Saturday, December 27, 2014

Book Review: Silverblind

I probably should have mentioned it was unlikely I was going to have a post on Christmas day, I did actually intend to have one up but then I was hit by the headache monster again (and this one is late because of attack of the insane work schedule, I don't recall agreeing to 10 hour shifts when I signed my work agreement!). And next week's movie/comic review is going to be pre-empted by my end-of-year post but that has lists in it and everyone likes lists so I think this is an acceptable compromise.

Well I did it, I got a review of Silverblind out in 2014 even though I wasn't sure it was going to happen! I would like to thank the DC library system and the Montgomery County library system for making this happen (even if both of you have accused me of not returning books this year, took the DC system about 3 months to find one of them!) and again I received this book from as part of a contest. It is an ARC so somethings may be different from the final version but I am assuming that no major plot points were changed between this version and the final printing.

Silverblind by Tina Connolly

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The 12(ish) Days of Anime: ANIME I DISLIKED, 2014 EDITION

Hmm, people like lists right? And ranting uh-huh? I think I get one last good rant out about the anime I didn't like this year, specifically the shows that I was reasonably excited about seeing that had fairly strong opening episodes that then completely fell apart as they went along, yeah I think I can do that!

Monday, December 22, 2014

Cartoon Review: Over the Garden Wall

I give up, there is no way to watch this series legally online unless you're in a very specific situation. io9 has the full first episode streaming legally and the Cartoon Network website has the entire series, but unless you can log in with your cable subscriber information (and only from certain providers) you can only watch clips, that is total bullcrap and thus I pirated episodes two through ten. Clearly I didn't have to do this, I could've waited until this eventually popped up on DVD and hoped that my library would have it, hoped that it streamed on Netflix, or tried to arrange my entire free time schedule around re-airings of the show on tv but none of these are good solutions either. This has nothing to do with the show itself but I am very, very frustrated with how much harder it is for me to find American-made television legally online than it is to find anything else online, that's just dumb!

Over the Garden Wall

Sunday, December 21, 2014

The 12(ish) Days of Anime: Episode 26 of Ashita no Nadja

As I said yesterday, I still watch anime for kids and this year I had a chance to watch one of the "50 episodes of awesome" shojo shows, Ashita no Nadja. It's a really great shojo adventure show, set in either the late 1800s or early 1900s (I think the show did give an actual date late into the show, I want to say shortly before World War I), Nadja has grown up in England believing she's an orphan only to learn that her mother is alive and she joins up with a group of traveling entertainers to go all around Europe to find more clues about her. That doesn't necessarily sound like a recipe for awesome or even enough of a story to fill up 50 episodes, it's not, and the show spends quite a few episodes in it's first half going around to various countries and having the characters just meet people, it's a bit like filler but it's not unpleasant (which is one of the main complaints about filler) and nearly every character comes back later in the series anyway. But you can tell this is a Toei show because it has very important plot revelations, and emotional beats, at very specific parts of the story, the 13th, 26th, and 39th episodes which make the first quarter, first half, and three-quarters mark of the stories and that kind of pacing is something they still use in their Precure series today. And once you hit that 26th episode the show really starts to pull in it's loose ends, introduce it's true villain, and really settles in for a continuous, emotionally-wringing ride that lasts, with very few breaks, until the final episode.

But first, a breather! The 26th episode seems to start out as a breather episode, Nadja and the rest of the Dandelion Troupe are in Spain and it's hot. Everyone is taking a siesta but Nadja has a bit too much energy and so she sets off on her own and runs into an old friend Francis Harcourt, a young British nobleman who seems to be a dead ringer for the white knight who rescued Nadja in the first episode (conniving uncle sending henchmen after Nadja to steal her proof that she's the actual heir to a dukedom, I told you this was a shojo adventure after all!). He seems surprised to see her as well but it's no surprise, they're both hundreds of miles away from where they met after all and the two of them go off for a walk while everyone else sleeps.

At this point I'll mention why I thought this episode was worth singling out, not just because of it's plot significance but because it was directed by Mamoru Hosoda. Yes, the man who did Summer Wars, Wolf Children, and parts of Digimon, for some reason no one ever seems to mention that he did work on other Toei shows too! He also directed a couple of other episodes but I felt like you could see his influence the best here. The whole episode is a bit dreamy, the normally mature Nadja acts a bit more childish and like her age here (he seems to do better with young teens than young children) and Francis is a bit more withdrawn, this dreaminess has brought about both isolation and connection between the two. Francis reveals more about himself and Nadja says that this is a side of him she's never seen before, as if something about this hot summer day has made him open up in a way that she's hoped he would after all of their past encounters. 

