Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Earl and Fairy (anime TV series) on... um...

Ok, ok, so I watched this on YouTube. Terrible of me, I know. I can't say it's the best show - it's too short (only 12 episodes) and there's no chance for anything to get properly developed - but... there's something compelling about it. Actually, it's probably just my inner fan girl going, "Ooh, romance and gorgeous guys! Wheee!" Yep, I'm shallow like that. Still, if that was all it took for me to fall in love with something, I'd have fallen in love with La Corda D'Oro, a show filled with gorgeous guys, and that one couldn't capture my interest even after 4 episodes. Earl and Fairy (Hakushaku to Yousei) had me almost as soon as Edgar first met Lydia.

Synopsis:

This story is set primarily in Victorian England. Lydia Carlton is a fairy doctor, someone who acts as sort of a mediator between humans and fairies. She's spent her life being ridiculed and mocked for her belief in fairies, because no one can see them but her. That, combined with her belief that she isn't particularly pretty (she says her hair is the color of rust and she doesn't think her green eyes are very pretty), makes it hard for her to believe that someone like Edgar could really be interested in her.

And, at first, he isn't, not really. Edgar needs a fairy doctor in order to find the Sword of Merrow - if he can claim that, he can become the Blue Knight Earl. Having been branded a slave after the death of his parents, gaining a respectable title and a place of his own is very important to him. Lydia isn't so sure it's wise to help him, but she's too kind to leave him behind. In the end, Edgar gets the sword, and Lydia assumes things are done between them. However, Edgar has become more and more attracted to her. Plus, without Lydia by his side, he could never hope to communicate with all the fairies that sort of pop up as part of the "Blue Knight Earl" package. Edgar makes Lydia exclusively his fairy doctor, without actually consulting her about it first.

Lydia does end up staying with Edgar and being his fairy doctor, but she can't quite bring herself to believe that he really loves her. For one thing, he's such an outrageous flirt that it's a little hard to believe him (according to him, her hair is caramel-colored, her eyes periodot). Although he asks her to dance only with him at a ball, he still feels free to dance with other women. For another, Lydia believes he may still have feelings for Ermine, the sister of Raven, Edgar's servant (Raven, by the way, has a sprite within him and is lethal to all if not controlled by a master like Edgar).

Supposedly, Ermine is dead, but she apparently died at sea or something and has now become a selkie. She and some freaky spectral black dogs work for the Prince, who murdered Edgar's parents. After the "finding the sword" storyline is finished, Lydia and Edgar must worry about attempts on their lives. A group that opposes the Prince thinks Edgar might be working for him and therefore wants to kill him. However, even after they are persuaded otherwise, Edgar still has the Prince's minions after him. Ulysses, a young blond man from the Prince's court, believes he is the true Blue Knight Earl and is determined not to let Edgar get in his way. Like Lydia, Ulysses can see fairies, but Ulysses chooses to use his knowledge of fairies to control them and force them to do his bidding. Ermine and the spectral dogs are under his control.

My incredibly unorganized summary has left a few things out. For instance, there's Kelpie, an UnSeelie fairy who has been trying to secure Lydia's hand in marriage for a while now. There's Nico, the fairy cat who hangs around Lydia and can take her to and from the fairy world. There's Paul, a painter whose works Edgar likes - at first he appears to be another rival for Lydia's affections, but that turns out not to be the case. If he were to have ended up with anybody, it probably would've been Banshee, a banshee who used to serve the Blue Knight Countess, the Lady Gladys.

Commentary:

I can't believe how much is crammed into only 12 episodes. When I first started watching the show, I figured all 12 episodes would be about Edgar searching for and finally finding the sword, but that part of the series is over pretty quickly. The rest of the series, with Edgar and Lydia dealing with Ulysses and his minions, is interesting, but there's not enough time for everything to get covered as thoroughly as I would have liked. Ermine and Raven are two characters who I felt were the most shortchanged. It's never revealed how Ermine died or what her relationship with Edgar was (were they lovers, as Lydia believes, or were they just close?), and, as for Raven, I just would've liked more about him. I thought the whole bit about the sprite inside him was pretty interesting, and I wanted to get to know him as more than just a quiet, expressionless servant.

As I watched the show, I felt like I was missing out on a lot of the story. When I did a bit more searching online, I discovered that my feeling wasn't so far off the mark - apparently, the story started off as a series of light novels and has since spawned a manga version, drama CDs, and a visual novel (see Wikipedia's page for more info). It's a little depressing, because, if a second season of the anime is never released, I don't stand much of a chance of finding out all the things I want to know (Edgar and Lydia's relationship is still up in the air by the end of the anime, Ulysses isn't completely vanquished, and we haven't even seen the Prince yet). I could probably hunt down some scanlations of the manga, but I've never run across fan translations of light novels before.

Even with what story there was in just the anime, however, I was pathetically hooked. I may have already made this clear in the beginning of this post, but one of the things that hooked me was Edgar. He's a charming and horrible flirt who can't seem to fathom what his behavior must look like to Lydia - he just acts all wounded when she tells him she can't believe his compliments and protestations of love. All of that may sound a little bad, but he's really not made to look like a slimy character. Very little happens to back up Lydia's feeling that Edgar is being insincere - he dances with a few ladies during the one bit with the ball (which only bothered me because he told Lydia not to dance with anyone but him - ok then, but shouldn't it work both ways?), which is the worst of it until, while drunk, he says Ermine name during an almost-kiss (and potentially more, if he hadn't screwed it up?) scene with Lydia. When he sobers up, he doesn't remember what he said, and Lydia refuses to give him the details.

Which leads me to another thing I liked about this show - the humor. While it drove me crazy that Edgar wasn't able to figure out whose name he said before the anime ended (if he had figured it out, he could've explained himself, and the romance between him and Lydia might've gotten a decent resolution, rather than the "to be continued" feeling it actually had), I loved the semi-ongoing joke it inspired. At one point, Edgar asks Raven if he can think of a woman in his life whose name he might have said while drunk. Raven pauses and then asks Edgar if he'd like him to recite their names in alphabetical order. The first time the joke comes up, it makes Edgar seem horribly promiscuous, but, when the joke comes up again later on, the names Edgar explains to Lydia are all of random females in his life, such as a dog he once had. It helps that Raven gets the funniest line, since he's so deadpan about it. There's lots of other funny moments in the show - quite a few of my other favorites feature Kelpie, whose non-human nature didn't always gel well with human-thinking and the human world.

On a very surface level, another thing I enjoyed about this show was the artwork. I can't help it - whether I like the artwork or not tends to play a big part in how much I initially like or don't like a show. Great artwork won't necessarily keep me around if the story and characters aren't very good, but it can get my attention and occasionally smooth over a few rough spots. It's similar to the way well-done special effects can help encourage me to like a movie that isn't necessarily all that good. Both things are a bit embarrassing to admit, but they're true - looks do matter. Earl and Fairy's artwork and character designs (except for, at times, Lydia's hair, which would probably look stringy if someone tried to reproduce it in real life) appealed to me. I love pretty eyes, and this show had them in spades. The animators loved doing close-ups of people's eyes, especially Edgar and Lydia's, but also sometimes Raven's (and Kelpie's, but his eyes were just strange). Edgar and Lydia's eyes are considered so important, in fact, that their eye colors are actually named in the anime - Edgar's eyes are ash mauve and Lydia's (according to Edgar) are periodot.

