Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Emma (manga, vol. 9) by Kaoru Mori

You know how I said I probably shouldn't buy any of this series, because there was a good chance I'd never get it all, and then my completist soul would scream in agony? Yeah, I said all that because it had been ages (a year ago, according to my blog posts) since I read the last Emma volume. I had forgotten how incredibly good this series is, even when nothing much is going on. Maybe especially when nothing much is going on. I'm back to wanting to own as many volumes of this series as I can find at a reasonable price.

This is the second of three final volumes that contain only side stories. The main story ended in volume 7. Although I liked volume 8 well enough, the side stories weren't really to my taste.

That isn't the case with this volume. I found 3 of the 5 side stories to be fantastic, and the other two to be okay. I think Mori's "okay" is better than some manga author/artists' "good," though.

As I have done in the past with anthologies, which is what this basically is, I have no plans to list read-alikes or watch-alikes - it's just going to be synopses and commentary. If you haven't read the first seven volumes of Emma, it's possible you might still be able to enjoy this volume, but you'd probably miss out on a lot, because Mori doesn't bother to include reminders of who everyone is and how they fit into the story. Do yourself a favor and read the series in order.

(Little nitpicky annoying thing: Um, isn't the family Emma used to work for the Molders/Moelders? Whoever wrote the back cover description for this volume was not aware of that, because he or she referred to them as the Merediths - which isn't even close to being a German name, by the way - not once, not twice, but three times.)

Now, on to the synopses and commentaries.

Monday, February 21, 2011

I'll be typing like crazy this week

Expect a flurry of posts sometime this week, unless I really drop the ball. The due date for volume 10 of Emma is coming up, and, since reading manga in order is best, I'll need to write up a post for volume 9 first. I'm also really close to finishing several other things (one book I'm reading for its nostalgic value, one book that is cracktastic fun, and one book that seems to have given away too much too early), plus I'm watching Big Windup! on DVD. Since I feel the same way about the show during my second viewing as I did during my first, in theory there won't be quite so much for me to write - I should be able to get that post out pretty quickly.

Unrelated to all of that: I am so close to breaking down and getting myself an e-reader. I'm just not sure which one I want yet. It's still incredibly painful how expensive e-readers are, when I think about how I can read a paperback book for just a few bucks but an e-book that costs a similar amount requires a $100-$200 device in order to be read comfortably. However, I've been getting more and more interested in books and stories that are either only available electronically or cost three times more in print.

I can't remember the versions of any of these I got to try, but I've gotten to briefly try a Kindle, a Nook, and a Sony E-reader. I was unimpressed by the Sony E-reader. I found the Kindle to be the most intuitive, but the Nook didn't seem too bad. My dad has a Nook, and he really likes it. I'm kind of leaning more towards the Nook right now, for various reasons, but I have to do a bit of research in order to be sure that what I think I know about these e-readers is actually true.

Whether I buy an e-reader or not depends upon what I find out when I actually start and finish doing my taxes. I could afford to get an e-reader right now, but I would feel much less guilty about it if I knew for sure I was getting a nice tax refund to make up for some of the splurging.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Pregnesia (book) by Carla Cassidy

No, the title is not your imagination. Now, say it out loud. Pregneeeesia. Fun, isn't it?

If you haven't already guessed, the heroine of this book is pregnant. And she has amnesia.

Synopsis:

Former Navy SEAL Lucas Washington is in the middle of repossessing a car when he realizes that there's an 8-month pregnant woman with a head wound in the back seat. She swears she has amnesia and can't remember anything about herself. Lucas figures she's on the run from an abusive husband or boyfriend and is lying to buy herself some time. The woman, who he decides to call "Jane," doesn't want to go to the police or the hospital, so Lucas takes her to his sister Loretta, who's a nurse. He figures that, by morning, Jane will have miraculously remembered who she is and forgiven her abusive husband/boyfriend. He has a very cynical outlook on the relationships between abusers and the abused - when he was a kid, his father used to beat him, and his mother never seemed to care enough to do anything to protect him. His only consolation was that his father at least left Loretta alone.

