salinea: Storm facepalming (oy)
I thought it was bad.

The first half was actually okay. Enough to raise up my hope so I could be disappointed by the second half, basically.

more details, including spoilery ones )
salinea: Two woman dancing together "dance with me" (dance with me)
For [personal profile] meganbmoore and [personal profile] veleda_k

To be honest, this wasn't a great year for anime and I was getting a bit disgusted with it by the end of spring. Summer was mostly crap too, except it had those two AWESOME show. So I guess there was that.

For the Winter shows that I mentioned before and which ended this year... Psycho Pass and From the New World are two that stand out as very well done, very terrifying dystopia which I'm disappointed in because I find them morally bankrupt. They have weird similarities underneath a very different style, too:
They both follow a heroine whose biggest distinction is an ability for emotional stability and recovery from psychological trauma. This ability, as recognized by their society, grants them special dispensation and decisional status.
They both end up having the heroines nominally repudiate the horrible control of their dystopia by the end, but really only for the form, while supporting them in their actions because the enemy they face, who try to uproot the horribly controlling dystopic societies are obviously manipulative, murderous bastards. Said enemies are the only genuine opponents to the dystopic society we ever really see (there are hints of more in one episode of Psycho Pass but it's n ever followed up on), therefore it seems to tacitly say that people's alternatives are between embracing horribly murderous and controlling dystopic societies or condoning horrible acts of murder in order to oppose them, despite the nominal rejections of the former we see in the ending. That's what I felt was morally bankrupt.
Of the two, I liked From the New World more, I found it much more fresh and original in its world building, with a much more interesting and genuine sense of horror (which kept getting deeper and more existential as we went in); whereas Psycho Pass' cyberpunk and gory aesthetics felt at times rather smug and patronizing. People who prefer Psycho Pass would probably rightly emphasize its heroine great agency in the plot by the ending. But they're both very well done stories, with excellent character work, atmosphere building and world building; and both are great SF works. Too bad that they end up being so conservative in the end in effect :/ I'm not even sure that was intentional (well it might have been with Psycho Pass, but I don't get the feeling from From the New World)

The second season of Chihayafuru was very, very good, although with a very different pacing from the first one. A lot of it was taken with a tournament arc, although it still feel as fresh as ever, with great, subtle characterization. We also got a few new characters, which I liked a lot, especially Sumire. And also loved all the developments to Shinobu. I hope there'll be more anime someday. I need to try out the manga too.

As for Zetsuen no Tempest, I felt it had a pretty weak ending. Overall it was weird, rather entertaining show, which sometimes delighted in doing quirky, anti-climatic stuff. I also loved the way Aika was characterized as the "already dead at the start little sister". She's not as awesome as Lia de Beaumont, but she was pretty cool ;) but yeah, often it was just... weird and not particularly coherent. Although, if several billions of the world population die in the middle of the show, I'd like to have more of a feel for that having happened >_>; mass slaughters with no real effect to the world is starting to be one of my peeves. I blame comics.

For the other shows I watched this year...
In the "why did I watch that again?" category, there was Karneval and Valrave S1 (I didn't actually watch the S2 which is currently broadcasting).

Karneval is a steampunk show has bishounens and pretty aesthetics and very little else. It's one of those show that tries to float by with cute charadesigns and tropish characterizations and thoroughly failed at plot. I mean, it did try to have a plot, it was just mostly incoherent and badly thought of, kind of mildly pleasant to watch if you didn't care too much about the plot or pacing though.

Valrave is space mecha/political drama/bodyjacking vampire show. It is a pretty weird case of trying to be like Code Geass but with a boring lead, more creepy gender dynamics (it's pretty infamous on the internet as The One in Which the Main Character Rapes a Girl) and not as interesting politics (it might get better in the second season). It did do a couple of things that were interesting, especially with the two female leads, and it did have a rather over the top "what the fuck" quality that made it interesting, but it's mostly a failure. (And I'm one of the people who think that despite being flawed, Code Geas was not a trainwreck).

Another SF mecha show, Gargantia was slightly more successful, in that it does end up being a mostly coherent story from start to finish, despite having an extremely weak middle. This one revolves around a genetically programmed space soldier who is shipwrecked with his mecha (and its AI) on a peaceful, low tech, sea covered planet. It's biggest failure, IMHO, is that it never properly lives up to the brilliance that was the first episode. It sets up some interesting things about cultural clashes and learning to communicate, but then is more interested in cute girls and cheap jokes to really pull it off. Then it ends up with info dumping a lot of interesting SF stuff about the history of the world and resolve them overly quickly. Wasted potential overall.

I watched a couple episodes of another mecha show before dropping it, and also the show in which they wish they had mechas, Attack on Titan, but quickly found myself bored/uninterested in either.

I also watched Red Data Girl, a shoujo romance with a supernatural premise about a girl who has a special connection to a powerful Goddess getting sent to a highschool for people with an affinity with the occult. I rather liked it, although it's a little bit weak and badly paced. The heroine is a very much on the overly timid and lacking confidence side, but I thought that made her character journey all the more interesting; and it had an interesting atmosphere.

And I watched an action shounen, Zettai Karen Children: The Unlimited; mostly because I wanted to watch the show about not!Magneto and the not!Brotherhood of mutants, which it was wonderfully and crackfully entertaining as. It's also pretty fun and entertaining on its own right. Anyway, it's a spin off of Zettai Karen Children, a not!X-Men manga, which is supposed to be quite a bit too much on the loli, harem & comedy side to be something I'd be interesting in watching or reading; but The Unlimited is much more of a traditional shounen in mood, with a more dramatic tone and the lolicon jokes kept to a minimum. It did a few clever things with the plot, especially with the contrast of the PoV lead, a guy who joins the not!Brotherhood of Mutants at random but is actually infiltrating into them to spy and undermine them, and his reaction to Hyobu Kyosuke, the charismatic leader of radical mutant ESPer organisation, who is interesting in his own right although he's very much ridiculously overpowered (I mean, even compared to Magneto!!!), and very entertainingly mischievous and trollish as well as bombastically awesome. Overall, I found this to be a lot of fun.
Remembering my reactions to it, I'm very much glad we're finally getting a Magneto ongoing soon in comics ^_^

And at last the two great shows from this summer:
Gatchaman CROWDS is a weird beast. In name it's a part of a very old sentai franchise, although it was really conceived as a story separately and tied to the franchise for production reason and doesn't end up having all that much to do with it. It is a pretty awesome reconstruction of superhero tropes in many ways, although it doesn't even have all that much action in it. It's one of the very rare case with an aspirational character as lead which I actually liked. I found it extremely thematically brilliant, in particular; although it also have a great visual style, a very catchy sountrack and some great characters. It does suffer a bit of a rushed ending (which might be fixed in the DVD release and/or planned second season) and of some characters being not as developped than others. But otherwise, I really found it brilliant. It's one of the most positive and empowering story I have ever seen on the topic of heroism. And it tackles the theme of heroism in the age of crowdsourcing especially in a way I found especially fascinating, inspiring and democratic. A lot of the discussions I've seen about it revolves around the lead, Hajime, who is incredibly upbeat and cheerful and also unbearingly independently minded (she tends to do what she decides is best, disregarding others opinions unless they give her a good justification); and - weirdly enough - not a PoV character, which makes her nearly hermetic at times. Careful watching does show her being extremely smart, observant and intuitive in her decision making; but she's actually pretty bad at communicating straightforwardly, so I understand why watchers sometimes found her frustrating. She is a little bit overly perfect at times (as I said, she is an aspirational character rather than an identifying one) but I still found her interesting. My emotional interest, however, was mostly triggered by Rui, who is introduced a few episodes in, as a not-quite-antagonist character and who is very earnestly, very passionately believes in saving people but has a lot more obvious emotional weaknesses in the way he holds himself.

Uchouten Kazoku is not quite slice of life urban fantasy show set in Kyoto, adapted of the same novelist who did the also excellent Tatami Galaxy. It revolves around a family of Tanuki, 4 brothers and their mother, who are held as losers since the death of their father who was a pillar of the community. We especially follow the third brother, a laid back guy, as he takes care of his sensei, a bad tempered Tengu with a bad back, is teased to death by the human woman who learned magic from the Tengu, and deals with his family. It is gorgeous, with brilliant characterization, multi-layered relationships, wonderful storytelling, and great production value. It handles both comedy and emotionally poignant moments with brio. Can't think of any reason not to watch it. It did have a properly great conclusion, although it still made me yearn for more at the ending (there will be more novels but I don't think any ready for more animation anytime soon, sadly.) I don't have all that much to say about it, but it's just very, very good.

Of the Autumn shows I'm currently watching, there's mostly Kill La Kill (which is pretty insane in an over the top ridiculous way but also very clever and filled to the brink with political commentary IN A VERY WEIRD WAY. Also sexual objectification.) and Tokyo Ravens (a supernatural shounen series, in which I like most of the characters a lot but which isn't going anywhere yet in terms of plot and has annoying harem dynamics). Will have more to say about both once they'll be wrapped up. I also watched Samurai Flamenco for a while, but kinda got bored with it.