But I have a theory, this is an important episode because it has quite a huge twist that was completely out of the blue and un-foreshadowed in any way. I knew it was coming and didn't see any clues for it, heck the show was even inconsistent with it's own visual themes so I wonder if most of the staff was unaware of the twist as well, I certainly wouldn't expect a kid's show to provide no hints at all. So I think this episode was an attempt to rectify it, after all, everything seems strange in a dream and your mind focuses on the oddest of things, why not use it to suggest that something is terribly wrong to lessen the shock of the reveal 20 minutes later just a little bit? Even the visuals seem to have gone up a little in this episode, everything from the backgrounds, the lighting, and the placement of objects in a scene fully contributes to the half-there-half-not feeling of the episode. It's a fully cohesive episode and I think it wasn't by random ordering of the schedule that Hosoda was put in charge of such a critical piece. 

(And to make it clear, I do think this was the best way to handle this problem. The show should have never written itself into such a tight corner in the first place but this was an okay attempt to rectify it. Plus the episode really let Nadja and Francis connect and work out some of their own histories and philosophies, the show isn't quite mature enough to have real themes but the character's motivations are huge in this show. Francis alone brings classism, nobless oblige, the "power" of sudden wealth, and these are all a huge impact on how Nadja grows and chooses what path she wants to walk in the world. Seriously it's a great show, not licensed but after like 12 years all of the fansubs are out!)

Saturday, December 20, 2014

The 12(ish) Days of Anime: What I want out of a kids show

I watch anime aimed at kids, specifically kids that is, and frankly I don't care about that part. Sometimes I consume media to get something deeper or more informative out of it or sometimes I want something fun, anime falls under the "fun" category 99% of the time and some kids shows are really a lot of fun without being dumb. Like, in this year's PreCure show (Happiness Charge Pretty Cure) we got plenty of silly faces from the characters, a central plot to help keep the show on course, and then an episode where the villains challenged the cures to a baseball game and one of them decided to use her magical-light-sword-thing as a baseball bat (and we have already established that I enjoy it when baseball escalates in a silly manner). Heck, Gundam Build Fighters is an amazing example of this, the show again has a central plot to keep things on track but you can tell the creators are just having fun with the references, parodies, and generally silly ideas. So the guy running the tournament really has a bone to pick with the main characters? Make their matches impossible to win, make the gunpla play baseball against each other, that'll do it!

Or on second thought, maybe I just like it when anime gets really silly about baseball. Quick, someone recommend me shows that randomly dedicate an episode to baseball and we'll see if it still amuses me!

Friday, December 19, 2014

Book Review: Blue Lily Lily Blue

For those who missed why, I had some massive headaches earlier this week/late last week which made it a bit hard to write this review, even with all the notes I had prepared for it! Hoping that doesn't happen again because goddamn that was painful.

There have been a few reviews which have been tough for me to write this year. Not because the subject matter is particularly emotional for me but simply because I find it hard to do the material justice in a review, I almost feel as if saying "just go read this, you'll like it" would be better. But that's not how I do things so I am going to try once more and talk about what ended up being my most anticipated book of 2014, the third book in the The Raven Cycle. I enjoyed the first book immensely but when I read The Dream Thieves earlier this year, during a particularly weird week of my life, I was struck by how special these books were and this book has those same special qualities to it.

Blue Lily Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The 12(ish) Days of Anime: Why Akari Yomatsuri is my spirit animal

Bones put out a fair number of anime this year, they put out split cours of both Chaika the Coffin Princess and Space Dandy, adapted part of Noragami (and for once didn't shoot themselves in the foot with an anime-original ending), and they also put out a very Bones-y mecha show, Captain Earth. I approached the show not with high expectations but fairly confident I would like it regardless which is exactly what happened, it had quite a few stumbling blocks but really pulled itself together in the second half, although it is a bit worrisome that all of Bones recent mecha shows have had the exact same plotting/pacing issues.

