Saturday, May 31, 2008

Paprika (anime movie) - Soundtrack

I just found out that Susumu Hirasawa, the music composer of the soundtrack for Paprika, is very kindly allowing people to download two tracks for free on his official site. The tracks are "The Girl in Byakkoya - White Tiger Field" (the song from Paprika's ending credits) and "Runner" (an outtake track not available on the album - I can't remember where in the movie it was used). Hirasawa is also the person responsible for the music of Berserk and Paranoia Agent, so if you liked the music in those shows you'll probably like this music as well.

Here's where I found out about this, and here's where you can get the tracks. Check them out - I hope to eventually get both the movie and the soundtrack. I don't know enough about different styles of music to say exactly what genre these songs belong to. The best I can think of is "pop/techno," but that doesn't feel entirely accurate. If you've got a better way to refer to this music, feel free to let me know. Of the two Paprika songs available for download, "The Girl in Byakkoya - White Tiger Field" is my favorite. It's very sparkly.

Label maintenance - deleted manga authors and artists

I finally decided to delete all the manga authors and artists from my labels - I'll continue to refer to them in posts, so you should still be able to find most of the references to manga authors and artists in this blog by doing a search for them - you just won't be able to click on a label.

I just finished a post about Ai Yori Aoshi, and I got a bit frustrated with having to enter both the manga titles and authors as labels, despite the fact that I know Kou Fumizuki, the author of Ai Yori Aoshi, hasn't done anything else, or at least nothing that's going to be available in the US - why, then, should I include both his name and the title of his work? Maybe I'll regret getting rid of all those names, but I don't think so. It's less work for me.

So now my labels are for book authors, manga/anime titles, movie titles, TV series titles, formats (movies, anime, manga, books, audio books, etc.), and a few miscellaneous, like anthology, blog updates, and eventually non-fiction.

Oh, and I also decided that if I enter any title beginning with an article (A, an, the), I'm just going to drop the article - it might make the title look a bit weird, but doing it this way means that only the author names use parentheses, so authors should be easier to find in the whole mess. So far, only two title have been affected. The Cell is now Cell and The Gentleman's Alliance Cross is now Gentleman's Alliance Cross.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Spare Change (audio book) by Robert B. Parker

After decades of hiding, "The Spare Change Killer," so dubbed for the three coins he leaves at each of his shootings, resurfaces. The police seek out the help of the cop who headed the original task force, now-retired Phil Randall, who in turn asks his daughter Sunny for help. Sunny used to be a cop, but is now a private detective, and she uses this status to illegally discover information the cops otherwise would've taken much longer to find. The police set a trap that allows them to come up with a list of suspects, more than was ever accomplished before, and, after seeing a few of them, Sunny becomes convinced she knows who the killer is. However, there's no evidence that would hold up in court, so Sunny sets a trap of her own. The suspected killer seems to be interested in her, so she starts meeting with him in public places, hoping he'll slip up.

This is the 6th book in Parker's Sunny Randall series, and the first book in the series I've ever read. Sunny's got a dog, who's neurotic and cute, and an ex-husband who's got partial custody of the dog. If he didn't her life would probably be a little easier, since neither she nor her ex have really gotten over each other - this becomes even more messed up when you realize that Sunny's ex is remarried. Sunny's also got a daddy complex. She wants to be her father's favorite - actually, everyone in her family, from her alcoholic mother to her sister, wants to be her father's favorite. In order to gain her father's favor, Sunny will do anything to make him happy, including doing dangerous things to find the killer who slipped through his fingers decades ago. She repeatedly goes out with a man who she is sure is a murderer, allows him to flirt with her, and is nicer to him than she should be, all in order to catch a killer for her father. Sure, she'd like to stop the killer for the sake of his victims, both past and future, but her biggest motivation is really her father.

Her friend's relationships are just as messed up as Sunny's. Her friend, whose name I can't remember, is a counselor who is sleeping with her client's husband. She invites Sunny on a double date with this man and his friend, almost everyone gets drunk, and things nearly go very badly. When this night continues to cause problems later on, Sunny's friend screams at her for not dropping everything and doing everything, whether illegal or not, to help. Oh yes, Sunny has such wonderfully stable and healthy relationships. However, I did like Spike, her tough, gay bar owner friend.

I listened to the OverDrive audio version of this book, checked out from my public library. The reader, Kate Burton, was pretty good, although the writing didn't give her much of a chance to show a spectrum of emotion. In situations where most people would have some sort of emotional reaction, the writing was bare and emotionless. The frequent use of "he said", "she said", "my father said", etc., probably more noticeable in the audio that they would've been in print, created a kind of staccato effect in the text. I got a little tired of it, although I might try a print version of another book in this series.

Read-alikes:
  • 'A' is for Alibi (book) by Sue Grafton - I've only actually read 'R' is for Ricochet, but it's usually best to start a series with the first book. However, I've also heard that it's possible to jump into this series from just about anywhere, so feel free to start with any book is the series that sounds good to you. This is a hard-boiled private eye series with a female starring character, much like the Sunny Randall series. Kinsey Millhone was originally an insurance investigator before becoming a licensed P.I. She's got a smart mouth and sharp dialog, but the tone of the series is a bit dark, much like Spare Change. Although Kinsey has a growing family of friends, she is essentially alone, just as Sunny, who can't really talk to anyone but her father and can't be married, despite being in love, is alone. In 'A' is for Alibi, Kinsey investigates the death of Laurence Fife for Nikki Fife, his wife and the person charged with and convicted for his murder.
  • The Sins of the Fathers (book) by Lawrence Block - This is the first book in the Matthew Scudder series, and apparently it's possible to read the first four books in any order you'd like - after that, you should stick to the order in which the books have been published. Once again, I've actually read a different book by this author than the one I'm listing, Burglars Can't Be Choosers, the first book in his Bernie Rhodenbarr series. However, the Matthew Scudder series sounds much more similar to Spare Change. Matthew Scudder is an alcoholic ex-cop working as an unlicensed private eye. Whereas the Bernie Rhodenbarr series is fairly light in tone, the Matthew Scudder series is darker and matches the tone of Spare Change better. Although Scudder has a family and occasionally spends time with his sons, they are not a big part of his life, so he is as much alone as Sunny, maybe even more alone, since Sunny has her father. In The Sins of the Fathers, the father of a murdered young woman goes to Scudder to ask him to find out more about his daughter - not who murdered her, since that is already known and the young man has already killed himself, but rather more about her and why anyone would want to kill her.

Plans for this blog

I've got a few plans for this blog - I don't know when I'll be implementing them, but it'll all happen sometime (unless I discover that I'm too technologically inept to make them happen).
  1. If I decide to keep this template, I want to change it so that it's got three columns. The rightmost column would have my huge list of labels, the leftmost column would have all my other widgets, and the middle column would have my posts.
  2. I'd like to try out a bit of code I saw on another blog, that would turn my giant list of labels into a drop down menu. If I like how this looks, Plan #1 might not be necessary.
  3. On yet another blog, I read about some coding work that someone did which creates a Table of Contents - besides having all my posts chronologically available in my archives, a table of contents would make them alphabetically available. This would be nice, especially if I ever get around to writing posts about directors, certain themes in anime and manga, etc.
  4. Not too long ago, I noticed that when I have numbered lists using this template, the little pink arrows or whatever are still there - I'd like to figure out how to make that go away in numbered lists.
I like this template, because it's pretty, pink, and text is still readable on the background color, but there's just a few things about it that I'd like to figure out how to fix, if I can.

Paprika (anime movie)

New technology has been invented that allows therapists to enter their patients dreams. Unfortunately, it gets stolen, and people start getting caught in a dangerous and crazy collective dream. The only one who stands a chance at stopping the person or people behind all this is Paprika.

Visually, this movie is just amazing. Near the end, when everyone is being drawn into the collective dream, I swear my mouth was literally hanging open in amazement (maybe awe?) as I watched all those colorful, crazy things parade through town. I also enjoyed the opening credits, in which Paprika, who's sort of maybe the dream avatar of Chiba, one of the therapists who works with the dream technology (the "DC mini"), flits around town.

