Don't you just hate spoilers? I do, too. That's why I always try to include warnings. However, I sometimes ramble a bit too much here or there and maybe a few (or many) key plot points slip without me giving proper notice. So I'd like to include a blanket spoiler warning for the weary internet travelers of the world: Here There Be Spoilers. You've been warned.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

White Album (Howaito Arubamu)

Not to be mistaken for the famous self-titled album by The Beatles, White Album is a 26 episode anime based off of an adult Japanese visual novel of the same name. This was a show that came on my radar sometime last week when I discovered that Hirano Aya was the voice of one of the characters. In fact she plays a J-pop idol. Talk about your type-casting, huh? 

But I think that the sex scandal involving Aya is the reason why I watched this anime even though this anime was made a few years before Aya's sex scandal came to light. You see, Aya had a few "post-sex" photos of her and a bandmate get leaked onto an Asian website. Or maybe it was a magazine. Anyway, it later came to light that she actually had sex with all of her bandmates at one point with the exception of her bassist. Not too long after that those bandmates were fired and Aya herself found a different record label and voice acting agency. Coincidence?

The only real person I feel sorry for in all of this is the bassist. 

Okay, I am kidding. I really hope Aya continues to find success and that people can just move on. Japanese otaku can be some seriously unforgiving pricks. You'd think they were American Southern Baptists or something. 

Anyway, this anime is all about the twisted world of the entertainment industry. So it is perfectly fitting for it to take place in 1986, right? Yeah, it is. Especially when you consider the subject matter. I mean, the only thing missing from this show was someone with a drug habit. 

Our main character is a guy named Touya and he is dating a girl named Yuki and Yuki just happens to be a J-pop idol (voiced by Aya, of course). But Touya rarely gets to see her since she is so busy doing important idol stuff. Well, you know what they say about long distance relationships and idle hands, right? Well, soon Touya's eyes and hands start to stray even if his heart does not. 

And it does not help him that he is surrounded by a veritable harem of beautiful women. One of them is practically a loli. Another of his... ahem, companions is another J-pop star named Rina (voiced by actual J-pop star Mizuki Nana). He actually gets hired on to be her "manager" at one point. And there are still others. Not saying he has sex with all of them, but you could probably start a pool on who he doesn't have sex with make some serious money from that. 

But this story isn't exactly about that. Anyone remember the anime School Days? It is a fairly infamous anime because of how the main character Makoto practically bangs the entire cast of women in twelve episodes before being taught a harsh lesson about infidelity from a woman scorned. On the surface this anime does resemble School Days. At times it sure as hell feels like it is School Days, but this anime is actually quite superior in both presentation and plot. And it isn't as easy to hate these characters. In School Days I hated just about everybody and wouldn't have given a second thought to chopping Makoto's dick off. Touya is much more relatable, though. 

White Album as a whole is tougher to judge because it is a bit more realistic and also quite a bit more abstract. At no point are we being told how to view things. Instead we are merely being shown glimpses and it is just a matter of interpreting what we are being seen. We even see their thoughts sometimes spelled out before us on the screen, but those lead us into more questions than answers. 

This show is just so dense with tidbits of information that it is tough to process. It leads one to actually feel a lot of the confusion so many of the characters feel. In that light the actions that Touya, Rina, Yuki, or any of the others seem understandable if not agreeable. 

So let me again stress that so much of this dramatic anime is left for you to figure out. In the end when 99% of the story has been revealed there is still a crucial piece of information left out and that will forever be left up to interpretation. 

A lot of folks say this show is confusing and it is in a way (as I described above), but it is actually pretty easy to understand once you adjust yourself to the style of storytelling. You just have to have some patience which, admittedly, isn't easy to have given the subject matter. But paying attention to the little details is key here. 

I would say that I enjoyed this series, but it wasn't an easy journey. It's only 26 episodes, but the weight it carried made it feel a lot longer as well as a lot shorter. I couldn't look away, but I couldn't just keep watching. So I sort of found myself doing both, keeping one eye opened and the other closed. Seriously, this show pissed me off so many times and then thoroughly depressed me at others. It was agony.

The ending itself is a point of controversy because it was left up to interpretation. There was a suggested ending, but the bad thing about being suggestive is that it doesn't always lead to concrete results. Then of course there were those who wanted the ending to happen in the same manner of School Days. Well, these shows are different and they end differently. Tough titty. Personally, I liked the ending to White Album just fine. 

If you think you'd like this harem drama (because it sure isn't a comedy) then I suggest you give it a try. It isn't for everyone, though. Harems are so much more awkward without the comedic nosebleeds. 

I do wonder why, of all the characters, Aya voiced Yuki, though. It is almost ironic.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

My Way

So I have been in the mood to watch a really kick-ass pull-no-punches war movie lately. So rather than re-watch any of the number of war movies I have seen a dozen times like The Dirty Dozen or Full Metal Jacket, I decided to consult my handy dandy Netflix account. After some debating I decided on the 2011 Korean film My Way directed by Kan Je-gyu.