Speaking of shallow reasons for liking the show... I loved the opening. I wasn't sure about it at first, because the opening music seemed like a rather odd choice for a show set in Victorian England, but the energy of it all really matched the energy of the show, quick and upbeat. The animators managed to cram nearly every character into only a minute and a half of animation, so it gives viewers an idea of what they're in for without actually giving anything away (which can't be said of all anime openings - there are some that should really come with spoiler warnings). Oh, and to round out the shallowness, I'll end this paragraph by saying that my favorite bit in the opening is at the beginning, when Nico is chasing the sparklies - so cute!

Overall, I really enjoyed this anime, but that's probably because I didn't expect anything more than for it to entertain me, which it did quite nicely. There's plenty to get a romantic soul all stirred up, although nothing actually happens - besides all the flirting, Edgar and Lydia almost kiss, but never do (unless you count Lydia's hand), and there's a bit where drunken Edgar manages to get Lydia onto his bed, but then he ruins things by saying Ermine's name and passing out. Also, there's adventure of the sort that makes me want to use the word "swashbuckling" - it's great fun of the "popcorn for your brain" sort. The only "bad" thing that happens is the death of a fairly minor character - although momentarily sad, this part is handled so gently that it almost feels like the character didn't die, but rather just went to live in a different plain of existence. It seemed a bit odd that the other characters weren't more emotionally affected by that character's death, but I suppose the writers didn't want to darken the mood too much so close to the show's ending.

Watch-alikes and Read-alikes:
  • Ouran High School Host Club (manga) by Bisco Hatori; Ouran High School Host Club (anime TV series) - Haruhi, the only scholarship student at an elite school for the rich, is forced to become a host in the Ouran High School Host Club after breaking an expensive vase. Unfortunately, Haruhi is actually a girl - in order to stay in the host club and pay off her debt, Haruhi must make sure that no one outside the host club finds out that she's not a guy. Edgar's flirty behavior reminded me (and quite a few other YouTube viewers) of Tamaki, the president of the host club. The overall light tone should appeal to fans of Earl and Fairy, as should the romance in the show (which, due to Haruhi's denseness, can be even more frustrating than the romance in Earl and Fairy).
  • Howl's Moving Castle (anime movie) - A young woman named Sophie is cursed by the Witch of the Waste, who turns her into an old woman. The only person Sophie can think of that might help her is the wizard Howl, who has a bad reputation for seducing pretty young women. Sophie makes herself part of Howl's little family by getting a job as his housekeeper. She gradually learns more about Howl and his friends, and several curses and contracts are dealt with before the movie ends. This movie was based on a book by Diana Wynne Jones, but the two are so different that I have not listed the book here. Those who'd like another story that mixes adventure with a bit of romance (not focused on as much as in Earl and Fairy) might want to try this. The characters even share some similarities - Howl, like Edgar, is a charming and flirty guy when Sophie first meets him, and Sophie, like Lydia, doesn't think she's particularly pretty.
  • You Slay Me (book) by Katie MacAlister - This is the first book in MacAlister's Aisling Grey series. All Aisling wants to do is deliver an old, gold dragon statue to her uncle's client in Paris. Instead, she comes across a dead woman and a mysterious and sexy man. The man (who is also a dragon), named Drake, disappears, along with the statue. Aisling has to prove she didn't kill the woman and recover the statue, all while dealing with the revelation that she is a Guardian (basically, the Keeper of the Gates to Hell). Like Lydia, Aisling is mixed up in the world of the supernatural and has a guy interested in her who she feels she can't quite trust. This series features humor, romance, and adventure. Those who liked the "gentleness" (lots of tension, but nothing actually happening) of the romance in Earl and Fairy may want to stick with my first two suggestions and avoid this one, as this series actually has sex in it.
  • Black Bird (manga) by Kanoko Sakurakoji - (added Dec. 9, 2009) Misao has always been able to see spirits and demons and things, but, because no one else can see them, her special ability has tended to be more of a curse than a gift. When she was a little girl, she met her first love, a boy who could see the same things she did and who protected her. On the day she turns 16, Misao is attacked by a demon who tells her that the entire demon world is after her because of the benefits her blood, flesh, or hand in marriage can give them. She's saved by the young man who was her first love - who turns out to be a demon. Does he really love her, or does he just want to marry her because it will cause his clan to prosper? Those who'd like another series with danger, romance, and supernatural aspects might want to try this. Like Lydia, Misao can see things others can't and doesn't trust that the guy who says he loves her really does.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Weeks that last forever

Due to some scheduling nightmares caused by various accidents and unforeseen events, I may either be working a 7-day week this week or another 6-day week next week or the week after that. In an effort to keep myself awake at the reference desk (it being summer, weekends at the library tend to be especially slow), I might end up working on more blog posts - I'll try my best to tone any crankiness down. I do have actual work I can do at the ref desk, but none of it is stuff I can do well for more than an hour or two at a stretch - most of it requires less brainpower than a game of solitaire and is about as repetitive when it comes to mouse usage. At least this will give me some uninterrupted time to decide if any changes need to be made to the list of databases searched in my little section of the library's MetaLib search.

Update, 7/22/09 - Yup, I've got another 6-day week scheduled. There may be more to come, since one of our librarians might be out for quite some time. Sometimes it would be nice if we had enough librarians and staff so that having one or two people gone for a while wouldn't nearly cripple the library...

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Forever Fifteen (audio book) by Kimberly Steele

(This audio book is available for free from Podiobooks.com.)

I only listen to audio books at work, and I don't listen every day, so this took me longer to finish than it should have.

I was a bit confused as I listened to this book. From the title, the set-up, and the story up to maybe the point where Lucy loses her baby, I thought that this book was intended for young adults. Then come the bits that are dark, horribly gory, and/or descriptively sexual, and I'm suddenly wondering who this book's intended audience is supposed to be. I started listening to it because the description of it made me think of Stephenie Meyer's Twilight books and Annette Curtis Klause's Blood and Chocolate - I was thinking, yay, paranormal YA romance! Yeah... not really.

I feel kind of bad - this post is pretty harsh. I suppose, if you read this and want to hate what I wrote, you can say, "Well, she just doesn't understand because she wanted this to be a YA book." You might be right about that. I still feel that, with some heavy-duty editing, this would've made a decent YA book. The description in Podiobooks reminded me of so many supernatural YA books I enjoyed - when I picked this to listen to, I really did want to like it.

Synopsis:

Lucy Albert lives with a decent foster family and tries her best to stay relatively unnoticed at school. What no one around her knows is that she's a 600 year old vampire (give or take a few decades) who, physically, will be forever 15. She somehow manages to attract the attention of John Diedermayer, who's the kind of guy all the girls at school would fall over themselves for - he's handsome, rich, incredibly smart, and nice (except for that one time when he's a bit drunk and things don't go quite the way he'd like them to, but I don't think readers are supposed to remember that). The two of them eventually go on a date, and Lucy agrees to go to the prom with him.

