Monday, May 27, 2013

Anime Review: GA Gejitsuka Art Design Class

Wohoo, I finally managed to post an anime review on a Monday again! Then again I really want to tell people about this under-appreciated series whose title might look a little familiar since I actually reviewed the first two volumes of the manga back in the fall. For the manga I felt like it was pretty cute but just couldn't quite get into it and I wasn't sure if that's because I was reading it in really odd, brief snatches of time thanks to my schedule or because the material just didn't quite click. I'd known the anime was on Crunchyroll and decided one night to start going through all the stuff I had queued and this looked like as good a place to start as any (also because I'm not currently watching comedies so I didn't have to worry about confusing it with anything). After the first episode I wasn't quite sure if I wanted to continue so I watched a second, wasn't still sure but as I found myself reaching for the third I realized that I must be at least a little hooked by it.

GA Gejitsuka Art Design Class

Summary: Kisaragi, Miyabi, Namiko, Tomokane, and Nodamiki are all first year students in the GA Art Design course and like many art students are quite strange. They agonize over homework, come up with strange hotpot things to eat, get lost in the school buildings, and generally just have fun while working hard.

The Good: For me the humor clicked more here than it did in the manga and I really adored this show. The episodes managed to string together a bunch of little plots (my biggest concern since it's based on a 4koma manga) rather well, with some being a little more coherent than others, and it even covered beyond what I had read before, another concern of mine. They even gave the "second group" (how I referred to the Fine Art Club in my mind while watching it) screen time which made me happy since they had really grown on me in the manga, I was delighted when they popped up since I had completely forgotten about them. But I think the show's best strength, to both new fans and fans of the manga, is the humor, it fits, it flows, sometimes they drag out skits a bit too long but more often than not the writers really understood comedic timing and I would spend the entire episode giggling madly.

The Bad: I would have liked a little bit of character development even if it had been just for some of the characters like Kisaragi (who is more or less the main character). The characters did change a bit, and since this is based off of a gag 4koma manga to start with I can't say I was surprised by this (lack of) development but it reminded me that even though I really didn't like Azumanga Diaoh it did have a bit more character development and did better in that respect. I also wish the show had managed to give itself a slightly more concrete ending (in either the 12 episode or the OVA, which Crunchryoll has listed as episode 13) or at least a sense of wrap-up, both ended just a bit too suddenly for me. But, given that there is more manga out there to read I'm not terribly heartbroken over this.

The Audio/Visuals: On an odd note, I saw Star Cross Anime Blog praise the art but for some reason crunchyroll was streaming all except two or three of the episodes in only 480 so I can't really speak to how crisp the lines or colors were. To me a lot of the show looked simple and like it had a relatively modest budget, nothing looked off and it illustrated all the art concepts that came up perfectly but this wasn't a show that showed off any technical or artistic prowess. I don't think that hurt the show but it's not one I would recommend if you wanted just eye candy. It did however have a rather additively cute opening song so if you want ear candy you might want to give that one a listen.

So I'm giving this 4 out of 5 stars and a hearty recommendation to get your butt over to crunchyroll and try it out. It never got picked up for a physical release in the US (although I just noticed that it's listed on AnimeSols' survey for "what titles would you pledge at least $40 for a physical release" question, the only one I answered yes for actually) so if you like it, and can access AnimeSols, then make sure to go over there and vote for it too! And if anyone is interested in the manga then go hit up your local retailer of choice, Yen Press has the R1 license for it and judging by the release dates there should be stuff in some of the later volumes that the anime never covered!

Sunday, May 26, 2013

TV Series Review: Elementary

I have to admit, I'm really curious what must have been in the water a few years back when writers suddenly started going "you know what we haven't had in a while? SHERLOCK HOLMES STORIES, we should make some!" I suspect that stuff like this is actually part of a cycle, which would also explain weird coincidences like having multiple films in one year based on a certain fairy tale that hasn't been on the silver screen in a number of years, although that didn't make me any less leary when it was announced that there was going to be another tv show based off of Sherlock Holmes, set in the US, and they were making Watson female ("oh great, romance ahoooooy!"). I did change my feelings a tiny bit when I heard that an Asian-American actress had been cast as Joan Watson, the fact that a show was willing to give a non-white actor a leading role gave me some hope that they actually knew what they were doing, and then the first episode leaked and tumblr adored it. Well, not some of the Sherlock fans, but a lot of people did and that sealed the deal, I was going to give this a chance after all and pray that it turned out amazing.


Summary: Joan Watson is a sober companion in NYC who helps recovering addicts transistion back into everyday life and her latest client is a British man who is recovering from a heroin addiction, Sherlock Holmes. He's less than thrilled about having a sober companion especially since he's already come up with his own plan for how to transition back into everyday life and stay focused, by working as a consulting detective for the NYPD which means that Joan needs to tag along and in the process discovers that she has a talent for noticing the details and fitting them into the larger puzzle as well.

The Good: Well to cut to the chase, I loved this show. It completely avoided the biggest thing I was worried about, changing Watson to a woman in order to have a romance with Holmes, entirely and instead we got a really good series with a mixed gender leading couple that weren't a couple at all, I liked that! Plus it had a fairy diverse cast of returning characters AND even though things such as prostitution came up several times none of the characters ever made "prostitution is WRONG" comments, the characters just dealt with the cases making it one of the least problematic things I've seen in a long time. The show also managed to have a small overarching story that set everything in motion and ended the story but at the heart of the story it was about Sherlock and Joan and how the two of them grow which was pretty amazing. This is one of the most human versions of Sherlock I've seen, even if he makes a lot of misteps by the end he's apologizing when he realizes, or has it pointed out to him, what he's done wrong and from the first episode Joan is not afraid to call him out on it. Also, I think this is the first time I've seen a Sherlock Holmes story where Watson goes beyond being the audience's point of view character and rises to become a detective themselves, something that amazes me because it's so obvious in retrospect. It was a rather pleasant surprise to see that this series wasn't just about Sherlock getting over his addiction and becoming a better person at the same time but that it was also about Joan moving farther away from her own past and finding something she really took pleasure in.

The Bad: I am a little worried about what the series will do next, if it had ended her I think it would have had a perfectly fine ending and as such I wonder how they'll make the characters continue to change. I saw a snippet of an interview, I think with Lucy Lui (Joan) who said that they were trying/hoping to do more multi-parters in the second season which would be a great idea but I'm also worried that now that the show has proven to be successful more people will try to meddle with it (since I'm told that's what happens with successful shows, everyone wants a finger in the pie and then too many cooks ruin a good stew after all). But, even after being burned by Once Upon A Time's second season I'm going to remain optimistic that the show will continue to be as good and won't simply cover the same ideas over again.

