Monday, May 31, 2010

So much money spent...

I recently went on a bit of a buying spree, some of which I had saved for and some of which I hadn't.

I ordered a computer - I saved up for that, and the computer desk I'll need to buy once the computer arrives. Considering that I got the "white screen of death" only a couple weeks ago (because my computer is just too good for the boring, ordinary "blue screen of death"), and there have been a few other worrisome signs that my laptop is getting on in years and feeling every bit of it, ordering the computer was probably a good idea. I'm looking forward to its arrival.

Shortly after ordering my computer, I went on a major book buying spree. Really major. Even considering that it was all used and most of it was even more marked down than usual, I still spent a lot more than I should have. Here's a partial list of my haul:
  • Ceres: Celestial Legend (vols. 5-14)
  • RE:Play (vols. 1-2)
  • Offbeat (vol. 1)
  • Fullmetal Alchemist (vol. 10)
  • Death Note (vol. 6)
  • DNAngel (vols. 1-3)
  • Tsubasa: Those with Wings (the whole series, in three collected volumes)
  • Megatokyo (vol. 2)
  • Get Backers (vols. 7 & 13)
  • Hikaru no Go (vol. 2)
  • Mixed Vegetables (vol. 2)
  • Tramps Like Us (vols. 4-5)
  • The Twelve Kingdoms (vols. 1-2 of the original novels, translated into English)
  • Bitten by Kelley Armstrong
  • Dead After Dark (anthology)
  • More Than Magic by Kathleen Nance (I remember liking this and have been looking for this in used bookstores for years now)
...and an assortment of novels published by Tokyopop, some of which I've heard of and some of which I haven't.

When you think about it, it's really quite amazing that I usually not only have a budget but also manage to stick to it. One of the people I was out book shopping with said that I should donate my manga to our very pathetic public library when I'm done with it - the problem with that suggestion is that, just like when I buy books, I buy manga not to read it and be done with it, but rather so I can read it and then reread the whole thing or even just my favorite bits. Sometimes I just want to look at the pictures again. Before I moved to a town with a tiny, sad public library, I got all my manga from the public library, knowing that, if I liked something, I could just check it out again. My personal manga collection ballooned once that was no longer an option (and once my savings account began to look healthier again), and, for the most part, I don't really want to part with any of it.

Well, we'll see. If I ever decide to move and can't take all this stuff with me, the public library might be happy to have my humongous manga collection (which is heavily weighted towards shojo stuff). Heck, I could even offer to catalog it for them, if they wanted. Then, all they'd have to do is process it and find shelf space for all of it.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Libyrinth (book) by Pearl North

This is yet another book I saw on Unshelved - I ended up requesting it via ILL because the book/library aspects of it appealed to me. For some reason I assumed that this was a first novel. Although this is Pearl North's first novel for young adults, apparently "Pearl North" is actually a pseudonym for a SF author named Anne Harris (found this out with a bit of searching on the Internet, but I haven't done anything to verify that this is, in fact, true, so correct me if I'm wrong), who I've never read anything by and have never even heard of.

Anyway, my overall impression of this book was "meh." Some parts were very interesting, but the characters didn't really grab me and the pace felt a bit slow. I also had problems remembering that this was supposed to be set in some kind of dystopian future - several elements made this feel more like fantasy than scifi, and the only things that reminded me that this was actually set in our future were the occasional book quotes.

Synopsis:

Thousands of years from now, much human knowledge has been lost, and what hasn't been lost is being maintained in two different, and apparently opposing, ways. One way is in the Libyrinth, a library so vast that people sometimes get lost and even die in it. It houses many books, but, since the whole of it hasn't been traveled and cataloged, it's not always possible to find what one is looking for. Another way is the Eradicants' way (the Libyrarians call them Eradicants - they call themselves the Singers). They believe that books are murdered words and that the only way words can be free is if they are sung. They store knowledge as songs and burn books, one at a time, as they find them. In order to avoid having the entire Libyrinth burned down, the Libyrarians have an arrangement with the Eradicants that allows the Eradicants to occasionally burn certain books if they agree to leave the rest of the Libyrinth alone.

The one book that everyone wants is The Book of the Night, which is said to be able to bring about the Redemption and supposedly holds the secrets to creating an Egg (Eggs are valuable power sources, but the method for creating them has been lost). One Libyrarian, Selene, may have discovered the location of The Book of the Night, but unfortunately that information is leaked to the Eradicants. Selene, her clerk Haly, Haly's friend Clauda, and Nod all work to get to The Book of the Night before the Eradicants do, only to discover that the book is written in a language no one can read. However, Haly has been hiding a secret - books talk to her. Even if she can't read what is written in them, they read themselves to her, and she can repeat what they say to others.

The Eradicants come and torture both Haly and Clauda. Clauda and Selene manage to escape with The Book of the Night, while Haly is taken away by the Eradicants, who condemn her as a witch. It's not long before the Eradicants figure out that Haly is actually their prophesied Redeemer, the one who will read The Book of the Night and bring about the Redemption. Haly begins to learn more about the Eradicants - the Singers - and she realizes to her surprise that both the Singers' and the Libyrarians' ways each have their strengths and weaknesses. The Libyrarians preserve valuable knowledge in the form of books, ensuring that the knowledge of the Ancients won't be lost, but they don't readily share that knowledge with those outside the Libyrinth. The Singers songs can be understood and sung by anyone, but Singers will occasionally edit events to make them more acceptable and their songs don't necessarily stay the same over time - as a result, knowledge occasionally gets lost. As Haly comes to understand some of the ways Libyrarians can learn from the Singers, she tries to teach the Singers the value of books by reading to some of them and even teaching one of them to read - the book she uses, the same book that was used to test her abilities, is The Diary of Anne Frank.

While Haly is learning about the Singers and gradually trying to teach them about books and the Libyrarians, Selene and Clauda are trying to figure out how to save Haly and the Libyrinth and keep The Book of the Night from falling into Eradicant hands. They enlist the help of Selene's mother, Queen Thela of Ilysies, but there's a few problems. First, Queen Thela has no intention of saving Haly - she plans on using the situation to gain more power for herself and Ilysies. Second, Clauda's not doing too well because what the Eradicants did to her, and soon she won't be able to take care of herself, much less help Haly.

When the Eradicants/Singers arrive at the Libyrinth, things don't go quite as they planned. At Haly's urging, the Libyrarians and Singers gradually begin to learn more about each other and sort of get along, but the Libyrinth isn't out of danger yet. Clauda arrives in a Wing, a flying machine created by the Ancients, that Thela had hidden away - the Wing doubles as both a weapon and something that can heal her badly damaged nervous system. Not knowing how things will go, Haly tries to begin the Redemption, and Clauda uses the Wing to amplify its effects. Suddenly, everyone is able to hear exactly what they need to hear from just the right books.

Haly discovers that The Book of the Night doesn't say anything about how to create an Egg. The Singers and Libyrarians became two separate groups because of a misunderstanding - the founder of the Libyrarians wasn't able to find out how to create Eggs, while the founder of the Singers believed that the founder of the Libyrarians was simply refusing to share the secret. So, The Book of the Night isn't necessarily as useful as people thought it would be, but at least now everyone wants to try to get along and learn from each other.

Commentary:

Anytime I hear about a book that has librarians in it, or one where books are very prominent in some way, I can't help but want to read it. Unfortunately, this one was a bit of a slog for me - the only reason I finished it well before my ILL due date was because I wasn't allowing myself to start reading Moribito until I finished this.

