Sunday, December 9, 2018

REVIEW: Monthly Girls' Nozaki-kun (manga, vols. 6-9) by Izumi Tsubaki, translated by Leighann Harvey

This is another one of my "vacation reads" posts, so be warned that there are spoilers in the sections for individual volumes.

I was hesitant about getting back into this series, since I'd had trouble getting into it during my last vacation. Thankfully, it seems like 4-panel comic burnout really was to blame, because I very much enjoyed the series this time around, at least up until volume 9. I think burn-out was again to blame for that, since I didn't notice any kind of significant difference between volume 9 and volume 6.

I do wonder if Tsubaki has any kind of resolution planned for this series, but even if it's one of those works that's designed to go on forever (ignoring the fact that the characters need to graduate at some point), I don't see it getting old for me for a while yet.

Review: The Tea Dragon Society (graphic novel) by Katie O'Neill

This was one of my vacation reads. The Tea Dragon Society is a fantasy one-shot graphic novel. I had wanted to read it for some time because everything I'd seen from it looked cute.

Review:

Greta is the daughter of a female blacksmith and has grown up learning her mother's craft. One day, she saves a Jasmine tea dragon. The dragon's caretaker, Hesekiel, offers to teach her about caring for tea dragons. Each dragon has its quirks, but, when properly cared for, they produce magnificent tea that carries the memories of their current caretaker. Greta's visits to Hesekiel also allow her to get to know Erik, Hesekiel's long-time friend and partner, and Minette, a shy girl who is approximately the same age as Greta and who is closely bonded to a Chamomile dragon.

REVIEW: A Quick & Easy Guide to They/Them Pronouns (nonfiction graphic novel) by Archie Bongiovanni & Tristan Jimerson

A Quick & Easy Guide to They/Them Pronouns is a 60-page guide, in comic form, to using singular they/them pronouns, including how to handle it if you mess up, a script for introducing yourself with your pronouns and asking others for theirs, ideas for trying to move away from gendered language in your workplace, and more. Archie Bongiovanni identifies as non-binary and uses they/them pronouns, while Tristan Jimerson identifies as male and uses he/him pronouns, so the work includes a couple different perspectives.

I had seen a bunch of mentions of this online and picked it up thinking that it would primarily be an introduction to they/them pronouns geared towards employers and employees. It can function that way, and from that perspective, I particularly liked the last few pages (quick and easy pronoun reference chart, scripts for asking about someone's pronouns and what to say when you mess up someone's pronouns, quick and easy ideas for using gender neutral language). They sum things up nicely and could serve as handouts in trainings.

REVIEW: Game Night (live action movie)

Game Night is a black comedy/action movie. It's another one I had considered seeing in my local movie theater and ended up picking up from a bargain bin instead.

Review:

Max and Annie are two ultra-competitive game enthusiasts who met during a trivia night. Max's marriage proposal was worked into one of their game nights, and, from what I can tell, literally the only thing they do for fun is have game nights. Game night is their life.

Now they'd like to have children, but there's one problem: Max's sperm aren't very active, and the couple's fertility doctor thinks it might be due to Max feeling emasculated by his brother, who is handsomer, more successful, and always wins. When Max's brother holds his own game night, Max and Annie decide that if they are to succeed in their quest to have children, they must win. The game seems like a fun one: a mystery role-playing game in which one of the players, Max's brother, is kidnapped and must be rescued by the others. What Max, Annie, and the others don't realize is that things have gone wrong, the game isn't what it seems, and the danger is real.

REVIEW: Love 020 (live action TV series)

Love 020 is a Chinese romantic drama based on a book (which sadly does not appear to be available in English, although I admit I haven't gone hunting for fan translations).

Review:

I started watching this while I was on vacation, got sucked in, and ended up watching it when I should have been plowing through manga. I'll blame this show for my relatively low vacation reading total.

