Saturday, August 31, 2013

Book Review: Six Gun Snow White

To get picky, I think this story is actually a novella, not a novel because of it's length but there's still more than enough in the story to talk about for a review. I have to admit that I still wish it was a graphic novel instead (when I first heard about it on Tor that's what I thought it was) but that's just personal preference, plus then I might confuse it too much with Rapunzle's Revenge

Six Gun Snow White by Catherynne M. Valente

Summary: Six Gun Snow White is the child of a white business man and the Native American woman he forced into a marriage and as a result has not had the happiest childhood. When her father remarries her step-mother makes her life even worse and after years finally takes a chance to run way into America's Wild West.

The Good: Well that was an interesting re-imagining, the story rather throughly tackled nearly ever element of the Snow White legend and re-worked it which I thought was very creative and much better than many of the retold fairy tales I've seen lately which borrow a few themes and drop the rest by the wayside. And I really did think that a lot of the details were clever, I felt like the story was an interesting blend of the original and new, Native American elements (not related to either but the new detail I liked the most was about Six Gun Snow White's step-brother, that felt like something which could have come out of a classic fairy tale with how odd it was).  

The Bad: In the end the story just felt a little too disjointed, I felt like it was trying to have multiple, episodic tales in it (all of which a re-imagining of a specific part of the Snow White legend) but I feel like the story should have tried to be a bit tighter especially since there are a few plot threads that go through almost the entire story, like the step-mother. That might have made this story even shorter still but it seemed to me that this choice stretched the story a little too thin  (I'll also admit I wasn't expecting it to be as, sad in tone as it was and that I prefer cheerful stories which almost certainly influenced how I felt about the book as well).

In the end it was an interesting little story yet I don't think I'll reread it so I'll give it three out of five stars. Oh and I have no idea why the hardcover's price is so crazy, I found a copy at my library easily so I'm not sure what's going on there. 

Friday, August 30, 2013

Manhwa Review: Goong: The Royal Palace (1-3)

Another title I was happy to find at the not so local library since I had read a lot of gushing for it over at the Manga Bookshelf but none of the other libraries I had been to had any of the books. Actually it's interesting, after going to so many different libraries over the years you can really tell which ones had a librarian (or more than one) who was really dedicated to buying manga and you can even tell when they started. This library must have started putting together it's collection in the early 2000s judging from the age of some of the books which is fascinating since I remember around 2005 when I first discovered manga my library had a few books but didn't really start getting more until 2009 and even then seems to have stopped in favor of buying more graphic novels instead. I just find all this fascinating, it provides an odd look into another book lover's mind.

Goong: The Royal Palace by So Hee Park

Summary: In an alternate world Korea still has it's monarchy and much like the British Crown it wields some power and has a great deal of pomp and circumstance. With it's crown prince coming of age the family feels the pressure to marry him off and recall a promise the old king made to his friend, to marry his heir to his daughter. Neither of the young people in question, Prince Shin Lee and average girl Che-Kyung are at all happy with this arrangement but neither of them can break it for now and must go through the show of being a happily married husband and wife.

The Good: Well I learned some real-world history but probably not in the way the creator meant to concerning the Korean monarchy (it seems it was dissolved during World War II which, sadly, was way too recently for any of my history classes to have covered) which was interesting. I did like the politics as well, I can easily see how some problems that some characters are starting in these volumes could take quite a while to resolve, but sadly that's about the only part about the volumes I did enjoy and the politics at this point are still only a sub-plot.

The Bad: Let me put it this way, the library had all the volumes so I planned to try and get through them all before I moved so I could have one large review yet I didn't and it wasn't for lack of time. After the third volume I gave up, Che-Kyung was too odd, Shin Lee was frankly an ass, heck I couldn't sympathize with any of the characters except for a few minor side ones, the other prince creeped me out a bit for no specific reason, didn't care about the "romance" and found the humor completely unfunny (part of which had to do with the art style). This was completely not my cup of tea, I had hoped for a stronger focus on politics (which may have come later and there was quite a bit of politics, don't get me wrong there) but the "romance" just killed it for me.

The Art: As mentioned earlier, the art for the comedic moments also really threw me out of the series, for some reason Park decides to use these really ugly chibis so I spent all my time just cringing at them instead of possibly laughing at them which isn't a good thing. The rest of the time the art looked rather lovely actually but the chibis come up pretty often which I thought was a bummer. 

In the end I'm only going to give these three volumes 2.5 out of 5 stars and don't intend to read the rest. I'm sure some people will really like this, and for those who do the series is licensed in North America by Yen Press, but I'm not one of them.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Anime Review: Living for the Day After Tomorrow

Another title I haven't heard much about anywhere on the internet, I think that once again it went on my to-watch list after seeing a rather positive review on AnimeNewsNetwork and then earlier this summer I discovered that Sentai had put a number of their anime up on hulu and, since a lot of them are just one cour, resolved to try and make a real dent on my to-watch list before the end of the year and got to it!

