Sunday, January 23, 2011

At the moment: anime, books, and manga

Since I doubt I'll be finishing any anime/book/manga/whatever posts for at least the next few days, I'll just do a quickie post about what I'm working my way through right now.

Anime:
  • Xxxholic (anime TV series) - I got a notification email from Hulu that most of the episodes in this show are going to expire in a little less than a week. There are 24 episodes - that's nearly 12 hours. Because I've never seen this show and have been wanting to know whether it's worth getting, I'm going to try to watch all or most of it before it expires. I think it's doable.
  • Last Exile (anime TV series) - Another one that's going to expire in less than a week. This one is 26 episodes - nearly 13 hours. I don't expect to get to watch much of this before it expires, but that's not a big deal. I've seen almost all of this show before, and I liked it well enough that it's on my "To Buy" list. I had just been putting off buying it because I remember the ending being kind of depressing. What I hope to do before the show expires is watch some of the episodes that have Dio and Delphine, because I first saw this show dubbed in English and would like to know what those two sound like in Japanese. Plus, I love their character designs.
Manga:
  • Hetalia: Axis Powers (manga, vol. 1) by Hidekaz Himaruya - After enjoying the anime so much, I decided to try out the manga. I keep track of several web comics, and almost all of them started off a bit rough (art-wise and/or story-wise), so it really shouldn't have come as so much of a surprise to me how many of the panels in this volume look so quick and sketchy, but it did. Well, I may end up preferring the anime's visuals, but I'm looking forward to seeing more of my favorite countries.
  • Emma (manga, vol. 9) by Kaoru Mori - So, remember when I researched the skyrocketing prices of various Emma volumes and had a bit of a freak out? Not long after I finished the post, I filled out ILL requests for the volumes I hadn't read yet, and this is one of them. A flip-through has reminded me how absolutely lovely this series is (the anime is lovely, but it is a shadow of the loveliness of the original manga). I want to buy the manga volumes that are still affordable, but I'm afraid to. I'm a completist, and it will forever bother me to only own some of the volumes.
  • Ristorante Paradiso (manga) story and art by Natsume Ono - I think I heard about this one via a brief review on Unshelved. Although I love the cover art, I'm not wild about Ono's art style in general. Still, the story and characters are interesting so far.
  • The Devil Within (manga, vol. 2) by Ryo Takagi - This is the only volume of this series that I own, and, after reading some of it and then reading some reviews of the first volume, I have no desire to ever get any more of the series. This isn't a keeper. Happily, it was on clearance and only cost me $1, so the pain of knowing I spent money on this isn't as great as it could be.
Books:
  • Spice & Wolf (book, vol.1) by Isuna Hasekura, illustrated by Jyuu Ayakura - I can't wait to read this, even if the odds are fairly good I won't like it as much as I liked the anime. I haven't had much success with light novels - in most cases, while it's easy to see what made someone think "that would make a good anime," it's rare I end up liking the books as much or more than the anime based on them. The Twelve Kingdoms was one of the few exceptions. I'm hoping this will be another.
  • The Unconsoled (book) by Kazuo Ishiguro - I'm still working on this one, and I do believe I will finish it, it's just going to take a while. This book is like a dream where you find out you have a big part to play in an important event, but you don't know what that part is, or even necessarily what the event is about. In fact, I'm to the point where I strongly suspect that everything happening in this book is a dream.
Well, that's all. Now I'm off to do Sunday chores and get through as much of Xxxholic as I can.

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Admiral's Penniless Bride (book) by Carla Kelly

I tried to keep the synopsis relatively spoiler-free. The commentary, however, contains spoilers, so you might want to skip it if you have a problem with that sort of thing.

Synopsis:
Sarah Sophia Paul Daviess (I will call her Sophie from now on) is seriously down on her luck. A few years earlier, her husband (who I believe had some sort of position in the Navy, although I can't remember what it was) hanged himself after he came under suspicion for something he swore he didn't do. Not long after her husband's suicide, Sophie's young son died because she was unable to earn enough to take him to a doctor when he fell ill. Since then, Sophie has been able to earn barely enough to provide for herself, by acting as a companion for elderly ladies. She uses almost all of her money to travel to her latest job, only to learn that the lady she would have been working for has died and her services are no longer needed.

