retsuko: snarky quote :) (capital letters)
In Manga:

With the Light: Raising an Autistic Child, Keiko Tobe, Volume 1: As I said over at GoodReads, I'm not too keen on this one.


Behind the Scenes!!, by Bisco Hatori, Volume 1: Where to begin? This is more frenetic and sillier than Hatori's previous works (and after Ouran Host Club, that may sound a little hard to believe, I know, but it's true!) It's also a little harder to get a handle on, story-wise. Shy, artistic, and sensitive Ranmaru Kurisu is trying to navigate his way through his first year at art school with little success when suddenly he meets the Art Squad, a club that specializes in making props, set dressing, and costumes for the four other film clubs at the school. The Art Squad is full of unique/weird personalities, including Ryuji Goda, the Art Squad's president/leader/resident goofy idealist who always bites off more than the club can chew. (All of the characters are named after Hatori's favorite Western film directors, so Goda for Godard, Ruka for George Lucas, etc.) The four rival film clubs on campus all bicker with each other, and with the Art Squad, and most of the drama comes from one of two plot hooks:

1) Will the Art Squad be able to fulfill the production requirements of the other clubs in time?! and,

2) Will Ranmaru grow up and find his way in the world?!

Both of these are pretty good plot generators, but I guess I don't know whether to invest in Ranmaru or not; he's not much of character beyond "diamond in the rough" yet. It's clear that Hatori already has, though, and since she succeeded in winning me over before on numerous other occasions, I'm fully willing to give her the benefit of the (silly) doubt on this one. If there's going to be romantic tension between him and Ryuji, I really hope Hatori lampshades it immediately, the way she did in Ouran, because it was so damn funny. (Bring me all the fanfic, please!) I do recommend this to Ouran fans, and anyone who's looking for silly shoujo fluff. If it gets more serious, I'll let you know.
retsuko: antique books (books)
In Comics:

Southern Cross, Volume 1, Cloonan/Belanger/Loughridge: I bought the first two issues of this title and then dropped them. I love Becky Cloonan, but the story wasn’t gelling for me the way I hoped it would. I also suspected it was one of those titles that would be better in collected form; it’s frustrating to read a mystery that stops periodically and makes you wait for a few months to pick up again. I was right about reading it in trade being a better experience, but, well, by not getting the single issues, I missed the genre switch from noir-ish mystery set in space to psychedelic sci-fi horror. It was a bit of a surprise to come across that shift in tone. It’s still an amazing read, and the colors start making sense with the change; the palette is all sickly oranges and blues, with occasional splashes of red gore. That said, I don’t think I need to buy Volume 2; this isn’t something I’d normally pick up. But if you enjoy any Cthulu mythos stories, I think you’ll be happy with this title; if you enjoyed the movie Event Horizon, you’ll definitely get a kick out of this.

In Manga:

Noragami, Volume 1, Adachitoka: Before I really start singing this volume’s praises, can I just say how nice it is to have a shounen/seinen manga that doesn’t have gratuitous cheesecake or panty shots? It’s really, really nice, and it makes me want to read more solely to tell this author/illustrator: YES YOU ARE AWESOME. (Granted, there could be more cheesecake down the line, but volume 1 was mercifully free of that.) Happily, respectful treatment of the female characters isn’t the only good thing about this title. Volume 1 is a little more of an info-dump than I’d like, but it’s clear that the story has an ambitious scope that necessitates said info-dump. I like the way that Adachitoka makes his main character, Yato, a god who’s trying to crawl his way up in the pantheon, ever-so-slightly not-human with cat-like eyes in the frame of a young man. There’s great action in this story, as Yato does battle with creatures to occupy humanity’s blind spots, Shinto-like animistic monsters that follow depressed people around. There’s also a lot of information about how Yato’s powers work, and the things he needs to help him gain power and followers. I’m not sure where the female lead character, Hiyori, will end up in our story; so far her story is pretty vague, and it’s not clear what kind of a person she is, other than shounen manga spunky/nice female character. I have high hopes for the next few volumes, though, especially if we see more supernatural creatures and Hiyori’s personality develops further.
retsuko: antique books (books)
Book Rec: All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr

This book wasn’t something I thought I’d have the chance to read anytime soon; I have an embargo against new hardcovers (for monetary and spatial reasons), and almost everything that comes out, I can wait for in paperback. This book, though… well, two things happened:

1) I heard good things about it. Really, really good things. It won the Pulitzer, for starters, and it was well reviewed all over the place. People I know and respect were talking about it, and just about every book club has it on the rotation. (You’d think this would trigger my slightly hipster, majorly contrarian instincts, but nope!)

2) I asked when it was coming out in paperback, and the employee at BookStar frowned as she poked at her computer. Since hardcovers usually go to trades in nine months to a year, I figured I’d only have to wait a few months. Not so! The paperback isn’t coming out for a long time (at least another year), a deliberate marketing tactic on Scribner’s part, presumably to sell more hardcovers. (And Scribner, I get it, I really do, but arrrrrggghhhhh, you’re killing me here.)

So a while back, I just caved in and bought the damn thing, because my curiosity got the better of me, and because I was sick of my own hardcover embargo.

And, honestly, I’m very glad I did. I enjoyed this book, even though there were times when it was unrelentingly bleak and sad. This is an accomplished and tremendously character-driven piece of work that stands well against other war-set narratives; it never loses sight of its two protagonists and their journeys, and it privileges their experiences over anything else. Read more! )
retsuko: antique books (books)
I've had the distinct pleasure of reading Do Not Sell at Any Price: The Wild, Obsessive Hunt for the World's Rarest 78prm Records recently, as well as Kate Leth's short but very good Ink for Beginners: A Comic Guide to Getting Tattooed. Both of them are very, very good reads, and both of them are organized around two main ideas that, while they seem very dissimilar on the surface, actually end up being a meditation on the same subject in the end.

The first idea has to do with the nature of collecting: why do we do it? What are we trying to prove in the end? Tattooing and record collecting may seem diametrically opposed here: one is external, personal; while the other is internal, and, depending on the collector, only as external as he (because the record collectors that are profiled in the book are almost all men) wants it to be. Petrusich opens her discussion of 78 collectors with one of Baudrillard's famous quotes, that when we collect something, we are ultimately collecting ourselves. It's clear from Petrusich's work that she understands the deep, obsessive call to collect. She understands it so much, in fact, that she learns scuba diving solely so that she can try to find a treasure trove of lost 78s at the bottom of a silty, dangerous river, and despite coming up empty-handed, she still tries to find these lost pieces at flea markets, thrift stores, and garage sales. Leth's approach to collecting tattoos is a bit more practical, since she makes the point right away that tats are permanent. If you're not sure about your idea, she advises, "...wait one year. That may seem long, but you'll have it forever. Don't rush it!" Collecting images that mean something to you, or rare shellacs that mean something to American music, is no easy task, and neither author approaches this endeavor as something to be taken lightly.