What I didn't expect was how hard I was going to fall for one of the characters; Captain  Earth has four leads, Daichi whose had a connection with space agency/alien fighting agency Globe since he was a child, the semi-alien Teppei and Hana, and then Akari, fully human like Daichi and the daughter of Globe's commander and of Globe's space station commander (they're divorced and don't see her regularly so she regularly hacks all of their computer systems to stay in the loop). In some ways she's the least connected to the plot, she enters the show with a strong sense of who she is already and isn't given as much character growth on screen as the other three (I half wonder if this was unintentional since at times it seemed like they writers meant to but ran out of time, see my complaint with their pacing issues). But she's easily the most fun character out of the bunch, from literally dazzling the stage as she's introduced to complaining (clearly to the audience) about how her status of magical girl in in jeopardy since she's the only one without a cute squirrel side-kick! Plus the show not only gave her a romantic relationship with Teppei but also a very strong one with Hana which a lot of shows neglect to do, they're so focused on forming relationships between the protagonist and other characters that they forget to give the more minor characters other relationships (and she totally nails it by joking with Hana that the two boys are "flirting" with each other when they compete with each other, her genre-savvyiness is pretty amusing without feeling calculated).

But her best moment comes early in the series where the alien organization (the Planetary Gears) take notice of her hacking skills and kidnap her both to help defeat Globe and to force Globe's hand, mocking her self-proclaimed magical girl nickname in the process. They have to let her near a computer to do this and really shouldn't have been surprised when she managed to find a way to retaliate against them, let's just say she was 10 minutes away from destroying the entire planet just to keep the Gears stuck in the solar system for a few hundred million years.

Do not mess with the magical girl indeed. And listen closely, while they use the nickname jokingly here the Gears use it totally seriously for the rest of the series.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Manga Review: My Little Monster (volume 4)

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I think my branch library has gotten a new employee lately who is fairly manga-savy, not just because of the "sad Naruto is over? Read these manga instead!" display but because I've seen more recent manga releases popping up in our small section recently. Obviously this was one of them, I hadn't gotten around to buying the latest volume of My Little Monster yet for, well, actually that's part of the review!

My Little Monster (volume 4) by Robico

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The 12(ish) Days of Anime: Taisho Baseball Girls

I like sports shows, I watch so many of them I cant really say otherwise, but my favorites are the ones that use the sport as a stepping off point to explore a character's life. If a show is just about a sport then why bother watching, I'd rather just play it, and Taisho Baseball Girls is about far more than baseball. Set in Taisho-era Japan, Akkiko has just been told by her fiancee that girls could never play baseball so she ropes in her best friend Koume to form a team, despite knowing nothing about the sport and practically none of their friends in an all-girls school for ladies do either. But with some pluck they form a team and the show doesn't neglect to show just how much work it is to get in shape for a sport so it is truly a sports show.

To be honest when I was a few episodes in I was a bit bored by the show and contemplated dropping it but kept going on along anyway and it wasn't until halfway through the show that it just grabbed me. The girls are having next to no luck playing other teams since there aren't any other girls' teams out there and so their ace hitter has grabbed Koume (the catcher) and the two are accosting pitchers from the guys teams late at night so she can practice hitting a bigger variety of pitches. Naturally the rest of the team wants in when they hear about it and somehow the episode ends with the entire team, trying to be incognito, chasing a bunch of neighborhood robbers around with their baseball bats. When a series manages to have something silly escalate that much there's no way I couldn't love it!


Monday, December 15, 2014

Anime Review: The 2014 Young Animator Training Project shorts

In case anyone is wondering what happened to Friday's book review, hi, I've had a headache on and off for the past four days and that has made it near impossible to assemble my notes into a full review, just pushing the whole thing back until Friday and investing in even stronger pain medicine.

It's almost the end of the fall season for anime and thank goodness, I'm really starting to run out of things to talk about since I simply don't have the free time to watch a full series right now, even a short one. However, I did remember that I didn't talk about this year's Anime Mirai shorts (if I recall correctly, one or more of them was taking forever to be fansubbed so I gave up waiting on it), one of them I was flat out uninterested in (the anthro one) but I was able to find the rest of them on youtube easily enough. Unlike 2013's Little Witch Academia, none of these are legally streaming anywhere so if you want to watch you'll also have to resort to less than savory means.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

The 12(ish) Days of Anime: Watching Anime With Friends (Or Rather, Making Them Watch Anime With You)

So Helen, why is this the 12 "ish" days of Anime instead of 12 regular days? Because I'm still doing my regular reviews these two weeks and just found out on Thursday that I'm apparently working 8 days in a row again, all of that plus other life responsibilities (sleeping, eating, job hunting, KATSUCON COSPLAY PREPARATIONS) mean this just isn't going to work otherwise.