Jane doesn't miraculously remember who she is, and Lucas starts to believe her story when people who are apparently affiliated with the Church of Enlightenment attempt to kidnap her during a clothes shopping trip. After that, Lucas adopts a "let's go to places you can remember and see if that helps you remember more" approach to bringing Jane's memories back. Jane still doesn't want to go to the police, because she has a feeling that will only put her in more danger.

The people who are after Jane find Lucas' place. Lucas knows it wouldn't take a genius to figure out that his sister is the most likely person he would have taken Jane to, so he moves Jane to a safe house. Despite himself, Lucas has grown more and more attracted to Jane. Part of him wants to be with her, help her take care of her baby, and make a family with her. Another part of him is terrified he'll become like his father and worried that Jane has a man in her life she just hasn't remembered yet. He tries to keep his distance, but she's attracted to him too.

It's not long before Jane and Lucas learn that some people claiming to be Jane's family are looking for her. Lucas checks them out, and they seem to be telling the truth, but something doesn't feel quite right. If Jane really does have a family, Lucas knows she should go back to them, but what if there's something more going on?

Of course there's more going on. And it has to do with the Church of Enlightenment.

Commentary:

I'm pretty sure the first time I ever heard of this book was via Smart Bitches, Trashy Books. I thought the cover was Photoshopped because, well, PREGNESIA. That couldn't possibly be real, right? Wrong. The book got a C-grade, and the review pointed to lots of problems and things that wouldn't appeal to me, like a pregnant amnesiac heroine. I should note that I read the review almost two years before reading the book and purposefully did not reread it until after I'd finished the book. I didn't want the review fresh in my mind while I was reading. Even so, I still ended up noticing a lot of the same problems that the reviewer noticed - my notes are filled with "oh really?," "good grief," and "are you kidding me?"

One thing I did remember clearly about the review was the comments - specifically, Carla Cassidy's comment, which was a clear example of "authors behaving well." There seem to be so many authors lately who behave badly in the face of less-than-stellar reviews that this was a welcome change.

Anyhoo, I found my copy of this book at a used bookstore and snatched it up...because of its title and despite knowing that it dealt with certain tropes I wouldn't like. That was months and months ago. It wasn't until a few days ago that I found myself in need of cheesy fun, and Pregnesia seemed likely to fit the bill.

Big round of applause for finally finishing Flowers in the Attic!

Erin over at Forever Young Adult read (and actually finished!) Flowers in the Attic, providing chapter summaries and hilarious commentary. I've never read the book, and now, after reading her posts, I never want to. I hadn't realized how screwed up that book is.

Anyway, check out the posts, they're a lot of fun.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Hetalia: Axis Powers (manga, vol. 1) by Hidekaz Himaruya

Synopsis:

Just like it was for the anime, it's a little hard to write a synopsis for the manga. The series deals a lot with historical events that occur between World War I and World War II, but it's just as likely to go off on tangents about cultural stereotypes and any historical event Himaruya finds interesting. Since this series originally started as an online comic, it's not surprising that the "story" is a little all over the place.

The main thing to know about this series is that it is intended to be humorous, and it focuses on characters who are anthropomorphized countries. Countries that come up a lot are: Italy (cowardly, friendly, not very bright), Germany (strict and serious), Japan (a bit of a mystery, tends to say whatever he thinks will cause the least offense), America (a cheerfully arrogant idiot), England (a fan of the supernatural), France (an enormous flirt who likes neither America nor England)...I could go on. Lots of countries make appearances, even if it's only for a few panels.

Commentary:

This manga is hard for me to write about. I liked it, for many of the same reasons I liked the anime. It's funny, the characters are appealing, and it makes history and the relationships between countries more interesting and memorable, even for someone like me, who had to struggle to remember anything for history tests. However, I read a review that said this manga has "a strong whiff of pointlessness," and I think I'd have to agree with that. I didn't dislike this volume nearly as much as some of the people who commented on the review seemed to, but...it felt like the manga equivalent of potato chips - enjoyable enough while it lasted, but basically just empty calories.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Anime - a change of pace

I have recently found myself having to fight a lack of interest in, and sometimes even hatred of, the anime I've been watching. Looking over what I've recently watched, there have been a few stinkers and a few that were just so-so. I think the number of so-so stuff I've seen has built up to toxic levels in my brain. When I started watching Kaze no Stigma, I had hoped I'd picked the winner that would help put me back in a better frame of mind. Although it was an ok show, it wasn't what I needed.