Ever since his retirement from the Royal Navy, Admiral Sir Charles Bright's older sisters have been hounding him, driving his servants crazy, trying to marry him off, and ordering awful furniture for his new home without his approval. Desperate to get them off his back, he hits upon the idea of a marriage of convenience, but the woman he decides upon never shows up for their arranged meeting. Spotting the obviously down-on-her-luck Sophie (who also happens to be much prettier and a better conversationalist than the woman he'd originally settled on), the kind-hearted Admiral tells her a little about his situation and proposes a marriage of convenience. Sophie doesn't have many choices left to her, so the offer is tempting. Eventually, deciding that marriage to Admiral Bright really is better than the alternative, she caves.

Their marriage turns out to be a surprisingly good and smooth one, helped along by the fact that Sophie and Bright's personalities mesh well. Bright had not mentioned that his home is a bit...scandalous...due to its previous owner's interests, but Sophie takes the pornographic statues, books, and decorations in a stride. As part of the first steps towards redecorating and making the house theirs, Sophie and Bright meet and befriend their neighbors and hire more staff. Sophie turns out to be reasonably good at dealing with Bright's temperamental French cook and his overbearing older sisters.

However, Sophie has been hiding a big secret. Bright doesn't know that Paul is only her maiden name and that her husband's name was Daviess. Although she tells him about her husband's suicide, she doesn't mention the specifics of what he was accused of. Realizing she has begun to fall in love with her new husband, Sophie can't help but wonder and worry: if Bright finds out the truth about everything, how will he react?

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Murder Princess (anime OVA), via Hulu

 This OVA is short, so I've written a fairly complete synopsis, which means there are spoilers. I suppose I should feel guilty about that, since I said I'd try to cut back on them, but I don't. Trust me, if you ever had any urge to see this show, you're better off just reading spoilers and leaving it be. It's not the worst thing I've ever seen, but it rates a "meh" or "this kind of sucks" in enough areas that it's not really worth the two and half hours it takes to watch it.

I really don't want my motto to become "I watch/read this stuff so you don't have to," but it's hard for me to quit something once I've started it...

Synopsis:

Princess Alita barely manages to escape the traitor who has stormed her family's castle and killed her father and her friend/lady's maid. In the process of escaping, she encounters a female bounty hunter. The two of them fall off a cliff, and the simultaneous near-death experience causes them to switch souls. Alita, now in the bounty hunter's body, enlists the help of the bounty hunter to take her family's castle back. The bounty hunter, Falis, agrees, but only because she'd like to get paid and she'd like her body back (pretty much in that order).

After taking back the castle, Falis has to pretend to be Alita and assume the throne until Alita's brother comes back from peace talks in another country. Alita assumes the role of her lady's maid, even taking her former lady's maid's name, Milano. The new Alita doesn't know how to behave like a royal, but she can slaughter monsters like it's nothing, so her people love her.

Alita's brother comes back, and everything seems wonderful, until he's revealed to be a scumbag traitor who's working with a sorceress to try to get hold of something called Te Oria. Te Oria is magic/technology that can grant a person any wish. It's a powerful thing left over from a previous era, when robots were everywhere and technology was so advanced it looked like magic - in fact, all the magic and fantasy creatures in this era are actually technology left over from the previous era.

Anyway, the sorceress and scumbag traitor kill the other traitor (you know, the one at the beginning who killed Alita's father) because he'd outlived his usefulness or something. The sorceress and the scumbag traitor are after Alita - or, more accurately, her body - because only she can access and use Te Oria, which is hidden in the castle. Instead of running far, far away, new Alita, Milano, and a few companions go back to the castle to...try to kill the sorceress, I think. Or maybe just to access Te Oria and use it to switch back to their own bodies. It doesn't go so well, and the scumbag traitor gains access to Te Oria and uses it to wish for the destruction of the world. Once Te Oria is started, the only thing that can stop it is for Alita (or rather her body) to turn it off, but doing so will cut the power it has been providing to all the things from the previous era, including Alita/Falis' comrades/friends. The comrades/friends are unafraid, so Alita and Milano shed some tears before Alita turns Te Oria off.

