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: (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:

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: (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: (moko sake!)
In the stand-alone book department, I finished Who Could That Be At This Hour?, the Lemony Snicket sort-of-prequel to A Series of Unfortunate Events. It was an odd read: familiar themes were hit on (adults being utterly indifferent/unhelpful to children, wacky definitions of "difficult" words, vague conspiracies tip-toed around) and at least one of the characters was made of win. (For the record, 'Ellington Feint' is my new favorite pseudonym.) But the whole affair never quite congealed properly, at least for my tastes, and at times felt overly forced. Still, there are some very funny bits, and perhaps the sequel will illuminate some (most definitely not all, this being Daniel Handler's work) of the odd conspiracies and contrivances that this volume hinted at.

Switching genres, I have finally gotten around to seeing the live-action Rurouni Kenshin movie, and I am most pleased. Spoilers, although if you've read the manga or seen the anime all the way through, you won't really learn anything new. The good news is, you don't need to read or seen it previously to appreciate it as a movie. )
retsuko: antique books (books)
In Books:

Embassytown, by China Mieville: Mieville has so many ideas in his books that I sometimes worry that the story is going to explode in a metaphorical spring-snake-out-of-a-can-of-"party-nuts" surprise ending. The plot in this book wasn't like that, exactly, but I began to feel like all the fabulous ideas came at the expense of something else. Read more here... )

Spindle's End, by Robin McKinley: A birthday present from [personal profile] orichalcum, and well chosen. I like McKinley's matter-of-fact, wry authorial tone, and I like the way the characters grow and thrive in her words. I did find that a lot of the suspense was suddenly deflated at a particular plot point, and after that, it didn't build again in the same way, but that's neither here nor there, and more a fault of the story she's retelling than this book.

The Prisoner of Heaven, by Carlos Ruiz Zafon: I adore the previous two books (The Shadow of the Wind & The Angel's Game) in this loosely affiliated trilogy, but I'm sorry to say that this one fell a bit short. The A-Plot, set in the story's present, feels oddly weak when held up against the B-Plot, a Count of Monte Cristo-esque prison escape story featuring someone who's ostensibly not the main character of the book... except that he is, and the A-Plot main character's motivations (other than being the best friend in the whole damned world, apparently) are unclear for the bulk of the story. I still recommend the first two whole heartedly, and maybe this one would read more strongly if I'd just read the first ones... huh. I may try that sometime and see if my opinion changes.

Polterguys, Volume 1, by [profile] psychoe: It's no secret that this work is done by a friend of mine, the afore-tagged Laur/psychoe. I'm pleased to report that this first installment of her manga work is just spectacular, from both the art and storytelling standpoint. I'm not saying this just because I'm her friend, but because it really is that good! )


Jiro Dreams of Sushi: This was an excellent movie, although perhaps just a tad overlong. No matter: the food porn in it was beyond compare, and the people being profiled were open and honest. If you like sushi at all, you need to see this film. If I weren't sick, I'd be out eating sushi right now because of it.
retsuko: (hugs)
In Comics:

Adventure Time Presents Marceline and the Scream Queens, Issue 1 (of 6): Although this first issue is largely in place to set up the rest of the story, Meredith Gran's writing and art work very well together, and the 4-page, wordless spread of the rock concert in progress is pretty fantastic. I'm looking forward to the rest of the story, and the side narrative that accompanies this story, with art and story by the always-amazing Jen Wang, is excellent, too--very imaginative, with just a hint of menace.

Locke & Key: Clockworks, Volume 5: At the risk of fangirling too much, I have to say that this is how you tell a serialized story. Volume 5 contains answers to questions raised volumes ago and raises new questions of its own, while never leaving the reader to wonder just who the hell everyone is and what's going on. It also neatly sets up the final showdown of volume six, the end of the series. Without going into too many spoiler-ific details, Volume 5 clearly explains the origin and nature of the keys, and shows how our current villain became who he was previously--and what he's capable of now. There are fairly horrific plot points in this one, too, ranging from atrocities in the past (institutionalized murder, told twice from two differing perspectives) to shock in the present. This volume also lives up to the Lovecraft name. When Volume 6 appears, I plan to sit down and read all of these through all the way from beginning to end to get a fuller sense of the plot and how it unfolded. In the meantime, I'll be worrying for my favorite characters and wondering just how they're going to fix all the problems that they've stumbled into and created.

In Manga:

Wandering Son, Volume 3: Shimura really ups the drama in this installment, and in some ways, it's a great improvement. For both of the protagonists, coming to terms with their gender identities isn't going to be easy, and seeing them both face the challenges associated with that makes them stronger characters. Takatsuki's bitter and angry words to her mother after a confrontation with a bullying classmate ring especially poignantly, "Why did you make me a girl?" (They're also followed by a very interesting statement about gender identity and its construction in Japan, as Takatsuki complains further, quoting the advice others have given her: "'Wear cute clothes.' 'Join the Takarazuka Revue.' I'm... I'm sick of it!") Meanwhile, Nitori is tricked by his sister into becoming a model (his sister's reasons for this are still murky to me after several readings) and faces discrimination there from one of the models, a sharp-faced girl who complains that he's just wasting his time. (I suspect this behavior is going to be stopped in short order in the next volume, when idol Maiko-chan stops by the modeling agency in mid-fight between Nitori's sister and the mean model.) So, a lot of conflict and action is excellent, but it does come at the expense of dialogue between Nitori and Takatsuki, which was my favorite part of the first two volumes. For any child, coming of age and growing fully into an identity is difficult, but for the two main characters in this series, it's much more complicated than a simple coming of age story. I liked the stretches in the first two volumes, though, where they would just talk about their lives, drawing strength from one another, and I hope that the drama and conflict don't supersede this aspect of the story. As usual, Shimura's spare and beautiful artwork provides a gorgeous background for the whole narrative.
retsuko: (moko sake!)
In Books:

Are You My Mother?, By Alison Bechdel: I actually finished this book a while back, but I've been grappling with it ever since I read it. It's not an easy book, yet I read it fairly quickly, over about three or so days. I remember my initial gut reaction having to do with my resolution to NEVER ask any child of mine under the age of about 20, point blank, if they love me or not. (I have read about this twice now, once in a fictional situation, and once in this auto-ficto-biographical situation, and it never leads to anything good for anyone involved.) But, of course, there's more to this book than that moment, and that sad bit of meaningful narrative. More, with spoilers: )

I do highly recommend this work. I don't think it's just another half of a story; it's a complete piece of work that stands on its own. There is an awkward distance to parts of it (and I'll be the first to admit that the amount of theoretical writing in it made me pause), but it's a narrative that needs to be brought into the open carefully for both artist/writer and reader.

Dracula, words by Bram Stoker, pictures by Becky Cloonan: I've written before about how much I love Becky Cloonan's artstyle; she has a wonderful sense of composition and character and her pages are always dynamic, even when the characters aren't engaged in intense action. This illustrated version of Dracula allows her to imbue the characters with more personality and soul than Stoker's original version does. Mina and Jonathan's love story, in particular, becomes more touching with illustrations, and Mina's evolution from sweet, virginal lady into sadder but wiser girl also rings much more true. Cloonan's illustrations also highlight the sexual aspects of the story, but without over-sensationalizing the people and acts involved. The color palette of black, red, and midnight blue is lovely and fits the mood of the book. I'm a little less sure of the quotes superimposed behind the text, but it's not on every page, and I see what the designers were going for.

In Comics:

Skeleton Key, Color Special One Shot, by Andi Watson: I grabbed this way back on Free Comic Book Day, without knowing that it was part of a larger series. Thankfully, the adventures of perpetually lost schoolgirl Tamsin, kitsune Kitsune, and adorable unnamed sidekick Raccoon are immediately accessible and sweet. It's like Doctor Who meets Onmyouji, with a twist of Lost. I can't wait to pick up the others now!

In Manga:

Hidamari Sketch/Sunshine Sketch, Volume 6, by Ume Aoki: This story continues to be slowly paced and character-driven. However, given that Aoki is steering two of her main characters towards graduating and changing the entire structure of the plot with that development, I don't blame her for the slow pace. I was glad that these two characters, Hiro and Sae, got a lot of character development in this installment, because they certainly do need it in order to make their inevitable departure properly emotional. Yuno and Miyako continue to anchor the plot, and it's nice to see that Yuno is cutting down on the self-deprecating dialogue as her confidence in her artistic abilities grows. I'm looking forward to #7.

At the Movies:

Brave: It occurs to me now, having just written about Alison Bechdel, above, that in some ways, Brave is AYYM?-lite. Well, not exactly. It's definitely wrestling with similar facets of the same issue, but it's a Disney movie, and so a lot of the thornier problems are ignored. But that's no reason to skip it; it's still a strong piece of filmmaking and is notable, if for no other reason, for having a princess in it who doesn't want to be a princess. (And having a Queen who actually wields power!) It's also notable for gorgeous textures and landscapes. Every piece of cloth, every stone and tree in the forrest, every strand of hair in this movie, I could imagine what touching them would feel like, and it was beautiful. But overall, I really liked this movie because its message was so strong: you can't change people into something they're not, but you can change your expectations of them, and by extension, your relationships with them. It was quite lovely, really. And it made me wish I had a small girl who I could take to this film, so that we could talk about what it was all about. :)
retsuko: (cool yuuko)
In Comics:

Doctor Who/Star Trek: TNG Crossover, Issue 1: I really like the way the plot is going, but the art is throwing me for a loop. I read a somewhat unkind accusation somewhere that it looked like the artist had simply photoshopped filters onto stills from both TV shows. I don't think that's what it looks like, but there's a weird disconnect between the quality of the art and story.

Angel and Faith, Issue 10, "Ladies of a Certain Age": I will admit, I broke my own rules to buy this one issue. Anything to find out more about Giles and the Watcher's Council... except that frustratingly little of that was extent. Instead, there was a funny story about Giles' two aunts, who turn out to be very good characters with interesting personalities (Best line, "Darling, we're shallow, not stupid"), and a lot of action and banter that made me feel like I was watching an episode of the TV show, not reading a comic. I don't know if I'll keep buying, but I didn't end up disappointed overall.

In Manga:

Sunshine Sketch, Vol. 5: For some reason, this one seemed more dull than the others. It could be that I'm tired of the set-up, but it's more that the introduction of two new characters is taking up a lot of the already slow plot's time. Anyway, this is still one of the sweetest, most adorable manga that I can think of. I know I should be reading it in Japanese to practice, but nothing can knock Yotsubato! from that perch, and I'm loathe to go find more things to put on the to-read pile.

At the Movies:

Men in Black 3: This was utter fluff, and I really enjoyed it. I didn't get the feeling that Tommy Lee Jones or Will Smith was in it simply for the paycheck, and the plot actually surprised me a couple of times. (I will say that I didn't really appreciate the digs at Andy Warhol, but whatever.) Obviously not Oscar-bait, but good, puffy, sci-fi-lite fun.

