Sunday, November 28, 2010

Wizards and baseball

I saw the newest Harry Potter movie today. I haven't watched any of the previous movies very recently, and it's been a while since I've read any of the books. I don't know if that was a good thing or a bad thing. On the one hand, I wasn't super-focused on all the things that were different from the book, because I couldn't quite remember everything that happened. On the other hand, I spent a good deal of the movie trying very hard to keep up. I had forgotten about Dobby's existence, I couldn't remember what happened just prior to the movie (for instance, I had forgotten the most recent death), and I couldn't always remember who was supposed to still be around and who wasn't. Occasionally, my brain latched on to things I had vague memories of and wouldn't let go - I remembered an additional Horcrux, but, try as I might, I couldn't remember them all.

I don't really know how I feel about the movie. I don't think it was bad, but I don't think it was good, either. I do think I need to reread all the books sometime, in order. I've never really done that - I've reread the first and third books many times, because those are my favorites, and I read each book as it came out, but I've never reread them all in quick succession. There were always things I forgot during the wait for the next book. It might be nice to reread them all now that they're all out.

Other than that, I've been working on my Hulu queue and DVDs. As far as DVDs go, I'm currently stalled on the third Red Garden disc. I will finish the show. Eventually. I'm just not entirely certain I like where things are going, and I don't really like half of the girls, which makes it a little hard to cheer for them. On Hulu, I'm bouncing around a lot. A little bit of Spice and Wolf (in Olden Times Europe, a wolf goddess travels with a merchant - could be quite good, but I haven't gotten far into it yet), Darker Than Black (criminals and assassins with mysterious powers - I love it, despite the feeling that I could poke huge holes into it without even trying), and The Great Queen SeonDeok (epically long historical drama), and a lot of Big Windup (baseball, teamwork, friendship, and individual growth - great shonen stuff). I had originally avoided Big Windup because it looked boring. Somehow, I had forgotten how much I LOVE sports anime and manga. Since the show (or at least what's up right now, the English dub version) is due to expire at the end of next month, I think I'll concentrate on it for a bit, at least until it makes my heart explode with joy.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Coffee Prince (live action TV show), via Hulu

I said there'd be a new post soon, and here it is - the very first Korean drama (more accurately, romantic dramedy) I've ever watched from beginning to end. I'm currently suffering from a stye in my eye, so I was hoping finishing this post would get my mind off it. Unfortunately, since it hurts every time I blink, it didn't work as well as I'd hoped. I think I'll go put on another warm compress. Enjoy the post!

(The name spellings aren't all like they are in the episode subtitles in Hulu. Since I had a hard time remembering how people's names were spelled, I used another source to check names. At the very least, I know Han Kyul was different in Hulu. Han Gyul, maybe?)

As usual, there are spoilers.

Synopsis:

Eun Chan is a tomboy who's used to people mistaking her for a boy, but when she's hired by Han Kyul to pretend to be his male lover, she finds herself in new and sometimes uncomfortable territory. On the one hand, since Eun Chan is her family's primary breadwinner, the money is definitely a good thing. On the other hand, since Han Kyul assumes she's a guy, by not correcting him Eun Chan is lying to him, and that lie becomes more of a problem as time passes.

Han Kyul's family wants him to get more involved in the family business, settle down, and marry a nice girl from a good family - none of which Han Kyul is ready or willing to do. That's when he hatches the plan to pay Eun Chan to pretend to be his gay lover, thereby putting off all the blind dates his mother and grandmother set him up with.

Han Kyul's grandmother is a crafty lady, though. She tells Han Kyul that he may do what he wants and go to America to make toys if he'd like, but only if he can increase a tiny, rundown cafe's sales by a certain amount. Han Kyul agrees, but the cafe situation seems hopeless. Still, he's willing to do anything to drum up sales. He decides to rename the cafe "Coffee Prince" and make its theme all about princes - everyone who works there must be a guy. That puts Eun Chan in a prolonged tough spot when he offers her a job there - she really needs the pay, and she likes working at the cafe, but if she's discovered to be a girl she can't work there anymore.

There are a few bumps here and there, but eventually the cafe begins to do really well. Eun Chan and Han Kyul's relationship deepens, and the two start to become more interested in each other than in the people they originally thought they liked. The problem is, Han Kyul still thinks Eun Chan is a guy, and Han Kyul isn't gay. Han Kyul is thoroughly confused and upset by his feelings for Eun Chan, and Eun Chan is torn, wishing she could tell him the truth but afraid that he'll send her away if she does. Eventually, Han Kyul decides that, no matter what other people might think, no matter Eun Chan's gender, he loves him (her). It's at this time that Han Kyul finally learns the truth. It takes him a while, but he does eventually get over his hurt at having been lied to for so long.

Although their relationship is now a socially acceptable thing, it's still not acceptable to everyone in Han Kyul's family. Both his mother and his grandmother think he could do better than this "thing", this androgynous girl. Han Kyul finds himself wanting more and more to marry Eun Chan, but he has more than just his family to contend with - Eun Chan also doesn't want to get married, at least not quite yet. First, she's still the breadwinner for her family, and she doesn't want to depend on Han Kyul in order to help them. Second, Eun Chan finally has a dream: she wants to become a barista. She wants to at least wait until after she's become a barista to marry Han Kyul, something that could take 5 years.

Han Kyul's grandmother steps in and sets up a compromise: Eun Chan can study to become a barista in Italy for two years, and then she and Han Kyul can get married. It's tough on everybody for Eun Chan to leave, but, two years later, Eun Chan is back. She's grown into a confident young woman who would no longer be mistaken for a guy, and there's already a place for her in the almost-finished "Coffee Princess."

Commentary:

One thing that immediately attracted me to this show was Eun Chan, who is very likable. Still, this was one of those shows where I hated most of the characters at one time or another - but I also loved almost all of them at one time or another. Eun Chan was one of those I consistently liked. Although I do think there was a point when she could have told Han Kyul the truth in a better way, I understood why she had to lie to him as long as she did. I also understood and applauded her reasons for not marrying Han Kyul as quickly as he wanted. She knew from personal experience that she couldn't necessarily depend on someone else to help her take care of herself and her family, so she needed to grow and build herself up to the point where, yes, Han Kyul's help would be nice, but not necessary. I was so glad when Han Kyul loosened up and let Eun Chan go to Italy. It was a huge risk, because either one of them could have grown apart from the other during the two years. In fact, I suspected that was what happened when Eun Chan seemed to want to put off coming back - I was glad when that turned out not to be the case.

Since I've already mentioned Han Kyul...I didn't really like him at first. Sure, he was hot (so very hot), but he also seemed to be trying to steal his cousin's on-again-off-again girlfriend - not cool. He had a tendency to be way too uptight, coming down on Eun Chan's mistakes much harder than necessary. However, I loved the scenes where he relaxed and enjoyed himself, either with his employees or with Eun Chan alone.