Living for the Day After Tomorrow

Summary: Three years ago while living in America, Shoko was dumped by mail and has now (at 24) returned to live in Japan in an isolated, small town. As fate would have it it's the same time her former boyfriend Hiro lives in and she discovers the reason why he never returned to her, his 11 year old sister Karada. Karada is more understanding than she looks and realizes that her brother has had to shape his life around her and prays at a roadside shrine that she might become an adult immediately so she can free Hiro from his burden. But her extra years have to come from somewhere and soon Shoko finds herself much smaller than she should be.

The Good: While I couldn't completely suspend my disbelief for it the most interesting part of the show by far was watching Karada deal with the outcome of her wish and simply try her best to be an adult (with the story implying pretty heavily that in some ways she's a better adult than Shoko and possibly Hiro). Hers was by far the most interesting yarn in the story and the most emotional as well, the setting is realistic enough that it takes a while to convince any of the other characters that yes, Karada and Shoko has switched ages, and even though I was expecting a comedy I actually liked that approach a bit better, even if I didn't like a lot of the more serious elements that came along with it. 

The Bad: When I saw all the brightly smiling promo pictures I thought "oh this will be a comedy with age-changing antics, fun!" and was quite unprepared for the slow, un-comedic, character drama that unfolded instead and I think because of that mindset I didn't enjoy the show as much as I could have. That said, this show also does have some problems with it's character development, it seems odd that Karada was able to pass as a twenty year old with ease (I live with 11 year olds, there is no way any of them are that mature, I can't even suspend my disbelief that far) and doesn't really change as much as realize that no, she's not a burden to her brother after all. Likewise, Shoko is still rather bitter over being dumped (since Hiro gave absolutely no reasons for it) and the story is more about her trying to forgive him, and Hiro eventually admitting that he needs to be more open and more courageous to say things that may hurt people but will ultimately make their relationships stronger. So as you can see, both girls' "growth" revolves around Hiro (which is a bit awkward since he is most decidedly not a protagonist in this story) and in some ways it's a very non-Western kind of character growth as well and one I had a really hard time sympathizing with. The story felt stretched out and limp by the end, I think it would have worked better as a movie with a shorter run time, even if that would have made it hard to fit in all the events that needed to happen for the girls and Hiro (and in some ways side character Testu) to change.

The Production Values: I was a bit surprised to see how recent this show was, 2006, since the show just looked older than that. Perhaps it's because hulu wasn't streaming an HD version and that soft blur effected it, and perhaps it's because it's based on a manga which must be a few years older (ANN lists it at 12 volumes and only gives 2005 for a date) but the character designs just looked dated and the color pallet for the entire show was oddly muted. The backgrounds being done in a softer, more watercolor or chalk pastel style I can understand, it fits with the quite tone of the show, but everything looked just so dull that I'm still confused about how this show can be only seven years old.

In the end I can only give this 3 out of 5 stars for being okay but entirely too long, having trouble giving the right characters meaningful development (since, even if Karada has to grow the most in the story in the end most of that seems to regress which made me even more frustrated), and having the art look just a bit off. Can't say I can recommend it to anyone but someone whose already a fan of slow paced character dramas, if you are one however and in the US go check it out on hulu or purchase the DVD.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Movie Review: The Princess and the Pilot

After seeing quite a few good reviews for this movie lately (after not even knowing it existed before NIS America licensed it, the anime blogging community often seems to miss movie works that aren't done by a well-known director, for the record this was actually based on a light novel and not a completely original work as I had previously assumed) I was thrilled to see it on the Otakon schedule and even more so when I realized that it conflicted with practically nothing else I wanted to do thanks to it's Friday morning scheduling. There were a few technical snafus (I think it all was whatever they were using to show the movie and not the staff's fault, either that or the disc itself had a problem showing the subtitles) but everything got resolved pretty quickly and we were still out right around when the video was supposed to end anyway.

The Princess and the Pilot

Summary: Princess Fana del Moral is set to marry the prince of Levahm across the ocean who is currently engaged in a brutal battle with a third country. The prince wants her to be with him and, after the entire palace is fire-bombed in an attempt to assassinate her, her family accepts and the Levahm prepares their ace pilot, the mixed blood Charles, to escort her directly through the line of enemy fire. 

The Good: This is a movie that involves quite a bit of just two characters talking and once the story gets going (and it's the middle and end of the story which have the bulk of the talking) it never once feels dull and manages to feel remarkably natural as well, I suppose this is one of the cases where coming from a prose source material is a pro, not a con. It was well-paced, Charles and Fana felt like rounded characters by the end, the setting had been fleshed out, the plot didn't contain any leaps of logical, all around it had fantastic writing which translated into great material for every other aspect of the show.

The Bad: After seeing quite a few people declare this to be practically a masterpiece I was a bit let down since I didn't think it was one. I still think it was a great movie but the one thing that bothered me was Fana's character development. She certainly grew and changed and I have no trouble with that, yet in a way that story started so quickly that I wasn't sure if her distant and quiet personality when the plane ride began were due to the recent, destruction assassination attempt she was coping with or if she simply was a quiet, retireing person and learning about the world has made her blossom. I suspect it's the former, if it was the later then just under a week should not have changed her that much, but I wish the story had started out oh so slightly differently just to establish this since then the story wouldn't just be about her growing but also moving past that event and helping her find determination that she'll keep for the rest of her life. 