The Audio/Visuals: This being a series that is a procedural crime drama in current day NYC means that there wasn't a lot that could go wrong with the look or sound of this show so I had no problems there. Although again, the show is so contemporary that as long as nothing looked like something I could never, ever theoretically see in the US I wasn't going to have a problem and nothing came even close to that.

So, giving this 4 out of 5 stars and heck yes I'm watching the second season. Unfortunately it's only sort of streaming online, much like certain deals on hulu, CBS only streams the last four episodes (to air) on their site (and none on hulu at all) so at this point I would recommend that people sit tight and hope that it shows up on Netflix soon. Heck, as soon as it does I am shoving several people I know to that page and having them watch it immediately, fingers crossed that this happens sooner rather than later.

Book Review: Crown Duel

Well I was hoping that I would be able to get this second review out yesterday but then got involved in a rather long, hmm, contentious debate on twitter (must be Memorial weekend, everyone has been online all weekend long) and didn't have the energy to be coherent any longer once that finally wound down so apologies, for once this one isn't just my fault! As for the book itself, it's funny but this book really reminded me of Tamora Pierce's various Tortall series for some reason. Meliara isn't very similar to any of her protagonists yet I did notice that this book came out around the time some of Pierce's earlier books did, perhaps there was some common source of inspiration which led to both of these.

Crown Duel by Sherwood Smith

Summary: Meliara and her brother swear on their father's deathbed that they will overthrow the current, corrupt king who assassinated their mother and then rule together in his stead. Thus the two of them embark on a gurella war and, even though she doesn't want to, Meliara ends up learning more about her enemies than she wanted.

The Good: Meliara is a pretty likable lead and at first I thought the story was going to make everything too easy for her, such as when she's captured and later escapes but that wasn't the case and the story managed to keep the tension up during those bits as well. She was a bit thick in places, thick enough to be slightly unbelievable, but thankfully not so much that I disliked her. One random note, I've think I've said before but I'v read a lot of fantasy YA, enough to the point where I can usually pin-point the year in which it was written fairly accurately. While I did get Tamora Pierce, specifically early Pierce, vibes from it at points I'm still a bit surprised that this book came from the 90s, it has a lightness and flexibility to it (just, less emphasis on the "inspired by medieval Europe" part of the setting and a bit more on the "fantasy" side) that I usually see in post 2000s books so I think that it probably appeals to a wider bunch of readers than other books from the same year do.

The Bad: This is a fairly slim book, although I need to keep in mind this is before Harry Potter became big and publishers would publish larger books for young adults, and is often the case with slim books the plot was a bit too simple for my liking. It worked and straightforwardness isn't a bad thing yet I kept feeling like the story was a bit too pale, like a soup where someone has forgotten a few key ingredients. I'm not sure what else the story would have needed, it had intrigue, plotting, enough characters, and good pacing, maybe it just needed more details. 

So, 3 out of 5 stars for this book. I'll also note that I didn't realize until I was already done that there's a sequel to this, Court Duel and it seems like there are even editions where both stories are bundled together, and since I already had to place an interlibrary loan for this book and it was right at the end of the school year (ie, before I move for the summer) I don't have a way to get a hold of it. Honestly I'm not sure exactly why there's a sequel, everything wrapped up so nicely I'm not sure why Meliara had to go to court and apparently get into trouble, but from what I'm seeing on goodreads there is also a revised edition out there so I'm wondering how different that version is.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Comic Review: Marzi: A Memoir

Sorry about the late post folks, had some personal drama last night which left me too mentally exhausted to think straight enough to write a review, think I'd better try to build up a buffer of reviews again considering how often this seems to be happening lately. As for the book, is it just me or are about a third of all comic books found in libraries memoirs? I feel like if you were to look at all comics out there they would make up a much smaller percentage of total comic books but libraries just really love their comic books that they can pass off as education I guess? I do know more about Communist Poland than when I started reading this, but really that's more commentary on how the American History/Social Studies classes work (ie, if you get past the Civil War in American or World History you've got a pretty speedy and awesome teacher) than commentary on how good this story was per say.

Marzi: A Memoir by Marzena Sowa and illustrated by Sylvain Savoia

Summary: Marzi was born in communist Poland and while many parts of her childhood are reminiscent of the lives of children worldwide there were many aspects of her life where the Soviet Union's isolation affected her and even from a young age she noticed the rumblings of unhappiness in all the adults around her.

The Good: Sowa was thankfully an interesting child and it seems a very observant one, she manages to easily convey the anxiety and frustrations of the adults around while talking about her own experiences. I had been a bit worried about how well the story would be able to blend the two parts since Sowa is a decade too young to be really involved in any strikes or marches but instead the story proves to be a great example of why it's so crucial to establish your setting, it affects literally every part of your characters' lives. 

The Bad: I did have a bit of a hard time following the flow of time in this book, I think it's all chronological but a lack of any solid dates, the differences between Sowa's childhood and mine (ie, if it had been an American child I could have drawn clues from what was going on in their lives but couldn't really do so here), plus the very human characters (ie, who change very slowly and sometimes erratically) left me feeling a bit lost about the order of things (heck, that erractic character growth could have been because the story was out of order, I simply would have liked a few dates so I could keep everything straight). I also felt like the story ended in a weird place, did they suddenly realize they had hit their page count? Did nothing else noteworthy happen in Sowa's childhood? I can sort of see why the story ended where it did, with Sowa having discovered the magic of storytelling (which would then make it all thematic and a bit meta) but overall there were just a few odd problems with the flow of the story.

The Art: I was a bit surprised when looking back through the book but there is a noticeable difference between the first few pages and the last few, I used to books done by professional illustrators who have gotten past that point early in their art where they improve rapidly. In any case, the art is more complex than it first appears, the backgrounds have a fair amount of detail, the characters look distinct, and I think the rather flat, biege color scheme prevalent throughout, without any highlights or shadows, fits the mood well here. I am a bit confused why Sowa has bright orange hair here yet dark hair in the photos at the end but, thinking about what I just said, perhaps that was so she would stand out even more from the beige scenery, that would make a lot of sense. 