Two characters I tended to dislike more often than I liked them were Yoo Joo and Eun Chan's sister. Yoo Joo was the on-again-off-again girlfriend of Han Kyul's cousin that I mentioned. She was beautiful, but incredibly selfish. I don't think it's necessarily fair to say she encouraged Han Kyul, but she had to have known that he liked her and she didn't exactly discourage him either.  She made things more uncomfortable for her boyfriend than they should have been. Then, when her boyfriend cheated on her (by kissing Eun Chan), she blasted him for it, almost ending their relationship. On the one hand, I thought her boyfriend was a bit of a bastard for saying "You cheated on me (their previous off-again period was due to Yoo Joo sleeping with another man while they were together), and I forgave you" as though that meant she should forgive him, too - after all, forgiving her was his choice and didn't mean he got a "get out of jail free" card for any future infidelity on his part. On the other hand, I could kind of understand his perspective. Yoo Joo's reaction seemed a little like she was thinking, "it's ok for me to cheat on you, because I'm a bit of a flake, but you can't ever cheat on me, because you're supposed to be the faithful one, the rock I can always count on." If you're going to expect something from someone you're in a relationship with, you should be prepared for them to expect it of you, too.

All that about Yoo Joo and I almost forgot to write about Eun Chan's sister.  At the very beginning of the show, it was actually both Eun Chan's mother and sister who were annoying. Eun Chan was working hard every single waking hour to provide for her family, and her mother spent the money on shoes. Not exactly a model mother. As the show progressed, however, the writers seemed to forget that aspect of Eun Chan's mother's character, and she became more sympathetic. Never again did she spend Eun Chan's hard-earned money on stupid luxuries. Instead, it was mostly Eun Chan's sister who made me want to throttle her. She treated her boyfriend like an annoying puppy who would always do everything she said, putting him through hell without ever really intending to give him anything back. When he started to get annoyed by this treatment, she acted all wounded. The two of them did make up in the end, but I wasn't sure if I wanted them to. It wouldn't surprise me if she continued to treat him like a slave, and, sadly, it wouldn't surprise me if he continued to let her.

Just about any storyline that directly involved Eun Chan was a storyline I enjoyed. Unfortunately (from my perspective), not every storyline directly involved Eun Chan. The show had multiple storylines going on, most of them focused on particular couples, sometimes focused on particular characters (like Waffle Sun Ki and Han Kyul's grandmother). Once the hints of romance between Eun Chan and Han Kyul really started to develop, I began to get a bit annoyed by all the other storylines. I particularly didn't like the storyline involving Yoo Joo and her boyfriend, since I didn't like Yoo Joo. Still, I suppose Eun Chan and Han Kyul might have become a bit much if the show had focused on them exclusively, and I didn't necessarily dislike all those other storylines. For instance, Waffle Sun Ki's storyline was painful to watch, but I loved that there was a hint of him getting a nice new girl at the end.

Overall, I really enjoyed this show. I remember being a little confused, because the description in Hulu said that it was considered "quite provocative" when it originally aired in Korea - what I was seeing in the first few episodes seemed more safe than shocking. After all, although Han Kyul had Eun Chan pretend to be his gay lover, it was just pretend and, even if he didn't know it, Eun Chan was a girl. It wasn't until I got further into the show that I could see why the show would have been considered provocative. Yes, Eun Chan was still a girl, but Han Kyul didn't know that - as he started to fall in love with her, he had to decide if gender mattered more than the feelings he was starting to have and, surprisingly, he decided that gender didn't matter. I did kind of wonder what the show would have been like if Eun Chan really had been a guy - having her be a girl made Han Kyul's decision seem less...for real...since the audience knows she's not really a guy.


Watch-alikes and Read-alikes:
  • Antique Bakery (manga) by Fumi Yoshinaga - Coffee Prince has a pretend gay person and a heterosexual guy who's confused about his feelings for someone he believes is a guy. This manga has an actual gay person who has a complex relationship with his heterosexual boss. This series is primarily about four people who work in a cafe. Each person appears fairly easy to understand at first, and then the complexities of each character are gradually revealed.There is an anime version, but I haven't seen it yet and I don't believe it's licensed. The screenshots I've seen look very...pastel.
  • Ouran High School Host Club (manga) by Bisco Hatori; Ouran High School Host Club (anime TV series) - Coffee Prince prides itself in its "princes," but I'd argue that the male characters in this series are far more princely overall. The Ouran High School Host Club is comprised of a group of bored rich guys whose mission is to cater to the needs and desires (get your mind out of the gutter - it's all just flirtation) of the bored rich girls of Ouran High School. Haruhi, the school's only scholarship student, accidentally breaks one of the club's vases and is forced to become a club member in order to pay off the debt. Unfortunately, Haruhi is a girl. Although the club members all find out her true gender, no one else at the school can know, or she'll never be able to pay off her debt. Those who'd like another series with an androgynous main character, hot guys, and a bit of romance might want to try this. Just one warning: the romance is pretty much just teasing. The anime never follows through with an actual romantic conclusion. The manga may be another story, but I wouldn't count on it.
  • Fruits Basket (manga) by Natsuki Takaya; Fruits Basket (anime TV series) - Another series with a hard-working young girl, romance, and several good-looking guys. Tohru's mother died a year ago and, ever since then, she's been trying to take care of herself without being a burden on others. Circumstances lead to her living with the Sohmas, including Yuki Sohma, the "prince" of her high school. What's even more incredible is the Sohma family secret - several of the Sohmas are cursed to turn into an animal of the Chinese zodiac whenever they become weak or are hugged by someone of the opposite sex.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

There will be posts soon, I swear!

I plan to have at least one new post up sometime in the next few days - I'm just trying to decide which post I want to finish. Almost all of them have some aspect that is really hard for me to finish. In some cases, the commentary part is kind of hard, because I really don't know what to say other than "I love it!" or "It was meh." It makes me wish I'd read or seen something lately that I really hated, because those are always the most fun to write about.

Show-wise, I've been watching a lot of The Great Queen SeonDeok lately - 57 more hour-long episodes to go! I wasn't sure I liked it at first, and then I sort of got hooked. Last night I cried while watching a character die that I hadn't expected would die. I know the show is going to take forever to get anywhere, but I'm enjoying it anyway, which is more than I can say about IRIS - I quit watching that one before I'd even finished one episode.

Other than that, I've been working my way through my first shipment of new books in ages. Of three books, one was good, one was ok, and another has been painful enough that I haven't yet been able to finish it (please, no more pseudo-historical dialogue! *whimper*). I've also been slogging through The Secret of Val Verde by Judith Polley. It was originally published in 1974, making it the oldest romance novel I've ever read, or at least attempted to read. In all fairness, if I had wanted to make a proper go of trying out older romance novels, I probably shouldn't have started with this one, since nothing about the back cover blurb excited me. All I can really say about the book so far is that it bores me, but at least there have been no rape scenes or forced seduction. Yet. We'll see.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Moyashimon: Tales of Agriculture (live action TV series), via Hulu

Synopsis:

Sawaki is a freshman at Agri U, a crazy university where agriculture is king. Only those in Professor Itsuki's lab know about Sawaki's special ability: he can see microbes with his naked eyes. And they look adorable.