This year I also watched Sailor Moon S & R, which was wonderful. I did love Michiru and Haruka a lot. I also really loved Chibi Usa which I didn't think would be so hardcore as she turned out. That girl is wickedly brave and underhanded which is awesome. And also Hotaru! I had never really been told about Hotaru and her epic love story with Chibi Usa!!! There are a lot of hilarious quirky villains ([personal profile] runespoor decided that Eudial went off to work for Tony Stark after her apparent demise, which why not). It was funny to see all the... idiosyncrasies that I associate with Revolutionary Girl Utena appear more and more in episodes. I ended up a bit disappointed by the final for reasons which have more to do with reminding me of Magik's fate in Inferno (see my rant on it here). But overall, great stuff!! I dunno if I should watch the further seasons since as far as I've heard it all goes downhill from there.

I also watched Eden of East, a pretty weird political thriller series about an anmesia guy with a weird cellphone which holds money enough to fulfill all his wish as he's apparently taking part in a weird context to change Japan and the girl he meets who helps him out. That one has an interesting premise and some nice storytelling, and, at heart, a political critique that I didn't feel it really went far enough or consistent enough in order to tackle properly. A bit like Gatachaman CROWDS (which it suffers in comparison of) it talks of crowdsourcing and online communities pulling resources together as a source of positive change for the world, but actually felt pretty backward and anti-democratic in the way it tries to pull it through. Couldn't quite decide whether to be optimistic or cynical, I guess. Disappointing, although it's still a very interesting and mostly very well done anime.

For the most part, I did a lot of rewatch this years. I'm just listing them:
12 Kingdoms
Kaleido Stars S2 + OAV
Darker than Black: Gemini of the Meteor
Neon Genesis Evangelion
Seirei no Moribito
Slayers
Slayers NEXT
Towards the Terra
Slayers Try
Hikaru no Go
N°6
salinea: Two woman dancing together "dance with me" (dance with me)
First! Did I ever got around to plugging [community profile] comics_reviews_etc and [livejournal.com profile] comicsmod? Comics_reviews_etc, modded by the lovely [personal profile] bethbethbeth is a community for discussions and reviews of comics issues for people craving meta and discussions (where has all the meta gone?); and comicsmod is a comics anon meme. They both look pretty neat!!

Second, short meta/rant I wrote on tumblr about the events regarding Daken at the end of Remender's Uncanny X-Force
spoilers for UXF's final )

And third, I wrote a review for the first six issues of All New X-Men over on [community profile] comics_reviews_etc
salinea: Emma Frost, sitting comfortably (chill)
I caught up with volume 6 of Ooku, and while it continues being very good; it does feel like the big edge and quality of the manga faded out after the first two or three volumes. The point of the gender reversal in the setting is less prominent and it becomes a lot of political & some romantic intrigues with too many characters that it is hard to keep track of.

I've also caught up with vol 4-6 of Black Rose Alice, and while I love, it is very very id ficcy.

I also read the second volume of Brides Story, and it's still ridiculously good and gorgeous. Lots of wonderful silent panels that are so expressive and they went and OMG the scenes about the embroidery motives transmitted through generation *GUSH* I kind of love that the author sort of apologises in the annex about fan service. Oh, Kaoru Mori, here, you have my express permission to put in as many female naked bodies in anything you do as you want. Srsly she draws the best naked female bodies ever.

Inanna's Tears
It's a decent story (though the person who decided on the font of the first few pages should be shot), but not as good as what I was hoping. It lacks something, I dunno, some sort of twist to truly make it a story. It's all too predictable.

So I did go a read Stumptown (it's shorter than Q&G), at least the first one (is the second a mini too? I think I'll wait for it to be over to read it); and it's brilliant. Don't have much to say beyond that ^^

Did I mention reading the recently finished run of New Mutants yet? I don't see it in this thread so I assume not. I remember the first time I tried it, while I was starting to get into Marvel, and I was confused and had a hard time getting into it. Man, it is so much better when you already know and like the characters!! Wells' run overall is excellent, very strong and focussed and epic. DnA's has a much more hazier sense of plot and characterisation although it does also have good moments (at least they did try to develop Cypher past bringing him back even if some of those development were weird and still lacking the answer to the question "did anybody bother telling his parents he's not longer dead?"). Some very random shipping though.

Also I read the first volume of Peter Madsens' Valhalla which is... hmm, less good than I was expecting? A bit too much of the sort of humour I don't care much for; but still good and funny.

Iron Man - Armor Wars
Solid enough story, but not very engaging. I think I might just have to give up on Iron Man and stick to fanfics when it comes to him.

Himitsu: the Revelation v5-9
So long since I'm catching up with this one. As always the stories are very good in all their dark & morbid glories (and the storytelling so much more understated than the animated adaptation, what a relief!), with some very fine tension and horror. I'm struck by how much more slashy than I remembered it is though. And somewhat surprised that I don't remember any of the stories from the anime, I guess they made up quite a few.

Also Captain America & Black Widow which was pretty good, if a little bit... quick? I dunno, not everything was, but sometimes it skipped forward in time in a way that felt a bit off. Anyway good characterizations and good use of alternate universe and alternate characters.
I think I ended up shipping evil!Natasha with the person she was working for ^^

Emperor Doom, brilliant in a tragi-comic way and loads of fun.

Super Villain team-up 1-4 (The one with Namor & Doom)
Loads of fun! Those two are so cute together.

Doctor Strange & Doctor Doom: Triumph & Torment
Holy shit that was good. Gorgeous art, gorgeous storytelling, brilliant characterisation. A beautiful bittersweet tragedy lacking the usual comedic tone that Doom's usually got but without trading them for lack of clarity.
The only thing I disliked was the way all the multicultural magicians were made to look like fools and then fawning all over Strange.
Anyway I ended up posting some scans & commentary of this one on tumblr if anyone's interested: http://demoiselledefortune.tumblr.co...ph-and-torment
salinea: (Default)
The last third of 2012, I spent watching a lot of anime with [personal profile] runespoor. A lot of those were rewatches for me, and I don't have much to say besides that I still love Utena and Princess Tutu to death, that the lack of Michiko e Hatchin fics is criminal, and that I can't help but love Code Geass to death despite a lot of flaws, also Kaleido Stars was even better than I remembered and I should go seriously hunt for fics some day. And Dark than Black is good. And so's Skip Beat! but it doesn't go far enough into the manga.

But there was also some new to me stuff:

Puella Magica Madoka
A deconstructive and dark take on Magical Girls, in a very Faustian way. Read more... )

Mahou Shoujo Lyrical Nanoha
Magical Girl meets Science Fiction seinen, with friending everyone for greater justice and also overwhelming weaponry.
Read more... )

Sailor Moon S1
With a skip-the-filler rec list. I was a little bit bored with it at the beginning although it was cute and funny; but it really gets into its groove by the second arc and then you get really attached to the characters and the story and the emotional moment and you realise why it's so iconic a series for so many people.
Both [personal profile] runespoor and I turned into very big fan of Zoisite.

Oban Star Racer
Actually a French cartoon, albeit one with a lot of anime like visual style and genre convention ;)
A Science Fiction racing pod series about a young girl who wants to connect back with her abandoning asshole of a father who gets thrust as a result into the big racing game that will determine the geopolitical balance of the whole Galaxy for the next 10,000 years and thus could save the earth from the evil aliens who'd like to conquer it.
Read more... )

On my own I watched:
Chihayafuru: An anime series of this year, about a girl trying to found a club for the obscure Japanese card game of Karita that's she's passionate about, along with her unlucky childhood friend.
Read more... )

The House of the Eliotts S1 & a good 2/3 of S2
So somewhere on failfandom_anon I saw someone saying they couldn't get into Downton Abbey because they kept hoping for it to be House of the Eliotts. Since my own watching of Downton Abbey I kept hoping for it to be something else, I thought perhaps I could enjoy this more.
And it is very good. It's certainly much less sentimental than Downton Abbey (which is what I hate most about that series), and while it is still pretty soappy at times, it doesn't feel like it goes completely unbelievable (yet).
It's a Brittish series from the '90s. The story is set in the '20s, and focusses on two upper middle class young women as their controlling and overly forbidding father has just died and they have to find out how to live on their own, and finally enjoy their freedom, and set up a fashion house. It's really great in term of development of female characters and their relationships.
I don't think they handle class issues any better than Downton Abbey does, though, and possibly worse; though they get more into that in the second season and I'm curious to see where it'll lead.

Terriers
An American buddy private detective show set in San Diego. Excellently well done, a shame it only had one season before cancellation. One of the main character is a recovering Alcoholic who lost his job as a cop and had his marriage broken by his addiction; the other is a former thief.
Read more... )

X-Men Evolution S4
And I finally finished the last season. Had some difficulty with that because I was really getting sick of the bad characterisation of some characters and mishandling of the X-Men themes by the end. Not only did they mess up with Magneto, Pietro, Wanda, Storm and Mystique, but they also managed to fuck up with Gabby and Legion at which point there is just no forgiveness.
The second season will remain my favourite part of the series.