The second, and more complicated idea, expands on the first and asks: what is permanence? If a tattoo or a record collection immortalizes us somehow, does that make our existence now better, and are the costs necessarily worth it? Leth states flat out that people shouldn't get tattoos when they're young, siting her own mistakes as evidence: "I had my first ink done at age 14. Would I recommend that to anyone? Hell NO.... I had no concept of permanence--I was going to like what I liked at 14 forever." Petrusich, on the other hand, has a longer space to discuss the notion of permanence and collecting, and she does just that. Some of the collectors she profiles are winners of Grammy awards for their contributions to American music history (they collected pieces of musical history that would have otherwise been erased or lost forever), but some of them are obsessive weirdos who collect indiscriminately and leave their mess for others to find after death. Add to this mix that 78s aren't built to last and there's only a finite number of them in the world today, and getting into collecting these items is not something a layperson can do on a whim. Petrusich makes no bones about the fact that the collectors she meets are almost all male, and that the collecting world they inhabit is an uber-masculine one: "... if mismanaged, the urge [to collect] can manifest as a kind of mania, a macho possessiveness." This macho urge to OWN ALL THE THINGS makes for an odd life. For Petrusich, it's an amazing experience, tracking down awesome, funny characters who take her to backwoods rummage sales and recording studios in other places, but for some of her subjects, the cost of permanence isn't even a footnote in history, just a hobby to pass the time. Immortality is sweet for those are careful, decisive, but for many people, it's a vague promise that disintegrates over time.

Both of these books taught me something. Leth's work is relentlessly practical and helped me finally nail what kind of tattoo I want and where I want it. I also realized that I only really want the one, as long as I can find an artist to work with whose work I love. Petrusich's book taught me so much about the early blues scene in America that I hadn't previously been exposed to, and I suspect a lot of the followup to this work will be hunting down as many of the songs that she mentions so that I can hear them for myself. But it also made me evaluate my own small collection of stuff: a few My Little Ponies (Nightmare Moon is just too damn cool, OK?), some Funko Pops, and my Doctor Who/Ponies crossover project. It definitely appears that I've been collecting parts of myself, but their permanence is a little suspect now. They make me happy, though, and in the end, that's the best part of collecting anything, at least for me. I find it ironic that my obsessive, masochistic completist streak is limited to series of books, but not to objects. After Petrusich's work, I think I kind of dodged a bullet there.
retsuko: (spoilers!)
Unbeknowst to me, Bisco Hatori finally got to work on finishing Millennium Snow, a mere ten years after she left it, mid-plot in order to work on Ouran Host Club. I discovered the two translated volumes by accident the other week as I was browsing in my local big book store and eagerly bought them. The ending, although a little rushed, is incredibly satisfying, and the final resolution of the romance between the two lead characters is strong and sweet. So I'm really happy that I tracked these down! Three things stand out about this second half, though:

1) Hatori's author's notes are actually informative instead of self-deprecating to the point of loathing, the way that many shoujo manga artists end up writing. I actually learned quite a lot about her process and her assistants' work; it was also interesting to consider how difficult it would be to start up a story again when your artistic and storytelling skills have strengthened and progressed so much in the intervening time. She acknowledges her own failings honestly (especially the side plot regarding Chiyuki and her foster brother/cousin in Volume 2, which was just terrible) but doesn't belabor the point into "woe is me I suck" territory. All in all, a very nice read in the margins!

2) My mental summary for this series is "Twilight done right." If you're going to have a romance between a human teenager and a vampire teenager with tons of angst issues, you can't just throw in some abstinence porn and hope it works. (It really doesn't.) Instead, both of the characters need to be whole people, and this is where Millennium Snow really succeeds. Chiyuki's motivation is simple at first, since she's a young woman who's faced her own mortality from virtually the beginning of her life (due to a life-threatening heart condition), and she'd prefer some certainty that she live. But as the plot progresses and she gets to know Toya and experience life "on the outside," her motivation evolves and changes from something small and selfish into a wish that both their lives have meaning. Further, she's not just defined by her relationship to Toya or any of the other male characters. She maintains friendships and interests on her own, and her perseverance rings true, given her life experience so far. Toya, on the other hand, starts off a little one-dimensionally: the brooding teenage vampire heartthrob. (Hatori even lampshades this trope in dialogue several times, including the timeless insult, "you're stuck in a sulky pubescent funk!" leveled by the main romantic rival of the story.) But when the reasons for this brooding sulkiness are revealed, they're problems that aren't false at all; they're reasonable and right. He's asking a human woman/young adult to commit to him for at least 1,000 years, and he's thinking ahead to everything that could potentially go wrong in that time. So his reluctance to turn her plays out not as abstinence porn, but as a genuine conflict between the two characters and their desires for the future and each other. When they finally sleep together, Hatori depicts it in the sweetest, most romantic way possible, and it's just lovely.

3) It's nice to have a character in a story like this one who asks all the right questions. A new character, Kaede, is introduced in the two final volumes who functions as the group's impromptu Watcher and starts to amass as much knowledge as possible about vampires, werewolves, and other magical creatures. There's a very amusing panel at the beginning of Volume 4 where Kaede asks a long string of questions about what it's like to be a vampire or werewolf and the main characters have no answers to any of them; Kaede observes their confused conversation and thinks, "They're surprisingly ignorant..." So, like any responsible scholar, she starts to go through all the books and primary sources at hand and get some answers. If Hatori wanted to do a story about Kaede's future as a ghost hunter of some sort, I'd be there, 101%.

So I definitely recommend this series, both from an artistic standpoint (it's a great exercise in seeing someone's style evolve over time) and from a storytelling perspective. I'm very glad she didn't leave the characters dangling like that. Now I want fanfic more than ever.
retsuko: antique books (books)
In Books:

The Sculptor, words and pictures by Scott McCloud: I read this book deliberately, one chunk at a time, until I reached the 2/3 point, and then I could not stop; the story became so urgent that I almost felt like stopping reading would mean leaving the main characters alone to die, and I couldn't bear the thought of that. I still wish I could have parceled it out a little more slowly, though, because now I will never have the chance to read it for the first time again. What a wonderful story, told by a master, and a meditation on art, love, and life. It's never maudlin and puts neither of its main characters onto pedestals; furthermore, it's nice to read a story where the hero's actions aren't universally treated as the correct Be-All and End-All to all the story's problems. (In fact, the main characters' actions contribute to some of his problems, in the messy, complicated way that often happens in real life, and I really appreciated that angle of the plot.) I'm also amazed that McCloud managed, in every instance, to show in two dimensions a story that I could feel in all three. Not literally, of course, but I could imagine all the textures that are part of the story beneath my fingers, and this is a rare thing for any work, graphic novel or not. The final twenty pages or so are some of the most beautiful pieces of art I've seen in years.

When I finished this book, I sat on the couch for a few minutes, wiped away the tears, and went to hug my son. It's that kind of book, the kind that makes you value what you have and remember how life, although tumultuous and sometimes troubling, is a gift. It's absolutely worth paying the hardcover price for. Run, don't walk!