Of course I could have taken off regular reviews for two weeks but somehow that one didn't occur to me.

In any case, for my first three years of college I attended my college's anime club pretty regularly with mixed results, I did see some cool stuff there but we also suffered from "people who think they're witty making comments when they're really not" (at least *I* waited until I got really good at snarking to do it!). Plus, by my senior year it was much more appealing to stay home after a long day of classes and watch what I wanted instead of playing Russian Roulette choosing. But during that time I also started watching shows online with friends, the only reason I stuck with Aquarion Evol was because I had a friend who had loved the first season and so we would find time to watch and message each other on skype to make it better (although half of our comments were complaining that a certain character was taking too long to die). These days it's harder than ever to coordinate with my friends to pull this off but we do try and send each other our thoughts/snarks when we can.

So I fell in love with Gundam Build Fighters earlier this year (it's gonna come up a lot in these posts, you are warned) and was telling a friend of mine who was also interested in the show just how much I loved it. I came home from work one day, tired, and a little freaked out because I had 31 facebook messages and oh my god how many people had I pissed off to make that happen. Here's what it was: 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Movie Review: Wolf Children

Again, sorry for no full anime review on Monday, I've been swamped again and having terrible luck finding some things I really want to review free, legally online without going through a hassle like I don't know, verifying whoever the heck is my cable provider these days.

So I'm a bit late getting around to this movie but when it did come out I saw reviews from reviewers I liked and realized that if most of them were negative about this movie that I was unlikely to love it either, possibly not even like it. But I'm hardly going to turn down seeing a movie for free so why not, I was sure it wasn't going to be absolutely terrible!

Wolf Children

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Book Review: Waistcoats and Weaponry

As a general heads-up, no anime/cartoon review on Monday since all of my plans to watch something have fallen short this week and I'm feeling rather grumpy about it honestly.

Like many things in life, author visits/book-signings seem to be something that happens sporadically and in groupings. I only found out about this one a week beforehand and was rather grumpy since I do own the Parasol Protectorate omnibuses and would have liked to get them signed but they were several hundred miles away from me and I didn't trust the post office to get them up to me in time. I only found out because the local indie bookstore that was helping with the events posted it in their newsletter, Carriger never goes on tour on the East Coast and didn't announce it on her blog until just two days in advance! Grumbling aside, it was a good talk and I was quite happy to spot this book just a couple of weeks later at my other library system since I still recalled some of the things Carriger said in her talk that were rather pertinent to this book!

Waistcoats & Weaponry by Gail Carriger

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Comic Review: The Shadow Hero

I heard Gene Luen Yang talk about this book at Small Press Expo 2013 and it sounded like a pretty cool idea, take an older comic which had never gotten off the ground and indulge in some fan theories by redoing it as a Chinese-American superhero for sure and just making a good story out of it. I didn't expect my library to get it but over the past few months I've started seeing more newer manga titles out there and my theory that my branch suddenly has a very savvy librarian was confirmed when I saw a "Sad that Naruto is over? Try these!" display in the window. I was walking out and glanced back over only to see this book there, doubled back, checked that these books were actually available to check out, and then headed home with one more book in an already too-full book bag, hope some other people got something good out of that display as well!

The Shadow Hero written by Gene Luen Yang and illustrated by Sonny Liew

Monday, December 1, 2014

Anime Review: Coffee Samurai and Hoshizora Kiseki

I'm not sure how but I have less and less free time these days. On paper it doesn't look like I'm trying to do that many things each day but let me tell you that job hunting is a soulless, long-winded task and between that and that the season is juuuuust about to finish but hasn't yet, I'm scrambling again. Thankfully I have (multiple!) back-up plans for these times so here is plan two: watch all of the shorts that Sentai has licensed over the years that are streaming on Hulu. Like the last time I did this (with Cocient and Five Numbers) I'm doing two at once and once again I am reminded of just how much harder it seems to be to tell a good, short story than a good, longer story.