Monday, April 28, 2014

Anime Review: Silver Spoon

There seem to be two reactions to this show, complete love for it (coupled with loudly wondering why the manga isn't licensed yet) and simply not being aware it exists. I fall into the former category (well, I understand why the manga isn't licensed) and I'm a bit sad that the buzz for this series seems to have died off by the time this second half started. I've seen people explain it as "if you know something is going to be good you're less surprised when it turns out well" but still, I think when anything is do consistently good that it should be talked about even more, even if it's not good in a flashy sort of way. 

Silver Spoon

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Book Review: IQ84

Sometimes, usually no more than once or twice a year, I'll read or watch something and choose not to review it since I feel like there's just no way I can talk about it. That's how I felt after I read my first Murakami book, A Wild Sheep Chase, and yet despite that I was interested in IQ84. Not necessarily because of the story but rather at how widely praised it seemed to be, I was just curious what exactly had grabbed seemingly so many people. So when one of my groups of friends, which happens to have a book club in it, decided that this was going to be their next book I hunted down a copy at a local library and got to reading a book so large I felt like it counted as an actual self-defense weapon when I had to walk home late at night by myself.

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

Friday, April 25, 2014

TV Series Review: Almost Human

I've gotten so used to watching American tv shows that are 22 episodes long that I had forgotten that a lot of them actually start out shorter and more episodes are ordered part-way through the run (I think it's called a back-end 8 or something). So that's why I was a bit surprised when I was catching up with Almost Human and realized that the next episode was going to be the last for this season at least, I wonder if the writers were as surprised as I was! Actually, I was looking through wikipedia when writing this (to see if there was any news on a second season yet, there's not) and remembered that not only had this show started up weeks after it was supposed to (in late November of all times) but apparently one of the showrunner's left the series for creative differences and Fox actually aired the episodes in a different order than the remaining showrunner intended, that's never a good sign when a developing relationship between two of the characters is supposed to be at the heart of the show. Or when the show is heavily plot based so really, don't do that guys!

Almost Human

Monday, April 21, 2014

Anime Review: Inari Kon Kon

Moving right along with my just-ended anime reviews, this is actually the show I had the most hopes for come winter since I had checked out some of the original manga and found it to be adorable as heck, although the ten episode length did worry me. I'm also worried it didn't get the attention it should have since it aired rather late (and, since it was on Funimation's website, it was another week before most people could see it) so I'm here now to tell you guys why you should check out one of the genuinely sweetest anime I've seen in a few seasons.

Inari Kon Kon Koi Iroha

Friday, April 18, 2014

Book Review: Climbing the Stairs

Most of the time I try to make sure that I don't read very similar books one after another (or movies, anime, etc) but I remember that last fall I had a huge stack of books checked out from the library and was just trying to get through them as quickly as I could. So, hopefully everyone here enjoys historical novels and next week's book is sort of historical as well (well, it's set in the past which I think makes it historical....)

Climbing the Stairs by Padma Venkatraman

Spring 2014 Anime Round-UP

It's that time of year again folks, time for me to talk about the sudden onslaught of new anime and I'm starting off this season with almost a blank slate since just about all my shows have ended, as is usually the case since winter shows tend to be one-cour and it's rare to have a show run for more than two-cour so all my fall shows have ended as well. The one exception (well, Space Dandy is split cour but it's currently off the air) is the latest Pretty Cure series, Happiness Charge (nicknamed Hacha! by fans because that's just fun to say). In case people are trying to remember, no I didn't finish Doki Doki Precure since, well, it turns out that wasn't one of the better series. This I'm still a little cautious about, once burned twice shy after all, but I already like how they're fleshing out the character better and the fights are rather fun and silly, just what I want from a children's show!

Not included here are Break Blade and Knights of Sidonia since I already saw the BB movie's years ago and this is just a re-edit of those (possibly with a few new scenes and a new opening but nothing can compare to the movie's wonderful opening song) and Sidonia is actually getting broadcast, dubbed, on Netflix in the summer so I'm waiting for that. Well, that and Sidona's CGI is making me nervous, I hope it looks fine in the series but those trailers do not fill me with hope.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Comic Review: Boxers and Saints

I have mixed feelings on Gene Luen Yang's other works, I've liked some like American Born Chinese and questioned the writing in others (like the Avatar spin-off comics) but the dual nature of this story caught my eye from the beginning and the seemingly universal positive reviews of the story further intrigued me. Plus, after hearing Yang talk about this work and his upcoming comic at Small Press Expo I was garunteed to check it out, hearing people eloquently talk about themes important to them in their writings gets me every time!