And for the anime series I watched this Autumn season:
Kami-sama Kiss: A very cute romcom about a young highschool girl who just lost her home due to eviction who becomes the new God of the Land (despite being human) at a local shrine, and then has to deal with her new temple familiar, a bad tempered, acidic tongued wild fox.
Read more... )

K (may have a second season somewhere down the line): A urban fantasy series revolving around two magical groups skirmiching against one another - one is a gang, the other are rules-bound and uniforms-clad - the mysterious young happy-go-lucky student who may or may not be evil (spoiler alert: he turns out to be a Nazi scientist, but a nice one. Bet you didn't see that coming. Yeah, I'm spoiling you guys because I don't think people want to watch series where the protagonist turns out to be a Nazi scientist, surprise!, especially a nice one) and the samurai who is looking for him in order to kill him (if he is evil).
Read more... )

Zetsuen no Tempest (still on going): This one revolves around two highschool student who are childhood friend, one is a reckless, selfish hotheaded, and the other - our viewpoint character - is more levelheaded and somewhat manipulative; as they get involved into a big epic magical showdown that involves Lovecraftian fruits turning whole cities' populations into metal and a Magical Princess exiled on a desert island communicating with out protagonist with a "voodoo" doll. Also there was the hotheaded's sister who died a year ago, and his resulting quest for vengeance, and our protagonist hiding a key fact to him about his relationship with the sister. Oh, and, also, there are a lot of Shaekspeare quotes. Especially Hamlet and the Tempest (at some point our protagonist actually muses that he's trying to shift the story from being Hamlet into being The Tempest, with a happy ending).
Read more... )

Psycho Pass (still on going): A distopic cyberpunk series about cops in a society where everyone's Psychological status is constantly monitored for the sake of determining if they're a potential criminal (or, for that matter, to determine what's the best life for them), with a fresh new cop who is a young, idealist, supposedly very smart woman, and one of her subaltern, belonging to the group of the Potential Criminals who do the actual investigation in cases.
Read more... )

From the New World (still on going): Another distopic SF story, this one about the society a thousand years from current days, that exist in a world where humans develop telekinetic power. It follows a group of children as they are educated and socialised in a very agricultural and seemingly peaceful world, but where they are taught to fear all sorts of creatures on the outside, as well as the possibility to turn into demons. As they grow up, they find out a lot more about their world and the terrible secrets it hides.
Read more... )
salinea: Emma Frost, sitting comfortably (chill)
Where did I previously leave off? Shit, that long ago? I need to remember to be at least trimestrial about this!!

Havemercy, Shadow Magic, Dragon Soul, Steelhands by Jaida Jones & Danielle Bennett
A series of fantasy novels with steampunk dragons by the authors of the shoebox project.
Those are very average stories. The writing is fluid enough and the characters endearing enough that it is enjoyable to read; but the plots and worldbuilding are seriously lacking. It gives me the impression of treading water, all shallow glitter, no depth. Especially it's frustrating how most of the books are made of entertaining and sometimes witty characters interacting with characters in a slashy or canon gay way; and then oh shit, we need to have a climax; let's go with a rushed plot resolution! Most characters have very little agency; and even when they do, it doesn't feel very earned by the progress of the story. Quite aggravating after a while.
There's also very few female characters. And a maab character presenting as female whom the narrative is very unclear whether they are trans or a crossdresser.
The dragons - in themselves - are pretty neat, but they are the only details of world building that actually are. I also liked that the big war was ended in the first volume; and the rest were stories dealing with the aftermath of said war. There are not enough books dealing with aftermaths.

Roman Blood, Arms of Nemesis, House of the Vestals, A Gladiator Dies Only Once, Catilina's Riddle, Venus Throw, Murder on the Appian Way, Rubicon, Last Seen in Massilia by Steven Saylor
A series of Murder Mysteries set in the latter days of the Roman Republic.
I've been enjoying those a lot. Very solid storytelling and characterizations; that really manages to set the world of antique Rome and the complex mix of quasi modern urban life and completely foreign thinking that was the norm then. Murder mysteries are a great way to explore that world - and its politics - although it feels like it tries too hard to showcase the important historical events in ways that make the plot suffer from times to times. Though with the importance of corruption and muddled morality, some of the stories take an almost Noir atmosphere which is very interesting to see in this setting. I also appreciate the sense of sensuality in the writing - details like cooking and sexual appeal being underlined very frequently (and in a very bisexual way).

Captain Vorpatril's Alliance by Lois McMaster Buhold
Bujold's book about Ivan, at last!
I was... a little bit disappointed with it? I enjoyed reading it a lot; there was a lot of fun bits to it, and it developed a lot of my favorite characters, not only Ivan, but By, Duv, Alys, Illyan... but it had a very... soft middle. Very mellow and lacking in plot. And the eventual plot resolution was a little bit silly. And I resented its Fruits Basket syndrome (happy het ending for EVERYONE! I mean, not that I wasn't expecting Ivan/By seriously, or that I mind By being bi in itself; but going out of your way to have him bi and set up in a het romance when most of the major characters in the series have already ended up in het couples was... pushing it to an uncomfortable point.) Tej was pretty endearing, and the whole In Law thing rather hilarious in execution. And OMG, the fan teasing, THE FAN TEASING!

Iorich by Steven Brust
You know, I'm not sure what's wrong with me and Vlad Taltos bookss. I read them and I enjoy them, and two months after, let alone 6, I have absolutely no memory about what happened in them.
Oh wait, was it the one with Aliera being accused and Vlad having to play lawyer? Yeah, I think it was.
Yeah, it was cool.

Man, I'm the absolute worst at reviewing Brust's books.

Spy Hill by Dusk Peterson
A war story/gay romance novella. It was okay I guess? Except like most Peterson stories it has that undertone of preachiness with is irritating.

Whispers Under Ground by Ben Aaronovitch
Third book in the Rivers of London series. Continues being very cool, very well written and atmospheric urban fantasy. The metaplot advancement is slow, but continues. Not much else to say.

Fer de Lance by Rex Stout
So I tried reading a Nero Wolfe book, and so, I was a little bit bored? Not bad, just not really anything to grab my attention.

Eight Days of Luke by Diana Wynne Jones
Neglected adopted kid liberates "Luke" from his magical prison and he becomes his BFF but shit, now "Luke" 's family is coming to try to get him.
Awesome, utterly charming story. Loved the narrator and how ressourceful he was, this is a delightful, extremely charming as well as dangerous version of Loki; but I especially want to hit this book with most writers - fan or pro - of comics Asgard stuff to tell them "THIS IS HOW YOU WRITE ODIN KAY?" ♥
(poor Tyr, tho).

Snake Agent & The Demon and the City by Liz Williams
Those are... somewhere between urban fantasy and magical realism (perhaps with a dash of cyberpunk too) crime novels set in Singapour. Very neat atmosphere and world building, filled with rich details and Chinese mythologies. The characters are pretty neat so far, although I'm very unsure about the treatment of the female characters (lots of threats of rape and being sold into sexual slavery - at a cosmic level, since hell - which is a big part of the setting - has a lot of brothels) and of the portrayal of lesbian relationships in the second novel. I think I need to read the two other novels of this series before I say more...

A Night in the Lonesome October by Zelazny
The players and their animal familiars gather, to take part once more in the ritual that will or will not open the doors to Cthullian creatures. Seen from the pov of one of the animal familiar.
That novel is still as awesome as I remember it. Very fun and quirky.

The Fox Woman by Kij Johnson
A Heian era fairy tale rewriting about a fox falling in love with a man, and how far she'll go to try to seduce him.
This is a lovely story, with great writing and wonderful bittersweet nuances in characterizations, somewhere between a romance and... something else? Not sure exactly how to describe it, but in many ways it felt much more like a literary novel than a genre one.

Keeper by Greg Rucka
A noir/crime stories about a bodyguard hired to protect a doctor working at an woman's health clinic as she recieves a lot of threats from a Pro Life movement.
I thought I might as well what prose works Greg Rucka has done, and... well actually I found it not very much to my taste. It's a solid story and certainly well told; but I think it lacks what I like in crime stories (the exploration of a peculiar setting) too much for me to really enjoy.

Oh, also, I reread the Administration series, and it is still the best.
salinea: Emma Frost, sitting comfortably (chill)
Inda, The Fox, King's Shield, & Treason's Shore by Sherwood Smith
A very interesting series which I am at a loss as how to sumarise. It's about this guy who we follow from his childhood to adulthood, and as we do the story expend to include a whole lot of characters and the scope of the plot widens in nifty ways; but it's still mostly about this guy, Inda, who is kind of a tactical genius, born of a noble family in a country that turns out to be the barbaric, warlike and imperialistic upstarts of the region, which scares more than a bit their more civilised & peaceful neighbors and are also feeling threatened by the big byzantine Empire (- and at this point I start cracking myself because I guess that makes them the fantasy Barrayar, which is funny because asides from being a tactical genius, and, well, gathering himself his own army out of sheer happenstances and charisma while very young and away from home, Inda is nothing like Miles. Although Evred is a little bit like Gregor.)
The narration was told in omniscient 3rd person PoV, which i've realised that I've grown very unused to, and I generally doesn't like. It works for the sake of this story though, although it frequently left me feel a bit remote from the emotional action. In particular, despite having romantic & sexual relationships having a strong effect on the plot (in very various ways, this is a world where heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, asexual, demisexual, polyamourous, monoamourous, & so on people all clearly exist and are represented at some point in the text) it never feels like a romance, because we're often plainly told of shifts in relationships. It's a bit off putting at times, but definitely not bad either.
The plot is overall very good; focused on the military and political events as well as how they affect all sorts of characters. In the end quite affecting.