So, a solid 3 out of 5 stars and, while I have no desire to own or reread this book I am a bit more interested in communist Eastern Europe after World War II and would certainly recommend this to people who have read other comic memoirs and enjoyed them.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Anime Review: The Unlimited

I know I said last week that AKB0048 Next Stage was my last winter anime review but technically I didn't watch this one during the winter season so it doesn't count. So, back in mid-April I had a friend crash at my place for a few nights for a con and so we ended up watching a lot of random anime (and Doctor Who) and out of everything we tried this was the one I liked the best*. Like a lot of other people, even though it got pretty good first episode takes by a lot of people I was just too worried that I wouldn't get it since I never saw Zetta Karen Children/Psychic Squad, although I laughed pretty hard when screenshots surfaced that showed that the Nostalgia Critic and Angry Video Game Nerd (from That Guy With the Glasses) had cameo'd in an episode (wearing each others' pants and at a theme park, the same one from Natsuyuki Rendezvous I think which if you'll recall was aimed at couples and small children, seriously I think whoever at Manglobe snuck that in was a fan and a shipper). But after I saw the first episode I was pretty hooked, lots of great action and whenever my friend and I had a question about how something worked the main character asked it, finally exposition done right!

The Unlimited

Summary: Andy has never really fit in with normal people since he's an esper and never really fit in with espers since his ability is to nullify others. This makes him rather unpopular in the esper prison he's found himself in although he does manage to catch the eye of a new prisoner, Hyoubu Kyosuke, which, since Andy is an American spy sent to infiltrate Kyousuke's organization, was the plan all along and now he has to go along with their plans all the while sneaking around to try and find something special on their cruise ship.

The Good: Yes you can completely enjoy this show without having seen/read the original ZKC, all I knew of it was that there were three super-esper little girls (apparently there was a timeskip to this) who were the main leads and that this show had one of the villains as the main character (and looking at some stuff online it looks like they integrated other aspects from the original so well I didn't even notice it). The rest of it is explained well especially since, as I mentioned earlier, just about any time I had a question Andy was asking it which struck me as really solid writing. The pacing is also really great as well, the show doesn't drag out what the viewer knows is going to happen (certain conflicts happen much sooner than I expected, Kyousuke some backstory at exactly the right time, Andy's character changes right when it should) yet I wouldn't call it predictable, just well planned out. It was a really fun show to watch, got me interested in the original ZKC, and now I'm just the tiniest bit grumpy that there wasn't more because I would have easily watched another 12 episodes of it.

The Bad: One thing that might frustrate some people is that the endgame for the whole ZKC, a war between normals and espers, does not happen here. Yet the show never acts like this is where the story is going, all the characters mention it as if it's still a ways off, and taking into account that it's a spinoff this really shouldn't surprise people, so I think the fact that its climax is smaller shouldn't be a turn-off (the fact that the Americans are the bad guys all along though, well, I think I've mentioned it before but I'm just getting tired of that trope especially since they even show at one point that not all Americans, or at least New Yorkers, are crazy esper haters). There are one or two points where they showed characters from ZKC and didn't really introduce them but considering that I can put two and two together (and hopefully most other anime fans can as well) that wasn't a serious problem either, honestly this is such a solid show that it doesn't really have that many flaws to talk about.

The Audio/Visuals: This show looked pretty good, although I do wish they hadn't used Kyousuke's power-up filler footage every time (honestly it was starting to remind me of a magical girl transformation sequence the way they played it religiously every time). The fights looked good, didn't notice anyone going horribly off character, the voice acting seemed fine (as far as I know they brought back the seiyuu for all the reoccuring characters), not exactly sure why they changed the ED a few times and apparently I completely missed the fact that they used two different versions of the OP but all in all everything looked and sounded fine.

So I'm giving this a solid 3.5 out of 5 stars and I really hope Sentai licenses this soon since I would buy it. Honestly I'm confused why they licensed ZKC in the first place yet I feel like this is the kind of show that would have a larger audience, especially since you can easily spin the back of the box summary to make it less obvious that it's a spinoff and not drive people off that way. Perhaps the most amazing thing is that this show had relatively little input from the original manga author yet from the things I've read he loved it and has even hinted that he might bring back the anime original characters (Any and Yugiri) into the manga's finale which is one of the most positive reactions I've ever seen someone have in regards to their stories, or spinoffs of their stories being adapted. Now if only that had helped this sell better, poor Manglobe, have they ever had a really good selling series? 

*For those curious, I showed her K and Gargantia and we tried out an episode of Problem Children are Coming From Another World Aren't They? (which I had heard was better than it sounded and that was in fact true), Love Live (which we tried soley for the possibility of cosplay outfits, not going to lie there, and it was okay but not nearly as entertaining as AKB048), and The Severing Crime Edge (which we both found just too weird to be enjoyable).

Sunday, May 19, 2013

TV Series Review: Once Upon A Time (seasons 2)

While I've grown used to having 3/4ths of my anime ending in the same week I was a bit thrown when I realized that all three of the regular, American/British live action shows I was watching all ended the same week so bear with me for a few weeks guys as I sort them out. So, as per my usual strategy, first up is the first to end which was the second season of Once Upon A Time which I was super pumped up for when it started. The first season started weak but got better and ended really strongly and I was pretty curious to see where it was going next which are the best feelings to have when going into a new show/new seasons of a show. Also, something that seems to be happening more and more over here, I'll try to keep the bulk of the review as spoiler free as possible but if I really need to talk about something spoilerly in detail I'll do so in a footnote so read those at your own risk.

Once Upon A Time

Summary: Continuing from where the first season left off, Storybrooke is a little town in Maine entirely populated by fairy tale characters when their land was cursed and they were flung to Earth. For 28 long years nothing changed and they remembered nothing, until Emma, the daughter of the king and queen and the promised savior, returned and somehow lifted the curse. But the characters are confused why they are still in Maine and even though they have their memories back there are still dangers lurking around.

The Good: The show was able to flesh out a few characters which it didn't have a chance to in the first season and I liked that, rounder characters are always preferable to flat ones. And it was nice to see just how the Enchanted Forest has fared over the years, that wasn't something I expected to see nor was it something I especially wanted to see but it cleared up a few questions before I even had them which is a good thing. Oh and the show cleared up a lot of things about Henry's father, although it really had to work to make some things line up, but when it's all said and done I'm actually okay with what they came up with. Honestly it's a little hard for me to be specific for what I liked this season not because it's spoilerly but because most of this happened fairly early on in the run which was back in October. I know there are reasons for why American tv shows have such weird breaks but man it makes it harder to remember specific details when everything is all said and done. 

