much is because the stories are shorter time wise and this would be tricker to pull off in one hour vs two or three.

The Bad: Despite all of this I found myself not looking at the screen much or looking at stuff in another window for a lot of the story which usually means it's not as engaging. Of course, part of this could be that the visuals weren't that impressive, or even the fact that it was in English and I didn't have to read subtitles meant that I wasn't missing much, if anything, of the story by not looking but I still feel like this means the story didn't grab me as much as it could've if I did think about doing something at the same time. And part of this may be because while I saw part of the serial on BBCA I had to turn in and caught the rest on Netflix and couldn't recall exactly where I stopped and had to rewatch a good chunk to find my place, all in all it was a very solid story but it did seem like it was missing just one or two important things.

The Audio: Not much to say here, it's fun to hear how similar, yet different, the opening and ending themes are for the show almost fifty years ago and the serial itself was well mic-ed so I could hear everyone clearly.

The Visuals: As mentioned earlier, the show was shot in black and white, is letterboxed, and somewhat grainy. So it's not super great to look at but it's not terrible. The costuming seemed fairly good (although my knowledge of Aztec costumery is sadly lacking) and they created quite a few settings (although you can tell that the background for one of the rather dramatic scenes is just painted on which is a bit distracting and the material used for a lot of the sets looks distinctly, fake as well). Also, still no idea how they thought to pass Susan off for a student (middle school? high school?) back in the very first serial, here she looks much older and it really makes me shake my head and wonder what they were thinking there.

So I'll give this one a hearty recommendation for being accessible to relative newcomers of Class Doctor Who (holy crap it's a serial that has no aliens in it aside from the Doctor and Susan!), has a good story, and is a bit slow but overall well paced (streaming on Netflix for those interested but you have to search Classic Doctor Who, searching Docto Who: The Aztecs takes you to the DVDs but not the streaming section oddly). Now, onto Tom of the Cybermen!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Book Review: Chime

Checked this out from the library since I had heard some good things about it a couple of years back, although I could've sworn this was a book about vampires since I had previously come across it at one of my libraries and remembered it being about vampires. Normally when this happens it means I've confused one book for another, really trying to figure out what book I confused with this one, anyone know of any books with similar covers that do involve vampires?

Chime by Franny Billingsley

I haven't talked about book covers in a while, mainly because a lot of times I just don't have anything to say, but I really don't like this one because of what Briony is wearing. I already had a hard time pinning down which century this story took place in (I believe it's early 20th but it could've been early 19th) and having her in 21st century-esque clothes just didn't work for me, wish they had put more thought into the model's costume.

Summary: Briony has felt lost and, even though she won't admit it, ever since her step-mother died, ever since her father distanced himself from her and her twin sister Rose, ever since she accidentally hurt Rose as a child. But then things begin to change around her, from the arrival of the new boy Eldric in her swamp town to her beginning to reach out to the magical world around her in a way that she hasn't done in years.

The Good: There was some interesting magic in the background of the story which seemed a bit different from what you normally find in low-fantasy these days and I would have liked it to have been expanded upon more (I felt like I was reading the companion novel to another book where all the world-building had already been done) but I can understand why the book didn't do so. Rose also ended up being a much more fleshed out character than I initially expected her to be and something like that always makes me happy.

The Bad: Briony is a character who doesn't think very highly of herself and that's okay, what's not okay for me is just how often she falls into this martyr-like, self-sacrifice way of thinking since it takes her about 90% of the book, maybe 95% of the book to grow out of it. I found it annoying, others may find it less so, but the fact that takes her so long to start changing should, well, tell you how long it takes her to change in the book. One, you really can't have your character grow and change only that close to the end, she does change some throughout the rest of the book but not a lot. Two, her change comes as the result of some events related to the plot which are supposed to be a great surprise but, well, not only does the title of the book give away one of them but I had guessed the second twist just because I've done a lot of reading and know when I'm supposed to be suspicious of certain characters and events. This goes back to what I've said in other reviews, plot twists are fine, just don't drag them out way past when the reader has figured them out or they become annoying instead. As I mentioned earlier, I also had a very hard time figuring out when this story was set (which is a bad sign since that never happens to me), found the romance a bit hard to follow (although that's rather normal for me), and just overall wasn't very interested in the story.