Because they didn't get a chance to wish themselves back into their own bodies, Alita must continue to be the princess, her bloody battling earning her the name "Murder Princess," and Milano presumably continues to be her lady's maid. The fate of the scumbag traitor isn't mentioned.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Arranged marriages in romance

There was an interesting post over at Dear Author on the arranged marriage trope in romance. A few of the books mentioned in the comments are ones I've already read (like Patricia Briggs' Alpha and Omega series and Archangel by Sharon Shinn), but there were a few that I had never heard of before. I'm going to have to go through the comments again sometime and look up some of those books.

Prior to reading the post, it hadn't occurred to me that soulmates are basically paranormal romance's version of arranged marriages. Jane's list of reasons why arranged marriages are not considered romantic fits with reasons I've seen why soulmates in paranormal romances turn some people off.

I like the soulmate trope in paranormal romance. I liked the few book examples I'd actually read before (although it should be noted that none of those were contemporary romances, unless you count Goddess for Hire, which isn't really romance). In theory, I'd probably like a contemporary romance in which the hero and heroine had an arranged marriage that, whether positively presented from the start or not, at least reached a positive point by the end of the book.

I kind of wonder, though, if it's really possible to say "if you like soulmates in paranormal romance, you'll like arranged marriages in contemporary romance." In paranormal romance, there are all kinds of things that put a cushion of fantasy between the story and the reader. The soulmate thing doesn't happen because some other character says so, it happens because of magic, or because a god says so, or because that's just what happens sometimes to whatever nonhuman character the book features. Would I still enjoy it as much if none of that were the case?

Hard to say - like so many things, it would really depend on how it was done. Although now I'm kind of interested in the idea of a paranormal romance in which the hero and heroine have an actual arranged marriage. The closest thing I can think of is Hawksong by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes. It's been so long since I read that one that I can't remember if that was really an arranged marriage.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Sometimes it's better not to know

Alerted by keywords someone used to find my blog ("why is emma vol 7 so expensive"), I did a little checking. I hadn't even realized Emma vol. 7 (by Kaoru Mori) was expensive, and, guess what, it's not just volume 7. Someone's trying to sell a new copy of volume 9 on Amazon for $54.

I don't know what happened to the availability of all those Emma volumes. I went over to RightStuf, where you can at least place an order for the volumes (most of them - 5, 6, and 9 are missing) at "not insane" prices. That doesn't mean you'll necessarily get the volumes, however, since several of them have "More Arriving Soon!" as their product availability. In theory, this means you'll just have a bit of a wait, but the lack of volumes 5, 6, and 9 in the product listings is worrisome.
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After a little more checking: Emma is (was) published by DC's CMX imprint. CMX ceased publication in July of 2010. Judging by what I saw on Amazon and RightStuf, this also means that titles CMX put out in the past will slowly dribble out of stores until the only way you can get the good ones, like Emma, is by paying many times what they originally cost to sellers at Amazon Marketplace, Ebay, etc. I'm kind of starting to wish I had bought this manga when I first realized it was fantastic, instead of just reading it via the library. Thankfully, although bookstores go out of stock, Emma will still be available at libraries (as long as the books themselves don't wear out and evil people don't mutilate the pages - cutting out images for your little scrapbook counts as mutilation, by the way - or steal the volumes).

I haven't been able to find any news about any other publishers saving Emma from going out of print. Actually, from what I can tell, the only title CMX put out that is for sure not going to end up either in limbo or astronomically expensive in the near future (or right now) is Megatokyo.

So, I think you have your answer, Random Blog Visitor. I'm sorry I didn't have better news for you (maybe someone with better news can pipe up?). My only hope is that the sheer loveliness of Emma, and its good reception among both critics and the manga-buying masses, will lead some publisher, somewhere, to save it from becoming a Rare Item.

At least I can console myself with my Emma anime DVDs. Darn it, this is exactly why I end up spending so much money each month - I always worry that the companies that put out the stuff I lust after will go under, or distributors will just decide it's not worth it to print more copies, or whatever, and I'll end up wondering what I missed out on. Or I'll have an incomplete set (Invader Zim - although it looks like I could now take care of that particular problem without quite so much pain). Or I'll know I love it, but since I don't own any of it because I watched it on Hulu or got it from the library, I'll have to rely on my fond memories and guilty visits to fansub and scanlation sites.