I really like all the book quotes sprinkled throughout the text. The author seemed to have quotes available for all kinds of situations, and, joy of joys, the selection of books quoted from was extremely varied. These quotes didn't just come from classics (as in, the books your high school English teacher made you read because the stuff you really wanted to read was considered crap) - there's stuff from books I've read and enjoyed (Anne McCaffrey's Dragonflight, Yann Martel's Life of Pi, E.B. White's Charlotte's Web, etc.), stuff from books I've never read but now think I should hunt down (P.G. Wodehouse's Right Ho, Jeeves, Douglas Adams's The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, etc.), and random non-fiction. Even better, the author doesn't force you to figure out where all these quotes come from (although this may be more for legal reasons than anything else). If you want, you can puzzle out all the quotes as you read, but there are several pages at the end of the book that list all the quotes and their citations. Sadly, there are no page numbers for where they can be found in North's book, only chapter numbers, and none of the citations include page numbers. It's still better than nothing, though.

Unfortunately, there just wasn't enough stuff I liked in addition to the quotes. Most of the characters didn't interest me, or I actively disliked them. The Eradicants were the main ones I hated - while I could understand and appreciate their feelings that knowledge was meant to be shared, their belief that books, knowledge that could not automatically be shared by all, should be burned turned me off. Since I find it hard to believe that every one of the Eradicants throughout their whole history would be so blind as to not realize that at least some of the books they were burning held knowledge that they didn't have, it ends up looking like what they actually believe is that if everyone can't have certain knowledge then no one should be able to have it. At least the Libyrarians were only guilty of not making their knowledge more widely available, either by setting up literacy programs available to anyone interested (although it seemed like something like that was available, maybe...) or by doing public readings of their books.

There were snippets of romance, but North didn't do enough with them for my tastes. Haly and a young Singer end up together - not a huge surprise. I was wondering what North would do with the revelation, relatively early in the book, that Clauda is a lesbian, and the answer was, "nothing." Clauda blushes over a few nude or semi-clothed ladies in Ilysies (the people at the Libyrinth apparently have more hangups about nudity than the people in Ilysies), and I kind of wondered whether a few bits with Clauda and Selene and Selene talking about Clauda were going to morph into an end-of-the-book relationship between the two of them. Nope. I guess the whole thing was just a throwaway detail. As far as I can tell, none of the other characters in the book even find out about Clauda's secret. Maybe North or her publishers were hoping that parents would find out about "the lesbian character" and make a big fuss, thereby boosting the book's sales?

One thing I think is kind of interesting, since e-books are on my mind, is that the future North writes about in this book can't exist without print books and can't include e-books. Eggs power the machines of the Ancients - even if the people in this book could find an e-book reader that was still working and load some e-books into it, I don't know that they'd necessarily want to waste their few remaining eggs on it. Heck, they have problems keeping the Libyrinth powered up, and it wasn't until the very end of the book that they got enough power to be able to activate a feature of the Libyrinth that would allow Libyrarians to actually find specific books. Print books can believably be around in Haly's world, because we have actual examples of books that have survived for hundreds of years and can survive for longer. E-books in Haly's world would stretch the boundaries of believability a bit too far. Although...is it really possible that so many 21st century books would survive to be housed in the Libyrinth? Apparently even acid-free paper is only supposed to last two or three hundred years. That's still longer than I imagine an e-book would last, but maybe not long enough for the world of Libyrinth to be possible.

By the way, in case you haven't read a post of mine that's mentioned it, I'm definitely a print book kind of person. I have a feeling North might be, too.

Anyway, with my TBR pile threatening to take over my apartment, I'm starting to think I need to quit requesting books via ILL that I only think I might like. I didn't hate this book and don't feel like I wasted a few hours of my life reading it, but finishing the book doesn't clear up a little more of my bookshelf and apartment space the same way reading one of the books I own would. If I had liked this book more, that wouldn't be as much of an issue. However, I didn't really like the book's pacing, and North couldn't seem to decide whether she wanted this book to be science fiction or fantasy, which is something that has annoyed me with other things (Sharon Shinn's Samaria books and Scrapped Princess, to name a few examples). I don't mind soft science fiction - in fact, I tend to prefer it to hard science fiction - but I like books to be clear about what it is they are. Haly's ability to hear books automatically put this book in the realm of fantasy for me, and the confusing bit near the end about Haly being not quite human, an attempt, I'm guessing, to make Haly's abilities less fantasy and more science fiction, was too little, too late.

Read-alikes:
  • Archangel (book) by Sharon Shinn - This book, the first in a series, is set in what appears to be a Utopian society. Angels walk among regular human beings and sing to the god Jovah for whatever aid humans might need (for example, weather manipulation in order to end a drought). Gabriel is next in line to become the archangel, and he must have the wife Jovah has chosen for him singing by his side when it's time for him to assume his new position. Unfortunately, he's waited until nearly the last possible moment to find Rachel, the woman who is to be his wife, and she turns out to be a slave who hates all angels. This is the first book in a series that later reveals itself to be science fiction. Those who liked Libyrinth's mix of fantasy and sci-fi, use of singing, and "forgotten knowledge rediscovered" aspects may want to try this series, beginning with this book.
  • The Eyre Affair (book) by Jasper Fforde - In an alternate universe, Thursday Next is an operative in the Literary Division of the Special Operations Network. Her latest case involves finding someone who's been stealing characters from the original manuscripts of beloved works of literature, thereby removing those characters from all copies of those works. Those who'd like something else that's a bit of a genre-bender and full of literary references might want to try this.
  • Sabriel (book) by Garth Nix - This is the first in Nix's Abhorsen Trilogy. Sabriel is in her last year at Wyverley College, which is located in an area where Magic doesn't work. When she finds out that her father is somehow trapped in Death, Sabriel must journey to the Old Kingdom, where Magic does work, in order to find him and save him. Sabriel, like her father, has the power to lay the dead to rest, and she must use this ability to save herself and those she befriends as she attempts to help her father. Although I'm suggesting this book, I'm mainly suggesting it as a steppingstone to the book that comes after it - Lirael. Lirael, like Libyrinth, has an awesome, dangerous library.
  • Dragonsong (book) by Anne McCaffrey - I think this is the 3rd book in McCaffrey's Dragonriders of Pern series, and the first one featuring Menolly. Menolly wants nothing more than to become a Harper (basically, a professional musician), something her father does his best to make impossible. Menolly runs away and struggles to survive away from civilization and other humans. Fortunately, she ends up befriending and raising a group of fire lizards (tiny dragon creatures). Those who particularly liked the parts of Libyrinth where Haly learned how the Singers live should be sure to read the next book in the series, Dragonsinger, in which Menolly ends up at Harper Hall, learning how to hone her musical abilities. By the way, although McCaffrey's Pern books may appear to be fantasy, they are later revealed to be science fiction (I know hard sci-fi lovers are cringing right now, and possible some soft sci-fi fans, too - I still think of this series as fantasy).

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Caught up in another anime

I've been watching The Twelve Kingdoms off and on all weekend and, for the most part, loving it. I just really, really wanted to smack Sugimoto, and I still can't figure out why Asano even existed. However, I've now gotten far enough into the show to be able to confirm that, yes, the show deals with more than just the first book of The Twelve Kingdoms - I've just begun Taiki's story. Since I haven't read past the second book yet, I'm not quite sure if the whole bit about Taiki going back to our world after getting drawn back to the world of the Twelve Kingdoms is invented entirely for the anime, but it wouldn't surprise me if it were - although this series is more faithful to the original than some anime adaptations, there are still quite a few additions and changes. Overall, I've been ok with that, aside from what I've already said about Sugimoto and Asano. I'm not liking all the expository talk that comes with Taiki's story - the writers for this show had an excessive fondness for telling over showing.