The series stars Bei Weiwei and Xiao Nai. Bei Weiwei is a Computer Science major who is known as the "department belle." She's also considered the second most beautiful female student at her university, with the first being a young woman named Yiran who probably cheated. However, Weiwei could care less about both those things. She just wants to study, get good grades, find herself a nice internship, and play her favorite MMORPG, "A Chinese Ghost Story."

Weiwei also doesn't really care when her in-game husband, whose screen name is Zhenshui Wuxiang, dumps her for someone else. But what she doesn't realize is that she was noticed, in real life, by one of the game's top players and the hottest guy at her university, Xiao Nai, whose screen name is Yixiao Naihe. When Naihe asks her (screen name Lu Weiwei) to marry him in the game, she agrees, figuring that the pairing will be practical and beneficial to them both. Soon, however, she finds herself falling for Naihe and wondering about the player behind the avatar.

REVIEW: Annihilation (live action movie)

Hey, I'm still here and still writing reviews! I'm just extremely slow about it anymore.

Here's a review for something I watched after getting back from my vacation. Annihilation is a science fiction movie based on the book of the same title by Jeff Vandermeer.

Review:

Lena is a former U.S. Army soldier who has long since quit that life and is now a biology professor. She met her husband while they were in the military, and he's still active duty. At the start of the movie, Lena is in some kind of quarantine and is being questioned. Flashbacks show that, 12 months after her husband left on a secret mission and was presumably killed in action, he suddenly reappears outside their bedroom. He seems strange and confused, and soon after his reappearance he begins to experience massive organ failure.

Lena then learns that her husband's mission involved entering something the people who study it call "the Shimmer," an area of land that was thankfully mostly uninhabited before it was blocked off and taken over by an odd, shimmery wall. Unfortunately, the wall is steadily expanding, and not one member of any of the past exploratory missions has made it back...except for Lena's husband.

Lena gets herself accepted to the next exploratory mission, one of the few composed entirely of women and entirely of scientists rather than military. Since she can't do anything for her husband outside the Shimmer, Lena believes she owes it to him to find out what he saw and what caused it all.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

REVIEW: Hikaru no Go (manga, vols. 13, 15-23) story by Yumi Hotta, art by Takeshi Obata, supervised by Yukari Umezawa (5 Dan), translated by Naoko Amemiya

Hikaru no Go is a series I used to love and recently realized I'd never finished. Unfortunately, it's difficult for me to describe it in a way that makes it sound as interesting as it is. It's based on the game Go and stars a boy, Hikaru, who knows nothing about Go but finds himself the sudden companion of the ghost of a former Go instructor, the elegant and often silly Fujiwara no Sai. Over the course of the series, Hikaru learns about Go, begins developing his own skills and playing style, and eventually becomes a professional Go player with his own rivalries. His longtime rival is Akira, a young Go prodigy who was a bit lonely at the start of the series and then found himself chasing after Hikaru, not realizing that the person he'd really played against was Sai via Hikaru.

Sai's desire to improve his Go and attain the Divine Move (a perfect game of Go) has kept him around all this time, and he previously played via a famous Go player named Shusaku. Although Shusaku was an accomplished Go player in his own right, he allowed Sai to make all his moves for him after Said appeared in his life. Hikaru, on the other hand, did not do that, and it both allowed Hikaru to grow as a player and added some conflict as Sai began to worry about not getting to play the games he'd hoped to play.

According to this blog, I stopped reading this series at volume 12. I had a fairly good idea of what happened after that, due to having been gifted a bootleg version of the anime by someone who insisted I'd enjoy it (she was right), and I'd leafed through a Japanese edition of the final volume, matching it against text-only fan translations as best I could. Official translations were definitely a better way to go, though, and I'm glad I finally got to finish this series...even though I had to skip volume 14 because the library no longer owned it.

As usual, since this is one of my vacation reading posts, you can expect major spoilers from this point on.

REVIEW: The Girl from the Other Side (manga, vols. 2-4) by Nagabe, translated by Adrienne Beck

The Girl from the Other Side is a series I considered not adding to my vacation reading list, since I figured it'd be one I'd eventually want to buy. However, considering my complete lack of shelf space (I currently have a couple piles of books in my living room that I'm not sure how to store), I figured it might be best to read the series via library checkouts instead.