The story itself is like some sort of weird psychological horror thriller. Chiba and others go around in the waking world, trying to find out who's behind all of this so they can get the missing DC mini back, while Paprika helps out in the dreaming world, but it's not always so simple. People find themselves getting accidentally drawn into the dreaming world without even realizing it - especially dangerous when their dream actions put them in real life danger.

I think this is the first anime I've ever seen with an obese person who is actually an obese person, not just a person who is large. For instance, I think Rurouni Kenshin has at least one huge character whose hugeness only affects him in that it makes him a dangerous fighter. In this movie, Tokita, the obese genius who created the DC mini, eats enough for several people, sweats, and gets stuck in an elevator. Although I don't think he really sees his weight as a drawback, or at least not enough of one for him to actually do something about it, his weight also isn't an asset.

I don't consider this to be director Satoshi Kon's best work, despite the jaw-dropping amazingness of some scenes, but it's not a bad movie either. If this is your first exposure to his work, I'm sure your mind will be blown. Kon likes morphing one person into another, strangeness, characters with multiple selves, and creepy awesome imagery. The dream world gives Kon the chance to indulge himself to the max.

One of the reasons this wasn't really my favorite Satoshi Kon movie, though, is because it got to be really difficult making sense of what was going on and who certain characters were. By the end of the movie, there are indications that Paprika and Chiba are more separate than you might think, and the two dream bartenders say something that indicates there's another world, but nothing is done with any of this. Maybe it would've made the movie too long or too unfocused if those bits had been further developed, but why include them at all if there's no room to work with them? Maybe Kon will do another movie with Paprika, or a whole show, but I doubt it.

Another one of the reasons this wasn't really my favorite Satoshi Kon movie was the tacked-on romance between Chiba and Tokita (yes, the obese guy gets the girl - if you haven't watched the movie yet and I've spoiled this for you, amuse yourself by looking for signs of love when you do watch the movie). On the one hand, it's great that Kon does the unexpected thing and matches Chiba up with the one guy the audience probably wouldn't have guessed. On the other hand, there really wasn't any sign that this was coming, as far as I could tell, unless you count Chiba's annoyance with Tokita's childishness and bad habits as a sign of love.

I've watched this movie both in English (my first viewing) and in Japanese with subtitles. I recognized a few of the voices in the English dub, such as Yuri Lowenthal (Tokita), Doug Erholtz (Osanai), and David Lodge (Shima). That didn't actually translate into liking the English dub. It wasn't bad, but I liked the Japanese voice cast better. It was easier for me to look at the characters and believe those voices were coming out of them when I was watching it in Japanese, whereas the English voice cast didn't always seem to match the characters they were playing. You might feel differently - everyone's got their own opinion about dub versus sub, and, for the most part, I think judgments on English voice casts are subjective. My favorites among both the casts were Doug Erholtz as Osanai and Cindy Robinson as Chiba, and Megumi Hayashibara as both Paprika and Chiba. Oh, I should also add that purists might not like the fact that the English dub adds and changes a few lines here and there - it didn't really bother me all that much, since I don't think any of the changes or additions were all that drastic.

I can't comment on the DVD extras, since I didn't get a chance to watch any of them.

Similar Books and Movies:
  • The Cell (live action American movie) - A psychotherapist uses dream technology to journey inside the dreams of a comatose serial killer in the hopes of saving his final victim. This movie has a ton in common with Paprika: therapy using dream technology, blending reality and dreams to heighten the fear factor, and beautiful and messed up dream imagery. However, it's live action and is much, much gorier than Paprika. Paprika has an edge of the bouncy and cheerful to most of it, while The Cell has none of that. It's just gorgeously horrific.
  • Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence (anime movie) - Heavily cyborged police officer Battou is partnered with the still mostly human Togusa after Major Motoko Kusanagi's disappearance (don't ask me when she disappeared, I don't keep up enough with this series to know). They're assigned to investigate murders committed by prototype androids. If you want to understand everything that's going on with the characters, it probably helps to know something about the Ghost in the Shell world, which has several movies, a couple seasons of a TV series, and a manga series devoted to it (and probably more I don't even know about). However, I've added this movie to the list mainly because of its occasional reality-bending weirdness and beautiful and strange visuals, all of which you can enjoy without knowing too much of the backstory. All you really need to know is that it's set in the future, where nearly everyone has cyborg enhancements, even if only to their brains. Because of this, hackers are now more than just a danger to your bank account, they can invade your brain. Add the occasional philosophical discussion and some action, and you've got the Ghost in the Shell world.
  • The Sandman (graphic novel series) by Neil Gaiman - The first book is the series is called Preludes and Nocturnes. This series focuses mainly on Morpheus, the Sandman, a dark figure who watches over dreams and makes sure they stay separate from reality. Despite this, several of the stories in this series involve the blending of reality and dreams. Morpheus' various siblings make the occasional appearance, and they're fascinating as well. This series should be viewed as a story that is over 1000 pages long, rather than as separate and unconnected stories. Although the stories may seem unconnected at first, just about everything is actually working towards the final, inevitable ending. If you liked Paprika's dreams visuals and creepy cheerfulness, you might like some of this series. Some of it is dark, and some of it isn't, but all of it tends to be weird. If you like fast-paced action, you may want to avoid this series, since it's got more of a slower, character-oriented story.
  • Other works by Satoshi Kon - If you want something weird and scary, where reality is bent and people aren't what they seem, try Kon's Perfect Blue (anime movie), about a Japanese pop idol who wants to become a movie star. She takes a very sleazy role that's not in keeping with her shiny pop idol image, and one of her fans feels very betrayed and begins stalking her. If you'd like weird and creepy mystery, try Kon's Paranoia Agent (anime TV series), in which two detectives are trying to track down a mysterious boy known only as Lil' Slugger. This show focuses a lot on the hidden lives of the people affected by Lil' Slugger. If you want something beautiful and crazy that's a little sweeter than the show and movie I just mentioned, try Kon's Millennium Actress (anime movie). This movie is about a guy trying to film a documentary about a famous and reclusive actress, whose life replays itself in an idealized movie-like fashion around them as she recounts it. Millennium Actress switches locations in much the same way that Paprika's dream world shifts locations.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Death at a Funeral (live action British movie)

Daniel's father has died, and all he wants to do is hold a nice, dignified funeral for him. However, things go wrong from the very beginning, and everything only gets worse. There are basically two main problems being dealt with by two groups of people who are desperately trying to keep everyone else at the funeral from finding out what's going on. One group tries to deal with a blackmailing dwarf who has pictures revealing a shocking secret about Daniel's father. Then there's Martha and Troy, who are trying to hide Martha's fiance's accidental pre-funeral hallucinogenic drug ingestion. In addition to the two main problems, which devolve into full nudity and potential death by the end of the movie, there's tons of minor ones, including angry old Uncle Alfie, a sleazy moron who won't leave Martha alone, a priest on a schedule, and more.

If I'm incorrect about this being a British movie, let me know, but it feels mostly British (some of the humor feels more American), despite the occasional American involved in its creation. Overall, I enjoyed this movie, although I didn't like the storyline involving the dwarf nearly as much as the storyline involving the drugs. The storyline involving the drugs was hilarious, while the dwarf storyline got very close to horrible by the end. I enjoy a lot of black comedy, but poop jokes followed immediately by body disposal plans did not hit all the right buttons for me. So many of the characters responded to farcical situations in ways that were both funny and realistic-feeling, that the immediate "let's figure out how to dispose of the body" response to a man who has just seriously injured himself and may be dead seemed off. I'm not sure what kind of response I would've preferred - maybe if they had just tried to hide the body, instead of attempting to get rid of it for good before they'd even considered calling a hospital?

I didn't watch all the extras for this movie, but I did watch some of them. The gag reel was mostly uninteresting, although I enjoyed the end of it. I came away with the impression that this movie must've taken a very long time to make, what with all the laughing. Then again, a lot of gag reels give you that impression. According to IMDb, the movie only took 7 weeks to film, but who knows if that's actually true. Never trust everything you hear or read, especially when it involves a site that can be edited by anyone who's done the free registration. I listened to a little of one of the commentary tracks, the one involving screenwriter Dean Craig and actors Alan Tudyk (Simon, Martha's fiancee) and Andy Nyman (Howard, the worrier who is unfortunate enough to have to deal with Uncle Alfie). It was fun to hear about some of the stuff that went on behind the scenes - those three are funny together. I didn't listen to any of director Frank Oz's commentary track, because hearing about a director's vision bores me.

