Friday, November 3, 2017

REVIEW: How to Take Off Your Mask (game)

How to Take Off Your Mask is a fantasy romance visual novel. You play as Lilia (name customizable, although I think if you choose something other than the default the characters don’t say her name in spoken dialogue). Lilia lives with her grandmother and helps out at her bakery. Lilia hasn’t had parents around for years, but she’s kept it together by focusing on her young friend Ronan and being the best “big sister” she can for him. They’re now in their late teens (I think? Or maybe early 20s) and Lilia still treats Ronan like a younger brother who needs constant supervision and protection. However, things are starting to change.

Lilia wakes up one day to discover that her body and speech have entirely changed. It turns out that she’s half-luccretia. Luccretias are feared and hated by many humans, and anti-luccretia sentiment has been growing lately. Half-luccretias look human until their first transformation, at which time they transform into their luccretia body, which has cat ears and a tail. Some luccretias talk like normal humans, while others end their sentences with “mya” or “nya.” Lilia is one of the “nya” types. Her luccretia form also happens to be several years younger than her human form, maybe 13 or 14.

As the anti-luccretia group makes its first moves, Lilia interacts with Ronan both as herself as as “Leea” (name customizable), her luccretia form. Because Ronan has no idea they’re both the same person, Lilia gets to see another side of Ronan and realizes they’ve both been hiding things from each other. Will they be able to take off their masks and finally be honest with themselves and each other?

REVIEW: Cardcaptor Sakura, Standard Edition, Vol. 1 (anime TV series)

Cardcaptor Sakura is a magical girl TV series that originally aired in Japan in the late ‘90s and, in heavily edited form, in the US from 2000 to 2001 (according to Wikipedia - I could have sworn I was younger when I watched it, but apparently my memories are faulty). I caught a tiny bit of it back when it was on TV, but for some reason it never captured my interest.

I was excited to learn that this series was finally being released in the US in unedited form, but I was a little wary. I had fallen in love with it via the manga but wasn’t sure the anime would be to my tastes since, like I said, what little I’d seen of it on TV hadn’t gotten me hooked. Buying the full thing (because I almost always buy the full thing) would be a serious monetary commitment. But then Right Stuf had their anniversary sale and I finally caved.

Cardcaptor Sakura stars Sakura, a 10-year-old girl. She lives with her father, who’s a professor (of ancient history? Egyptian history? not sure), and her older brother, Toya. Her mother died when she was very young. One day, Sakura finds a book in her home’s basement. It contains Clow Cards, almost all of which escape. With the help of the cards’ guardian, Kero, Sakura is able to capture one of the cards. Kero tells her that she is now a Cardcaptor and must collect all the rest of the cards before they do any harm - all the cards have some sort of magical ability and some of them can be very mischievous and/or actively harmful. Each card she collects gives Sakura new abilities that can help her capture more cards.

Along the way, viewers are introduced to other characters: Yukito, Toya’s best friend and Sakura’s not-so-secret crush; Tomoyo, Sakura’s best friend; and Xiaolang (I prefer Syaoran, but I’ll go with the romanization these DVDs used here), Sakura’s rival for both Yukito’s affection and card capturing. Most of the episodes are very “Card of the Week,” but some of them focus more on Sakura’s relationships and family history.

Vacation

I'm about to go on vacation for a couple weeks. I'll still have access to the Internet, but it'll mostly be via my phone, so don't expect anything in the way of reviews. If I post at all, it'll be over at Booklikes, although I'll probably add books and ratings to LibraryThing and maybe Goodreads as well.

I plan on reading lots of manga volumes, so you can expect lots of spoilery review posts in late November and December.

As for today, I have to clean, pack, and take care of a million other things before I leave for the airport. I have a few reviews I might finish up and push out, as well.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

REVIEW: The Moai Island Puzzle (book) by Alice Arisugawa, translated by Ho-Ling Wong

The Moai Island Puzzle is a Japanese mystery novel. I got it via interlibrary loan.

Review:

Alice Arisugawa is the third Honkaku Mystery Writers Club of Japan author I’ve tried. I thought Arisugawa would also be my first female honkaku mystery author, but I didn’t bother to research that and, as it turns out, the author is actually male.

He also wrote a male character named after his pseudonym into The Moai Island Puzzle. I don’t like when authors write themselves into their own books, even if all they and their character have in common is their names, so this was a bit of a red flag for me, but I figured I’d let it pass. I was really hoping this book would be as good as the one that led me to it, Soji Shimada’s The Tokyo Zodiac Murders. Or even Yukito Ayatsuji’s The Decagon House Murders, which had some issues but was still decent.