The Production Values: The movie looks fantastic through and through and the art staff went to a lot of effort to make sure that the scenery was varied even though about a fourth or third of the movie is spent on or over the ocean. I seem to recall that Fana's voice struck me as a bit high, I expected something a tad deeper and more mature, but it wasn't a bad choice and her seiyuu certainly acted more than well enough (since this is a NISA release there is no dub) as did all the others. 

In the end I'm giving this a solid three and a half out of five for being a good movie, recommended to all anime fans who enjoy slightly slow paced, character driven stories (and possibly to people who aren't exactly anime fans but enjoy a number of anime movies). However, I don't like it enough to justify buying NISA's fancy release right now (even though artbooks are always tempting), perhaps if I can find it for an amazing deal or if they do a regular edition release in the future I will grab that though. As far as I know this title is not streaming anywhere online, although if they were showing it at Otakon it might pop up at other American anime conventions this year as well.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Book Review: Brightly Woven

This summer I ended up checking more books out from the library than I was able to end up reading because, as usual, I got to a point where I grabbed every book that looked interesting at the moment and dragged them all home. Sometimes this leads to great finds but other times, well, it helps to be a bit more discerning.

Brightly Woven by Alexandra Bracken

Summary: Sydell lives in a rural, drought-ridden village and while she's intrigued by the wizard Wayland North who comes by she's not happy at all that he's chosen to drag her along in his journey to warn the new queen of an encroaching invasion, especially when he won't reveal why he chose to bring her along.

The Good: I liked how the story spent a decent amount of time on both how the magic system in this world actually worked (which was even a little different than usual!) and the local legends of the settings, those were by far the most interesting parts although in retrospect it might have been cooler to have the book set in the Arabic-inspired country instead of the generic-Western-European-inspired country that it actually was*.

The Bad: This book had plenty of elements I should have liked, some politics, interesting and well-defined magic, a setting with a history, yet in the end it just felt bland and not fully seasoned. Part of it was probably due to the very expected revelation that Sydell has Strange Powers (I would love more stories with non-powered main characters having to deal with characters around them who have powers, and not a superhero story since that idea has already been done I think), it just didn't gel together and make something really exciting to read. Also, Wayland North is a character with a large number of issues and for me I didn't find that his redeeming qualities overrode his issues and make him a likable character, frankly I found him more than a little bit crazy and was frustrated that the characters end up making excuses for him, not calling him and and saying that even though yes his life has been terrible but he still needs to act differently.

So I'm giving this book just 2.5 out of 5 stars for being an okay written book but also both being a bit boring and having a couple of problems which mean I can't really recommend it to anyone.

*hmm, just realized that since part of the conflict in this story is two countries who have the same basic legend but two different interpretations/versions of one part, and it's implied that the Arabic country is wrong and Sydell's country is right, yeah that feels a bit problematic.

Comic Review: August Moon

For those who haven't seen the post below this, I'm going to start putting as on NI (provided that Google approves me, just hoping that I don't have to code them all in myself) so if anyone sees anything inappropriate, makes noise, etc, take a screenshot and let me know please!

I didn't realize it until I picked up the book from my pile to read but I looked at the cover and went "hmm, that animal looks like Totoro" was was relieved to see someone else (I believe on the back cover) mention Totoro as well. I felt like it was too big a visual similarity for anime/manga fans at least to not notice but still didn't want to be the first person to bring it up, as if I was accusing it of copying and truly this story has nothing in common with that film other than that one character design.

August Moon by Diana Thung

Summary: Fi and her dad live just outside the town of Calico and when they stay there for a bit while her father tries to identify a strange new creature found in the town she gets caught up in both the local legend of Soul Fires and a plot by an outside organization to bulldoze the town's beloved forest.

The Good: The story plays out at a good pace and despite a few scenes of violence and death I think it's more than fine to let the middle school crowd read (it's funny since even though it's listed as grades 9 and up I feel like it was written more to a 6-8th grade audience, especially since Fi at least is 11). And, well, there's certainly nothing terrible with it, I'm sure plenty of people will like it but I just didn't find anything about it amazing.

The Bad: I just didn't see anything special about this story, none of the character's grabbed me, the plot wasn't anything new or anything old done extraordinarily well, and I just didn't feel a sense of whimsy that I had expected when I read the synopsis and saw the cover. I didn't like Fi or Jaden as much as the story wanted me to (in retrospect, Jaden reminds me a lot of Hajime from the currently airing anime Gatchaman Crowds, an eccentric who really does know what's going on and what to do about it but is terrible at communicating, he's even worse than Hajime is) and since I didn't like any of those individual aspects of the story it's no wonder that the whole thing didn't gel for me.

