Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, Season One (anime TV series), via Crunchyroll

This first season is composed of 14 episodes, each of which is approximately 23 or 24 minutes long. I haven't seen any of the spinoffs or the second season (which Anime News Network refers to as the "2009 renewal," causing me to wonder whether it's really a second season), I haven't read the light novels, and I've only skimmed one volume of the manga. This post will only be about this one season of the anime.

Writing the synopsis was a bit nerve-wracking. It's pretty much impossible to write a decent synopsis of this series without spoiling something, but I've tried to at least keep the spoilers to a minimum.
 
Synopsis:

On the first day of high school, Haruhi Suzumiya introduces herself by saying that she has no interest in ordinary humans and would like to speak to any espers, aliens, or time travelers. She briefly joins every club in school, only to drop out of them when none of them satisfy her desire for the weird and interesting. Kyon, one of her classmates and the only normal human being she's willing to talk to for an extended period of time, inadvertently inspires her to start her own club, the SOS Brigade. Haruhi forces Kyon to become the club's first member, takes over a mostly empty former club meeting room, and simply assumes that Nagato, a quiet girl who is the last-remaining member of the Literature club, will now become part of the SOS Brigade.

Haruhi's goal, via the SOS Brigade, is to find anything weird and interesting. To start things off, she makes sure that the SOS Brigade is filled with people you often find in anime and manga where weird and interesting things happen. Nagato is the quiet one. Haruhi forces Mikuru, a buxom upperclassman, to join: Mikuru is the group's moe element. Koizumi becomes the group's "mysterious transfer student."

Throughout Haruhi's quest for interesting and unusual things, she doesn't realize that she has all of that right under her nose already: Koizumi is an esper, Nagato is an alien, and Mikuru is a time traveler. All three characters enlist Kyon's help in keeping Haruhi happy and entertained - although Haruhi doesn't realize it, she is supposedly a super-powerful being who can destroy and remake the universe on a whim. In an effort to keep Haruhi entertained, the SOS Brigade looks for a missing student, participates in a computer game duel, plays baseball, investigates a murder mystery, and more.

Review:

I've now seen the first season of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya twice, first in DVD order (at least a couple years ago) and then in broadcast order (more recently). I own the DVDs and will write a post about the extras and English dub one of these days. Watching the series in broadcast order using the DVDs is...not easy...so I did that part of my viewing on Crunchyroll.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Currently reading...

My post on Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code might be the only review post you can expect until next weekend. It's hard to tell. Things are a hectic at work, and an unexpected catalog catastrophe made things even more hectic. Sometimes, being able to honestly say "this was in no way my fault" isn't all that much of a mood booster. At least the backup appears to be working and was, as far as I know, only a day or two old. I'm scheduled to work today, so I suppose I'll get to see for myself how things currently stand.

Currently, I'm reading:
  • Double Dare (book) by Vicki Hinze - This book is taking me forever. It's really not working for me, but I can't bring myself to abandon it and offload it unfinished.
  • Gosick, Volume 1 (book) story by Kazuki Sakuraba, illustrations by Hinata Takeda - So far, I prefer the anime (not a surprise), but I'm interested to see how the light novels differ. One difference: Avril is present right from the start. Also, Kazuya already knows Victorique. In the anime, they first met in the first episode.
  • The Collected Works of H.P. Lovecraft (e-book) by H.P. Lovecraft - I'm only on page 160 of 1400+ - this is clearly going to take me a while. However, I'm enjoying it so far.

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Da Vinci Code (audio book) by Dan Brown, read by Paul Michael

Synopsis:

Robert Langdon is a professor of religious symbology visiting Paris in order to give a lecture (or several lectures?). He is suddenly summoned to the Louvre, where a murdered curator has been found. Langdon believes that Bezu Fache, the man investigating the murder, is only interested in getting his expert opinion of the symbols present in the very particular way the murder victim, Jacques Sauniere, arranged himself before he died. What Langdon later learns is that Fache suspects him of the murder and hopes that inviting him to the scene of the crime will cause him to implicate himself in some way.

