Monthly Archives: January 2011

Some Thoughts on Two Anthologies

Okay, over the past two and three weeks, I have read two Ann and Jeff Vandermeer anthologies- 2008’s The New Weird and Steampunk. To be honest, I am torn about these two anthologies. On the one hand, both anthologies have some really strong and great stories. But on the other hand, both anthologies are hampered by the inclusion of academic essays that reflect upon both steampunk and the new weird.

Starting with Steampunk, I found myself not enthralled with most of the stories I read. The best ones, in my opinion, are: Jay Lake’s “The God-Clown is Near,” Joe Landsdale’s “The Steam Man of the Prairie and the Dark Rider,” and Ted Chiang’s “Seventy- Two Letters.” All of these tales are steampunk, but also new weird.

Moving on to The New Weird, the best tale, by far in my opinion, is China Mieville’s “Jack.” The bright new star of the anthology is Alistair Rennie with his amazing (and disgusting) “The Gutter Sees the Light That Never Shines” (a pity that I haven’t found anything else by him). Other good tales are Jay Lake’s “The Lizard of Ooze” and Simon D. Ings’s “The Braining of Mother Lamprey.” I will admit that I did not read the last two sections because they are academic and too postmodern.

In my last post, I have mentioned that I enjoy swords and sorcery. I also enjoy steampunk and the new weird (even if the new weird is practically an already dead genre, but isn’t it actually more of a style than a genre?). Indeed, I am as inspired by China Mieville as I am by Robert E. Howard and Clark Ashton Smith.

Thinking about the new weird, I think that Jeff Vandermeer has a point, but he over complicates it. The new weird is a merger, an uncertain alliance of fantastic science fiction, fantasy, and horror. And then you throw in as many postmodern and literary techniques that one can (with out being too over the top).  The point about the new weird, and where it succeeds, is that it allows for a more literary, more poetic language.

So, while I am disappointed in both anthologies, I have discovered many new writers that I will look out for. And that is really one of the reasons that anthologies exist for, don’t you think?

With that out of the way. My next post will be. . . Part One of my Bas-Lag Reading Project- I’m tackling, The Scar!

Thoughts on Robert E. Howard’s Birthday

This past weekend, Robert E. Howard would have been 105 years old. In a way, I feel terrible for not having something more to say, some interesting insight into his work that no one else has. But I don’t. The best essays commemorating Howard have come from Blackgate Magazine. Especially the piece by Matthew David Surridge (Northrop Frye’s Anatomy of Criticism is still a classic in my book, by the way).

So, what does Howard represent for me? A fount of inspiration, a key to worlds undreamed of, a mixing and merging into a prehistory that never was. As a budding writer interested in sword and sorcery, Howard is the foundation, the legend that all have tried and failed to surpass.

That is Robert E. Howard. His life was too short, but his influence will live on.

Super Bowl Set!

The Super Bowl has been set. Green Bay and Pittsburgh won their respective championship games, so they are on their way to Dallas. Congratulations to Green Bay, for being the first 6 seed to make the Super Bowl, and congrats to the N.F.L. for making sure the Super Bowl will be a story of redemption, instead of a game between two well deserved underdogs. If you can’t tell by that last statement, I am not now nor have i ever been a Steelers fan, and i am definitely not a Rottenburger fan. I’m going to go more in depth with a deeper prediction later on in the week, so for now i will go ahead and state publicly Packers 35, Steelers 31….in Overtime…

Kaze no Stigma Anime Review

To begin, Kaze no Stigma (dir. Junichi Sakata 2007) is an adaptation of Takahiro Yamato’s light novel series of the same name. Having just finished the series, I have to say that I enjoyed it, warts and all.

Kaze no Stigma tells the tale of Kazuma Yagami (formerly Kannagi), a wind mage from a long line of fire mages. The demands of the Kannagi family force Kazuma’s disownment and continuing resentment towards his father. Joined by his younger brother Ren and his distant cousin Ayano, Kazuma undertakes a series of magic related mysteries.

The credits to the dubbed version of the series raise an interesting question as to who the actual protagonist of the series is. Clearly, the title implies that Kazuma is the main protagonist but frequently Ayano is the point of view character. In all probability, both are “main” protagonists with Kazuma being Ayano’s mentor/ love interest and Ayano being Kazuma’s foil/ love interest(?). Depending on who the viewer sees as the main protagonist may color how one views the series as a whole.