On TV:

Legend of Korra, Episode 8, Spoilers for the entire show so far! )

Adventure Time, "Goliad": This episode really reminded me of why I love this show so much; the writing was incredibly funny, the artwork was at its reality-skewing best. (Finn trying not to show his thoughts to Goliad was just wonderful, so real and relatable, and yet completely fantastical at the same time.) And even though I guessed the plot twist, it didn't matter. I was having too much fun to be annoyed. :D

The scene with the candy toddlers wrecking havoc at the daycare, though, made [profile] yebisu9 and I look at each other. After a moment, one of us said, "Yeah..." and the other answered, "I know." Funny how the animators managed to channel R.'s sheer chaos into an animated 20 seconds of perfection.
retsuko: (tea room)
In Books:

Paris My Sweet: A Year in the City of Light (and Dark Chocolate), by Amy Thomas: This book made me SO HUNGRY, hungry for pastry, and more specifically, hungry to go to all the places that Thomas ably and happily describes.

But before I wax eloquent on the food porn, I want to start by saying that I'm really impressed how honest Thomas was about her time in Paris. (She spent two years there writing as a copywriter for Louis Vuitton.) It would have been easy for her to write a breezy, shallow memoir only about the food she ate, never touching on what it's like to move to a different country/continent all by yourself. But Thomas doesn't choose this easy route and instead writes frankly about the hard times, too. Paris isn't an easy culture to get a handle on, and it's not always a place that's welcoming to foreigners. Thomas doesn't whine at great length about her difficulties, but she does describe events and feelings that should very familiar to anyone who's spent a long time abroad: weekends spent entirely by oneself; coping mechanisms that suddenly fail or turn self-destructive; and the enormous significance that simple or nostalgic experiences suddenly take on. Thomas had expectations about Paris, for good and bad, and she writes about all of them in a conversational, informal way that didn't make me feel like I was sitting in on her therapy session, but more like we had met for tea and she was making small talk while we waited for the sweets to arrive.

And those sweets: OMG OMG OMG. I don't often get so worked up about food writing, but with each passing cake/pastry/crumble/amazing culinary experience Thomas described, the more I wanted to throw everything away, bundle up R. and Yebisu, and head to Paris for a year. Macarons! Why the hell isn't there a place in San Diego that makes them the way she describes them: "I bit into the shell that, poof, crunched ever so delicately before collapsing in a delightfully chewy and moist mouthful. And then the storm of flavors hit me. Bright raspberry, exotic lychee, and a whiff of rose. There was so much power in that pretty little thing. It was a delicacy packed with skill, imagination, poetry, and God, give me another one!" I read that and, in internet parlance, *dies and is ded*. This book made me realize that I've been eating a "translated" (for lack of a better word) version of some desserts here in the U.S. for far too long. Thomas does write about bakeries in New York City, but I can tell that her heart lies in Paris (except for cupcakes, which America has squarely cornered the market on.) She writes about more than macarons, too, of course, and the descriptions of all the food are loving, complicated, and reverential.

I really cannot recommend this lovely volume enough. It's a fast, fun read, but there's a serious backbone to it that I really admire. Hand this to your favorite pastry enthusiast, or to that student you know about to do Junior Year Abroad.

In Manga:

Kami-sama Kiss!, Volumes 1/2: Ever since Beauty Pop finished, I've been trying to find a shoujo manga to take its slightly-guilty-but-ultimately-very-satisfying-pleasure on my reading shelf. This manga isn't going to be it, and that's very disappointing. I *love* the concept: ordinary girl with money and family problems finds herself given powers of a minor neighborhood guardian/god, and has to negotiate those and her feelings for her assistant, a grouchy kitsune who initially roots for her to fail but gradually falls for her as well. Unfortunately, the execution is not good. The artwork is pretty standard shoujo and all the characters, even the supernatural ones, look generic and interchangeable. More annoyingly, the meta-plot moves along at a snail's pace while the heroine ditzily insists that she has to keep going to high school (despite her new-found supernatural powers) and deals with minor problems there. I should love the tengu-turned-J-Pop-idol, but even he falls flat. So disappointing!

Why can't I find a shoujo manga with 1) decent artwork and realistic dialogue, 2) a slight supernatural twist, but mostly real world setting, 3) a heroine who isn't defined by her clumsiness but overall loyalty to everyone who doesn't appear to give a damn about her, and 4) that doesn't end abruptly at 10 volumes?? *sigh*

At the Movies:

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen: I had been waiting to see this thing for such a long time, and I was not disappointed at all. (Yebisu and I managed to sneak it in a few weeks ago.) This isn't a big, contrived romantic comedy, where the two love interests "meet cute" and then have to overcome paper tiger obstacles to be together; instead, it's a story firmly based on honest feelings and real life problems. There's also the most light of sci-fi touches--this is a genre that I'd call something like, "almost real world, wishful thinking sci-fi". In this case, in the near future, wouldn't it be great if we could reclaim some barren desert land to construct a salmon run? And against this palest of sci-fi backdrops, a love story unfolds--tentatively, sweetly, and sensitively. I loved this movie. It was really great to see people being nice to each other for a change, and not have mind-numbing violence every other frame or so. (There is one bit of action involving a fish hook that I was not anticipating, and I don't want to give away--but it's very well done, a nice little Indiana Jones touch.) I'm looking forward to reading the book this was based on.
retsuko: antique books (books)
In Books:

The Other Family & The Best of Friends, by Joanna Trollope: Trollope continues to impress me with her skill at handling multiple characters and their points of view, as well as her nonjudgmental authorial tone (although some her characters happily judge away, for better or for worse.) These books are master classes in dialogue and quick, accessible description. I'm eager to read more of her work.