Agent Sophie Neveu, a brilliant cryptographer, clues Langdon in on Fache's suspicion. Sauniere left a note at the crime scene that was intended for Sophie, his granddaughter, but which was unfortunately mistaken for proof that Langdon was involved in the murder. Sauniere had instructed Sophie to find Langdon, apparently wanting them to work together to solve a series of puzzles he left behind.

Sophie and Langdon, now on the run from the French police, manage to find a key, what the key opens, and various puzzles that lead them to a secret that the Church has done its best to bury and that a secret organization, the Priory of Sion, has been keeping safe for hundreds of years. Unfortunately for Sophie and Langdon, the police are not the only ones they have to evade. An albino man named Silas and several shadowy enemies are doing their best to find the secret the Priory of Sion protected before Sophie and Langdon do.

Review:

I avoided this book when it first came out - all the outrage over it interested me somewhat, but I have a tendency to resist hugely hyped books until after the hype dies down at least a bit. I've had this on my TBR mountain for a few years now, and I was starting to doubt I'd ever find the time and willpower to read it. I decided my library's audiobook version would be the best way for me to finally "read" it.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Dropdown labels lists

Okay, Blogger has decided to be "helpful" and change something again. Whatever it was they changed made it so that, the instant I updated one of my dropdown labels lists (the authors list), it disappeared. I'm going to have to experiment to see if I can bring it back.

UPDATE: Okay, following the original instructions for adding the dropdown list to my blog did not make the list reappear. FYI, the list does still exist - I can see the gadget in my Blogger layout. I'm not entirely sure what I'm going to try next, and I never got any responses to past requests for help I sent to Blogger, so I'm not hopeful I'll get any help now. My labels lists are too huge to include as anything other than dropdown lists, so I'm kind of stuck right now. Until I can figure out how to get my Authors list back, I don't plan on updating either of my remaining dropdown labels lists. Sorry for any inconvenience this causes.

YET ANOTHER UPDATE: I have no idea what I did, but I got my dropdown list back. Unfortunately, none of my author labels are selected anymore, so I have to go back and reselect everything.

At the Mountains of Madness (e-novella) by H.P. Lovecraft

I downloaded this for free via the Internet Archive. It's part of a collection of H.P. Lovecraft's works. I didn't relish the idea of writing a post for the full collection, so instead I'll write posts for some of the works it contains.

Synopsis:

This story is an account of the (fictional) 1930 Miskatonic University Expedition to Antarctica. It's written from the perspective of Dyer, a geologist who was part of the expedition. Dyer intends for his account to warn others off of further exploring the area.

At one point early on in the trip, the group splits in two. Dyer's half, which keeps to the planned route, listens in excitement as the half that Lake, a biologist, leads to a mysterious mountain-range reports their findings. Most amazing of these findings are the enormous, surprisingly well-preserved corpses of creatures with star-shaped heads. The creatures seem to be neither wholly plant nor animal. Lake is able to report a little of what his dissection efforts uncover before both groups lose contact with each other for a period of time due to high winds and a need for sleep.

After the winds calm down, Dyer's group tries to contact Lake's group, to no avail. Worried, they make the trek to where Lake's group reported settling, only to find something even more horrific than they expected. Dyer and another in their party, Danforth, still scientists, decide to travel further into this unexplored region. The shocking and terrifying things they see there convince them that the world would be better off ceasing to explore the area.

Review:

I recently started watching Nyarko-san: Another Crawling Chaos on Crunchyroll. The series casts Lovecraft's Nyarlathotep as a cute silver-haired girl named Nyarko-san. After struggling to understand some of the jokes, I decided it was time to start reading the works that inspired the series.