Now I can't stop wondering about ElfQuest. I wonder if it's still possible to get the volumes that were in full color (for less than $200 per volume, plus one of my limbs and a pint of my blood), or if those have dropped off the map?

This post started off as a simple, "Huh, I wonder what that keyword search is all about?" and now I'm kind of depressed. Ugh. I'd go take a look at WorldCat holdings numbers, but I'm worried those might end up being small and make me feel worse. I think it's time to move on to something else, like maybe one of the books I'm reading. One of them has a house with X-rated cherubs painted on the ceiling - that should help take my mind off things.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Fewer spoilers, and maybe a rating system?

It seems like I change how I do things in my blogging and as I'm reading at least once a year. Now, instead of taking notes that allow me to do really detailed synopses (something I think I adopted while reading After School Nightmare, annoyed when yet another detail from a previous volume turned out to be really important), I take detailed notes about what I'm thinking as I read the book (or watch the anime, or read the manga). This has helped me immensely in writing my commentaries, because I was getting to the point where I could write detailed synopses, but then I couldn't think of anything interesting to say in my commentaries. I'm trying, slowly, to move beyond including major spoilers in my synopses.

One of the things I'm considering doing is adopting a rating system. Quite a few other book blogs I pay attention to use ratings. As a reader, I've appreciated it, because it makes it easy to see, at a glance, what the reviewer thought about the work. As a blogger, I chose not to rate things, because writing commentaries was often hard enough - I didn't want to also have to figure out ratings.

I may change my mind about that, now that my commentaries have gotten easier to write. Most of my posts are very long, so a quickie rating might be good. I'm not looking forward to rating works that are hard to rate, but I suppose I could handle situations like that the same way the reviewer of Wuthering Heights did it over at Dear Author.

My earliest posts look incredibly different from my most recent posts, so it's not like this blog has been very consistent in its format overall. It wouldn't hurt to try ratings for a while and see how things go. First, though, I'll need to decide what my rating system will be. I may go with the one mentioned in the most current post over at Stainless Steel Droppings, or I may try something else. Letter grades might be good, since letter grades have occurred to me for certain works in the past. Hmm...

Chain Mail: Addicted to You (book) by Hiroshi Ishizaki

I tried my best not to include any big spoilers in this post, not even in the commentary. I liked the book, for the most part, and I'd rather not spoil it for anyone else.

I'm fairly comfortable calling this "YA psychological fiction," although the truly suspenseful stuff doesn't start to come up until halfway through the book.

Synopsis:

Sawako is a fairly ordinary, if socially withdrawn, 13-year old. One day she gets an email from Yukari, a girl she has never met, inviting her to take part in the creation of a fictional world. By this, Yukari means that she, Sawako, and two other teenagers will write a joint story. Yukari sets up the basic premise and defines the four main characters. The story will be about a teenager who is being stalked. The four main characters are the teenage girl, her tutor (a college student who is either the object of the teenage girl's affection or already her boyfriend), the stalker, and the woman detective who pursues the stalker. Sawako chooses the part of the teenage girl. Yukari has already chosen the part of the stalker. Other girls receive the email, forwarded by Sawako. Mai, a lonely girl with wealthy parents, takes on the role of the tutor. Mayumi, a girl who lives in her badminton star friend's shadow, takes on the role of the woman detective.

As the writing gets underway, all the girls are excited, staying involved to the point that it sometimes interferes with their daily lives. In an effort to keep their writing good and realistic, some of the girls naturally incorporate aspects of their lives into their writing, unintentionally allowing the other girls to start to get to know their real selves. Then something happens to Sawako, and Mai and Mayumi are worried when they realize that Sawako's latest post may indicate that she is scared and being stalked in real life. Then she disappears for four days.

Up to this point, everything these girls know about each other they have to guess using details gleaned from their joint story. If any of the girls purposefully meet each other or talk to each other outside of the story, they are essentially breaking the rules of their arrangement. However, Mayumi becomes concerned enough about Sawako that she decides to contact Mai, making arrangements via her detective character in the story. When Sawako begins writing her part of the story again, however, further arrangements prove to be unnecessary.