So, two out of five stars from me, for anyone whose curious for a book (or anything really) to get below stars means that there are problems with that actual presentation itself, like grammatical errors or horrible plot inconsistencies. Chime didn't have that so it gets a two but I can't see myself ever rereading this, recommending it, or really trying out Billingsley's other works unless they get glowing reviews (which weirdly enough it appears this book did, very strange).

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Manga Review: Akaku Saku Koe

You know I think I did this exact same thing last year, ran out of manga to talk about, looked at Yuki Midorikawa's (Natsume Yuujinchou) other works and then proceeded to read one of them from start to finish in an embarrassingly short amount of time. Oh well, in case people haven't figured out by now I've always been a rather voracious reader, and a fast one, so it should be no surprise that one of my favorite pastimes is to devour a large book/comic series in a pretty short amount of time, it's just that rarely I find a complete manga series that I like so I don't review them here very often (especially since I haven't figured out a better method for reviewing on-going manga, even stuff that's currently being published in the US).

Akaku Saku Koe by Yuki Midorikawa

Summary: Kokubu has a crush on a guy in another class, Karashima, and notices one day that he's going in the same direction she is and she decides to be proactive and follow him, follow him into a crime scene apparently. Karashima has an almost supernatural voice that let's him persuade and command other people and uses it to help out the police

The Good: There was a side note translated somewhere from the manga-ka which said something along the lines of "Kokubu is my favorite kind of heroine to write" and I can see why. While not physically strong or the fastest thinker she's determined and quick to improvise if needed (somebody grabs your friend? Throw a show at them, don't even think about it!) so, even if the story is never very clear WHY she developed a crush on Karashima, she's a pretty likable character (just like the leads in Natsume Yuujinchou and Hi-iro no Isu). I also liked how Karashima's secret was treated, the characters treat it almost casually, freely discussing it when other people aren't around, and that was a nice change of pace. Casual is actually a really good word to describe this series, it's not exactly slow paced or easy going and does have it's dramatic moments but still manages to feel rather laid back over all.

The Bad: It's pretty easy to see that this is Midorikawa's first work because, to be blunt about it, at least half of the stuff in here has appeared in some of her later works and has been refined since then. Kokubu's crush, while certainly cute, feels a little random especially early on, the pacing is a bit strange given all it's timeskips and how slowly the characters change, the art has it's own issues, and there never ends up being one unifying idea/plot thread/theme that ties together the entire story. Sadly these problems also appear in her later works, for me none of them were deal-breakers but they certainly do make it a bit harder to recommend. 

The Art: Yeah, this is another area where Midorikawa has improved over the years (although, don't kill me folks! but I still think that her art is a bit too basic and could be refined a bit more). In fact I can't really blame Karashima for not recognizing a lot of the criminals he's helped catch in the past, god knows I wouldn't have been able to tell a lot of them apart if they had all been lined up next to each other. Background are still kind of weak as well, basically you can tell this is her first work from the art alone, it's just not as strong as it could be.

In the end, if you really, really like Midorikawa's other works and want to read more, go for it, try this out, you'll probably like it. If you're more of a lukewarm fan, or haven't read/seen any of her work at all, look at Natsume Yuujinchou or Hotarubi no Mori E since they are stronger works. If I was to ever come across these books (in Japanese since I can't see this work ever being translated) I'd pick them up but that's because I'm a pretty big fan, otherwise I'm not going to lose much sleep over it.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Anime Review: AKB0048

Okay, getting close to getting back on schedule, for the rest of this semester anime reviews are moving to Tuesdays instead of Mondays (since I ended up with more school work on Monday's than I initially expected, oops) and I'll try to stick to that schedule as closely as I can, sorry about all of this weirdness folks!
Speaking of weirdness, I had heard about this show when it was first airing and saw a lot of people talking about it and then again it popped up on people's end-of-year lists where people all seemed to be saying the same thing, this was way better than they ever expected. I had been put off by the premise (gurellia idol singers in a world where entertainment isn't allowed? Please....) but then I reminded myself that if I could sit through Shoji Kawamori's other recent work, Aquarion Evol, which requires a serious suspension of disbelife and weird sense of humor (or at least a strong tolerance for puns) then hell I think I could put up with this show.


Summary: Sometime in the near future humanity fled Earth and colonized other worlds and, sometime after that, many of the worlds banned all kinds of entertainment with harsh punishments for those found participating or supporting it. Not that this is going to stop some people and the mega idol group AKB0048 sees it as their job to go to these worlds and hold highly illegal (and dangerous) concerts to give the people there at least one chance to experience real entertainment. Nagisa and her friends saw an AKB concert when they were young and ever since it's been their dream to join the group themselves, something that proves to be much harder than they ever expected. 