It was late in the evening, and, even if it hadn't been, the library I work at only carries maybe two of Lovecraft's works. I didn't want to have to wait for something via ILL, so I was thrilled to discover that the Internet Archive had a downloadable EPUB file of H.P. Lovecraft's works. It's a 1,400+ page monster, with the works arranged in semi-alphabetical order. The file has some formatting issues and, even worse, instances of what I'm assuming are OCR errors. The OCR errors are bad enough to interfere with understandability (try figuring out that "Hke" = "like" if the context doesn't make it immediately obvious), but at least the errors only seem to happen once every 10 or so pages. In this case, I had a print copy I checked out from my library to compare the electronic version to. I wonder how much more annoying I'll find the errors to be once I can't look to a print copy for translation. Well, I guess that's the price I pay for instant gratification, and at least I didn't shell out any money for this. I'm going to treat this like an ARC copy and avoid quoting from it.

Now, on to what I thought about "At the Mountains of Madness."

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Sekai Ichi Hatsukoi - World's Greatest First Love (anime TV series), via Crunchyroll

I've also seen the title of this series written as Sekai-Ichi Hatsukoi. This series is 24 episodes long. As far as I know, there aren't any more seasons planned.

It was tempting to review each romance separately, but I resisted.

Synopsis:

The series image is a little misleading - it looks like there's only one couple, but there are actually storylines for four separate couples. Every one of the main characters is in some way involved in publishing, specifically shoujo manga publishing. Individual episodes deal with only one couple at a time - romantic storylines are not mixed within episodes.

Onodera x Takano - This is the series' main couple. Their story is told in episodes 1-4, 7, 11-14, 17, 19, and 22-24. Onodera is the son of the head of a major publishing company. He was happy as a literature editor, until he learned that everyone thought his successes were due to nepotism. Wanting to prove himself, Onodera quit his job and got an editing position at another company. Unfortunately, although he wanted to edit literature, he got assigned to the shoujo manga division. He figures he'll stay for a bit and then transfer to the literature department, but he finds himself actually enjoying his work (when he isn't exhausted by the pace and everything he has to learn). He also finds himself torn over Takano, his brilliant and handsome boss. Onodera doesn't remember right away, but not only did he and Takano know each other in high school, they were also lovers. Onodera had a huge crush on Takano, but a Big Misunderstanding pushed them apart. Now, Takano is determined to make Onodera say "I love you" again, and Onodera is equally determined not to fall in love again. Yokozawa, from the sales department, was Takano's lover after Takano and Onodera broke up, and he's less than pleased by Onodera's presence and Takano's interest in him.

Chiaki x Hatori - Hatori is another shoujo manga editor, in the same department as Onodera and Takano. Hatori and Chiaki's story is told in episodes 5-6, 10, and 15-16. Hatori has been secretly in love with Chiaki for years, but Chiaki never even noticed. Now, Chiaki is a shoujo manga artist/writer who hides behind his pseudonym out of fear that his fans will be upset if they find out he's male, and Hatori is his editor. Chiaki notices the tension between Hatori and Yuu, Chiaki's friend and one of his manga assistants, and assumes that the two men have feelings for each other. When he and Hatori become a couple, Chiaki thinks Yuu is upset because Chiaki took Hatori away from him, not realizing that Hatori and Yuu were both interested in him. Can Chiaki figure out who he really wants to be with and save his friendship with whichever man he doesn't choose?

Kisa x Yukina - Kisa is yet another shoujo manga editor in the same department as Onodera, Hatori, and Takano. Kisa and Yukina's story is told in episodes 8-9 and 20-21. Kisa may look young, but he's actually 30. He doesn't feel like his life is going anywhere. He's doing well in his career, but he hasn't accomplished anything special, and he feels like anyone with a bit of training could do the work he does. He doubts the series' he edits will ever be as successful as anything Takano has edited. All his friends are getting married, while he is not only gay, but also unable to settle on any one guy. Kisa isn't even sure he can really fall in love - he only ever seems to be interested in his lovers' handsome faces. There's one particular face he's been attracted to for a while now - that of a sales clerk named Yukina who's in charge of the shoujo manga section at the bookstore he works at. Yukina is young, vibrant, and seems very much heterosexual. When he indicates an interest in Kisa, Kisa isn't sure what to think. How could someone like Yukina be interested in him? Can their relationship survive Kisa's grueling work schedule?