I honestly didn't know a thing about this movie going into it. There was the little blurb under the movie giving a brief description, but not much else. From that blurb I gathered this was going to be a fact-based story about two athletic rivals whose rivalry would take a turn once WWII began. Talk about vague, right? But I guess it sounded interesting enough. Although the two and a half hour length of the film made me wonder if I shouldn't choose something a little shorter.

But I went with it because if I didn't decide soon I would end up watching nothing of real significance.

We start out in Japanese-occupied Korea in 1928 where a Korean kid named Jun-shik and a Japanese kid named Tatsuo meet and quickly develop a sort of bond that competing athletes seem to do. But it doesn't seem that they hate each other. Not yet anyway.

Flash forward to when they are teenagers and Tatsuo's grandfather is killed by a bomb. A bomb coincidently enough given to him Jun-shik's father. Tatsuo ostracizes the Korean family even though it certainly doesn't seem that Jun-shik's father was really behind the assassination attempt. After that a rift forms. I suppose no one can be surprised by that.

Years later Tatsuo is a Japanese nationalist and Jun-shik is a lowly rickshaw runner despite once being a talented runner. At this time Koreans are banned from participating in sports events. That is, until a chance encounter pits Jun-shik and Tatsuo on the track field once again. 

What happens after that... Well, it is pretty unbelievable. Unless you know that there is at least an element of truth in the story. Sort of. 

This story is inspired (to a degree) by a real life man named Yang Kyoungjong who happened to serve in the Imperial Japanese Army, the Red Army, and then finally the Wehrmacht before being captured by American paratroopers on D-Day. Naturally, Yang was forced into these armies each time after being captured and placed into work camps. If not for a shortage of manpower, Yang would undoubtedly have stayed in one of those camps instead of being forced into the army. But things didn't happen that way. 

And Jun-shik's journey parallels this journey to a degree.

While there is a lot of Hollywoodization about the exact history behind this movie (D-Day looks like it was over in about five minutes), the drama we are presented with is intense and the war violence indeed graphic. I mean, this is a Korean movie after all.

This film was also made on a big budget at about the equivalent of 24 million American dollars, making it one of the most expensive Korean films ever made. And this movie flopped despite being simultaneously released in Japan and Korea, barely breaking even. However, this movie is really good. It flopped, but it is still damn good. I'd sure as hell rather watch this movie than Pearl Harbor or U-571.

Perhaps this movie failed because, unlike most blockbusters built on extravagant budgets, this film is not an easy watch. It's not a popcorn movie. And it will piss you off. I guarantee you that Tatsuo, portrayed brilliantly by "bad boy" Japanese actor Joe Odagiri, will piss you off so much that you will want to strangle the motherfucker. I mean, for the first half of the movie I wanted to hide a hand grenade in his shorts. Then in the second half... Well, you just gotta see this movie or else you won't believe me. 

Jang Dong-gun plays the Korean lead Jun-shik in this movie and he does so very well. Jang is actually one of those guys that has that kind and gentle image in real life (one of the reasons he's one of Korea's highest paid actors) and this image helps in this movie. You just know he's the good guy and the hero just by looking at him. Not quite Cary Grant, but still the vibe is there. 

Fan Bingbing is a Chinese actress and her role in this movie is fairly small, but it is an important one. In fact, I think she is just about the only woman in this movie. So yeah, My Way is a testosterone-fest, but Fan's character is pretty memorable. She's pretty hot, by the way. Since she's in a prison cell and dressed in rags for most of the movie you might not be able to tell. But she's hot. (I can't wait until she makes her American film debut in X-Men: Days of Future Past as Blink, either.)

Kim In-kwon portrays Lee Jong-dae, Jun-shik's childhood friend. He, too, was imprisoned and then conscripted into the Imperial Army along with Jun-shik. But their paths soon differ and Jong-dae's subsequent turn of character would undoubtedly be the most impressive in the entire movie if not for a certain co-star stealing his thunder. But Lee Jong-dae is great as the loveable yet oafish friend and that makes his changing even tougher to see. 

All in all, this is a well-casted movie. The German and Russian actors don't really get a lot of characterization or screen time comparatively, but they do what they have to do well. And the only U.S. actor is seen with a snarling face before he his killed without ever saying a word. I wouldn't call this a detractor, but aside from the special effects I'm not sure how much of this movie a more Western audience would find appealing since the focus isn't on us or how awesome we are. 

Anyway, this is a damn good movie. Is it a great one? I don't know. It sure isn't bad, though.

Watch it. 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Maximum the Hormone - Buiikikaesu (2007)

I have posted about this band before, but that was before I had actually purchased an album. Thanks to YouTube I had listened to a few of their songs, but after discovering their song Koi No Mega Lover and giving it a few dozen listens I decided to put up the cash and buy the damn album once I discovered that song was indeed on it. At a price of 35 bucks, this is just about the most I have ever paid for a single disc CD. But it is pretty worth it. That's what I think.