In Graphic Novels:

The Influencing Machine: Brooke Gladstone on the Media, words by Brooke Gladstone and pictures by Josh Neufeld: Gladstone credits Scott McCloud's phenomenonal Understanding Comics as a source of inspiration, and it's an apt comparison. What McCloud sought to do for comics and graphic novels, Gladstone seeks to do for media and the way we've come to consume it, and she succeeds with flying colors. This is a thought-provoking, wise piece of work that challenges any reader to reconsider what is truthful in popular media, especially news coverage. In particular, her chapter on war coverage is revealing and equal parts depressing, historical, and inspiring: depressing for the simple truth that the media can easily create a conflict where there is none or shape the events of a conflict to fit any truth the public sees fit; historical in that she traces the history of war coverage journalism in the U.S. in an exhaustive but never dull fashion; and inspiring in that she challenges each reader to more closely examine what is she/he is seeing and NOT seeing. Gladstone is never overly preachy or self-righteous, and her self-deprecating humor is a nice touch at several especially poignant and difficult sections of text. I want to use this book in every class I teach from now on! Highly, highly recommended!

In Manga:

Uglies: Shay's Story, Words by Scott Westerfeld and Devin Grayson, pictures by Steven Cummings: This was rather disappointing, especially because while I was reading the original trilogy, I thought to myself, if there ever was a series begging to be made into a manga, it's this one!. The way that Westerfeld described the Pretties (augmented human characters) made me think of manga, with its unsettling ability to create characters who seem too doll-like, too perfect to be real. The Pretties in this manga don't look that much different from the regular, un-modified human characters, and they certainly don't appear to be so beautiful and perfect that Uglies instantly feel like obeying them. In fact, most of the so-called Uglies looked like already perfect manga characters: there were no real variations in body shape or skin tone other than freckles and high cheekbones that aren't really all that difficult for any competent illustrator to do. Even worse, the Specials didn't look all that scary--again, the idea I came away from the original books with was that these were people who'd been augmented to look more feral, more dangerous, that their beauty was poisonous. Instead, they just looked like big, buff guys in battle armor. Only Dr. Cable came close to looking the way I'd pictured her, but her appearance was too little, too late. It didn't help that the story in this installment is weak teenage romance and made Shay into a whiney, unsympathetic character. Personally, if someone was illustrating my work, I'd be telling a different story, one that was far more world-building-based and less on the soap opera side. This volume felt like a wasted opportunity.

A side note: I have just started Are You My Mother?, Alison Bechdel's latest work, and while it looks amazing, it is DENSE. I plan to read it carefully, and probably won't be able to post about it right away. Still, based on the first chapter alone, I can safely say this is a strong, honest piece of work.
retsuko: (stars)
I was perusing some of the "Best Of" lists of movies and books this year in various sources (LA Times, NY Times, The Onion's A.V. Club), and realized that in most cases, I had only heard about half of the works on all the lists. This has never, ever happened before. In the case of books, I feel slightly better about it; books don't get the same pop culture treatment that movies do (the movie section of the newspaper is like the star high school quarterback, while the book review has been trimmed and pared down to chess club level status at this point). But in the case of the movies... gah. This is really how having a child has changed our lives. It's not an entirely bad thing, of course: we don't spend as much on movie tickets as we used to, and when we do see a movie, we're very, very picky about it. I'm also finding that most movies really don't lose much between video format and the big screen. But going to movies just because we felt like it was something that both [ profile] yebisu9 and I enjoyed a lot, and I hate to think that is not only no longer an option, but our general pop culture knowledge has declined because of it. The pay-off of this exchange, raising a child, is wonderful and awesome, and well worth losing movies. It's just a strange revelation for me, a reminder of how much things have changed.

In any case, the movies that I get a chance to see and enjoy fall mostly into the comedy category (Bridesmaids, the adult, cringe-worthy hilarity, and The Muppets, sweet and musical and funny), action-drama (Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows, Part 2, a tremendously satisfying conclusion), and straight-up drama (True Grit and The Descendants). We've pretty much stopped going to documentaries (*weeps*), although this has more to do with the timing of the art house movie theaters near us, rather than issues with the genre. I'm still hoping to get to see Tintin, but that's not going to happen before 2012.

Books are much the same story--read in a very slapdash fashion here and there. I've really enjoyed continuations of my favorite series, like the new Percy Jackson series, or the latest Thursday Next installment, which rewarded me for all my faith in the series by being one of the funniest and most inventive adventures yet. I also very much enjoyed more serious works, like The Wilder Life (the life story and legacy of Laura Ingalls Wilder and her much beloved Little House books) and The Lace Reader (see previous entry.) Again, my nonfiction reading has suffered. Years ago, I vowed to myself to always have a nonfiction title going at the same time as a fiction one, and technically, I *have* one (Tesla: Man Out of Time), but I'm not rushing to read it as much as I should be. (Tesla's life story is fascinating, but the electrical engineering talk that takes up much of chapters leaves me confused and rather bored.) This will probably be the subject of a pop culture resolution for next year (see below).

Music-wise, my Top 25 most played are pretty similar to previous years--Susumu Hirasawa (the Paprika OST is STILL awesome!), Neko Case, Barenaked Ladies, etc. etc. Newer entries include The New Pornographers, Neko Case's new album, Middle Cyclone, which is absolutely fantastic, and Flight of the Conchords. (My love for adorable pop music parody knows no bounds.) If I had to sum up 2011's musical trend in one genre, though, it would be kick-ass lady folk-rock/rocky-folk, like Florence + The Machine, Aimee Mann, my perennial favorite Dar Williams, and the afore mentioned Neko Case.