The Bone Clocks, by David Mitchell: Like the The Sculptor, this is a work that deals in huge themes and it's hard to reduce it to a few sentences of plot and critique. In some ways, it's as good as Cloud Atlas, although I don't think anything will ever knock that book out of my favorites list. It's the most Buddhist work of science fiction I've ever read. It's filled with characters of all sizes and shapes, although it sticks with one character throughout in thought-provoking ways. Unlike Cloud Atlas, I ended up liking all of the characters, including one who I never thought I would come to tolerate, much less like. It's also one of the more depressing visions of the near future that I've read in some time, and I'm sorry to say that the final installment of the story is the one that sticks with me most of all, when I think it should be the work as a whole.

Both The Sculptor and The Bone Clocks are masterful at capturing in macro- and micro- the ways that life slides by, and they both feel epic in similar ways, even though their subject matter is completely different. While The Sculptor is more accessible than The Bone Clocks, they're both wonderful reads for story and character, and that amazing sense of grandeur that a lot of works lack.

In Comics:

Marceline Gone Adrift, Issues 1 & 2: The story is unfolding slowly so far, but the wonderful artwork is more than enough to make up for it, and I have faith Meredith Gran is going to spin a marvelous second half. There have been some great flashbacks to Marceline and Bubblegum's past so far, and I'm sure there are more to come.

Help Us! Great Warrior, Issue 1: I wasn't sure what to make of this comic until the last two panels of the final page, in which this amazing line of dialogue resides: "Ssshh! Do you hear that? It's the sound of me believing in myself." At that point, I was totally sold. The whole work is impossibly adorable and squishy, and there are a lot of fun asides like this one. I'm really excited to see where the story goes!
retsuko: martha jones from 'doctor who', in black and white (martha)
A lot has been written on Gone Girl, both book and movie, lately and I've been impressed at the topics of discussion that have come up because of it, mostly because they are things that people do not like to talk about: the failure of marriage, as an institution, to provide for all parties involved in a way that compensates for all the sacrifices they make and the identities that people assume to cope with that failure. When I watched the movie with a single friend of mine, I turned to her at the end and joked, "So, hey, feel like getting married now?" and she laughed but then vehemently replied, "No way." Actually, the audience at the showing I saw was pretty worked up throughout the whole thing, and I think there were a lot of people around us thinking much the same thing. Marriage isn't usually a villain in any equation, and seeing it act like that here is at turns awkward (Amy's diary monologues about wives who control their husbands like Dancing Monkeys) and outright disturbing (Nick's sheer cluelessness about what his wife does with her time; Amy's multiple, casual re-fabrications about her life.) People around us laughed at some points, but it was an uneasy, restless laughter that left a sad tinge to the credits.

The other thing that really impressed me about the film was the number of facades that the movie presented us with: Amy and Nick's house is a blank, bland slate, colored in beige and wimpy green (not actually verdant, just the pale cousin of bright, lifelike green); Nick's bar is as generic as it gets (almost down to the level of grit on the windows, which I got the feeling the set decorators measured to be absolutely, disgustingly perfect); and all of the landscapes in the movie are either empty (the vast fields that Nick and the army of volunteers comb through, or the vague blankness of the cabin in the Ozarks where a pivotal mistake is made) or prefab and fake (Nick's office has no decorations, only a computer and a desk, cementing his status as "fake professor.") I kept expecting the characters to go around to a back of a building, only to discover that it was just a false front on a Hollywood backlot. It's a shell of a movie--a beautiful, exquisitely constructed shell that's hollow on the inside, just waiting for one of the characters to come back and truly inhabit it.

All this said, it's not a "fun" film, or a simple narrative. The book is easy to read--Flynn's sharp-witted prose just slides by like nothing else is happening and as a "need to know what happens next" type of book, it shines. The film is like that, too, relying on an excellent script from Flynn and reasonably quick pacing. But neither of them is a settling experience, and both of them made me feel like I'd watched someone else's homemade, creepy porn by accident. I'm still trying to brain bleach out a few of the images and sentiments. They're both worthwhile pieces of work, but not for the faint of heart, or those who want black-and-white endings.
retsuko: (spoilers!)
I know I'm a grown woman, and that I should be doing more responsible things at the moment, but there is something just so lovely about sitting down with a pile of comic books and reading them from cover to cover, regardless of time and chores, and the general mundanity that is life.

In comics:

Rat Queens, Issue 8: Violet's origin story gets told in a highly satisfactory fashion, with some very sweet moments between her and her mother, and some sour ones with her family as a whole. I especially like the first two pages, where Violet is getting dressed and it's made abundantly clear that a) the artist knows how armor works, and b) Violet is not your standard comic book lady with an unreal body. In any case, the story unfolds, and it's very, very bittersweet as it's contrasted with the final page of the issue. I love this comic!

Thor, Issue 1: The only disappointment in the whole haul, mainly because the new Thor is only in the whole issue for two pages. I'm eager to see Lady Thor in action, and while the two-page spread of her lifting Mjolnir was beautifully colored and dynamic, it was frustrating as a whole for a comic about her to only feature her for a moment. The art in this is very nice, though, and hopefully when the next issue shows up, new!Thor will have more to do. Also, some frost giants to battle, because there sure were a lot of them in this issue. (And their toenails are grotesque. GROTESQUE.)

One other, minor disappointment: still no word on how original!Thor will keep those abs now that he's not wielding the hammer anymore. Will he have to go to the gym like the rest of us?? Inquiring minds want to know!

Gotham Academy, Issue 1: This is a lot of fun, and it has a lot of promise. My only quibble with it is that it's too short! The first issue is setting up a lot of plot elements: our heroine's angsty past with her mother and other students at the school; conspiracies in and around the school itself; and whatever the monster in the walls is. I wished that there was more time to let the story unspool just a little bit more, instead of "here is this character! that one! look, it's Bruce wayne!" That said, I'm looking forward to the next issue, and hoping that the pacing will pay off in the long run.

In graphic novels:

This One Summer, words by Mariko Tamaki, art by Jillian Tamaki: The artwork in this is just gorgeous, and it captures perfectly the "summer at the seaside" that I was lucky enough to experience as a kid. The plot is very subtle but sweetly compelling, a coming-of-age story for the main character, Rose, mostly, but also the story of her friendship, her parents' relationship (which is not relegated to the sidelines, like a lot of YA literature might; I really appreciated the fact that the adults in this story were real people, too, not just paper tigers or imparters of Important Truths about Adulthood), and her awkward crush on the local convenience store guy. There's a sudden twist or two towards that the end that propels the action of the story into overdrive, but that's what summer is often like: a whole lot of leisure, and then the sudden realization that it's all about to be OVER and you need to do something, right away, before you lose the chance. I'd recommend this to a number of my friends, and to anyone who's spent any time at a summer resort as a kid. The sheer nostalgia alone is worth the price of admission.
retsuko: antique books (books)
It's a great pleasure to heartily recommend The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith (a.k.a. J.K. Rowling), mostly because it's been a long time since I've been so invested in a story and its characters, but also because it made me gasp aloud not once but twice, with two reveals that I did not see coming at all. This book is all the things that Rowling did well with the Harry Potter series, but a different story and setting, and, obviously, much more adult tone throughout. One of the things that Rowling does especially well is create characters who I sympathize with, and this book had it spades, from the gruff, wounded detective who is the hero of the story, to the homeless, drug-addicted friend of the dead woman who seethes with anger and resentment, but is ultimately portrayed as human, and not just a plot device. Another excellent element of this story is its plot, which moves along briskly enough, but slows down when necessary to give its characters and settings time to breathe, to come alive and make sense.