Through flashbacks, the reader is told about Lucy's past. As a human, Lucy (Lucia, at that time) lived in Italy, married a Florentine diplomat, and was fairly happy until the Bubonic Plague arrived. She survived the plague, but the baby she carried did not. Even more tragically, the plague destroyed her ability to have children (for me, this was the first truly, horribly disgusting scene in the book) - the prospect of children was the main reason for her happiness in marriage. Her husband no longer cared for her after she was rendered barren, and eventually she was kidnapped by Sebastian, a man she thought she could trust. Sebastian forcibly turned her into a vampire and declared her his wife, which understandably upset her. However, he was kind to her, and the sex was good, so she soon fell in love with him.

Unfortunately, as charming as Sebastian happened to be at first, forever is a long time, and he and Lucy eventually began to tire of each other. He cheated on her, but she didn't care too much as long as she got to play with the children of the whores he brought home. One of the mothers became upset after she noticed how attached her children had become to Lucy and angrily left, dragging her wailing children behind her. Lucy was heartbroken, but she was even more upset when Sebastian presented her with the savaged bodies of the children and their mother - his justification for this was that the children were old enough that they would have remembered her as they grew older. To my mind, it's a pretty weak justification, and he just did this to be horrible, but Lucy/Lucia still didn't leave him. I think it might be at this point that she tried to starve herself to death, with horrible results (temporary insanity, lots of dead people).

The last straw for Lucy was when she met Sebastian's ex-wife Rhea and learned about the things he hid from her. It turns out that Lucy's baby did not die due to the plague, and the plague is not what caused her barrenness - no, Sebastian did all that in order to turn Lucy into an oracle. Rhea, Sebastian's armless, legless ex-wife, tells Lucy all of this and begs her to fetch her someone to eat (sorry for the tense-switching, but this flashback stuff has been amazingly hard to write about using entirely past or present tense). Lucy does, and within maybe a few hours Rhea has gotten pregnant (or maybe she already was pregnant?), given birth to a horrible vampire child, borrowed the limbs of her victim, and run off to go kill lots more people. Sebastian kills the vampire baby, and Lucy kills Rhea. Lucy confronts Sebastian about his part in her barrenness, and he confirms everything. He's not particularly sorry, either. For the first time in ages, he's gentle and loving with Lucy again, and the two have sex (I don't gather than Lucy took part much, but Sebastian didn't seem to notice/mind). After Sebastian falls asleep, Lucy leaves for America, and the two don't see each other again (until nearly the end of this book).

All of this flashback stuff happens in chunks, alternating with parts about Lucy in high school and Lucy a couple decades or so earlier. Lucy is in danger of getting her identity as a vampire revealed - she has to kill someone once a month, and the police know that someone who looks like her, who they assume is her mother, probably killed a couple people a few years earlier. Lucy and John break up after John gets upset about all the things Lucy won't tell him - plus, she won't sleep with him, because she doesn't want to "ruin him" (it suddenly occurs to her that he's a virgin teenage boy, and she's a centuries old vampire). Lucy, now a pariah at school, pines for John, as her "friend" Michelle gleefully gives her updates about him.

Eventually, John begs for Lucy's forgiveness, and the two soon begin dating again - this time around, they have sex, and Lucy doesn't worry about ruining him. Lucy finally tells John that she's a vampire and does what she needs to do in order to convince him. Even though she tells him that vampires must kill people, John still wants her to turn him into a vampire, but she refuses. It's tempting to have a companion, but she doesn't want him to become a monster like her, and she doesn't want to have the burden of trying to take care of another eternal teenager besides herself.

Things are rapidly falling apart, though. Lucy's skills with the violin have gotten her into the school orchestra, where she has attracted the obsessive attention of the attractive and creepy Martin Chen. Then, Lucy spots Sebastian in the audience at a concert. At a party after the concert, Lucy's friend Michelle announces that Lucy is vampire - everyone thinks there's either something wrong with her or that she's high on something, but Lucy senses terrible personal danger. Stupid Michelle happily follows along when Lucy promises to turn her into a vampire and doesn't even see it coming when Lucy bashes her over the head. It's not long before Lucy, with Sebastian's amused help, has killed Michelle and her parents and hidden the bodies. Because of the blood and strands of hair she left behind, everyone but John thinks Lucy was killed along with Michelle and her parents.

Years later, John is a successful criminal defense lawyer. He knows Lucy killed three people in order to cover up her secret, but he's not scared when Lucy shows up in his home. He has no wife, no kids, and, really, no family any more - he wants Lucy to turn him into a vampire and doesn't mind that he'll have to give up his current life, because there isn't much to give up. She turns him, and the happy couple is now together forever. Or at least until they get tired of each other.

Commentary:

Once again I ask, for what audience was this book written? On the FAQ section of her website, Kimberly Steele says she doesn't mind that her book gets compared to Stephenie Meyer's Twilight but, unlike Twilight, its content makes it "not recommended for children." As I said at the beginning of this post, so many things make this book seem like an angsty, young adult vampire romance (or at least vampire fiction), suitable for the same audience that loved Twilight and other supernatural YA stories. Anyone who approaches this book with that mindset (like, um, me) is in for a shock.

Ok, moving beyond that now. Kimberly Steele did the reading for her audio book herself and did a passable job of it. Actually, this was the second Podiobook I tried - I disliked the reader for the first one so much that I had to look for something else, and Steele's voice is much more listenable. She has a nice voice, but she also has a tendency to pause at odd moments, which messes with the flow of some sentences. Also, some (but definitely not all) of the accents she tried to adopt were terrible.

Now for the content. I'm sorry, I have to get back to the "who's the audience?" thing. There are several graphic sex scenes, which I probably would've been fine with if either all of the characters had been adults or Steele hadn't written them like something out of a bodice ripper. There is sex between Lucy, a vampire, and John, a virgin teenage boy - mentally, Lucy is sometimes a 15 year-old girl and sometimes a bit more mature, so I wasn't entirely comfortable with the situation. Plus, reading about vigorous sex between two teens is not my cup of tea. As for my bodice ripper comparison, well, "pert nipples" were mentioned, among other things. Besides all of that, there is sex involving Lucy and an adult male (either Sebastian or her first husband) - other than the fact that I thought Sebastian should be stabbed to death in his sleep, this didn't bother me as much as the sex between Lucy and John, I think because of the time period. Lucy also has sex with a 20-something guy whose name I can't remember - because of Lucy's physical age, the words "statutory rape" kept popping up in my head during that part of the book, although I'm not sure how long statutory rape laws have been around. Finally, there is sex between Lucy, who is still physically 15, and a 30-something John - aside from one comment, his ardor doesn't seem to be at all affected by their physical age difference. Pretty much every sex scene involving John made me feel uncomfortable and dirty in some way.

Now that I've covered the sex (which I suppose doesn't take up a huge portion of the book - but, as I said, what there is didn't sit well with me), it's time for the other stuff - I almost feel like I should make it a bulleted list.