The characters themselves are very well realized save for a few instances. Genma (Kazuma and Ren’s father) shows little emotional growth. Indeed, who really is the “child” in that father-son dynamic? And Ayano herself does not seem to grow as much as she should. She basically stays emotionally the same throughout the series (of course this is needed for the comedic aspects of the series).

The voice acting is very well done save for some of the minor character parts. Robert McCollum is especially good as Kazuma and Cherami Leigh is equally as good as Ayano.

Kaze no Stigma is divided into four or five story arcs (I have some questions as to whether episodes 13 through 16 constitute an arc or a series of filler episodes).  Each arc is very well done and keeps the viewers interest. My personal favorite is the third arc, but the final arc has a lot of awesomeness to it.

I have to admit that there is a fanservice issue (which is made rather ironically hilarious by Ayano’s beatdowns of peeping toms and other perverts). There is quite a lot of fanservice, especially regarding Ayano and other female characters. And for the audience that would prefer Kazuma over Ayano, there are several scenes with him shirtless. Check out the episode entitled “Father and Son.”

So, to conclude Kaze no Stigma is an entertaining anime adaptation. It’s a pity that Yamato’s death left the series unfinished.

Nabari no Ou Anime Review

For my first post of the year, I reviewed the first tankobon volume of Nabari no Ou by Yuhi Kamatani. At the same time, Hulu provided the dubbed version of the series on their website for a limited time (and can be found on Funimation’s website as well). Liking the first volume, I decided to watch the series as well.

To recap the basic plot, Miharu Rokujou is a middle school student living in the small town of Banten. He is the possessor of the Shinra Banshou and the target of every (or just about) ninja faction out there. This is complicated by the fact that Miharu develops a strong emotional attachment to Yoite, a member of the antagonistic Kairoshu.

The series (2008 dir. Kunihisa Sugishima) is a delight to watch. The animation is almost as good as Kamatani’s art is in the first volume. The characters are rendered beautifully, the landscapes are great, and the action is well done.

I am also impressed with the dubbing. The voice actress for Miharu, Brina Palencia, struggles a bit in the first few episodes, but does an excellent job from there as she grows into the role. The rest of the cast does a nice job in their roles, but I am curious about the choice of a male voice actor for Yoite rather than a female one. But I don’t mind it that much because I think that Joel McDonald does a fantastic job of voicing Yoite.

The music is very good, especially the opening theme song and the second closing theme. While I like the music, some of the internal soundtrack sounds borrowed from X.

On the whole, the adaptation is excellent. It does not drag and keeps my interest during all of the arcs that make up the series.  Almost every episodes has me on the edge of my seat with anticipation.

One of my issues with the series is that Miharu is recast into more of a non combatant role. In the first volume of the manga, Miharu clearly knows how to use shinobi techniques and does use them to fight. However, in the anime, he is largely relegated to hiding unless the shinra banshou makes an appearance. I did not find myself liking this.

Reading reviews of the first two volumes of Nabari no Ou on the website of Otaku USA, I found an interesting insight: I was watching Nabari and thinking Naruto. The reviewer pointed out Shinji Ikari. I can see her point that Miharu is rather like Shinji Ikari in that he does not want to engage in the heroics demanded of and forced upon him (unlike other shonen manga in which the young protagonist jumps at adventure). Even so, I do think that the core “team” of Nabari is meant to reference Team Seven.

This difference, this introduction of a different kind of protagonist, makes the series seem so much more interesting and complex. This can be seen in a number of ways: Miharu’s choices, the cute and ultimately bitter sweet relationship of Miharu and Yoite, and the ambiguous question of everyone’s agendas make the series that much better.

In the end, Nabari no Ou is a fantastic series to watch and I highly recommend it.

DC Universe Online Beta Review and Thoughts

As my just returned co-writer has stated, I’m going to deliver a review of the beta for the soon to be released MMORPG DC Universe Online. The game aims to allow players to interact with the DC Universe by creating their own heroes and villains. This follows The Age of Conan and Star Trek Online games that have been released over the past few years.

Now, I am not a gamer by any leap of the imagination. I have played a few games to completion, but only a few. Most of my game experience comes from watching my brother play.

That disclaimer out of the way, I have to say that I have played DC Universe Online more than any other game recently.

The game, the world, sucks you right in to being a hero or a villain. My own choice (the character I played as most often) was a wizard being mentored by Circe. My brother tended to be heroes with characters under Batman and Superman.

And let me tell you, it is easier being the villain! Life can occasionally be restored during missions, post knock out respawning is often nearer to one’s mission location, and the NPC side kick is often more helpful (or at least Brother Blood). That said, being a hero has its advantages, I just don’t know what they are.