To be honest, this book was also a pleasure because it reminded me why I love the mystery genre. I'd gotten soured after reading a succession of books where women's bodies were in pieces, bits and limbs of victims everywhere, but with no soul. It's a misogynistic trend that bothers me, and I was a little wary of starting another story that featured a female victim. But The Cuckoo's Calling never glorified or overindulged in the violence that lead to the murder. Instead, there was a lot of discussion of who the murdered person was, and why her life mattered to people. That's a welcome change from the scores of serial killer books where bodies pile up namelessly.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who likes a densely plotted and populated mystery that takes place in a modern, urban setting, with a flawed hero and resourceful sidekick. Hell, I recommend this book to just about anyone who enjoys a good mystery.
retsuko: (Default)
At the movies:

The Wind Rises/Kaze Tachinu: A beautiful and effective movie, and well worth seeing on the big screen, especially if you have any interest in aircraft, imagination and the creative process, or Japanese history. I could wax rhapsodic on so much in this lovely film, but the most important highlights include:

1) This is an unconventional biopic, in that there is no clearly defined villain for the hero to defeat, but a series of specific engineering and historical obstacles that influence his designs and decisions. What emerges instead of an A-to-B-to-C-to-ending plotline is a portrait of a man's soul, and a careful exploration of the question, "what if something you create is used for destruction?"

2) The backgrounds, especially of the protagonist's home and Tokyo in its early days, are simple beautiful and, like so many Ghibli films, lovingly depicted in a spectacular amount of detail. I cannot wait to watch this again on DVD to see all the little things that I missed this first time around.

3) I never thought that I would ever be interested in aircraft design (especially for war) in anything other than an academic way. To my great surprise, this film convinced me entirely otherwise.

4) The dream sequences in this are the best part. I would give almost anything for the lucid experience the movie portrays, and for the elegant, relaxed depiction of beautiful and terrible things.

In sum: see it in theaters if you can. It's not appropriate for very young children, and even older children may find it a bit dull. (There is intense, extended dialogue about rivets, wing design, fuel line placement, and tuberculosis.) The English dub turned out to be very nicely done, but I'm eager to hear it in Japanese, too.

Veronica Mars: I enjoyed this very much, but it felt more like a pilot episode of a new series instead of a feature film--which, don't get me wrong, would have made my day. If the credits had started to roll, only to be replaced with the words, "Veronica Mars makes her return to TV in 2015," I would have been on my feet cheering, because this film gave us a lot of interesting plot points that could easily extend into a season-long plot arc. In Veronica's absence, Neptune has gotten better and worse, and all the characters have grown and changed in (mostly) interesting ways. I did love seeing Veronica getting back into her girl detective mode with very little difficulty, and I like thinking about the ways the plot could go. (Wallace and Mac's new jobs alone could provide enough plotlines to keep a season humming along nicely, too.) It was a lot of fun, and I'm glad I saw it in the theaters.

In books:

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs: I've been thinking about this book on and off ever since I've read it, and not in entirely good terms. It reminds me of the days when I would binge-read a long, completed fanfic and only later think, "Wait, what the hell did I just read?!" (Cassandra Clare's "Draco Dormiens" series springs immediately to mind in this category.) Like a really good fanfic, this book had its strong points: eerie vintage photos accompany the narrative and help set an overall creepy tone that mostly holds up pretty well; the pacing is fast and furious and the stakes appropriately high. But also like fanfic, there are too many points in this story that felt overly contrived or rushed, and in this case, I couldn't shake the feeling that someone had made a set of specific suggestions for Riggs to follow and instead of holding true to this vision, he cleaved too truly to the suggestions, for better or for worse. This book is already in development for a movie (Tim Burton is currently attached as a director) and the franchise opportunities must be sending up dollar signs for the studio and publisher. I only hope that future installments allow Riggs to reclaim his own vision and develop the characters more completely and in a less, well, fanfic-y way.

In graphic novels:

Blue is the Warmest Color, by Julie Maroh: The artwork in this is simply gorgeous. There's so much depth and emotion wrapped up in all the shades of grey, and when the color blue does appear, it's startling and effective. (I think the story lost a bit of momentum when full color was introduced about two thirds of the way through.) The plot I didn't love quite as much; it read like an opera, a little like La Boheme updated for a gay coming of age story set in France in the 1990s, complete with a tragic ending and tragic-comic middle. But there's an undeniable pull to the story, even though it's familiar and sad, and I like the framing device of one of the characters reading the other's diary to recount the events of the story. It's also explicitly erotic and honest about the main characters' desire for another. I really hope this book makes its way onto required reading lists at colleges around the country, and not just as an object of controversy.
retsuko: antique books (books)
In Books:

I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban, by Malala Yousafzai and Christina Lamb: This book is the definition of a vital read. It's not easy, not by any stretch of the imagination, to read Malala's account of being shot in the face by a Taliban soldier and her recovery, or to hear the story of how the Taliban temporarily forced her family (and many, many others) to relocate twice in a very short amount of time. But this work a testament to Malala's vision of what an education can bring her, and so many girls like her. It's also a testament to her family as a whole, who weathered this whole storm with amazing resilience. In particular, Malala's father stands out as a brave man who believes in his daughter's rights and intelligence, and never lets her down. I hope many people will read this book and have it renew their dedication to fighting for social justice and education for all, worldwide. Heartily recommended.

In Manga:

Sweet Rein, Volume 1, by Tsukuba Sakura: This is an adorable manga with perhaps the silliest premise I've ever read: high school student Kurumi discovers that she's a Santa Claus (yes, that Santa) and that a handsome boy named Kaito is her servant, a magical reindeer bound to do whatever she orders him to. (Now that I type it out, it does sound pretty ridiculous.) I bought this out of sheer disbelief more than anything else, and what sells this story is the sincerity that Tsukuba puts into almost every panel and line of dialogue. Like many shoujo manga heroines, Kurumi's a good-hearted girl who wants to do what's right, and this story gives her ample opportunity to do just that. The threadbare will-they-won't-they-fall-in-love romance subplot between her and Kaito gets played more for laughs than any serious conflict; it's pretty clear that they'll be a couple by the end of the series, if not sooner. The only remaining problem is how to construct any other obstacles for Kurumi to overcome, since there doesn't seem to be a Grinch-like character lurking on the horizon. Honestly? It's adorable and sweet, and I liked it despite myself. Definitely be looking for Volume 2.