The Bad: Here's the non-spoilerely version, I disliked Regina's character arc*. In fact, I disliked an awful lot of things about this season. I disliked the fact that it seems like the writers are prolonging the character's stay in Maine (I'm guessing now that if the cast was to ever get back to their original world for good then the story would be over) with what feel like really contrived reasons. I like that the side cast has gotten a bit more fleshed out, I don't like how the core cast is left alone for episodes at a time, I liked this show because I liked the growing dynamic between Emma and Regina, don't cut that out! Also, guys there's a limit to how much backstory any individual character can have. Yes a lot of them have lived grand and exciting lives but you can't expect me to buy that they spent all their time having adventures of sort which have a clear influence on who they are now, somehow that breaks my suspension of disbelief even faster than the CGI does. Oh and they seemed to be trying to introduce some sort of Earth based, anti-magic agency in the last few episodes which came out of nowhere and was so sloppy I wasn't even sure that's what they meant until I talked with a few friends and found that they had come to the same conclusion I did.

The Audio/Visuals: I'm of two minds here. On the one hand, the wardrobe/costuming on this show is fantastic and I love a lot of what they do. On the other hand, it seems like they spent the show's entire budget on costumes and had to settle for less than polished CGI. I know that in this day and age, and considering that there have been fantasy movies with terrific special effects lately, but when it looks like you green-screened the actors in front of a fairly simple background for no reason then I'm going to get exasperated.

So I'm giving this just 2.5 out of 5 stars and I'm jumping ship now since, if the last few minutes meant what I think they did, we're about to get wibby-wobbly timey-wimey and that reminded me that this shares several important staff with Lost which is a phrase that fills me with trepidation. I do have a number of friends who plan on still watching the show so if they say that it fixes the problems I had then great, I'll come back. Until then however I'm going to spend my time watching tv shows that I'll hopefully enjoy more.

*and now for the spoilerly version, while I was initially hesitant to see her try and become good, considering how evil she's been, the idea grew on me and I felt like as soon as I started liking it the writers dropped that idea and instead had her revert back to her evil ways. I maintain that it was illogical for her to go and help her mother, considering how much pain her mother had caused for her and what she had done to Cora as retaliation, and just could not get behind that mini-arc. Finally, despite the fact that Regina hadn't changed by the end of the series, and had in some ways become worse since she showed that she couldn't really change, the writers still had her pull the line "I know I'm bad but I really tried to change" which had me wanting to flip tables into walls, when you're that inconsistent about character development trying to evoke sympathy for it seems like the dumbest thing you can do. 

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Book Review: Timeless

And I finally, after several years of trying to achieve this, have finally read all of the Parasol Protectorate series, wahoo! So, same drill as before, talking about the summary of this book involves some good sized spoilers for the first few so only continue reading if you've read the first few or just plain don't care, although considering just how large this one is I'd recommend against that.

Timeless by Gail Carriger

Summary: Alexia and Conall’s daughter, Prudence, has been born and as predicted she has the ability to borrow a vampire or werewolf’s abilities which causes a whole slew of trouble given her surroundings. So its not without misgivings that Alexia accepts an invitation from the oldest vampire queen of them all in Alexandria, near the God-Breaker Plague of Egypt, and heads south hoping to resolve the mysteries of her family once and for all. 

The Good: In retrospect, Carriger started seeding many of the subplots that would appear in Heartless and Timeless rather early on and I’m impressed. I’m sure some might find the ending overly neat but considering how many of the characters in the series actively try to create neat endings for the people around them this shouldn’t be surprising. As for the actual book, I had always been worried how Alexia’s pregnancy, and subsequent offspring, would be handled but it all worked rather well here. Alexia still acts like herself, she and Conall truly love Prudence (which is in line with their characters), and the child is important to the story but not a plot device. Considering that I was expecting her to be left on the sidelines while the adult characters went on more adventures this is much, much better than I had hoped and for me that’s why the series ended so satisfactorily, it was smarter than I expected and that makes the story work for me better than almost any other ending could have. 

The Bad: In the end I do wish we had gotten a bit more information about both Alexia’s father and Floote. That storyline was also foreshadowed fairly early on but I think it needed not exactly more foreshadowing but more details revealed earlier on, especially considering how important it ended up being. Also, I feel like Madam Lefoux’s character ended up changing quite dramatically through the story, and well, it felt a little uneven by the end. Granted there is a timeskip between this book and Heartless, plus considering how Heartless ended a change in relationship makes sense (and she was changing in Blameless as well), but I almost feel like the Lefoux of Changeless is a completely different character from the one of Timeless. I’m not sure what I would have liked done differently but something does feel off and I feel like it could have been handled in a smoother fashion.

So I'm giving both this book and this overall series a 3.5 out of 5 which might be a bit low but there were just enough rough spots in the series to bother me yet despite those it's rather solid fun and I'm glad that I now own the books and would recommend them to a number of friends. Well, after making sure that my friends are okay with the implied sexytimes in the books but frankly considering how, uninterested and easily bored I am by sexytimes usually if I don't mind them then no one else I know will. With that in mind, if you like supernatural urban fantasy in Victorian London with some romance then give these a shot, hopefully you will have a better time finding the books than I did!    

Friday, May 17, 2013

Comic Review: Off*beat (volume one)

So apparently I was out of it back in February since I hadn't heard that some of TokyoPop's former employees had formed a new company, Chromatic Press, and that they had plans to do a kickstarter to try and fund the final volume in one of TokyoPop's OEL series which apparently a lot of people liked, Offbeat. I first heard about all of this when the kickstarter launched and I was torn, I don't have enough money right now to support a series I've never even read, on the other hand it sounded like something I'd like and I had realized when looking at it that the creator also was doing a webcomic I like, Witch's Quarry. So I didn't pledge, if it had looked like they needed just a few more people to get it to the goal I would have pitched in, and when I got back home and went to my local library there I found a very battered copy of the first volume just sitting on top of the comic section as if it was waiting for me. Sadly they don't have the second volume, although I might poke around at some of the other libraries near me to see if they do, but hey, one volume is totally enough for me to tell if I want to read more.

Off*beat by Jen Lee Quick

Summary: Tory is smarter than your average high schooler and instead of using his vast intellect to cure cancer or such he is currently using it to stalk his new neighbor who lives across the street. In Tory's defense, Colin does seem to live under some strange circumstances and when Tory's other neighbor manages to dig up some dirt it seems like Tory might actually be onto something.