The Moai Island Puzzle starts by introducing readers to the members of the Eito University Mystery Club. The club’s only female member, Maria Arima, invites the other members to take a week-long holiday at her uncle’s villa on a tiny island. Only Alice Arisugawa (the narrator) and Jiro Egami are able to join her, but that doesn’t mean they’re alone: ten of Maria’s family members and family friends also take a holiday on the island at around this time every three years or so.

Alice and Egami arrive at the island with every intention of having fun. In particular, they’d like to solve the puzzle that Maria’s grandfather left behind. Before he died, Maria’s grandfather had several wooden moais, statues similar to the ones on Easter Island but much smaller, installed all over the island, each facing in a different direction. These statues are somehow the key to finding a treasure that Maria’s grandfather left behind.

Hideto, Maria's beloved cousin, was supposedly close to solving the puzzle three years ago but drowned before he could locate the treasure. Maria would like to finish what he started. Unfortunately, just as a typhoon is about to reach the island, a couple people are found shot to death inside a locked room. Was it suicide, or murder?

REVIEW: Land of the Lustrous (manga, vol. 1) by Haruko Ichikawa, translated by Alethea Nibley and Athena Nibley

Land of the Lustrous is SFF manga that's still ongoing in Japan. It's published by Kodansha Comics. I checked it out via interlibrary loan.

Review:

Land of the Lustrous is set on a world that has been battered by meteors several times over the course of its history, to the point that all life was driven into the ocean. Some of the surviving beings eventually sank to the bottom and were consumed by microorganisms, transforming them into inorganic substances that eventually formed into crystals (I know, it’s bizarre, but just try to accept it). Those crystals eventually became 28 (ish?) genderless gemstone-based beings that washed up onto the shore. Those gem beings are the series’ good guys. Beings from the moon, called Lunarians, periodically attack the gem beings so that they can capture them and break their bodies down into weapons and decorations.

The series’ main character is a gem being named Phosphophyllite (Phos). Phos desperately wants to become a member of one of the watcher and fighter pairs that protect everyone against the Lunarians, but unfortunately Phos is so brittle that that’s out of the question. So far, Phos has been unsuited to every task they’ve been assigned to, which is why I suspect the latest task Kongo, the group’s leader, has come up with is probably just busy work. Kongo asks Phos to compile a natural history.

Phos starts off by talking to the tragic and dangerous Cinnabar, because that’s who everyone keeps saying they should start with. After that, Phos spends some time with the Diamond fighting pair, Bort and Dia. And then there’s an incident with a giant snail.

Monday, October 30, 2017

REVIEW: Gone Home (game)

Warning: this review includes one very spoiler-filled paragraph. I provide another warning just before you get to it.

Like Tacoma, Fullbright’s newest game, Gone Home isn’t so much an adventure game as it is an interactive story, although the story is even slimmer here than it was in Tacoma.

You play as Katie, who has just arrived home in the very early AM after a trip abroad. The family just moved to this home and I’m pretty sure Katie has never been there. At any rate, the house is empty - no one else is home, and you don’t know why. There are a few cryptic notes from your younger sister indicating that something has happened and that you shouldn’t tell your parents anything. There are also a couple phone messages, one of which is particularly worrisome. In order to find out what happened, you have to explore the house, reading any notes you find and picking up keys and combination lock codes so that you can open new doors and learn more secrets. Touching certain items triggers voiceover narration from your sister, explaining a little of what happened to her while you were gone and how things got to the point they are now.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

REVIEW: The Bishop's Pawn (e-book) by Don Gutteridge

The Bishop's Pawn is a historical mystery. It's Book 7 in Gutteridge's Marc Edwards Mysteries series. I downloaded it for free during a sale.

Warning: My review includes one significant spoiler. If you'd like to read a version of this review where spoilers are hidden, I suggest you check my pages on LibraryThing, Goodreads, or Booklikes.

Review:

This is set primarily in Toronto in 1839, although some of the characters take a brief trip to New York City later on. At the start of the book we meet Dick Dougherty, a massively overweight man who was once a lawyer in New York City but who, after some vague and mysterious trouble, was able to relocate to Toronto. Since then, he’s been taking care of his two wards, Brodie and Celia, and slowly taking control of his life again. A recent courtroom success has inspired him to apply for admission to the Bar (he wasn’t disbarred back in New York), and with Brodie and Celia’s help and encouragement he’s slowly regaining his mobility. He now takes daily walks that are so regular and predictable people can practically set their watches by him.