Fearless by James Campbell
Sequel of Dauntless. Don't have much to add from what I said of it, it's more of the same.

Rivers of London & Moon over Soho by Ben Aaronovitch
Very good urban fantasy crime stories set in London about a freshly minted cop who ends up apprenticing as a wizard to deal with weird crimes. I especially enjoy the writing, in those, very nice quality of atmosphere and mood. Very, very British in ways both modern and old for all you guys on my flist who seem to like that sort of things. And the protagonist is a smartass which I always enjoy (also biracial, which is nice).

Dangerous Grounds, Old Poison, Blood Heat by Josh Lanyon
Two elite partner cops having arguments about their relationships and whether they should have one while fighting bad guys, etc. Mostly decent.

Storms & Stars by Jaydon Neena
Space opera stuck on a desert island planet. M/M novel. It was... err, not very good yet kept me entertained for some reason.

Smiley's People by John Le Carré
Third & last of the George Smiley series. I... don't actually have much to say about it? But it was good. Probably as good as Tinker Tailor. Great conclusion.

A Strange Place in Time by Alyx Shaw
A M/M fantasy novel with very little plot, and mildly entertaining banter & characters. I feel like I was much more entertained by it than its quality warranted, actually.

Archer's Heart by Astrid Amara
The Mahabharata as a M/M romance novel. Asides from the fact I feel it short changes Hindu philosophy quite a bit, this is a pretty solid M/M novel and an entertaining read.

Bundori by Laura Joh Rowland
Boring crap. I remember way back when I read Shinju I thought ti was boring too. Why did I try this series again?

Shadow of the Templar by M Chandler
Pretty good M/M caper series about a FBI and a catburglar. The catburglar character is very good as a cross between the mild-mannered badass & the smooth & smug badass character type ; and there's some very fun banter (if sometimes overly indulgent). I also like the solid use of the supporting cast; and there some very emotional twists here and there to keep the plot entertaining. Also a plus, Amanda Waller makes an appearance as a supporting character at some. (I mean, not really, but hardass middle-aged CIA agent who is an awesome pain in the ass of our FBI protagonist - I couldn't not picture her as Amanda Waller OKAY).
salinea: Emma Frost, sitting comfortably (chill)
Heroic Legend of Arslan

This is an oldish anime OAV series, military historical fantasy in a setting inspired by Persia, with lots of bishounen (and a couple of bishoujo) and gorgeous backdrops and lovely direction. Very good overall except that it has no ending. See [personal profile] shimizu_hitomi's picspam for it (which is what made me want to watch it) and her project of translating the light novels it was adapted from.


Homeland S1

This is a spy drama about a marines coming back home after years of captivity in the middle-east, and the CIA analyst persuaded that he's been turned and is now preparing a terrorist plot. I had a very weird reaction to this one. I really loved the texture of it, the acting (it has Clare Danes and Morena Baccarin in it), the direction and cinematography, the jazz soundtrack, the overall paranoid atmosphere; and it has a few absolutely brilliant scenes along those lines (every scene of interrogation are marvelously well done for example) and it has a lot of very interesting subtleties. And it totally lost me in term of the long term storytelling and plotting, about which I found the story deeply unconvincing and kind of really annoying to the point that I don't want to watch the second season at all.


Sanctuary S1

Some time ago I asked for recs of engrossing TV shows, and [personal profile] st_aurafina suggested Sanctuary and even kindly provided a list of episodes to watch to get into without seeing less good episodes. I'm not entirely sure what I think of it. The pilote was mostly crap - as expected - and i wasn't crazy about the finale either; but otherwise the episodes were overall mostly good. The direction/writing especially shines in huis clot episodes, which they are able to do with a lot of tension; but on a long term level, the show hasn't really earned my trust that they are tell an interesting story. Character wise the biggest draw (and the biggest draw of the story overall) is Helen Magnus, the boss of Sanctuary, brilliant scientist and stonecold badass (who I have a hard time not to think of as the daughter of Charles & Erik >_>;) who will be the most awesome middle aged female character to grace your screen since Roslyn. Also she's kind of creepy pretty often - and I mean that as a compliment. The rest of the cast is not quite to part. Our mandatory white male protagonist who serves a PoV character and is Helen Magnus' protégée (yup, female mentor & male protégée. How often do you see that?) isn't too bad if a little bit bland, but sympathetic enough - he's pretty low key and analytical in a way I dig. There is also action girl and daughter of Helen Ashley, whom I took a weird instant dislike to (I think it's the hair. She has really terrible hair). And then there's a couple of guys who have not a lot of personality or at least charisma so far; Errr, there was a Black guy in the pilot who was killed in the next episode I watched which, asides from the race fail is sad because he was the only male character I found attractive. There's a handful of more charismatic recurring characters, who feel very League extraordinary gentlemen in a way that, at this point, I find more tiresome than anything but in themselves are pretty interesting characters besides the fact that they kind of feel like Helen's reverse harem from her Victorian shoujo manga days or something.

The big weak point of the show however is the lack of attention paid to worldbuilding. The premise is simple enough : there are weird creatures out there, and the Sanctuary's goal is to study them - and provide a haven for them, or a prison, depending on their threat level. The execution though is really not convincing so far. The Sanctuary is this ridiculously huge, gothic, baroque, building apparently in the middle of a big city (not sure which one) and yet nobody knows about it. And the lack of forethought for me is emphasized in the way in the first episode Helen primly corrects the PoV character (who had a name, I just don't remember it :p) when he says "monsters" by saying they prefer to call them "abnormals", as if "abnormal" isn't a term as a pejorative and othering if not more as "monster" is.

So I'm still not sure if I want to watch more or not. It's definitly not bad; but I have a hard time motivating myself. Does it get better?
salinea: Emma Frost, sitting comfortably (chill)
The Cloud Road & The Serpent Sea by Martha Wells, the two first volumes of a fantasy series about Moon, a guy shapeshifting in to a flying reptile finally finding out about who the people he's of are, and trying to integrate into their society, while they face great threat.Read more... )

A Companion to Wolves by Sarah Monette & Elisabeth Bear, the first novel in a fantasy series about a group of warriors who are a mindlinked to magical wolves who war against trolls in a northern flavoured setting. Read more... )

The Silent Tower by Barbara Hambly, an early fantasy novel of Hambly, with a modern earth woman being thrust into a medieval-but-on-the-verge-of-industrial-revolution world in a way related to a mysterious series of death involving magic and wizards. Read more... )

The Irregulars by various authors, is an anthology of urban fantasy mystery M/M short stories by various authors all revolving about a secret state organisation having to deal with magical creatures related threats and crimes. It was pretty cool, most of the creatures had a faery vibe which was refreshing and well done, most of the characterizations is decent. Some of the plots were better than others, but overall it was an entertaining read.

Somebody Kill his Editor & All She Wrote by Josh Lanyon, amateur smartass sleuth M/M novels in which the protagonist is a mystery writers himself. Those were pretty cute, mostly light hearted, with decent enough plots and amusing characters.

Oucast Mine by Jamie Craig, a space opera prison M/M novel, which was crap with a barely coherent plot wise asides from having hot sex scenes.

Counterpoint & Crescendo by Rachel Haimowitz - a fantasy slave M/M story about an elve warrior and the human military leader who got him as a captive, the second book has a semi decent plot, and the main characters aren't half bad, although their romance does not convince and its all very cookie cutter. Also the writing overuse cutesy medieval speech patterns in a way that gets annoying very fast.
salinea: (fairytale)
Still going fine with he reading :)

Brothers of Earth by CJ Cherryh
An early book in her career in which a lone survivor of a battle is shipwrecked on a planet with aliens and one other lone surviver of the battle (from the other side of the war) who sets herself as the boss in the local nation, and basically he has to adapt himself to the aliens' culture, and they have their own issues, and their own forthcoming war.Read more... )

Conspiracy of Kings by Megan Whalen Turner
Fourth volume in the Thief series, Read more... )

Lord of the White Hell 1&2, by Ginn Hale
Very good M/M fantasy series in which a young man from a culture that is a tolerated minority is accepted as in a big school because he's very, very good at science stuff, and finds himself rooming with the infamous noble whose family pactised with demons. Read more... )

Hunter of Worlds by CJ Cherryh
Another early Cherryh. This one has a member of a rather pacific alien species captured and enslaved by a powerful and very ruthless species, forced into a mind bond with another member of his own species who was slave to them since forever, and a human being. Read more... )

The Honourable Schoolboy by John Le Carré
Sequel to Tinker Tailer Soldier Spy. Read more... )

Ash by Malinda Lo
A rewriting of Cinderella with added Fair Folks and added lesbian romance. Read more... )

Damnation Alley by Roger Zelazny
A short (post)-apocalyptic novel in which an hardened criminal is forced to drive a armored vehicle across the extremely destroyed America from LA to Boston to deliver the serum that will save Boston from a nasty plague. Read more... )

Doctrine of the Labyrinth (Mélusine, Virtu, Mirador,& Corambis) by Sarah Monette
A fantasy hurt/comfort bromance series about a former prostitute gay wizard and a former assassin cat burglar who end up helping one another from all trauma they have undergone (and sometimes causing more). Yeah, I think that's the best summary I can do, although it might sell the story short. Read more... )
salinea: (left hand of darkness)
Been a while, right?