The show has been working well as a distraction - another thing I've been doing off an on all weekend is cleaning my apartment. My pet rat died a little over a week ago, and I've been having some problems being in the same room where his cage was located. Unfortunately, that room is my bedroom. So, I'm finally getting around to vacuuming, airing things out, and cleaning things up. Hopefully, that will help. I really miss the little guy, though, and it's easier to deal with when I'm not in the same room he used to be in.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Coffin Club (book) by Ellen Schreiber

This is the fifth book in Schreiber's Vampire Kisses series. It's a series that mostly gets a "meh" response from me, but I keep reading it because the books are short and easy to get through, and because I keep hoping that Alexander will get to do something interesting. For the most part, this book gets my usual "meh" response, but there were a few things about it that got a fangirl squeal of approval from me.

I should mention that my reading of this book was colored by what I learned when I indulged my bad habit of skipping to the last few pages shortly after beginning the book. Alexander keeps a secret from Raven throughout most of this book, and knowing this secret allowed me to enjoy certain parts of the book in ways I don't think I would have otherwise.

Synopsis:

Desperate to see Alexander again, Raven decides to surprise him by going to see him in Hipsterville once her summer vacation starts. He'd gone there to take care of some vampire business (something involving Valentine and Jagger - I can't quite remember what that business was), but something is delaying his return to Dullsville. While Alexander is as happy to see Raven as Raven is to see him, he can't go back to Dullsville with her yet. He also doesn't want Raven going to the Coffin Club on her own, something which frustrates her, since this is one of the few places where she can meet lots of people who dress and think like she does.

Looking for something to pass the time one evening while she waits for her Aunt Libby, Raven decides to go to the Coffin Club. Things have changed since the last time she was there - the line to get in is a lot longer, and there are now two sides to the club, the public side and the secret side. Raven stumbles upon and talks her way into the secret side of the club, which caters to vampires rather than humans. This secret part of the Coffin Club has become a place where vampires can go and be themselves, partying with and flirting with others of their kind and having drinks made with blood.

The Coffin Club is going through an upheaval, however. There are two sides, the side that wants the vampires to go public and take over Hipsterville, and the side that wants the club to continue to be a secret haven for vampires and a relatively benign presence in Hipsterville. From what others in the club tell Raven, it looks like Jagger is on the side that wants vampires to stay secret, while a new, somewhat frightening vampire named Phoenix is on the side that wants vampires to go public. Although Raven doesn't trust Jagger, she at least knows him, and she doesn't know anything about Phoenix other than that he may be even more dangerous than Jagger. Something about Phoenix draws her, however, and the feeling seems to be mutual, because he always seems to be watching her.

Raven gets to visit the Coffin Club a few more times after this, even going there with Alexander once, although she can't bring herself to tell him that she's already gone there on her own. While lost and trying to find the public side of the club again, Raven ends up at Jagger's place in the club. Recently, local crop circles have been making the news - Raven had theorized that vampires were responsible, because a witness reported seeing bats, and in Jagger's apartment Raven spots all the tools necessary for creating crop circles. Both Phoenix and Jagger find her in the apartment, and Raven chooses to go with Jagger, the devil she knows. Thankfully, Alexander's recent reconciliation with Jagger seems to extend to her as well, and Jagger leads her safely out of the vampire part of the Coffin Club.

The day after a nice double date (Raven and Alexander, plus Aunt Libby and her new boyfriend Devon), Raven decides to do a little more investigating. She knows that Jagger and Phoenix are confronting each other at the site of one of the crop circles, and Raven wants to be there to listen in on what they have to say to each other. To her shock, Raven discovers that she's had it all wrong - it's Jagger who wants the vampires to take over Hipsterville and Phoenix who wants them to remain a secret.

After that bombshell, Raven goes on a date with Alexander and still can't bring herself to tell him everything she's done and learned about the Coffin Club, Jagger, and Phoenix. Alexander gives Raven a gift, a one-way ticket back to Dullsville with the promise that they'll both be leaving together soon. However, Raven has one last thing she wants to do. She goes back to the club, despite an ominous warning from Phoenix, and tells the vampire friends she's made (who don't know that she's human) what she's learned about Phoenix and Jagger. Finally, everything comes down to a vote for either Phoenix or Jagger - whoever wins gets the Master Key to the Coffin Club and gets to determine how things will be for vampires in Hipsterville. Phoenix wins by a large margin and decides to give his new power over the the clubgoers, but Jagger tries to invalidate the vote by bringing attention to Raven's vote.

Suddenly, Raven finds herself very much the only human among a large group of angry vampires. Raven's friends stand by her, but even they almost can't prevent the crowd from forcibly turning her into a vampire. Crying out for Alexander, Raven is instead saved by Phoenix. Although still not quite sure she can trust him, Raven allows Phoenix to take her to safety. All the secrecy has become too much for her, and Raven rushes to Alexander's place, determined to tell him everything that's been going on - only to discover that he already knows everything, because he was Phoenix all along. He had disguised himself because he knew he had to stop Jagger but also didn't want to mess up his recent reconciliation with Jagger. Now that everything has been resolved, it's time for Alexander and Raven to return to Dullsville together.

Commentary:

Raven is still conflicted about whether or not she wants to become a vampire. On the one hand, she kind of does, because the vampire world is attractive and exhilarating to her. On the other hand, she knows that Alexander feels like an outsider in the vampire world, and she knows that the vampire life is not what he wants for her. Some aspects of it kind of frighten her, as well. She had a nightmare about forcibly being turned into a vampire (amusingly enough, knowing how the book ends, Phoenix was the scary one in her nightmare), and, when she's almost forcibly turned into one for real, it's Alexander that she calls out for. Even if she does decide to become a vampire, she wants to become one on her terms - she wants Alexander to be the one who does it.

I don't think I would've guessed that Alexander was Phoenix, because Raven and Alexander pass by Phoenix's motorcycle on their way into the Coffin Club, creating the impression that Phoenix is already in the club somewhere when they get there. Had Schreiber taken it too far, Alexander pretending to be Phoenix might have pissed me off. As it was, however, I found it amusing, a little cute, and a little sexy. Raven got to see Alexander not as sweet, safe Alexander, but as a scary, somewhat sinister vampire, and it both drew her and frightened her. Alexander sort of tested her twice - the first time he talked to her as Phoenix, he flirted with her a bit, and she didn't bite, telling him that she already had a boyfriend. Near the end of the book, he flirted with her some more, and again she told him that she already had a boyfriend, although Raven noted that he didn't really seem to want her to accept any of his flirtations. I chose to interpret all of this as a way for Alexander to test whether Raven really wanted him or would go after any sexy vampire who showed an interest in her - and the answer was that she wouldn't. It's kind of cute, and Alexander didn't carry it to jealous extremes. It's also kind of cute that he kept trying to watch out for her while disguised as Phoenix (unfortunately making her fear Phoenix even more, since, to her, it seemed like he was stalking her or something).

I'm glad I already knew that Phoenix was really Alexander, because otherwise this book probably would've annoyed me. Throughout the whole series, I've felt that Schreiber doesn't do enough with Alexander and the romance between him and Raven - Alexander has a tendency to feel like Raven's token sexy vampire boyfriend, loved only because he's both sweet and a vampire. Alexander hardly shows up at all in this book as himself, and, when he does show up, Raven spends the whole time hiding things from him. It's not exactly the ideal situation.