The Art: It feels odd to say this about an English comic book instead of a manga but the character designs were just simple enough that I read a bit into the book, stopped, flipped back, and then realized there were two point of view characters instead of just one. I can't remember why now I initially got them confused, it could have been that I expected one POV character instead of two and that's how I started reading it, but I think that does mean that the designs should have been a tad more distinct. Or perhaps it just needed to use some shading, this is yet another comic that goes for the just black and white approach which I'm starting to dislike a bit, I just feel like it makes everything look a bit too simple and scenes which are supposed to look stunning to the character, and therefore create an emotional response in the reader, just don't accomplish that at all.

So, two out of five stars here for being a bit bland and unimaginative, even though I say that a middle schooler could read it I don't think I'll be recommending it anytime soon.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Special Announcement

Hey guys! So to keep this brief, I'm moving this week and while this shouldn't effect the posts this week I'm moving in order to find work and once I get settled into the working world routine (which could take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months) updates are going to get a little more haphazard again just because of work schedules. This is a pretty big move for me and one thing that does have me nervous (well, one among many) is that I might not have access to a library for the foreseeable future, the last few times I've gotten a library card in North Carolina I've had to bring my state driver's license and I might not be getting a new one soon since I won't be driving much. I did read quite a few books this summer and am bringing some as well, currently I've got things planned out until almost the November Month of Manga, but that still leaves December at the very least and here's my plan: I'm going to enable ads on the sight so that by the time late November rolls around I might have enough ad revenue to purchase an e-book or two (or possibly a digital comic instead) and help keep the blog going that way. I'm enabling them now since I suspect it's going to take a while to accrue even a dollar and if anyone sees any weird ads (graphic, sexual, demeaning, those that come with noise) try and take a screenshot and send it to me, in the comments if you have to, so that I can deal with it. Hopefully that won't happen but you never know! 

Monday, August 19, 2013

Anime Review: Tokyo Magnitude 8.0

To recap for people who haven't read anything on my blog, during the summer I usually take advantage of the DVD collection at the university where my mother works but for some bizarre reason they only let you check out two DVDs at a time and often times someone else in my family wants to check out DVDs as well. Far enough and earlier this summer I spent a lot of time checking out the DVDs for the final season of Veronica Mars and some classic Doctor Who and didn't give the animation section even a glance. I did check around the end of July and realized my mistake since there were actually a few things I wanted to watch a little time to achieve it so I buckled down and got to work, first with a noitaminA series I hadn't seen before and one which I feel like is a little less known.

Tokyo Magnitude 8.0

Summary: Unlike her name, Mirari has no idea what she wants to do in her future and no interest in seriously thinking about it beyond what she wants to do for vacation this summer. What she doesn't want to do is take her little brother Yuki to a robot exhibit across Tokyo but soon Tokyo rumbles and everything in her life seems trivial compared to it. Now the two of them, plus a motorcycle courtier they had met earlier in the day, Mari, must trek the miles back across Tokyo to get home and find out what, if anything, and who (if anyone they fear) still awaits them.

The Good: Few shows make me cry since, while I do cry more than I like in real life I just find it hard to get emotionally invested enough in characters to find something worth crying over. But this series did it, I think it was because it tried so hard to be faithful to what would really happen in Tokyo, how people would die, how buildings would keep crashing down in the aftershocks, and the kindness and joy that you can still find despite it, that it just did it. So, if you plan to watch make sure to either keep tissues around (this show made me tear up about once every two episodes which is a record) or prepare yourself emotionally for a lot of very nature feeling tugging on your emotions*. Except in one instance, which I'll be addressing below, very little felt melodramatic as well, the story let it's events speak for itself without having the characters add on commentary about how it's A Very Sad Thing and I think that really helped the story to work (not to mention it would have felt completely out of place for any of the characters to say that, while it's sad all three of them would rather spend their time moving forward instead of staying trapped in the present).

The Bad: There is An Event which happens in the show which is rather important, in some ways even more important than the earthquake itself, and the show takes entirely too long to fully address it. Think of a romantic shojo story where two characters clearly have crushes on each other yet take forever to confess and apply that pacing to a non-romantic setting. After double checking the episode numbers I've realized that this felt like it took even longer than it had and, since I had heard something about it (but I half-dismissed since it was so, odd, sounding) that my have contributed but I felt like in a show which succeeded in evoking real human drama and development yet felt like it needed this element that maybe it shouldn't have been a tv series after all, maybe it should have just been a movie and slimmed down the story just a bit to fit.

The Production Values: There really wasn't anything about the art, the music, or even the voice acting that really stood out to me. The character designs remind me a tiny bit of Eden of the East (which is ironic since that was the show right before this one so the two were most likely designed without ever having seen what the other looked like) and neither the opening or ending songs grabbed me which in a way sums up the entire show, it was perfectly fine but didn't grab me the way I had hoped, perhaps this is why I rarely see people talk about it.

So for having its heart in the right place but not quite succedding in execution (first I don't like Mirai and then I have issues with that Event) I'm giving this one three out of five stars and I don't see myself buying it anytime soon. As far as I know Sentai hasn't put this up for streaming outside of their own site (which is all dubbed and you have to be a paying subscriber to see past the first episode) so if anyone does want to check this out they'll either have to do that, get a hold of the DVD, or just sit tight for a bit. Lately Sentai has been adding more of their catalog onto hulu where it's free for all to watch (so expect more of their titles soon), although a lot of those have been recently aired shows and so far I haven't noticed a pattern to figure out when shows will go up. But I think there's a decent chance this one will pop up on hulu by the end of the year and if not I'm sure Netflix will have the DVDs by that point if they don't already.