2011 was also the year of "Probably Far More TV Than Was Good For Me." On the other hand, even though I watched a lot of TV, it wasn't just junk that I passively consumed. I discovered several new fandoms (Adventure Time, Warehouse 13, Sanctuary) and am currently having the pleasure of watching several great American novels (most notably Mad Men) set to TV. There was a fair amount of TV that was pre-screened for our son, but as long as he enjoys good quality programs like Shaun the Sheep and Sesame Street, I think the good news is that I won't go crazy. (I also fully expect him to adore something I hate, but I will burn that bridge when I get there.)

There have also been quite a few manga volumes and comics littering up 2011. Of all of these, the two I'm most looking forward to are the next volume of Wandering Son, a beautifully drawn and translated story about transgender teens by a mangaka who obviously loves her characters and the next issue of The Unwritten, a story which gets more and more interesting with each passing and not nearly frequent enough chapter.

Finally, my pop culture resolutions for 2012! )

Happy 2012 to everyone who's been reading!
retsuko: (artist etc.)
In Comics:

Locke & Key, Guide to the Known Keys (One Shot), Words by Joe Hill and Pictures by Gabriel Rodriguez: This is a good jumping-in point for newcomers to the story; this is also a good one-shot for those who've been interested in this work, but are suspicious of horror comics. The scares in this story are minimal, and the main plot is, in a large part, a beautiful tribute to Windsor McKay's Little Nemo, as well as an establishing plot point for the origins of some of the keys in the story. The cover, by itself, presents a lovely piece of artwork, rendered in Rodriguez's fine pencils and Foto's luminous colors. As I've said before, this is a great read, a modern comic masterpiece in the making.

Gunnerkrigg Court: Reason (Volume 3), Words and Art by Tom Siddell: It's nice to read this in one installment, instead of in one-page-three-times-a-week bits and pieces. Not to say that Siddell doesn't update regularly (he does, much to his credit), but the story is more coherent when read as a whole piece of work. In fact, when the whole series ends, I look forward to sitting down and reading all the books cover to cover, so that I can get a sense of the larger story, instead of the parts and pieces here and there. Still recommending this, although not as a jumping-in point. Like Lost or The X-Files, this is an epic without an easy middle point, only Volume 1.

In Manga:

Kingyo Used Books, Volume 4, Words and Art by Seimu Yoshizaki: How psyched was I that this volume concerned a manga that I've actually read?! For once, I wasn't on the outside looking in! (The manga was Ranma 1/2!) This volume, more than any of the others, made me eager to track down the other works mentioned in the story, especially a volume of ghost stories, a cute early work of Moto Hagio's, and a book of short stories that sounds like it should have been licensed and translated LAST YEAR for its arresting subject matter and artwork. As usual, the Kingyo bookstore is filled with manga lovers and the people they've helped reconnect with favorite works, and the stories in this volume carry on that tradition. There's a love letter to manga at the end that's incredibly heartfelt and sweet. A wonderful translation as always, definitely a good buy to add to your shopping list!

At the Movies:

The Muppets: I don't want to give away any of the insanely wonderful and funny details of this movie for anyone who's not seen it; suffice it to say that I had a smile on my face from the beginning all the way to the end. Bret MacKenzie's songs are excellent and the whole affair is perfectly paced so that I never felt like any of it was overdone and forced. I didn't quite buy one major plot aspect, but that's really not important. What's important is that the movie (and the Toy Story short that precedes it) is clever without being too showy about it, and the emotions are genuine and evocative. Take a small kid to see this, or just go see it yourself. It's the perfect antidote to the holiday blues.
retsuko: (plothole?)
On TV:

Torchwood: Miracle Day: ... uhm. This was a really, really mixed bag of a show. On one hand, it was incredibly compelling; I hated waiting between episodes to find out what was happening, and I was genuinely worried for several of the characters, especially our two remaining heroes, Gwen and Jack. But on the other, there were some real missteps with this plot that sort of poisoned the well for me. I'll blog about them under the cut, with lots of spoilers. )

In Manga/Comics:

Gate 7, Vol.1, Words & Pictures by CLAMP: I want to like this. It's my favorite CLAMP setting (modern day Japan with ghost stories), it has GORGEOUS artwork, and it looks like the story could unfold in a reasonably linear fashion. I just wish that CLAMP could stop depicting characters who look underage (or who behave incredibly childishly) as sexualized. Hana, the character in question, is oddly sexual at weird points in the story, and it's jarring. To see a character go from acting like an adorable little child who loves noodles in one panel to sexually available lust object in the next panel is... creepy. It's a little too much like Chobits. The other thing I'd like to see out of this story is the main male character developing a little agency instead of letting other people run his life. It's great that he's kind of a sweet nerd who loves Japanese history and Kyoto, but if I suddenly found out that I might have a magical power that could influence a centuries old magical conflict, I'd sure be asking a few more questions. But this is only Volume 1, and I'm more than willing to wait and see where the story goes. Damn, the art's pretty. It's hard to stay mad at CLAMP.

Ultimate Spiderman, Issues 2 & 3, Words by Bendis & Pencils by Pichelli: I really love the plot this comic is exploring and Miles Morales is a great character. If I suddenly gained superheroic powers, I'd probably be terrified, too. Quick, go and out, and read this! Pichelli's pencils continue to be great, too. She has a real eye for facial expressions.
retsuko: (caffeine)
In Books:

Uglies & Pretties, by Scott Westerfield: If there was ever a series that should be turned into a manga, it's this one. Westerfield's description of the Pretty People is a homogenized manga vision waiting to happen, with larger eyes, smaller mouths, and cheekbones to die for. (Not to mention perfect teeth, symmetrical features, moving tattoos, perfect clothes, etc. etc.) And the good news is that the manga is forthcoming! I look forward to reading it. However, the books themselves, as they are now, are quite good, too. They can truly be classified as "page turners". I went through the first one in about three days, and that's saying something, considering that I've been managing a fussy one-year-old, two classes, and various other commitments. The world that Westerfield imagines is dystopia at its worst best (or best worst, whichever you prefer.) On a post-apocalyptic Earth, all children are raised to believe they are Ugly, but that's OK, because they'll be made Pretty on their sixteenth birthdays. Except... what if you don't want the operation? And who's really in charge of what's considered beautiful? (One of the most chilling details of the books is that all Pretties have the same color skin, on the basis that it's the most Pretty and eliminates conflict.) The heroine of these books is Tally Youngblood, who starts off as a reluctant participant in what appears to be a minor rebellion, but ends up taking more and more perilous risks for what she believes in. (I haven't read the third book of the series yet, so please no spoilers.) I am very pleased in these books exist in contrast to the emphasis on physical beauty at all costs that seems to permeate American society and hope that readers will question standards of beauty as a result of reading these works. Hand this to your nearest teen reader!

The Baker Street Letters, by Michael Roberston: Harmless, but pointless. Two brothers, who I could never get a mental picture of (because there were no descriptions of them in the story), rent law offices from the bank that has its premises on 221B Baker street, and one of the conditions of their rent is that they deal with the letters that arrive for Sherlock Holmes. The younger brother, who has a variety of problems (most notably Plotdriveitis), sets off to LA to investigate two of these letters and his hapless sibling follows. Then there's some subterfuge involving the failed L.A. subway project, a few funny lines where the British brothers are mistaken for Australians, and a convoluted ending where one of the main characters is somehow ruined financially because he does the right thing. It was a fast read, but I couldn't really bring myself to care about anyone involved. At book group (which this was assigned reading for) I heard that this has been optioned for a TV series here in the U.S., and all I could think of was a snarky whine about this show doing its predecessor, Murder, She Wrote, proud. Yeah. Not a total waste of time, but not a good use of it, either.

The Ronin's Mistress, by Laura Joh Rowland: OMG OMG OMG. This series is SO GOOD! And it gets almost no attention or press, and I just want to weep. In this installment, Rowland gives us her interpretation of the popular 47 Ronin legend, complete with psychosexual drama, ritual suicide, and palace intrigue, all used to great effect. She also pushes her characters to their breaking points, in the best possible way. At this point in the story, our hero, Inspector Sano, has made so many enemies that the other shoe is going to have to start dropping, and soon. Rowland gets the drop started in fine fashion and parcels out some excellent character development for many of the regularly appearing characters, along with a truly engrossing murder mystery, told in a Rashomon-style multiple points of view approach. Of course, the thing that worries me is that the shoe is still dropping, and even though Sano solves the central mystery, he ends the story in a worse position than when he started. Future installments will no doubt have me shouting advice and recriminations at the characters, because nothing good can come from this, and I am very invested in almost everyone in the story. SO GOOD! Damn! You can start the series here, or at the beginning (Shinjuu), but either is well worth it! Damn!

In Manga:

Naruto, Vol. 28: I'm fairly excited to finally get past the time skip and see how all the characters have grown. But I'm worried that this story is teetering on the brink of the too-many-characters!chasm and the plot is about to focus on the characters I don't care about so much. I can see that Kishimoto wants to raise the stakes for our heroes (and token heroine) by elaborating on the villains and their elaborately slow and complicated plan. But I can tell I'm about to lose patience with said elaborate, slow plot, mostly because it doesn't have the ring of truth. It's one thing to have a "long con" plot device, but you have to keep referring to the con, somehow, even just in passing. ("I'm just biding my time here!" Thought Character X, as she faked a smile in Character Y's direction.) In the case of Naruto, the con appears to be so much waiting and seeing that I don't think it's ever going to stop being a con. Which is very frustrating, at least for this constant reader.

In Concert:

I had the good fortune to see The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring with a live orchestra and choir soundtrack last night. If this is touring in your city, I cannot recommend it enough. Howard Shore's score is beautiful, and the performance is moving and lovely, especially the performance of "May It Be" by a singer who I suspect is better than Enya (no autotune was necessary!).
retsuko: (stars)
Pictures of the sets and weapons from the filming of the live action Rurouni Kenshin are here.

And, of course, as neat as it is to see the sets, I'm far more curious about the actors themselves. And based on the characters, we'll probably be able to figure out what the script is like. For those unfamiliar with the Rurouni Kenshin manga, there are two major plotlines over 28 volumes. To do either one of them justice in the space of a standard 2 hour film will be spectacularly difficult. I wonder if there's a new story or adaptation of one of these plotlines in the works and how much say Nobuhiro Watsuki (the creator of the original manga itself) has had in the process. Regardless of the plotline, though, I think this movie's success is really going to come down to the actors, because if the characters are flawed, the whole exercise may seem pretty silly. RRK is a funny manga in parts, but it's meant as a fairly serious story. Its flaws largely come from the shounen manga conventions it embraces: ugly villains and crazily drawn-out fights against said ugly villains and their uglier-still henchpeople. If the script focuses exclusively on the battles and not on the character development, the movie will fail. It's all well and good to have fight scenes, but you need balance, and not just in the form of comic relief. To adapt the good mix that is the whole story of RRK will be tricky at best.

I'm also thinking about anime/manga adaptations of beloved classics. I recently had the misfortune to sit through the anime version of "Tales of Earthsea", and I never, ever thought I would say this of a Studio Ghibli film, but it was AWFUL. A terribly confusing plot mixed dull characters made for... well, I can think of all kinds of invectives to hurl, but I'm holding back because it's Ghibli, and the backgrounds were pretty. If you want to see pretty backgrounds and some dragon animation in the last five minutes, go for it. Otherwise, just don't even bother, especially if you love the Le Guin books. I haven't read them in years, and even I could tell they'd been mangled. Yeesh.