The best part about the game is the immersive world and the visuals of Metropolis and Gotham. The cityscapes are just stunning and amazingly well done. My only complaint is that Metropolis is always day and Gotham always night. Hopefully the time changes in both in the actual game.

As my co-writer stated, the game can be frustrating despite the fun. The boss battles are tough- especially when you don’t know how to renew life.  Both me and my brother had to quit several times to avoid getting too frustrated. And the amount of life (and the durability of the character) is variable. At times, nothing can touch you (or inflict a lot of damage) or only a few hits and you are out. This inconsistency is a drawback that needs more attention paid to it.

Another issue is the text graphics. How am I supposed to know what to do if I cannot actually read the text?

Many of the problems, I think, could be solved if, during the tutorial, more attention is paid to giving the player more instruction on how to play the game.

Finally, I don’t know if I want to buy the game itself. The monthly subscription fee is a turnoff and I don’t know whether or not I would actually want to continue playing it for months or years to come.

Remember Me??

I’M BACK!!!! I’m not going to try to explain my extended hiatus in too much detail, all I’m really going to say is I got extremely burnt out on trying to justify my football predictions, not to mention the ridiculous state of professional wrestling from the past few months or so. I have decided that I am going to drop any filters I may have had on myself, and just start writing my honest opinions and thoughts toward certain subjects. But that can all start next week, this post is all about celebrating the greatness that I didn’t cover, and looking forward into this new year.

I would like to talk for a minute about the greatest thing that has happened to television in a very long time, and no, I’m not talking about Oprah’s ego-trip network. I’m talking about The Walking Dead. If you would have told me this time last year that a zombie apocalypse survival horror television show was coming, I probably would have laughed in your face, and said that it would never work. And boy would I have been wrong. The Walking Dead is now the measuring stick to which I will judge any new show. If I can’t say “Wow, that hooked me like The Walking Dead did.” then I probably won’t be tuning in for episode two.

Boy was I wrong about my NFL picks this year! I honestly hope no one took my advice to Vegas, because you’d probably would have had to take out a second mortgage on your house to pay the bookies. I still haven’t given up hope that I can still pick a winner, so here it is…..Philadelphia and Kansas City all the way!!! And before you say WTF!! Just let me say this, I picked a few of the favorites during the season ( I’m looking at you Dallas) and they’re now picking in the top ten in the draft…

The DC Universe Online beta was released a few weeks ago, so that also distracted me for awhile. You’re going to hear more about this later on today from my gracious and very knowledgeable co-writer in crime, who stepped up and took control of this here blog when I decided to take my hiatus. Where was I? Oh yeah, DCUO…I have never played an MMO, and I have little experience with the RPG genre of video games, but I felt like this game was extremely approachable, even for people with minimal experience, as my co-writer will touch on a bit more in his beta review. Also, the graphics were decent enough for me, and the create a character was quite deep, although it could have had more costume selections, but for the beta I was happy with the selection. I did find it frustrating at times, but I attribute that more to the lack of any shred of patience I have, especially when it comes to gaming. Overall, I found it to be quite enjoyable, both to play and to watch.

This concludes my happy fun time for all post about good things, next time you see me, it’s no more Mr. Kind- of- nice- at -times- guy. The gloves are coming off and going in the closet, I’m going to go bare knuckle on the things that I didn’t like during my hiatus, and there was a lot.

Trigun Review

I had originally wanted to do an in depth analysis of the anime series Trigun (Yasuhiro Nightow creator, 1998) rather than a review. Instead, I think that I am going to try and hit both.

Trigun is a space western set on a desert planet about a hundred thirty years after humans colonized the planet.  The series protagonist is Vash the Stampede, a “humanoid typhoon” with a ridiculously large bounty on his head. Vash is joined by Meryl Stryfe and Milly Thompson of the Bernadelli Insurance Society (as his frequent companions) and Nicholas D. Wolfwood (an occasional companion). Together, they travel the world seeking to non lethally right wrongs and create as much mayhem as possible.

Don’t get me wrong, the series is wonderful and I love it. But there are some nagging issues that just weaken the experience of watching Trigun.

The story is a good one with a great built in challenge for Vash: he refuses to kill and will go out of his way, even to the greatest level of ridiculousness, to avoid giving fatal injury. Honestly, this is a great means of making things harder for a perhaps too powerful protagonist. But it also causes as much problems as it solves when the choice to not kill is both shoved down the viewers’ throats as the only way and creates a rather silly (in my opinion) conflict between Vash and his twin brother, Knives.