As usual, there were a few previews, and none of those movies interested me very much. It takes a lot for me to make myself watch live action movies anymore, since I prefer animation, especially Japanese anime. With this movie, it took Alan Tudyk, who played Martha's fiancee and also played Wash in Firefly and Serenity, and it took off-color British humor.

Watch-alikes:
  • Waking Ned Devine (live action British movie) - Once again, let me know if this movie isn't actually British - the events take place in Ireland, so this may actually be an Irish movie for all I know. After Ned Devine dies of shock upon hearing that he's won the lottery, his entire village enters into a pact to pretend that he's still alive, have someone pose as him to get the money, and then split the money between everyone. If I remember right (it's been a few years since I've seen this), this comedy ends in a way that's actually very nice, considering how money-grubbing and awful my description makes everyone seem. If you liked the "death humor" in Death at a Funeral, you might like this movie.
  • Firefly (live action American TV series) - I don't think there's anything that actually happens in this series that is at all similar to this movie. However, the movie and the show do have actor Alan Tudyk in common, and I am unable to think of other similar movies besides Waking Ned Devine. Alan Tudyk pretty much steals the show in Death at a Funeral, and of all the actors and actresses in this movie I know him best, so I'm going to decide it's okay to add this show to the list just on the basis of a similar actor. Tudyk gets to be a little goofy in Firefly (he plays with dinosaurs), but it's not the non-stop goofiness of Death at a Funeral. In Firefly, Tudyk plays the pilot of a space ship with two former soldiers turned thieves, a trigger-happy thug, a preacher with a past, a doctor and his crazy sister, a cute mechanic, and a courtesan.

I try to only list similar movies I've already seen - since I don't watch a lot besides anime, there's a lot I haven't seen, which is why the above list is so short. Here's a couple links to slightly longer lists of similar movies. I don't think I've ever seen any of them, so I can't say if they're actually similar to this movie, and I can't say if they're any good. Watch them at your own discretion.

Ai Yori Aoshi (manga, vol. 1) by Kou Fumizuki

On his way to catch a train, Kaoru Hanabishi comes across a lost, naive young woman named Aoi. She's decided to find her childhood sweetheart and marry him, and she soon realizes that Kaoru is the one she was looking for. She becomes determined to stay with him and be his wife, but, unfortunately, her family won't hear of it. For the sake of her powerful family's reputation, she must marry someone from a family with similar standing. Kaoru was once the Hanabishi heir, and if this were still the case he could marry Aoi. However, things have changed since they were children, and Kaoru is determined never to go back to the Hanabishi family.

Aoi is what I imagine many young men's fantasies of the perfect woman are like. Although she's virginal, gentle, shy, and sweet-natured, she can become blushingly sexy at the drop of a hat, and she always knows just the right moment to become naked. I don't know any real women who are at all like her, but I suppose that's not the point. Judging by this first volume, Ai Yori Aoshi is romance for older teenage boys, and romance is often idealized.

Judging by Kou Fumizuki's page in Anime News Network, Ai Yori Aoshi is likely his first published series, and it shows. The way characters are drawn is inconsistent and sometimes a little off. Fumizuki uses what I personally think of as the "Escaflowne style of noses" - when you see characters a little in profile, their noses are long and sharp, with a little blunted bit. It's not a style I like, but I grew to like the story in Vision of Escaflowne enough that I got over my reaction to the noses. However I feel about the noses, Fumizuki does manage facial expressions pretty well, which is important for such an emotional series.

I think I'm too much of a woman to ever really like Ai Yori Aoshi - Aoi is too much of a sexy wet washcloth for me to like her, and Kaoru only barely starts getting developed by the end of the first volume. However, I can see why young guys might like this series. There's plenty of fanservice (in the form of nudity in the story, as well as provocative poses, nudity, and the suggestion of nipples through cloth on some of the chapter title pages), the cliched boob-grabbing joke you see pretty much everywhere in this genre, and the ordinary guy who gets the starry-eyed affection of a beautiful woman.

Read-alikes:
  • Oh My Goddess! (manga) by Kosuke Fujishima - Keiichi Morisato, a student at a technical university, accidentally calls a Goddess Help Line while attempting to call a restaurant for some take-out. A beautiful goddess named Belldandy shows up and tells him he can have one wish. He wishes for her to be his girlfriend forever, and things get more complicated from there. There are other goddesses who come calling throughout the series, magic goes awry, and magic is used to help people be happier. Oh My Goddess!, like Ai Yori Aoshi, is romance for guys, and some people are just as annoyed by Belldandy's unconditional love for Keiichi as I am by Aoi's love for Kaoru - I've heard her referred to as a doormat before. However, I find Belldandy much easier to swallow than Aoi. Although there's fanservice, it doesn't feel like Fujishima breaks established character personality traits in order to provide that fanservice. Of course, there's also less fanservice in this series than there is in Ai Yori Aoshi, so take your pick.
  • Love Hina (manga) by Ken Akamatsu - Keitaro Urashima has been trying to get into Tokyo University for two years because when he was a child he promised a girl that they could go there together, but he keeps failing the entrance exams. After he is kicked out of his parents' house he goes to live at his Grandmother's inn, which has apparently become an all-girls dorm. Keitaro becomes the dorm manager and gets into all kinds of trouble with the girls, including Naru Narusegawa, who has her own reasons for trying to get into Tokyo University. This is a classic harem manga - one ordinary, somewhat nerdy guy surrounded by lots of girls of all physical types and personalities (it's practically guaranteed that there's one to suit the tastes of any male reader) who tease and flirt with the ordinary guy. There's lots of nudity of the Barbie doll variety (loads of skin, but nobody has nipples or anything else more detailed) and, of course, the accidental boob grabbing jokes. Readers who liked the "childhood sweetheart rediscovered" aspect of Ai Yori Aoshi may like this series.
  • Video Girl Ai (manga) by Masakazu Katsura - Dejected because he's just given up the girl he loves to his best friend, Yota goes to a video store and comes away with something that he thinks is an X-rated video. When Yota tries to watch the video, Ai, a video girl, pops out of his TV. Video girls are supposed to comfort those who are pure of heart and in pain - unfortunately, Ai's video was defective, so she's flat-chested and foul-mouthed. However, even as she finds herself falling for Yota, she tries to match him up with the girl of his dreams. Readers who liked the "girl who will do anything for the ordinary guy she loves" aspect of Ai Yori Aoshi might like this series.
  • Chobits (manga) by CLAMP - This series takes place in the future, when most people have persocoms, robots that serve as computers and companions. Poor Hideki is a cram school student who came to Tokyo from the country, where far fewer people have persocoms. He doesn't have money for a persocom of his own, but he gets lucky and stumbles upon one that was left by a dumpster. Unfortunately, she seems to be broken, since she doesn't know how to do anything and all she can say is "Chi" (which is what he ends up naming her). As the series progresses, there are indications that Chi is special, but Hideki's biggest concern is figuring out how he feels about her. Should people really be caring for their persocoms to the exclusion of their relationships with other humans? If he really does care for Chi, where does that put Hideki? Like Ai Yori Aoshi, this series has lots of fanservice and a girl (or at least a girl-shaped robot) who would do anything for the ordinary guy she lives with, but there's also a lot in this series to inspire thought. Although I'm a woman and would've appreciated a few more male persocoms, I found this series to be lovely and sweet.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

From Dead To Worse (book) by Charlaine Harris

In this book, Sookie's got a lot to deal with (doesn't she always?). Her boyfriend, Quinn the weretiger, is still missing. She knows he's fine, but for some reason he's choosing not to contact her, and Sookie's afraid that this means he wants to break up with her and is just too chicken to do it. In a previous book (sorry, I can't remember which one), Sookie discovered that she's got a fairy somewhere in her family tree. Well, in this book she figures out exactly where in her family tree that fairy is located - and, yes, one of her magical relatives wants to have a closer relationship with her. While she's still reeling from this news, someone tries to kill her, and Eric, as usual, saves her. Did I mention that Eric is remembering more and more of his hot and steamy past with Sookie? Other previously begun storylines are also dealt with, including her brother's marriage, Alcide's place in the pack, Bob the cat, vampire politics after the Queen of Louisiana looses her legs, and probably more that I'm forgetting.