Angelic Layer, Volume 1, by CLAMP: Somehow, I missed out on this classic CLAMP title a while back and am only now just getting to it. It's not my favorite work of theirs (at least, not yet, but I do have a full second volume to get around to) and in some ways, it highlights what's weakest about their work: characters who little to no clear motivation; ridiculously fast plot that comes, seemingly, out of nowhere; and the barest excuse for conflict (in this case, a televised game between psychic toys connected to their owners.) On the other hand, though, it's tremendously entertaining despite all these problems, and I'm looking forward to the next installment, even as some plot twists loom (in a highly untwisty manner) over the story as a whole. Our erstwhile heroine, Misaki, finds herself drawn to the game Angelic Layer after arriving in Tokyo and seeing it on TV for the first time. She's aided in this by an eccentric genius who counsels her on how to craft her own doll (or, Angel), who, of course, is not what he seems. For plot reasons, Misaki is an able controller/fighter and quickly finds herself in the midst of a high stakes tournament, making allies and enemies along the way. CLAMP brings their trademark gorgeous artwork to all of this, particularly in varied character design for humans and Angels alike. There's also a lot of amazing, dynamic artwork for the battle sequences, which are surprisingly exciting and very easy to follow. So, even with the poor points, this is still an entertaining, fast-paced read, and I did enjoy it rather more than I expected.

In Comics:

Octopus Pie: There are No Stars in Brooklyn, by Meredith Gran: As an antidote to the shoujo sweetness above, I read this delightfully subtle story about Brooklynite misanthrope Eve Ning, her roommate Hanna, and a handful of other characters who inhabit the newly-college-graduated, still-sorting-out-their-lives scene in NYC and its environs. I'm betting that a lot of the New York jokes sailed right over my head, but fortunately, there are plenty of other jokes that ring true. Gran's artwork is perfect--distinct and funny, and with an eye for just the right details to make the story ring true. A lot of fun.
retsuko: antique books (books)
At the Movies:

American Hustle: Some movies are linked in my head with the experience I had in the theater when I saw them; for AH, it's going to be forever associated with being unable to get seats far enough back and feeling sick during the disco sequence. Also, everyone's faces were magnified, like, seemingly a million times larger than normal because of the close seats, and after a while, that gets really, really weird. Anyway, it's a good movie, and even though I didn't like feeling nauseated, I really enjoyed it as a portrait of some profoundly shades-of-grey, no-moral-absolutes people. Whenever I watch a heist movie/story, I'm waiting for the denouement, and AH's does not disappoint. It was just a little hard to root for people who were so completely deluding themselves (even though the narration of the story acknowledges that very fact.)

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Redux: I went and saw this with my Dad, who thoroughly enjoyed it and wanted to nitpick every detail when it was over. I am sorry to say that when that spider popped out, even though I knew it was coming, I still jumped and made a little squeak of surprise. Dammit, Peter Jackson! On a second viewing, the pacing of the story seemed even more glacial, but I was to better look at the beautiful design work that's largely hidden in the background. The elves of Mirkwood have a slightly different sensibility from Rivendell, and seeing that again, checking for details and so forth, was highly pleasurable. And Tauriel is still amazing and kickass.

In Books!:

Bossypants, by Tina Fey: What a fun, likable book! Fey writes as if she were sitting across from you at the dinner table, recounting stories of the history of SNL/30 Rock, celebrity culture, and parenting with equal weight and it's just lovely, like discovering you have a tremendously funny cousin you didn't know existed.

The Impostor's Daughter, by Laurie Sandell: As a counterpoint to Fey's book, I read this book in one sitting, unable to stop myself. Then as I was adding it to my GoodReads profile, I went through some of the comments, and, well, OUCH. A lot of people think this work is selfish and shallow, and that the author shouldn't have written about her father's actions, or brought her family's turmoil into public discourse like this. I'm of very mixed minds about this. It's a crazy-amazing story and Sandell's father is a highly flawed but compelling figure, a man who lied his way through life and destroyed his family's and friends' financial stability, yet Sandell remembers him fondly, too, as the man who told her wonderful stories and encouraged her in her artistic and academic endeavors. This book also details Sandell's own response to uncovering this story as an adult, and her prescription drug abuse that eventually leads her to rehab at the end of the story. This work strongly reminded me of This Boy's Life by Tobias Wolfe (which also deals with a destructive father figure), and I began to wonder if people would have been as hard on Sandell if she were a man writing about his relationship with his mother or father. The only major difference is Sandell's choice to include her own, present-day struggles with drugs. I think her inclusion of this part of the story is a highly brave act that allows her to reclaim the narrative from her father's reach, and tell her own story, even though that story is one that's been told more than a few times. As she says in an interview that functions as the book's afterword: "My hope is not to reconcile with my dad, but to emerge from this experience relatively unscathed." To even reach that conclusion strikes me as a strong and brave choice, and I commend her for putting these words and pictures on paper.
retsuko: (Default)
In books:

Thanks to Goodreads' list-making capabilities, I have a record of the 57 books I read during 2013. Of those 57, I didn't finish 3, for reasons related to lack of time, boredom, or disgust. Out of the remaining 54, 4 were non-fiction (which I'm proud of, since I'm always trying to read more non-fiction; left to my own devices, I know I'd be stuck in an endless loop of shoujo manga and urban fantasy that wouldn't really teach me anything new about the writing process or the world at large.) 14 were graphic novels or manga, the best of which was Saga. I'm eagerly awaiting the third trade paperback of this excellent series!

In general, I've stayed away from reading that was excessively dark this year, mainly because I just didn't have the mental energy to deal with sadder subject matter. In this spirit, I'm currently reading I Am Malala and Tiny Fey's Bossypants at the same time--I read Malala's book until I get too sad, and then I switch over to Fey's as a counterpoint. It's a slightly disjointed reading experience, but it's better for my soul. (It does help knowing that Malala's book has a reasonably happy ending, too.)

I'm not sure how many books I'll challenge myself to read in this coming year, but I certainly hope to beat my record this year.

At the movies:

Somehow, I've managed to see quite a few movies this year, which is a miracle of sorts. I still haven't seen American Hustle, but it seems as though that will definitely linger in theaters for a few more weeks, so I still have time. I saw a lot of movies this year on Netflix that were pretty good, and I also managed to see a lot of things in theaters. My favorites are "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" and "Frozen." (I kept imagining these two as a sort of messed up double feature, in that order. They're both about familial relationships, and the mental traps that we set for ourselves and each other.)

There aren't any movie properties in 2014 that I'm chomping at the bit to see (at least, not that I'm aware of) but I'm sure there'll be some great things anyway, regardless. :)
retsuko: (girl & her dog)
In Movies:

Gravity: Yes, the soundtrack is overbearing, but WOW this is a movie about a woman, and it is often tense and frightening, and I was impressed at how often the filmmakers made the audience sympathize with a female character--heavens! It's so simple that it's revolutionary! And the shots of space were just lovely. All in all, I'm really glad I saw this on the big screen, and in 3D... for the first time in, well, ever, the extra money seemed really worth it for a "you are there" experience that I don't feel like I've ever had before. I also think Ryan Stone is a character who needs to be up there next to Ripley in terms of putting up with so much crap from one story.