There's Lucy's dialogue, which is meant to be old fashioned and yet just comes across as awful. Lucy has somehow managed to blend in with humans in their own time periods for hundreds of years, and yet she still says things that cause her friends and classmates to compare her to their grandmothers. Then she uses a phrase like, "he's got it bad." It's horrible, and yet I had a similar problem with the way Bella would think and speak in Stephenie Meyer's Twilight books, so I think I could've forgiven this problem, if it hadn't been for all the other problems.

There's the uneven characters, Lucy being a prime example. Lucy is a vampire who hates what she is, but she kills Michelle and Michelle's parents, something even Sebastian might not have thought was necessary. Also, at the beginning of the book, Lucy comes across as a wordly, jaded vampire who's stunned that this silly boy likes her, but then she pines for him like a lovesick little girl after they break up. She's 600 years old, why is she pining for a teenage boy?

There's the useless characters. Sebastian, for instance, pops up for a bit at the end and then disappears from the story without explanation. All he does is help Lucy dispose of all the bodies - awfully convenient. I bet Steele hit on that idea when she started wondering how Lucy was going to get rid of three bodies so quickly all by herself, with no car. Martin Chen was also a useless character, there for no reason other than, what, to make John jealous? Martin only popped into the story after Lucy started doing more with her violin-playing skills, another thing I think the story could have done without.

Finally, there's Rhea. Oh goodness, Rhea. She was so over-the-top I couldn't help but laugh. I know she and her baby were supposed to be horrific, but it was like a B movie or something. Which reminds me - that oracle stuff. I believe Sebastian says that an oracle is a beautiful woman with special powers or something like that. So, how was Lucy an oracle? She was beautiful (when it was convenient for her to be), but she had no special powers beyond what she gained from becoming a vampire. My theory is that all this oracle talk was just Sebastian's most favorite lame pick up line.

The book lost me for a long while near the end. However, when Michelle starting indicating that she knew Lucy's secret, I was caught again for a bit - I wondered what Michelle wanted from her, and what Lucy would do. Unfortunately, Michelle was an idiot who just didn't realize that there was any kind of problem with announcing Lucy's nature, and, also unfortunately, Lucy took the easy way out by killing everyone. I thought she was going to have to think things through and solve them in a way that didn't betray her desire not to be like a monster. Then Sebastian started questioning her about her reasoning, and I thought there'd be a "I've really become a monster" moment of personal agony and horror, but that didn't happen either.

Overall... there were parts I found interesting, but the need to mark up the story with my mental editor's pen was so strong and frequent that it was hard to stay hooked on the story.

Before I move on to the rest, one thing I didn't mention was Steele's overwhelmingly negative presentation of foster families. I'm sure there are plenty of unpleasant ones, and the stereotype in the media is pretty bad - Steele doesn't try to challenge that stereotype. True, Lucy's current foster family is nice enough, but every other one readers are told about is awful, featuring physical and sexual abuse. According to Lucy, in her experience most foster families are like that. Right, I'm sure there are lots of foster mothers and fathers who would just love to hear that opinion.

Extras:

Yes, the book has extras. Starting with, I think, track/file 11, several tracks/files end with songs by Queenie, a snippet of whose music is used in this audio book. I liked some of them better than others - the songs at the end of tracks 11 and 22 were my favorites.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • Twilight (book) by Stephenie Meyer - Bella doesn't expect her move to the small town of Forks to be at all exciting, until she meets Edward Cullen. At first, Edward seems repulsed by her, but eventually the two of them can't seem to stay away from each other. The more time Bella spends with him, however, the more odd things she notices about him, leading her to the impossible conclusion that this boy she is so drawn to is actually a vampire. If you liked the vampire romance aspects of Steele's book, you might want to try this.
  • Blood and Chocolate (book) by Annette Curtis Klause - Vivian is a werewolf, part of a small community of werewolves living in secret among humans. Vivian's father, the pack leader, was killed when the pack was driven out of its previous home, and all that remains is for a new leader to be chosen before the pack can move to a more permanent home. In the meantime, Vivian doesn't really feel at home with anyone in the pack. She begins dating a human, but how long will their relationship last if she tells him what she is? Even worse, people have been getting killed and Vivian can't be certain she wasn't responsible. If you'd like another book featuring a relationship between a supernatural girl and a human guy, you might want to try this.
  • Lament: The Faerie Queen's Deception (book) by Maggie Stiefvater - Deirdre is a gifted young harpist who unfortunately manages to capture the attention of the Faerie Queen, who wants to kill her. Deirdre meets and gets to know a handsome, mysterious young man named Luke Dillon, who turns out to have been sent by the Queen. Will Luke defy the Queen for her or will he kill her, and why does the Faerie Queen want Deirdre dead? Those who'd like another angsty story with supernatural beings, danger, darkness, and a bit of romance might want to try this.
  • Touch the Dark (book) by Karen Chance - This is the first book in Chance's Cassandra Palmer series. Cassie is a gifted clairvoyant whose entire life since she was a little girl has been controlled by vampires. Three years ago, she managed to run away from the vampires who both raised her and had a part in her parents' deaths, and she's been in hiding ever since. Now the vampires are closing in, and Cassie learns that the mages are after her as well. Cassie has to figure out who she can trust, stay alive, and figure out why so many people want to kill her. Those who'd like another book featuring betrayal and a female character with vampire problems. Unlike all my other suggestions so far, this is not a YA book.
  • The Queen's Bastard (book) by C. E. Murphy - In this fantasy set in something like Elizabethan Europe, Belinda is the illegitimate child of Queen Lorraine. When she is older, she becomes a spy and assassin for the Queen and secretly learns how to use her magical abilities, which allow her to make herself invisible and affect others' minds. During the most recent mission she's been sent on, she finds herself falling in love with the man she's supposed to be gathering information from. In the end, Belinda must decide whether she will act according to her duty or according to her heart. Those who'd like another dark (at times very dark - rape, assassination, etc.) fantasy story might want to try this.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Iron Man (live action movie)

I didn't see this when it was showing in the movie theaters, partly because, at least until I finally got a job and moved, I didn't go out to the movies very often, and partly because Iron Man was never one of my favorite comics. I found this movie to be surprisingly enjoyable.

Synopsis:

Tony Stark is a rich playboy and a genius inventor who believes that the weapons his company manufactures are helping the good guys win the battle against terrorists. It's not until he's captured by a group of terrorists that he realizes his company's weapons are in the hands of those he thought he was helping to protect the world against. His captors want him to recreate his latest weapon for them, but instead he creates a metal suit for himself that allows him to fight against his captors and escape.

When Tony gets back to the US, he declares, to the shock of all those around him, that his company will no longer manufacture weapons. In private, Tony works on a newer, better version of the suit he created while captured. Hardly anyone knows about his side project, because he doesn't know who he can trust. Eventually, he tries out the suit, playing with its flight capabilities and taking down a terrorist group that had been using Stark Industries' weapons. He trusts Pepper Potts, his secretary/caretaker/doer of everything, with many of his secrets and thinks he can trust Obadiah, his long-time family friend and business partner, as well. Unfortunately, Obadiah turns out to be the one who had him captured - in fact, he'd intended for Tony to be killed. It was Obadiah who put Stark Industries' weapons in the hands of the terrorists. Obadiah also does his best to take Tony's idea for a suit and turn it into a weapon he can use himself, leading to the movie's final climactic battle between the two men in their respective suits.