Except that things only appear to have gone back to the way they were before. What really happened to Sawako when she disappeared? As Mai becomes more curious about Sawako and tries to learn more about her without breaking the group's rules, there are indications that it is now Mayumi who's in danger and that things are not all as they appear.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

New template!

I'm using one of the new templates now! This is actually the second new template I've tried today.

Happily, the switch went pretty smoothly. I had to add the drop down label lists HTML again when I switched from the old template to a new one, but the drop down lists weren't affected when I switched from one new template to another. That's good - I wouldn't want to have to fix them every time I switch my template in the future.

More changes applied, with more on the way

Even with the "share" icons now displaying, there are still things I haven't been able to fix. The old template just won't display a lot of things, I haven't been able to find fixes for all of it, and I don't know enough to try to fix it myself.

I still don't like that there are no new Blogger templates that can utilize the entire width of a person's browser, no matter their screen resolution. Again, I don't know enough to try to change this myself. However, if I want all those things I can't fix in the old template to finally work and display the way I want them to without spending hours looking over code I often don't understand, I'll have to switch to one of the new templates.

I've got a lot of stuff in my sidebars. My labels list alone is huge. In order to adjust to the smaller amount of prime space (the area of the blog visible when you first visit it) I'll have when I switch to one of the new templates, without sacrificing too much of the space that the blog posts themselves get, I've got to somehow reduce the amount of stuff that needs that prime space.

For now, I'm experimenting with drop down labels lists. I could do one giant drop down, with all the labels at once, but I realized that my labels list has grown to over 200, so I figured I might as well try splitting them up into categories, too.

Since I can always switch back to my original template (I have several versions saved right now), I may take the plunge and switch to one of the new Blogger templates today.

The "share" buttons are visible now!

I finally got the "share" buttons to show! For anyone using one of the old templates who has the same problem, the solution can be found here.

Now I just have to hope that the solution didn't break anything else. If I notice that it did, I'll revert back to the unedited blog template.

On edge, but in a good way

I've finally got my reading groove back, I think. I decided some palate cleansing was in order, so right now, two of the three books I'm reading are not romance. Amazing, I know. Unfortunately for my state of mind, both of those books are psychological fiction. I'm more than halfway through one of them (Chain Mail: Addicted to You by Hiroshi Ishizaki) and I just started the other (The Unconsoled by Kazuo Ishiguro).

Chain Mail makes me feel like I'm vibrating in place right now - I really want to flip ahead in the book, to give myself some warning about what's going to happen next, and, at the same time, I don't want to know. The book is better than I expected, and I can't wait until I've finished it and can write a full post about it.

The Unconsoled is the first book by Ishiguro I've ever read. I almost picked up The Remains of the Day instead, but what I read on the back of The Unconsoled appealed to me more. Later on, I skimmed some customer reviews on Amazon, and I got a little worried that I'd picked the wrong book. So far, however, I'm enjoying it and its strangeness.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Princess Princess (manga, vol. 1) by Mikiyo Tsuda

There are some spoilers below, but I'm not sure that's really a problem with this volume.

Synopsis:

For reasons that aren't explained yet, Tohru has transferred to an all boys' school not long after school began, but late enough to miss orientation. It's clear from the start that he expects to miss co-ed life.

He's baffled by the warm reception his fellow students give him but doesn't receive any answers as to what's going on until his living arrangements get worked out. As it turns out, this school has something called the Princess system. The prettiest freshman boys are chosen by the other students to dress up as girls and do things that generally improve the school's morale, like cheering at sport events and giving other students cute greetings in the morning. The students all gave Tohru such a warm welcome because his looks indicated that it was likely he would be chosen as a Princess.

There are already two other Princesses at the school. Shihoudani is a boy whose long hair and pretty looks lead Tohru to think, at first, that he really is a girl. Shihoudani is not only resigned to being a Princess, he seems to enjoy it. Mikoto, on the other hand, hates being a Princess and wishes that Tohru's arrival meant he didn't have to do the job. Unfortunately for him, it doesn't work that way. Mikoto is terrified that his girlfriend will find out that he's a Princess, so he's less than enthusiastic about his duties. What he doesn't realize until Tohru points it out to him is that his sulking and pouting only makes his fans more rabid.