I really hope that Schreiber eventually gives Alexander a bigger, better part, or at least focuses more on the relationship between him and Raven. By this point in the series, I shouldn't still find myself wishing for their relationship to get more development, and yet I am. I know this series is aimed at "reluctant readers" who are probably in a slightly younger age group than the audiences of any of the other young adult books I've read lately, but does that really mean the romance has to be so bare bones? Somehow, even Raven and Alexander's dates end up being unsatisfying.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • Got Fangs? (book) by Katie Maxwell - This is the first book in Maxwell's Goth Series. Fran is tagging along with her mother, who's part of a Goth faire traveling in Europe. Fran has the ability to read people with her touch, but she hates her ability and feels like a freak because of it. A young man shows up and tells her that he's a vampire and she's his Beloved, the only person who can lift his curse. Although Benedikt is sexy, Fran's a bit resistant. Readers who enjoyed the vampires, romance, mystery, and action in The Coffin Club might like this book.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer (live action TV series) - Pretty, blond, cheerleader-material Buffy moves to a new school and discovers that she, as the Slayer, must forget any chance she might have at becoming a normal, popular girl and fight demons, vampires, and other supernatural horrors in order to keep the oblivious residents of Sunnydale safe. Like Raven, Buffy eventually finds herself with a brooding, socially awkward, romantic vampire boyfriend. Readers who enjoyed Raven's investigations, her outsider status, the vampires, and the cluelessness of everyone in Dullsville might like this TV series. Readers who'd rather try another book should look into some of the many books based on this series - I don't, at the moment, have a particular book to recommend.
  • The Wallflower (manga) by Tomoko Hayakawa - When Sunako finally gathered up the courage to tell the boy she liked how she felt about him, he crushed her by telling her that he doesn't like ugly people. Ever since then, Sunako has surrounded herself with dark and scary things and stopped putting any effort into how she looks. She watches bloody horror movies, she's ghostly pale and dresses in dark clothing, and her room is filled with skulls, coffins, and other gruesome things. She lives alone in her aunt's house, which, unfortunately for her, is invaded by four beautiful guys who were promised free rent by her aunt if they could only turn Sunako into a lady. Readers who like the way Raven dresses and her obsession with dark things may like this series. Also, there are many light-hearted, sweet, and funny moments throughout this series, as well as hints of romance (which will have to stay hints until Sunako gets over her fear of romance, dating, and love).
  • Chibi Vampire (manga) by Yuna Kagesaki - Karin is a misfit in a family of vampires - rather than taking blood, she must give it (she really has to or she gets the most horrifying nosebleeds of all time), and she is unable to mind-wipe humans, can go out in the sun, and can tolerate garlic. A new boy named Kenta comes to her school and suddenly Karin's body is reacting to him, producing blood much faster than normal - what's going on? Those who'd like another vampire romance that would work well for a YA audience might want to try this.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Tramps Like Us (manga, vol. 2) by Yayoi Ogawa

Sumire drives me crazy sometimes but... I can't stop reading. Gah...

Synopsis:

Sumire has been dating Hasumi for a while now, and the two of them still haven't had sex - it seems like the universe is against them. When Hasumi suggests that they spend Christmas Eve together, Sumire wants so badly to keep him happy and finally get a chance to have sex with him that she says yes, even though she doesn't normally celebrate Christmas. Unfortunately, Hasumi's work interferes, and Sumire is left with only Momo for company on Christmas Eve. This turns out to not be so bad (he made her a cake with a surprise in it, a toy ring, taking the idea from a story she told him about her childhood), and she enjoys her time with him enough that, when Hasumi calls to say that he finished his work early, she tells him that she can't meet with him because her sisters have come to stay with her for the night. Hasumi, it turns out, had planned to give her a nice ring that night - could it be an engagement ring?

In the next part of the volume, Sumire has to deal with her workplace's new non-smoking rules. She's already been lying to Hasumi, saying and making it seem like she smokes less than she does, because she knows he hates that she smokes. In an attempt to kill two birds with one stone, she decides to quit smoking cold turkey. Everyone at work has the usual response - "well, of course Sumire's quitting smoking, she's an educated career woman who spent time in America - I'm sure quitting will be easy for her" - at least until the lack of nicotine starts driving her crazy. Even Hasumi notices how on edge she's getting. The only thing that helps is petting Momo, but that's not something she can do at work.

While Sumire is still dealing with her nicotine cravings, Momo, whose real name is Takeshi, gets a phone call from his ex-girlfriend Rumi, who'd like to resume their relationship (or at least the sexual side of it). However, Rumi gets pissed when Takeshi tells her they have to be quick because he's got to get back to his mistress. In the end, Momo once again helps Sumire regain her composure, and Sumire decides to continue smoking (although she still has to pretend that she's quit when she's around Hasumi) because it annoyed her that her coworkers saw her decision to quit as a sign that she might be pregnant and marrying Hasumi soon (they still haven't even had sex yet).

Sumire's friend Yuri causes her to worry when she brings up the possibility that Hasumi might decide he's better off with someone else. After all, he might have a better chance at having successful sex if he were with someone other than Sumire. The same day Sumire promises Momo that she'll come home early (she's noticed that he's been feeling lonely and needy because she hasn't been home much lately, which reminds her of the dog she named him after), Hasumi invites her over to cook for him. She decides that she should be able to juggle both Hasumi and Momo if she leaves Hasumi's place early. Things seem to be going well, at first. The dinner she makes Hasumi goes over well enough, and things get a little steamy afterward. Unfortunately, both Hasumi and Sumire suddenly become accident-prone, and their romantic night together becomes slap-stick comedy. Mortified, Sumire goes home. She becomes even more upset when she discovers that Momo has fed and entertained himself without her. She worries that Hasumi is mad at her because she left and because the evening went so badly, but he calls her up that night and seems fine about the way everything went.

In the next part of the volume, Valentine's Day is coming up, and Momo is a little upset that Sumire has a nice gift for Hasumi and an afterthought of a gift for him. The last straw is when Sumire gets upset with Momo's complaining and tells him to "act like a pet is supposed to." To remind her of his value, Momo decides not to talk around Sumire for a while. It takes her three weeks or so to notice, but she begins to realize that she hates not having Momo talk to her. He may be her pet, but he's a person, too, and she likes that he can tell her "welcome home." Lots of great things happen to her, but she's stuck in a depressed funk until Momo speaks to her again. For White Day, Hasumi finally gives her the ring he intended to give her on Christmas Eve (and it's not an engagement ring, but still), and Momo gives her a lollipop. Hasumi's gift may cost more, but it's Momo's gift (the lollipop and speaking to her again) that makes Sumire the happiest.

For some reason, thoughts of her former fiance are bothering Sumire again. While all that's circling around in her brain, Hasumi tells her about a woman in a situation similar to the one Sumire is in with Momo - like Sumire, the woman is keeping a young man as a pet. He's a struggling artist she supports financially. When Sumire asks Hasumi what he thinks about the situation, he says it's disgusting. It's not the woman that disgusts him, so much as the young man - Hasumi dislikes that the guy is mooching off of her, since he'd never do that himself. The response upsets Sumire, but Hasumi, of course, has no idea why. Hasumi's not the only one who has trouble understanding the dynamics of a relationship like Sumire and Momo's. The other dancers at Momo's studio are shocked when he confirms that he's Sumire's pet, and they don't understand why she's not having him trade sex for food and a place to stay. They think it sounds like an easy and cushy deal. When Sumire comes home drunk that night, after overhearing her former fiance refer to her as "a loan that was way beyond my ability to repay," it occurs to Momo that things aren't as easy as the other dancers might think. It'd be easy for him to take advantage of drunken Sumire and sleep with her, but he doesn't do anything beyond kiss her.