Commentary:

As I said, Iron Man wasn't my favorite comic book series, but this movie made me want to dig out my Iron Man comics and reread them. The movie's humor is great, the action is fun, and Robert Downey Jr. has excellent style and charisma as Tony Stark. Stark is the kind of guy I would probably sneer at in real life, a rich guy who cheerfully throws his money around and collects Barbie doll women by the dozen (this impression is even stronger in the deleted scenes, which makes me even happier they were deleted, since I might've had a harder time liking him, otherwise). However, Robert Downey Jr. turns him into someone who's pretty likable, even when he's acting irresponsible.

The technology in the movie is awesome. I don't just mean the suit Tony builds (and, by the way, some of the funniest bits in the movie happen while Tony is developing his new and improved suit), but all of it. I want a computer system like Tony's. It reminds me of those computer commercials I saw a while back, where people would move things around like they could physically touch and manipulate the files on their computers. It seems like it'd be a lot of fun. Tony's robots were kind of cute (although also, I thought, a little sad - Tony seems to be better friends with these robots than he is with a lot of people), and it'd be nifty having something like Jarvis around.

One of the things that made all of this technology so awesome was the special effects, which were very nice and contributed to the believability of it all. The only thing that bothered me was the views of Tony's face when he was in the suit - the way those were done, the inside of his helmet looked amazingly roomy, which could not have been the case. I don't suppose there was any other way they could have shown the audience Tony's face at those times, but it still bugged me a bit.

The almost romance between Tony and Pepper was interesting. They have a bit of chemistry going, and Pepper's snarky response to Stark's latest bedmate, a reporter, hinted at potential deeper feelings. I'm glad they didn't end up together, though - at this point, Stark still needs to do a bit of emotional growing up, and Pepper could do better. I would've loved to see more of her private life. Does she even have a private life, or does she just live for Tony? What does she do on her days off?

I found the "villain switch" to be surprising, but entertaining. At first, when Tony is captured, I thought the movie was going to be about Tony versus the terrorists - terrorists make easy villains, but so many movies use them any more that it's really not all that interesting, especially when they're cardboard cutout villains like these terrorists were. When Obadiah is revealed to be the true villain, it's a surprise (although maybe not to everyone, since there were signs that he might turn out to be less than trustworthy). Obadiah is automatically a more interesting villain than the terrorists, because there's the extra awfulness of "but he's a long-time family friend!" The terrorists may have tortured Tony and used his company's weapons, but none of that was personal. Being betrayed by a trusted family friend is a different matter.

Overall, I enjoyed this movie. It was fun and had a good mix of humor and action. Robert Downey Jr. made a more enjoyable Tony Stark than I expected - however, I have no idea what fans of the original comics might have to say about his performance.

Extras:

My copy of the movie, which is just the single-disc edition, doesn't have many extras. There's some previews and deleted and extended scenes. The deleted and extended scenes didn't really thrill me - those sorts of things usually don't, because they tend to be the kinds of things that were deleted or shortened for a good reason. In this case, the deleted and extended scenes would have made certain portions of the movie very boring and unnecessarily lengthy. I'm sure Terrence Howard, the guy who played Rhodey, wasn't too happy about some of the deletions, though, since it looks like he had a slightly larger role before everything was edited down.

Watch-alikes:
  • The Incredible Hulk (live action movie) - Due to a gamma ray experiment gone wrong, Dr. Bruce Banner transforms into a giant green-skinned hulk whenever his pulse rate gets too high - he now lives on the run, avoiding people he used to know and people trying to capture him, and learning to control his anger and his pulse rate while he looks for a cure. It turns out that the gamma ray experiment was not intended to develop new ways of treating injuries, as Bruce thought, but rather to create an army of invincible super soldiers. Bruce has come close to finding a cure for his condition, but the military won't let him be, and a man transformed into The Abomination (similar to the Hulk, only nastier, I guess) has been sent after him. Those who'd like another movie based on a comic book series might want to try this - the final fight scenes are similar.
  • X-Men (live action movie) - In the near future, certain people are being born with a special X-factor in their genes. This mutation does different things to different people, but all of these mutants have some sort of special ability, which can sometimes be very destructive. Regular humans have come to fear these mutants, and Senator Robert Kelly has used this fear to try pass the "Mutant Registration Act," which would require all mutants to register themselves (the movie makes a very clear connection between this and Jews in Germany during the Holocaust). Professor Xavier, who runs what is secretly a school for mutant children, hopes to one day bring peace between humans and mutants. Magneto, on the other hand, believes that mutants are superior to humans. With the help of a special mutant's powers, Magneto hopes to forcibly make Senator Kelly's "Mutant Registration Act" a moot point. Those who'd like another movie based on a comic book series (in this case, more loosely based than Iron Man) might want to try this - like Iron Man, there's a nice mix of humor, action, and drama.
  • The Big O (anime TV series) - Forty years ago, something happened that wiped out the memories of everyone in Paradigm City. Prior to the memory wipe, the people of Paradigm City had been very busy building Megadueses (giant robots) and creating monsters. Roger Smith, a wealthy negotiator, fights these threats to the city with the help of Big O (a good giant robot that he is able to control). Those who'd like another "rich guy saving people with his robotic suit" story might want to try this. I haven't seen it all yet, but the mystery of Paradigm City's memory wipe is very interesting.
  • Transformers (live action movie) - Two extraterrestrial groups have arrived on Earth - the Autobots (the good guys) and the Decepticons (the bad guys). These beings are able to scan machinery and electronic devices on Earth and replicate their appearance, allowing them to hide in plain sight. Both groups seek out a teenager named Sam Witwicky, who unwittingly holds the key to both the Decepticons' and Autobots' continued existence. Those who'd like another action movie with nice special effects, a bit of humor, and some spectacular battles might want to try this.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Blank Slate (manga, vol. 2) by Aya Kanno

It's the last volume of Blank Slate - yup, this series is short. The mystery of Zen is solved, characters that seemed to be squeaky clean turn out to have dark sides and vice versa, and lots of people die (but it's a little hard to care). Oh, once again, there are gorgeous guys - can't believe I almost forgot to mention that. Silly me!

Synopsis:

Zen, with Hakka along for the ride, is on a quest to uncover his own past, so that he can finally be completely free. His first stop is the first place he can remember, the former location of the Zendo, a band of female thieves. There's a woman there (Zen calls her "big sis" because she insists upon it, and I don't think she's ever referred to by an actual name) who used to be the leader of the Zendo - she's the one who had her people take a half-dead Zen back to their camp and nurse him back to health. She doesn't know anything about Zen's past, but she does know that he started to say his name before he passed out - Ze--, which the women in the camp turned into "Zen," for "Zendo." Also, she remembers the cryptic tattoo on his arm and the black flame insignia on the uniform he was wearing.

