Sunday, December 14, 2014

Beastly (live action movie), on DVD

Beastly is a modernized retelling of the Beauty and the Beast story and is based on Alex Flinn's book. I haven't read the book, and this movie may have killed my desire to do so. Of course, The Last Airbender had a similar effect on me, and the cartoon turned out to be fabulous, so you never know. Anyway, this movie did not work for me.

Warning: this post includes major spoilers.

Kyle, Lindy, and Kendra are three students at a private high school. Kyle is an unrepentant, arrogant, vain jerk. Kendra is supposed to be an unpopular goth, I guess – she looks like she just left a high fashion runway, which we are repeatedly told means she's ugly. Lindy is a scholarship student. It's immediately apparent that she has at least a small crush on Kyle, although it's hard to see why.

Kyle plays a trick on Kendra that's designed to publicly humiliate her. She curses him, which soon leads to him going bald and developing facial scars and tattoos. Horrified by his own sudden ugliness, he retreats to his home. His father, who, like him, prizes good looks over all else, takes him to plastic surgeons and eventually has him exiled to a separate home, with only their Jamaican housekeeper and a blind tutor for company. Kendra tells him that he has one year to find someone who will love him. The one person he's repeatedly drawn to is Lindy, who no longer recognizes him as Kyle. He eventually arranges to have her live in his home and gives her all the gifts he can think of, but none of that may be enough to win her love.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Pandora Hearts (manga, vols. 1-3) by Jun Mochizuki, translated by Tomo Kimura

When I reviewed the Pandora Hearts anime, I wrote that it took a while to really get going and become more interesting. Unfortunately, the manga turned out to be similar to the anime, and the three volumes I was able to finish during my vacation all took place squarely in the less interesting portion of the series. I haven't decided yet whether I want to continue. I suppose I could skip ahead to the point where the anime ended, but I hate doing that. You never know when seemingly minor stuff that was cut for an anime adaptation will turn out to be more important later on in the manga.

As is usual with these vacation reviews, a warning: my descriptions of each of the volumes contain spoilers. Read on at your own risk.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Road to Ninja: Naruto the Movie (anime movie), on DVD

Road to Ninja: Naruto the Movie is, obviously, a Naruto movie. Still, I wasn't quite sure what it was going to be like, and the info on the back of the box wasn't very helpful. I vaguely remembered that the production artwork had inspired theories that it was an alternate universe Naruto. Would it be an alternate universe retelling of Naruto's story? The answer turned out to be “yes and no.”

First, a warning: this post contains some spoilers, although I think I managed to avoid the most major ones.

I'm not entirely sure when in the Naruto timeline this movie takes place. Certainly much later than what I've seen of Naruto Shippuden, and I think a bit later than I've read in the manga. Naruto knows who both his parents are, several of the Akatsuki are dead, Sai is there, and Naruto has saved the village from Pain. Naruto demonstrated one ability that I haven't seen yet in the manga: he released Nine Tails' full form and rode on his back during battle.

At the beginning of the movie, Kakashi, Naruto, Sakura, and several others from the village fight the Akatsuki and are confused, because they know several of their opponents have previously been defeated. The fight ends fairly quickly, which is a relief for everyone, but also somewhat suspicious. That doesn't stop the parents of the various chunin from talking about recommending them for jonin-rank. Naruto is once again reminded that he has no parents who could do such a thing for him. After Iruka refuses to fill out a jonin application for him (because he isn't even a chunin yet – you'd think they'd have made him an honorary chunin by now) and Sakura yells at him for not siding with her after she has a fight with her parents, Naruto storms off.

All fights are forgotten, however, when Madara suddenly appears and tries out an experimental jutsu called Limited Tsukuyomi. When Sakura and Naruto come to, Madara is gone and no one even seems to know who he is. Not only that, but everyone in the village is the opposite of what they normally are: Hinata is aggressive, Shikamaru is dopey, Kakashi is gung-ho and overuses his sharingan, etc. There are story differences, as well. For example, Sakura is now the daughter of heroes – her parents, rather than Naruto's, were the ones that gave their lives for the village.

