Tuesday, September 15, 2020

REVIEW: Bungo Stray Dogs, Season One (anime TV series)

Bungo Stray Dogs
is a supernatural action series. It's licensed by Funimation.

Review:

Atsushi is an orphan who has lived his entire life as an outcast for reasons he has only recently come to understand. As the newest member of the Armed Detective Agency, he's awed by the supernatural abilities many of his coworkers are able to use, and worried that he won't be able to measure up. Not to mention, one of the area's most dangerous groups, the Port Mafia, will stop at nothing in order to capture him. What he and his new coworkers don't realize is that there's someone else beyond the Port Mafia who's interested in capturing him as well.

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

REVIEW: Mononoke (anime TV series)

Mononoke is a supernatural mystery/horror series. I bought my copy brand new. For some reason Amazon (US) only sells the streaming version, although DVD copies are available in the Amazon Marketplace. Either this is out-of-print or there's some kind of agreement that's keeping it off Amazon. At any rate, Right Stuf has it for cheap, so I recommend getting it there (and unfortunately you'll need to resign yourself to waiting, due to the current presidential administration's efforts to kill the USPS).

Review:

Mononoke is composed of five self-contained stories. In "Zashiki Warashi," a pregnant woman is trying to escape an assassin and convinces an innkeeper to allow her to stay for the night. "Sea Bishop (Sea Bonze)" follows a group of people traveling on a merchant ship, which somehow ends up in the Dragon's Triangle, a part of the sea that's full of ayakashi (supernatural monsters). "The Faceless Monster" focuses on a woman scheduled to be put to death for killing her husband and his entire family. In "Nue - The Japanese Chimera," several suitors vie for the hand of Princess Ruri by participating in an incense identification game. And finally, in "The Goblin Cat" several seemingly unrelated people find themselves trapped in a subway car together, sometime after the supposed suicide of a particular female journalist. The one thing tying all of these stories together is the mysterious Medicine Seller, who finds and vanquishes (or purifies?) mononoke, vengeful spirits, using a special sword he can only draw once he has discovered the mononoke's Form, Truth, and Reason.

Monday, September 7, 2020

REVIEW: Bamboo Blade, Part 2 (anime TV series)

Bamboo Blade is a combination sports, comedy, and slice-of-life series. I own the series in two parts and opted to review them separately. My review of Part 1 is available here.

This review contains spoilers.

Review:

This is the second half of the season, episodes 14 to 26. Now that the team has five female members, they can finally properly compete. They take part in a training camp, and then a tournament in which Tamaki must face off against a cheating opponent, and Miya-miya finds her willpower tested when a girl from another school expresses an interest in winning Dan-kun as her boyfriend via a kendo match. As the series comes to a close, several team members struggle to stay motivated and committed to kendo, and the team's very existence is put into jeopardy.

Sunday, September 6, 2020

REVIEW: Didn't I Say to Make My Abilities Average in the Next Life?!, Vol. 1 (book) by FUNA, illustrated by Itsuki Akata, translated by Diana Taylor

Didn't I Say to Make My Abilities Average in the Next Life?! is yet another isekai fantasy series. This one is licensed by Seven Seas Entertainment. I bought my copy brand new.

Review:

In Japan, Kurihara Misato was a prodigy, good at everything she tried...except making friends. Although she was never bullied, she could never seem to get close to anyone. Then, when she was 18, she was killed saving a child from being hit by a car. After her death, she appeared before a young man who called himself "God," who wished to thank her for saving the child by having her reborn in a new world with whatever abilities she desired. Misato's wish surprises him: she wants her abilities to be average. 

And so she is reborn as Adele von Ascham, daughter of Viscount Ascham, her station in life exactly halfway between the lowest and highest possible. It seems that God misunderstood her request to be "average." His definition of "average" with respect to her magical and physical abilities turns out to be similarly skewed. This puts Adele in a bit of a bind. How is she supposed to come across as average if she's actually ridiculously powerful? This particular volume covers her new life from age 10 to 12, beginning at Eckland Academy, a school for lesser nobles and talented commoners, and continuing on to her work as a newbie hunter (basically, an adventurer).

Saturday, September 5, 2020

REVIEW: The Haunted Monastery: A Judge Dee Mystery (book) by Robert van Gulik

From what I can tell, The Haunted Monastery was Robert van Gulik's sixth Judge Dee historical mystery, although there was technically one Judge Dee novel before all of those, van Gulik's translation of Celebrated Cases of Judge Dee.

This review contains slight spoilers.

Review:

Judge Dee is traveling with his three wives when the weather takes a sudden turn for the worse, forcing him to seek shelter at a Taoist monastery. When a gust of wind blows open the window in his room, Dee witnesses a possible crime: a man in a helmet attacking a naked one-armed woman. However, when he asks to see the part of the monastery where the crime occurred, not only is there no trace of the man and woman, there's also no window. The only window it could have been was bricked up long ago.