In Comics:

Saga, Volumes 1 & 2, Words by Brian K. Vaughan and pictures by Fiona Staples: I've been meaning to blog about this for a while now, but I'm loving this work, which is like Perdido Street Station twisted into the Star Wars universe. It's relentlessly imaginative and violent, and I'm a little surprised at myself for liking it so much. Staples' artwork has a lot to do with that--all the characters have unique and interesting faces, even when they're covered in blood or contorted in suspicion. So amazing.

Empowered Special: Nine Beers with Ninjette, Words by Adam Warren, with pictures by Adam Warren and Takeshi Miyazawa: To be fair, I was already on this bandwagon, but DAYUM this one-shot really ups the pathos! It's so persuasively sad throughout that I wondered if Warren made himself cry at any point during the process. It's also a really good counterpoint to the normal series, which is usually quite irreverent fun. Miyazawa's artwork is a nice plus, too.

In Manga:

Gate 7, Volume 4, with pretty pictures and random words by CLAMP: I'm a little amazed at myself for jumping on his bandwagon at all, because I thought I was pretty much done with this whole series, but then I picked up Volume 4 and it did not disappoint as much as I thought it would. My original quibbles are still there (Chikahito does not behave like ANY teenaged boy I have ever met, the meta-conflict is confusing, Hana is still weirdly sexualized, etc.) but for once, this volume's story works fairly well, and even though there are some familiar CLAMP tropes here (adorable child secretly planning to torture everyone, for example), they seem reasonably new and interesting in this story. As usual, the artwork is a thing of beauty, particularly the attention given to a spirit tiger that aligns itself with the main characters. Hana's magic is still gorgeously rendered, too. It's so hard to stay mad at CLAMP!
retsuko: antique books (books)
The Book in Question: I Want to Go Home!, by Gordan Korman, Apple Paperbacks, copyright 1981.

What It's About: Rudy Miller is sent to sports summer camp Algonkian Island by his well-meaning parents, but he hates all things camp (namely the forced, supposedly "fun" activities) and spends his time trying to escape with his token friend, Mike Webster, or baiting the clueless counselors and the resident bully, Adam Greene.

What I Remember: In my fifth or sixth grade class, this was THE book that everyone read, even the kids who claimed they weren't into reading. I think our school library had about three copies and they were almost always checked out. There was about a month or so, right at first, when someone read it, and then it got really, really hot, and everyone in the class wanted to read it. The consensus at the time was that it was the funniest book that we all had read.

I remembered some of the sequences in it almost word for word. The first letter that Rudy writes home to his parents before chronically annoying counselor Chip stops him is truly a thing of hilarity: "Dear Mom and Dad... This place is terrible. Each day I am subjected to countless atrocities. ... Our cabin collapsed in a typhoon last night, but don't worry. Only one guy died. It's not all bad. I do have one friend, named Mike. He's the one who pulled me out of the quicksand. ... If this letter looks messy, it's because I'm writing it while being chased by a bear." (23) I also correctly remembered that there was one counselor who was cooler than the others (the arts and crafts one, named Pierre--another sign that this book was Canadian, which I totally missed, see below) and that there was a dance sequence that took place at a girls' camp later on in the story, which provides a kind of ridiculous escape set-up for Rudy and Mike. And the day where Rudy gets to be camp director and creates over-the-top obstacle races for the counselors and a scavenger hunt for the other campers is pretty amazingly funny the second time around, too.

Overall, my feeling back when I first read it was that this book was written by someone who understood what it means to be a kid in a world of adults who aren't listening because they have their own preconceived and unshakable notions of what being a kid is like. The dedication (which I did forget) supports this pretty well: "There's fun, and then there's fun. This book is dedicated to those who know the difference."

Upon Rereading...: I think one of the reasons I liked this so much when I was a kid was that I had a secret fantasy that this book lays out: to be really, mind-bogglingly good at sports, but choose NOT to do them, and have adults clamoring for me to use my talents. Since I was no good at any sport as a kid, to read about someone who was, but didn't feel like doing them... well, that sounded pretty damn awesome. Unfortunately, to me now, it sounds kind of contrived, but OK, fine. It's an interesting plot device, despite its Gary Stu implications. ("'Do you win at everything?"' '"Yes,"' said Rudy sadly." (81))

Reading it now, I'm exceedingly happy that I have no one like Rudy Miller (or Adam Greene) in any of my classes, though.

Anything that completely escaped my notice back then?: This book is Canadian! Seriously, you'd think this would be obvious to any reader, but I had no memory of it whatsoever, and I felt kind of stupid the moment that Toronto and meters got mentioned.

Korman works really hard to create adult characters who aren't evil or cruel, but are simply kind of clueless and oblivious to what they really need to do in order to make their young charges happy. There's an interesting scene between the counselors where half of them want to bully Rudy into playing the sports he's so good at, but hates, and his counselor makes them back down: "The kid comes first. That's what we taught, and that's what I'm going by." (83) Considering all the crap that Rudy's put Chip through at this point, I like that Korman doesn't have him laughing evilly like a vaudeville villain. (In fact, it kind of endeared me to Chip!)

Overall Verdict Now: It's still funny, even though it seems a little dated and parts of the story don't ring quite as true as they did for me when I was kid. I'm really glad I had the chance to reread it!
retsuko: (girl & her dog)
In Books:

The History of Us, by Leah Stewart: Two thoughts about this book vied for supremacy in my mind as I read it: 1) this is a book about whiney white people and their pathetic little problems, and 2) aw, crap, I know people exactly like this, and it's so true. I was immensely pleased when, towards the end, Stewart deftly acknowledged my number one problem by having one of the whiniest of the characters acknowledge her privileged position in life, and that she and her siblings had had it pretty good. After that, the number two issue took over, and I was very glad that I'd read the book, which features some rather damaged people making poor decisions and then dealing with the fallout, all set around the central issue of house and home. I share some choice quotes beneath the cut. )

Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey: The Lost Legacy of Highclere Castle, by Fiona Carnarvon: From my GoodReads review, While it could have used a bit more editing in the middle (the section about the First World War drags on and on, although I suppose that's how the war must have felt to those who lived through it), there is no doubt about the current Countess of Carnarvon's sincere admiration of her ancestor's efforts and spirit. If you are looking for juicy gossip, Downton Abbey-style, you may be disappointed, but if you're looking for a well-researched historical portrait of the time period, the house, and a few of its occupants, this book should be satisfying. It's not a work of amazing high literature, but it's interesting and well-researched, and I enjoyed it more than I expected to.

Snaps, by Rebecca Kraatz: What a neat graphic novel--almost too short in some ways, but exactly perfect in others. Kraatz spins a narrative of characters' lives interwoven with each other and the second world war, all based on an old photo album she bought years ago at a flea market on Vancouver Island. I really liked this.