Later, Sumire's ex-fiance visits her to tell her that he's going to be transferred to a new location soon. His visit pisses her off enough that she tells him that Momo is not her second cousin, as he believes, but rather her pet. Her ex is shocked and gets upset with Momo for being a freeloader, which only pisses Sumire off some more. She finally tells him off, something she never even really did when they broke up. Before Sumire's ex leaves, Momo lands the final blow by telling him that he's her pet because he wants to be with her - she said he could stay if he stayed as her pet, so that's what he is. As a sweet ending for this part of the volume, Momo promises Sumire that he'll stay until she tells him to move out, even if that's ten years from now or even if she gets old (both her questions).

The volume wraps up with a bit that focuses on Sumire's belief that she must live without depending on others, especially men, because no one can be depended upon to help her. She deals with a pervert on the train on her own and doesn't think to tell Hasumi later because she doesn't see what he'd be able to do for her (hurting his feelings, of course - Yuri tells her that she needs to get better at playing the weak damsel in distress for him). When she's given a ton of extra work, she takes it on without complaining. Unfortunately, all this stress is having a seriously bad effect on her health. She throws up at home, making Momo worry that she might be pregnant (he doesn't know that she and Hasumi haven't had sex yet), she faints (but doesn't call Momo because she figures he wouldn't be able to help and would just panic and make things worse), and she throws up blood in the bathroom at work. Rather than tell Hasumi, who has noticed that she looks paler than usual, she pretends she's fine. Whereas other women at work seem stuck on the idea that they can't survive without depending on a man, Sumire is determined not to ever depend on one, so much so that she believes she's alone with all her problems right now. In an attempt to prove otherwise, Momo makes sure Sumire gets some decent sleep and fixes her a nice dinner.

Commentary:

Here's hoping that Sumire at least confides in Momo about her health problems. If she really threw up blood and wasn't just exaggerating, then it's kind of worrisome. No matter how common this sort of thing appears to be in manga (*cough*Eiri Yuki*cough*), it's something that any halfway realistic character should be concerned about.

I started this post off by saying that Sumire drives me crazy, and the main reason is that she's so rarely without her public facade. She tries crazy hard to be self-reliant, not letting anybody know that she might need a bit of help, and the one person she can rely on is someone she doesn't realize she can rely on, because she thinks of him as a cute pet. She only ever lets her guard down and lets herself be who she really is around Momo. Around Hasumi, she tries to be someone she thinks Hasumi would want to be with. Around her coworkers, she tries to be cool and flawless. While it's possible it may be with good reason, she just doesn't trust anyone besides Momo to accept her as she is.

As perfect as Hasumi currently seems, he's not going to be perfect for Sumire until she can relax around him. She's still not herself around him, although she's better than she was with her other boyfriends - I can't help but think that she'd probably be more content with Momo. First, though, they'd have to get over the whole "pet and mistress" thing.

Even though I'm not entirely sure Hasumi is the guy for Sumire, he's still fun to read about. There's one tiny little bit in this volume where you get to read Hasumi's thoughts, and it's hilarious. When he upsets Sumire by saying that the guy being kept as a pet disgusts him, he starts panicking and wondering what he did to upset her, because he knows from what he learned about her body language in college that she's pissed at him (she got pissed at him then for criticizing people who watch pro wrestling, probably because she enjoys it herself). His thoughts: "Quick--change the subject by giving her something!!" I love that, even though it also kind of annoys when I think about it too much - man panics and throws angry woman a bone, and, look, it works! The bone, in this case, is jasmine tea, which opens up in hot water like a flower blooming.

Another thing I'm having lots of fun with - Momo's sexual frustration is going to drive him crazy. He doesn't touch her inappropriately when they sleep together because he doesn't think he'll be able to stop at just a touch here and there. He has a hard time stopping himself from going to her when she's drunk. I wonder what he'd think if he knew that she hasn't had sex with Hasumi yet? And, gosh, both he and Hasumi are gorgeous. Hasumi's just hot all the time, but Momo has flashes of hotness. A lot of the time, he looks like a cute kid, a bit rambunctious, but there are times when he just becomes mouthwateringly gorgeous. And he's at his sexiest when he's dancing. Gah. So, the romance lover in me is really enjoying all of this so far, although I'm not a huge fan of drawn-out romantic indecisiveness - we'll see how I feel about things a few volumes down the road.

One of my favorite funny lines in this volume: "I wonder if companion animals, which are kept by humans, are aware that they are pets... and if so, do they try to impress their masters? For instance, in the case of a rabbit: 'I'm cute, but I'd better not move my nose too much, or it'll annoy my master.' Or in the case of a fish: 'I should poop out as long a piece of excrement as possible. That would really please my master.'" The whole "pets give you what they want most" thing was kind of cute too.

While certain aspects of this series annoy me, there are still more than enough things I enjoy about it that I plan on continuing the read it. Hey, I even own the last 5 or so volumes of the series now. That makes it really hard not to read how things end...and I haven't really resisted. I haven't read the volumes yet, just sort of flipped through them, but I've got a more-than-general idea how things end.

Extras:

Another one page comic featuring Ogawa and her editor, a one-page thing with information about all of Ogawa's staff members, and SumiRanger line art that you can apparently color if you want to. Very sad. Although SumiRanger is kind of cool.

Sometimes it's easy for me to come up with read-alikes and watch-alikes for things; sometimes it's not. In this case, it's not.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • Anyone But You (book) by Jennifer Crusie - After Nina gets a divorce, she finds she's finally on the road to being happy and free to live her life the way she wants to live it. Alex, her downstairs neighbor, is an emergency room doctor who wants to make a difference in people's lives. He's attractive, but he's 15 years younger than Nina - only he doesn't seem to worry about the age difference nearly as much as Nina does. Alex wants to convince Nina that they belong together, but first Nina has to get over her hangups about the age difference and Alex has to get past the pressure his family puts on him to be something he's not, someone he mistakenly believes Nina might prefer to be with. Something about the feel of this book seems similar to Tramps Like Us.
  • NANA (manga) by Ai Yazawa; NANA (anime TV series) - [There's also a live action movie, but I'm not sure if it goes far enough to really deal with all of the boyfriend storylines.] Two young women named Nana meet in Tokyo and end up becoming roommates. Nana Komatsu is a naive girl with a somewhat childish outlook on life. She frequently falls in love with guys she meets, but things don't always go well for her. Nana Osaki is the lead singer of the band Black Stones (Blast, for short). Both Nanas have to work through relationship problems - Nana O. has additional complications stemming from her past and the future she is trying to build for herself. Those who'd like another series with complex relationships and lots of drama might want to try this.
  • The Aromatic Bitters (manga) by Erica Sakurazawa - Sayumi and Hide are two friends stuck in dead-end, long-term relationships with men who cheat on them. When they decide to go to Hide's country home for the summer, they end up learning a lot about life, love, and each other. The characters are similar to Sumire in age and the feel of this work seems to be similar to Tramps Like Us.

Monday, May 10, 2010

The sad part about being a pet mommy, and my TBR mountain

I haven't posted anything in a while that wasn't a synopsis/review/commentary, because every time I tried, the result came out really depressing. Since I'm having a good morning so far, I figured I'd get that post in.

The big thing that's been going on in Library Girl's Mental Landscape lately is worry over my pet rat, who is elderly and having severe age-related issues. My vet thinks he must have hurt his back, and I think the symptoms seem more like degenerative osteoarthritis. Whatever it is, he's on steroids and has been moved to a nice, safe single-story cage where I don't have to worry he'll break a foot or a leg while I'm gone. He hasn't been getting better, but, other than a few bad days and moments, I don't think he's gotten worse. I'm not looking forward to the invisible yet in that sentence.