This is the 8th book in the Sookie Stackhouse series, and Charlaine Harris uses it to tie up (or at least partially tie up) loose ends from several prior books. Although Harris starts the book off with a quick reminder of where the 7th book left off, it is definitely not advisable to start the series with this book - you'll be miserably lost.

Despite being a telepathic barmaid, Sookie often seems very normal and out-of-place in the dangerous world of vampires, shapeshifters, and fairies. She tends to be nice to a fault, which means that a lot of her problems are the result of continuing to deal with people who don't treat her nearly as nicely in return. In fact, although I like Sookie enough that she's one of the main reasons I read this series, she's so nice that I could see someone hating her and this series just for that reason.

Although there are no romantic scenes in this book, unless you count the tension between Sookie and Eric (a Viking vampire) and her cheating vampire ex-boyfriend Bill's attempts to rekindle some kind of friendly relationship with her, many of Sookie's relationships get further developed (or even just started). I loved finding out more about Sookie's family, and I can't wait to read more about the new people introduced in this book. Vampires and werewolves show up, there's fighting (which Sookie, not being a fighter, is lucky to survive, especially without needing a trip to the hospital), and Sookie uses her gift, sometimes more casually than she once did but not nearly as often as she used to.

My biggest complaint about the book was that there were so many climactic-feeling battles that it felt like the ending was late in coming. However, the last two pages made up for that, at least in my opinion. I won't give any more details, in case, for some strange reason, someone reads this post before they've actually read the book.

Read-alikes:
  • Guilty Pleasures (book) by Laurell K. Hamilton - Anita Blake became a vampire executioner after new legislation made vampire hunting illegal. She's a full-time animator (as in "raiser of the dead", not "creator of animated cartoons") who helps the police out with crimes that might involve the supernatural. Guilty Pleasures is the first book in the series. I don't consider it the best book, and, since I started with Lunatic Cafe (the fourth book) and followed along well enough, I think it would be safe to start with something a little later in the series if you wanted. The first book focuses on vampires, the second on zombies, the third on vampires again, and the fourth on wereanimals. I probably wouldn't start the series much later than the fourth book, but I definitely wouldn't start it at the tenth book or beyond - at that point, the series changes and becomes much more graphically sexual. I mean, the sex really becomes almost pornographically, clinically graphic, and the comparison to pornography becomes stronger when you realize that a large portion of some of the books is just the sex scenes. Sookie and Eric's sex scenes are tame in comparison. Don't let that stop you from reading the first ten books, though. Early Anita is tough and smart - later Anita becomes a bit colder and harder.
  • Undead and Unwed (book) by MaryJanice Davidson - This is the first book in Davidson's Betsy Taylor series. Soon after losing her job, Betsy is killed, only to wake up as a vampire. Her mother is happy she's back, but this ruins her stepmother's day. Betsy finds herself taking on the evil Nostro, the head vampire, with the help of her wealthy friend, a young doctor, and yummy Sinclair (yet another vampire). Sinclair claims Betsy is the Queen of the Vampires, but Betsy understandably does not believe him - after all, her biggest joy is shoe shopping, and what kind of vampire queen goes ga-ga over shoes? This book's humor reminds me more of the earlier Sookie Stackhouse books, but it's still a good read-alike if you like From Dead To Worse. Although Betsy tends to be more self-centered than Sookie, when she takes the time to think about it she really does want to help others (particularly Nostro's downtrodden vamps). Then there's the romantic aspects, which don't get into full swing until later in the series, but can be as much fun as those in Sookie's books, although the only man in Betsy's life is Sinclair.
  • Storm Front (book) by Jim Butcher - Harry Dresden is the only wizard in the phone book, probably because most of the world doesn't believe magic really exists. When he's not handling cases for his detective agency, he's helping the police out with weird cases. Storm Front is the first book in the series, and in this book Harry is helping the police out with a case in which a couple has had their hearts blown out of their chests. Unfortunately, trying to solve the case gets Harry in a lot of trouble, since it brings him too close to black magic. All the books are told from Harry's perspective, similar to the Sookie Stackhouse books. Also, they're less steeped in sex than the recent Anita Blake books (at least, that's been my experience with the first four books in the series - I don't know where things have gone by now). Harry's got more fighting ability than Sookie, although he ends up getting banged up a lot, too.
  • One for the Money (book) by Janet Evanovich - All Stephanie Plum wants to do is make enough money to live on, but the world seems to be against her. Since she can't keep anything resembling a normal job, she ends up working for her cousin Vinny as a bounty hunter. After she gets herself a car, a gun, and a can of mace, she's considered ready to handle her first assignment. Stephanie is never really ready to handle any assignment, even 10 books or more into the series, but she gets things done anyway with her knowledge of the habits of Trenton, New Jersey's Italian population, gossip filtering through the Italian grapevine, and help from her friends. Morelli, the gorgeous cop who once took Stephanie's virginity, shows up in this book - I'm not sure if dark and mysterious Ranger shows up as well. Anyway, this series may not have any fantasy elements (I'm not counting the holiday-themed side stories), but it does have a sense of humor that helps to lighten up the scary bits (like Stephanie getting shot at, or her car getting blown up), a nice heroine who loves her family and isn't really built to handle all the dangerous stuff happening around her, and several gorgeous guys all after the same woman.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Errors cropping up

With some of my posts, I've noticed that I've cut and paste sections of text from one part of a post to another. I haven't been able to figure out how I'm managing to do this accidentally, but I think I've caught and fixed it every time it's happened. However, if you're reading this blog and notice an error like this somewhere, please let me know so that I can fix it. I try to read through my blog entries before I post them, but sometimes these errors have actually happened as I read through the posts.

Amazon Associates

I'm thinking of joining the Amazon.com Associates program. From the look of things, it wouldn't cost me anything and it would add extra functionality to this blog. Because this blog focuses on books, anime, and manga, things that could be bought through Amazon.com, it would be well-suited to this program. Also, despite the fact that the number of visitors I get to either of my blogs is very low, this would at least give me the chance to earn some money with this blog. Every little bit helps when you're unemployed, after all.

I do have a few concerns, though:
  • Is this sort of thing even allowed on Blogger? I don't know, although I've seen at least one Blogger blog that uses Associates links. I plan on looking through the user agreements just to make sure.
  • Would I be selling out? Even if I haven't managed to get employed as one, I'm a librarian at heart. If you find something that interests you in this blog, I think you should leave your bank account alone and go visit your local library. However, although I'm a big library user, I do buy books. I can't add a link to everyone's public library catalogs, but I can add links to Amazon.com. Also, being unemployed, I don't think this question is one I should even have to consider.
  • What if the item would be cheaper elsewhere? I've bought lots of stuff on Amazon.com, but there are some things that I feel are almost guaranteed to be cheaper elsewhere. For instance, if I know I'm going to be buying at least $50 worth of anime or manga (something that won't be happening for a long time, depending on how my job search goes), I prefer to shop at Rightstuf.com. Because they focus on anime, manga, and related products, they have better deals than Amazon.com. However, I don't think that site has its own Associates-like program.
  • What about my Anime News Network links? So far, I think all of my anime and manga links are to Anime News Network pages. If I join the Associates program, should I replace those links with Amazon.com links? I know I'd be tempted to, but the Anime News Network pages provide much more information (like how long the series is, who was involved in it, etc.). Amazon.com pages are great for single books, but when it comes to anime and manga I'm usually recommending an entire series, beginning with volume 1. I feel like my links should lead to information about the entire series, not just the first volume of that series.

Once Upon a Time in the North (book) by Philip Pullman

This book (novella?) takes place about 35 years before the events in Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy. Having recently won a hot air balloon, Lee Scoresby and his rabbit daemon, Hester, fly to a place called Novy Odense in the hopes of finding someone in need of an aeronaut. What they find is a politician running on an anti-bear platform and a ship's captain in a bad situation. Lee, being the all-around great guy and adventurer that he is, helps out the people who need and deserve him most (i.e., the good guys) with thoughtful honesty, fast lying, and good shooting. This is also the first time he meets the bear Iorek Byrnison.