And this CD is a legitimate Japanese CD. All the lyrics are in Japanese. So are the song notes. Well, I am assuming they are song notes, but I don't know for sure since I can't read straight-up Japanese. They aren't even written in romanized Japanese. By that I mean that the album title really isn't Buiikikaesu but ぶっ生き返す. And the band's name isn't Maximum the Hormone or even the romanized Makishimamu Za Horumon, but マキシマムザホルモン. Unless you have memorized the symbols then you won't know which is which on the CD. This may sound obvious, but this is one of those things that I didn't realize until I actually got the CD. I was expecting to be able to read the writing even if I didn't exactly understand the words.

But the Japanese don't really need to write in romanized Japanese since... Well, they're Japanese. Romanization really only helps people who speak English to read Japanese. Although the Japanese are taught the process of romanization in school. Anyway, it is pretty obvious that this is an imported product. Although there are a few English words thrown around.

However, I am not really a person to give lessons on something I don't really know. I am just passing on tidbits of info that I think are neat.

As far as the music itself... Well, let me tell you about the musicians themselves.

The bassist Ue-chan is a beast and you can tell that he is influenced by Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. It is fairly easy to hear him over the harsh vocals and roaring guitars. Chu Chu Lovely Muni Muni Mura Mura Purin Purin Boron Nururu Rerorero is a pretty good example of what I am talking about. The bass on that song is pure funk. Even though the song is pop.

Ryo the guitarist and clean vocalist is a hook master. Whether it is the face-smashing opening riff of Zetsubou Billy or the Sabbath-esque opening riff of Shimi, the guy is just damn good. And just when you think you know him and his style you'll hear a song like Koi No Mega Lover which sort of combines the grinding mosh riff with a mix of pop. The verses being mosh (something you'd expect on a Slipknot album) with the pre-choruses and choruses being something like Poison mixed with the All-American Rejects. Kuso Breakin No Lilly also showcases some serious funky pop. Ryo's vocals are really good, too. He is a good foil for Nao and Daisuke-han.

Daisuke-han is the harsh vocalist for this band. Initially, when I first heard his vocals, I didn't care for them. Basically, he has a screeching rapping style that isn't for everyone. I kinda think of his voice as a bit of a Chuck Schuldiner meets early Corey Taylor (the rapping Corey Taylor). Although he is still my least favorite member of the band, I can say that he does fit the vibe of the band. What he does he does well. No, I couldn't understand a single word he sung even if it was in English, but he does fit the mood of the band. I mean, those heavy mosh pit riffs during Zetsubou Billy or Buiikikaesu!! go great with Daisuke-han's shrill delivery. But Daisuke-han doesn't just rap because he can do the guttural growl with the best of them. It's heavy even though it is a bit odd. And that fits Maximum the Hormone to the T.

Now I've come to Nao the drummer. She (yes, she) is an absolute boss on the drums. I mean, I know this is going to sound sexist, but I almost find it hard to believe that she is the drummer. My first impression was that the drummer might be some big hairy-chested dude who lifts weights and shits razors blades in his spare time. Not so. The way she sings like a Japanese pop idol sends the point further home. You wouldn't ever guess that she can play the drums up there with the likes of Slayer's Dave Lombardo. I know that sounds sexist but it isn't intended to be. I am simply impressed. Not just because she is a woman, but because singing the way she does and playing drums the way she does is as impressive as it is odd.

Calling them the Japanese System of a Down doesn't quite cover it. 

1. Buiikikaesu!!
2. Zetsubou Billy
3. Kuso Breakin No Breakin Lilly
4. Louisiana Bob
5. Policeman Benz
6. Black \ Power G Men Spy
7. Akagi
8. Kyokatsu
9. Bikini. Sports. Ponchin
10. What`s Up People?!
11. Chu Chu Lovely Muni Muni Mura Mura Purin Purin Boron Nururu Rerorero
12. Shimi
13. Koi No Mega Lover

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan, Vol. 4 by Puyo

Okay, so I couldn't make this volume last me the four months it will take to get the next one. But, hey, if you were left on that cliffhanger at the end of the previous volume than you'd gobble this one up quick as can be, too. 

So if you haven't read the series, hate spoilers, and think you might want to read them then stop reading this and go pick up those manga!

Okay, now let's continue.

At the end of the previous installment Yuki was hit by a car. Not too badly since she was able to walk away, but she did have a few scrapes and bruises. Plus it's still a car! Worse still, she seemed to have suffered a bit of a personality change. Now this is where we sort of have a temporary joining between the Nagato of The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan and the Nagato of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya

While the previous volumes didn't make it mandatory for you to be familiar with the light novels, anime, or manga, volume four really does require a bit of familiarity with the original series (at least with the original Nagato) to really make this volume work.