Monday, December 8, 2014

The Twelve Kingdoms, Vol. 3: The Vast Spread of the Seas (book) by Fuyumi Ono, translated by Alexander O. Smith and Elye J. Alexander

The Vast Spread of the Seas is the third book in Fuyumi Ono's The Twelve Kingdoms fantasy series. It was published under Tokyopop's Pop Fiction imprint and is now out of print.

I won't be including a read-alikes list for this. Take a look at my first review of this book (which I've linked to at the start of my review) if you'd like some. If I were to add anything to that list, I'd probably include something from Mercedes Lackey's Heralds of Valdemar series, another epic fantasy series in which magical beings (horse-like Companions) play an important part in the kingdom's government.


Although I've previously reviewed this, I decided I'm going to write a new review for my reread.

This is my least favorite book in the series, although it was less emotionally draining to read than Sea of Shadow. The fantasy aspects of the world of the Twelve Kingdoms seemed to be less on the forefront here. Instead, the focus was on politics. It had its good moments, but the first half of the book was a slog. Also, unlike Sea of Wind, where I could see how the events of the book would fit into the more present-day history of the Twelve Kingdoms, there was very little here that seemed relevant to Yoko's time.

Book 1 was set in the present day, and Book 2 was set a few years before that. The Vast Spread of the Seas takes place 500 years before Book 1. Readers are introduced to two boys, one living in Japan and one living in the Twelve Kingdoms. Rokuta, the boy in Japan, is only four years old when he's abandoned by his parents so that the rest of his family can hopefully avoid starvation. It turns out that he's a kirin who was born in Japan, just like Taiki. He is found by his lamia and taken back to the Twelve Kingdoms. Koya, the boy in the Twelve Kingdoms, is also abandoned. He is found by a demon beast that, for some reason, chooses to take care of him rather than eat him.

In the book's present, Rokuta/Enki (I'll just call him Rokuta from here on out) is frustrated with Shoryu, his king, who seems too lazy and laid-back. This is why he doesn't make much of a fuss when Atsuyu, the self-proclaimed regent of Gen Province, has him kidnapped – he figures that maybe this will force Shoryu to finally pay more attention to his people. Unfortunately, Rokuta didn't consider that his kidnapping might lead to the thing he hates most, war and bloodshed. Occasional flashbacks show how everyone met and became the people they are in the book's present, 20 or 30 years later.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

A Gentleman's Dignity (live action TV series), via Netflix

A Gentleman's Dignity is a 20-episode K-drama, in this case a contemporary romance. I don't know that I can say I loved it – I yelled at the TV a little too much for that – but it had me hooked right from the beginning and didn't let go.

The series focuses on the careers and love lives of four men who have been friends since they were in school together. Kim Do-jin is a successful architect who heads his own firm with his friend Im Tae-san. Do-jin falls for Seo Yi-soo, an ethics teacher. Unfortunately for him, Yi-soo has a secret crush on Tae-san. And unfortunately for Yi-soo, Hong Se-ra, a professional golfer and Yi-soo's housemate and friend, is dating Tae-san.

Do-jin and Tae-san's other two friends are Choi Yoon and Lee Jung-rok. Choi Yoon is a widower and a successful lawyer. There is some tension, because Tae-san's younger sister, Meari, has a crush on Yoon. She's younger than Yoon (I can't remember how much – maybe 10-15 years?) and very aggressively pursues him, even though both Yoon and Tae-san think she'd be better off concentrating on school and her eventual goal of becoming a handbag designer. Jung-rok, meanwhile, is married to Park Min-sook, the very rich woman who owns the building in which Do-jin and Tae-san's architectural firm is based. He's also a known cheater and is constantly close to being divorced by his fed-up wife.

Naoki Urasawa's Monster (manga, vols. 1-2, 5-18) translated by various people

Naoki Urasawa's Monster is best read in large chunks, so that the plot twists, cliffhangers, revelations, and drama can carry you along. I loved this series as I was flying through it, although some of it seems really far-fetched now that I've put it all together for this post. Pretty much everything and everyone is connected. There's a lot of suspension of disbelief involved. If you can do that, though, this series is quite a ride. I have a few volumes of Urasawa's 20th Century Boys on my TBR pile, and I'm looking forward to those even more now.