Isaka x Asahina - This couple's story is told in episode 18. Isaka is the senior managing director of the publishing company all the series' shoujo manga editors work for. He's also the son of the head of the company. At one point, he wanted to be a novelist, but he later figured out that his real talents lay in finding future bestsellers. Isaka has had a crush on Asahina since they were children, when Isaka's father took in Asahina's family. Isaka thinks that Asahina, now his secretary/caretaker, is in love with his (Isaka's) father.

Review:

Wow, this show was addictive. When I first started watching, I was a little iffy about it, because I was kind of annoyed by some of the things the characters did...and then I noticed that I had just watched 6 episodes without hardly realizing it.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Innocence of Father Brown (e-anthology) by G.K. Chesterton

I got this for free via Project Gutenberg.

Synopsis:

This isn't a novel, but rather a collection of 12 short stories: "The Blue Cross," "The Secret Garden," "The Queer Feet," "The Flying Stars," "The Invisible Man," "The Honour of Israel Gow," "The Wrong Shape," "The Sins of Prince Saradine," "The Hammer of God," "The Eye of Apollo," "The Sign of the Broken Sword," and "The Three Tools of Death."

Father Brown is an unassuming little Roman Catholic priest. He doesn't look like a very bright man, but, in each story, he always notices and figures out things that others don't. In "The Blue Cross," the story in which he is introduced, he appears to have been naively fooled into trusting a man who will rob him.

In most of the other stories, he happens to be in the area when a murder is committed and not only figures out who the murderer is, but also, in the more perplexing cases, how the murder was committed. For instance, in "The Hammer of God" a man's skull has been smashed by an incredible blow. Father Brown figures out who was capable of striking such a blow and how such a blow was even possible when the murder weapon was only a small hammer.

In some of the stories, Father Brown deals with thievery and thefts. Flambeau, a recurring character, is a gentleman thief in several of the early stories and an amateur detective and Father Brown's admiring companion in later stories.

Review:

After finishing the first story in this book, I had high hopes that, like Maurice Leblanc's Arsene Lupin, Chesterton's Father Brown would be another wonderful Project Gutenberg find for me. I enjoyed the reveal at the end of the first story, when Father Brown proved himself to be less naive then he appeared and explained the reason behind all the strange things he'd done and the actions he'd taken to protect the sapphire cross he carried. When Valentin, head of the Paris police and “the most famous investigator of the world” showed up again in the next story, I assumed that meant he would be a recurring character. The idea of a mystery-solving pair consisting of a priest and an atheist detective seemed interesting to me, and I wanted to see how two men of such differing beliefs would manage together. Then I got to the end of that second story, and my hopes were dashed.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (audio book) by J.K. Rowling, performed by Jim Dale

Synopsis:

When Harry Potter was just a baby, Voldemort, an evil wizard, killed his parents. When Voldemort tried to kill him, however, something happened that temporarily vanquished Voldemort. Since then, Harry has been celebrated in the wizarding world as the Boy Who Lived. Harry knows none of this, however, because he has grown up with the Dursleys, who hate magic, wizards, and anything that is even a little fantastical. They are ordinary and boring and resent and dislike anything that isn't as ordinary and boring as they are. They barely tolerate Harry and don't tell him about magic, his parents being wizards, or even how his parents really died. That's why it's such a shock when, on his 11th birthday, Harry is visited by a giant man named Hagrid, who tells him everything. Harry excitedly leaves the Dursleys to spend the school year attending the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Adjusting to his new life isn't always easy, especially since one particular professor seems to hate him for some reason. Still, it's better than living with the Dursleys, and, for the first time ever, Harry makes a few friends.