But then, I think of the live-action adaptations I've seen, like Onmyouji and Mushi-shi. Both of these movies kept what made the manga compelling, and in both cases, even pushed the envelope a bit, adding a little more background here, a little more action there (or, in the case of Onmyouji, a little more ritual dance combat here and there, for an overall effect of AWESOME!). While these films didn't have especially huge budgets, they succeeded because of a mix of good storytelling, acting, and script. I fervently hope the RRK movie is able to do what these two did, and not fall into the Tales of Earthsea trap.
retsuko: (princess bubblegum)
In Books:

Ghost Story, by Jim Butcher: I promise this review will be SPOILER FREE because [ profile] yebisu9 hasn't read the book yet and has had to put up with my comments and exclamations as I read. (Things like, "No way!", "Whoa!", and general fist shaking at Jim Butcher.) I've had vague discussions with him about the plot: It takes place in Chicago. There are some characters. They do important stuff. These jellyfish-like accolades are so deliberately vague that it drives me crazy to even say them, but Yebisu is fanatic about not being spoiled, and I don't want to ruin the reading experience. Anyway, in slightly more helpful (but still not too spoilery) terms, there are some characters, and the stakes are really, really high for all of them. If Changes (the previous installment) was The Empire Strikes Back of The Dresden Files series, Ghost Story has shades of Return of the Jedi, but its conflicts are different, and the outcome is by no means a tidy "everyone is happy with their lot" ending. (Definitely no Ewok dance party, either, and I'm sure the majority of characters in the story would be appalled with me even suggesting that one might happen to occur.) This is an incredibly satisfying read, and I have to give Butcher major props for juggling so many plot points so efficiently. In one case, I thought he had simply forgotten about [plot point X], but nope! With fifty pages left, he picked it right back up! Very nicely done, sir. I bow to you! To all fans of this series, I do not think you'll be disappointed. Newbies, this is not the place to start the series, but it is a series that's well worth starting.

(Thanks again for the hardcover, [ profile] orichalcum!)

In Manga:

Read or Dream, Vol. 1: Mostly harmless. I mean, I read it, and it was cute, but it didn't wow me, or make me wish I could rush out immediately to buy the next volume. I suppose it's a bit like the vague spoilers that I mention above: there are characters. They are three sisters who love books and have magical powers over paper. They do stuff, like helping people find stolen books and aid sick, adorable children. For no apparent reason, the story takes place in Singapore. Or Hong Kong, I can't remember which. The artwork is pretty standard shoujo manga, but nothing special.

On TV:

Adventure Time With Finn & Jake: I am trying to have an embargo against new shows, especially with the distressing news about TV taking lots of minutes off your life. But this show is on when I'm feeding R., and it's so completely silly and wonderful that I'm completely taken in. It nurtures my inner 8-10 year-old boy as well as entertaining my female, adult self with a combination of witty writing, wacky/gross humor, and great comic timing from the voice actors. The viewing experience is made even more awesome by the artwork of one of the character designers, particularly the fact that she draws suggestive pictures of the two main female characters. I hadn't intended to blog about the show, though, except for the latest revelation: that one of the episodes next season will feature a gender-swapped cast!

This is made of so much awesome and win, because this is basically what my imaginary stories were like around age 8 or so. (Although I wouldn't have known what the word 'ice-blocking,' and its ruder variant, meant.) (Further awesome in the form of Neil Patrick Harris as the voice of Prince Blowpop.) I wish more shows were open to this sort of experimentation with storytelling format! However, given the flack that the creators of the show are receiving over this, I'm worried that Cartoon Network will get scared and back away. Please, don't! This is too awesome not to keep going with!
retsuko: (surprising read)
In Comics:

Locke & Key: Keys to the Kingdom, by Joe Hill & Gabriel Rodriguez: This work just gets better and better as the story progresses! Although I must say that this one of the comics that I will be making sure stays out of son's hands for quite a while; it's not often that I am genuinely horrified by a comic, and there are some images in this installment that are quite disturbing. But for all the horror, the story and characters of this work continue to fascinate me and keep pushing me forward to the inexorable conclusion. In this volume, there's an excellent (if bloody) homage to Calvin & Hobbes that also references The Once and Future King with shades of Watership Down; a story that effectively parodies the old EC horror/war comics of pre-Code infamy; and there's a lot of plot advancement, with a final twist that is both unexpected and awful, in the best senses of the words. There are also hints of side stories that would be just as interesting as the comic itself, which makes me long for a spin-off about each of the keys and our heroes' adventures with them. Rodriguez's art continues to impress and the colors in this one are beautiful, too. (Their brightness makes a great contrast to the darkness of the story.) I'm really glad this comic is on my shelf, even if it's on the disturbing end of my fandom spectrum.