*and keep tissues nearby anyway

Sunday, August 18, 2013

TV Series Review: Dance Academy (season one)

As odd as it sounds, not all recommendations I see in the YA community are for books, plenty of authors and fans/reviewers love to talk about what else they love and that includes movies, tv shows, and even music at times. A lot of times my tastes don't quite match up as far as tv series go, a bit too much romance for me and there is that terrible problem that half the time by the time I get around to trying a tv series is has gone from good to ugh which always brings up the point if it's still worth watching. As far as I know this series is still worth watching, the show started it's third season in Australia earlier in the year (and I'm fairly sure it will be the last, otherwise the characters won't be in school anymore and they'll have to change the title) and since I can't seem to read anymore of Swan legally I thought that maybe this would give me the ballet fix I wanted.

Dance Academy (season one)

Summary: Tara Webster is from the Australian countryside and remarks that in her tiny town everyone is known for something and for her it's for doing ballet. She applies and successfully gets into the National Academy of Dance in Sydney and begins her first of hopefully three years preparing to enter the world as a professional ballet dancer.

The Good: I went in hoping that the show would have regular ballet scenes and there is in fact at least a short dance scene in every episode! Sometimes it's hip-hop not ballet but it turns out that hip-hop dancing is rather cool so I was completely fine with that. I'm obviously no expert in either styles of dancing but I thought a lot of that looked rather well done , I could believe (outside of the fact that Tara is somehow both the best and worst student in her class it seems) that these were actual dancers in training and it was a nice change from all the series I've seen which are set in a school yet ignore the school aspect as much as they can.

The Bad: On the one hand I can't knock all of DA's more melodramatic moments, after all Swan shared some of the same ones (a main character who has great talent but terrible fundamentals yet still attracts the attention of the teachers in a good way) but there was way more romantic drama than I bargined on. There are six main characters, three girls and three guys, and in 26 episodes there are about eight and a half hook-ups between them and other side characters (also, they apparently have no idea that bisexuality exists which really threw me, I'll note that all of the hook-ups were straight for the moment). That's just a lot of romance and since a lot of it is short lived, everyone in the relationship is dumb because they're a teenager, romance I didn't find a lot of it very compelling either and hope (probably in vain considering where this recommendation comes from) that it gets toned down a bit next season.

The Production Values: As mentioned earlier, I thought all the dance scenes looked really great with good actors and good choreography which was the biggest draw for me. Not much else stood out to me however, nothing about the setting or the music (actually I believe the show uses the same music for both the opening and closing credits) really grabbed me but in a modern day, realistic fiction setting that's to be expected, there is a limit to how creative you can get with those things.

So in the end I give this season 3 out of 5 stars for nice dancing but entirely too much romance. I'll be checking out the second season soon, they're both streaming on Netflix and we'll see what I think of that I guess!

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Book Review: Mare's War

I picked this one up at the library since I remembered it was a title on my to-read list and I've actually been in the mood lately for something with a more historical bent to it.

Mare's War by Tanita S. Davis

Summary: Octavia and her sister Tali are less than thrilled that they have to spend a large part of their summer vacation with their rather unconventional grandmother Mare. She smokes, drives fast cars, and wears high heels which throughly embarrasses her two granddaughters but she wants to take this summer and tell them her story and how as a young black woman, just a girl really, she joined the women's army in World War II and was even more unconventional than they had thought.

The Good: Mare's story was just as engaging and interesting as I had hoped, I liked how the story covered not only her time in the Women's Army but also her life before and a bit about her time after the war (and it was nice to see that just because the war was over doesn't mean her group was disbanded immediately since you still need to start with the reconstruction after the war). I liked the characters, although at times I wondered if Octavia and Tali were included in this story so that the author could get a little soapbox-y about inequality (it was how the lines were set up just a little too perfectly to lead into those bits) and felt like everything was also well paced. Since Mare isn't one of the key players in World War II this story is more character focused than plot focused and I thought it was really well pulled off.

The Bad: I'm in two minds about Octavia's half of the story, on the one hand I can see how Davis wanted to use this summer as a way to get Octavia (and Tali) to grow but on the other hand it was a bit boring. I think the story could have stood perfectly fine on it's own if it was just about Mare, although obviously then it wouldn't have been able to include the very end of the story in the present day, and I might have preferred it that way. Again, there was nothing wrong with the characters of Octavia and Tali or the plot, setting, pacing, any of that, it was just a bit dull and I don't feel like it was really needed in the end. 