At this point, it's tough to say whether this will end up on my list of series I want to periodically reread or not. On the one hand, there are sad and chilling moments that make me suspect the series' ending will be like a punch in the gut. On the other hand, there are occasional parts that are a little hard to follow (have readers learned everything Teacher knows about the curse or not? I'm not sure), events occasionally progress in odd ways (we never see how Shiva convinces Auntie not to take her and go - the problem just evaporates), and I suspect that my ultimate feelings about the series will rely a lot on what Nagabe eventually reveals about the curse and Shiva's connection to it.

I had expected this to mostly be a slice-of-life series about Teacher raising Shiva, so the brief return to the Insiders and Shiva's aunt's fate took me by surprise. I definitely plan on continuing this, although, for now at least, it's probably a good thing that I'm doing it via library checkouts. Oof, I need bigger bookcases. If anything ever prompts me to buy a house, it will be my book collection.

Reminder: this is one of my vacation reading posts, so you can expect major spoilers from here on out.

REVIEW: Delicious in Dungeon (manga, vols. 3-4) by Ryoko Kui, translated by Taylor Engel

Delicious in Dungeon is a food manga featuring fantasy foods so delicious-looking, you'll wish you could eat them.

I was iffy about this series when I read it during my last vacation. I decided to continue on, and I'm glad I did. Kui didn't drag things out as much as I expected, and I enjoyed the combination of weirdness, humor, and occasional serious moments. I'd like to continue this series during my next vacation.

REVIEW: Black Butler (manga, vols. 24-26) by Yana Toboso, translated by Tomo Kimura

Black Butler is one of my long-running vacation reads. Although I sometimes wish Toboso would finally get on with it, return to the primary storyline, and wrap things up, it's been nice to have this series to turn to when I need something with clean, gorgeous linework and easy-to-follow action.

I saved these three volumes for the very end of my vacation and thought I'd only have time for a couple of them. However, considering how volume 25 ended, reading volume 26 was a must, so I bit the bullet and made do with a little less sleep. I'm still not sure how I feel about the big twist in volume 26. On the one hand, it's nice that this series can still manage to surprise me. On the other hand, I feel like Toboso accomplished this by cheating. I doubt this particular surprise was planned since the series' beginning, and I can think of numerous spots where this information should have come up in past volumes and yet didn't. It irks me.

Okay, from here on out, prepare for major spoilers. As usual, I'll be cross-posting to Booklikes, Goodreads, and Librarything, where I can make use of spoiler tags.

Friday, November 23, 2018

REVIEW: Assassination Classroom (manga, vols. 1-2) by Yusei Matsui, translated by Tetsuichiro Miyaki

Another post-vacation review post. When it comes to my manga posts, I'm going to write about each volume but collect them all together in a single post. Be warned, these are going to be particularly filled with spoilers.

Assassination Classroom is a series I've been wanting to try for a while. I think I own the first season of the anime, although I haven't gotten around to watching it yet. Since I was able to get hold of a couple volumes of the manga during my vacation, I figured I'd give it a shot and see what I could expect from the anime.

It's tough to say whether this series will continue to work for me a few more volumes down the line, but I mostly liked these first two, as long as I didn't think too hard about the setup.

REVIEW: Khoobsurat (live action movie)

Khoobsurat is an Indian romantic comedy. This is another one of the movies I watched during my vacation.

A royal family hires Milli, a sports physiotherapist, to help King Shekhar Singh Rathore learn to walk. He was paralyzed from the waist down in an accident and has since refused to do anything that might help him regain the use of his legs. Milli becomes determined to somehow convince him to help her help him. Much to the queen's displeasure, she can't seem to help befriending Divya, the princess who'd like nothing more than the become an actress. Then there's Vikram, the handsome prince she begins to fall for...who happens to be engaged.