So having a Kobo did work very well to help get back on the voracious book reading bandwaggon.

I started with Dominion by Celia Friedman,
Read more... )

Then I read the Hand of Isis by Jo Graham,
Read more... )

Dauntless by Jack Campbell, had this one from the public library actually. Read more... )

Call for the Dead by John Le Carré, is cross between a murder mystery and a spy novel. Read more... )

The Andrien English series by Josh Lanyon which is a set of 5 M/M romance/mystery about an amateur sleuth who is a mystery bookshop owner. Read more... )

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy by John Le Carré. Read more... )

Jack of Shadow by Roger Zelazny, a fantasy novel in the inimitable style of Zelazny. Read more... )

Fire by Kristin Cashore, a YA fantaszy novel that came heavily reccomended by [personal profile] haremstress. Read more... )

I also tried to read Tiger Eye, Marjorie Liu's first novel in the Dirk & Steel series which I went almost halfway before I decided it just wasn't a book for me, as my eyes were glazing over with boredom. Quite disappointing.
salinea: Magneto going *?* (wtf)
Shikabane Hime (Aka & Kuro)



Oori is a young orphan boy who sometimes have weird visions of a talking cat. One day he realises that his big brother figure, the Buddhist monk Keisei who found him as a child and has been taking care of him since, has a strange relationship to a young undead girl named Makina who hunts down undead monsters known as Corpses or Shikabane. Makina herself is called the Shikabane Hime.

Shikabane Hime is an adaptation of an action / horror shounen series which keeps teasing us with glimmer of goodness : the direction is remarkably good, the graphic palette in faded colours is absolutely lovely and atmospheric, the main characters though archetypal are pretty well realised and sympathetic, some of the animation is really stunning especially in the first season, the horror ambiance building in general is pretty good and subtle, and some of the dramatic moments do work well. It's also pretty well paced, slowly and deliberate with episodic stories that lets them build up the cast of characters well in the first season, then quickly around with a more overarching arc in the second season. The ending is also pretty unique and well delivered.

And yet for all that Shikabane Hime is just another boring shounen series, with a pretty lacklustre plot, some horribly timed comedy and fanservice. The only thing I'd want to rescue of the story is the way it relies heavily on Buddhist motifs like attachment to build its mythology in a way that feels pretty fresh. Also it's yet another series which portray badass young female (it's always young and female) warrior in service to (almost always) older male guardians/authority figures (which in this case institutionally at least treat them as unclean things) without the narrative providing much in terms of feminist commentary (that is to say : the institutional dehumanisation is obviously portrayed as a bad thing and exploitative, but without any kind of feminist self awareness, especially not related to the elements of fanservice the show exploits). That sort of tropes just officially got old (and I love me some badass young female warrior!).

In other word, I think I'll try to find what other things this director can do when he's not adapting silly shounen mangas.

I leave you with the OP which is remarkably good and, indeed, perhaps the best thing in the whole series:
salinea: (Default)
Rental Magica



In contemporary Japan, Itsuki is a teenage boy who at the disappearance of his father inherit the position of president to the Rent-a-Mage association Astral; Itsuki isn't even a Mage though he does have one magical sight power, Glam Sight, in his usuly covered left eye, and is remarkably inexperienced in magical matters and unsuited for such a job. The members of Astral, Honami a Celtic witch and childhood friend of Itsuki, Mikan a very young Shinto priestess, Nekoyashiki a cat-themed Onmyouji and Kuroha the resident ghost, along with Itsuki will have to solve cases and deal with various creatures and rival mages, plus the meddling of Adelicia, a cabbalistic witch of the powerful magical association Goetia, while trying to keep Astral from being dissolved. (In case you wonder, yes, the esoteric Buddhist monk does show up later so we have the typical Japanese magical tradition all present as usual in those shows :p)

Adapted from a series of light novels, Rental Magica isn't a show with any glaring, offensive flaw which I can point out and say : this is what makes it bad; it's just mostly dull through out.

The things I wouldn't watch for a good magical system - and Rental Magica does have some excellent conceptions of magic, with references to real world mythologies and esotericism; which are used in a consistent and logical way. It's got very much the ambiance of a modern day Ars Magica, or perhaps WitchCraft.

The rest ranges from mediocre to average. The plots are mostly episodic (there's a couple of stories which stretch through two or three episodes), and are okay if not particularly intriguing, with a few here and there that are more successful. The animation is neither particularly bad nor particularly good. And the characters totally failed to interest me though I wouldn't either say they're horrible either.

Itsuki is on of those overly kind and self-sacrificing male lead, though he knows nothing and totally lacks competence, until he removes his eye-patch and his voice drops three octaves as a way to tell us "now I'm going to channel Lelouch" (same voice actor, natch) and solves whatever was the situation at this point - though you can see that part progresses and becomes less of a one solution matches all as Itsuki is developped. While the rest of the cast is somewhat structured as a harem series, it never really goes beyond the pale with those dynamics, without offensive fanservice, and only two of the girls really after Itsuki, Honami (bossy Tsundere) and Adelicia (prissy Tsundere) in a way that is almost as much about the rivalry that's between both girls (and very femslashy). Nekoyashiki was probably my favourite character on account of being the Eyes Always Shut playful mysterious male character... but really none of them grabbed me.

So this remains a watchable show though it was sometimes just barely entertaining, but i wouldn't recommend it to anyone who doesn't have a special interest in fancy magical systems.
salinea: (smug)
Scrapped Princess



In a medieval fantasy kind of setting, Pacifica Cassul is a spoiled, sweet, cheerful, rather clumsy 15 year old girl. She's also the prophesied of Scrapped Princess who will bring destruction to the world when she turns 16 and as a result is hunted by pretty much everyone at the instigation of the Church of Mauser. Thankfully her two older foster siblings, Raquel, a magician, and Shannon, a fighter, are quite bad ass and will do anything to protect her as they run away chased down by various kinds of assassins.

Dating from 2003, Scrapped Princess is one of those shows I'd call solid and well crafted without really having any particular edge that bring it to excellence. Graphically, it's very pretty, with gorgeous animation, compelling, round character design; and a beautiful direction overall. Most of the characters are a bit too much stereotypical, but they are well used for drama and comedy. The setting is very basic fantasy and trite. There's a twist about it, but that also turns out to be rather predictable. The action scenes are boring. So the series is entertaining and easy to watch, with good drama and comedy, but it always feels a little bit artificial and manipulative, with a strong sense of deja vu (take one pinch of Slayers, one pinch of Gurren Lagann, powder with BtVS S5 and stir with a small dose Nanoha... now this is unfair, Gurren Lagann came after... it just did it better, is all).

Pacifica, our nominal heroine, doesn't do much. Her power is much more about what she is, and her personality is to be cute, kind-hearted, preternaturally cheerful, a little bit spoiled so we and random characters she meets feel like protecting her. Shannon plays the role of the badass, stoic, teasing, protective older brother (he vaguely reminds me of Touya of CCS in global outlook) in a more active way. Raquel is a cool character too, very polite and feminine in demeanour and quite deadly with a spell, but she's much less put in focus compared to the strength of the Shannon-Pacifica relationship. There are other important characters, such as a badass general princess (sadly underdeveloped) and her girlfriend; an airhead knight who falls in love with Pacifica; the stoic young elite soldier who was sent to kill Pacifica then investigates the origin of the prophecy; or the demonic emotionless girl who starts helping the Cassul family for her own agenda.

There are elements in the story that are interesting, the whole "protagonist is the one who will doom the world" bit is an interesting premise, exploited in good dramatic ways, especially the fact that most of the antagonists feel like they have a good reason to be trying to kill Pacifica, and the story sometimes offer ironic parallels with other characters and situations to complexify things. However the plot remains often too banal, despite the high quality of the direction and storytelling. The ending, while suitingly dramatic, felt way too easy and Deus Ex Machina in the way it resolved things.

So a good and solid series, but an underwhelming one.
salinea: (Default)
Yes, another one. Not the last either, I'm really on a roll of finishing a lot of series I've started in the last few months :)

Takau Shishou : the Book of Bantorra aka Armed Librarians of Bantorra



In a diesel punk world, people leave a "book" (a stone tablet that can be read by touch) of their life behind them when they die. The Armed Librarians of Bantorra collect those books in a labyrinthine library guarded by monstrous creatures for the use of people and the great good, and fight against the Church of Drowning in God's Grace, a mysterious cult which believes "True Humans" must be protected, loved and lavished with every privilege in order to create the most perfect happiness in their "book" when they get to Heaven; but which treats other people, which they call "Meat", with the most abject and dehumanising servitude.