Unfortunately, although the common folk of Toronto love Dougherty, the same can’t be said for some of the area’s political leaders. There are rumors that Dougherty’s relationship with Celia isn’t entirely proper, and Dougherty’s refusal to give any details on the events that got him run out of New York City inspires even more whispers. Things come to a head when Archdeacon John Strachan delivers a fiery sermon that accuses Dougherty of “vile and abominable” behavior. Not long after the sermon, Dougherty is discovered dead, with one of his eyes removed and a note with “Sodomite” written on it pinned to his chest.

Marc Edwards and others suspect that one of Strachan’s parishioners was influenced by his sermon and killed the man. They even find a likely suspect, drunk and covered in blood. However, some of the details don’t add up. Marc suspects there’s something else going on, but the tense political situation makes it difficult to discover the truth.

REVIEW: The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn't (nonfiction book) by Robert I. Sutton

The No Asshole Rule is a nonfiction book. I checked out a library copy.

Review:

In this book, Sutton 1) defines workplace assholes, 2) describes the damage they can do to their workplaces and to themselves, 3) outlines how workplaces can try to implement a “no asshole” rule, 4) describes how you can keep from being an asshole, 5) provides tips for dealing with workplace assholes if your workplace isn’t making a concentrated effort to keep them out or deal with their behavior in some way, 6) and describes some of the benefits of occasionally being an asshole and/or having one around. And probably a few other things I forgot to list.

Sutton’s workplace assholes are basically what other books call workplace bullies, although I agree with Sutton that “asshole” is probably a better word to use. I think the average adult would probably connect with it more.

I started reading this in the hope of learning more and better strategies for dealing with workplace assholes. Unfortunately, although this was an engaging read that I largely agreed with, it didn’t really give me what I’d hoped for.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

REVIEW: Vintage: A Ghost Story (e-book) by Steve Berman

Vintage is YA m/m horror. I got it as part of a Story Bundle a while back.

Review:

Vintage’s protagonist is an unnamed mostly closeted gay teen, who I will call MC (short for “Main Character”) from here on out. MC ran away from home after his parents reacted badly to learning that he was gay, so now he lives with his aunt, who he’s afraid might do the same thing. The only people who know his secret are his new friend Trace and several other friends she introduced him to.

His life here is better than it had been back with his parents. He has friends, he’s convinced his aunt to let him drop out of school and get his GED and work instead, and he likes his job at the vintage clothing shop. Still, a part of him is always afraid that the wrong person will find out he’s gay and ruin everything and, at the same time, he desperately wants a boyfriend. When he sees a cute boy in vintage clothes walking alone, he takes a risk and talks to him. And even though he’s a weird goth kid talking to a guy dressed like a jock, it doesn’t go badly! Unfortunately for MC, Josh, the cute boy, is a ghost.

At first, MC and Trace are delighted at the prospect of meeting a real ghost. However, things soon take a turn for the worse. Josh follows MC home. Although MC is excited that a boy is finally interested in him, Josh’s touch could literally suck the life out of him. Josh’s raging jealousy is another problem. If MC and Trace can’t figure out how to put Josh to rest, MC and anyone he cares out could end up dead.

REVIEW: The Tokyo Zodiac Murders (book) by Soji Shimada, translation by Ross and Shika Mackenzie

The Tokyo Zodiac Murders is a Japanese mystery novel.

Review:

The Tokyo Zodiac Murders starts off with a “last will and testament” written by Heikichi Umezawa in 1936. In this document, he detailed his belief that he is possessed and how he came to the realization that killing six of his daughters and nieces would solve his problems. Using their zodiac signs as a guide, he’d take one body part from each young woman and construct Azoth, the perfect woman.

The story then fast forwards to about 40 years later. Kazumi, a mystery fan, is describing the facts of the Tokyo Zodiac Murders to his friend Kiyoshi, an astrologer and occasional detective. The six young women were, in fact, killed and mutilated in the manner described in Heikichi’s will, but Heikichi couldn’t possibly have done it: he’d been dead for several days prior to the murders. In addition to Heikichi’s murder and the Azoth murders, one of Heikichi’s other stepdaughters was also killed. No one is sure whether that murder was related to the others or not.