By that, I mean that the story that the series has been building up so far (the romantic comedy stuff) is kind of put on halt and this alternate story is briefly introduced and then concluded. Really, we have a cameo from the Nagato of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya in the body of the Nagato from The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan. So the Nagato we see in this volume is really different from either Nagato, but still similar to both because they do share many of the same features and characteristics. 

Being familiar with the light novels, it is tough to think of when the Nagato of the light novels might have made a journey to this other world in the manner that she did. I am not saying it isn't possible, but based on what I do know I have got to assume that this volume isn't canon to The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya even though it features a major character from it. Otherwise, well, this volume leaves quite a few questions that The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya needs to answer in order to make this crossover "official." And I don't think that is going to happen. 

Instead, I would like to just chalk this volume up to being a short and sweet merging of the Nagato characters. Unless there is some sort of explanation down the line from The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya side that can explain Nagato's sudden transfer to another world. Or maybe there is a possible scenario in the manga, but I wouldn't know since I haven't read it. In other words, this is Tanigawa just giving us a wink. 

But as much as I hate to say it, this volume feels more like a detour (albeit a very good one) than a legitimate follow-up to the story that has been progressing thus far. This series has been trying to remain independent of the other (with the exception of a few sly references... more Tanigawa winks, I suppose you could say), but not so much here.

It's all good, though. I really liked this issue. Even if it did seem devoid of Haruhi, Tsuruya, Mikuru, and Koizumi. And even Nagato in a way. 

This issue really is all about Nagato and how she deals with these memories that don't seem to be hers, but somehow are. 

Wannabe the Strongest in the World (Sekai de Ichiban Tsuyoku Naritai)

I don't quit shows often. In fact, I think I have only quit two shows the entire year. Well, I can now add this show to my list of the shows I have quit this year. I tried to give it some breathing room, but five episodes was probably a bit too much time for me. Although I suppose I could watch it through to the end, but I have too many other shows I am trying to watch and it is just time to cut my losses. 

This series takes place in the world of female wrestling and it has a bit of a Rocky feel to it. Based on that summary alone I know it sounds at least sort of interesting. If, like me, you are a sucker for sports-drama movies. It certainly doesn't sound groundbreaking, but it could at least be serviceable, right? I mean, even Rocky IV had its moments, right? Well, the story isn't necessarily what drags this show down, but rather the lack of said story. 

This show is an overabundance on fanservice presented in such a shabby manner that I honestly can't think of any reason why someone would want to watch this. Okay, maybe if you are bored as shit then go for it. But I got Valvrave the Liberator, I Couldn't Become a Hero, So I Reluctantly Decided to Get a Job, White Album, My Mental Choices are Completely Interfering with my School Romantic Comedy, My Little Monster, and old Naruto episodes to watch. 

Compared to those this show is absolute garbage. 

And look, I really am not a prude. I Couldn't Become a Hero, So I Reluctantly Decided to Get a Job has some seriously over-the-top (sometimes gross) fanservice, but that show actually tries a little bit harder and has some actual humor. Wannabe plays things a little too seriously for being the kind of show it is. It's like the writers really want you to think there is no difference between this and The Wrestler or Rocky. And the main character's wrestling ability (or lack thereof) leads her to lose about sixty straight matches... all of them to the Boston Crab. I mean, this chick couldn't beat an opponent not even once (hell, not even by accident) and all of them happened to use the same finishing move? 

This just isn't the type of show that can play the drama card and get away with it. I mean, everyone knows that if you watch it you are doing it for the TNA so why is the story told so straight-faced? Especially when the story is just plain terrible? I mean, she, the main character Hagiwara Sakura, originally decides to become a wrestler to avenge a friend who got beaten by a wrestler. This friend is actually a member of the pop idol group Sweet Diva and Sakura is apart of this group, too. But now Sakura is training to become a real wrestler to prove that idols are not just brainless morons like Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones or the guy who okayed Dragonball GT

Or something like that. It's pretty difficult to pay attention to that story. I mean, sometimes it's difficult to read the subtitles because the visuals get in the way. The animation is just so... yeah. 

It's like this show really wants to be hentai. I mean, the first few minutes of the first show feature our main character moaning for an incredibly uncomfortable amount of time. She's stuck in a painful wrestling move, but you don't know that at first. Out of context that moaning can be easily mistaken for something else. And the first few episodes are filled with that. It's loud, too. So be careful of where you watch this and who is in the house with you. 

You see that crotch shot, right? Just above and to the right on my page? Yeah, how could you not. These episodes are filled with that type of thing. The whole, "Yes, she's wrestling for the honor of her idol group... but, hey, here's some cameltoe or some boobs pressed against the mat!" is kinda effective after about two seconds, but it keeps going and going and it just becomes tedious. And ugly. And painful-looking. It wasn't that arousing the first time and it isn't that much better on the twentieth time. 

I mean, I know there's supposed to be a story, but... umm, where is it again? Oh, yeah, it's pinned on the floor moaning like a two dollar whore. 