I had to skip volumes 3 and 4, because the library didn't have those for some reason. However, I had seen up to that point in the anime and at least had a general idea of what happened. I tried to follow my notes as closely as possible, without interjecting what I knew about later volumes into my reviews of the earlier volumes. It felt very weird, but I think I mostly did okay. Warning: my post includes major spoilers. Read on at your own risk.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Binary Witness (e-book) by Rosie Claverton

Binary Witness is a mystery published by Carina Press.

I started this at the end of my vacation, so I'm going to call it a "vacation read" and skip out on listing read-alikes.


I'm kicking myself for not reviewing this weeks ago, when my memories were fresher. Oh well, I'll do my best.

Back in 2011, Melinda Beasi wrote a post for Manga Bookshelf titled “Fanservice Friday: Intimacy porn.” In it, she writes about intimacy being a big draw for her, and includes a few examples. It took a few years of percolating, but I now think intimacy is what I look for too, in all kinds of stories. In my experience, intimacy tends to be easier to find in romance novels, but even in those it's not a sure thing. Binary Witness was a wonderful surprise – it's a mystery that doesn't have what most people would call a romantic subplot, and yet it's full of intimate moments.

The story is set in Cardiff. Jason is an ex-con who desperately wants to get a job so that he can get out of his mother's house a bit and do something useful. Amy is an agoraphobic hacker who helps the police by piecing together information she finds via social media, forums, CCTV, and more. Their paths cross when Jason gets a job as a housecleaner and is sent to clean Amy's place. She refuses to let him in, at first, but he's persistent, and it's not long before he's cleaning her kitchen and making her a cup of tea and something to eat. Amy is not very good about taking care of herself, by the way - things like personal hygiene and eating end up on the back burner a lot.

It's Amy who confirms that a couple missing young women are not only dead, but also probably killed by the same person. Jason starts off on the sidelines, but eventually becomes more involved in the investigation, helping Amy get whatever information the police can't give her and that she isn't able to track down with her beloved computer.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Durarara!! (manga, vol. 1-4) creator Ryohgo Narita, art by Akiyo Satorigi, character designs by Suzuhito Yasuda, translated by Stephen Paul

I've tried to watch the anime version of Durarara!! two or three times and have yet to make it all the way through. While I love looking through fan creations based on this series, the series itself doesn't seem to do anything for me. I was hoping things would be different with the manga, but that wasn't really the case. It didn't help that these volumes only briefly touched on the characters that most interested me in the anime.

Once again, a warning: my synopses are riddled with spoilers. Read on at your own risk.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The Pride of Chanur (e-book) by C.J. Cherryh

The Pride of Chanur is science fiction, the first book in Cherryh's Chanur series.

I'm not going to include a read-alikes list, because I started this book during my vacation, so it's technically a vacation read. And also, I'm feeling a bit lazy.


I wanted to like The Pride of Chanur, I really did. Science fiction with a heavy emphasis on alien cultures and/or alien linguistics is like catnip to me, and, for that reason, I've wanted to try Cherryh's works for a long time. Unfortunately, her writing style didn't work for me. This is not a long book – the print edition is only a little over 200 pages – and yet I spent more than a month alternately slogging through it or avoiding it.

The story is fairly simple. Pyanfar Chanur is the captain of the hani spaceship The Pride of Chanur. She discovers a stowaway, an odd-looking being she quickly realizes is sentient. He's a human, and none of the aliens in the book have ever seen anything like him before. Pyanfar has him put together a translation tape and eventually learns that his name is Tully and he's an escapee from a kif ship. The kif tortured Tully and his friends, and he was the only one who survived. Pyanfar doesn't like the kif, who are widely known as pirates and slave-traders, so she decides to help Tully. This decision ends up putting The Pride of Chanur, other hani ships, and even the hani homeworld in grave danger.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Blue Skies by Tamara Allen - Free!

I saw this on Dear Author. If I didn't already own the book, I'd be snatching it up right now. I've only read Allen's The Only Gold, but that one was excellent.

Here's the link to get Blue Skies via Smashwords. The deal should also be available at Amazon and elsewhere.