For distraction, there's always entertainment - my TBR pile is basically a mountain. Seriously. I ran out of bookshelf space a long while back. I had been joking that I'd just start piling them against a wall until I reached the ceiling. That's starting to not be a joke anymore - I just began the pile yesterday. So far, it's three stacks of books, one of manga, one of mass market paperbacks, and one of a mix of trade paperbacks and mass market paperbacks. The manga pile is almost 5 feet tall, and the paperback piles aren't far behind.

Anyway, the piles help relieve some of the clutter and give me a giddy book nerd feeling, but 1) it'll be really hard to get at a book I want if it's not near the top of a pile, and 2) it sort of makes it look like I'm running a used bookstore out of my apartment. I really need to pick some stuff out to sell. Or get myself more bookcases.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Sensual Phrase (manga, vol. 1) by Mayu Shinjo

It's a bit embarrassing to admit this, but I actually kind of liked this. It's cheesy and reads like the sex-crazed fantasies of a teenage girl, and yet it's somehow addictive. In real life, Sakuya would piss me off, but, as long as I don't allow reality to intrude, I can enjoy this series.

Synopsis:

Aine has never really been that into pop stars and rock bands, but when her friends urge her to enter a lyric-writing contest she decides to give it a shot, writing some very suggestive lyrics. Later on, she is almost hit by a car while trying to rescue her dropped lyrics. The driver is a gorgeous guy who Aine decides must be foreign, because of his blue eyes. After flirting with her a bit, he hands her an all access pass to the band Lucifer's concert at Tokyo Dome (Lucifer is a visual band - some examples of this are Malice Mizer, Miyavi, and Moi dix Mois; try a Google image search, it's fun).

Aine decides to go and is shocked to discover that Lucifer's lead singer is the gorgeous man she met. Not only that, but the last song he sings that night is her song - she was so flustered by him that she never even noticed that he picked up her lyrics and took them with him. The guy, Sakuya, takes Aine backstage and announces that Aine will be Lucifer's new lyricist. Just as Aine is close to talking herself into the job, Sakuya's manager, Koichi Sasaki, tells her to leave, because Sakuya's only playing with her. However, after Aine leaves, hurt and embarrassed, it's revealed that the song Aine wrote is one of the most popular songs at the concert.

Aine can't believe it when Sakuya bundles her into his car, takes her to a classy apartment, and begins seducing her. He stops before they get further than unbuttoned shirts and confirms, to Aine's embarrassment, that Aine is a virgin (get your mind out of the gutter, it's just his playboy intuition talking). Aine's a little outraged when she realizes that the reason he was seducing her was probably so that he could stir her imagination up and prompt her to write even better, steamier lyrics. When Aine agrees to be Lucifer's lyricist, against Mr. Sasaki's objections, Sakuya only smiles and hands her the keys to the enormous apartment - apparently, the place is now hers, for her to use while she writes her lyrics.

Aine enjoys getting to attend things like Lucifer's concerts and photo shoots, but it quickly becomes apparent that her job is not without risks - Sakuya's fans are rabidly devoted. Aine becomes afraid when she finds out that her name and contact information has been passed around at a recent Lucifer concert, but she doesn't want to worry or upset Sakuya. Things get worse, however, when some girls show up at her school and dunk her head in a bucket of water. Sakuya puts a stop to that, but they're not finished yet. Although Sakuya is now a student at Aine's school (they're both 17), he can't be near her all the time. One of Sakuya's fans decides that Aine is probably only worth something to Sakuya as long as she's a virgin, so she decides to arrange to have Aine's raped. Once again, Sakuya manages to swoop in in time to save her, and this time he's really pissed. Aine, who sympathizes with the fans' jealousy, cools his anger somewhat, and the girls swear they won't do anything to her again.

Mr. Sasaki accuses Aine of causing Sakuya trouble, distracting him from his work, so Aine guiltily does her best not to bother him. However, after the wonderful experience of getting to hear Lucifer's fans's enjoyment of her newest lyrics (which they have no idea were written by a girl), Aine discovers that Sakuya has sought her out - and he even kisses her in public. Later, he stops by her place in order to spend his precious free time with her. They have a nice time, and Aine allows herself to imagine, just for a second, that they're actually a couple.

It's just a fantasy, though. Aine keeps getting reminders that it's all just business between her and Sakuya. Takako Kai, the director in charge of Lucifer, has decided that their newest music video should emphasize the eroticism of their lyrics, to the point of being close to an adult video. She says she wants Aine to produce the music video because of the natural feel she seems to have for the band, but it's later revealed that it was Mr. Sasaki who insisted that Aine do this. Mr. Sasaki also asks Aine to come up with a male pseudonym for herself, because it would be better for Lucifer. For some reason, Mr. Sasaki seems to enjoy upsetting Aine - perhaps he's hoping that, if he upsets her enough, she'll leave.

When Sakuya sees Aine leaving in tears, he decides to write and sing a song just for her, a song Aine assumes will once again have steamy lyrics designed to stir up her desires. Instead, confusingly, it turns out to be a love song. Aine tries to shrug it off, but Sakuya won't let her, and the two of them almost end up in bed together until Sakuya stops things after he notices Aine's trembling. Aine assumes that he stopped because she's only worth something to him as a virgin, so she decides that, from now on, she'll keep things strictly business. For the music video, she suggests erotic scenarios in which the female models' faces are hidden from the camera, allowing fans to more fully imagine themselves in the models' places - and Aine's idea is accepted, by everyone but Sakuya at least.

Aine dreads having to watch Sakuya's scenario get filmed, but then Sakuya stops things in the middle of filming, says the model isn't doing it for him, and strips Aine down to her underwear and has her take the model's place. Everyone is shocked, but it's immediately apparent Sakuya will be more amazing if he's with Aine - because, even if they don't realize it yet, Aine and Sakuya are in love.

Commentary:

The first thing I thought when I saw this series' artwork was, "This must be kind of old" - the original copyright is 1997, so it kind of is. There are aspects of the artwork that I don't like (Sakuya's hands are freakishly huge, and their structure doesn't seem quite natural), but otherwise it's not too bad.

I said at the beginning of this post that I liked this volume, and I'm not really sure why I do. Sure, Sakuya has some of the characteristics I like in fictional guys - he's good-looking, confident and yet with a vulnerable side, and he's got some great mysterious aspects to explore. However, he's also arrogant and comes on way too strong - at the beginning of the volume, after nearly running Aine over, he practically gropes her, and he's only just met her. At their third meeting, he nearly strips her shirt off. By the end of the book, he gets her nearly naked in front of lots of people and video cameras.

Sakuya's the kind of guy who, in the real world, I'd want to smack - but that's the thing, this series isn't reality, not even close. In reality, a 17-year-old girl with no lyric-writing experience wouldn't be churning out erotic lyrics, blushing with embarrassment even as she happily goes to hand the lyrics over to the guy who inspired them. In reality, Aine's parents would probably need to be involved, and there would certainly be some serious legal considerations over the idea of a 17-year-old girl writing erotic lyrics for a popular band, getting harassed by jealous fans, and getting stripped naked for a sudden unplanned appearance in an erotic music video. With all of these things happening that are so completely outside the bounds of reality, I seem to be able to take Sakuya's behavior in a stride and accept it all as cheesy, awful fun.