If you've stayed away from Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy because you were worried about the potentially anti-Christian aspects, or if you didn't want to deal with some of the heavy philosophical bits, then you're in luck - there's none of that here. This story is mostly just a vehicle for Lee, a likable character from the trilogy, to reappear for some adventure. If you really wanted to find a reason to hate this book, you might be able to argue that the politician is symbolic of Senator/Congressman/Mayor/Etc. So-and-so and it's an unfairly negative presentation. However, unless you decide to do something like that, this really isn't all that controversial. Lee is very attracted to and flirts with a young woman, and there's some bloody (but not gorily described) gunfighting, so I wouldn't recommend that the very young read this, but it's not going to possibly rock anyone's religious boat either.

Now that that's out of the way, here are some of the reasons to like this book. If you've actually read the His Dark Materials trilogy, you'll enjoy the appearance of two characters from the trilogy - Iorek and Lee Scoresby. You get to find out how Lee and Iorek first met, and what each of them was like when they were younger. The book also includes "reproductions" of letters, book pages, etc., that make Lee's world and his story seem even more like something that actually happened. Although almost everything in the book is from 35 years before the trilogy, the last few "reproductions" are from after the trilogy - letters from Lyra and the form she filled out to submit her dissertation. That's right, Lyra's apparently being a good, scholarly girl now.

If you haven't read the trilogy, you might not feel as much connection to the events and characters, but you may still like this book for Lee's fast-talking and the gun-fighting action. Also, the weirdness of an anti-bear political campaign should be a draw - the trilogy gives much more information about the bears, but, if you don't know about them, this aspect of the story should be nicely mysterious and maybe even funny. Lee doesn't know about the bears either, and his reaction to the idea of talking bears is amusing.

Oh, also, this book apparently includes a board game, but since I got my copy from the public library the board game has been removed. I can't say whether the game is enjoyable or not.

Read-alikes:
  • The Airman by Eoin Colfer - Conor Broekhart wants nothing more than to design flying machines and take to the air himself. However, young Conor is imprisoned after he is falsely accused of the murder of King Nick. In the coming years, he plans his elaborate and dangerous escape - but what will he do after that? Like Lee, Conor lives for the air. Although this book is a bit slower than Once Upon a Time in the North, it's got its own tense moments, action, and planning. I originally listened to the audio version of this, and the reader did an excellent job, so if you like audio books I'd suggest trying this one out.
  • Firefly (live action American TV series) - A motley group flies through space looking for work. Most of what they do is illegal (like stealing), but if it gets them money they don't mind so much. It's a bit like a Western in space. I know, I know, this isn't a book, but I'm trying to stick with things I've read or seen when I come up with these lists, and I don't read much adventure. Besides, the captain, Mal, at his gun-toting, fast-talking best reminds me a little of Lee Scoresby.
  • The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman - If you enjoyed Once Upon a Time in the North and you haven't read the His Dark Materials trilogy yet, you should, starting with The Golden Compass. You may not agree with the things Pullman has to say about religion, and the philosophical aspects might be a little daunting, but that doesn't mean this isn't a fun series. In the first book, a young girl, Lyra, and her daemon go on a journey in order to figure out why children are going missing. She is aided by the many friends she makes along the way, as well as a mysterious alethiometer, which can answer just about any question if you can figure out how to use it.
  • Fullmetal Alchemist (manga) by Hiromu Arakawa - Two young brothers pay a horrible price when they break the most important rule of alchemy - the law of equivalent exchange - by trying to bring their mother back from the dead. Since that time, the brothers have been trying to find the Philosopher's Stone, hoping it can help them restore their bodies and undo the damage they have done. As in Once Upon a Time in the North, this takes place in an alternate world that occasionally feels like our world as it might have been several decades ago. There's plenty of danger and action, although this series has a decent amount of introspection, as well. Both the manga and the anime are good, although the anime differs greatly from the manga after a certain point.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Tekkonkinkreet (anime movie) - Watch-alikes

Well, I watched Tekkonkinkreet for the fourth time, in English again. Then I watched parts of it for the fifth time, this time with the commentary track on. As it turns out, the Japanese cast's relative inexperience in anime voice acting was actually something the director had done on purpose. From the sounds of things, this movie was a first (or near first) for many people - the director's first time directing, the group Plaid's first time doing a soundtrack, etc. It really is amazing that the movie got done, much less got done so well.

Anyway, as I was watching it for the fourth time, I tried to come up with a list of similar movies and TV shows. I can't think of anything that's really like Tekkonkinkreet, since it's very much unlike anything I tend to gravitate towards, but I did think up a list of movies and shows with at least a few aspects in common with this movie.

Watch-alikes:
  • Tokyo Godfathers (anime movie) - On Christmas Eve, three of Tokyo's homeless (a middle-aged drunkard, a teenage girl with an attitude, and a cross-dresser) find an abandoned baby. The cross-dresser, Hana, has always wanted a baby and vows to take care of this one as though it were "her" own - in Hana's head, they'd be like a family, with the drunkard as the father, Hana as the mother, and the teenager as the older sister. Hana gets talked out of this idea easily enough, but insists that they find the baby's mother. Although there's a little bit of violence (some guys beating up homeless people for kicks), it's a pretty heart-warming movie. The biggest thing it's got in common with Tekkonkinkreet is the homeless people and a small bit with, if I remember right, a hallucination that interrupts reality. Since the director, Satoshi Kon, was also responsible for the (much darker) reality-bending Perfect Blue, it's a bit surprising that there's only one "weird bit."
  • Paranoia Agent (TV series) - In this series, a mysterious kid with a bent golden bat is going around attacking people. Two detectives are investigating, trying to stop him, but their investigation uncovers a lot of strangeness. There's still something about the artwork in this show that reminds me of Tekkonkinkreet, although most people probably wouldn't agree with me. I think it's got something to do with the crazy happy smiles in the opening credits. Anyway, for the most part this series is a bit creepy, dark, and strange, although some of the episodes are darkly humorous. Some of the things that get uncovered about the characters remind me of Tekkonkinkreet. For instance, one woman discovers a hidden dark side of herself, another personality, that reminds me of Black's discovery of his dark side. Also, if you liked the aspects of Tekkonkinkreet that inspire additional thought and analysis, you might like this watch-alike best out of the four I've listed.
  • Kakurenbo (anime movie) - This short film centers around a mysterious game only kids can play, a game of hide-and-seek in which everyone who plays disappears. If I had to pick a genre for this, I'd say something like dark horror or suspense. The CG aspects of this film are, in my opinion, more obvious than those in Tekkonkinkreet, although that doesn't mean it's not a good-looking film. In Tekkonkinkreet, Treasure Town is almost another character, and so is the dark and sinister town in this film. The detail on the buildings also reminds me of Treasure Town, although Treasure Town is more of an explosion of color than this town is. If your favorite part of Tekkonkinkreet was the action scenes, especially the scenes involving the alien assassins, then this film might be a good fit. It's got persistent and scary demons.
  • Moon Child (live action Japanese movie) - This movie focuses on the relationship, over time, between Sho (a street child) and Kei (a vampire damned to walk the earth forever). Their friendship becomes strained as they both fall for the same woman, but they reunite years later. This film is most enjoyable if you already like the Japanese pop/rock stars who play the main characters - Gackt is Sho and Hyde is Kei. If you don't know who they are, or even if you do, you might find this movie to be a bit too cheesy, but get a group of friends together to watch it and I'm sure you'll still have fun. I chose this as a watch-alike because of the friendship theme, the presence of yakuza, the messed up reality bits (courtesy of a drug trip), and the action scenes. Also, the place Sho lives has some of the corrupt, yakuza-run feel of Treasure Town, although it's not nearly as gleeful about it as Treasure Town can be.
Well, that's about as far as I'm going to stretch trying to think up watch-alikes.

Heh, as I was setting up the links in this post, I realized that Satoshi Kon was not only the director and person who came up with the original story for Tokyo Godfathers, he also did the same things for Paranoia Agent. Basically, this list is 50% a Satoshi Kon list.