The Good: Yep, this was much better than what you would expect from a crazy premise like that and I think it's partially because the show (/the staff) know how crazy it is and just how far they can push people's suspension of disbelief. The show actually spends a lot of time showing the girls training to become idols and connecting with one another (which I think helps since all of that seems quite believable) and apparently a lot of the little details about the girl's lives are based on their real life voice actresses, something I didn't know until I did some research but thought was really neat. The show has a pretty large cast and while it doesn't give everyone equal amounts of screen-time most of the characters have enough, although weirdly enough there wasn't as much character development as I would have expected out of this show (one or two individuals got a fair amount but by and large most of the characters were static, I guess this is what happens when the majority of your cast is supposed to be around 13?).

The Bad: There was one episode I really had a problem with, the one with the hater (one of the girls gets a message from a hater saying she should kill herself and will never be good enough to be the successor to the girl she wants, which understandably shakes her) and the show ends with "hater just make you do better and should be thanked for it!" No, cut the crap writers, there is a big difference between criticism and a vile-spewing hater, even with mean, unwarranted criticism there's still a rather large line separating the two. Honestly the "sex scandal" about AKB that just broke (in short, one of the real life idols, with no ties to the show, had a boyfriend which violated the rules and had to shave her head and post an apology video for it) reminds me a lot of this episode, the idea that the fans are so important that you have to please all of them, even the messed up ones (which in the real world case insist on everyone being "pure," as if romance and sex are somehow dirty things). So, oddly enough considering how different the show is from it's real-world counterpart, the worst part of the show mirrors the idol industry quite a bit and sadly it's not of one of it's better aspects.

The Audio: As far as I can tell, the nine trainees (the nine girls in the promo piece above) are all voiced by girls from the various groups within the real AKB48 and the actual successors in the show are voiced by regular voice actors which is a bit of an interesting choice. Honestly I can't tell whose singing any of the songs and since the group members do sound alright as voice actors (not as polished but they also sound a bit more "real" than your standard anime voices) and certainly never drew me out of the experience I think the casting was done well. I also liked how well both the opening and ending song worked with the show, as I was watching I thought the lyrics worked really well and then both of the songs made appearances within the show itself later on (told you I couldn't tell who was singing or this wouldn't have surprised me as much as it did). So, thankfully for a show that's based more than partially around a group of singers the audio holds up here, I'm curious if they'll even try to dub the show in the US though (that and I still don't know how they managed to license this show and presumably most or all of it's music rights as well).

The Visuals: Quite honestly what first caught my eye about this show was just how colorful it was, then again I don't think I've seen a show from Studio Satelight that wasn't crazy colorful (even Croisee made good use of color, although I've only seen about half of the shows they've produced). The art looks good throughout although some people will probably be frustrated with the CGI used for the big dance scenes. The way I see it is that with CGI we're able to have scenes which would be far too complex to be well-animated by hand (that is, it's cheaper to do it this way, plus with all the constantly changing angles I have to wonder how on-model all the characters could stay) plus the dances look like real, choreographed performances, I wouldn't be surprised if they were based off some of the actual shows. So just, well, deal with it and know that you're forewarned if this isn't your thing.

So I'm giving this show a solid 3.5 out of 5, going to watch the second season when I have a chance (since I am swaaaamped with stuff to watch right now, curse you school!) and since Sentai has licensed this I'll probably pick it up sometime. Crunchyroll finally announced earlier today that their going to start putting the first season up on Sundays as well as the new episodes so unlike me you can avoid fansubs and head over there this Sunday to give it a whirl yourself.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Movie Review: Argo

Back this past summer or so I stumbled across this article on talking about how during the Iranian Hostage Crisis there had been some other Americans who had gotten out of the embassy and managed to escape well before the rest of the hostages (who were still alive) were released (according to wikipedia the screenplay was actually based on that article, need a source on that though). Shortly afterwords I saw an ad for a movie called Argo and thought what a funny coincidence and it took me an embarrassingly long time to make the connection (I should've at least noticed that the article dated from 2007). For those who don't understand how history classes in the US go (or at least classes in the Midwest and South), American history/American involve in history is king yet, while you would think that would mean that high schoolers would have learned about the crisis, really those classes focus on the American Revolutionary War and American Civil War ad nasuem so it had never come up in any of my (advanced even) history classes. So, armed with only the knowledge from that article and what had come up in my nonfiction reading (I remember the characters briefly commenting in Persepolis that with the embassy closed that there would be no more visas but the hostage crisis was never mentioned) I headed out to catch the film at school and see how well it worked on the silver screen.