As terrible as this series is, for me, for now, it's a good kind of terrible. I'll have to see how long I can sit back and enjoy a series that inspired an anime that gave birth to a real band. Japanese pop culture can be such fun to read up on sometimes.

Extras:

There are occasional author free-talk sidebars, in which the author/artist writes about bands she's found out about since she began Sensual Phrase.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • Gravitation (manga) by Maki Murakami; Gravitation (anime TV series) - Shuichi Shindo is a singer in a band that he hopes will become famous. One day, he loses a page of unfinished song lyrics. The handsome and caustic man who catches it insults the lyrics and sticks in poor Shuichi's mind. Schuichi later discovers that the man was Eiri Yuki, a famous writer, and seeks him out. The two eventually become lovers, but Yuki's emotional issues and Shuichi's rapidly developing musical career may tear them apart. Gravitation isn't for everyone, since it features romance between two men - although neither the manga nor the anime are explicit, the anime keeps the physical aspects of the romance slightly more "off screen" than the manga. Those who'd like another romantic series featuring the music industry and a mysterious, sexy male character who can be both protective and a bit of a bastard (not necessarily such a bad thing, at least in fiction) might want to try this.
  • Skip Beat! (manga) by Yoshiki Nakamura; Skip Beat! (anime TV series) - After being dumped by Sho, her boyfriend, childhood friend, and the guy she's basically lived her entire life for, Kyoko is consumed by a desire to crush him. Determined to become more famous than him, Kyoko goes to a talent agency as big as Sho's. The road to fame isn't quite as smooth and easy as Kyoko expected it to be, but, through guts, determination, and talents she never realized she had, Kyoko slowly manages to grow as an actress. Ren, a famous actor, dislikes Kyoko for her motives, but, as Kyoko discovers she actually likes acting, is it possible that Ren's feelings towards her might change? This is another romantic series focusing on the entertainment business.
  • Black Bird (manga) by Kanoko Sakurakoji - Misao is horrified to discover that Kyo, her first love, is actually a tengu, a kind of demon, and that she has the dubious honor of being special - a demon who drinks her blood gains a long life, one who eats her flesh gains eternal youth, and one who makes her his bride will have a prosperous clan. Kyo wants her to be his bride and promises to protect her from all who would harm her, but Misao doesn't want him if he only wants her for what she can do for his clan. Kyo has to convince her that he really does care for her, but can love between a demon and a human really work out? Like Sensual Phrase, this series is pretty racy (Misao is always getting hurt, and Kyo heals her by licking the wounds in scenes that have a tendency to look like sex scenes), and both series feature heroines who doubt that the mysterious, sometimes brooding, sometimes teasing guys who say they love them really do love them.
  • Absolute Boyfriend (manga) by Yuu Watase - Riiko is an energetic and nice girl who doesn't have any luck with guys. One day, a strange-looking salesman gives her the URL of a website that sells "love figures" (androids designed to be the perfect lovers). Riiko doesn't really believe any of it is real, but she orders one and signs up for a free trial anyway. The love figure, called Night, does arrive, but Riiko forgets to return him before the end of the trial. If she keeps him, she'll owe the company more money than she could ever pay, but, even if he's only a robot, she's starting to like him too much to give him up. The "love figures" aspect makes this series a bit racy, although, I'd argue, not quite as racy as Sensual Phrase. There's a few parts in this series where jealous girls attack Riiko - very similar to what happens to Aine.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

The Twelve Kingdoms, Vol. 2: Sea of Wind (book) by Fuyumi Ono

I really enjoyed this book. That's Taiki on the cover, by the way - when I first picked this book up, I thought it was kind of odd that a supposedly modern boy would have such long hair, but it made more sense when I read the book. It turns out that Taiki needs to have long hair, because his hair is actually his mane, and it looks funny if it's short when he shapeshifts.

I read the first book in this series several years ago. I had completely forgotten about this series until I saw a blog post on Sakura of DOOM that mentioned this book. I requested this via ILL and will eventually do the same with the third book. Although I don't remember being all that wild about the first book, this second one was enjoyable enough that I'd like to continue with the series.

In theory, my synopsis will spoil things for you if you haven't read the book. However, my synopsis is probably so confusing that it may not matter. Read at your own risk. And feel free to scratch your head in puzzlement. I found it extremely hard to coherently explain how this world works (so much fantasy jargon...), but I swear it makes more sense when you actually read the book.

Synopsis:

In the world of the Twelve Kingdoms, the ruler of each kingdom not only rules their kingdom, but also acts as the kingdom's anchor. Each king is chosen by a kirin, although, really, it is Heaven that chooses, and not the kirin. The kingdom of Tai does not currently have a ruler, but that's soon to change. Sansi, lamia for the soon-to-be born kirin of Tai, has been born and, along with the oracles of Brush-Jar Palace, watches over the kirin's egg-fruit. In ten days' time, the kirin will be born from the egg-fruit. Unfortunately, the kirin's egg-fruit is torn from its tree and tossed into our own world, where it lodges in the womb of a woman. Sansi and the oracles are bereft, not knowing where the kirin, Taiki, has been sent.

In our own world, a boy is standing in the snow. His grandmother won't allow him inside again until he apologizes for lying. The boy didn't lie and doesn't want to tell his grandmother that he lied, because that would be a lie. Unsure what to do, the boy continues to stand in the snow, until he sees a white arm beckoning him from a place surely far too small for an adult to fit. Curious and cold, the boy goes to the arm and the warmth that comes from its direction.

The white arm belongs to Sansi, who has not stopped searching for Taiki in the 10 years since he disappeared. The boy, "renamed" Taiki in this new world, is confused about everything everyone is telling him, but he at least feels safe around Sansi and Yoka, the oracle who was supposed to help Sansi care for him. Sansi and the oracles dote on Taiki and try to reassure him, but Taiki is deeply worried that he'll never be able to figure out how to do the things he's supposed to be able to do as a kirin. He can't seem to change into his other form, and he can't even pacify the tiniest and most pathetic of demons. Even worse, as the kirin of Tai, Taiki is supposed to be able to identify the next king of Tai. The rulers of the kingdoms are incredibly important - the well-being of a kingdom's lands and its people depends upon its ruler. Taiki needs to find Tai's ruler, hopefully a good, strong ruler, who can overcome the excesses of the previous one.

Taiki doesn't actually need to do anything, though - everything comes to him. Keiki visits Taiki (actually, he's encouraged to visit him, since Keiki isn't really enough of a people person to think to do that on his own) and tries to teach him how to do the things a kirin does. Keiki isn't terribly successful, since it's hard to teach someone to do something that should just come as naturally as breathing, but Taiki at least makes a new friend and learns a bit more about what he should be able to do. All the prospective kings make the dangerous journey to Taiki, hoping that he will look at them, speak to them, and have a revelation. Again, Taiki makes some new friends, in the form of Lady Risai and Lord Gyoso.

Everyone is disappointed and surprised that Taiki doesn't have a revelation about Gyoso. Gyoso is so well-loved that it's just assumed he'll be the new king. Although Taiki is somewhat drawn to Gyoso, he's also frightened of him. As Taiki spends more time with Risai and Gyoso, though, he begins to become a little more relaxed around Gyoso. Taiki even gets the oracles' permission to accompany Gyoso and Risai on a suugu hunt (a suugu looks a bit like a tiger, only with shimmering fur). Unfortunately, the hunt goes badly, and instead the group is attacked by a t'ao-t'ieh (a big, fierce demon?).