More on manga author/artist labels

I know it's only been a couple days, and I said I'd wait a month, but I'm getting closer and closer to deciding to just scrap the manga authors and artists labels. They clutter things up a great deal and there aren't that many manga authors I've read where I've read more than one or two of their works. CLAMP is probably one of the biggest exceptions, mainly because they're incredibly prolific. What I might do, instead of having the manga author and artist labels, is occasionally write posts that focus on specific authors and artists and the works by them that I have experience with. For instance, instead of having a label for Takeshi Obata, as well as title labels for Hikaru no Go and Death Note, I could just have the title labels. Then, once I'd written the post for Obata, that post would use the Hikaru no Go and Death Note labels, linking them together anyway.

For novels, I'd still want author labels, but not title labels. I usually read many books by one author, and there are many titles out there that are similar or the same, so it would be better and more efficient to just have the author labels - if Blogger allowed for collapsible hierarchies, I could do both, but it doesn't, so I'll need to do the next best thing.

I'm still not sure what I'd do if I were dealing with graphic novels, like one of the Sandman books, or a Superman collection, or one of the Flight anthologies. I might decide to ignore those altogether, since it's not like I read many. Manga are my main graphic reading materials, and that's how it's been for several years.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Dragon Drive (manga, vol. 1) by Ken-ichi Sakura

Reiji Ozora doesn't play video games because there's never been a video game that he's really gotten hooked on. That doesn't stop his friend Maiko from forcing him to try a new game called Dragon Drive. Each player is given a mobile and a card with dragon on it that matches the player's physical abilities (a machine computes your stats and spits out the card). Then, when you're in the virtual world, you fight other players and their dragons with your own dragon - your dragon levels up as it beats other dragons. At least, that's how it's all supposed to work, but Reiji's dragon is pathetic. The first time he sees it, it's asleep, and it has a fighting ability of zero. However, this is a game-based shonen manga, so of course things are not as bad as they seem. His dragon is tougher than its stats indicate (which is impossible, according to the game designers), but Reiji doesn't seem to have good control over it yet. He'd better learn quickly, though, because all the toughest players are starting to notice him, as are some of the people in charge of the game.

This series shows some definite promise, so I'll be getting more volumes once my library orders them. I'm hoping that future volumes allow for Reiji and his dragon, Chibi, to develop a decent friendship, rather than just focusing on the fighting, but, considering that this is a shonen manga, I'm guessing Chibi will mostly just be a mysterious and occasionally funny tool for battle, rather than a friend with a gradually developing and evolving personality.

If this game actually existed in real life in the same way it does in the manga, I guarantee people would be lined up for days to play it. I know I would. That aspect is part of what makes this manga fun. You get to imagine what it would be like having a virtual dragon that's matched specifically to your stats. The dragons themselves are also interesting. There's a bit of humor, too, but that aspect won't be enough to keep me reading this series. I'm interested to see if Sakura will be able to improve this series and continue to make it appealing beyond the things I just mentioned, or if it will stagnate.

Read-alikes:
  • Hikaru no Go by Yumi Hotta (art by Takeshi Obata) - This is another game-based manga, although the game in this case is a board game and real. When describing the game Go, people often bring up Othello, although those two games are not the same. Hikaru, like Reiji, doesn't originally want to play the game he gets roped into playing, but the ghost bugging Hikaru won't leave him alone. Hikaru gets started with Go and gets hooked, and readers get to follow along as he gets better and better. Like Reiji, Hikaru starts off mysteriously good, but that's because he has the help of Sai, a deceased Go instructor.
  • Pokemon - I'm not a big Pokemon watcher. In fact, I don't think I've ever seen an entire episode. I imagine the show was probably a bit better in the original Japanese, although maybe not by much. However, the little Pokemon remind me of the dragons in Dragon Drive. They don't get the kind of development human characters do, but their human masters see them as friends. The human Pokemon masters pit their Pokemon against each other to see who's stronger, once again just like the dragons.
  • Angelic Layer by CLAMP - I've never read this, but I've heard a lot about it over the years, enough to think that it sounds similar to Dragon Drive. In this manga, the main character is a 12-year-old girl named Misaki. The game here is called Angelic Layer, and players battle it out with little dolls. Even though she's a newbie, Misaki becomes a strong competitor.
You could probably consider any game-based or competition filled manga a read-alike for this series, but I think this is all I'll list for now.

Labels - Manga authors

I'm thinking of deleting all the manga author labels. If there's a manga author label, there's a corresponding manga/anime title label, and the title label is more likely to include everything than the author label. Also, I'm not really sure if manga readers are more likely to identify works by author or by title, although I'm thinking that "by title" is a good possibility. Getting rid of the manga author labels would considerably shrink my list, but I originally decided to include them because those labels would provide access to all their works. Still, the title labels provide access to both manga and anime posts, whereas the author labels just provide access to posts specifically referring to manga. Gah, I'm going in circles.

Well, maybe I'll let it go for a month or so, and then see what I should do. True, after a month it's going to take more work to get rid of all of those labels, but I think it's easier to get rid of them, even if there are a lot of them, than it is to put them back if I decide I want to keep them.

Shaman King (manga, vol. 16) by Hiroyuki Takei

I've read up to volume 16 of Shaman King. In this volume, the Shaman Fight continues and Hao royally pounds one of the shaman teams into bits. There's also a revelation about the exact nature of Yoh's relationship with Hao - we've already found out that they're related, but now we discover just how closely related they really are. Oh, and I have to say, Hiroyuki Takei has included the ugliest baby imaginable in this volume. It's like a little goblin or something. Also, I think Lady Jeanne, the flaggelant who goes overboard by living inside an Iron Maiden, has a bit of a crush on Yoh, which is weird and a little creepy.

With most manga, I would suggest starting from the first volume, if possible, or from as early a volume as you can find if the first isn't possible. Starting at volume 16 with Shaman King would be a bad idea, and if you end up not liking this manga (or any other that you don't start with an early volume), it's not necessarily because the manga is bad.

In some ways, I kind of liked the early Shaman King volumes the best, before the Shaman Fight started and things began to look like Yu Yu Hakusho (Yoshihiro Togashi) or something. In fact, if you do like the Shaman Fight volumes, I would suggest trying Yu Yu Hakusho. I liked the idea, in the early volumes, of a young shaman-in-training who attends school like everyone else, even though he likes to hang out in cemeteries and can see ghosts. As the series was then, it looked like Bleach (Tite Kubo) for the younger set, only with a much more laid back hero. However, I am interested in seeing how things go with Hao, and whether there will be any revelations about Hao's motivations that will rock Yoh's and his friends' world.

Fast Women (book) by Jennifer Crusie

After Nell Dysart divorced her husband of 22 years, she lost her appetite for everything. Because her friends, Suze and Margie, are worried about her, she gets a job as a secretary at Gabe McKenna's detective agency. Of course, Gabe's biggest clients are also all the men who are or once were in Nell and her friends lives, so it's not like she's getting too fresh a start. Gabe's agency starts looking into a blackmail case involving those men, and things start getting very complicated.

This makes it sound like the book is mostly about Nell and Gabe, but it's not. There's Riley, Gabe's partner in the agency, who's been pining over Suze for years. Of course, she doesn't even know he exists, and she's married. Things start getting rocky with her husband (Jack) because he wants her to stay home and look pretty and not go out, get a job, and have a life that doesn't involve him in every aspect - by the way, Suze was once "the other woman" when Jack was married to his second wife. Then there's Margie, who's dating a guy named Budge. Margie drinks a lot because Budge wants her to marry him and that's not what she wants to do. Technically, she's still married to her husband, who left years ago and may be dead, but if she declares him dead then she won't have a convenient excuse for turning down Budge. Also, back to Nell and Gabe, it's not like things are going perfectly for them either. Nell and Gabe fight a lot (and have a lot of make-up sex, but that's not the point) because they're both stubborn as hell. Gabe doesn't want any changes in his life and his agency, and Nell wants to redo everything at the agency and sees any sort of giving in as allowing him to use her as a doormat. Remember, however, the Nell is the secretary, and really, truly should be getting Gabe's approval and input before changing things and replacing furniture instead of railroading over him.