At the time, Zen didn't care about the past he couldn't remember. Although the Zendo didn't usually allow men to join, Zen was allowed to stay - one, he was gorgeous enough to make all kinds of Zendo members giggle like little girls, and two, he was better at killing people than any other member of the group. Eventually, though, the Zendo broke up, and Zen left. Coming back prompts Zen to remember that he was shot by soldiers wearing uniforms with black flame insignias - Zen was a soldier of some elite mysterious unit, shot by his own comrades.

Whenever Zen sees something that reminds him of his past, it causes him to feel pain, so his next step is to track down anything else that has caused him that kind of pain in the past. The first thing that comes to his mind is the graveyard at Rian's family's summer house, so that's where he and Hakka go.

Meanwhile, Major Kyrie, now Rian's former fiance, has resigned from the army because of his failure to capture Zen. Colonel Barst Gia (the guy who seemed to know Zen in the first volume) has given Kyrie a private, secret mission, however - Kyrie is to continue going after Zen. Kyrie tells Rian that he plans to capture Zen before the army does, and Rian begs him to take her with him. Kyrie is reluctant, but Rian does end up joining him. For reasons that I don't think were ever adequately explained, Kyrie goes to the summer house at what happens to be the same time as Zen and Hakka (Big Coincidence?).

Things begin coming together. Zen discovers that the graveyard behind the summer house is a graveyard for nameless soldiers in the unit with the black flame insignia. Zen and Hakka theorize that it was a special, secret unit of the Galayan army, killed to keep knowledge of their existence from getting out. Kyrie refuses to believe that the Galayan army could do something so terrible. Zen takes Rian hostage and gets Kyrie to drive them all to the place where the Colonel wanted Kyrie to bring Zen after he'd been captured. Rather than being shocked at the situation, the Colonel seems to have expected it. He reveals that he is not, in fact, Zen's enemy - he wants to help him.

Back when Zen was part of the black ops unit, he and the others in the unit were raised without names (they were known by numbers - Zen was Zero), identities, and feelings. Every one of them was a superbly trained human weapon loyal only to Galay. The Colonel, who was Major Gia back then, was the first person to treat the members of this special unit as people. Before every mission he'd say, "Keep yourself alive, and we'll meet again." Major Gia was determined to eventually put an end to all the fighting and make it so that the unit would never again have to slaughter another village full of people.

Rian is shocked that her father had ordered such a unit created and had them killing innocent people. An additional shock is the Colonel's revelation that it was not he or the General (Rian's father) that had the black ops unit killed - no, Zen killed them all himself. Gia helped kill Zen, or thought he'd killed Zen, in order to stop Zen's rampage. The Colonel has decided that something must have been controlling Zen, is still controlling him now, but he doesn't know for sure what happened until he realizes that Hakka is actually Doctor Geno, the person who was forced to turn the children in the unit into human weapons. Doctor Geno implanted a hypnotic suggestion in Zen's mind that prompted him to kill anyone affiliated with Galay whenever he heard the words "Keep yourself alive, and we'll meet again" - exactly the words Gia said before every mission.

Geno really did tell Zen quite a bit of the truth. His wife was killed - what he didn't say was that Zen's unit killed her. The Galayan army had secured Geno's cooperation by threatening his wife, but, even though he did as they asked, they killed her and any other Amatan related in any way to Geno, in order to keep the black ops unit a secret. As part of his revenge, Geno engineered the destruction of the unit. His revenge will be complete once Zen kills the Colonel, so that's what he orders him to do.

The Colonel's pretty tough, but he also doesn't want to kill Zen, which puts him at a disadvantage. As Zen comes close to killing him, Kyrie shoots at Zen, but Rian protects him by throwing herself in front of the shots. Her actions bring Zen back to his senses. The Colonel asks Doctor Geno to join him in freeing the Amatans from Galay control. Geno declines and goes and blows himself up instead. Zen doesn't choose to join the Colonel either - instead, he'll go his own way, fighting against the Galay government whenever it tries to control him or restrict him.

So, final body count is three major-ish characters: Geno/Hakka, Rian, and Kyrie.

Commentary:

This is random, but I've just got to say it - if the series had been longer, if Rian had survived, and if Zen hadn't been such a cold-blooded killer, I could imagine Kanno eventually pairing Rian and Zen up. I felt a little bad for Kyrie actually - it was obvious Rian preferred Zen over him, which had to hurt a bit.

Anyway, I had fun with all the shocking revelations (I had absolutely no idea Hakka was going to turn out the be the one behind all of Zen's secrets and problems). Every time I thought I had things figured out, Kanno came up with some new twist. Once the existence of the black ops unit was revealed, I, too, figured that they were wiped out by the Galay army - the truth was way more interesting, if a bit twisted.

In this volume, it was almost like black became white and white became black. Hakka went from being an amazingly good guy to someone I didn't like very much. Yes, he had a reason for doing what he did, but I agree with what the Colonel said - the people in the black ops unit were victims, too. Instead of getting revenge upon those who were truly responsible for the death of his wife (the best target would really have been the General), he went after the black ops unit, which was filled with people who were brain-washed since childhood, and Gia, who, considering his true goals, should've been Geno's ally. I couldn't believe that the Colonel offered to let Geno join him after all he'd done - and then I couldn't believe that Geno chose to blow himself up instead. It made the past 20 years and all those deaths completely meaningless. The only thing that Geno accomplished that might at all be considered a success is Rian's death - if the General cared at all for his daughter, it'll be a blow when her body is brought to him.

For some reason, the Colonel reminds me a little of Roy Mustang from Fullmetal Alchemist. Both Gia and Mustang are part of a military whose leadership they hope to one day topple - Mustang wants to take over, and Gia wants to get the Galay government off of Amatan lands. I have to say, though, that things look better for Mustang than for Gia in some ways. Mustang has supporters, but it doesn't look like Gia has anybody - Kyrie and Rian are dead (I suppose this is just an assumption, and they may actually only be seriously wounded), Geno blew himself up, and Zen plans to do his own thing.

Overall, it's a very tightly done volume that's almost a little too neat for me. In order for things to work out so neatly, Kanno had to resort to a few convenient coincidences (everyone went to the summer house at the same time, Zen just happened to end up in Geno/Hakka's care after being separated from him for a while, etc.). The revelations were so fast and furious, I kind of wished that the series had been a bit longer, so that Kanno could've taken her time more. As it was, the revelations took up all the time, and the characters ended up feeling a bit like cardboard to me. Kyrie and Rian's deaths didn't upset me, because I didn't really care about either of them. Neither of them felt like people to me, although they had potential. Geno was the worst, though - Kanno couldn't seem to decide whether she wanted him to be a bad guy or not. Messing with someone's head the way he messed with Zen's seems like a "bad guy" thing to do, especially since Zen and the others had absolutely no choice about what they were doing with their lives. And yet, the Colonel forgives and forgets all of that once the fighting is over - I don't really feel that was justified. Zen's "threaten to shoot him in the head" reaction made much more sense.