Surprisingly, Tohru becomes a Princess much like Shihoudani in behavior and temperament. He doesn't necessarily enjoy dressing up and acting like a girl, but he doesn't fight it, mainly because being a Princess comes with impressive perks, like free meals, free school uniforms, the ability to miss class without penalty, and cash (royalties from Princess photographs). Money trumps pride, in Tohru's book.

The first big thing the Princesses have to do is cheer on all 14 of the school's clubs every single day until the regionals. Then, if any of the teams win, they have to go cheer them on at their next match...in front of outsiders who don't know about the Princess system. Not even Shihoudani and Tohru want to do that. Unfortunately for the Princesses, just about everyone wins.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

When He Was Wicked (book) by Julia Quinn

My first book post of the year!

Beware - there are lots and lots of spoilers below. I couldn't seem to help myself.

Synopsis:

This book is set primarily in London in the early 1800s.

Michael has been in love with Francesca for years. Unfortunately, she is happily married to Michael's beloved cousin John, so all Michael can do is hide his feelings as best he can by cultivating a reputation as a rake. Then, quite suddenly, John dies.

As long as Francesca is not found to be pregnant with his child and does not give birth to it if she is, Michael is the new Earl of Kilmartin in his place. Michael doesn't want any of it. He may have been in love with Francesca, but he never wanted John to die, and he doesn't want to be made to take John's place. Francesca does turn out to be pregnant, but she miscarries. All Francesca wants is for Michael, her friend and a person she knows loved John as much as she did, to comfort her and share her pain. Instead, Michael withdraws from her, and it only gets worse when she tells him that, had she not miscarried, she would have wanted Michael to help her raise John's child. This is the last straw for Michael, and he goes to India to escape. He doesn't come back for 4 years.

When he does come back, both his and Francesca's grief have softened. They both still miss John, but the feelings aren't as raw. Francesca still doesn't know that Michael loves her (for 6 years now), and it's like rubbing salt on the wound when she tells Michael that she would like a baby and plans to find a husband in order to accomplish this goal. Francesca doesn't expect to love the person she marries, but marriage is the only socially acceptable way for her to get the baby she wants.

Michael had planned to just stand by while Francesca found someone new. Although he didn't really want to, he even tried to help out a little, because he didn't want Francesca to end up with someone terrible. Eventually, however, it all gets to be too much. During a moment when Francesca finally sees Michael as a man, and not just as a friend, Michael kisses her. Horrified at having enjoyed it, Francesca runs off, and Michael eventually pursues her, seduces her (giving her ample opportunity to tell him to back off, which she never does, which just adds to her feelings of guilt later), and asks her to marry him. Francesca, whose feelings are a muddled mix of guilt, passion, and confusion, can't bring herself to say yes, even as she can't bring herself to turn him away.

Michael has already had his epiphany and moved beyond the guilt he's felt for years. For things to really work out between the two of them, Francesca somehow has to sort out her feelings as well.

Spice and Wolf, Season One (anime TV series), via Hulu

I'm not doing so great with the whole "read more and better books" thing, am I? The year's only just started, and I already have three TV show posts and no book posts...

By the way, there is indeed a second season for this series. All or most of it is available on Hulu right now, and I considered waiting until I'd watched everything before writing this post. However, after I finished the first season, I decided to write two posts, one for each season, because the first season ends at a point that makes it easy to do this.

For once, my synopsis isn't too spoiler-filled. I can't necessarily say the same for the commentary, however. [Looking it over, now that I've written the whole thing, I'm pretty sure you could read the whole post if you were so inclined, without ruining anything for yourself.]

Synopsis:

This series takes place in a place and time very much like Europe in the Middle Ages. Lawrence is a peddler who travels from town to town, buying and selling things. One particular town he regularly visits has stories about Holo, a harvest deity who takes the form of a wolf. Belief in Holo has waned, however, and, although the town still practices pagan rituals, the times have changed. The Church is growing stronger, and commerce and new ways of doing things allow the town to prosper without relying on Holo any longer.