At the Movies:

Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters: Holy moly, Anthony Stuart Head was a centaur! OK, so, obviously, there were other things going on in this film, but every time he was on-screen, I couldn't get that fact out of my head. It was just so odd; a voice in my brain kept insisting, something is WRONG with Giles!. Anyway, there were things wrong with this movie as a whole, too, although it was certainly an improvement on the first one in the series. I think the main problem was that Luke is not a particularly scary nor compelling villain; in fact, his main threat appeared to be blanding the main characters to certain... inaction. Or something. I did love the scenes with Nathon Fillion and Stanley Tucci (who gets a terrifically funny line about Jesus being a better God than any of the Greek ones because of his skills with water and wine), and the mechanical bull monster scene at the beginning had a lot of proper excitement in it. Also, the kid playing Tyson, Percy's half-Cyclops half-brother, was perfect for the role, and his acting made the other actors do so much better that when Percy mourned his Tyson's apparent death, the movie lifted itself out of "average" and into "compelling." But overall, it didn't feel like it had much of a soul, which is sad, because the books are brimming over with soul, fun, and personality, and I hate to see that narrative drained.
retsuko: (spoilers!)
Thursday!: Videos Games! Awesome Web Comics! A depressing panel that turned out OK! Talking with awesome people! )

Friday!: Defiance! Literary How-To's! Weird Outside Stuff! )

Saturday: We camped out in Room 8 for five hours! But the Adventure Time panel was worth it! Huzzah! )

Sunday!: Loose Ends of all varieties! )

General Thoughts:

~ The fundamentalists were more vocal and more... uhm, personal, this year, for lack of a better word. Last year, they just yelled about Jesus, but this year, their attacks were more Comic Con-specific, like the guy with a megaphone who shouted at all and sundry, "Don't let your souls be enslaved by comics!" (It took some willpower not to shout back, "Too late!") There were counter-protests, of course, and those looked unpleasant to referee. I tried to thank as many of the law enforcement people as I could when they weren't working or concentrating on other things; one of the transit security police officers looked surprised when I did, and confessed that he really wished he could go to the Con himself. (He wanted to meet Stan Lee for real, not just pay for an autograph.) As usual, even in the hoards of people, I never felt unsafe or afraid for my physical well-being once, and I think the SDPD is responsible in a large part for that.

~ For some reason, the crash after this Con was especially hard this year. The real world, as much as I love it, doesn't seem quite as interesting for the first few days afterwards, and today was no exception, with mundane chores and problems looming large.

~ There was a lot of zombie stuff--costumes, toys, images, etc.. It was not fun for me. I wish this trend would run its damned course.

~ There were times when the Exhibit Hall didn't seem as crowded as usual, and I couldn't figure out if it was actually truly empty, or I had just gotten really, really good at making my way through the knots of people. It is a lot easier when it's just me, and I tend to stay out of the central scrum of the big companies and their lines, but I could have sworn there were times when there were swathes of empty space, and that's an oddity.

~ The overall theme of this year's Con ended up being something along the lines of, "Crazy Contradictions!" It was personified best in the juxtaposition of the Christian Comic Arts Association booth next to the Killer Zombie Bunnies booth in the Small Press area. Comic Con often leaves me with the aftertaste of sweet and sour. On one hand, there's a pure interest in comics and reading that makes my heart sing, but on the other, there's a crass commercialism that manifests itself in the crazy-long lines for the exclusive toys and vinyl collectibles that makes me alternately groan and grumble. Comic Con is the only place where I can wear my Kate Beaton t-shirt and people not only compliment me on it, but also want one themselves. Comic Con is also the place where my phobia is everywhere, all the time, and I have to make compromises with myself to get past it, but it's also the place where many, many people I admire (both real and fictional) are front and center, and I can draw on their words and examples to give me strength. There's beautiful art, and there's the cheesiest of cheesecake, side by side; in fact, there are Charles Dickens-esque contrasts every two feet or so. It's sublime and ridiculous, and I love almost all of it, even as I realize that what I love is what some other attendees hate. But that's the beauty of multiple fandoms, and when they're all present and not in conflict, it's just completely awesome.

Pictures are here, updated with Saturday stuff. Unfortunately, I forgot my camera on Sunday, so no extra photos. Still, lots of good ones, though. :)
retsuko: watanuki freaking out with a pig in his hands (omgwtfbbq!)
In Books:

Richard Stark's Parker: The Hunter, by Darwin Cooke: The artwork in this is fantastic--I love the way that blue wash turns into noir black as the story unfolds and the overall visual style is Mad Men meets James Bond. But the gender issues in this story are disturbing enough to make this read two stars instead of three or four: women are disposable dolls and bodies, to be screwed and left for dead, or made into helpless pawns. This book doesn't do well by its male characters, either. By the end, I started to feel like this was masculinity via vein-popping caricature (I'm not kidding about the vein thing--it's actually a minor plot/descriptive point.) If you enjoy noir detective stories and are willing to ignore the strings of violent and cruel deaths, you'll probably enjoy this quite a lot; unfortunately, I couldn't bring myself to do it.

The Art Forger, by B. A. Shapiro: In all fairness, this book really isn't a bad piece of writing and shouldn't be lumped in with the one above. However, it does fit into the category of "can't believe I read this" due to its detailed and fascinating explanation of how a forger goes about recreating (convincingly) a famous/stolen piece of art, in this case, the Degas painting stolen from the Gardiner Museum in Boston. I liked the main character, although I couldn't believe how naive she was, given the past that she was coming from, which unfolded in fairly riveting detail throughout the story. Impressively, a lot of the minor characters are fleshed out in interesting and perceptive ways over the course of the book, instead of just remaining stereotypes. This was an easy and fun read, and I found myself very invested by the end. This is a book, though, that I wished I'd saved for the beach, because it would be perfect for a leisurely summer afternoon: engrossing, but not too challenging one way or another. I do recommend it for that!

At the Movies!:

The Great Gatsby: Uhm, wow. Yeah, I actually saw this movie, and I'm still wondering what the hell was up for most of it, or why the audience was expected to care about any of the characters and their whiney, pathetic, little lives. On the other hand: CLOTHES! SPECTACLE! METAPHOR! Seriously, the costuming and set dressing alone were so pretty and amazing that I was willing to forgive a lot of bullshit... but there was an awful lot of bullshit, and it went on and on, too. It got to the point where I started to go in little thought circles that went like: DiCaprio, if you say 'old sport' one more time, I'm gonna walk out of here and... ooo, wait, what's Carey Mulligan wearing now? SHINEY. And OMG DiCaprio's pink suit is so handsome that I just can't think about any of the stupid stuff right now... and look at Jordan's dress..., etc. etc. So, I suppose if you really love clothes and fashion, and crazy parties writ large on the big screen, this is the movie for you, but if you don't like to hear about Rich White People's Problems, perhaps seek out another movie.