Takatetsu Ayana, the voice actress of Sakura, gives a convincing performance, I'll give her that. I wonder if she's secretly voiced some hentai under a pseudonym or something. But coming off of the insanely good The World God Only Knows: Goddesses I wouldn't exactly call this a step in the right direction. Here's hoping her next show is a little bit better and has a little more substance. 

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan, Vol. 3 by Puyo

I got to say that I have enjoyed this issue more than any of the others so far. Of course, this one is still incredibly short at only 160 pages, but that is a minor complaint since it at least isn't shorter than the others. As for why this issue is any better than volumes one or two? It seems that author Nagaru and artist Puyo were determined to craft a more coherent story this time. That's my impression anyway. While the second issue was actually pretty good in terms of quality it just didn't click with me as much as I wanted. The third volume really upped the ante, though. And it ended on one helluva cliffhanger. 

While it seems that once again Mikuru, Koizumi, and Tsuraya are once again reduced to the useless character bin, Asakura continues to be a major strength of this series. When I was first introduced to this series I hated her because she was such an evil character in the main series. I mean, she did try to kill Kyon twice. But now I can say that Asakura is probably my favorite character of this series. Haruhi is probably my second favorite character in this series. I am not sure if I prefer this Haruhi to the "real" Haruhi, but this Haruhi is one I don't have to worry about ending the world. So that is cool. 

Nagato and Kyon are probably tied for my third favorites because I definitely prefer their light novel/anime counterparts. But these incarnations are okay. 

In this volume the gang do a lot of typical anime stuff like go to the hot springs and watch the stars. Not exactly groundbreaking, but well-executed in its telling. In the process the relationship between Nagato and Kyon becomes stronger... although not quite "couple" material yet.

Near the end Asakura seems to have a moment where she loses track of just how long Nagato has Kyon. In that moment I can see the "real world" peek through, but I have no idea what that means in the long run. Not too long after that Nagato... Well, I don't want to spoil it. But I think we'll see a different Nagato in the next issue. And by different I mean the humanoid alien-human interface Nagato from the true timeline. At least that is what I have heard. 

I can't wait. So I've got that on my Kindle waiting for me to start and I want to get to it now.


Unfortunately, volume five won't be coming out until February of 2014. 

Damn, that's a long wait. Not sure if I can make volume four last that long. 

But at least The Surprise of Haruhi Suzumiya comes out next week. 

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Naruto (Season Two)

Well, I have finally completed the fifty-second episode of Naruto. Since that happens to be the final episode of the second season (episodes 27-52 comprise the second season according to Crunchyroll) then I suppose I will post my thoughts on the second season the same as I did with the first.

Naturally, you need to see the first season before the second or else nothing will make sense. At the end of season one all of the young Genin gathered at the forest of doom with the hopes of passing a test that would decide whether or not they made it to the next level of ninja testing.

Gaara: Ultimate Badass Sand Dude
Of course, there had to be some sort of trouble amiss to keep this test from running smoothly. This trouble comes in the form of a guy named Orochimaru. Orochimaru is the bad guy of this particular season, but nothing is particularly resolved here. After personally giving Naruto's teammate Sasuke a bizarre curse mark, Orochimaru creeps back to the shadows and lets his minions do the dirty work from there.

Of course, the minions fail and Naruto, Sakura, and Sasuke all advance to the next test.

The next test happens to be a tournament between the trainees. That's right, folks. What he have here are a collection of fights a la Dragonball.

Of course, Sasuke, Naruto, and Sakura aren't the only ones fighting. That wouldn't be much of tournament, would it? We also have Hyuga Neji, Rock Lee, Gaara of the Sand, Orochimaru's minions, and a few others whose names I can't remember, too.

The second to last fight (Gaara Vs. Rock Lee) is the best one of the season. But it really is just a taste to come later. 

Naturally, almost nothing is resolved in this season. Perhaps this is because there really wasn't anything to resolve from the first season. So it really is like watching another first season of the same show, I guess. Only this time the second season sets up for far complications then it could possibly resolve. Kinda like the writers said, "Hey, that last arc ended too quickly so let's throw a bunch of random stuff together and hope we can make sense of it later on." I mean, there's a reason that Naruto is one of the longest running anime out there at 220 episodes. Although, to be fair, there are shows that are longer. 

Not saying this approach is bad, but it takes patience. A lot of it. 

At the very end of the second season Naruto goes back to training because there will be a whole month before the next tournament. Here we are introduced to Jiraiya. This is important for later on. For now their meeting is just a mysterious punchline. 

It has been a while since I have seen the third season so I can't really remember it, but I do hope it picks up some of the slack. Otherwise I don't think I will ever finish this show. 

Monday, November 11, 2013

Re-Visiting Stephen King's The Shining #2 - Part One: Prefatory Matters

This entry is one I meant to post last week. Oops... 