In Manga:

Wandering Son, Volume 1, by Shimura Takako (Trans. Matt Thorn): I have so many good things to say about this deft and moving piece of work that I almost don't know where to begin. Let's start with the deep empathy that Shimura has for her two main protagonists, a boy and a girl who are struggling with their sexual identities at the beginning of puberty, both of whom suspect that they're the wrong gender. Shimura writes and draws these two characters in a simple way, but with the hint that the issues they face are anything but simple. The last page of the book is particularly emblematic of this; Shu-chan, the male character, has been told that as a graduation present, his grandmother will buy him anything he wants; on the final page, he imagines himself as a girl and thinks, "Grandma can't buy me this." The background of the illustrations on this page start completely black, then move to grey, and then finally to white as Shu comes to this realization: a truth has been brought into the light for him, and its consequences leave him momentarily speechless. In this book, the androgynous look of manga character really pays off as well. Both Shu-chan and Takatsuki-kun appear appropriately transgendered, but never a parodied or grotesque version of genderqueer. I should also that this work is available translated from Fantagraphics Books and is well worth the $20 for the hardcover edition. Matt Thorn has done some nice translation work, deliberately preserving the tricky linguistic gendered language as best he could and he includes a thoughtful essay at the end of the manga about Japanese and gendered honorifics. This isn't a flashy or especially exciting manga, but it presents a real life story with honest and sympathetic characters, and I hope that lots of people pick this up so the translation can continue.
retsuko: (girl reading)
After swearing to myself that I wouldn't get into Naruto (because the manga is up to Vol. 51; it's hugely popular, and I'm a bit of a snob about that sometimes; because there are several feature films that have nothing to do with the main plot and everything to do with merchandising and making money, etc. etc.) I picked up the manga and read a few chapters and I was hooked. It's an odd experience, made slightly more surreal because I'm simultaneously watching the anime and switching between them when the plot in one gets dull or I run out of volumes from the library. (With the anime, I'm also at the mercy of what's on Netflix instant view, so I'll probably have to stop before Shippuden starts.) A very entertaining experience, of course, but an odd one nonetheless. I keep thinking to myself "I wish this were paced a whole hell of a lot differently!" Also: "Why don't the female characters get more time in the spotlight?!" Both these questions are easily and annoyingly answered: Because it's a shounen manga, and I am not the target audience. Still: when you're juggling *four* important battles occurring in as many separate locations, and decide to parcel each one out, piece by piece in each episode and chapter, it's a bit frustrating. And when you have the main female character decide she's going to start kicking ass and taking names instead of being a hanger-on, it would be nice if you were to continue to have that character development stay developed, instead of evaporating instantly after the need for it has vanished.

Still, for all my complaining, I really do like this manga/anime. It's exciting, and the random ninja powers are very compelling to try and guess before they come into combat. For the most part, the animation company didn't cheap out on the fight sequences (yay!) and the voice-acting is great.

Further fannish babblery, with spoilers up to Vol. 18 of the manga, ensues. )

Still, for all of my questions and grumblings about pacing, this is satisfying and fun. Despite knowing the resolution for one of the major plot points (thanks a lot, interblag), I'll stick around for the rest, as long as there aren't too many filler episodes along the way.

On the complete opposite side of the spectrum, I read the delightful The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie, which made me run to the library to borrow whatever volumes of the Little House books that they had on hand (I ended up with By the Shores of Silver Lake and The Long Winter.) Wendy McClure's book is an excellent introduction to Laura/Little House fandom, and although I loved the books as a child, I cannot see churning butter or making haysticks by hand as McClure ended up doing in an effort to connect further with the material. She chronicles all aspects of Laura-dom, from the fans who are obsessed with the TV show to the slightly creepy church groups who try to live "off the grid" because they think the End Times are upon us. She also traces the geographical locations of the books and pieces together the real chronology of the events in the books, which was slightly altered by Laura and her daughter, Rose, in order to make for a more interesting story. I don't want to give away all the wonderful and juicy details in this book, but if you ever had even a tangential relationship to this series, this book is something you should take a look at.

As I said, reading it made me think back to the ways I loved the books as a child. I could recite the events of some of the books almost perfectly ("And then, Ma slapped the cow to make it go into the barn, but it turned around and looked at her and she saw that it was a BEAR!") and I was privately ecstatic every time Laura was victorious over her rival, Nellie Olsen (whose character turns out to be a composite of three women/girls Laura knew and disliked. Ouch!) I also sympathized with Laura when she didn't want to sit still and sew, like her good older sister, Mary. Actually, what these books really gave me was a sense of perspective. I might get mad with my parents for not letting me buy jelly shoes or take horseback riding lessons, but they didn't expect me to be "seen and not heard" or be entirely quiet on Sundays. I also realized that I had it pretty good; my father was not in danger of freezing to death on the way home from work, and our food supply didn't depend on what he could shoot or harvest. It was sobering, and I was a serious little kid.

On the serious side, though, I was always pretty freaked out at the racist language/action in the books. (McClure, in her book, spends quite a lot of time trying to speak to this, too.) It was mortifying to read about Pa, who was otherwise a smart and dignified character, dressing up in blackface to entertain the townsfolk. It was also pretty sad to read Ma's talk about those "dirty Indian half-breeds." I remember skipping these parts when I was reading the books myself, thinking that I was smarter than that and didn't need to waste my time on such stupidity. (My mother, when she read these aloud to me, must have said something as well, but I cannot remember what it was.) I especially remember being disgusted with Laura as a character and a person when she said she didn't want women to have the right to vote. Now that I read the books again, it's sort of disillusioning. Pa and Ma are not the saintly characters they were when I was kid--they're real people, and their flaws are floating around near the surface and I'm annoyed that I didn't see that before. Laura was raised in an extremely conservative way, and my disappointment in her anti-suffrage talk was probably my proto-feminism rearing its head.

But this reading experience is like lying on your back in the ocean, letting the waves pick you up and carry you. Wilder's words are simple, but the pictures she paints (with the help of the lovely Garth Williams illustrations) are complete and encompassing. I feel like I'm standing next to Laura as the story unfolds, or riding with her on her cousin's wild ponies. And it's impossible to dislike her as a character: she's curious, bright, and honest. Being a pioneer girl was tremendously taxing and, at times, terrifying. Reading these books, whenever I read them, is a transporting experience, and whatever problems they have, I do like to be transported.

May 2016

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