Boxers and Saints by Gene Luen Yang

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Anime Review: Log Horizon

So some people who don't follow me on twitter might be confused to see this title since I said I dropped it last fall and didn't talk about it at all during the winter anime round-UP. What happened was that I has caught up with all my current shows and asked twitter what I should try out next, Witch Craft Works or Log Horizon. They actually had me watch WCW first but I decided after three episodes that even though the through gender flipping of the situation amused me, if this had been your standard "girl has mysterious powers and is defined by equally mysterious boy" I wouldn't really be interested in it either so it's no wonder that it just wasn't grabbing me. I have also heard that originally both of those characters were female but even that doesn't really interest me (and why Riddle Story of the Devil doesn't either). So, I did have a few friends recommend LH to me a few hours later and decided to give it a second shot after all, especially since I hadn't dropped it for having a terrible first episode. 

Log Horizon

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Book Review: Anahita's Woven Riddle

I believe I may have read this book before, or at least part of it. The title wasn't unfamiliar to me when I found it in the library and when I was reading it bits and pieces early on seemed even more familiar. However, after checking this blog (it's even better than goodreads for keeping track of what I've read and seen) I couldn't find it so I believe I must have dropped it early on before. And, while it's not a poor story, I think I can see why I would have done that, and why it made so little of an impression on me that I picked it back up.....

Anahita's Woven Riddle by Megan Nuttall Sayres

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Movie Review: The Veronica Mars Movie

When the kickstarter for this movie appeared I was a bit hesitant, I mean sure a movie would be nice but when people pointed out that if the executives said no to the series' creators that there would be no movie no matter how much people pledged, well, that put me off pledging. And by that point even though it was within the first few days the kickstarter was already doing amazingly well so I knew that it was going to be funded regardless of whether or not I kicked something in. Happily the movie did end up happening after all and I made plans to see it as soon as I could, I might've had some problems with the later Veronica Mars seasons but not enough to keep me from giving this a shot!

The Veronica Mars Movie

It's been nine years since Veronica Mars left the town of Neptune behind with all of it's corruption and destructive practices it engrained into her ever since she took up sleuthing after her best friend's murder. She's sworn she'll never go back, and certainly not for her high school's 10 year reunion, but after her old friend and lover Logan calls her asking to clear his name in a murder trial, well, there are some things you can't refuse to do for a friend.

In case people don't remember my reviews of the tv series, since it has been a bit of a while since the last one, while I really enjoyed the first season, it's possibly my favorite bit of a tv series of all time, the second and third season had their ups and downs where I loved parts and really disliked others. This movie was much of the same and while I disagreed with parts of the movie for philosophical reasons (which is fine to a point) there also were parts of the story that just felt weak. A large part of it was that this story is set nine years after the third season, Veronica has spent nine whole years away from Neptune and while we don't see much of that life we don't see anything to suggest that she wasn't reasonably happy. I suppose you could argue that because we don't see much of her life in New York that's supposed to show that's she's unhappy, coupled with how her personal look becomes much more vibrant when she gets back to Neptune, but honestly that felt more like a budget/time constraint to me as well as an economy of storytelling (we all know she's going back to Neptune for this case so why spend a lot of time in Not!Neptune?). Yet the story wants us to believe that she spent nine years on the straight and narrow and then slipped completely back into the role in Neptune in a matter of days and that her personality hasn't changed at all. I think that's also the biggest barrier to entry for a non-fan watching the movie, so much of it is about what the characters have done in the past and how their lives have changed/not changed and that change vs lack of change is also my biggest problem with the movie. 