I'm giving this book a 3.5 out of 5 for having an interesting historical story yet a duller half with the present day story. And of course I need to also plug both Flygirl (black girl passes as white to enter the WASP) and Code Name: Verity (British spy recounts to her diary, which is then read to her captors, how she and a friend, also a pilot, ended up working in the British military up to the point of her capture in German-held France). All three of these are great works of historical fiction although Verity is the most likely of the three to make you cry, just a warning about that (and I have no clue what it's sequel, due out this year, is supposed to be about or how that's even going to work).

Friday, August 16, 2013

Manga Review: Basara (volumes 1-5)

And I'm back folks, survived the almost 35,000 person crowd that was called Otakon and, well, that was certainly an experience! And expect a non-review post sometime in the next few days detailing a few changes around the blog since I'm moving again soon and moves always seem to leave this little blog a bit different.

But enough about that, let me talk to you about amazingly late 1900s shojo for a few minutes. For some reason from the late 70s, maybe mid 80s, through the very early 2000s there was a lot of shojo which I term "epic fantasy shojo" where the focus was on sweeping stories, large casts, and the coming of age of female characters in tense, often political, situations with a bit of romance tossed in that rarely was the main driver in the story. I'm not sure what happened to those stories, I've seen YA fiction in the US that seems more similar to that manga than most shojo manga I can find these days yet these titles are so unknown outside of the really devoted manga fandom that I doubt there's any connection. And of those titles this is one of the best known and if I hadn't been hearing about it for literally years I probably would have passed it up when I cam across it at the not-so-local library. I mean, look at that font, Basara are you SURE you're only as old as I am because that font looks like it came straight out of the 80s, a classic example of just because the calendar has entered a different decade doesn't necessarily mean that design sensibilities have caught up yet.

Basara (volumes 1 through 5) by Yumi Tamura

Summary: When Sarasa and her twin brother Tatara were born a prophet declared one of them to be "the child of destiny" and the village always assumed that this proclamation referred to Tatara. So did the king of their area of post-apocalyptic Japan, the Red King, it seems and Tatara is slain before he can even begin a rebellion to change Japan and so Sarasa takes up his name and begins her quest of revenge while discovering what a complicated place the world now is.

The Good: I make no secret that I adore stories with complex politics woven in and I love how the story has set up Sarasa/Tatara with their goal to take down some clearly corrupt kings, including the Red King, to make life better for all and yet has also shown her and the reader that the Red King's land is far better than the rest of Japan with the implication that the reason rebellions like the one her village planned have been crushed so brutally is because if they succeed the other kings will move in and make that area even worse. It's a world where there appear to be completely cruel and one hundred percent sadistic villains yet no true heroes or right thing to do, a fun set-up for readers who enjoy watching their protagonists fight for a good ending. The cast, much like the setting, expands rapidly but so far I haven't had any trouble telling the characters apart and the story remarkably enough even managed to sell me on it's star-crossed lovers aspect. Normally I become frustrated by that, especially when it's between two characters who are sworn enemies as is the case here, but the way that Sarasa and Shuri's relationship begins and grows feels as natural as it could under the circumstances and even though I know it will almost certainly end in tears I'm continuing to hope for the best. Finally, it's amazing how much has already happened in five volumes of this story when you consider that the entire story is twenty-seven volumes long. It's well paced now and if it continues at this pace then it's literally an epic and I can't wait to read the rest regardless.

The Bad: I almost feel like Sarasa is gathering allies too easily in the story, she's not a shonen protagonist after all, but I recall a line (sadly I can't seem to find it at the moment) that said that while Sarasa should seek out the groups which have the three other swords that were made along with the one she inherited the swords aren't magical, it's to find the people who go with them that matters. So yes this seems to be too simple until you remember what kind of world these characters live in and what they stand to gain by allying themselves with their best chance at creating a better world for themselves, although the fact that this usually comes after a battle means I'm not going to give up that comparison anytime soon.

The Art: As previously alluded to, even though this manga started in 1991 it still has a bit of an 80s look to it, especially when you remember that the shojo manga from the 80s and the 90s don't look that different anyway. It's not a pretty manga as even the editor admits in their column in the back of the first volume, the characters have oddly elongated cheekbones, hair that seems to puff without hairspray, and rather unfashionable clothes as well. But it does have nice detail work and I was able to keep the characters straight much easier than I expected to and everything is laid out nicely as well, the art is just styled in an out-dated way. But I am curious about one thing Viz did, what the heck happened to the cover of volume two? Here's what the original Japanese cover looked like, here's what the cover of the volume I got out of the library I got looked like (the manga inside is unflipped). Apologies for the lighting because it does not truly get across just how damn pink this cover is, while some of it can be from aging over 10 years, and all of these volumes look a bit faded, I doubt that's the only reason why. Although, looking at these Japanese covers at least explains where the truly strange title font comes from, I had been questioning the sanity of designers in the early 2000s who were going for a font like that.

In short, if my library had more than the first five volumes I would have checked out and read those by now as well (funny enough, I'm not the only blogger to have this problem recently and according to Ash yes, this is one of those series with out of print volumes that are hideously priced). I actually got rather excited at Viz's panel at Otakon since when they were talking about their digital manga I swear they mentioned Basara yet when I checked online afterwords it's not on their site. Hopefully this means that it will be up soon, since they've put up a lot of the other "epic shojo fantasy" manga (Red River, From Far Away, Please Save My Earth although that's technically sci-fi) they must have at least tried to get the digital rights for this one as well. 