Although much of the book deals with Harry's relatively ordinary experiences at Hogwarts (classes, homework, making friends, dealing with bullies), later chapters deal with Harry and his friends' efforts to prevent a supporter of Voldemort from helping Voldemort to regain his strength and powers.

Review:

This book was one of my comfort reads for years. I enjoyed it for some of the same reasons I enjoyed books like Mercedes Lackey's Arrows of the Queen – I love magical/fantasy school stories, and I love the basic premise.

What I'm currently reading and watching

The amount of posting I've been doing lately has been pretty sad, compared to the amount of stuff I've been reading and watching. I thought I'd do a quickie "first impressions" post - I haven't finished any of the things listed below yet, so keep in mind that my opinion of them may change. Ideally, you'll be seeing full posts for all these things at a later date.

Reading:
  • The Innocence of Father Brown (e-book) by G.K. Chesterton - I picked this up as a freebie from Project Gutenberg. It's more a collection of short stories with Father Brown in them than a novel. I'm almost done with it and I have no idea what I'm going to write about it. I don't think it's really all that bad, but it's not for me. The resolutions to the mysteries have often not been satisfying to me - Father Brown relies more on characters' consciences than on the law, so stories would sometimes finish while I was still waiting for someone to bring in the police.
  • Double Dare (book) by Vicki Hinze - I'm almost halfway through this book and less than thrilled with it. The "virus and body doubles at the mall" craziness could have been a lot of fun, but I feel like Hinze must have written most of Maggie and Justin's romantic scenes in another novel, because I'm not feeling their romance at all.
  • I Hunt Killers (book) by Barry Lyga - This is one of my ARCs. I haven't gotten very far into it yet, but it looks like this is an attempt to create Dexter for teens. The main character's father was a notorious serial killer who did his best to teach his skills to his son. I'm not sure, yet, what direction Lyga plans to take things.
Watching:
  • Brave 10 (anime TV series) - If I finish this series, it will only be after much perseverance. I hate the main female character, and the fight scenes aren't nearly good enough to overcome my hatred of her. I finished episode 4 yesterday, and the only reason I'm still watching is because an enemy from a previous episode has returned and shows signs of a seriously masochistic crush on another character. He should be good for some laughs, and maybe he'll kill the main female character in a fit of jealousy. I can only hope.
  • Chihayafuru (anime TV series) - Megan gets a giant "THANK YOU!" for recommending this show to me. When I first started watching it, I said it looked like a cross between Hikaru no Go and Sand Chronicles. I still feel that way. Every episode of this show has me grinning with excitement and joy, as much, if not more, for the outcomes of the Karuta matches as for the wisps of romance.
  • Recorder and Randsell (anime TV series) - Each episode is very short, which is a good thing, because the premise is too thin to survive in longer episodes. For some unexplained reason, the main characters are an older sister who looks like a child and a younger brother who looks like a young man. The series' jokes and gags are all built around this. For instance, there's a recurring joke involving the brother walking home with his school friends and getting chased by the cops, who think he's a would-be child molester.
  • Sekai Ichi Hatsukoi - World's Greatest First Love (anime TV series) - Oh man. This series is kind of terrible, but I am so addicted to it. Really, really addicted. The day I started it, I watched 6 episodes without hardly realizing it. A single episode of Brave 10 feels like an eternity, while a single episode of Sekai Ichi Hatsukoi feels like nothing. Part of this series' appeal is getting to learn a bit about manga creation. An even bigger part of this series' appeal is the overflowing buckets of emotion. Supposedly these guys are all adults (these are all romantic relationships between men, by the way), but you wouldn't guess it from the way they avoid telling each other anything. Also, there are love triangles galore.
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