The Good: At this point the story is still very ambiguous if there really is some great, sci-fi-ish conspiracy involving Colin or if Tory is just being way too imaginative and with the way it's set up I'm not going to be disappointed no matter which way it turns out. I have to admit it's a bit odd that I'm more amused than skeeved out over Tory stalking Colin, my normal reaction, I guess it's the way it's set up here, and because the reader knows that it's more-or-less harmless, but regardless I need to commend Quick for making me like a main character that I normally would dislike.

The Bad: The early timeskip threw me a little bit and I do wish it had been less big, it's a bit hard to accept that Tory remained obsessed about Colin for that long even though he had no leads on him and hadn't discovered anything. Thankfully I think we're also going to actually learn some stuff about Colin in the next volume (because right now he feels more flat that mysterious just due to a lack of panel time), honestly I'm glad that I didn't read this when TokyoPop was originally putting it out since the wait and possibility of never finishing the series would have killed me.  

The Art: There's actually not a very big change in style between this and Witch's Quarry which surprised me a little bit but here it's already pretty solid. The backgrounds/scene setting shots are a bit basic but there were only a few times I had trouble figuring out the panel sequence. All of the characters look distinct although the girls look a bit odd, they look a bit more cartoony than the guys and I hope that they look a little more natural in the next volume.

So, giving this a recommendation, I'm dying to track down the next volume and the final one when it's released, and now I'm more curious than ever about Chromatic Press's other works, fingers crossed that they succeed and are around for a while!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Anime Review: AKB0048 Next Stage

Sorry about the delay again guys, moving took a bit more out of me than I expected but at least with that done there shouldn't be any more missed posts for at least a couple of months. Saying that I feel like I should find some wood to knock on....
As some people might remember back from my winter 2013 anime round-up I said I was interested in the AKB0048 anime since I had heard some good stuff about it but hadn't pursued it until the new season started and then once I started watching episodes the show got licensed, although it wasn't until well after I had caught up with the first season (via fansubs) and moved onto this one that crunchyroll got all the first season's episodes up. But both seasons are up now and let me talk about the second one and see if I can convince a few more people to pick up the latest thing to come out of Shoji Kawamori's mind.

ABK0048 Next Stage

Summary: The 77th generation understudies (as well as the 75th) continue to train as idols perfecting their singing and dancing in hopes that they can become successors soon and learn about some of the other strange things idols need to do like tv appearances to become more popular. And in the background the DES are still around and while some of them are looking for a way to defeat the girls others, such as Chieri's family's company Zodiac, think that they've found a way to use the girls to their own advantage.

The Good: I was a bit afraid that this season was going to be simply a copy of the first season and thankfully it's different enough that it didn't feel that way. The basic story, girls try to become idols and fight the anti-fun police in the process, stays the same but a number of the details are different and the girls do continue to develop and the story certainly doesn't end with everything being the same as it started. It was still fun, although I had forgotten just how much I dislike Japanese variety shows until they showed up here, yet even though it wasn't a copy of the first season it just wasn't as strong.

The Bad: This is going to sound a little odd but bear with me; not every story is structured such that it needs a villain for it to have a plot. The first season didn't really need one because it was focusing more on the girls and their goals and dreams and the setting was just another challenge to work with. This season however the show acted as if it had a villain in the DES and tried to use that to move the plot along, but the DES made for a really weak villain and that just made some parts really awkward. Look, if you spend two seasons showing me how basically the anti-fun police can't seem to succeed against a bunch of space idols then I just can't believe they're a threat, sorry! The other reason I feel like this season is the weaker of the two is how the ending comes off a bit rushed, I'm honestly curious if they planned to wrap up the entire show in a second season from the start or if they were toying with the idea of a third season, that would at least explain why things had to wrap up so fast and why there are a couple of subplots left unresolved at the very end. 

The Audio/Visuals: Like I said previously I'm going to start combining these two categories since I rarely have enough to say about both, although this is one of the cases where I probably would. Sadly the crunchyroll stream did not sub the opening and ending songs but, unless I'm misremembering, both of them appeared in the actual show subbed and I just didn't like them as much as the ones from the first season. Actually, even disregarding the actual lyrics and just listening to them I still don't like them as much as the previous ones, they just didn't sound as interesting to me, oh well. The show doesn't introduce any major new characters so there's nothing new voice actor wise for me to talk about, except that I had forgotten until I was outlining this review in my mind that the majority of the cast aren't professional voice actors and I'm amazed, they sound very sure of themselves by now and I hope I hear at least some of them in future shows. As for the visuals again not much has changed from the first season, it's still amazingly colorful and looked fairly solid animation wise. Now I'll admit that I'm not as put off by the CGI dancers as some people seem to be* but it is jarring whenever they cut between the identically smiling CGI dancers and the hand animated parts where the characters have different facial expressions, usually ones of determination or exhaustion which look pretty different. If they could just make the models match that a little better then I'd have no complaints at all, this was a pretty good looking show.

So, just 3 out of 5 stars, since I feel like I rated the first season more highly, but yet I would still like to buy both seasons of this when Sentai puts it out (hopefully on BR since I wasn't kidding about how colorful this show is, I want all of that in high definition). For those still curious about the show, and hopefully people are since it's by no means a bad one, just one with more problems than it should with the writing later on, it's streaming in it's entirety on crunchryroll, Sentai's site theanimenetwork, and on hulu.

*I blame the fact that I watched some of the very earliest CGI shorts for fun as a kid, stuff so old I've never been able to figure out the titles and stuff so old it was kinda terrifying for an eight year old.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Webseries Review: The Lizzie Bennet Diaries

I'm not sure how I forgot to talk about this one, ah it ended late March so I was dealing with webcomics, considering how it captivated me for an entire year. You see, back either in early 2012 or late 2011 I had discovered the vlogbrothers (John and Hank Green) youtube videos and got hooked on them, even though I still had no idea what a nerdfighter was, and was bored one night so I tried out this new show that Hank Green was co-producing/co-writing, an updated take on Pride and Prejudice. Aaaaand I fell for it, thought "hmm, maybe mom would like this," showed it to her and that's how there was a chunk of time in all of our weekly conversations devoted to LDB for the following year. That was actually a good thing, while I've never read P&P my mom has and liked it so I was able to double check with her how accurate the story was, although after seeing this series I'll probably read it myself...

The Lizzie Bennet Diaries

Summary: Lizzie is the middle of the three Bennet sisters who loves her family dearly, although her mother's insistence on her sisters all marrying as soon as they can is bothersome considering she just wants to finish up her grad school degree. And it seems like her mother's schemes are about to get into full swing when a new, eligible young man moves into town and this seemingly small even triggers a whole year's worth of change and adventure and Lizzie is going to accidentally capture it all on her vlog.