Monday, August 5, 2013

Anime Review: Problem Children are Coming from Another World aren't they?

First as a head's up, given that Otakon is this weekend I'm not even going to try and get reviews up so the next review after this will be a comic review on 16th, just going to go ahead and take a whole turn off (also to give me a little more time to prep for my upcoming move, expect a post on that in the next couple of weeks).

Some people might remember, if they read the footnotes, that a friend and I tried out quite a few currently airing/from the past winter season shows and after this we agreed that this was better than expected which was what I had heard from other places as well. So when I needed something quick to watch, and after trying a few things I thought I would like and didn't, well, why not?

Problem Children are Coming from Another World aren't they? (Mondaiji taichi ga Isekai kara Kuru soudesuyo?)

Summary: In the world of the Little Garden those with special gifts (magic) compete in games for glory, fun, and for the sake of their community. One little community is failing badly and summons three children, each from a different world, who are bored of their lives to come play and fight for them and that plan ends up working much better than you'd expect.

The Good: There are a lot of different subgenres underneath the fantasy flag these days; high fantasy, low fantasy, urban fantasy, dungeons and dragons-eque fantasy, that odd blend of science fiction and fantasy you sometimes find and so on. This show fits into an odd subgenre that I usually only find in anime/manga/light novels, it’s like dungeons and dragons-esque fantasy with it’s approach to monsters and how the world is structure (ie, it feels a bit flat, cardboard like as if the characters are just players in a tabletop game) yet it’s a little different in it’s approach, even for the characters this is literally just a game. I’ve seen some shows like this or ones that seem to stand on the line before and it’s not my favorite approach to fantasy, I feel like a lot of times they use it as an excuse for lazy setting building and easy comedy but this show actually manages to pull it off much better than usual and made me smile. The characters aren't very well fleshed out but some of them develop a little bit and even though the three leads each fall into a standard archtype, the quite one, the rich girl, the punk boy, they do defy their stereotypes more than you'd think. That's what made the series work for me, it's quite generic in some ways but different enough that I didn't feel bored by it.

The Bad: I shall be blunt, while part of the last arc made sense the game the characters had to solve made not much sense at all (heck, for people who don't often read translations of light novels, that kind of plotting and logic is what you find in a lot of them, guessing I can't just blame that stuff on the fan-translators anymore). I'm positive there was a better way to set up that story without having it contradict itself, that was just incredibly frustrating. And even though I said I liked the story enough for being rather generic, yes I would have loved it if the story had been less so, if the characters had been fleshed out into having real backstories, not just a collection of tropes thrown together.

The Production Values: Can someone please explain to me why when an anime has a lot of special effects on screen the entire picture seems to dim? I've seen it in other shows but not as often as this show, it got rather distracting after a bit. Other than that, the show really doesn't do anything different artistically or musically wise (although the opening did grow on me more than I expected and the I laughed the first time I saw the ending), same as the rest of the story.

So, for being the best generic fantasy show that doesn't take itself seriously that I've seen I'll give it 3.5 out of 5 stars, might watch a second season (although looking at it's first volume sales that looks pretty unlikey) but wouldn't really recommend it or plan on buying it. For those who want to see it crunchyroll is streaming it. 

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Movie Review: Yobi: The Five Tailed Fox

If the main character's name wasn't a tip-off then I shall mention that this isn't an anime but rather a Korean movie, apparently foxes are tricksters in every culture where, well, foxes naturally live. I vaguely remember hearing about the movie and then hearing lack-luster reviews of it a short time later but when I learned recently that it was streaming on Netflix I decided to give it a shot anyway.

Yobi: The Five Tailed Fox

Summary: Yobi is a fox who lives with a group of aliens who crash landed on Earth 100 years ago (they haven't had much success repairing their spaceship) and becomes curious about the students at a local school when one of the aliens gets accidentally made into a pet by some of them and ends up trying to emulate them and be human herself.

The Good: There were a couple of cool ideas in the film, such as the afterlife scenes, and I'm not sure if these ideas came from Korean mythology/legends or if they were entirely the work of this film but things such as that and the shadow were rather neat. I suppose kids might like this movie, it was certainly random enough at times to be unintentionally funny, but if you're above the age of 12 then your chances of liking this film are strongly diminished. 

The Bad: Looking back on the story, I have no idea why there even were aliens in this story at all. They don't add anything to it emotion wise, plot wise (or even plot-device wise), or comedy-wise for me and that's more than a little problem. The subplot with the hunter also came out of nowhere, while it was hinted at that someone was hunting down the foxes the first scene with him in it was just so left field that I wondered if I had missed an earlier scene that set it up, it felt like poor structuring to me. I also had some problems with the ending, not because it's open-ended and vague, that I would have been fine with, but because it seems to contradict itself with it's final sequence of events. Overall however I just found this story a bit dull, it's about Yobi and she does change some, although for her changing means "falling in love/seeing why she would want to become human" which isn't very deep or really interesting character development, and none of the side characters do which makes all of their involvement in the story, not just the aliens, feel a bit pointless and flat in the end.