The weather has given Judge Dee the beginnings of a terrible cold, so he wonders whether the scene he saw was an hallucination, or possibly even ghosts. However, as he meets the Abbot and the other visitors at the monastery, he strongly suspects that his vision might be connected to the three relatively recent deaths that occurred at this same monastery, all involving young women.

Thursday, September 3, 2020

REVIEW: In Another World With My Smartphone, Vol. 1 (book) by Patora Fuyuhara, illustrations by Eiji Usatsuka, translated by Andrew Hodgson

In Another World With My Smartphone is yet another isekai series (similar to portal fantasy). It's licensed by J-Novel Club.

Review:

When God apologizes to Mochizuki Touya for accidentally killing him with a lightning bolt, Touya takes it very well. After all, he doesn't remember dying, and stuff happens. Still, God wants to make it up to him as much as possible, so he offers to give him a new life in a different world. He even agrees to grant Touya a favor, setting things up so that he can continue to use his smartphone in that new world. It will be powered by the magical abilities God has granted him. In addition to all of that, God also gives all of Touya's basic abilities a boost (strength, memory, etc.).

So begins Touya's life in a new world. He meets twin sisters who become his traveling and adventuring companions, as well as a young woman from a country very much like Japan, a duke and his daughter, and a princess, and gradually learns what sorts of things his magic and magically-powered smartphone can do.

Saturday, August 29, 2020

REVIEW: Fullmetal Alchemist: The Ties That Bind (book) by Makoto Inoue, translated by Alexander O. Smith, original concept by Hiromu Arakawa

Fullmetal Alchemist: The Ties That Bind is the fifth light novel starring Hiromu Arakawa's characters from Fullmetal Alchemist, a fantasy action series. I bought my copy brand new.

Review:

Do not read this book unless you've at least made it through volume 4 of the manga, episode 10 of FMA: Brotherhood, or episode 25 of the first FMA anime.

Edward and Alphonse are training with Izumi in Dublith when they spot a book, The Evolution of the Body by Balerea Dell, in an old photograph. The book was banned, and all copies of it should have been destroyed, but the brothers decide to travel to the town of Lambsear in the hope that the bookstore and that particular book are still there. It might contain a clue that could lead them to the Philosopher's Stone, or information relating to successful human transmutation. Meanwhile, there have been a bunch of chimera attacks in the area, and Roy Mustang has been tasked with investigating and putting a stop to them. 

REVIEW: Fullmetal Alchemist: Under the Faraway Sky (book) by Makoto Inoue, translated by Alexander O. Smith, original concept by Hiromu Arakawa

Fullmetal Alchemist: Under the Faraway Sky is the fourth light novel starring Hiromu Arakawa's characters from Fullmetal Alchemist, a fantasy action series.

Review:

This book is divided into two stories, "Under the Faraway Sky" and "Roy's Holiday." I'll discuss them separately.

"Under the Faraway Sky"

Edward and Alphonse Elric have now been traveling on their own for a year. Edward ends up with a cold, forcing them to stop at a nearby town for a while. The local doctor is busy, so the person he sends to give Edward a checkup is his assistant, who turns out to be Edward's best childhood friend back at Resembool, Pitt. It's a shock - when they were growing up, Pitt was just as much of a troublemaker as Edward, but now he's mature and pursuing a career he's interested in and that clearly helps people. It makes Edward a little jealous.

Thursday, August 27, 2020

REVIEW: Bamboo Blade, Part 1 (anime TV series)


Bamboo Blade is a combination of comedy, slice of life, and sports (specifically, kendo). It's licensed by Funimation.

Review:

Although Toraji Ishida was a talented kendo student, to the point that he beat his senpai and best friend on the team, as a kendo instructor he's an absolute loser. He puts almost no effort into instructing his students and does nothing about the rampant bullying a couple of the members engage in. It's gotten to the point where his kendo club has only one member left, Kirino. Then motivation enters Toraji's life, in the form of a bet. If the girls in his kendo club can win against the girls in his senpai's kendo club, he'll get free sushi for life at his senpai's relative's restaurant. Since Toraji is perpetually poor, this is a big deal.

First, however, he has to recruit some girls to the team. He lucks out, and his first recruit turns out to be amazing: Tamaki, the daughter of a kendo dojo master. His next recruits include a couple boys (who then get shuffled to the side for the most part), Miya-miya (the cutesy girlfriend of one of the boys), and a girl who was good at kendo in middle school but quit for some reason after she entered high school. Also, one of the club's absent members returns after failing in her efforts to become a great novelist and/or guitarist.

This series is 26 episodes long, and I own it in two parts. I'll be reviewing each part separately - this part contains episodes 1 to 13.

Sunday, August 23, 2020

REVIEW: Anime Supremacy (book) by Mizuki Tsujimura, translated by Deborah Boliver Boehm

Anime Supremacy is a slice-of-life workplace story. It's licensed by Vertical. I bought my copy brand new.