All kirin have a deep aversion to blood, so deep that it can make them weak and sick. When Sansi fights a man in order to protect Taiki, Taiki's aversion to blood turns out to be so strong that he can't be around Sansi for quite some time after the fight. Despite his very gentle nature, when Risai and Gyoso come under attack, Taiki tries to protect them from the t'ao-t'eih by distracting it with his gaze (part of the demon pacification process involves the kirin staring into the demon's eyes). To everyone's surprise, Taiki manages to pacify the t'ao-t'ieh, a being Gyoso hadn't thought even a kirin could pacify, and calls it Gohran.

All of the prospective kings get ready to leave, including Risai and Gyoso. Taiki finds that, despite having had no revelation about Gyoso and still occasionally fearing the fierce man, he is deeply upset at the idea of Gyoso leaving and never returning. Taiki goes after him, managing to evade Sansi and Gohran and finally shifting into his other form. When he finds Gyoso, he declares him the next king and pledges to serve him. Gyoso accepts.

Now Taiki is miserable. He is convinced that he has committed a heinous crime, selfishly declaring Gyoso as king, even though he never had a revelation, just because he couldn't bear the thought of Gyoso leaving. He doesn't want to tell anyone of his worries, but Gyoso senses that something is wrong anyway and, in the midst of cleaning up the mess the previous king left behind, calls for Keiki to come visit Taiki. After Taiki tells Keiki what he did, Keiki leaves, and Taiki is sure that his crime will soon be revealed to all.

There's no sign that Keiki told Gyoso anything, but in a couple days Keiki, another kirin, and the Ever-King of En all come for a visit. Taiki is told that he must bow before the Ever-King and tries desperately to do so, not wanting to offend him, but his attempts cause him pain and come to nothing. Finally, Enki, the kirin of En, takes pity on Taiki and puts a stop to all of this. The Ever-King explains that it's not possible for a kirin to choose a false king - Taiki couldn't bow before the Ever-King because he wasn't his king, but he could bow before Gyoso. Keiki further explains that a revelation is different for everyone and that a kingly aura may not necessarily be visible to the naked eye, even a kirin's eye. Taiki's fear of Gyoso was actually awe, and he couldn't bear for Gyoso to leave him because a kirin dislikes not being around his or her king. Taiki's revelation was when he chose Gyoso as the king. The terrible weight has been lifted off Taiki's shoulders, and Gyoso's coronation is a happy event for all.

Commentary:

Was Keiki the kirin from the first book? Does the first book take place after this one? I don't know - I kind of feel like I should reread the first book, but I didn't really like that one as much, so I think I'll just rely on the anime to remind me of how things went (although I know the anime changes a few things). Anyway, things are bad between Keiki and his ruler, a former peasant girl who's not adapting well to her new role. He's too cold towards her and, I think, when Taiki teaches him to thaw, she begins to fall in love with him. If this is the person I'm thinking of, she becomes jealous of all other women around Keiki and kills them off or sends them away. When Keiki becomes sick because she lost the path, she kills herself, rather than allow him to sicken and die. Then Keiki finds his new ruler (if I'm right, Yoko, the main character of the first volume of this series), who basically has to go through hell.

Although Taiki (named Kohri at the end of the book) doesn't actually do much, I enjoyed this book because so many wondrous things happened. It's just cool that he was able to pacify that awesome demon (love that scene!!) and change into a black kirin. It's always good when an author with an amazingly complex world like this one chooses a main character who knows nothing, because then the reader can learn about the new world through them - and there was a lot to learn about here, what with the main character discovering that he's not even human.

I was kind of amazed about a few things. Despite a bit of homesickness, Taiki adapted amazingly well to his new life, including the revelation that he's a different being altogether. It was good that he didn't quite believe he was really a kirin, though - I wouldn't have either, if I had been in his position. Taiki seemed to be completely unaffected by the revelation that he apparently has no free will - basically, if he does things, it's because he was meant to do them, and that's totally ok with him. Because he chooses a king, that's the person who was supposed to be chosen. Confusing? Yeah.

Although the artwork didn't entirely appeal to me, I did appreciate that the novel included a few pages of illustrations - I'm not sure I would've been able to picture Sansi or some of the other beings in the book very well, otherwise. Unfortunately, the reproductions of the illustrations don't appear to be very good quality - the lines in the artwork are somewhat pixelly.

Overall, I liked this book. Taiki appealed to me much more than Yoko, the main character of the first book - although, to be fair, Yoko's introduction to the other world was much harsher than Taiki's. Whereas Taiki was welcomed with open arms and lavished with care, love, and attention, Yoko was repeatedly betrayed and attacked. From what I remember, there are very few kirin appearances in the first book, so this second book really made up for that - I loved getting to learn more about them. I have no idea what the third book is about, but I can't wait to find out. I'll also have to make sure to watch my DVDs sometime soon - I wonder if Taiki shows up in the TV series at all, or if it just focuses on the events of the first book?

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • Pet Shop of Horrors (manga) by Matsuri Akino; Pet Shop of Horrors (anime TV series) - Count D is a mysterious pet shop owner whose pets aren't the sort you could find anywhere else. When cared for properly, these pets can bring their owners contentment and companionship like no ordinary pet ever could. However, there are potentially horrific consequences when Count D's pet care instructions are not followed. Officer Orcot, an American policeman, goes to Count D's shop to investigate after the strange and unexplained deaths of several of Count D's former customers. This series has the feeling of a bunch of short stories - different chapters feature different pets, and the pets and their owners tend to be the focus. Although this series has very little in common with Sea of Wind, some may like the manga volume (sorry, can't remember which one) and anime episode that features a kirin.
  • Fushigi Yuugi: Mysterious Play (manga) by Yuu Watase; Fushigi Yuugi: Mysterious Play (anime TV series) - Miaka is an ordinary 15-year-old girl who wants nothing more than some tasty snacks and to be accepted into the same high school as her best friend (who, unfortunately for Miaka, has much better grades than she does - getting into the same high school is going to be tough). When she visits the National Library with her friend, she stumbles upon the book The Universe of the Four Gods and literally gets sucked into the story. She becomes the priestess of Suzaku, protected by her Celestial Warriors. If she can find all seven of her Celestial Warriors, she will be able to summon Suzaku and go home. Those who'd like something else with a similar historical-feeling setting that's filled with fantasy elements might like this. Miaka, like Taiki, has no idea what's going on, even though she's been told she has an important role in this new world she finds herself in.
  • The Story of Saiunkoku (anime TV series) - Shurei has always wanted to become a government official, so that she could have the power to make the people of Saiunkoku's lives better. She's a princess whose family has fallen upon hard times, so when she's offered a large sum of money to become the young emperor's temporary concubine, she accepts - not only is the money nice, she figures this is probably the closest she'll ever get to achieving her dream. Little does she know, Shurei will get to achieve her dream and more, if she can survive the political machinations going on around her. Those who'd like something else with a similar-feeling setting (kind of "China of the past," with a few fantasy elements?) might like this.
  • Jennifer Scales and the Ancient Furnace (book) by MaryJanice Davidson and Anthony Alongi - Jennifer Scales thought she was just a regular girl, until her body started changing in totally unexpected ways (scales, claws, and other things...) and her parents finally admitted to her that she's half weredragon. Even for a weredragon, though, Jennifer's changes don't seem to be quite normal. Somehow, she has to try to figure out what's going on and protect herself and her family from deadly ancient enemies. It's been a while since I read this one - if you're familiar with MaryJanice Davidson's writing, I assure you, this is much more appropriate for teens than her books for adults (which some might consider appropriate for older teens, but probably not younger ones, considering the sex scenes). Those who liked reading about Taiki learning about being a kirin might like this book.
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