As he is leaving the village, Lawrence is shocked to discover a girl with wolf ears and a tail in his cart. That girl is Holo in her human form. Holo makes a deal with him. She knows the village no longer needs or wants her, so she wants to go back to her homeland in the north. By binding herself to the wheat Lawrence was transporting, Holo can leave the village she served for so long. In exchange for helping Lawrence with his business deals, Lawrence must take Holo and the wheat she is bound to back to her homeland.

Many episodes show Lawrence and Holo getting to know each other as they travel. Lawrence does business as usual, sometimes very quick and simple business, such as when he sells a bunch of furs, and sometimes more complex and twisty business, such as when he gets involved in an attempt to exchange one kind of silver coin for another one that's worth more (in this place and time period, there are many, many different kinds of currency, some with slightly greater silver content than others). All throughout, Holo helps Lawrence, teaching him and other merchants a thing or two about being crafty.

In the end, though, Lawrence finds himself in a situation that not even his and Holo's smarts combined may be able to get him out of. Deeply in debt after a deal gone bad, can a risky plan save him? Will he and Holo continue to be able to travel together as they have been?

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Rosemary & Thyme, Series One (live action TV series)

Synopsis:

Laura Thyme gave up being a policewoman after marrying her husband and instead devoted herself to being a housewife and caring for her beloved garden. After years of what she thought was a happy marriage, her husband leaves her for a younger woman. Not yet sure what to do with herself or where to go, Laura meets Rosemary Boxer, a plant pathologist and lecturer at a university. After a friend of Laura's is killed in a car accident that Laura is convinced was not an accident, Rosemary encourages Laura to accompany her so as to get her mind off things. Unfortunately for Rosemary, it's not long before she, too, finds herself having to deal with personal issues, after she loses her position at the university out of the blue.

Working together, Rosemary and Laura figure out what happened to Laura's friend and more. Deciding that they make good friends and partners, they build off their mutual love for plants and start a combination landscaping and plant/garden problem-solving business. In their capacity as gardeners (or whatever you want to call them), they often find themselves as newcomers in areas that just happen to have murders and other shady things going on. Because they're basically in the background, they overhear people saying things that provide clues to whatever mystery is going on. Also, sometimes their investigations into whatever plant-related problem they're trying to solve reveals something about the mysteries.

In these first few episodes, Rosemary and Laura look into murder mysteries involving unearthed horse and human bones, a health spa with flowers that may reveal secrets from years ago, a college trying to desperately to present a good image despite a few inconvenient deaths, a communal garden with a strange blight, and unrequited love.

Baccano!, The Complete Series (anime TV series)

I wrote about this series before, back when I first watched it all, subtitled, on Hulu. You can read what I wrote here.

I did end up buying the series, much sooner than I expected. After all, some things have been on my "To Buy" list for months, even years, and I think I bought Baccano! only a month after I first viewed it. What can I say, there was a really excellent sale. Even though I watched this before, I don't feel in the least that I wasted my money by buying this - it's an excellent show, and I'm hoping to convince others to watch it.

This is definitely a show that needs to be viewed multiple times in order to be fully enjoyed. For my second viewing, and first viewing on DVD, I watched it dubbed in English. Unlike some dubs, which leech all the goodness out and leave me wondering why I ever liked the show, until I watch it again in Japanese with English subtitles, this dub wasn't too bad. Those who are particularly sensitive to faked accents may disagree with me. Even I had a point where I found myself saying, "Wait...what...is that..yes, it's Eric Vale faking a French accent!" And, to my ears, Monica Rial's French accent sounded even worse. Sorry Ms. Rial! But! Your Chane Laforet at least still sounded fragile, so it's not all bad.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

The best stuff I wrote about in 2010

These are some of the things I particularly enjoyed reading and watching this past year. You won't find everything I commented on favorably, these are just some of the things that stuck with me as being particularly good in some way. One thing that putting this post together has taught me is that I need to read more and better books in 2011 - it was a lot easier picking out good anime than it was to pick out good books.