I've decided that a complete change of pace is necessary, so I'm watching my first 100% serious anime in a long while - Naoki Urasawa's Monster. I've seen 3 episodes so far and I think I've finally found the winner I was looking for. Most of what I know about the show I've read in product descriptions - by its third sentence, the product description in Amazon.com already covers more than I've seen so far in the show. Even without that description, it doesn't take a genius to quickly figure out that Monster is a show with dark things ahead. Part of me dreads what is to come, but part of me is excited. So far, watching Monster is like watching a novel unfold onscreen. I'm crossing my fingers that the entire 74-episode series turns out to be a strong as those first three episodes.

I had seen this show in Walmart a while back. I almost bought it, and then I realized that what I had been about to buy for $30 was only 15 episodes long. I did a little research and learned that the show was a good deal longer. If the company releasing this were FUNimation, I could wait things out and be reasonably certain that, eventually, a "complete series" boxed set, or even just a smaller number of parts, would be released. The total price would go down.

I don't know how things work with Viz releases. I'm already convinced that this show is going to end up on my "to buy" list, but I'm not willing to pay $150 or more for the series. I suppose I can always hope that Right Stuf will have a great Viz sale one of these days.

As far as my reading goes:
  • The Unconsoled by Kazuo Ishiguro - Still working on this one, but it's going to take a lot of willpower for me to finish. I wish characters would stop having verbal diarrhea. It's really hard to tell what out of, say, a four-page ramble about hamsters or working as a porter, is important. Maybe none of it's important, and it's all just meant to create some kind of mood. I suppose I'll figure it out. Eventually.
  • Spice & Wolf, vol. 1 by Isuna Hasekura - Not bad, and it's interesting seeing where the anime changed things. Considering how much of the book deals with Lawrence's thoughts (about loneliness, about being a good merchant, about money, etc.), this must have been a bear to turn into an anime, making me all the more impressed at how good the anime really was. I still think I prefer the anime over this light novel, but I'm liking the light novel enough that I think I'm going to try the next one.
  • Loose Lips by Claire Berlinski - According to the record in my library's catalog, this one has spies, humor, and romance. I was expecting a zany romance with spies, like maybe Alias with Janet Evanovich-style humor. That's not what this book is, but it's still pretty good. It occurs to me, again, how much traditionally constructed library catalog records suck at describing recreational reading. It's a somewhat depressing realization, considering that constructing and editing catalog records is a large part of my job.
  • In the "I haven't even started these" pile, I have:
    • a couple volumes of Kaoru Mori's Emma
    • volume 1 of Hetalia (which is due in 2 days - eek!), 
    • The Encyclopedia of Exes edited by Meredith Broussard (stories of failed romance, written by men - I got it because it sounded potentially funny),
    • A Gothic Treasure Trove selected and condensed by the editors of Reader's Digest (I don't usually read "condensed" stuff, but I've been meaning to try Gothic novels, and this book gives me six to choose from),
    • The Tale of Genji by Lady Murasaki (I may be asking too much of myself with this book, but I want to at least try to read it),
    • and Confessions of a Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella (missed out on the movie, heard good things about this book from my mom)

Kaze no Stigma (anime TV series), via Hulu



(I'm trying something a little new, and including an official trailer for the series, since I don't use images with my Hulu posts. Although the trailer features the English dub, I watched the entire show in Japanese with English subtitles.)

This is a 24 episode series.

Aside from a spoiler in my commentary in which I say how things turn out between Ayano (who I kept wanting to call Asuna - I think I caught all of them, but if I mention someone named Asuna, assume I meant Ayano) and Kazuma, this post is spoiler-free.