I really wanted to like this. The movie was bright and pretty, and Sonam Kapoor and Fawad Khan were a good-looking couple. Unfortunately, Milli got on my nerves. Her clumsiness and complete inability to adapt to social situations that weren't "hanging out with my close family members at home" were so overdone that I initially thought she was deliberately being awful. I eventually realized that this was supposed to be an indicator of natural cuteness on her part, but it didn't really help me like her much.

Vikram was good eye candy, but that's basically all he was. I strongly disliked that the plot hinged on him falling in love with Milli even though he was already engaged to someone else. And the thing was, his fiancee seemed to be perfectly decent. She wasn't given enough screen-time for me to judge her personality (less than five minutes), and I got the impression that the main reason she and Vikram never spent any time together was because, if they had, Milli would have had to do more than trip and smile to keep his attention.

This was decent enough to watch during a plane ride, but I wouldn't otherwise recommend it.

REVIEW: Death Note (live action movie)

This is the first of my post-vacation review posts. If you're not familiar with those, they tend to be filled with spoilers because most of them are for series I only read once a year in large chunks, and my spoilers are the best way for me to keep track of what happened. The best place to see my reviews if you're really worried about spoilers is Goodreads, LibraryThing, or Booklikes. My movie reviews, like this one, are only cross-posted to LibraryThing.

All right, on to the post. Death Note is a live action loose adaptation of Tsugumi Ohba's Death Note manga. It should be noted that a live action movie adaptation of the manga already exists. I reviewed it way back in 2008 (be warned, my reviewing style was much different back then) and, although it differed from the manga in many ways, it was still a much more faithful adaptation than Netflix's version.

I wasn't originally going to watch and review this movie due to its issues with whitewashing and my suspicions that it would be a terrible adaptation, but since Netflix decided to go ahead and make a sequel, I figured I'd finally take a look at what they were working with.

This adaptation stars Light Turner, a loser white kid who thinks he's much smarter than he actually is, as opposed to the original work's Light Yagami, who, as I recall, was respected, reasonably well-liked, and genuinely smart. This new Light comes across something called the Death Note, which he almost immediately uses to decapitate a bully. Although Ryuk, the demon (I don't recall the movie using the word "shinigami," but I could be mistaken) tied to the notebook, terrifies Light, that doesn't stop him from using the notebook some more. His next victim is the man who killed his mother.

After Light excitedly lets his cheerleader crush in on his new secret, the two go on what is essentially a killing spree with the notebook, killing hundreds of criminals. But of course that can't last forever - Light finds himself with some hard decisions to make after a task force is put together to catch "Kira" (the name Light gives the media, in the hope that people will think this mysterious killer is Japanese), headed by his own father. Light's father's efforts are aided by a mysterious investigator known only as L.

Long weekend plans

I got what I think might have been mild food poisoning a couple days ago, which miraculously wrapped up in time for me to enjoy turkey and pie. I don't go out for Black Friday shopping and only do a little checking for online deals because finding too many good things overwhelms me, so my plans for the next few days include playing games (at the moment, Cattails, Backstage Pass, and Memoranda), watching more Love 020, and writing a few of my post-vacation review posts. Let's see how much I can get through...

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Studio Ghibli Fest 2018 ends with a whimper

I was going to attend the last movie in Studio Ghibli Fest today, Castle in the Sky, but it's been mysteriously canceled without warning at my local movie theater, so I guess that's the end of my Studio Ghibli Fest 2018 adventure.

That makes the second cancellation in this Fathom Events series, which isn't a good look for the theater. The last time this happened, it was due to them having agreed to another showing of a different movie and having to find space for it. I suppose I can understand that, but it's still annoying that they decided to cancel a movie that literally only had three showings scheduled. I was told this wasn't going to happen again, which makes me wonder what happened with Castle in the Sky. If they try to claim it was cancelled due to low attendance at the other Studio Ghibli Fest showings, they only have themselves to blame, since they made zero effort to market it. They didn't even have movie posters or signage at the theater announcing the showings - you had to have checked the Advanced Tickets section of the Cinemark website to know they were happening.
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