Two side notes about this film: 1) I had been worried that the current trend for out-of-period music in period pieces would engulf this movie in annoying volume, but it was not that bad, and the soundtrack makes effective use of some lovely Gershwin music right when it's most needed to complete the spectacle, so that's a plus; and 2) I have no idea why would you ever need to see this movie in 3D. Aside from snow falling and the car chase, there is nothing that would be improved by special effects and pinch-y glasses. Save your $4, people!
retsuko: (girl & her dog)
In Books:

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, by N.K. Jemisin: What an amazing piece of work. It's very seldom that I go through a reading experience with no clue where I'll end up; even in the last few pages, there were twists and revelations that I wasn't expecting. I was sad to stop and start this so often (even though I know that's what my reading life is right now), because I suspect that this is a work that should be read cover to cover in one sitting if possible. The reading experience in that case would probably be like floating in the middle of a vast and beautiful ocean. The way I read it, I kept getting pulled out of the water at regular intervals and forgetting what the subtle currents had been. Still, I do recommend this and look forward to starting the next one in the series.

At the Movies:

From Up On Poppy Hill: Despite an abrupt ending, this is a lovely little movie, where almost all of the conflict is internal, and that conflict is expressed in beautiful, poignant ways. I felt so sorry for the main character because she worked so damn hard at everything and, for most of the film, she didn't seem to get anywhere as a result. There was a light at the end of the tunnel, though, and I had the distinct impression that almost everyone who'd worked on the film loved all the characters and wanted to do right by them. The backgrounds and side characters were illustrated with loving detail, especially the decrepit club building next to the school that the main character (and almost all of the other characters, really) helps to refurbish so that it won't be destroyed by the administration. The English dub was mostly pretty good, except for the always awkward handling of itadakimasu, which stood out like a sore thumb.

I've read a few reviews online that slammed this film as lacking a soul. Since it's under Goro Miyazaki's direction (not his father's), and his last movie was so utterly and regrettably terrible, I can understand the harder scrutiny. However, I didn't see anything in Poppy Hill that lacked soul. Sure, this movie may not have the resonance or spectacle of a movie like Spirited Away, but, seriously: how can you do something better than that, even on your second try? Poppy Hill is a solid film, with the trademark Studio Ghibli attention to detail. It may not be their greatest work ever, but it does nothing to tarnish their reputation at all.

The Sapphires: This is getting next to no publicity here in America, which makes me sad, because I think it's a story that a lot of people can understand and be entertained by, regardless of their national origin. If you enjoy music, especially crowd-pleasing pop and soul hits of the late 60s and early 70s, this movie is for you. If you want to see a story about four strong women of color and their path in life overcoming some tremendous odds, then this movie is also for you. If you enjoy some very dry comedy in the form of Chris O'Dowd snarking at anyone and everyone around him, then you won't regret this. Sure, there are parts of the plot that you'll see marching up from a million miles away, but they're tempered with a good blend of pathos, comedy, and above all, optimism about the power that music has. Hopefully, this will find a wider audience on DVD.

A side note, about visiting the ArcLight cinema that opened nearby: That was nice, but not worth $13.75. For starters, the cashiers are all awkward teenagers equipped with iPads who are made to talk to you as you make your purchase and reserve your seat (more on that in a second.) This would have been fine, except we ended up with the socially inept teenager who clearly did not want to talk with us at all, and that was weird. (I also wondered if these people would implode if presented with straight up cash.) Inside, the atmosphere trying very hard to emulate "swanky/sophisticated Parisian cafe!" and succeeding, but only barely. It's nice that you can buy alcohol, but it seemed fairly delineated that you couldn't take it into the theater with you (unless you were at a special showing, which we weren't.) Our theater was on the small side, and I noticed that the floors, even though they were brand new, were pretty much the same as our local AMC or Landmark: mostly clean, but sticky in patches. The reserved seats were comfortable, though, and I do think double arm rests are a good idea. But in the end, we could have just as comfortable an experience at our local, cheaper theater, and I see no reason to recommend this place over any others.
retsuko: (fierce!)
In the midst of all the brouhaha that is life, I have been reading! Huzzah!

In Books:

Cold Days, by Jim Butcher: SPOILERS AHOY. In a nutshell, though, this book was the very definition of enjoying something whilst acknowledging its problems. )

I don't want to make this sound as if I didn't like the book; I did, but I was distracted by side problems too often to really feel invested in the main problem. Thomas was my favorite character in this one, and Murphy gets plenty of kick-ass page time, much to my great satisfaction. I really do hope the next one is a little less frenetic, though.

A Local Habitation, by Seanan McGuire: This started slowly, but then it picked up quite a bit, with a tremendously gripping set piece in the middle of the narrative that was worth the price of admission alone. If the first book in this series was a tense thriller, this installment was more like a Miss Marple or Poirot locked room murder mystery... except that the violence was more visceral and the stakes were even higher for the heroine. There's an overarching sci-fi tone to this book that was lacking in the previous one, and I'm curious to see how that thread of plot will play out (if at all) in the future books.

American Wife, by Curtis Sittenfeld: Reading a fictionalized biography of Laura Bush presented some strange challenges; for example, I kept trying to substitute back in the names of the real people involved with dealing with the events of 9/11. In fact, that cognitive dissonance made the whole work read a little eerily--I'm reading about Charlie Blackwell no, George Bush, no, Laura Bush and Lindy Blackwell and the Blackwell clan, no... wait a minute, that can't be right... I went round and round in circles for a few minutes every time I picked the book back up after a pause. (This sensation reminded me of the semester at Smith where I took an immersion German literature class and a Japanese class back-to-back on Tuesday/Thursday mornings. For the first ten minutes of the second class, I would sit there, completely dazed, waiting for everything to start making sense in the other language again.) Still, regardless of the fiction vs. real life problem, this was a very good read, gripping and swift. If anything, it's the most compelling argument I've ever read for the continuation of the modern feminist movement, but it's also a good story of a woman who married a man who completely surprised her with the scope of his ambition.

In Illustrated Books:

Drawing From Memory, by Allen Say: This beautiful book chronicles Say's development as a very young artist, mostly immediately after WWII, as Japan rebuilt around him, up until his departure to the United States at age 15. As is always the case with Say's works, I was struck by the genuine sense of nostalgia and true emotion that suffuses the work with a larger than life quality that's very rare in children's books these days. This book has probably ended up on a lot of YA shelves, but I think this is an instance of a work that is truly "all ages" without being dull or condescending. I cannot recommend this enough.

Daisy Kutter: The Last Train, by Kazu Kibuishi: I really love Kibuishi's sense of style and layout; the characters in this sepia-toned story inhabit a world of robots and gunslingers--a Deadlands game come to life. My major problem with the narrative is that the story that's told starts without a lot of preamble, which would normally be fine, except that vital parts of the story are somehow untold, and therefore confusing. Daisy Kutter, gunslinger/outlaw turned shopclerk, is bored silly with her new (to her, anyway) life and volunteers/is coerced into taking the proverbial One Last Train Job... except, of course, that it's not what it seems. The story that unfolds has some pretty predictable betrayals and twists, but the characters seem flat and underdeveloped. I far prefer the short story at the end of the volume, which better showcases Daisy's strengths and spins a tenser, more gripping tale in a shorter space of time.

May 2016

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