I actually plan to give this it's own blog post sometime in the upcoming month but, speaking as someone who has left their "hometown" for complicated reasons, that philosophical difference I mentioned earlier is how Veronica comes back to Neptune and really considers staying there again. The town did practically nothing good for her for the 19 years she lived there, and is possibly even more corrupt now, and yet ever cynical Veronica thinks there's a chance she can change it for the better? Perhaps if we weren't told that Veronica "didn't do the private investigator thing anymore" and instead saw that she kept working as PI to help people then it would fit but otherwise I read the movie as Veronica coming to help Logan because it's Logan, not because helping people is what she does. I also was a bit thrown by the fact that every other person is still in Neptune as well, for some characters like Wallace and the 49ers it fit, they never had as many complaints, but then you had characters like Mac who clearly doesn't like Neptune and had the skills to leave but didn't, considering this is nine years later that just didn't make any sense to me. And Weevil's ending was just plain counter-intuitive, especially since I didn't see what the point was story-wise or thematically to do it and went against what I remembered from the series, maybe the idea was to show that while some characters have "grown" (like, erm, Veronica I guess) some have "regressed" but that idea still just barely holds together. Finally, she and Piz have been dating for over nine years now and she's never met his parents? What a convenient and cheap way to build tension....

I have seen at least one person complaining that this movie had too many in-references and jokes for new fans to get into the movie and they made it sound as if this was a grievous error. Let me disagree then, while the hype surrounding the movie is a way to bring in new fans this is a sequel, one that heavily builds upon the three years and beyond of these characters lives. I consider it ludicrous for people to jump into a surprisingly plot heavy story like this cold, although they never did talk about who was the big bad of the first and second seasons so it doesn't spoil the actual conflicts. There were a few times when the references went over my head (like Veronica offers to show Piz's boss her impersonation of him, and apparently that was an actor playing himself there so there's at least one in-joke?) and other times I thought they were brilliant little nods to the fans ("I thought I heard you were in the FBI?" "Maybe in another life"). By and large however I felt like the references were winks and nods to the audiences and not the barrier to entry, that was instead the movie itself.

 I will say that I was a little impressed that the show broke its own setups that it was so fond of using, that Veronica would be close to the truth, investigates more on her own, and it goes downhill worse than you'd believe. For once Veronica was able to get out of this mess on her own and unhurt, although I was surprised by the body count in the movie (there was always a body count in the series too but at least there it was spread over 22 episodes, it's one of the noir stylings I'm not as fond of). And visually/sound-wise the movie was perfectly fine, this has never been a story that needed a really large budget, although the characters really don't look like they're nine years older when they were actors in their 20s trying to portray college students. 

So, to watch or not? If you're a fan I think the answer is clear, you want more of this show so you've probably already seen this and made plans to read/listen to the new book set after the movie as well. If you're not a fan, I think I've already made it clear that watching this movie is dumb but that I do recommend at least part of the series. While not surprised I am still sad that this story just wasn't as tight or sharp and I had hoped it could be, I'm not sure what happened but Veronica Mars a long time ago you used to be good and yet I haven't thought the same lately at all....

Monday, April 7, 2014

Anime Review: Mushi-shi

This has been on my to-watch list for years, since early college at least but since legal streaming was in it's infant stages back in 2009 by the time it was online (subbed) legally there was a whole slew of new, more colorful and exciting shows also to watch so it fell by the wayside for me. When news that there was going to be a new OVA came out I remembered I hadn't seen it yet and, since a lot of people were speculating this would lead to a second season (even though the first one came out 8 years earlier, that's a hell of a gap) I started working out my schedule to see it and yep, a new season was announced and I had only two-ish months to finish this first. I would have gotten this review up back in February actually but in February I fell into a bit of a slump and needed something a bit more distracting, more escapist to watch so here I am now, a bit belatedly, telling you to watch a show whose sequel has already started.


In this world there are things that everyone can see and other things which are only seen by a few. Those are the mushi and they intertwine and interfere with the lives of people around them regardless of who they are. And so there are the mushi-shi, people who try to solve the problems they cause and Ginko is one man whose entire life revolves around this.