I'm not going to link to any of my posts about any of these works, because they more than likely have spoilers. However, if you'd like to read the posts, it's not hard to find them. My list of tags is in alphabetical order. For books, look for the author's last name. For anime or live action TV, look for the title.

In no particular order, with a few non-spoilery comments:

Anime:
  1. Maria Watches Over Us, Season One (anime TV series) - This one took a bit to grow on me, but, even while I was still trying to figure out if I liked it, I gobbled it up. This melodramatic series focuses on the often close relationships between a bunch of girls at a Catholic all girls' school in Japan.
  2. Hetalia: Axis Powers (anime TV series) - Really entertaining, slightly educational, and the funniest comedic anime I've seen in a long time. Plus, with 5-minute long episodes, easy to watch or to stop and put aside for a while.
  3. Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit - Complete Collection (anime TV series) - This show didn't suck me in right away. In fact, at first I was convinced I had wasted my money. For a series that seems to promise fast-paced action, this is actually pretty slow-paced. I'm glad I persevered.
  4. The Story of Saiunkoku, Complete Season One (anime TV series) - I bought this expecting a romantic anime, and what I got instead was adventure and politics with a little bit of romance. I still haven't gotten the second season, but I do intend to.
  5. The Twelve Kingdoms, Complete Collection (anime TV series) - This could have been better, and, in some areas, the books this series was based on were better, but it's still a good series.
  6. Blood: The Last Vampire (anime movie) - Way, way better than the live action movie based on it. It's too bad this is too short to properly develop the characters or the world.
  7. Baccano! (anime TV series) - Considering the number of characters this series pushes to the forefront, it's amazing that it's is as good as it is. And it is good. It's also very gory, so I wouldn't necessarily recommend it to everyone.
  8. Big Windup! (anime TV series + OVA) - Like Maria Watches Over Us, this was a surprise favorite of mine. This show focuses on a high school baseball team, paying particular attention to the team's extremely sensitive pitcher and his catcher. I loved watching the characters' relationships develop and getting to see everyone on the team shine.
Books:
  1. Chalice (book) by Robin McKinley - A little confusing and exhausting, but good all the same. I would love to read more books set in this world.
  2. Maid to Match (book) by Deeanne Gist - The second book I've read by Gist, and the best of hers that I've read so far. It's Christian romance, but the Christian aspects didn't feel tacked on to me, and the romance itself was really, really good. Plus, how often do you find a book that features romance between a maid and a footman?
  3. Graceling (book) by Kristin Cashore - I put off reading this one for a while, because its premise sounded kind of dumb. Then I read it, and immediately reread it. When I was a teen, I was a huge fan of Tamora Pierce. If someone could have given this to teenaged me, I would have been a very happy girl.
  4. Men of the Otherworld (book, anthology) by Kelley Armstrong - Not a good read for someone who hasn't read Armstrong's Women of the Otherworld books, particularly the ones featuring her werewolves, but I'm betting everyone who has read and enjoyed them will love this anthology. As someone who didn't originally like Clay, one of the things I liked about this book is that it helped me understand him a lot better.
  5. Butterfly Swords (book) by Jeannie Lin - For a historical romance, the heroine and location are unusual. I know the "Chinese princess, blue-eyed barbarian" description put some people off a little. That's unfortunate, because Ryam wasn't a stereotypical "blue-eyed barbarian" - this guy came off as much more beta than alpha to me, and I appreciated it. So, while some aspects of the book could have been better, I count this as one of the books I enjoyed reading in 2010 and would recommend.
Live Action stuff:
  1. Coffee Prince (live action TV series) - Ok, so this is the first Korean TV I've ever watched from start to finish, and, yes, it had its rough spots. Still, I enjoyed this one enough to recommend it. It's a romantic series where the heroine doesn't fall in love with the guy just because he's hot (even though he is), and the hero doesn't fall in love with the heroine just because she's pretty (heck, he doesn't even know she's a she for most of the series).
  2. Moyashimon: Tales of Agriculture (live action TV series) - Other than the unfortunate bit with the aphrodisiac, this was an entertaining show that managed to be a little bit educational. I haven't watched much Japanese live action stuff, but I imagine, even if I had, this would still rank fairly high.
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