Itsuki's lab group is a crazy bunch that gets added to a bit as the season progresses. There's Hasegawa, a sexy and dangerous student who is as obsessed with fermentation as Itsuki is. There's Sawaki's two friends, who love being able to make sake using things they know about fermentation - they also often get Sawaki in trouble with their antics. There's Mutou, a nice girl who is the object of worship of the UFO club. There's the girl who's a bit germophobic, and the strong gothic Lolita girl, who has her own secrets.

Sawaki gets involved in school life, helps out with the fermentation lab, and helps Itsuki and the others prepare fermented food items and more for various school events. However, things aren't always idyllic, and the lab group learns that Hasegawa has promised her father that she would leave Agri U and marry. Itsuki's group does what they have to to get the whole of Agri U behind them, racing to get Hasegawa back. In the end, Hasegawa must decide whether to keep her promise to her father and remain a caged bird, or go back to the place, people, and work she loves at Agri U. In the end Agri U wins.

Commentary:

The end of this series took me by surprise, but I think this really is only an 11-episode series.  I fell instantly in love with it. Yes, it's a bit cheesy, but I love how bright, humorous, and light-hearted it is overall. I loved the characters, and I loved the snippets of information about microbes. I loved the weirdness of Sawaki's ability, and I loved Agri U's zaniness.

The microbes are adorable. Of course, you can tell they're CGI, but that doesn't make them any less cute. They somehow fit in this show and don't look bad at all, despite the simple, bright look of the microbes being very different from all the live action stuff going on around them.

Like a few other series out there, this is one of those that you can actually learn a few things from, whether it's tidbits of information about various microbes, or how sake can be made with human spit. I know the show is based on a manga series. I haven't read it yet, but I wonder if the educational moments are possibly more detailed in the manga than in this show. The show gave me a great urge to read the manga, so I'll probably find out the answer to my question on my own at some point.

Overall, the show was bright, cheerful, and just plain good-natured. Sure, it had its hokey moments, but that was part of the fun. Pretty much the only thing I didn't like about the show, aside from it being so short, is the bits with the aphrodisiac. First...what?! What was that stuff? I thought that there was going to be a moment where it would be revealed that the aphrodisiac was actually fermented something-or-other, which happens to have an effect on many human beings of making them more receptive to sexual advances. Or whatever. Anyway, no such moment ever happens - apparently, Professor Itsuki pulled this aphrodisiac out of thin air. Second, can we say "date rape drug"? And a professor gave this stuff out. Ew...

The aphrodisiac stuff was not to my taste at all, but everything else I gobbled up like potato chips. Which is basically what this show is like. It's fun, silly, occasionally a bit stupid, and it's not going to change your life or your perspective or anything, but does that really matter? I haven't seen many Japanese live action shows or movies, but now I'm thinking maybe I should make an effort to see more.

Watch-alikes and Read-alikes:
  • Moyasimon : Tales of Agriculture (manga) by Ishikawa Masayuki - Those who enjoyed the live action version of Moyashimon should try the manga upon which it's based - I know I'm going to be.
  • The Stuff of Life (non-fiction-y graphic novel) by Mark Schultz - In an effort to find a cure for a vaguely-referred-to genetic disease that has afflicted many on its planet, an alien visits our planet and learns about DNA, genetics, and related topics. Like Moyashimon, it's got a sense of humor. Those who'd like another fun story with a definite educational edge (in this case, much more pronounced) might want to try this.
  • Hetalia: Axis Powers (anime TV series); Hetalia: World Series (anime TV series) - Those who'd like another comedy based on educational information might want to try this - I'm sure that history buffs, in particular, will salivate over this one.The show stars personified (or anthropomorphized?) countries. It's filled with stereotypes, there isn't much of a plot beyond a few historical events, like World War II, and you can't expect much in the way of seriousness. It is great fun.
  • Yakitate!! Japan (manga) by Takashi Hachiguchi - Another silly comedy that includes the occasional factual snippet. In this case, everything revolves around bread-baking, rather than fermentation. The characters in this series are obsessed with bread-baking, and the main character is a natural at it, even though there are a lot of things he hasn't learned yet and doesn't know. Things very rapidly get strange and goofy. I haven't kept up with this series very well, but I remember one volume including a recipe for bread made in a rice maker. If I ever pick up a decent rice maker (my current rice maker is a cheap, crappy thing that doubles as a steamer), I'd like to try that recipe.

Baccano! (anime TV series), via Hulu

STOP!

Don't scroll down yet.

I really, really advise against reading anything in this post but the watch-alikes/read-alikes list if you have any desire to see this show and haven't already. There are a lot of spoilers in this post, which would ruin one of the great pleasures of this show, finding things out as they are revealed. And this warning is, by the way, coming from someone who can't help but look up spoilers for everything. You have no idea how hard it was to keep myself from looking up character information as I watched this show, but I'm glad I didn't.

Synopsis:

This synopsis is hard. This show is not presented in chronological order, so it's pretty disjointed. Plus, it follows the separate yet often converging paths of many characters and groups. That makes for a complicated story.

Most of the story takes place from 1930 to 1932, although there are occasional snippets that take place a few years prior to this range of years and even a few decades later.

The meat of the story, I guess, is a train ride nearly all of the primary characters are taking. During that train ride, several groups become violent, each having their own ends they'd like to achieve, and many people die. That doesn't actually mean this is a depressing show, by the way.

Long before the train ride, one of the characters performed some kind of magic or alchemy that resulted in him getting a drink from the devil that grants immortality. He and others in his group drank it, but only he knew the recipe for it. One of the characters, Szilard, wanted to have this recipe for himself and began "eating" other immortals in order to learn it. Szilard never ends up on the train, however.

You see, yet another character manages to make the drink of immortality. The first version he came up with granted one immortal life, but did not stop the aging process - those who drank it were mostly immortal, but could still die of old age. The perfected version grants both eternal life and a frozen aging process. Unfortunately, the character who made the drink was only able to save two bottles of the stuff from a fire. And, unfortunately for Szilard, those bottles ended up in the hands of a couple thieves, who drank them with a bunch of their friends. Every one of them unwittingly becomes immortal, and one of them manages to kill Szilard.

So, there are three main sources of death on the train, but Szilard isn't one of them. One group, the people in white outfits, just wants to kill for fun (or, in some cases, for money). The leader of that group, Ladd, enjoys killing people who think they're safe from being killed. Another group, the people in black outfits, plans on holding the train hostage in order to bargain for the release of Huey Laforet, an immortal being held captive by the government. They would like the secret to his immortality. Finally, there is a red monster of some kind, the Rail Tracer, reducing various passengers in the train to so much meat.