But the worst, the absolutely most annoying, element of the series lies with the villains. I’m not talking about BDN and some of the earlier antagonists, they were very well done. I’m talking about the Gung Ho Guns and Legato Bluesummers and Knives in particular. They just make no sense to me. Of course Knives does not care about the lives of his subordinates given that he hates humans and they are human (of course that raises the question of why they even work for him or Legato in the first place). Legato in particular comes off as frustratingly puzzling. In the end, what really were they after? Not a whole terribly lot. And the final confrontation between the brothers is disappointment alley.

The strongest and most interesting characters in the series are Meryl, Milly, and Nicholas. The strongest stretch of episodes lie roughly before “Rem Saverem.” The succeeding episodes are on the whole not generally as good save for “Paradise” and “Sin.”

Personally, I think the problem comes down to the series being rushed. The first episodes are largely episodic with a few arcs appearing while the final episodes form a darker arc. Either the series should have been more episodic or devoted more to the central arc of Vash and Knives.

Trigun is the anime adaptation of the manga series Trigun and Trigun Maximum. However, given that the adaptation came out in the late nineties and the series did not end until 2007, it is understandable if the adaptation splits off from the manga story line (X, Fullmetal Alchemist, Nabari no Ou, etc. all have deviated from the manga). To be honest, I think more episodes than twenty six are needed to do the narrative justice.

In the end, I still enjoy Trigun and rank it highly on my list of favorite anime series. But I also recognize that it has numerous flaws that hamper the execution of the show.

 

Hetalia Axis Powers and Nabari no Ou reviews

Yesterday, I had a very productive manga reading experience and managed to read the first volumes of Hetalia Axis Powers and Nabari no Ou. I have to say that I highly enjoyed both and have every intention of collecting other volumes in both series.

 

Hetalia Axis Powers by Hidekaz Himaruya

Imagine a world in which the various states, nations, and empires are anthropomorphized into human avatars. What would Italy, Russia, Japan, America, and all the other nations be like as people? That is what Himaruya’s Hetalia Axis Powers explores with an almost psychotic humor.

Originally envisioned as a series of short web comics, Hetalia has, in recent years become an international phenomenon. I myself first discovered Hetalia through its too brief anime series. The tankobon volume (and the anime) are composed of numerous one page comic strips (or skits) with the largest being a few pages (several episodes). This helps to create a frenetic pace in reading (and makes this reader/ viewer at least wish it did not go by so quickly).

The strongest element of Hetalia is the satiric and humorous take on history that Himaruya has. Taking an example from one of my favorite strips (and wars): “Chaos at Daybreak” is about the War of the Austrian Succession. In the strip, Silesia is implied to be Austria’s genitals, which Prussia has captured. The strip ends with Hungary (one of the few female nation avatars, and the only one named in this volume) breaking into Prussia’s house and ordering him to give her back her “happy place.”

The weakest part of the volume is in the artwork itself. To me, the consistency of the art is a little concerning. Some strips are absolutely beautiful, but others come off as being extremely sketchy (literally). It is not a major non buying point, but it can be annoying at times.

The most annoying thing about the volume is Tokyopop’s production of the physical book itself. Occasionally, the text runs into the binding and I found it irritating having to bend the binding to read the notes to the strips.

That quibble aside, Hetalia is great and a must read, in my opinion.

 

Nabari no Ou by Yuhki Kamatani

I really can’t write a review that states “I love this book” one hundred times. But I do love this book.

Having recently come to its end in Japan (depending how Yen Press schedules its releases, there should be a few more years of new tankobon in the US), Nabari no Ou is a shonen ninja manga. Set in present day Japan, the manga follows Miharu as he unwillingly becomes the target of various shinobi factions who seek the “Shinra Banshou” which is located in Miharu’s body.

The interesting thing about Miharu is that he is indifferent about the whole thing. He really is uninterested and apathetic about the whole situation. At the same time, he is rather devilish in some of his actions (the comedic relief, which is hilarious at times). This indifference seems to recede a little at the end of the volume, but where things go from there, I haven’t read yet.

The artwork is excellent. There is a detail and lushness that is quite powerful. One of the better drawn mangas that I have read.

I can’t wait to collect the rest of the volumes in this series.

 

 

That is it for this double review. Expect an analysis of Trigun sometime this week. And after Guns, Germs, and Steel expect the second of my Bas-lag reading project to begin.