Extras:

There are a few author sidebars in which Kanno writes about what the series was originally supposed to be like and why it became the way it did. There isn't a lot of detail, so don't get too excited.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion (anime TV series) - In this alternate history (?), the Empire of Britannia has invaded Japan. Japan is now referred to as Area 11, and its people are 11's. Lelouch appears to be an ordinary, if extremely intelligent, high school student, but in reality he's hiding many secrets. One of those secrets is the power of Geass, which was given to him by a mysterious young girl who was some sort of military secret. Geass allows Lelouch to make anyone obey his orders, and he uses it a great deal as he begins living a double life as Zero, the masked leader of a rebellion to combat Britannia's tyranny. Those who'd like something featuring a similar political situation might want to try this - Britannia is similar to Galay, while the Japanese are similar to the Amatans.
  • Daughter of the Blood (book) by Anne Bishop - Among the Blood (magic users) women rule and men serve. Usually, this is a harmonious and balanced system that benefits both sexes, but there are those who have perverted this system so that men are enslaved and young girls who might grow up strong are broken. If she can manage to grow up, Jaenelle could heal the rot in Blood society. Her family thinks she's unstable, and growing up and growing strong won't be easy, but she has some powerful allies on her side: Saetan, the High Lord of Hell (and, confusingly for some readers, a good guy) and Daemon, a dangerous (and sexy) man who's been waiting for someone like Jaenelle to come along for much of his long life. This series is not for the faint of heart (there's abuse, torture, rape and more). However, it still manages to be a bit lighter, at times, than Blank Slate. Those who don't mind that might want to try this. Daemon reminds me a little of Zen - both men are dangerous, sexy, and don't want others to control them.
  • The Bourne Identity (live action movie) - A mysterious injured man with no memory is picked up by a fishing boat. Soon, this man, Jason, is on the run from assassins, using whatever clues he can find to piece together his own past. Those who'd like something else featuring a mysterious and skilled killer with no memory might want to try this.
  • Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo (anime TV series) - Ok, I haven't seen all of this yet, but it's loosely based upon Alexandre Dumas's The Count of Monte Cristo. It takes place in the far future. Those who'd like another story featuring the terrible lengths to which someone would go in order to get revenge might want to watch this.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

I read so slow...

I can't believe how slowly I read anymore. I've got tons of books waiting to be read, and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is taking me way too long - hopefully I'll finish it before its due date. I need to re-read the original sometime - I can't remember how things originally went with Charlotte Lucas, and what she could possibly have done to deserve the horrors inflicted upon her in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. I'm almost halfway through the book, and it won't be long before the poor thing is munching on brains. However, I'm thoroughly amused at how much sillier Mrs. Bennet seems in a world where survival should really be more important than marriage.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Cataloging quotas

On AUTOCAT today, someone was asking about the number of music scores they should be managing to copy catalog in a day - the person's boss was saying 100. Every answer posted to the listserv boiled down to something like, "Seriously?! Even 100 reasonably popular monographs in a day would be tough, much less 100 music scores from a few decades ago." Thankfully, the only quota I have is my personal one - I try to catalog at least 20 items a day.

Some days it goes very badly. Last week, on Friday, I kept picking up stuff that either required original cataloging or complex copy cataloging (hideous records to work off of), so I only got 8 things done. Well, I also loaded a couple hundred authority records and fixed a couple hundred call numbers, so I guess it wasn't a totally worthless day.

Some days things go very well. My personal best so far is 55 books, plus loading new authority records into our system for each one. Unfortunately, I tend to only do this well when I'm cataloging approval plan books (versus firm orders, which, due to Acquisitions procedures I'm hoping will change sometime in the near future, can take twice as long for me to catalog). Even gift books go faster than a lot of firm orders. Currently, I've finished my stack of approval books and am faced with a huge pile of books from Amazon.com. I procrastinated on them, and on the huge pile of educational DVDs, by working my way through some of the gift books - bad me.

Every time I read something on the listservs from someone whose boss has given them a quota, I breathe a sigh of relief that I've been spared that. So far, anyway. I try my best to think up ways to streamline my procedures and speed things up a bit, but there's only so much of that I can do, so I play the scary "what if" game - what if you were asked to speed up your cataloging by a significant amount, what would you stop doing in order to accomplish that? Right now, the answer is "authority record loading and authority work." Even thinking about that hurts.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Animation Runner Kuromi (anime OVA)

Because this one is so short, only 45 minutes or so long, I hesitate to recommend it unless you can get it cheaply. I think I got my copy used for $5, including shipping. It's very funny, and worth every penny I spent. I've bought crappy movies in the $5 bin at Wal-Mart and this definitely beats those out.

Synopsis:

Mikiko Ohguro (aka Kuromi) has just landed her dream job at a famous animation studio, Studio Petit. When she arrives for her first day, no one is there except the head of production, who holds out just long enough to give her a tour and hand her his work before collapsing and being taken to the hospital. It turns out he'd been working for days with a bleeding ulcer and had only been waiting for his replacement to arrive. Kuromi is horrified to realize that she is his replacement. She doesn't even know what she's supposed to be doing!

Production on the second episode of Time Journeys is way behind - there's only a week left for all the animation to be finished. Kuromi stumbles along on her own for a couple days, begging the animators to give her their finished work - with the exception of one prolific person (whose work is, unfortunately, shoddy), everyone has excuses. Exhausted, stressed out, and depressed, Kuromi is ready to quit, until she hears how the show's line director got her start - on the very show that inspired Kuromi to get into this business in the first place. With a renewed sense of energy, Kuromi decides to stick it out, and the director gives her some helpful advice for dealing with the animators. It's not long before everyone is working around the clock to get everything finished. Unfortunately, even this amount of effort isn't quite enough, but the director, not wanting to see Kuromi's hard work go to waste, finishes one scene herself. With a sense of awe and pride, Kuromi gets to watch the studio's finished work. For one shining moment, everything is wonderful - until she's handed the schedule for episode 6.

Commentary:

I seem to love "first job gone horribly wrong" stuff. This is hilarious. I wonder if there are animators out there who cry when they see this - even though I, personally, think this is funny, there are extras I've seen on some DVDs that make me think this is actually pretty close to the truth (the director of this anime says it's 99% truth, with artistic license to make things more interesting). The "making of" video on the Fullmetal Alchemist movie DVD sure looked like they only barely got the movie done in time, and I think certain people probably hid in storage closets and cried during the making of Tekkonkinkreet.

You've just gotta feel bad for Kuromi. It's like she's got a horrible group project, times a thousand. Dealing with the animators is like herding cats, there's who knows how many people waiting for the anime to come out who will be seriously upset if it's delayed, and poor Kuromi has to blunder about with a minimum of guidance. On my first day of work, I was told to just get started cataloging, someone would train me later when there was more time for that sort of thing. It was stressful, but at least no one added, "and your deadline for this insurmountable mountain of books is next week." It's no wonder that Oppama, the person who was supposed to be Kuromi's supervisor and the person she replaces, ended up with a bleeding ulcer.