And that doesn't even get into all the other passengers of the train, such as the woman who loves explosives, and the boy whose horrific past experiences make it difficult for him to trust anyone.

Commentary:

Not exactly a very thorough synopsis, eh? I wasn't entirely sure how much to say. On the one hand, I could have written a few of the basics, just sticking to what little viewers are told in the first episode or two. On the other hand, that's not a lot of information, and I wasn't sure I could remember what had or hadn't been said that early on in the show. Every episode of this show reveals something new, and, by the midway point, you learn that some of the things you thought were true at the beginning really aren't. I love watching that kind of stuff, but then I agonize over my usual spoiler-y way of writing synopses. So, I ended up compromising a bit. Yes, my synopsis has spoilers, but I hardly used any names, I didn't say who survived the train ride of death, and I didn't mention what happened after the train ride was over. Although it's not like you can't piece at least a little of that together by reading this commentary.

I'll give this warning a second time: go no further if you think you'd like to see this show and want to get the full enjoyment of finding things out as they are revealed in the show.

This show took a while to grow on me, because I found it a little too confusing at first. I wasn't really sure what was going on, what I should be paying attention to, who I should be paying attention to, and what kind of relationships the characters all had with each other. I wasn't even always clear about when things were happening, even though the show helpfully included the year for all or most of the scenes.

It wasn't until I was halfway through the show that I really got into it, although my interest was sparked at an earlier point than that, when the train ride part began. It just took finding out the identity of the Rail Tracer for me to be completely hooked. Even then, however, I didn't sit there and watch the entire rest of the show in one sitting. I couldn't - I'm not sure my brain could have taken it. I ended up taking breaks of about a day or two between nearly every episode, so that I could let the new information (and sometimes new characters) revealed by the previous episode sink in. There was always a lot to take in.

Even though I hated the ending of this show, it's still on my "To Buy" list, because I did enjoy it overall, because it's a show that should be viewed multiple times and I prefer to do that kind of thing with DVDs I own rather that via streaming videos on the Internet, and because I'd like to hear the English dub. Depending on how everyone was cast, I might end up preferring the English dub over the original Japanese. It's happened to me before, Cowboy Bebop being an excellent example.

This show had tons of super-fun parts. I enjoyed watching Ladd's fight with Graham - by that point in the show, I had almost begun to like Ladd. He's a violent, scary guy, but he loves Lua in his own way (although I'm wondering, did he kill her or not?). For Graham, Ladd ends up being like a role model on steroids. And Graham is like Ladd on a massive sugar high.

Chane's fight with Graham, with Vino butting in and declaring his love for Chane, and then Vino deciding to fight Graham himself, was also fun to watch. Really, once Vino became more than just a scary monster, I enjoyed just about every scene he was in. The scene where he asked Rachel for advice about declaring his love to Chane was hilarious (his conundrum was something along the lines of "does she love me back, or does she just want to kill me?").

And somehow I also enjoyed the whole domino thing. Even though nothing much really happened during the domino scenes, it was great just watching everyone be so serious about nothing. It's something that wouldn't have worked if it had taken place earlier in the show, but by the point that it did happen, I had gotten to know all the characters involved and I could just sit back and enjoy watching them interact and have fun.

Unfortunately, the ending, or lack thereof, drives. me crazy. Lots of things don't get resolved. We never see Eve reunited with her brother Dallas, we don't know if Firo and Ennis become a couple, we don't know where Chez ended up, we don't know if Ladd ever got his groove back, we don't know what made Lua so messed up that she was happy at the thought of Ladd killing her, we don't know what happens to Huey. The list goes on.

Another thing. I distinctly remember seeing a clip of this show, or maybe something in a preview, in which someone from the group of immortals shot at Isaac, nicking his ear. His ear healed, and he was shocked, and that was apparently how he learned he was an immortal. It looked like it happened at the bit right after everyone got off the train of death, when they were at the station and met Maiza. However, I don't think it actually happened, and it looked like it didn't occur to Isaac and Miria what they were until decades later.

Well, despite my confusion and a few nitpicks, this show was really good, and I highly recommend it. 

Watch-alikes and Read-alikes:
  • Cowboy Bebop (anime TV series) - This is a bit vague, but I feel like this show has a similar energy, even though the story and storytelling style has nothing in common with Baccano. The series is about a group of bounty hunters who are always trying to catch their next bounty. Unfortunately, they're not always very successful, leaving them perpetually low on money and decent food. Yeah, I know, it doesn't sound much like Baccano at all, but give it a try.
  • Memento (live action movie) - This is another one with a disjointed story, although not in quite the same way as Baccano. The events of this movie are shown in reverse chronological order, so as to keep viewers about as confused as the main character, a man whose short-term memory is damaged. The characters around him all know what's going on more than he does and, even though he writes notes to himself to try to keep track of information he has learned, sometimes those notes are false. Can he somehow find the person who murdered his wife, and who around him can he trust to help him? It's a good movie, but much darker overall than Baccano.
  • Darkly Dreaming Dexter (book) by Jeff Lindsay - If you like the cheerful violence of Ladd, Graham, and the Rail Tracer, you might want to try this, the first book in Lindsay's Dexter Morgan series (if you watch Dexter on Showtime, then you are watching the show based on the characters from these books). Dexter is a serial killer who, by day, is a blood spatter pattern analyst for the police department. Sticking to the rules laid down by Harry, a cop and the man who raised him, Dexter only kills people who have done bad things, people the law isn't equipped to deal with.
  • Durarara!! (anime TV series) - I have yet to see this show, but every time I hear about it, some comparison is always made with Baccano, so there seems to be a consensus that if you like Baccano you will probably like Durarara!! (often shortened to DRRR!!). It sounds like this one also has quite a few characters and reveals things to viewers by showing events from different characters' perspectives.
  • The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya (anime TV series) - Another one for those who'd like another story told in a disjointed style. Unfortunately, I'm not sure which DVD set you'd have to buy in order to watch it in its original broadcast order. To explain: I own a boxed set of the complete series and, although I enjoyed the show, I was rather confused by the pacing, which made the show feel like it ended long before it actually did. Then I learned that the boxed set I bought presented the episodes in chronologically order, with no warning that the original broadcast order was very different - the episodes I thought felt like they should have ended the show actually were the end of the show, as it was originally broadcast.  I pieced together the order I should have watched the episodes in but haven't gotten around to watching them that way yet. This show is much, much less violent than Baccano and follows the adventures of a girl who may have god-like powers. However, she has no idea what she can do and, to keep her from accidentally destroying the world out of boredom, the people closest to her do their best to keep her entertained.

Devil May Cry (anime TV series), via Hulu

Synopsis:

Devil May Cry appears to be a tiny, rundown private investigation agency with only one private investigator, Dante. However, Dante only takes a certain kind of case: anything involving devils (or demons or whatever you want to call them). His only goals are to earn money killing devils and to use that money to buy strawberry sundaes and pizza and pay off his mountains of debt.