You know, I think that part one could easily have been titled "Main characters think about stuff... plus one of them just happens to get a job at the Overlook Hotel" because that's what really happens. It's fascinating reading really, but it is a little bit of a curiosity when you think about how many writers these days, not necessarily horror writers (but a majority of them are guilty of this, too), try to keep the pedal to the metal from the very start. I forgot what a slow-burner The Shining was. I don't mean that in a bad way, but I think that it signifies the stark contrast between how Stephen King wrote this classic versus how maybe a writer like Brian Keene wrote his modern classic The Rising. And how King himself wrote a few later novels like Under the Dome and Cell

Of course, there's always been a certain hypnotic quality about Stephen King's writing. However, I haven't felt a real "edge of my seat" thrill when reading Stephen King... at least not usually from the get-go. No, what always attracted me to Stephen King's writing was his sense of what I like to think of as "trap-setting." Instead of putting you immediately in the action he just sort of puts you in a place that's relatively secure and then slowly embeds certain elements in his story that take you out of that comfort zone. And by the time you are out of that comfort zone you realize that you are in the thick of it and can't escape. 

I mean, I can't say I've ever read a Stephen King book that started off with someone getting mangled Edward Lee-style. No, that's something King would do much later after the traps have been set and you can't escape the story. Although nowhere near as graphically depicted as any number of horror authors would depict. 

What Stephen King does when he is at his best is establish a sense of empathy with his characters. Of course, sometimes this means sacrificing a faster pace, but as long as Stephen King keeps weaving his spell we aren't quite aware of how little actually happens in Prefatory Matters.

We are shown much about Wendy, Danny, and Jack. We learn about Jack's alcohol problem's, Wendy's poor relationship with her mother, Danny's peculiar abilities, and a lot of other details that really are the strength of this first part. Characterization clearly came first with this tale. Which is true of a lot of King's works, too. I don't think I can accuse many of King's work of being lacking in the characterization department. 

Jack getting a job as the caretaker of the Overlook almost seems like an afterthought. It's something that just hovers in the background while we are being told what the characters are thinking and feeling. Later on it will prove to be important, but right now it's just one of those things that just happens. A little bit of good fortune for a guy and his family down on their luck, right?  

Trying to view this through the eyes of someone who has maybe never read this or seen the movie (are there still people like that?) it might seem to be *gasp* a little bit of a boring read. But it is not. This book is like an old car engine in that it just takes a little bit for it to get warmed up. That's all. I mean, it's not considered a landmark of modern horror just for kicks and giggles. 

I will start part two momentarily, but I have a few things I am reading right now so this will take a while. So I am in no real hurry.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Majestic Prince (Ginga Kikōtai Majesutikku Purinsu)

This summer there were three fairly well-known mecha anime to come out. Those three being Valvrave the Liberator, Garantia on the Verdurous Planet, and Majestic Prince. Although we are already into November, I can say that I have finally watched all three of those shows in their entirety (with the exception of Valvrave because the second season just started airing last month). I can tell you right now that Majestic Prince is probably my least favorite of the three, but that doesn't necessarily make it a bad show. It's just not my favorite.

All of them a fairly similar in terms of basic plot elements, but each of them handle the subject matter in different ways. How Majestic Prince chose to differentiate itself from its competitors is by its use of humor. Sure, Valvrave the Liberator started out kind of goofy, but once shit got real shit got real. Majestic Prince is a bit more playful and maintains its goofiness throughout the majority of the series. Toward the end it gets a little bit serious, but there are still punchlines and goofy faces being made even when the most intense battles are being fought. Mostly. 

Have I gone over exactly what a mecha anime is? It'd probably be a redundant explanation (chances are if you are reading this then you already know), but I will take some time out to do so now. 

If you are familiar with say Mighty Morphin Power Rangers (the Americanized version of Super Sentai, the Japanese franchise that began way back in the 1975 and still continues) then you are familiar with at least the concept of a mecha anime. Generally, kids or older teenagers are chosen or bred to pilot robots in order to fight aliens to save earth or a conglomeration of spaceships or what have you. Why kids? Well, I don't know. Those are just the rules. However, every mecha anime doesn't necessarily follow that formula. Take Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion or The Big O as examples. 

In Majestic Prince the kids were brainwashed and trained into piloting mechas that would only respond to their DNA (not exactly the most original concept, but then what really is anymore?) so no one else could really pilot them. That also means that if those kids were washouts then the mechas would be a washout, too. Wouldn't that just be a huge waste of the spending budget? You think we got problems with pointless government spending now? Just wait. 

The enemies that the kids fight against an enemy called the Wulgaru. And these Wulgaru pilot mechas that look like something out of Green Lantern. In fact, I suppose you could call this show Gundams Vs. Green Lanterns if you want to get snarky. The Wulgaru are not introduced until about episode seven or eight so I won't really focus on them right now. I'll just say that once they are introduced the show starts to get a little bit more focused. Although it does seem kinda like a fourth wall moment. I mean, isn't it annoying when a show changes its POV once you finally start getting into it? Or is that just me?