The English dub wasn't too bad (please don't pelt me with rotten vegetables). Lisa Ortiz, who voiced Kuromi, got her stress and panic across nicely, although I think she was weaker during the more serious scenes. Some viewers may not like the way a few of the characters were done, and I don't know enough about Japanese to say whether the way the voices were done was justified. For instance, one of the characters, Hassaku Hozumi, has a bit of surfer dude voice, while another character (whose name I can't remember, but she was the perfectionist in the bunch) had an accent I can't quite identify, maybe Russian? Ok, so the English dub has issues, but I still liked watching it that way because I had an easier time enjoying most of the jokes.

I first saw this anime on TV while I was in grad school - I never got to see the end of it, which would have been even more painful if I had realized how close I came to seeing it all. I think I missed maybe the last 5 minutes. It was shown with the English dub, which is maybe another reason why I'm so tolerant of the dub - I've had some time to get used to it.

Extras:

Despite its shortness, or maybe because of its shortness, this OVA comes with lots of extras. Well, at least the list of extras is long.

The interview with Lisa Ortiz, who is the voice actor for Kuromi in the English dub, is approximately 3 and a half minutes long - it includes a tiny bit of behind-the-scenes info and some clips of Ortiz at work. If I remember correctly, this is the extra that explains why Kuromi is called Kuromi (through years of absorbing tidbits of information from anime and past experience in linguistics classes, I was able to make a decent guess about the origin of her nickname, but this extra spells it out nicely - also, her nickname makes more sense if you see her name in its proper order, Ohguro Mikiko).

Many of the extras dealing with director Akitaroh Daichi are a little disappointing. The interview with him is only 5 minutes long, although the information it includes (how he works, what a director does, behind-the-scenes info about the OVA, etc.) is interesting. The "Director's Diary" is a complete let-down. It's only slightly more than 2 minutes long and is an incredibly brief look at the entire process of making this OVA. The best behind-the-scenes info can be found in the director's commentary track, which can be found under the language settings on this DVD. It turns out that, although I caught the most obvious anime reference (I suppose I could still be wrong, since Daichi never mentions the show by name), there were apparently lots of references to Daichi's past anime and other anime that I missed.

Besides the commentary track, another extra I enjoyed was the mini documentary (5 and a half minutes) about the animation process. It's an interview with some guy named Matt Sheridan, who I'm guessing works in the US animation industry. The sound quality for this interview is pretty bad, but the information is nice. This is a good extra to watch if some of the animation jargon went over your head like it did mine. Unfortunately, even this mini documentary doesn't cover all the jargon used in the anime.

There are two galleries included, a sketch gallery and an art gallery. The sketch gallery is a short video of production drawings, while the art gallery is a video of stills from the anime. There are also alternate angle storyboards, which didn't interest me, so I didn't take a look at that. There are a couple trailers for Animation Runner Kuromi - both are English-language (and one misuses an apostrophe...). There's also the obligatory previews for other titles - I already own the ones that I think look any good.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • Fruits Basket (manga) by Natsuki Takaya; Fruits Basket (anime TV series) - After Tohru's mother died, she went to live with her grandfather, but she left his house to live in a tent when he began home renovations. Tohru ends up getting invited to stay with the Sohma family, an amazing occurrence considering that Yuki Sohma is so popular at Tohru's school that he's got his own fanclub. Tohru soon discovers the Sohma family's secret - whenever certain members become physically weakened or are hugged by a member of the opposite sex, they turn into an animal in the Chinese zodiac. This is yet another anime Daichi directed. There are some stylistic similarities (weird creatures coming on screen to make comments, crazy energy), so it should appeal to some fans of Animation Runner Kuromi, even though the two stories have nothing in common.
  • Fear and Trembling (book) by Amelie Nothomb - Amelie is a young Belgian woman who was born in Japan. It has been her dream to work for a company in Japan, and one day that dream comes true. She begins at the bottom of the corporate ladder, writing letters for her boss and trying to make perfect copies for him on the copier, and amazingly manages to descend even lower. I'm not sure how true any of this book is - maybe it's all fiction, or maybe it's exaggerated truth. Whatever the case may be, it's funny and horrible at the same time. Those who'd like another "horrible new job" story might like this, although Amelie and Kuromi have very different reasons for sticking with their jobs.
  • Gravitation (manga) by Maki Murakami; Gravitation (anime TV series) - Shuichi Shindo is a singer in a band that he hopes will become famous. One day, he loses a page of unfinished song lyrics. The handsome and caustic man who catches it insults the lyrics and sticks in poor Shuichi's mind. Schuichi later discovers that the man was Eiri Yuki, a famous writer, and seeks him out. The two eventually become lovers, but Yuki's emotional issues and Shuichi's rapidly developing musical career may tear them apart. Gravitation isn't for everyone, since it features romance between two men - although neither the manga nor the anime are explicit, the anime keeps the physical aspects of the romance slightly more "off screen" than the manga. Those who liked the desperation and craziness in Animation Runner Kuromi might enjoy this - the personalities of several of the characters in this remind me of characters in Animation Runner Kuromi.
  • Excel Saga (manga) by Koushi Rikudou; Excel Saga (anime TV series) - Lord IlPallazzo and his team of ACROSS agents (two of them - hyper Excel Excel and Hyatt, who is sickly and coughs up blood) plan to one day take over the world - and they're starting with just one city. Their various crazy attempts always fail. Those who'd like another high energy comedy with anime (and manga, and pop culture) references might want to try this. The references are more plentiful than Animation Runner Kuromi, and the craziness is more over-the-top, so keep that in mind.

My apartment is alive!

I think something is living in one of the walls in my kitchen - it started out somewhere in the vicinity of my oven. I've got a beetle that's been trying to get out of my standing lamp for the past hour, and I've killed four beetles crawling on my carpet today. I have also scooped up and thrown out several overturned June bugs. Thank goodness those things are no longer energetic enough to fly - earlier in the summer, they would fly around and beat themselves against my blinds and my walls, freaking me out until I figured out what was making all the racket.

The bug problem seems to be especially bad today (although the thing in my kitchen walls may be a mouse - I suppose it could be a very large and energetic beetle, but that thought frightens me). I can't wait until the weather starts to cool down again and all these creatures go away for a while.

(Only 20 minutes later) - The number of scooped-out June bugs is now up by two more. I swear, these things teleport into my apartment. I can hear them bashing themselves against the screen over my living room window.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

And the "eww" continues

I mentioned my Butter Pie adventure to a coworker, who said, "Is that something like Chess Pie?" I had no idea what she was talking about, so I looked up some Chess Pie recipes (apparently it's a Southern thing).

Guh.

One recipe's ingredients: 3 eggs, 1 1/2 cups sugar, 1 tbsp. of cornmeal, 1 tbsp. of vinegar, 3 3/4 sticks of butter, and a bit of vanilla. Another variation includes a few extra ingredients, omits a few others, has 2 cups of sugar, 4 eggs, and, mercifully, only 1/4 cup butter. Whatever recipe you choose, it looks like you'll either die of a massive butter overdose or a massive sugar overdose. Maybe both.

So, who out there has had Chess Pie before? What did you think of it? Am I being a wimp about the butter and sugar?
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