One of his cases brings a little orphan girl named Patty Lowell into his life. Although he acts like she annoys him, he doesn't really mean it, or he'd make her leave. Among his other sort-of-friends and colleagues are: a lady devil hunter with a scar, a lady devil hunter who can wield lightning and used to be Dante's partner, and a guy named Morrison who brings Dante new cases every episode.

It's not until the last three episodes (final quarter) that the show becomes more than a series of nearly standalone stories. At that point, it is revealed that Patty's mother is still alive and has been on the run, trying to keep a devil-summoning amulet safe. In order to save her mother from a minor demon, Patty ends up giving up the amulet, which allows the minor demon to grow enormously powerful. Dante tries to stop him and, despite being half-demon and wielding wicked powerful guns and a sword, is almost killed. At the last moment, he somehow manages to un-impale himself, fight the demon, and win. The series ends with Patty going off to live with her mother, but still coming back to visit Devil May Cry occasionally.

Commentary:

I am so very happy that I never actually spent money on this series. A while back, I was tempted to buy this series because the ad artwork was pretty (yes, I know, terrible reason to buy anything) and I vaguely remembered thinking that the video game this anime is based on looked cool - not the best reasons to buy anime, because none of those reasons indicate whether the anime is actually any good. In this case, it's pretty bad.

The series isn't unwatchable, but that's not really saying much. I haven't played the game, but I can't imagine that even fans of the game would want to spend money on this - watch it for free, maybe, but not spend money on it. The best reason I had for even considering getting this show, the artwork, turned out to be a disappointment. Yes, there were moments when the artwork looked good, but you could really, really tell that the animation studio gave any character drawing assignments that weren't extreme close-ups to their worst animators - sometimes it was so bad that the characters would have been unrecognizable if it weren't for their hairstyles and clothing.

For a show that had a battle in most, if not all, episodes, the fight scenes weren't very good. I think the biggest problem there was that Dante was always so much better than all the devils he went after. As dangerous as the devils might seem, Dante never worried that he might lose - the only battle that might be considered an exception is the last one, in which Dante got impaled by his own sword and had to get a tearful pep talk from Patty. Being able to fight after getting impaled like that only proves that Dante is basically indestructible - and it's not really that exciting watching an indestructible person fight. As much as people complain about shows like Naruto and Bleach, in which the characters are constantly almost defeated by opponents, only to find the strength to beat them (except for the rare and shocking times when characters actually die), those shows still manage to get me at the edge of my seat, wondering whether my favorite characters will make it, even though I already know they probably will. This show couldn't accomplish that kind of tension. The final battle was too little, too late.

Speaking of the final battle, I couldn't believe the writers tried to stuff a world-ending story into the last three episodes of the series. That was pretty lame. No, introducing Patty early on in the series cannot be considered build-up for those last three episodes. As far as the viewer is concerned, Patty is probably little more than some random blond orphan - there was not even a hint, until those final episodes, that she was actually part of a larger story. Actually, there wasn't much of a hint that there was a larger story, period.

About the only thing this series had going for it was the short stories it was mostly made up of. Unfortunately, even those weren't all that interesting. There are enough works out there with that kind of format that none of these stories really stood out. The best one, I think, was the one involving casino - the ending of that one was actually kind of clever and showed a tremendous amount of trust on Dante's part, because he would have lost against that demon if it hadn't been for his friends.

Overall, this show kind of stank. If it had been more than 12 episodes, I wouldn't have finished it, and if I owned it I would now be considering selling it. The video game might still be fun, though. The opening credits for this show promise coolness and angst - the actual show is just mediocre.


Watch-alikes and Read-alikes:
  • Descendants of Darkness (manga) by Yoko Matsushita; Descendants of Darkness (anime TV series) - I don't recommend the manga as much as the anime - although the manga is better in some ways than the anime, its lack of an ending (the series has never been finished, as far as I know) is pretty jarring. This is one that those who'd like another series with supernatural elements, fairly self-contained stories, and a lot of action might want to try.
  • Strait Jacket (anime OVA) - This is even gorier than Devil May Cry and also features people whose job it is to kill hideous monsters. In this case, the hideous monsters are former humans who were warped by the same toxic magic (or whatever) that those who are sent to kill them wield. The main character reminds me a bit of Dante.
  • Hellsing (anime TV series) - This is based on a manga series. Like Dante, Alucard also hunts and kills what is basically his own kind - in this case, vampires. The artwork is a bit rough at times, and I'm still not entirely clear about the ending, but the show practically oozes cool.
  • Resident Evil (live action movie) - For those who'd like something based on a video game, this might be a good one to try. It's got lots of action and lots of atmosphere. A deadly virus escapes in a secret facility, turning any staff exposed to it into zombies. The facility goes into lock-down, an elite team is sent in to clean up the mess, a woman named Alice who has lost her memory must survive and figure out why she was in the facility in the first place.
  • Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children (CGI animation, movie) - Yet another one based on a video game. It's been a while since I've seen this one, but I remember the CGI animation and voice acting being pretty good and the story okay, considering I've never played any of the game and therefore missed out on a LOT of backstory. There are also some fun battles.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Butterfly Swords (book) by Jeannie Lin

This post contains spoilers - read at your own risk.

And kudos to Harlequin for giving this one a lovely cover. And the spine! It says "Tang Dynasty China" and not "Regency"! Readers of historical romance know how freaking awesome this is.

(Yes, I know, lots of posts this week. It's NaNoWriMo - I should be doing that, so of course all I want to do is write blog posts. Argh.)

Synopsis:

The book takes place in China, during the Tang Dynasty. Ai Li has run out on her arranged marriage before she's even met Li Tao, the man she's supposed to marry, because she has learned that he has been plotting against her father and may have been responsible for the death of one of her brothers. Now she's got to get back to her family so that she can tell them what she has learned and hopefully get them to support her decision not to marry Li Tao. Unfortunately, Li Tao has sent his warriors after her. Ai Li has her butterfly swords and she definitely knows how to use them, but she's never had to fight for her life before.

Luckily, she meets a barbarian warrior who decides to help her even though he's got troubles of his own. Ryam has spent his entire life never really belonging anywhere. Now he's on his way back to his leader to report that he may have gotten all of his men killed, traveling in a land where he is considered barely better than a stray dog.

With no one else to trust, Ai Li asks Ryam to be her bodyguard, and he reluctantly agrees. They start to develop feelings for each other as they travel together, but he's still just a barbarian and she's higher ranking than Ryam suspects. Even after they part ways, they can't forget about each other.

Ai Li is shocked to learn that her father isn't really surprised by any of the news she brings and wants her to marry Li Tao anyway. The more she's around him, the less he seems like the father she remembers, and she leaves to go visit the brother that always supported her the most, in the hope that he can change their father's mind. On the way, she meets Ryam again, and, despite the huge potential for trouble and the shame it would bring Ai Li and her family, they finally succumb to the feelings that had been building between them. Sort of. Well, the rest comes later.