After Kiyoshi takes on a client with a distant but potentially embarrassing connection to the case, Kiyoshi and Kazumi end up with a one-week deadline to solve a mystery that no one else has managed to solve in 40 years. Diagrams included throughout the text invite readers to solve the mystery along with them.

REVIEW: Hot Steamy Glasses (manga) by Tatsumi Kaiya, translated by Sachiko Sato

Hot Steamy Glasses in a one-shot yaoi manga - I suppose you could call it m/m contemporary romance. It's licensed by Digital Manga Publishing.

Review:

Hot Steamy Glasses features two stories, although the second one is extremely short, more of an extra than anything. Most of the volume is devoted to the story of Takeo and Fumi. Takeo is the president of a successful I.T. company. He’s been in love with his friend Fumi for the past 17 years. He lives in hope that, despite being heterosexual, Fumi will one day agree to live with him and go on a date with him. Fumi’s younger brother, Shogo, is doubtful of this but does want something to change: either for Fumi to finally give Takeo a chance or for Takeo to move on and fall in love with someone who isn’t quite so mean to him.

Takeo’s an otaku, specifically one who’s into moe characters (romanized here as “moeh”), and Fumi isn’t shy about expressing his annoyance and disgust. Still, Takeo persists and does what he can to appeal to Fumi and make him happy.

REVIEW: Tacoma (game)

I purchased Tacoma on sale via the Humble Bundle store and played it on Steam.

Review:

I suppose you could call Tacoma an adventure game, although it more of an interactive story than a game. There are a few instances where you need to figure out people’s passcodes, but they’re so easy to figure out that they don’t really count as puzzles.

You play as Amy Ferrier, a contractor sent to Tacoma station by Venturis, the company that owns Tacoma. A short while ago an accident happened and the station, which had housed six human employees, one AI named ODIN, and a cat, is now abandoned. Your job is to explore the station and retrieve AI-recorded data and ODIN’s wetware.

The AI-recorded data takes the form of recordings that your augmented reality device allows you to see as though you’re glimpsing into the station’s past. All the characters are represented by colored silhouettes of themselves. You can rewind and fastforward in order to follow different people and occasionally access their emails and other files.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

REVIEW: Hatsune Miku Graphics: Vocaloid Art & Comic, Vol. 1 (artbook) English translation by Jocelyne Allen

Meh. I considered buying this and related Vocaloid titles a while back, and I’m now glad I didn’t. It’s not bad, it just doesn’t have anything in it that I think I’d want to pore over again at a later date. For those who are wondering (because I wondered, back when I was considering getting it), it’s primarily an artbook. There are only a few comics.

Artwork:

There were a bunch of Vocaloid illustrations from various artists. Hatsune Miku was the most common subject, but there were also lots of works featuring Len and Rin and a few featuring Luka, Meiko, and (very occasionally) Kaito. Each artist got a line or two to introduce themselves, and some of them included commentary for the individual illustrations. Unfortunately, each artist only got one or two pages, so the more illustrations and commentary they included the smaller the illustrations were.

Dark days, continued

Remember this post I wrote back in December? My day-to-day life is basically the same, although I have since become more comfortable with calling my representatives. Also, I live in fear that I or people I know will survive a natural disaster only to learn that the president is too incompetent or childish to see to it that the federal government provides aid in a prompt manner. And I worry that we're one presidential tweet storm away from war. I used to worry a lot more about Friday news, but I've since become numb to that.

The reason why I'm writing this post is to include some links - then I promise I'll go back to posting nothing but reviews.

Monday, October 9, 2017

REVIEW: Kimi ni Todoke: From Me to You, Volume 2, Standard Edition (anime TV series)

Kimi ni Todoke: From Me to You boxed set 2 includes episodes 13 to 15 and 17 to 25 on both DVD and Blu-ray discs (episode 16 was omitted because it was a recap episode). It’s a high school romance series.

Oddly, the info on the back of the case indicates that Disc 2 of the Blu-ray portion has episodes 9-12 and Disc 1 has the episodes after that. I’m going to say that’s probably an error, because I think I watched Disc 1 and then 2, and I don’t recall there being any episode order issues.

This post includes a few spoilers.

Review:

Again, I’ve previously reviewed this series, so I won’t say too much here. This set picks up right where the first one ended. Kazehaya and Sawako continue to be adorable together, and their romance continues to move at a snail’s pace. The bit where Sawako fell asleep on Kazehaya’s shoulder was wonderful - as was Ayane’s continued enjoyment at embarrassing Kazehaya by taking a picture of the moment.
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