Summary: The year is 1979 and tensions are high in Iran due to all of the political upheaval and unease over the past few years. As our story begins these tensions come to a point and citizens storm the American embassy and take all the workers hostage, all but six that is who manage to escape and hide out in Tehran, almost as trapped as their colleagues. The CIA gets word of these six and starts to devise plans to get them out and for once it seems like the flashiest plan, to claim that their part of a fake movie production crew, might be the one that saves them.

The Good: Normally I don't like thrillers since they remind me a bit too much of conspiracy theories, both of them rely on the idea that there are people out there who are so much smarter than the average person and perfectly control everything (well except for that one moment that starts the plot/leads a person to concoct an insane theory) and that stretches my suspension of disbelief a bit too far. Here however we have a realistic set-up (growing tensions lead to an embassy being attacked and people in one building are situated in a way that lets them escape and then hide out with allies) and it's this setting that makes the rest of the story work. I also liked a lot of the dialogue on the American side of things (although sadly I think all of the snappiest lines were made up since they were in situations that weren't based on real events), although that leads to my biggest problem with the film.

The Bad: While I am okay with some dramatization of the events for the sake of a movie (the confrontation with the guards at the airport? Okay especially since it wraps up a character arc) but some of them were just silly (the scene following it, that was just unnecessary). Wikipedia (both the Argo [2012 film] and the Canadian Caper pages) has a whole section on historical accuracy, with sources, and it sounds like quite a few little details were changed and I highly recommend anyone whose seen the film to at least glance through, a few things in the film didn't ring true with me and sure enough they weren't. I suspect the reason for at least a few of the changes was to make the movie longer (it clocks in at 2 hours exactly and I had been curious how they were going to make a full length film with what is essentially, as odd as it sounds, a straightforward story) and after looking at Wikipedia I think they could've cut some of the fake events and instead focuses more on the Americans in Tehran (really the film was about  Mendez, not the Americans) since they went through a lot more there which could've filled the time instead.

The Audio: No real comments here, the audio wasn't really important to the story (neither were the visuals actually, this is a story that also works just fine in print) but nothing stuck out to me for the wrong reasons so I suppose it was technically sound.

The Visuals: The film used some actual news reports from 1979 and I'm curious if some of the video of the protests in Tehran were also from 1979 since were were some shots there were letter-boxed (followed immediately afterwards by shots that were not). Regardless, the use of actual broadcast was a nice touch and was the only thing that really stood out to me visual wise (well, I have learned since that Mendez was part Hispanic so it's a bit frustrating that he was portrayed by a clearly all white guy).

So, while I enjoyed the movie while I was watching it (and was annoyed by some parts I knew to be dramatizations), after reading more about the history of the Canadian Caper I'm frustrated that they did dramatize some parts when they cut out other parts that could have helped fill the time and up the tension instead (and that there were a few lines in particular that paint some people/groups in completely the wrong light and could have been easily re-written so as to not do it). So I'm only going to give this movie a 3 out of 5 after all and probably won't rewatch it (then again I don't think it's the kind of story that benefits from rewatching anyway, regardless of historical accuracy).  

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Book Review: The Perilous Gard

Yep I'm a bit behind again and honestly I think I'm going to have to permanently move Monday's anime reviews to Tuesdays or Wednesday since I'm going to be busy every Monday this semester. Regardless, I have no idea how this book ended up on my to read list, since I don't have a lot of current titles to read right now I decided to start going down my to-read list from the top and this thing dates back to my livejournal days (2006-ish is when I think I made this). So yeah, no idea how a book a couple of decades older than me (and my copy certainly looked that old) ended up on my list, not that that has ever stopped me from reading something before!

The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope, illustrated by Richard Cuffari

Summary: After an unfortunate letter by her sister Kate Sutton has been banished to a far off keep of Elvenwood where the lord is mourning the death of his daughter and his brother is a grief-filled young man who says he killed her. But Kate soon notices that the local legends around the place seem to have a grain of truth to them and maybe more than that....