Anyway, things start off a bit rocky with Ai Li's brother, but he eventually agrees to help them as much as he can. Ai Li and Ryam leave to go see Ryam's leader and possibly lead a new life together. However, Ai Li misses her family, and Ryam knows that, although he's lived his whole life without roots, that isn't the life for her. Ryam and Ai Li's budding relationship starts to fall apart, and then Ai Li is kidnapped by Li Tao. Ryam attempts to ride to her rescue, but he's outnumbered. In the end, although Ai Li agrees to marry Li Tao willingly in exchange for Ryam getting to go free, Ryam stays to fight Li Tao while Ai Li and her father watch. Ryam wins, and Ai Li's father finally decides to approve of them being together.

Commentary:

It's a historical romance that's not set in a European county or America - how cool is that? Yes, I know I've already said it, but it needed to be said again.

I liked Ai Li. (Although, quick tangent, did anyone else find it odd that, immediately after Ryam started calling her Ailey, the passages from Ai Li's perspective also called her Ailey?) I was a little surprised by the limits of her fighting skills, but I suppose I shouldn't have been. You see, she's excellent with her butterfly swords, but she's never actually fought real, these-people-are-going-to-kill you battles before. When she sparred against her brothers, they always fought with handicaps. So, it's not surprising that she can't plow through enemies as well as Ryam, although, considering the whole "sparring against people with handicaps" thing, maybe the more surprising thing is that she fought as well as she did. While I thought it was great (and very Beta Hero) that Ryam actually learned from Ai Li's fighting style, which allowed him to survive his battle against Li Tao, it would have been nice if there had been a bit where Ai Li also learned from Ryam. Maybe some tips on fighting physically powerful opponents who aren't handicapping themselves?

The back cover of the book made me think that Ryam would end up being one of those overbearing Alpha Hero types. I used to love that kind of hero, and, when I'm in the right mood, I can still enjoy a book with an Alpha Hero, but the Beta Heroes (or at least not hugely Alpha) have become much more appealing to me. And, another quick tangent, I found a whole list of books featuring Beta Heroes that I'm going to have to go through sometime - oh, happy day!

Ryam turned out to be anything but what I expected. He's alone and not welcome and he knows it. All he wants to do is not make too many waves, stay alive, and make it back to his leader to report his failure, but he's also too honorable of a guy to just turn the other way while Ai Li gets into more trouble than she can handle. He knows enough of the language to get by - he doesn't have to rely on gestures and (ugh) speaking loudly in his own language to communicate, although it helps a lot that Ai Li understands his language. He's not in the least threatened by Ai Li's skill with her swords. His fantastic Beta-ness is almost his downfall, as he tries to make up for the trouble he believes he has caused Ai Li by letting her go, but, of course, things turn out fine in the end.

I found the book to be just the right length while I was reading it, but, now that I think about it, there's so much that I would have enjoyed reading more about: the rest of Ai Li's family (her grandmother sounds awesome), life in Tang Dynasty China, Princess Miya and Adrian, just for starters. It's too bad Lin's story "The Taming of Mei Lin" isn't available in a print version, or I would snatch it up. I'm really looking forward to her next book, The Dragon and the Pearl. This book is definitely a keeper.

Sorry, there's only one thing on the list that's a historical romance with an Asian setting, and it's just a short story. If you know of any more, please, please list them in a comment - I'd love to know about them, and I know I'm not the only one.


Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • Dragon Lovers (anthology, book) by Jo Beverley, Mary Jo Putney, Karen Harbaugh, and Barbara Samuel - This is on the list primarily because of Karen Harbaugh's story, "Anna and the King of Dragons." If you crave another romance set in an Asian country (this time, Japan in 1650), you might want to try this one out. It stars a Dutch physician and a samurai with a secret.
  • Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (live action movie) - Like Lin's book, this movie has action, romance, women who can fight, and men who aren't intimidated by that. Unfortunately, it is also tragic. I'm warning you now, because no one warned me before I went to see it in the theaters. I came out crushed, expecting a Hollywood happy ending until the very end.
  • The Twelve Kingdoms (book series) by Fuyumi Ono; The Twelve Kingdoms (anime TV series) - No romance here, sorry, but plenty of sword-fighting action, political maneuvering, and strong female characters. Although it's set in a fantasy world, I believe that world is China-inspired. Each book/story arc tends to feature different main characters and often entirely different time periods, but the basic premise is that in this fantasy world that butts up against ours, there are twelve kingdoms each ruled by people who are guided by sacred beings called kirin. Sometimes people from the world of the Twelve Kingdoms are accidentally torn from their world and deposited in ours. One character in the series is a girl who grew up in our world, who learns that she was actually supposed to be born in the world of the Twelve Kingdoms and has now been chosen to be the ruler of a kingdom that has fallen into ruin. Somehow she must survive and figure out what she wants to do and where she really belongs.
  • Tempting Danger (book) by Eileen Wilks - This is a paranormal romance in a modern setting, an alternate reality where humans have learned that werewolves and other supernatural beings exist and are still figuring out how to fit them all into their worldview. Lily Yu is a police officer (who I think becomes an FBI agent at some point early in the series) who ends up mated to Rule Turner, the next leader of a werewolf clan. You're probably asking yourself how this book ended up on this list. For those who enjoyed the bits up Chinese culture in Lin's book, as well as Ai Li's strong ties to her family, this book might be a good one to try. Lily is Chinese American, and finds herself uncomfortably at odds with her family when she is mated to Rule - mainly because werewolves don't marry. Like Ai Li, Lily also has an awesome grandmother.

"students book review on freud for beginners"...

...is one of the entries in the recent search keywords for this blog.

Please, random searcher, tell me you're not cheating on your assignment. If this is the same Freud for Beginners that I read, trust me, it's a quick read, and you might even have fun with it. If it's writing about the book that you're worried about, try not to worry so much. Anything you write about what you thought about the book is bound to be better than some random book review you've copied and pasted from somewhere.

Or maybe not, especially if you haven't written anything on your own in a while, but it sounds a bit better than "If you get caught, you risk a lot more than just a bad grade" or anything else I can think up.

And to the person who asked "who cam first hamish macbeth or evan evans" - I'm pretty sure it was Hamish Macbeth. From what I can tell the first book in that series was published in 1985, while the first Evan Evans book was 1997. Or at least those are the earliest dates I know of for Death of a Gossip and Evans Above. Those two series really are similar, aren't they?

And so ends the mildly creepy "I can kind of tell how you found this blog" post. The above searches stood out because it seems like at least 90% of everyone else who's not finding this blog via its title is looking for Black Butler information. It's like the anime/manga version of the prom queen right now.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Black Butler II (anime TV series), via Hulu

Things aren't looking good for my NaNoWriMo novel.  So, as I struggle to keep my kitten off my keyboard and engage in some corporal cuddling, here's another blog post. It is the fruit of my NaNoWriMo procrastination.