Granted, I haven't read many Jennifer Crusie books (I think this is my fifth one), but I'm used to her books being funny, romantic, and frequently heart-tugging and exasperating at the same time. I'm not used to her characters being annoying, rigid, and generally unlikeable, which is how I viewed the characters in this book most of the time. Basically, Riley came off as the most emotionally healthy character, and he was the one dealing with his feelings for Suze by dating/sleeping with anything female (like an undergrad, or Nell). Gabe's resistance to change was understandable, at first, but it got really annoying when he continued to resist even though changes that made sense. Nell acted like a bulldozer in Gabe's agency, and (because of her divorce) she was left with the impression that giving in a little is the same as letting yourself get walked on. Suze is a doormat who thinks she needs a man in her life in order to be complete, and she feels this so wholeheartedly that she's willing to give up having a life of her own in order to have a man around. At first I thought Margie was a bimbo, but it turns out that she was just a perpetual drunk with no tact.

None of these characters started to feel like people I'd actually want to get to know until maybe 50 pages before the ending of this 400+ page book. This wasn't the enjoyable, relaxing reading experience I was expecting when I plucked a book with "Crusie" on the cover off of a public library bookshelf. In her dedication, Crusie wrote "For Valerie Taylor, because she tells me when my scenes are boring, my syntax is twisted, and my characters are jerks..." Apparently, Ms. Taylor had her work cut out for her if this is the characters after they were made to be less like jerks, and maybe she should have also been working on telling Crusie to make her characters less like wet washcloths.

I don't think romance novel couples have to be perfect and have perfect relationships in order for them to be fun to read about. I do like for there to be something pleasant about their relationships, though. In addition, it probably didn't help (for me, anyway) that all or most of the characters were older than the usual romance novel age, which means they were old enough to be my parents. For example, I think Nell's son was a little over 20.

So, if I disliked the book this much, why did I keep reading it?
  • Jennifer Crusie wrote it, so I was hoping it would get better.
  • Some of the information about china that Suze, Nell, and Margie were talking about sounded interesting, even if I think Crusie could've edited those bits down more. The Walking Ware and Running Ware sounded like fun, though.
  • Marlene, the dachshund, was interesting. My family has a dachshund, and, even though he doesn't flirt and act abused for biscuits, he does flirt for belly rubs.

Tekkonkinkreet (anime movie)

In Tekkonkinkreet, two acrobatic, fast, and dangerous street urchins named Black and White (or Kuro and Shiro, if you're watching it in Japanese) roam Treasure Town. Yakuza and alien thugs come into the picture, and Black and White's relatively stable lives suddenly get dark and dangerous. Child-like White (who is 11 but acts younger, and strange) balances violent Black (not sure how old he is, but he acts much more mature, and he can take a Yakuza thug in a fight), and vice versa - but what happens if the two of them have to be separated?

I saw this in my library's catalog and thought something about the title seemed like it might be Japanese, despite the non-Japanese name of the director (Michael Arias). When I actually looked at the record, there was a little list of Japanese voice actors, so I figured I might as well put it on hold. When it came in, I was a little disappointed - yes, it turned out to be anime, but the art style was not the kind of thing I am usually drawn to. In fact, the kids on the cover look a bit creepy. Their smiles make me think of characters in Paranoia Agent, a creepy (but good) anime. I wasn't really sure I wanted to watch this movie, but it was from the library and therefore free, and it's not like I didn't have the time.

It's a good movie, although it takes a while before it becomes edge-of-your-seat good. The action scenes are wonderful - the animators did a great job depicting fluid, fast movement. The relationship between Black and White is very interesting. I loved the bit where White is trying to explain it and says that he and Black's hearts are broken and need screws, but White has all the screws Black needs and Black has all the screws White needs. Black watches over White and makes sure he doesn't get killed (heck, Black even dresses White, since he doesn't do it himself), and White's presence keeps Black from going out and just beating up or killing everything messing with Treasure Town (another name for this place could be Seedyville).

The first time I watched it, I used the English dub. The second time I watched it, I used the Japanese dub with subtitles. The third time, I went back to the English dub. The Japanese voices and subtitles are good (I've seen officially released anime with misspelled subtitles, so it's worth saying it when subtitles are actually decent). However, the Japanese cast was not, for me, as recognizable as the English cast. If you look in Anime News Network, many of the Japanese voice actors have only been in a handful of other things, and I don't think I recognized any of them. That doesn't mean they're not recognizable voice actors in Japan or even here - they're just not people I recognize.

The English voice cast is a different story. We've got Kamali Minter as White, who played Riku in Blood+ - I think he (she? - not sure if this is actually a child actor, or if it's a woman who's really good at child voices) actually did a better job in this movie than in Blood+. Scott Menville plays Black - I didn't recognize him from anime, but I do recognize him as Robin from Teen Titans. David Lodge wonderfully voices Suzuki - he's also Zaraki Kenpachi (the name order I'm used to, sorry) in Bleach, and Jiraiya in Naruto, so if you watch the Cartoon Network or Adult Swim you might have heard him. Yuri Lowenthal voices Dawn, a minor character - he also voices Sasuke in Naruto, Suzaku in Code Geass, and Yuri in Kyo Kara Maoh!. Stephen Jay Blum, of Cowboy Bebop fame (I feel a bit dorky saying that, but, darn it, it's true), has a small part as a doctor. That's not the whole cast, but you probably get the idea. (Actually, Anime News Network doesn't list the whole English voice cast, and I couldn't find them in the movie credits - then again, the text was so small I might've just missed it.)

It's not only a fairly prolific and decently well-known cast, it's also a well-cast cast. I love David Lodge's Suzuki so much that the Japanese Suzuki couldn't really measure up, even though he wasn't bad. Rick Gomez, who played Kimura, managed to sound like he was really, truly holding back sobs when the movie called for it - I was impressed, especially after I remembered the first episode of English-dubbed Naruto, when Iruka (voiced by Quinton Flynn) cries and it sounds horribly fake compared to the heart-breaking original Japanese version (voiced by Toshihiko Seki) that was so good it brought me to tears. This is a great-sounding English dub - and, no, I don't consider that to be an oxymoron. If you do, you probably haven't listened to a lot of the recent English dubs coming out. Although there's still a few that make me cringe, there's plenty out there that are at least as good as the original Japanese.

The Japanese track is good, the English dub is good (I prefer it over the Japanese, because I like how some of the characters sound better in English - also, I get to see all the action without having to read subtitles, too), the action is fun and often amazing, and the soundtrack is dreamy. The story occasionally gets weird, since White's view of the world is a little funky and tends to leak into reality, and Black, when he's crazy, also has some reality leakage issues. Overall, though, the movie was enjoyable and I hope to buy it when I can afford to.

I didn't watch all the extras, but I did watch the "making of" featurette. It was a bit harrowing, and probably would have been more so if I hadn't seen similar scenes in the "making of" extra on the Fullmetal Alchemist movie DVD. Michael Arias, the director, is an American who's lived in Japan for about 17 years. This is his directorial debut in anime or anything else, and, if some of the scenes in this featurette are anything to go by, this may be the last time he's ever director of an anime. With maybe a couple months to go, the movie was very bad and not even close to finished. According to one person, everyone in Japan's entire animation industry ended up pitching in to help get this thing finished. Arias held his ground over how he wanted to do a 10-second bit of animation, which apparently held things up pretty badly. At one point, a bunch of people, including Arias, were at a table discussing the badness of the movie. Arias smiled a little, a nervous smile, I think, and one of the people at the table (a producer, maybe? I can't remember) told him that this was not a laughing matter. It was a little embarrassing and uncomfortable to watch. I'm amazed that this movie actually got finished.

Friday, May 23, 2008

The Time Traveler's Wife (book) - Read-alikes

I can't help thinking about appeal factors and potential read-alikes when I read things. My "readers' advisory for adults" class in library school has done that to me. I had to read Joyce G. Saricks' Readers' Advisory Service in the Public Library - an excellent book that made me more systematically consider how to come up with potential read-alikes. This post will go over some of the appeal factors of The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, as well as some potential read-alikes. I can't do this sort of detailed post for everything I read and watch, because it takes way too much time and I read way too much, but I'll try to do it whenever I can.

Pacing:
The pacing is engrossing and compelling. As the story progresses, Claire and Henry's past and future is revealed in bits and pieces. However, it should also be noted that some people may be bored by the pacing - Niffenegger spends a lot of time talking about things like Claire's art, the music Henry likes, Claire's miscarriages, etc.