The adaptation of a series of seinen light novels, Book of Bantorra has a large, multiple cast of characters, which it focusses in turns in short story arcs, as it progressively reveals an intricate and complex overarching plot. This plot is pretty good, and is brought to a satisfying epic climax which explains most of the mysteries it successively raised and especially tying every characters and ever story arc together in a pretty brilliant way. Sadly, despite this structural quality, it was very much lacking in its texture (characterisation, setting, animation etc.) which ended making it much less entertaining and intriguing than it could have been with such qualities of plot and storytelling.

One big weakness is the characters. There are several of them that are just this close to interesting and that I could have been pretty fond of (Noloty, Mattalast, Enlike and of course Hamyuts Meseta, the acting director of Bantorra who is certainly a very unique female character) however it never developed them enough to truly make them come alive and distinguish themselves from their stereotypes.

Another big weakness is the art and animation, which is remarkably graceless. Many of the character designs were frankly ugly (don't get me started on Hamyuts' ridiculously big cleavage which is animated as if it was a mass of concrete), the background art really fails to render the world with any life or originality, and while the animation is obviously not all that cheap, it very seldom seems to have any fluidity.

However the storytelling really is frequently brilliant, building up to excellent dramatic scenes during each story arcs. Some of them are more rushed or cheesy than others, but overall they made me keep watching despite the other flaws. While its themes, the worth of living, idealism vs cynicism, dehumanisation vs one's inner sense of self and wills, conflicting loyalties and love/friendship, etc. are not anything new or entrancing they are well and coherently woven into the stories in a way that make them resonate successfully. Actions scenes are also frequently pretty good, with intelligent strategic uses of people's powers and interesting direction.

Book of Bantorra sometimes reminded me of the fantasy epic Malazan Book of Fallen; both for the "Book" (teehee) and the "Fallen" (don't be surprised to see lots of characters dying), and for the ridiculous names that kind of sound cool and epic anyway part ^_^ It remains however much more flawed.

In the end, I guess it was an okay enough series, but I won't keep a stellar memories of it.
salinea: (Default)
PlanetES



Space, baby, space. And not any space; realistic, gritty, hard science space like you've never seen hard science on a TV or cinema screen before.

The year is 2075, space exploration is continuing at a steady rhythm, leaving a trail of a bunch of junk in orbits, and one day of course one piece of garbage causes a big accident, so various programs of debris collection are organised in the corporations that deal with space exploitation. Since of course, this is no profitable business, those programs are underfunded and a place to send employees nobody else wants. But they do their job nonetheless. Our story deals on one such agency, and in particular with a young Japanese woman Ai Tanabe, a clumsy, spunky, hard-working, idealistic busybody who just joined the program and needs to learn everything, and with Hachimaki (thus nicknamed because he always wears one) her senior astronaut, also Japanese , a jerk with a heart of... actually I don't think he's got much of a heart, but who loves space and dreams of owning his own space ship one day. The focus of the story starts very low key and episodic in a slice of life way with a side of romance, painting a broad and complex picture of space exploitation and exploration in the future along the way, then develops a more continuous dramatic storyline in its second half, brought to an impressive and emotional climax both on the global scale and the smaller scale of the characters.



Unlike most everyone I've seen talking and reviewing Planetes, I actually have mixed feeling about this anime. On the one hand, yes, it does some brilliant, beautiful and heart-wrenching things, and more over, does it about themes and situations that you almost never see anywhere else. Planetes does space like nothing else does it (but documentaries, I guess), and Planetes does personal drama excessively well, and both of those by themselves make it worth watching. But Planetes also does a number of irritating things I can't quite ignore; and also does a few problematic things that are so involved and complex I have difficulties even properly articulating them. I'll probably have to make a second spoilery post to even try addressing them.

cut for length & pics )
salinea: Xavier & Magneto fist bumping, "Xav/Mag OTP" (shipping)
Pandora Heart



In a Victorian fantasy world, Oz is the young son of a rich noble family on the point of celebrating his ceremony of adulthood for his 15 birthday. Together with his little sister and his adoring servant / best friend Gilbert he explores the remote mansion before the ceremony occurs when he finds an old grave and a clock / musical box which trigger the vision of a young girl waiting all alone in a room filled with creepy toys who welcome him joyfully before trying to murder him. Later on, during the ceremony, a bunch of creepy guys in cloaks appear and send Oz to the Abyss, a parallel dimension of nightmares and demons called "Chains", for the crime of "existing". The girl, incidentally, is Alice, a Chain, and appears as well to defend him, because she claims him as her property.

Adapted from an unfinished shounen manga, Pandora Heart is a pretty good fantasy / mystery series filled with fascinating characters and dizzying revelation. The pacing for the most part is fast and entrancing, with decent storytelling but for the fact with the manga unfinished it offers no proper conclusion (always frustrating). The direction is a bit uneven, varying a lot from episodes to episodes from barely mediocre to pretty good. The animation and background art is only barely decent most of the time (with a few flash of excellent animation at random times), but the character design is pretty cool. The music, by Kajiura Yuki, is gorgeous as usual and helps setting up the gothic atmosphere.

The characters are the big draw, at least for myself as they fell very squarely into character types and relationship dynamics I really dig, and interpreted well enough they aren't mere cliches either.

Oz himself is pretty damn adorable. He's a easygoing and sunny child on surface, hiding father-related angst underneath his cheerfulness to the point of being creepily carefree at times (especially in the manga). He's caring and pretty smart (and the narrative uses his intelligence in cool way), self-destructive and sometimes a little bit cruel. Seldom have I liked some much a shounen manga lead. The rest of the cast is just as interesting.

cut for squeeing & vague spoilers of early episodes )

Pretty much everyone has a dark past / dark secrets they might not even remember, to the point that is far from believable, but who cares? It's part of the overall gothic-crackful atmosphere. There's a nice sense of the plot being driven by the interests of various sides in a way that is murky, complex and very intriguing, although at this point not enough of the plot has been revealed for me to know if it's all that coherent and consistent.

There's a big Alice in Wonderland motif of course, used to good effect for the atmosphere, as well as motifs related to time (lots of clocks) tied in interesting ways to memory and time manipulation thematics in the plot. And chains, lots of chains ♥. The thematics also address ideals of self-sacrifice and devotion in critical ways worked through the characterisation. I want to say the gender treatment is good, since it starts with such interesting gender role reversals and has a few other hints of similar stuff later on, but way too few of those are followed up, and, for example, despite the fact Alice is technically the most powerful character in a fight, she too seldom get to play it up, so it's a bit disappointing.

In conclusion, though it's little more than the latest shounen in the current trendy style, I found this series very much to my liking thanks to the interesting characterisations & dynamics. I'll keep following on the manga (which I caught up on right after I finished the anime) and as well as hoping for a second season of animation.
salinea: (Default)
Xam'd : Lost Memories aka Bounen no Xamdou aka Bounen no Zamned aka fuck that shit, it's got too many names



Akiyuki is an ordinary highschool boy living on the quiet Sentan island along with his separated parents, and his two best friends Haru (female) and Furuichii (male), when someday he helps a mysterious white haired girl trump the security to get on their bus for school. During the trip, Sentan Island is attacked by the Northern Empire by using Humanforms (= magibiotech weapon that transform ordinary people into huge rampaging monsters with flashy colours) and the white haired girl has their bus explode and puts a Hiroki in Akiyuki's arm that makes him into a Xam'd, a smaller scale rampaging monster who starts fighting with the Humanform, causing much damage to the city. Haru runs after him to help him, without success, until a mysterious girl (another one), Nakiami (aka 'Second Coming of Nausicaa'), shows up, gets Akiyuki to turn back into a human and then kidnaps him onto.... the Postal airship where she lives on, hoping to teach Akiyuki to control his Xam'd ability so he doesn't turn into stone and die. Meanwhile, the Southern country already at war with the Northern country allies itself with Sentan island and sends military forces there as well as a team of researchers into Humanform technology.

Xam'd is a show with excellent production values, awesome characterisation, compelling drama and a story that doesn't make much sense at all.

The character design is lovely and vivid, the animation ranges from excellent to stunning, and the soundtrack is wonderful. I also loved both generics, Boom Boom Satellite who made the OP music is my new favourite band ♥

There are a lot of characters, and the story doesn't shy away from developing and giving their own agency to characters who could have seen as fairly minor or secondary. Akiyuki's parents are fairly well developed for example (and pretty damn awesome), so is Haru's sister and most of the characters on board of the postal ship. This throws up the story in a lot of interesting, complicated directions although it's also what made the story lose its focus. The main cast is also very endearing : Akiyuki despite beint your ordinary young male lead has a sympathetic personnality you can relate with and is willing to learn and grow very easily. Nakiyami, being Nausicaa Lite, is of course fairly awesome, determined and strong, empathetic, and very much badass. Haru despite being in the designated Love Interest role is a fairly interesting character with a lot of agency and backbone. However sometimes characterisation intersected with the WTF-ness of the plot in ways that were odd and disappointing, concluding a character arc in unsatisfactory ways or making some of them rather inconsistent.