Beware the huge spoilers. If you've been keeping track of this blog at all, you should probably already know that I tend to post spoilers more often than not.


Synopsis:

The series begins with Alois Trancy, an arrogant boy whose moods range from playful to cruel, and his butler, Claude. A stranger who turns out to be Sebastian arrives to steal something from Alois, something that allows him to reawaken his master Ciel.

The series then progresses as though the events that ended the previous season/series never happened. Ciel still performs various duties for the queen and is still looking for the person or persons who killed his parents. It gradually becomes clear, however, that the series has not somehow restarted itself. Rather, Ciel has lost his memories, and those around him have been instructed by Sebastian to play along.

At the end of the previous season/series, Sebastian was all set to devour Ciel's soul when another demon swooped in and stole Ciel's soul instead (or something - I can't quite remember the details). That demon was Claude. For his own amusement (and perhaps to avenge his brother, whose soul I seem to remember Alois thought Sebastian had eaten as payment for destroying their village), Alois pits Claude and Sebastian against one another.

Unfortunately for Alois, it backfires on him. Claude becomes infatuated with Ciel, obsessed with the thought of stealing him from Sebastian and eating his soul himself. Alois, who desperately wants Claude's affection or his recognition or at least to have his desire to eat his soul focused only on him, is deeply upset. Claude kills Alois, trapping his soul in a ring, and begins pursuing Ciel in earnest. Using the ring, Claude messes with Ciel's memories, blurring them with Alois' and making him believe that Sebastian is his enemy and Claude would be the better demon butler to have a contract with.

Claude and Sebastian fight each other over Ciel's soul, but there's one thing they didn't count on - more competition. Hannah, another servant of Alois', turns out to be a demon as well. She makes it possible for Alois' soul to take over Ciel's body, and she makes a contract with Alois. In order for Alois to give back control of Ciel's body, his contract with Hannah must first be satisfied. All Claude and Sebastian know of the contract is that Alois wishes for Claude and Sebastian to fight each other to the death, and they do. Claude loses, but Sebastian hasn't truly won. It turns out that Alois had another wish: that no one would get Ciel's soul. Hannah turns Ciel into a demon, and Sebastian, who had recently promised to be Ciel's butler forever, finds himself bound to a fellow demon, never able to devour the soul he had so carefully cultivated. The series ends with Ciel and Sebastian leaving the Phantomhive manor and everyone they knew behind.

Commentary:

This series was like a roller coaster for me.  The very first episode had me chomping at the bit, remembering everything I enjoyed about the first season. I couldn't wait to see more...and then I got really confused, because the second episode seemed to have nothing to do with the first. When Alois and Claude finally showed up again, it was still a bit of a letdown, because, quite frankly, Alois was an annoying and sadistic little jerk and Claude seemed like a pale imitation of Sebastian. I was a bit put off by some of the more sexual moments in the show (Hannah and that musical instrument comes instantly to mind), and, although I hated Alois, I was very unhappy when Claude decided to ditch him after just one taste of Ciel's blood. Granted, as annoying as Ciel could be, Alois was worse, but, darn it, Claude chose him. For him to just up and abandon Alois as soon as someone more attractive showed up seemed fickle. It definitely made Sebastian seem like the better butler.

After Claude killed Alois, it was a while before I watched more episodes. It took the encouragement of some other fans of the show, plus a few deliciously cryptic comments, for me to start watching again, and I'm glad I did. Although I expected Claude to go after Ciel, I hadn't expected him to be so successful. Watching Sebastian experience something that looked very much like jealousy was so much fun. And, let me tell you, I know I'm not the only fan who was thrilled about watching this part of the show. Whatever you might say about Claude, I like him because, without him, my favorite part of this series would never have happened.

Then Hannah had to go and ruin it. I suppose I should have seen it coming. At the beginning of the series, I thought she was a human who for some unknown reason didn't escape to go serve somewhere else, not even after Alois gouged out her eye. Even after it was revealed she was a demon, I figured she was little more than a pitiful one, a sort of demonic sheath for a sword that holds more power than she does. When she started doting on Ciel, I figured that she, too, had become infatuated with him, probably because he was the first person to be kind to her. Boy was I surprised when she swooped in and put her plan into effect. I would never have guessed that she loved Alois, or at least came as close to loving him as it was possible for a demon to come.

The highest point of this roller coaster was when Sebastian got all demonically jealous...and I think the lowest point was the ending. I don't know if there are plans for another season, although I'm thinking that the shortness of this season compared to the first season probably doesn't bode well for that. If it were possible, I think I'd want another season - something about the ending of this second season was very unsatisfying. I may have found the thought of Ciel dying at the end of the first season to be sad and a bit depressing, but I can stand the thought of Ciel as a demon even less. And, darn it, it sucked to see Sebastian beaten like that. I like Sebastian best when he's oozing charm and confidence.

When this season was good, it was really, really good. When it sucked, it really sucked. I think the good points were good enough that I'd want to watch it again and probably own it, but if I do watch this again I think I'm going to skip the last couple of episodes or so. Or hope really hard that there's another season. The thing is, if there were another season, I wouldn't be able to say how I'd want it to end. Somewhat happily, I guess. I don't want Sebastian to be beaten, and yet I don't want Ciel's soul to get eaten. Still, I'd take Ciel having his soul get eaten over a demonic stalemate any day.

It was actually harder to come up with the list of watch-alikes and read-alikes for this than it was for Black Butler, because the ending of Black Butler didn't color as much of the series for me as the ending of Black Butler II did. After Black Butler finished, even after all the weird and gross stuff with the Queen, I still felt like it was a fairly light-feeling series overall. Black Butler II, on the other hand, just feels darker.

Watch-alikes and Read-alikes:
  • Godchild (manga) by Kaori Yuki - Another semi-historical series set in England, starring a boy detective of sorts. If I remember right, this is a fairly dark series. For those who especially like the relationship between Ciel and Sebastian, there's a servant (not sure what he is - butler? something else?) who serves the main character and whose relationship has a similar appeal.
  • Loveless (anime TV series); Loveless (manga) by Yun Kouga - For those who liked the master-servant stuff in Black Butler II, this one might be a good one. It features lots of damaged characters (sometimes physically, but mostly emotionally), interesting fights (better in the anime, in my opinion), and lots of pairs of characters with really intense bonds. For me, the main drawback of this series is that the anime ends before all that much even happens, and I feel like I've been waiting for ages for the next volume of the manga to come out, although, as far as I know, Yun Kouga hasn't abandoned the series.
  • Blood+ (anime TV series) - Another series in which there are characters with bonds to good-looking non-humans who act as their guardians and more. There are at times hints of romantic feelings to some of the relationships, although don't hold your breath waiting for something to actually come of all that.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Hetalia: Axis Powers (anime TV series), via Hulu

Ok, so I'm already procrastinating on NaNoWriMo. This has the feel of how NaNoWriMo went for me last year, but it's still not too late - I'm only a day behind. Anyway, if you've got 5 minutes to spare, I highly recommend checking out an episode of this show on Hulu - it's great fun.