Our six kids are Izuru, Tamaki, Kei, Asagi, Suruga, and Ange (the sixth member who joins halfway through the series). Izuru is the leader of this ragtag group known as the "Fail Five." Officially, they are known as "Team Rabbits." Now there is nothing more terrifying than rabbits, right? Okay, maybe not. Their team names suck, but that is because the team itself sucks. They weren't dubbed the Fail Five just for kicks. As individuals they are very talented, but they just suck as a team. When they are first given their suped-up mechs (anime logic: these kids suck so let's give them multi-billion dollar weapons and hope they learn how to use them effectively and find a way to mature in the process). 

However, the Fail Five soon establish themselves as a force to be reckoned with after a few growing pains. To be fair, I like the fact that it took more than a few episodes for the kids to become really skilled at their mechs. Sometimes it seems like they become all beast mode after just one episode and after a while that just gets annoying. It is so refreshing to see the heroes suck when they first start out and get whipped by the enemy. And everyone saw them get whipped thanks to the wonders of the internet. 

But the Fail Five gradually progress. Maybe not enough to make anyone cringe in fear at the name of Team Rabbits, but enough to earn the undivided attention of the Wulgaru. 

At 24 episodes this show is a fairly short one, but it is one you just got to kind of bear because it does get silly at times. There also are not a lot of really cool mecha fights. In fact, there really is only one and that one is so awesome words almost can't describe it. The duel between Izuru and Jiart of the Wulgaru in episode fourteen is epic. Beyond epic. I mean, holy shit! Practically made the entire show worth it. 

All in all this is a pretty good show that could be followed by a second season. The story suggests that might happen, but it is tough to say these days. This show isn't exactly a homerun, but I have seen worse shows get sequels that had less room for development left in them. 

P.S. - A quick note about Ange. I don't know if Ange is a boy or a girl. No one on his team does either. Certain ones refer to Ange as "him" and others refer to Ange as "her." It is tough to say. But once Angie is in mecha-mode the dude (dudette?) doesn't screw around. Anyway, these characters occur throughout a lot of anime and are considered "trap" characters because you never know if they are a boy or girl based on outward appearance. When a few of the members try to ask him (or her) they get sidetracked and we the audience as well as Team Rabbits never find out. 

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

No Longer Human by Osamu Dazai

First of all, if you are the easily depressed type then don't read this book. This book is flat-out troubling in its frankness, but it is utterly fascinating for that very same reason. What is this book I am talking about? Well, the name of it is the title of this blog entry so it shouldn't be that much of a mystery. And the subject matter is not much of a secret, either. It's all in the title of the book. Sort of. The literal translation of the Japanese title is Disqualified from Being Human. That one fits just a bit better, I think. 

This semi-autobiographical novel is about a man named Yozu who feels like he is not a human being and cannot associate with them properly. It reads like a book written by a man at the end of his rope because... well, it is. Less than a year after this book was published in 1948, Osamu (real name: Tsushima Shūji) killed himself by drowning in a canal with a lover; a scene eerily similar to that depicted in this very book. And I suppose that isn't a surprise. Much like the main character in this story, Osamu tried to kill himself but failed on the first try. And then failed again on the second. And third, I think. 

Honestly, I lost count. 

You certainly wouldn't think this is the second highest-selling novel in Japan, but it is and it is considered to be Osamu's masterpiece. Even if it is a barely fictionalized suicide note to the world. What has held this novel- technically, a short novel at only 177 pages- up over the years is that it is just plain well written and very much a fascinating piece of literature. And I do mean literature. I almost forgot what it was like to read literature because it has been so long. 

Of course, I can't speak about the Japanese text because I can't read Japanese. Spoken, I can recognize a few phrases here and there, but written? I only know a few symbols and even then I certainly wouldn't get very far with those. 

However, I trust Donald Keene. This guy actually wrote entire original novels in Japanese and that is mind-boggling to me. This American knows more about Japan than I do about America. And I was born in America and still live in America. He translated the novel in 1958 ten years after it was originally published and his translation is wonderful. I felt like I was reading the original words written by the man himself even though I knew I wasn't. I can only imagine how powerful this novel is in its original text. Even accounting for what was undoubtedly lost in the translation, Keene did a damn good job.

Keene is still alive, too. He is 91 and currently lives in Japan where he plans to live out the rest of his life. 

Osamu is not alive, though. Born in 1909, he surely wouldn't be alive today. However, he certainly should have lived a longer life. When he killed himself in 1948 shortly after getting this book published and before he could finish a novella titled Goodbye (the title yet another chilling foretelling), he proved once and for all that he was a man on a mission. And I suppose he succeeded with that mission. More is to pity. After surviving alcoholism, addiction to morphine, ostracization from his family, and even the WWII air raids... the one thing he couldn't survive was himself. 