Synopsis:

Four years ago, Kazuma failed a test of his fire magic powers and was kicked out of the Kannagi family. Hot-headed Ayano took his place as the next head of the Kannagi family.

Now, Kazuma is back. Instead of being a failed fire magic user, he's a powerful wind magic user - in fact, he's a Contractor, someone who has made a contract with the spirit of the wind. Although this makes him more powerful than any member of the Kannagi family, his use of wind magic rather than fire magic means he still can't be accepted back into the family. Fortunately, Kazuma doesn't want to be part of the family again. What he wants is to prove to himself and his former family that he's stronger than any of them. First, though, Kazuma and the Kannagi family have to deal with a mysterious wind magic user who's trying to frame Kazuma for the killings of several Kannagi family members.

Kazuma refuses to help the Kannagi family for free, but he sticks around after the head of the family, Ayano's father, agrees to pay him for his services. Kazuma bonds with Ren, his little brother, deals with his unresolved issues with his father by battling him, and acts as Ayano's bodyguard. Hoping that Kazuma and Ayano will fall in love with each other, or at least have an "accident," Ayano's father arranges for the two of them to be together as often as possible. Ayano and Kazuma battle demons and spirits and occasionally cross paths with other element magic user families (there's a fairly substantial story arc dealing with a prominent earth magic user family, and Catherine McDonald, from the most powerful American fire magic user family, becomes a fixture in the second half of the series).

Kazuma's past eventually catches up to him, and he finds himself having to deal with an evil magic user who enjoys taunting him with a girl who's the spitting image of the girl Kazuma fell in love with during his four years away from the Kannagi family. Somehow, Kazuma has to move beyond the past, and Kazuma, Ayano, and Ren have to defeat the evil magic user before he destroys all of Tokyo.

Commentary:

After Dance in the Vampire Bund, I needed something that I figured probably wouldn't cause me to recoil in horror. I had wanted to see this series for quite a long time, and there were a few times I even almost broke down and bought it. The somewhat high price tag, even when it was on sale at Right Stuf, caused me to put off buying it.

Now that I've finally watched the show, I've taken it off my "to buy" list. It's not that it's a bad show - compared to a crappy show like Devil May Cry, or even a mediocre show like Dance in the Vampire Bund, it's not that bad. I'd say I enjoyed it about as much as I enjoyed Xxxholic. Kaze no Stigma has pretty visuals, decent animation (with some shortcuts taken here and there), consistent character designs, a nice premise, and a few really good moments. The problem is, it could have been a much better show than it was.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Ristorante Paradiso (manga) story and art by Natsume Ono

Relatively spoiler-free synopsis!

Synopsis:

Twenty-one-year old Nicoletta travels to Rome to find her mother, Olga. Olga abandoned Nicoletta 15 years ago, saying that the man she was in love with wouldn't want her if he knew she was a divorcee with a young child. Nicoletta finds Olga at Casetta dell'Orso, a restaurant owned by Olga's husband Lorenzo, the man for whom she abandoned Nicoletta.

The entire staff of Casetta dell'Orso is composed of handsome older gentlemen who wear glasses. Trying to figure out what to do with herself now that she's found her mother, Nicoletta finds herself attracted to Claudio, the restaurant's head waiter. Nicoletta convinces Olga to give her a job in the kitchen, promising her that she won't tell Lorenzo she's her daughter if she does. As far as everyone knows, Nicoletta is the daughter of a friend of Olga's.

Nicoletta settles into life at the restaurant. She becomes serious about learning to cook well. She spends time talking to her mother, and, as she falls more in love with Claudio, she begins to get a better perspective of her mother and why she did what she did. She learns more about the staff members of the restaurant - including that Claudio is a divorcee who may or may not still be in love with his ex-wife.

Although Nicoletta becomes friends with both Claudio and her mother, the various secrets and complicated relationships mean that things can't necessarily remain as they are.

Commentary:

I got this manga via ILL after reading a review about it on Unshelved. Plus, I really liked the cover art. It would have been awesome if the same look could have been used throughout the entire volume.