The Good: One thing I don't find as much in middle grade/young adult fantasy these days is historical fiction fantasy, normally it's just fantasy with the rarer historical fiction (yes I just read Grave Mercy which is also technically both but I still don't find it that often). In fact this book feels like historical fiction first with a bit of fantasy towards the end, mostly due to the character's attitudes towards the supernatural (it's almost Elizabethan England so superstitions don't seem quite as silly as they do now) which was a nice change of pace. However, it takes more than a little change of pace to make me enjoy a story.....

The Bad: This book is illustrated and my cover, the one above, seems to be done by the same man who did the pictures instead which, ehhhhhh. They didn't contribute anything and they were rather ugly as well, I didn't care for them and they made it a little awkward to try reading this on the bus or in public. Other than that, well, this book just didn't do anything for me. I have to give it a bit of a pass since, like I alluded to earlier, this is a book from 1974 so of course I'm going to think that people have done this kind of story (character is pulled into the fairy world and needs to be saved by the main character, a Tam Lin story) better since then*, especially since this book reads a little younger and young adult books didn't really become big until the 1990s (three guesses why there). While Kate was fairly developed Christopher felt a little flat and that made their relationship feel a bit flat and I felt like Geoffrey wasn't as rounded as he could've been either. So I found both the characters and the story a little simple, that combined with a setting that I've seen simply too many times just meant that I didn't really get anything out of this book.

So only 2.5 out of 5 stars for this book, it's not terrible but after reading so much I just didn't see anything in this book that made it worth reading for me, onto the next book on my list!  

*heck, I didn't realize it until the book started talking about the ballad of Tam Lin, which around here is a lesser known fairy tale, that Diana Wynne Jones' Fire and Hemlock was also an adaption of it which I liked a bit better (and came a decade later).

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Manga Review: Sailor Moon (volume one)

So I finally (finally!) managed to get a hold of a copy of the new Sailor Moon release in the US from a friend, excellent! So, I think I said this for my Codename: Sailor V review as well but to recap, apparently I watched some of Sailor Moon as a kid (I remember watching/wanting to watch it but not any of the show, according to my mom my favorite character was "the blonde, vivacious one" which I think means Venus), have read Sailor V, and then saw three or four episodes of the live action show in the past year (which had some god-awful special effects in them). So I'm going into this sorta-kinda blind, I don't actually know what the main plot (plots? arcs?) of Sailor Moon and wasn't super enthused after the live-action/Sailor V/the one or two episodes I think I saw at a girl's night in the past year so let's see how the real thing holds up!

Sailor Moon (volume one) by Naoko Takeuchi

Summary: Usagi was a rather normal middle school girl who likes video games and sleeping in more than homework and was fairly happy with her life. Then one day she finds a mysterious talking cat who gives her magical powers and a mission and her life hasn't been the same since.

The Good: That ended up being a whole lot better than I expected, Usagi stopped being annoying nearly immediately, the characters had, well, character. It was also paced quickly, though formulaically, I liked it! It doesn't seem to be dragging out any of the mysteries too long and like I said Usagi (and the rest of the cast) become likable pretty quickly (as of right now my favorite character is actually Jupiter because she is a Boss). 

The Bad: It was a bit of a slog to get through the first chapter or so (since I remembered the plot of that from the live action version) and I'm wondering how the story keeps going after this first arc finishes, is this going to be a "you defeated on boss BUT THERE'S AN EVEN GREATER ONE LURKING IN THE SHADOWS!" kind of story? Other than that there's not much to say here or in the Good section, it's just the introductory volume and technically not a lot of stuff has happened yet, which isn't a bad thing but just a thing related to telling stories in a comic format, they take a bit more time to get going usually.

The Art: While it's clear that Takeuchi is struggling with drawing some things (poor Luna looks less like a cat and more like a blob with details half of the time) but I was surprised that I liked Tuxedo Mask's designs here more than in all the anime screencaps I've seen, I think it was the lack of giant 90s shoulder pads. All of the human characters are rather pretty to look at (some of the aliens not so much, they also look a lot less distinct from each other) and while there aren't backgrounds in a lot of panels the ones that do show up have a good amount of detail to them.

So, a few days ago I found out that the local library has more volumes (they list up to the most current one, nine, in the catalog but it sounds like they only actually have up to five or six right now) and I requested those so hopefully I'll be able to review those in a few weeks and provide a fuller review. But for the moment yes I liked it, yes I'm reading more, and yes I plan on checking out the new series in summer (but I was already at least going to try it, practically the whole internet was going to do at least that).