The Good: To start this off, this is a remarkably faithful adaptation in just about every respect, even if some people are already foaming at the idea that they've gone from five Bennet sisters to three (the reasoning there was that while five was normal for the time three would be much more normal today and the other two do appear in other forms). And even if you haven't read the original story, like me, it was pretty easy to grow attached to the characters and I think I would have an easier time understanding the original novel now that I know the motivations of all the characters and their goals, for a show where each episode is under six minutes and it has to convince it's audience that 90% of the important events for an entire year happen on someone's camera it succeeds impressively well there. The pacing felt mostly alright, apparently in the book it picks up and races towards the end which is what the story did here as well, and as someone watching it while it came out it was fun to see how the story seemed to be told in real time with the episodes lining up with real holidays. And for one quick last detail, I was surprised by the first episode that this show was not afraid to cast non-white actors for what were originally white characters (admittedly Lizzie and Darcy is still white and they're the most important characters in the end) and it's sad that this is a bit unusual. I suspect this might not have happened if the other co-writer/producer, Bernie Stu, was not Asian (-American I'm assuming) but regardless, yes I like this and it's a show dominated by female characters as well, take that executives who say that neither of these things will attract audiences!

The Bad: Not exactly a bad thing per say but you do need to watch the side videos (Lydia's, Marina's, and Gigi's*), especially in the later part of the story because not everything happens in front of Lizzie's camera. What is bad is that weirdly enough this is where the weakest writing of the season comes, not early on as you would expect, with Lydia's troubles and with some things that Gigi is doing simultaneously. I thought that parts were clunky and could have been done better, and the ending seems to be where the story diverges the most from the original tonally, which I do completely approve of and think was heavily foreshadowed from the beginning. I'm honestly wondering if Gigi's videos were a last minute idea since the writing does feel so much worse there and, considering that they do have a big impact on the main videos and Gigi is the point of view protagonist for the next series, well it's not a huge problem but one that left a bit of a nagging feeling right at the story was reaching it's climax which is a pretty terrible place to have a problem of any size.

The Audio/Visuals: As a note, I'm going to start combining these two areas together on all my reviews since I usually have a lot to say on one thing and not the other. For a show that involves no music, other than the opening 15 second tune, there's not much to say here except yep, they sure placed all the mics well. Honestly there's not a lot to say about how the show looks either, I knew that it didn't start out with a large budget so I wasn't surprised to hear (in outside interviews) that a lot of the settings were in the offices they had, although it was interesting that almost all the cast had to provide their own costumes since the clothes matched their characters very well. Video quality was fine, everything seemed technically sufficient, although I do think that the Domino tech idea that pops up towards the end is silly which makes me less than thrilled it's supposed to be playing a big role in the new series. Oh and one final thing, I'm rather terrible with faces but I checked with a few other people and we all agree that the show did a terrific job at casting three (four including cousin Mary) girls who all look like they really could be sisters with pretty similar faces. Yes I know, that's what you're supposed to do but I can always be impressed when people do a good job right?

So, 3.5 or 4 out of 5 stars for this one and a hearty recommendation to watch, although I'm not sure how people are going to handle bouncing back and forth between two channels at a time at points (when it was airing we just subscribed to different ones and they uploaded different days, now you'll just have to keep links and dates straight). And as noted they have started their second series, Welcome to Sanditon which is based on an unfinished Jane Austen novel and it's being hosted on Gigi's channel. Obviously watch this one first, and I guess since it's done there's no point in following the characters on twitter (which had some interesting convos although that didn't quite work later) and the show has already had an enormously successful kickstarter, I think it was the fifth most successful tv/movie related kickstarter of all time, so in the next few months everyone should be able to buy DVDs if you so desire.

*to recap, Lydia is Lizzie's younger sister, the third Bennet sister, Marina is Charlotte's, Lizzie's friend, sister, and Gigi is Georgian Darcy which hopefully rang some kind of bell.  

Monday, May 13, 2013

Book Review: Fire Horse Girl

So, I'm not 100% sure how I got this book. I remember seeing it on Unshelved's bookclub list and entering a contest there to try and get a copy myself. Didn't hear anything so I assumed I hadn't won a copy and then one showed up at my apartment on my birthday which left me quite happy. Until I realized a few days later that I had never had the book sent to my apartment and that UPS had somehow magically known to send it there instead of my PO box, they had even put a second shipping label on top of the original one. I'm still happy I got the book, I'm just now very confused how it happened, I guess I got lucky that I had them reroute a package of mine a couple of weeks earlier and they were able to look up my address again?

Fire Horse Girl by Kay Honeyman

Summary: Jade Moon was born in the year of the Fire Horse and she embodies all the traits of it: stuborn, reckless, and headstrong. Partially because of this horoscope, and partially through Jade Moon fulfilling it, she's lonely and frustrated so when a cousin arrives at their house with a plan to go to America for a new start eager to take it, no matter what problems they might find there. 

The Good: Bit of a different setting than I normally come across which was nice (although I did have to make sure I read this and The Broken Lands far enough apart that I didn't accidentally mix up Jin and Jade Moon), I liked how it was set in San Francisco in the 20s and the author kindly provided a list of sources which I'm going to check out since I realized that I really have no idea what the history of the west coast is like. And it was that not exactly novelty but different-ness about Jade Moon's situation, the setting, and how her new life in America turns out that kept me interested in the book.

The Bad: The pacing felt a little weird to me, although I think part of that was because the book flap talked about Jade Moon going to America and the cover showed that she was going to crossdress and as a result I expected both of those events to happen sooner than they did. Even taking that into account I felt like the story just lingered in a number of places for too long which is funny since it's not a very long book, if you were to pace it a bit more briskly it would have been a very short novel. As hinted at earlier, the characters aren't exactly original and they're a bit too flat to be compelling. I'm not surprised that this is Honeyman's first novel because in some ways it really feels like a first novel, there are some great parts and some needs work parts, nothing terrible but it's not a book I expect to win many awards either. 