Characterization:
The characters, especially Henry and Claire, are very well-developed and realistic. These are not perfect people, and their relationship has its rocky moments. Henry was a heavy drinker and drug user before he met Claire and started to change himself, and he was also a bit of a jerk who could've treated his girlfriend better. I can't really think of any of Claire's faults, other than maybe a certain obliviousness and weakness when it comes to Gomez, a friend who wanted to be more than a friend, despite being in a relationship with Claire's best female friend. Although minor characters don't get nearly the same level of detailed treatment, they are just as believable as Henry and Claire. There's the self-destructive and probably insightful Ingrid, Gomez, the anti-capitalist who's friends with Claire and Henry, and more. Although it's possible to sum many of these characters up with a few words, there's never a feeling that these few words are all these characters are. Instead, it feels as though these are fully-developed people who just don't have a chance, within the constraints of this story, to reveal all their hidden corners.

Storyline:
This book is very character centered. The things that happen to them are real-life and everyday, if your life and days are affected by involuntary time travel. The story is told through snippets from either Henry or Claire's perspectives, with careful notes about what day it is and what Claire and Henry's ages are at the beginning of each snippet. As things progress, you see more of Claire and Henry's thoughts and feelings as they try to live their lives and be together, despite Henry's condition. The story is also thought-provoking. You can't help but think about the picture Niffenegger paints of time travel - it feels like a real-life thing and makes you think about how something like this might affect real-life people. It can also lead to discussions about real-life situations that are a little like Henry and Claire's experiences. For instance, Claire's constant waiting for Henry is a little like a military wife whose husband can be deployed at any moment. Then he's gone, and there's the waiting for a homecoming or for some sign that he has died.

Frame and tone:
The setting is very detailed and was one of the main reasons I started the book. I was going to Chicago to take part in a program at the Newberry Library - this book is set in Chicago and Henry works at the Newberry Library. The streets Niffenegger mentions all exist, and it's fun to read this book after having been in the Newberry Library. Since it's a closed stack library, it really is possible for someone like Henry to walk around in the stacks naked without anybody noticing. In addition to the location, events take place mostly between the 1970s and 2008 - that wasn't as big a deal to me as the whole Chicago thing, so I'm not sure if the story felt as grounded in its times as it felt, to me, like it was grounded in its places. There's a lot of foreshadowing in the book, so, despite some lovely happy moments (and the occasional funny moment), there's a sense of impending tragedy.

Style:
By itself, each snippet is written in a way that seems perfect for the character - Henry has times when he muses about things and feels a little darker, young Claire has rambling run-on sentences, and older Claire is introspective. Claire and Henry's time-lines intersect in a way that seems natural and beautifully done. I still find myself wondering how Niffenegger managed it - did she have a huge chart or something?

Read-alikes:

Now for the good stuff. This list is, of course, not exhaustive. Unless I say otherwise, I'm listing these as read-alikes because I've read them and I know that there are aspects in these books that are similar to this one. If you want more than what I've listed here, try the Hennepin County Library's If You Liked list - I haven't read many of the books on the list, so I'm hesitant to use them in my list, but the annotations are great.
  • Outlander by Diana Gabaldon - In Claire Randall's present it is 1945 and she is married to a man named Frank. However, she gets transported back to 1743, where she meets Frank's evil British ancestor and ends up becoming the lover (and maybe wife, I can't remember) of James Fraser, a Scot. It's a long book (over 600 pages), partially because Gabaldon loves including details - the stuff Claire learns about healing in 1743 is fascinating. It's doesn't have tons of back-and-forth time travel, but it does have people realistically trying to think through some complicated relationships.
  • Second Glance by Jodi Picoult (I haven't read this - this is mentioned in the Fiction_L Archives, and I read up on it in Amazon.com - it sounds like a good match and I wouldn't mind reading it myself eventually) - Like The Time Traveler's Wife, the characters in this book are vivid and well-developed. After his beloved Aimee dies, Ross Wakeman repeatedly attempts suicide. He eventually gets drawn into an investigation of a piece of land that might be an old Indian burial ground. There's a large cast of characters woven into this elaborate story. It sounds like there's love, explorations of events in the past and present that are intertwined, and mysterious goings-on, all in an engrossing story.
  • A Knight in Shining Armor by Jude Deveraux - This is a more traditional romance novel than The Time Traveler's Wife. Dougless is vacationing in England with her lover, Robert, and his spoiled teenage daughter when he decides to abandon her. Nicholas Stafford, an earl from the 1560s finds her and she ends up on an adventure with him to restore his good name. She spends some time in his time period, while he spends some time in hers, so both of them have to deal with unusual circumstances. The ending is not what I have come to think of as the usual, predictable time travel romance ending. It's got the "love across time" aspect, like The Time Traveler's Wife, and it's not entirely the usual time travel romance, so it may hit the spot. This is not, however, literary fiction, so keep that in mind. It's been a few years since I read this, but I remember it being the first time travel romance I ever enjoyed. On a funny note, the back of my 1989 paperback copy has Dougless' name misspelled every single time.
  • The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde - It's been ages since I read it, and I spent most of my time desperately trying to keep up with as many of the literary references as I could (I ended up feeling less than literate, since my tastes run to the current, not the classic), so bear with me. Although it's not complicated in the same way as The Time Traveler's Wife, it's still complicated. In an alternate universe's England, Thursday Next is an operative in the Literary Division of Special Operations Network. Thursday is trying to stop a dastardly criminal who is damaging cherished literature by stealing characters from the original manuscripts, thus changing all the available copies of those works. You don't really have to know the works Fforde refers to, but it probably adds a level of fun if you do. This book kind of sounds like something Claire and Henry might read and discuss together. I think of this as a "literary mystery" or maybe just "literary fiction."

The Time Traveler's Wife (book) by Audrey Niffenegger

This book centers on two characters: Henry DeTamble, a man whose messed up genes cause him to unintentionally time travel, and Claire, the woman who eventually becomes his wife. Claire has known Henry since she was six and he appeared naked in front of her (when he travels, nothing that is not a part of him goes with him). Henry has known Claire since he was 28 (although he had, in fact, met her when he was younger, but hadn't realized it). Claire becomes so important to Henry that much of his unintentional time traveling starts to center around her, sending him back to her past. Claire's childhood is filled with Henry, which later prompts her to seek him out using clues that he gave her. It's a very circular relationship that will hurt your head if you think about it too much. I know, because it has hurt mine, even though I love this book.

Well before the end of the book, there are many signs that things are going to end badly for Henry. It made it very difficult for me to finish the book, because I'd started to like Henry and Claire, and I didn't want to see them suffer. Still, I needed to know how things ended, so I kept on going. The result is that I cried, loved the book, and didn't touch it again until recently, when my book discussion group decided to read this book during one of our Sci-fi months. I know, I know, this book isn't really science fiction, but no one in the group reads much science fiction, so we've been having problems coming up with decent science fiction books by authors the group hasn't already read.

Almost everyone enjoyed it. The one person (technically two people, but the second person couldn't make it to the discussion) who didn't said that this was because she couldn't get over the "creepiness" of it all. I can understand this. Henry is a grown man continuously visiting his wife during her childhood. As she hits her teens, she indicates that she's interested in him and he resists her, until he eventually sleeps with her (she's 18, he's 40, I think).

The one person's argument was that Henry and Claire's relationship was icky not just because of the age difference while they were meeting, but also because Henry never chose to stop the ickiness by not approaching Claire and not giving her a list of the dates he would be there. She doesn't think Henry gave Claire much of a choice about how her future would turn out. Although I can see the ick factor, I have a problem with this argument. I believe that neither Claire nor Henry had a choice. Once again, this brings up the whole paradox thing. Henry couldn't help but travel back to meet Claire, because he'd already traveled back to meet Claire. It had already happened, and it wasn't something he could undo. He gave her the dates he would reappear because that's what happened.

Eh, I need to quit thinking about time travel and whether or not it's possible to not do something that's already been done. It makes my head hurt too much. Anyway, this book is good and heart-rending. Don't let the cover blurbs make you pass this by - I always cringe at reading something where the over blurb says something like "beautifully crafted", because I think people who write blurbs as though they are mini-literature are probably full of themselves, which implies that the book might be full of itself, too.
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