I wasn't really sure, at first, what to write about this manga. Looking for inspiration, I reread the whole thing, and I found I actually enjoyed it more the second time around. This is not my usual manga fare, and, although it hasn't made it onto my "to buy" list, it was a refreshing change.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Dance in the Vampire Bund (anime TV series), via Hulu

In honor of my getting to eat "real" food (a few spoonfuls of thick potato soup with a couple slices of toast) for the first time in five days, I give you...a new post.

I tried to make my synopsis fairly spoiler-free. However, as a result it is also a little misleading.

Synopsis:

At some point in the past, Akira, a high school student, got in an accident and lost his memory. His otherwise normal life is turned upside down when Mina, the vampire ruler, reveals that vampires are real on a Japanese game show. Not long after the show, Mina tracks Akira down and tells him that, before his accident, he was one of her servants and had made a promise to always stay by her side. Not only that, Akira learns that he's a werewolf.

Mina's plan is to establish a vampire bund just outside Japan. She's willing to do absolutely anything to get the Japanese government to go along with this plan. Mina would like the vampire bund to be a safe place for vampires to go. Unfortunately, she faces lots of opposition. The Telomere group is composed of vampires who want nothing to do with living peacefully in any way with humankind. In order to increase Japanese opposition to the bund, they try to slaughter and change into vampires as many people as they can. Mina also has to contend with the leaders of the three other vampire clans, who would like her to finally keep the promise they forced her to make a long time ago.

Meanwhile, although Akira's memory has come back somewhat, there are still some pieces missing, and they seem to have something to do with Mina and the legacy of the true-bloods. Mina lives only for Akira and wants him by her side, but what will happen when he finally remembers everything?

Commentary:

I'm not sure there are enough exclamation points in the world to describe this show, and even resorting to all caps might not do the trick. I don't mean any of that in a good way.

That said, this isn't a completely terrible show (although, jeez, does it have some issues). Part of me wishes it were, because, not even one episode into it, I wanted to hate it.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Xxxholic (anime TV series), via Hulu

I finished this post during periods of drinking tea/water and waiting for cough meds to kick in. I've got the flu right now, so there may not be a lot of posts published in the near future - the new meds I've been given make me sleepy, and that's a good thing. I just wish they worked better on my cough.

Synopsis:

Kimihiro Watanuki is able to see supernatural beings and spirits no one else can see. He involuntarily attracts them but is unable to do much against them. His strong desire to finally be a normal person with a normal life lands him on Yuko's doorstep.

Yuko is a mysterious woman who can grant any wish, but only if she is paid something of equal value. She can help Watanuki stop seeing spirits, but first he has to pay her by working for her as long as it takes to pay off the debt. There is no indication how long this will take, but, despite his complaints, Watanuki doesn't necessarily mind the work he is assigned. His primary duties are to cook for Yuko and those who live with her (a cute black creature called Mokona and possibly two children named Maru and Moru, although I'm not sure those two even eat), provide Yuko with alcohol when she asks for it (which is practically all the time), and clean Yuko's shop. Sometimes Yuko also gives Watanuki odd jobs that have something to do with her clients or the spirit world.

Throughout the course of the season (there is a second season that comes after this, as well as some OVAs), Yuko is visited by various clients. Although most of them are in some way responsible for the problems they find themselves dealing with, Watanuki finds himself more sympathetic to some than others. For instance, Watanuki tries very hard to help one woman whose problems are caused by a bad habit she doesn't even recognize she has. In another episode, Yuko's client is a woman tormented by a murder she committed that she doesn't want anyone to know about.

Some episodes involve supernatural situations, rather than clients visiting Yuko's shop. A couple examples are one episode in which a shy girl who is having trouble confessing her feelings to someone she likes turns out to be a supernatural being, and another episode in which Watanuki and his friend/rival Domeki take part in a procession of supernatural creatures.

Commentary:

I watched this entire 24-episode season/series over the course of four or five days. The Hulu expiration date for all but the first four episodes was coming up, and I wanted to know whether it was worth it to buy the show. Just like I reread books, I rewatch shows, and I wanted to know if this was a show I'd want to rewatch.

Sadly, the answer is no.

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