In the end I'm going to give this book 3 out of 5 stars, it's the kind of book I'd check out from the library, read once, and not feel the urge to own/re-read. In fact, I think I'm going to swing by the local library and donate this in the hope that this book gets more use that way than it would just sitting on my shelves.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Comic Review: Smile

Sorry that this one is late guys, weirdly enough it wasn't exams that threw me off schedule but all the last minute errand-y thing I had to do before graduation, gonna see if I can catch up by Monday but since my graduation isn't until Sunday that might not happen. And also, I'm gonna try but I might not have a comic review for this upcoming week, I've plain ran out of books that catch my eye at the libraries, heck I even read Abandon the old in Tokyo by Yoshihiro Tatsumi and you know what, I just didn't feel like reviewing it. Part of this might be because I saw the blog post by one of the First Second editors talking about how they would rather have someone review a book (that they got from them) if they felt like they wanted to write a review rather than they were obligated. And I just don't feel like I would have anything meaningful/important/useful so yep, I read it, liked A Drifting Life more which I recommend and let's talk about this book now which I do have things to say about!

Smile by Raina Telgemeier

Summary: Raina was excited to get braces since all her classmates had them and this would make her more normal, although when she knocks out her front two teeth her braces suddenly become a lot more complicated and end up being a part of her life a lot longer than she expected.

The Good: Last week I praised Nothing Could Possibly Go Wrong for the mundane aspects of it and, unsurprisingly since this story uses braces as part jumping off point part unifying theme, I'm going to do the same thing here. Usually braces, and glasses, only pop up in stories (middle grade stories anyway) as a device either to denote someone as a nerd or as a "look this character is just like you and me!" one off story which has always struck me as odd since so many kids in America do have braces. And wow did I emphasize a lot with Telgemeier's story (headgear? Yep. Crying in the orthodontist's office? Yes and worse!) and even though it's set a few decades back it doesn't feel dated in the slightest and I think that people, kids and adults alike, will be able to enjoy it for another few decades. Even if braces are replaced with something less painful the rest of Telgemeier's story will still be more than relevant.

The Bad: This was a pretty solid story and I don't have any real criticisms of it. It did take me a little while to realize when it was set, although that was me being silly not really the story's fault, but it felt paced well within the story and it was easy to see what choices Telgemeier was going to make. Best of all, as I semi-mentioned earlier this is a middle grade story and even though I normally don't like those as much I think this works great as an all ages book and it doesn't talk down to it's audience, honestly since it does that right just about any problem would seem minor by comparison.

The Art: The book was in full color which I thought was a good choice, it gave the art a certain color it just wouldn't quite have had if it was just in black and white tones, it wouldn't have fit with the art's nice rounded style. I guess it sounds odd to talk about if an artist's style fits the story or not, especially since I don't often run across a story where I feel like the art is completely wrong for it, but what i mean here is that this is a autobiographical comic and even though the art is what people would call cartoony it doesn't use things like over-exaggerated reactions or huge sound effects which would have felt totally out of place in the story. In that respect it's also a good example of how you don't need a super realistic art style to tell an autobiographical story, then again I could have pointed you to half a dozen webcomics to also prove that point.

So, a good 3.5 or 4 out of 5 stars for this and a hearty recommendation. I've heard that Telgemeier has another book out there and I will need to make sure to track it down in the near future and see what that one is about, probably sooner than later given my lack of buffer.....

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Anime Review: Maoyu

Sometime last year I was reviewing on of the Spice and Wolf novels (really need to catch up with those at some point) and someone commented telling me about one of the manga adaptations for this story which I read, enjoyed, and thought "hah this is never getting an anime, it's too obscure!" Well less than two months later one was announced and I happily ate my words, although judging by the rather poor sales so far (I think each volume has been under 2500 units each, not nearly enough to recoup costs) I might have been right thinking that this story was just too niche for people to appreciate, although I think there were other factors involved too.

Maoyu (Maoyu Maouh Yuusha or Archenemy and Hero)

Summary: The demon and human worlds have been at war on and off for a long time and finally the human's Hero has managed to make it all the way to the Demon King's (Maou) stronghold in an attempt to assassinate him, only to find that Maou is actually a lady and she has been waiting for him in order to put into motion a plan that will stop the war. As she explains with her charts and papers the reason the war has been going on so long is because it's profitable for both sides and if they truly want to save their worlds then they'll have to end the war slowly and secretly, something Hero has a hard time understanding but accepts and thus a very strange partnership was born. 

The Good: I was able to actually follow the economic here for the most part which was nice since in Spice and Wolf, even when they took the time to explain everything in great detail, usually lost me there which was frustrating. And in many ways the story feels smart or at least genre savvy, plot wise the characters are on top of things, can figure out how to counter their enemies efficiently, heck its very premise is to take a very well worn trope and run in completely the opposite direction with it. I like those sorts of premises and it was enough to keep me interested in the show all the way through.

The Bad: I've seen a lot of people give this show crap because "look at the character's names, they're all 2D stereotypes!" which seemed especially unfair because it was being said two or three episodes in. In the end neither Hero nor Maou are very deep characters, they have their moments but in the end some of the side characters end up being more fleshed out which isn't necessarily a bad thing, although I would like liked Hero and Maou to be a little less stereotypical in some ways (mainly concerning their relationship) and the story probably would have been better for it. I also saw people giving the story crap since not only did it originate on 2ch (which I had known) but it was actually written without an outline but just taking suggestions from readers (which I hadn't). The story was reworked before being printed so honestly I think a lot of those complaints fall flat but I do wonder if the story would have dragged out it's love triangle for so long otherwise. For me though the biggest problem of the show was it's pacing, which seemed a bit strange from the beginning where it was too slow in one or two places and then too brisk the rest of the time, and even with that it didn't cover the entire story. I, like many people, do tend to gravitate to the adaptation of a story I see first and maybe it's because of that but I do really think that the Kotowaru manga just had the pacing work a bit better and that that makes a world of difference.  

The Audio: It took a little while but the opening song for Maoyu eventually grew on me but then again I said the same thing about UtaKoi's song and they both share a shrillness at points which I don't think many other people like. The ending song felt much smoother and fit the tone of the show a bit better, although as a warning the images for the opening and ending songs both give away the entire story (it's a bit less obvious for the ED but someone translated the cipher and it laid everything out quite plainly). In a bit of an odd twist, this show shares the two lead voice actors with Spice and Wolf (they were the same ones who had done the earlier drama cds) but since it's been years since I've seen SW that I didn't mind and might not have noticed if other people hadn't pointed it out. All the voice acting seemed fine regardless, no real stand out or problematic moments for me anyway.

The Visuals: It did take me a little while to get used to the anime designs vs the designs from the manga I was more familiar with (for comparison's sake, novel art is the far left, the manga is the one next to it and anime is the far right) but after I got used to the character designs everything (except Maou's boobs, physics simply does not work that way and when I looked at some comparisons with the BRs I swear they actually made them look a tiny bit more realistic) looked fine. I was a bit surprised at how painterly some of the backgrounds look since the anime character designs don't look painterly at all but it was a nice touch and worked well with the feeling of the story.