The world building remained a little bit too vague and kitchen-sink-y trough most of the story. On the one hand there's the way they drop so many kind of elements in there : highschool students, aircrafts, a war, magitek and biomecha and what nots in ways that felt very... video games-y? I dunno, it didn't feel like there were much consistency to it, especially since there were very little exposition or explanation, and the underlying mythology that bears the story was very much confused and near-ununderstandable (still not sure there was actually something to understand). Despite this, thanks to the quality of the animation and soundtrack, it's very vivid and awe-inducing.

The plot meanders in weird ways. With good dramas, so I can't say I was ever bored or not enjoying myself, but in ways that are utterly baffling at times. Where do they go with it? Who are the antagonists? Who are the protagonists? What are the sides of the war? Exactly what roles do the Tessik, the token Magical Discriminated against people (that Nakiami belongs to), play in this and what is their past? Who are the white haired children and how are they related to the Tessik and what is their plan? Who does the Postal Ship work for exactly and do they have a mission asides from mailing stuff which explains how badass they are? I'm not really sure what's the answer to most of those questions after watching the show. I'm not sure there is one.

As a result, the themes aren't much clear or well developed either, there's a nice compassionate heart to it, where killing people/creatures that were once people is seen as bad/sad. There's a nice motif of letters / communication which is kind of cool if fairly aimless. And some more vague stuff about how war affect a population. And how embittered discriminated minorities shouldn't succumb to rage and stuff -_-;. And some disability fail which was fairly wtf x_x. So yeah, nothing great on the theme front.

One of the thing that amused me about that show was many of the similarities it's got with Eureka 7, another Bones show which I dropped after watching more than half of it. One of the thing I disliked about Eureka 7 was how tight the focus was on the main idiotic male character, and how other characters relate to him (and his family), with the large cast of otherwise cool characters having very little agency - Xam'd shows the flaw of going the opposite way, although I still like it better that way (at least Xam'd doesn't take more than 15 episodes before it first passes the Bechdel test, for example, and some of the female character's story in Xam'd aren't about male characters at all *gasp*). Of course another advantage Xam'd has is that its main character isn't utterly stupid. I assume Eureka had, in the end, a much better mythology/world and more consistent story and worthy ending though I never got up to that, based on how many people like the series.

In the end, I found Xam'd to be a very enjoyable show at the I was watching it, but when I think twice about it, I am disappointed by the waste of potential that a show with such gorgeous production value and promising characters ended up with.
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Kobato



Kobato is a young, naive, airhead, clumsy, optimistic and hard-working girl who just literally fell down from the sky. Helped by a bad tempered flame throwing plush dog that goes by Ioryogi, she's got one year to fill a glass bottle full of confetti she earns by healing the heart of people. Soon enough she starts working at a kindergarten along with a kind young woman and her younger grumpy with a heart of gold foster brother. Good luck, Kobato.

Kobato is adapted from a seinen manga of CLAMP I had actually avoided reading because the premise seemed remarkably silly and fluffy to me, which tend to be the sort of CLAMP manga I like least. But I thought the anime was a good occasion to jump that bandwagon and I don't regret it. The concept remains pretty silly and fluffy as expected, but is charming and well executed enough to be pleasant to watch. As the story builds up and characterisation are deepened it even becomes pretty good in its second half, with a few excellent episodes filled with grace and bitter-sweetness.

Kobato despite her very moe flaws is very likeable thanks to her determination and kindness; and while Fujimoto was too much of a jerk through most of it for my taste, they definitely have a good dynamic. Even better is the dynamic with Ioryogi who has a complicated past I wish we'd have found more about. The characterisation of quite a few secondary characters also particularly shone through and gave the anime the chemistry that made it better than average. I can't judge it as an adaptation since I have read the manga (the one CLAMP manga I haven't read, lol), but it overall has a very nice direction and pacing. Add the fact the ending was particularly excellent and you really have a lovely slice of life anime series.
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Sora no Woto



In a post-Apocalyptic world (long after thereof) and right after the end of a war, Kanata is a cheerful and optimistic young girl who joins the Army for the sake of learning to play the trumpet. She is sent to a small town in Switzerland, where five female soldiers are always stationed by tradition because of a local legend of five maidens and a monstruous creature.

Sora no Woto is a pretty dull and mediocre moe slice of life / comedy show, only enlivened by its intriguing setting, gorgeous background art and a lovely soundtrack. The characters are all pretty thin and fit too much into their moe template in artificial ways, I was fond of Rio (the cool sempai with a mysterious past character), but I could give or take all the other characters, except for Kureha, the tsundere, which I found rather annoying (which is odd of me, since I typically tend to adore tsunderes, go figure).

The comedy is adequate, except a couple of cringe-worthy events, and it's not unpleasant to watch but nothing to write home about. We keep getting intriguing hints about the setting, and how mysterious it is, what exactly was the Apocalyptic event that happened, why there is traces of a Japanese civilisation here and there in the otherwise European setting; and what was the local town legend about. Most of those hints are never full resolved; and while there's a real climax at the ending, it relies too much on unlikely events to be as dramatic as it could have been (it's not a terrible one though). There is one excellent episode in the middle of the series; and generally speaking, the way it deals with war, the traces it left on various characters is pretty interesting and well done. (I think there is way too few stories that take place after a war and deal with where you go from there, how you rebuild etc. so credit for a series for dealing with this at least a little)

To be perfectly honest the main reasons I was watching the show is that I really love Mediterranean landscapes, and the series portray them beautifully in its background art (apparently copied from a small mountain town in Spain). Also the music is nice, especially the OP, which also has cool Klint inspired visuals:



And, you know, winter was a pretty bad anime season, and it was that or watching Cobra.
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I am so late with anime reviews. I really need to catch up before all the winter shows finish and I have even more on my plate ^_^;;

Kazemakase Tsukikage Ran



In Historical Japan, Ran is, in her own word, a beautiful drifter, a female samourai with a love for sake, a lot of skill with swords and a cool, easy going attitude that doesn't entirely stop her from being involved when injustice crosses her path. The unlikely named Miew is a very carefree and not particularly bright female kung fu fighter who walks the earth. When their path cross they start bickering a lot drifting together and fighting crime (or injustice in general).

Dating from the year 2000, Kazemakase Tsukikake Ran is a short, pleasant and pretty simple anime series which does have a certain charm despite it's lack of subtleties. It is very much episodic, very much chanbara and comedy and not much else. One of the stuff I really liked about it are perhaps the ways it stands out as old fashioned : here's a story with two female leads and we have neither romance with other characters, neither hints of romance or fanservicy between one another. Likewise there is no moe of anykind or any overwhelming cuteness. The comedy is mostly basic Boke and Tsukkomi routine (in a way that was actually pretty annoying because I hate when humour relies on making the sidekick character very stupid, especially as Ran hardly needs that to look cool). The action scenes are pretty cool relative to the production values (which are of the 90's but pretty good for it), and I certainly enjoyed watching them a lot. The plots are simple but serviceable, very much to the point. Ran, as mentioned, is a very cool and awesome characters, and I really love her voice in particular (someday I'll learn to pay attention to voice acting in a meaningful way, riiiight). I also loved the opening music, which is a drinking enka song ^_^. In conclusion a pretty nice series if you want something short and sweet and chambara-esque (who doesn't?).

Link to a fun blog review comparing Tsukikage Ran to Samurai Chammploo : http://2dteleidoscope.wordpress.com/2009/11/08/tsukikage-ran-vs-samurai-champloo-artificial-pasts/


His and Her Circumstances aka Kare Kano



Yukino is a high school student who is very vain and likes nothing like being praised, and therefore puts a lot of work into being a model student and acting like the perfect, elegant, delicate and classy girl she is really not in personality. Arima is the perfect, kind, classy boy who beats her result without even trying because he's the genuine thing (for the most part). Also he's in love with her. Also he just discovered that she's faking it. Also, now, he's blackmailing her.

I'm seldom the biggest fan of shoujo high school comedy romance anime adaptation. That is for the most part because I tend to love their manga version so much more and find the anime doesn't add much. In this case, I haven't read the manga (yet), so I can't know if the very high opinion of the anime series would be significantly lower from the manga. It does show the main disadvantage of shoujo adaptation which is that it just stops without any ending, ARGH. But let's be clear : this is probably the single best shoujo high school comedy romance series I have watched as of yet.

Let's start with the characters. The characters are awesome, every single ones of them. Yukino is very entertaining, she's very competitive, she doesn't get intimidated by much and is very brave and mentally tough as well as smart overall. She does have some vulnerabilities at the same time, as well as some obvious flaws; but she also doesn't hesitate to grow and develop marvellously through the series. In general, she's easy to root for. Also, she's hilarious. Arima oscillates a bit between being too perfect in a sweet, humble, nice way, but at Yukino's contact he really shows some more mischievously and genuine personality which makes him more likeable. Of course he also has some massive angst and darker issues. Then there are the secondary characters. They are a lot of them, and they get introduced and developed progressively. AND THEY ARE ALL AWESOME.