And I suppose that makes this novel a bit of bitter irony because it ends openly. Perhaps even hopefully. The main character Yozu disappears after ten years and no one else hears from him again, but we are never explicitly told what happened to him. Perhaps Osamu didn't know what really would happen to Yozu because he didn't know what would happen to himself or perhaps it is because he did know all along. Either way you look at it, this novel ends just a bit happier by not really ending at all. 

If this kind of book interests you then I highly recommend it, but you need to adjust yourself. Western books are different than Japanese books. Japanese literature is about nuance and subtlety. Each word is a morsel to be savored and reflected upon. Indeed, the situations that arise are sometimes more important because of how they are expressed than because of what the situations actually are. Based solely on a plot description a Japanese novel may not sound interesting at all (possibly even dull and boring), but the way it is told is the key to getting enjoyment out of the tale. A simple tale on the surface is often a complex passage into the mind of a scarred human being and you are left changed for the experience. 

At 177 pages this is a short book but at times it felt like a thousand page tome because it weighs so heavy on the mind and I found myself reaching points where I just had to stop reading for a bit. And it is a tough to read. I didn't look forward to picking it back up at times, but I had to. Yes, the subject matter is delivered in an almost cold and clinical manner, but the narrator is even more human and understandable for this very same approach. The dual nature is what makes the book so complex and yet so simple. So tough to read, but so easy to understand. I know that sounds odd, but the answer is simple: He is human and he is as much likeable as he is unlikeable. As cold as he tries to be toward himself it makes you want to be all that more warm towards him. And you will want to root for him even though you know it won't end well. 

But the narrator is far from perfect. Much like the man wielding the pen. Osamu puts himself in this novel in so many ways that you could read his biography (if he has an official one I am not sure, but there's always Wiki) and this book back to back or alongside each other and notice that the changes would be only superficial ones or ones made just to fit the narrative. It is pretty uncomfortable. 

But Osamu was a talented guy, no doubt about it. This one book made me realize that this guy could write and I will read more of his work. This is well-written literature. I said that before, but even if you don't give a crap about Osamu (after this book, you will) you will probably be touched by this book or have your eyes opened just a bit. There were definitely moments where I thought, "You know, that's exactly how I feel" or "I have felt exactly that way before." And I have thought that with other authors, but not quite as often in one book. Considering the source it really does add a layer of perspective to things. 

And the man who couldn't stand himself continues to speak to so many today. This novel alone has been adapted into an anime, multiple manga incarnations, and it has been referenced in other media quite a few times as well. And to think this is a Kindle download... I mean, there's something so bizarre about that. This book is so conveniently available to everyone despite the fact that there is not one thing to be found convenient within these pages for many of those same people. The very people Yozu claimed to not be able to understand. He would probably try to kill himself again if he were alive today. Yozu and Osamu. 

Monday, November 4, 2013

The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan, Vol. 2 by Puyo

Okay, folks, it's that time again for your buddy and pal to review something completely otaku-related. Again. This time we have the second installment of The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan. While the art is pretty much the same as the previous installment, I think that maybe I have gotten a bit used to seeing the characters drawn this way. But I still like the art less than the anime or the illustrations in the light novels. It also seems less weird for Nagato to seem so talkative for being such a shy girl. I guess that means either she's more out of her shell then she was in The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya or Tanigawa just made a few creative changes to the story to fit this different vision. 

I think it is the latter. 

Haruhi and Koizumi enter the picture in this installment and they more or less join up with Nagato, Kyon, Ryoko, and eventually Asahina to create this timeline's SOS Brigade. Of course, now it really is just a normal unofficial club instead of one that happens to contain an ESPer, a time traveler, and an alien. And it isn't named the SOS Brigade either. The most unusual thing about the club is that it features members (Haruhi and Koizumi) who don't go to North High School. 

I always thought that Koizumi was kind of a useless character in the light novels (although he had his moments), but so far it seems like Mikuru is also apart of the useless character brigade along with Koizumi in this manga. That is probably my least favorite change so far. Mikuru not being a clumsy time traveler dressed like a maid simply offends my senses. Later issues better put her in a maid outfit. 

While the first volume seemed sort of rambling and without a coherent plot this second volume seems to go straight for the meat of the story setting up a Kyon/Haruhi/Nagato love triangle. Again, I don't really prefer this story becoming a romantic comedy type, but it is decent enough in its own right. Had it been named something else and featured different characters then this manga probably wouldn't be as interesting to me. I mean, it's really just your typical high school romantic comedy with a few familiar faces thrown in the mix. Only this time we have a shy quiet girl as the main character instead of a shy quiet guy. 

But I am a sucker for this type.

If you are a fan then you probably have already read it or probably will just because it is somehow related to The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya

If you aren't a fan then you probably won't care and that's fine, too. I liked it. Not sure if it is quite worth six bucks considering how short it is, but hey, I don't set the prices and I am always talking about supporting the genre so I do put my money where my mouth is. 

Time for volume three.