Now for the tricky part, my overall feelings. While I would watch more if a second season came out, and I would buy the Kotowaru manga if it came over, I don't think I would buy a copy of the anime since it had enough pacing issues and such that, well, it just didn't work as well as I think it could have. And even though the anime is streaming on crunchyroll to the best of my knowledge no US anime company actually picked it up for licensing so I'm unlikely to have this dilemma for real anytime soon. With that I give it a 3 out of 5 stars for average, not terrible but could have been better and I rather wish it had been.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

TV Series Review: Doctor Who: The Pyramids of Mars

And it's time for another classic Doctor Who serial, I really like how the serials that BBC decided to air complement each other so well. The Aztecs had one of the shows famous lines about not being able to rewrite time and in this episode when Sarah Jane questions if they really need to save the day since she obviously came from the future the Doctor shows her how much the future will change if they don't (and I really do think these two go together given the shows guidelines about what can be changed and what can't). In Tomb of the Cybermen we see the character Victoria and in this serial Sarah Jane is running around in some of her clothes (which are actually period appropirate for once!). And in Spearhead from Space the Doctor begins his long term relationship working for/with UNIT and here they were aiming to go back to them for a bit, and as usual end up in the right place but the wrong time by several decades. 

Doctor Who Classic: The Pyramid of Mars

Summary: While the Doctor and Sarah Jane were attempting to get back to UNIT after some adventuring they accidentally end up in what would become their headquarters a few decades too early, although knowing the Doctor and his relationship with UNIT that might have been on purpose. Also, knowing how adventure calls to the TARDIS it may also be no coincidence that they land in the middle of a plot to unseal an alien known as the Egyptian god Set from his prison on Mars. 

The Good: This was a fairly solid serial, it shows something that I've been thinking about a lot lately which is how it seems like in Classic DW the companions were always having their own side adventures instead of just tagging along with the Doctor (like they seem to do most of the time in Nu Who) and I like that, even if it's still a bit hard to see the companions as fully fleshed out characters when you only see a single story with them. Especially since in Sarah Jane's case my first experience with her was in Nu Who when she was completely and fully an independent adult whose a bit more jaded than she is here, honestly that made for some odd dissonance but that's my problem, not the show's. Other than that, while the twist on Egyptian mythology didn't work 100% for me it worked better than I would have thought if someone had just said "they were all aliens-" "suuuuure, because everything on Doctor Who is aliens-" "who sealed Set on Mars" and it's always a good thing when DW actually pulls off their bizarre set-ups.

The Bad: One thing I think I've said a lot over the years is how I don't like it when Doctor Who kills off a lot of it's one episode characters. Not because this is a family friendly show or such but because it always feels so pointless, the Doctor (and companions) rarely seem to be torn up over it and we never see how other people react to their friends and family mysteriously dying and that does frustrate me. I did feel like the story got a bit too overly complicated by the end but I guess that was the result of them needing to fill time. 

The Audio/Visuals: Oh dear, we’ve entered that weird era of British television where the shows were at least partially shot on a higher frame rate, here it’s really obvious to me that it’s not the usual 24 frames per second when the characters move around quickly. Even though I would love for us to move to a higher frame rate in general it’s still unusual enough to look jarring and, considering most of the special effects look cheesy to start with and I’ve heard it’s even harder to make them look good at higher frame rates, yeaaaaah. Weirdly enough there are some moments when the special effects look really good but by and large you can tell that most of their props were made of foam and for some reason that detail pulls me out faster than almost anything else. Also, there are some shots where the video looked a little distorted, like they were shot with a lens that was slightly fisheye, and I don’t think that was on purpose. I could be crazy and imagining something that wasn’t there, and it could be a result of aging over the years, but that didn’t really help the show regardless.

Yep I really can't wait until I'm back near my libraries that have a pretty good selection of classic Doctor Who (/the time to browse and see just what Netflix has for streaming), the more I watch of it the more I like it, bit sad that by the time the next classic serial rolls around I won't have BBCA anymore so who knows how I'm going to watch it. Actually, at this rate I won't have BBCA for the finale of the current season, that's going to be frustrating considering how spoiler laden the internet will be.....

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Book Review: Heartless

And moving right along we've reached the penultimate book in the Parasol Protectorate series so there's not much I can say to introduce it now, just the usual warning that due to how this this series is set up by summarizing the book I spoil a large twist from earlier books. Thankfully this one isn't as bad as the others, nothing jaw-droppingly surprising happened in the third book but if you haven't read the second book yet then just read that first and then look at my reviews in case you aren't sure if you want to continue.

Heartless by Gail Carriger

Summary: Alexia and Connall are back together and finally know what their baby will be, something different from either of them, a skin-stealer, and that's why the vampires have been putting up a fuss about their marriage from the very start. So, even though that is resolved now, their lives aren't quiet enough to let them simply prepare for the baby's arrival, the politics of London's supernatural society continue to shift and change and cause rather major problems for everyone involved. 

The Good: Even though I'm about to outline why I thought this book was rather weak it was still a fun read and I was interested to see that some of the side characters are becoming steadily more important with more time and characterization spent on them. I'm used to stories that are more or less one long story broken into chunks of some kind (episodes, books, updates) and therefore don't add onto the main cast as much since the story is already going. This series is a bit different since you could split it into a few stories all within a larger story and that gives it a chance to elevate these characters without taking away from the rest of the cast, I rather like this and wouldn't mind seeing other stories do similarly.

The Bad: Looking back on this series as a whole this was the weakest book in it and in some ways I wish three and four had been rewritten to combine the two since no big plot revelations really happened in either and this book feels like it's just tidying up a few loose ends in preparation for the last book/setting the stage by creating a few extra conflicts for it. Speaking of that, I've just been a bit unhappy with how Madame Lefoux has been portrayed this entire series. Perhaps I should have waited until the Timeless review to bring it up but she feels like an entirely different character if you compare the second volume to this one or the fifth, and not because of growth but just because it feels like Carriger changed her mind about her partway through and either couldn't or didn't rewrite everything else to be in line.

Sorry this is a bit short but unfortunately I was unable to finish writing this while I still had the book in front of me so some of the plots of 3/4/5 are starting to blend together in my mind and I don't want to talk about something which didn't actually happen in this book. Since it's a bit weak I'm going to give it only a 3 out of 5 (which I know I give to a lot of things but a 3 is average and, well, most things are average), onto the final one!