The Story of Saiunkoku (manga, vol. 7-9) art by Kairi Yura, story by Sai Yukino, translated by Su Mon Han

This is one of those series that everyone else seems to adore and that I only like. I have to be in the mood for the series' slower pace and general wordiness. Also, while a heroine that isn't really interested in romance is a nice change, I can't help but be somewhat disappointed that the story has mostly left the romance aspects behind. I think part of the problem is the “mostly” bit – Shurei is ready to be a government official and has never really had thoughts of romance, while Ryuki still wishes she could be his consort. If he could just get over her, I think I'd feel better about the whole thing, but, as it is, I'm a little worried that he'll either continue to pine for her and never marry (meaning “no heir”), or that he'll marry someone else but never fully love that person (how incredibly depressing). I'm at least glad that he's a good enough person to let Shurei go. He could easily have let his own emotions override Shurei's desires and opted to hobble her career in order to keep her close.

Once again: my synopses include some spoilers. Read on at your own risk.

No more Crunchyroll for me for a while, plus a forum thread recap

Like a lot of Crunchyroll subscribers, I was planning on renewing using their usual Black Friday deal. Except they opted not to offer it this year. I haven't made much use of my subscription in the past few months (not since I reviewed Pandora Hearts back in May, in fact), so, although my subscription expired a few days ago, there's really no reason for me to resubscribe anytime soon. Goodness knows I have enough unwatched DVDs to start my own anime channel.

Reading the Crunchyroll Black Friday forum thread has been a fascinating (or, depending on your perspective, painful) look at how not to do customer service and communication. In case you can't bring yourself to go through the 341 comments (I'm sure the number will have grown by the time I hit “publish”), here's my take on some of it:

Friday, November 28, 2014

The Twelve Kingdoms, Vol. 2: Sea of Wind (book) by Fuyumi Ono, translated by Alexander O. Smith and Elye J. Alexander

Sea of Wind is a Japanese fantasy novel. It was published under Tokyopop's Pop Fiction imprint and is now out of print.

I won't be including any read-alikes for this. Take a look at my first review of this book (which I've linked to at the start of my review) if you'd like some.


I loved this book when I first read it in 2010, and my recent reread of it didn't disappoint. Although I reviewed it when I first read it, I decided I'd write a brand new review for my reread because 1) my reviewing style has changed since then and 2) I had some new things to say.

My first read of Sea of Wind took place several years after reading the first book. This time around, I read it right after finishing Sea of Shadow, and this had a definite effect on my understanding of what was going on and my feelings about it all.

Sea of Wind is set several years prior to Sea of Shadow and has a tighter focus. At the start of the book, we see a little boy who has been sent outside into the snow as punishment for what his grandmother believes is a lie. When he feels a gust of warmth and sees an arm beckoning him, he goes to it, and is taken to the world of the Twelve Kingdoms. The boy is told his name is Taiki and that he is the kirin of the Kingdom of Tai. He doesn't really know what's going on, but he feels safe around Sansi, the lamia that was born to protect him until he reached adulthood.

The entire book deals with Taiki adjusting to life among the oracles at the Brush-Jar Palace. Although they tell him he's a kirin, he doesn't feel like one, and he's worried that he'll never be able to do what these nice people expect of him. He can't shift into his kirin form, he can't see kirin auras, he can't pacify even the tiniest of demons, and he's sure he'll never have the revelation that is supposed to help him choose the next king of Tai.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Chi's Sweet Home (manga, vol. 9-10) by Konami Kanata, translated by Ed Chavez

Chi's Sweet Home is one of my favorite slice-of-life and animal series. It's the manga equivalent of a warm, snuggly blanket. Chi and the other animals are wonderful, and the Yamadas are a nice family that manages not to be too cutesy, despite the fact that nothing all that bad ever seems to happen to them.

I plowed through a huge chunk of this series during my vacation the year before, so it was nice to be able to continue from where I left off.

Once again, a warning: my synopses include some spoilers. Read on at your own risk.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Naruto (manga, vol. 51-54) by Masashi Kishimoto, translated by Mari Morimoto

I have to admit, I'm basically limping along with Naruto. While it's reassuring that there really is an end in sight, this series has gone on way longer than any other I've ever read, and I'm a little tired of it. I keep going because I've gotten this far, so I might as well see it through to the end. However, I'm to the point where I don't expect most of the volumes to be more than average at best.

I actually had more volumes available during my vacation than just these four, but nearly everything else I had on hand looked more interesting. Which should tell you something.

Okay, now for my reviews. A warning: my volume descriptions include spoilers. Read on at your own risk.
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