Yukino and Arima's relationship is portrayed in a pretty wonderful way in that their relationship actually progresses, in a very organic way and without being set back by artificial drama. At some point they have sex. It's portrayed as a natural step which is Not A Big Deal. For a 90's shoujo, I bet that was pretty ground breaking.

Story wise, KareKano oscillates between crazy energetic crackful comedy and lovely depiction of romance and friendship. The comedy is pretty good overall, with good timing and no big cliches, though it's probably not the bestest comedy that ever was found in a shoujo. The romance/friendship/character dynamics in general however, is some of the seriously best stuff ever. I'm talking at least a Crowing Moment of Heart-warming every two episodes, here. And I'm using this term despite that I hate it because it's the most accurate in this case. It's very much cheering and sweet, without being very cute, just heart-warming and adorable and lovely.

The production values are pretty low. This is a late 90's shoujo series, handled by Gainax back when they didn't know how to handle a budget, and they probably didn't have much to start; at least that how it looks like. There's all sorts of tricks to avoid animating stuff; shift to drawn art at emotional moments, and lots, lots of recapping. The thing is, despite being obvious, all of those things aren't annoying (with the possible exception of the recapping); they are, in fact, turned into a STYLISTIC WIN. It's all done very ingeniously and in ways that improve the story instead of diserving it, which is, in itself, very impressive.

So basically, this is something of a classic for shoujo series, and for a good reason, and I definitely do not regret taking the time to watch it.
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Ergo Proxy



In a post-Apocalyptic future, most of mankind, to protect themselves from the wasteland that Earth has become, lives in isolated domes such as Romdo in which our story starts; which got all the technology to make life luxurious and comfortable for its citizens, including androids they call Auto-Reiv, though not everyone is granted the status of citizens. However a virus called Cogito is infecting Auto-Reiv, often triggering them into murdering people; and there's another series of murders which seem caused by a strange monster called Proxy. Re-l Meyer is a young woman charged with investigating those matters. Vincent Law is a young immigrant from the faraway city of Mosk trying to become a citizen and who appears to have a mysterious connection to those murders. Pino is an Auto-Reiv of companionship in the shape of a little girl.

There's something about Ergo Proxy that really reminds me of a certain aestheticism that was much more common in the 90's or early 00's (and I don't just mean in the anime medium); something about cyberpunk and mindfuck and avalanches of philosophical references and 90's action heroines that aren't really the heroine and a general over seriousness. It makes it feel a bit annoyingly affected at time, as if it had already aged badly even though it's pretty recent. That said, it's a pretty good anime, though it has certain flaws.

Visually, Ergo Proxy is quite stunning, with a very unique character design style, fluid animation, and a gritty dark & brown colour palette that suits its oppressive and ambiguous atmosphere perfectly - to the point that the colourlessness occasionally made me feel quite morose.

In terms of plot, Ergo Proxy is a bit meandering. The first few episodes were frankly boring, and I probably would have dropped it were it not for the fact I bought those fucking DVDs and I wasn't watching it alone. Then the story finally starts in an interesting direction to go on... on a road trip with a very episodic nature to it. And I actually like those more standalone episode much, much more; especially as many of them were little jewels of Mindfuckery. I do love my mindfuck, I do. Plus, occasional meta-ness! And one episode where literally nothing happens, and it's actually one of the single best episode in the series! Then they wrap up the plot in an okay ending, though if you weren't following during the Quizz show episode info dump, you'll probably be very confused by the conclusion.

Characterisation is another of the pretty good aspect. It feels a bit bait-and-switch, with the way you think first that Re-l is the main protagonist; and then you think, oh, no, I guess it's really Vincent; and then it never really clarifies who's the real lead between the two and it feels a bit confusing. Anyway, Re-l is an interesting female lead, she's competent though often a bit overconfident, driven and stubborn; she's pretty sharp tongued and temperamental, and she's both a bit of a spoiled child and someone with acceptance issues. Vincent is very shy, unassuming and kind, sometimes to the point of being annoying, but in the end pretty sympathetic. They both feel very real. Pino is redoubtably cute, but small aspects of childlike amorality to give her a certain edge. The secondary characters vary greatly, but there's a few that really stand out despite only appearing in one or a couple of episodes.

Thematically... errr Ergo Proxy name drops a whole lot of philosophical names and concepts in a way that's rather baffling to me because most of them went way over my head. Does it build anything of consequence with all those references that end up for a deep and complex thematics? Or does it just use them for to look cool and symbolic without really making any sense? I have no clue. In the end, we have a pretty cool Existential message, which is always nice but I get the same from my trashy gonzo action modern pirates show without all the fanfare & trumpets. There's also a lovely sense of melancholy in the face of certain death; and a motif of relationship between creators and creatures which play at a series of levels in a beautiful sad way. And puns. Actually the puns were really silly and sort of Sailor Moon level. So, I dunno, you tell me if you saw anything really profound and intricate into it that would justify calling a series of talking statues Derrida, Lacan & I forgot the third, because I certainly can't guess why on my own.

So yeah, in the end a pretty good show, especially if you like intellectual cyberpunk shows and good mindfucks.
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Himitsu: the Revelation



In the near future, a technology is developed to be able to watch the visual memories of someone through scanning their brains shortly after the death. A unit of police called Section 9 is developed, specialised into watching the brains of the murder victims and criminals in order to solve cases.

Adapted from a josei manga by Reiko Shimizu (called The Top Secret in its French translation), Himitsu was something of a disappointment. I've watched so many great anime adaptation of manga lately, I had forgotten that it was such a risky form I can be very picky of XD. The problem doesn't come from the plot adaptation or addition, which, for the most part actually were an improvement (especially how they made Nanako a real member of the team SPOILER instead of only introducing her in order to be killed as she is END SPOILER in the manga) and necessary in order to increase the overall story's cohesiveness; but from the show's direction : basically it felt very forced and hammed to the point of cheesiness, always going for the overstated when it should have gone for the understated (especially since most of the plots are horrific and taboo enough in contents, they didn't need oversell the point to shock or hook us in) in a way that removed from the dramatic tension and made me roll my eyes more than a few times. The soundtrack is particularly grating, but, really, this is a flaw of the storytelling in general.

It's not all bad though : the source material is pretty interesting if you like mysteries about dark, mature subjects, with some interesting thematics about privacy and how secrets weigh on people. It can sometimes be gore; and there's a couple of episodes that sort of flirt with a CSI-like freak of the week vibe; but for the most part, it's handled rather elegantly. Most of the stories are well done. The art and animation is pretty good, with a realistic art style and beautiful effects of light. The cast of character is a bit slow to come into its own, but does have a beautiful dynamic when it starts. Our view point character, Aoki, is a young policeman newcomer to the unit. He's pretty straightforward and a bit lacking in confidence. Maki, the leader of the team, is a beautiful man with an aloof demeanour and a great capacity for awesome. Both the manga and the anime play with a sort of slashy vibes between those two in a superficial pandering to fangirls way which I find rather irritating since they obviously have no intention to pursue it any deeper than that.

Anyway, if you're as desperate for josei anime as I sometimes am, I guess I'd still recommend it, with some warning about the eye-roll worthy direction.
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I had promised... I forget if it was [livejournal.com profile] misstopia or [livejournal.com profile] haremstress, or both, a big rec post about SKU at some point; so there it is!

Revolutionary Girl Utena, aka Shoujo Kakumei Utena or SKU for short, is a series from the mid-nineties. It exists in both manga and anime form; and there also was an animated movie adaption made in 1999; but i mostly want to talk about the animated series which is, IMHO, the best and more interesting form the story takes. It was directed by Ikuhara, which at that point was mostly known for working a lot on Sailor Moon; and comports 39 episodes organised in 4 narrative arcs of unequal size.



The Story

Tenjou Utena is a 14 year old girl enrolled at the Ohtori Academy. When she was a young child and after just losing her parents, she remembers meeting a Prince who saved her and gave her a ring to remember him by. She was so impressed by him that she decided to herself become a Prince as well as cherishing the ring in the hope of meeting him again. Thus motivated, Utena grows up as an impressively athletic girl who values noble qualities and straightforwardness; and she always wears a male uniform in high school to the annoyance of her teacher and to the boosting of her popularity amongst other girls.
One day, in order to defend her best friend who just got her heart broken by a jerk, she ends up involved in a duel against a member of the Student School on a very weird duel arena that exists in the Forest behind the school and under an upside down castle floating in the sky. It just so happens that every members of the Student Council wear the exact same ring that was given to her by her Prince, which marks them as Duellists in an elaborate game organised by a mysterious letters writer naming themselves The End of the World where the Victor receive a young girl, Himemiya Anthy, as their Bride for as long as they keep winning; and has a shot at winning the vaguely defined Power to Revolutionise the World. By the way, the current Victor needs not bring a sword to the duel, they can just magically bring forth the Sword of Dios from inside the body of Anthy. Because Anthy is cruelly abused by her initial Victor, and appears to submit to it meekly as per the rules of the game, Utena ends up participating in those games in order to protect her as, one by one, each member of the Student Council challenge her.

Pics and lengthy review )

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