Synopsis:

There isn't really that much of a plot - this show is more about its characters and its gobs of stereotypes and historical/political references. Quite a few of the episodes having something to do with World War II, or events just before it, but that's not all this series focuses on, and there are plenty of episodes that aren't necessarily about any moment in history at all.

Each character is a personification of the country he or she is named after. The character the series title refers to, Italy, is cowardly, pasta-loving, and lovable but not very bright. Germany is a stern guy who can't help but like Italy, even as Italy makes him go through a lot of trouble. Japan is shy and hard for a lot of the other characters to figure out. America is loud, annoying, convinced he's the hero of everything, and has problems listening to anything any of the other countries say. France is an enormous flirt. Russia seems nice and quiet, except when he's scary. England can see spirits and creatures no other countries can see.

The list could go on - lots of other countries make appearances.

Commentary:

I know my synopsis isn't much, but there isn't much of an ongoing story unless you count the World War II stuff and other historical events. I started watching this show after seeing some really excellent Hetalia AMVs and fan art and was actually kind of disappointed with it at first. The series artwork was nowhere near as good as I had hoped it might be after seeing the fan art, the animation is serviceable but not great, and the series as a whole is basically just a bunch of jokes. I was also kind of confused because Hulu calls the episodes "excerpts". That's not true - what you see on Hulu really is the full episodes, which are each only about 5 minutes long.

After watching a tearjerker of an AMV about America and England, I was disappointed to see that the anime is almost entirely humorous. I figured it wouldn't hurt to try the show out anyway, though, since it's not even a huge time commitment, and boy did I get hooked.

No, there's really not a story. And yes, the characters are all enormous stereotypes, usually with at least a few unflattering characteristics. I couldn't help it, I fell in love with the show anyway.

One of the things I like about the show is that nobody is bad. The countries (characters) might have crazy or scary leaders, but the countries themselves are never bad people - at worst, they're mischievous. There are those who might be outraged by all the stereotypes (certainly quite a few North Koreans, who may or may not be why the North Korea character wasn't used in the anime). I found them more amusing than upsetting. It helps that every country has both its good points and bad points and that every country tends to be likable in some way.

I had sort of wondered how a humorous show like this would handle more serious events. While the occasional serious moment does come up, they tend to be just traumatic and/or difficult moments in the characters' lives that further their relationship with other characters (countries). What few serious moments there are in the show are handled well, in my opinion, and still fit the general tone of the show.

I was looking at some viewer comments and realized that one aspect of the show might need to be mentioned: the romantic relationships. There isn't really all that much of this, but what there is might get some people's backs up. For instance, Germany may or may not have a crush on Italy and certainly blushes about him a lot - with them both being guys, this could be a red flag for some people.  Holy Rome definitely has a crush on Italy, but, in that case, Holy Rome had no idea Italy was a boy (they were both children, and for some reason I can't remember Italy was dressed as a little girl all the time). At another point in the series, France proposes to England (neither France nor England are very happy about this, by the way). The series doesn't make a huge deal about any of this, certainly not as much as you'd expect from looking at Hetalia fandom, but it's there and this sort of thing isn't to everyone's taste.

Overall, I really liked this show. It's the kind of show that's worth more than a few laughs, and thinking about it now that I've finished it gives me warm fuzzy feelings. I'm definitely adding this one to the list of shows I'd like to buy - even though there's no real plot, I love the characters, and the humor is still funny after multiple viewings. Just don't expect there to be anything resembling an ending. The lack of a plot means there isn't really anything to end, so the last episode has, among other things, another snippet in the ongoing joke about Canada (who everyone forgets about or mistakes for America). I'll have to see if the show's continuation, Hetalia: World Series, has a real ending, or if it ends like Axis Powers, by just stopping.

Watch-alikes and Read-alikes:
  • Hark, a Vagrant (webcomic) by K. Beaton - Highly recommended for those who like their history with lots of humor. And the best part is, even if you're not sure if you'll like it, you've got nothing to lose - you can read her comics for free on her site. Just click on the title of the comic in this list. She's also got a book out called Never Learn Anything from History, although I'm not sure where you'd have to go to find a copy of it, since I don't see it in Beaton's store and it's "unavailable" on Amazon.
  • Azumanga Daioh (manga) by Kiyohiko Azuma; Azumanga Daioh (anime) - This is another funny series that doesn't have much going on in it but has great characters. Some of them include an adorable grade-school age genius, a cool-looking girl who likes cute animals even though they hate her, and a few teachers who probably shouldn't even be allowed on school grounds, much less put in charge of a classroom.
  • Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei (anime) - The anime is actually based on a manga by Koji Kumeta, but I have no idea if the manga is anything like the anime. Like Hetalia, this is another episodic series that relies on a large cast of characters who are all stereotypes. Its humor is a bit darker than Hetalia's, but it still might be a good one to check out. The series is about a deeply depressed and incredibly negative teacher who, having failed to kill himself, finds himself having to teach a class that includes the girl who saved his life - the most positive girl in the world. From what I can tell, the anime is licensed, but nothing has been done with it yet. The manga, on the other hand, is available.
  • Kyo Kara Maoh! (anime) - Ok, so this particular suggestion may seem a bit out there, but I think it works, particularly if you enjoyed, rather than were made uncomfortable by, Hetalia's habit of turning alliances between countries into crushes and marriage. Like Hetalia, this show is funny, has a mostly male cast, and has hints of romantic relationships between male characters. The main character of the show is a high school student who gets flushed down a toilet into another world, where he learns that he is the demon king and is now supposed to rule a country he knows nothing about when all he really wants to do is go home. Luckily for him, he's got several people who are willing to help him out, give him advice, and protect him. And did I mention he accidentally gets engaged to a guy?

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Indulging my addiction

I had some comp time, so I took it yesterday and did some book shopping, among other things. I got a hardcover book for the library I work at (a romance novel, which we could use a few more of), as well as a stack of paperbacks. Julia Quinn is heavily represented in the pile, but I also got books by Amanda Quick, C.T. Adams and Cathy Clamp, Jessa Slade, and Richelle Mead (something from her Succubus series for adults, not her vampire series for young adults, which is too bad, since I think I'd prefer her YA series). It's not that I need more books - it's just that I'm addicted to getting more. Luckily, the particular used bookstore I went to has lots of cheap books, and it helped that I brought a few to exchange for store credit.

That's one addiction dealt with for a while - now I have to decide whether I'm going to try to ignore the enticing email I got from Right Stuf, or whether I will bite the bullet and buy the one boxed set that's on sale that I'd really like to have, plus $20 worth of things from my "to buy eventually" list just so that I can get free shipping.

I may not indulge my anime addiction as often as my book addiction, but, when I do indulge it, it tends to take a bigger bite out of my bank account...
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