The Production Values: At times the art and animation looked okay and at other times it went careening down into uncanny valley (the specific moment I'm thinking of is one of the kids doing a comedy routine he really likes which involves a lot of movement and the CGI just makes it creepy). On a slightly weird note I thought that Yobi had a bandage on her noise whenever she was human because of some weird shading, although her overall design was rather cute. 

In the end I'm going to give this movie 2.5 out of 5 stars (good lord I feel like I've given a lot of those lately) since it looks odd at times (in a way that's not stylistic but rather "we didn't have the budget/skill to make the CGI look better"), the plot was a bit rambly and had a lot of unnecessary parts to it. Don't think I'll ever rewatch it, don't really recommend but if you really like weird CGI I can try and find that comedy routine again because that was truly bizarre. 

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Book Review: The Musicians Daughter

For those who don't follow my twitter or tumblr (which I suspect it a large number of people) the past couple of times when I've gone to the library I've just grabbed a ton of books, quite possibly more than I'll have a chance to read this summer! And whenever I do this there will be a number of books in my pile, once I've gotten past the top of the pile with all the books I've wanted to read for a while, where I look at them and go "huh, this could be interesting but I'm not completely sure why I picked this up."  Sometimes I end up really liking these books and other times, well, they fail to leave an impression.

The Musician's Daughter by Susanne Dunlap

Summary: Theresa Maria's father is a court musician in 18th century Vienna and when he's murdered one night she realizes that there was much more to him than that. She then sets out, questioning everyone she knows, about why her father died and what happened to his precious violin in the process?

The Good: This is certainly a setting I haven't seen before, there have been many times when I've seen people complain that so many books (usually fantasy, which this isn't) are set in Europe and I feel like they're being too generous. Austria lies in the middle of Europe and even then that's too far away for many stories to be set, literature is in some ways fascinatingly limited and it's sad that even a setting like this which I've at least heard of from my history classes is almost exotic (especially since they didn't use as much as I think they should have). And on that note I found the underlying plot, regarding freedom for the serfs and land for the Romani, interesting and want to read more (nonfiction) about all of that which is for me what I hope to get out of every historical fiction I read, a renewed interest in perusing history especially history which I'm unfamiliar with.

The Bad: I'm not exactly sure how a book that had intrigue, action, and multiple little climaxes managed it but I found this book just a bit dull. Perhaps it's because I also found Theresa Maria to be a bit of a bland protagonist, yes she was smart enough to be able to keep up with (and was largely unsurprised by) the political machinations that have crept into her life and brave enough to try and save those close to her but she like most of the rest of the book just failed to leave an impression on me. The pacing did feel a little off as well, that there were too many events happening in such a short span of time to feel believable and perhaps if some of the plotting had been simplified to build up the world and Theresa Maria more that would have made the book stronger.

In the end I can only give this book 2.5 out of 5 stars since it was really that dull, even if I want to read more about the time period because I want to read about that since I've never read about it before, not because of how it was portrayed in the book. 

Friday, August 2, 2013

Comic Review: Market Day

This was a bit of a short book I grabbed from the not-so-local library and when I started reading it I was worried that it would prove too short to write a review about, too short to even tell a story. But after reading this I'm sure that there was enough in that story to write a review after all, abet a short one.

Market Day by James Sturm

Summary: Mendleman is a simple Jewish rug-maker whose least favorite day of the week is going to the market to sell his wares. This week he's even without his wife and that one day shows just how much your day can change, from the joyful to the sorrowful, and how much a person can change with them.

The Good: This book may be short but it's the perfect length to tell it's story and for the first time in a while I found myself truly connecting with a character. Mendleman won me over with him describing how he creates his rugs, where his inspiration flows from and how he always pushes himself to make better and more beautiful art and that made even my heart ache when he finds that he needs to find a new buyer for his rugs. And then my heart kept aching and slowly breaking for him as the story continued on and on. 

The Bad: I do wonder what happened next, what happened after Mendleman woke up that morning and had to continue on with his life, although I think that the story ended at the perfect place as is. I don't have much to criticize, maybe it should have moved faster in one or two paces or held a moment longer in others, in the end this was a very well constructed story which also had as much emotional impact as you could from such a short book.

The Art: The art wasn't exactly plain or simple, it didn't overwhelm the page and the rest of the story which I felt like was a good move and I also felt like it was a good match for the rest of the story. I felt like the feeling it gave off, this wide illusion of space in so many of it's panels, felt very well with Mendleman's thoughts, both his great hopes and fears just being engulfed by the world he lived in.

I'm giving this book 4.5 out of 5 stars, partially because I'm not sure I would ever give a story five, perfect stars, but I connected more with this story than I have with most stories I've read lately and I feel like this book was able to portray a feeling that so many of the books I had to read tried to do but in a way that I could finally understand (or perhaps it's that I'm not also at an age to understand, while a teen could certainly read it I feel like an adult or older teen is going to get the most out of this story).