Mushi-shi is not the easiest anime to talk about for all I enjoyed it, that's often how the best slice of life stories are. It's simple but not quite sweet, rough without being uncaring in a way that mimics life. This isn't the kind of supernatural stories that are popular on television, where there has been a great wrong and something is getting revenge, more often than not these stories start with an accident, although a few get worse from there. Very few of the stories are interconnected which makes it even harder to talk about the story since there aren't any great character arcs or overarching plots to discuss, although that does make the nods in the OVA to all of the first season's stories even sweeter. No, Mushi-shi hangs together in a strange way where it's connected more through themes and general tone than anything else and, since it's hard to express the whys and hows it works let me state up front that it absolutely works here. 

The show is all about its' atmosphere yet calling it atmospheric would probably give people the wrong impression. It's not dark, moody, gothic or any of those things yet it's art, music, and the stories themselves combine together to create something that goes beyond just tone and that feeling it makes defines the show itself. The show really isn't about Ginko, the titular mushi-shi, especially since while he appears in every episode sometimes he's just a very minor character, helping out another person whose already solved most of their problems already. Sometimes he is the main character and his background isn't a secret to the viewer for very long and yet the mixture of his sometimes calm demeanor and other times complete bafflement isn't the main draw of the show. It's the stories themselves that will either bring the viewers in or drive them out, it's a show you'll either love to pieces or be bored to tears by.

One problem I did have with the show's lack of connections was that sometimes it was hard to motivate myself to watch another episode, even if I really did enjoy the show. If had months and months to watch it that wouldn't have been a problem but since I was trying to not only watch it but talk about it before the new season aired I was a bit constrained and there were just some nights where I instead watched something with a lot of character drama or an over-arching story that grabbed me and made me want more of the story right this moment instead of wanting to see more sometime next week. And for that reason I can say that this show isn't for everyone, it isn't that the pacing is slow (especially since, if I'm remembering correctly, there's not a single two-parter in the entire season) but that it doesn't have quite that draw that nearly every other series out there has, even other "gentle" supernatural stories like Natsume and the Book of Friends which has a sizable cast of reoccurring characters just pulled me in a bit more. Considering how closely this ties into the tone of the story I imagine this was a deliberate, or at least expected, side-effect so I can't fault the story for poor construction here, it's just different.   

The art in Mushi-shi is very simple, to the point where I wondered if certain characters had shown up before since they looked so similar (funny enough the reoccurring characters have the most distinct appearances so I shouldn't have worried about that). The mushi look a bit more distinct but if you asked me to describe what ones from a certain episode looked like I wouldn't be able too. Just like the people, the mushi are all different but drawn in a very limited style so they all end up looking similar, quite honestly what stood out to me the most about the art were the backgrounds and the particularly lovely and haunting way the often present mountains were drawn, they reminded me quite a bit of sumi-e paintings. The opening and ending are even more limited in looks than the rest of the show, the opening is just a repeated motif of leaves rustling and each episode ends with the credits crawling over a black screen (with a different song each episode). And for those curious, yes the opening song is an English song and you can buy it on iTunes, although I must warn you that the second verse wasn't what I expected.

And for those who want to give the series a shot, the entire first season is streaming on hulu (subbed and dubbed) courtesy of Funimation. However Aniplex has picked up the just started second season (and presumably the OVA that came out earlier in 2014) and those episodes can be watched on crunchyroll instead.


Tuesday, April 1, 2014

A Note From Management

And now for a word from management: Guys when I started this year's Webcomic Review Month I knew there wouldn't be that many reviews but I never meant for the updates to get that erratic and I do apologize for that. Just started a new, 40 hour a week job and holy that leaves you with no free time, especially since my schedule is variable with no weekends off in sight. So what does that mean for this blog? I'm not sure yet, I still have a rather large backlog of stuff to review (and time every day to read or watch things on my phone, just not for writing) and I was planning on jumping back into the Nanowrimo frenzy in April since I've missed it. For the moment I plan on changing up NI's schedule just a bit, since my backlog of anime and books to review is massive I'm going to keep posting those reviews every Monday and Friday for the foreseeable future, until June at least. And then on Wednesday I'm going to alternate out between my usual tv show/movie reviews and comic book reviews since my backlogs there aren't quite as dire. If I can figure out a way to balance writing four or more reviews each week I'll go back to my earlier schedule but at this point I'd rather reduce the number of times I update instead of having half my reviews go up late.

So with that in mind, I'll see you guys next week for the new normal around here!