Review:

The book is divided into four chapters (think of them as parts, if the idea of long chapters horrifies you - on the plus side, there are scene breaks that serve as good reading stopping points). The first three are devoted to particular protagonists while the last is an epilogue.

The first chapter deals with Kayako, a producer, who finds that working with the director she most idolizes isn't exactly the dream come true she expected it to be. The second chapter deals with Hitomi, a director working on the sort of series she dreamed about making when she first fell in love with anime. She struggles with getting everyone on her team on the right wavelength - her producer seems more focused on glamor and profits than anything else, and she can't seem to communicate well with the show's primary female voice actors. The third chapter deals with Kazuna, a key animator who finds herself roped into a marketing project she resents and doesn't feel particularly suited for.

All of these characters' paths cross at one point or another, and by the end all of their stories become tied together.

Saturday, August 22, 2020

REVIEW: Resident Evil: Degeneration (CGI animated movie)

Resident Evil: Degeneration is an action horror movie, part of the Resident Evil franchise.

This review includes slight spoilers.

Review:

I'm going to start this off by saying that I am not the target audience for this movie. My exposure to the Resident Evil franchise is almost solely limited to the live action movies. I've seen a small part of a Let's Play video of one of the games, something where Leon was the  playable character, and I once attempted to play one of the games and didn't even survive more that a few minutes (my first instinct was to try to shoot the zombie rather than avoid it like I was supposed to). I'm sure I missed out on a lot of backstory and world-building.

The movie begins at an airport. Claire Redfield's plane has landed, and she's waiting for her ride with a little girl named Rani when she spots Senator Ron Davis, a self-important guy who's easy to hate. Senator Davis is one of the stockholders of WilPharma, a controversial pharmaceutical company that Claire opposes. Anyway, they barely have a chance to say anything before a zombie attacks, a zombie-infested plane crashes into the airport, and the entire place dissolves into chaos. Luckily for Claire, Rani, and the senator, federal agent Leon S. Kennedy has been sent to the scene for reasons (terrorist threats), and he has time for a rescue mission. His team includes two members of the local Special Response Team, Angela and Greg, neither of whom have a clue what they're in for (even though Leon tells them).

REVIEW: Inside Out (CGI animated movie)

Inside Out is an animated drama with comedy and action elements. I bought my copy new.

Review:

When Riley was born, a place inside her manifested beings that each control one of five basic emotions: Joy, Anger, Fear, Disgust, and Sadness. Each of these being loves Riley and wants what's best for her. The very first emotion to manifest was Joy, and it is Joy who generally dominates Riley's control room.

When Riley is 11, her dad's job leads to the family moving from Minnesota, where she had lots of good memories, friends, a nice house, and hockey, to San Francisco. From the very beginning, it isn't a good experience. Their new house is crammed in between other buildings, doesn't have a yard, looks shabby, and has a dead mouse on the floor. The moving truck is going to be several days late. But Joy is Riley's dominant emotion, and so she tries to make the best of things. However, something strange is going on. For some reason Sadness keeps accidentally affecting Riley's memories, including the most sacred ones of all, her core memories, the ones that define who she is. 

REVIEW: Amulet, Book 2: The Stonekeeper's Curse (graphic novel, vol. 2) by Kazu Kibuishi

Amulet is SFF (more heavily fantasy, but with robots). I bought my copy used.

This review contains mild spoilers.

Review:

Although Emily and Navin managed to rescue their mother, she is now unconscious and slowly dying of poison. They use Silas's house to travel to the city of Kanalis, where they hope to find medicine that can cure her. Unfortunately, the main ingredient for that medicine is the fruit of the Gadoba tree, which hundreds have died trying to obtain. Meanwhile, Prince Trellis has been taken back to his father, the Elf King, who once again sends him out to find and kill (or capture?) Emily because she's a Stonekeeper. Trellis is accompanied by Luger, one of the Elf King's henchmen, to ensure that he'll do the job right this time.

REVIEW: Amulet, Book 1: The Stonekeeper (graphic novel, vol. 1) by Kazu Kibuishi

Amulet is SFF (definitely fantasy, although the robots could be viewed as more sci-fi). According to Wikipedia, the series isn't quite complete yet but should end up being 9 volumes long. I found the first two at a used bookstore.

Review:

This begins with Emily and her parents on their way to pick up Emily's young brother, Navin. They get in an accident, and although Emily and her mother make it out, Emily's father is trapped in the car. When it slides off a cliff, he's still inside.

Two years later, Emily's mother is moving the whole family to a rundown house in a smaller, less expensive area. The place was previously owned by Emily's mother's grandfather, Silas, who used to create machines and puzzles. They're all working on cleaning the house up when Emily's mother is attacked by a tentacled monster that traps her, still alive, inside its belly. Emily and Navin chase after the monster and somehow end up in a strange fantasy world with only a talking amulet that Emily found among Silas's things to guide and protect them.

Monday, August 17, 2020

REVIEW: Gestalt (manga, vol. 2) by Yun Kouga, translated by Christine Schilling

Gestalt is a fantasy manga. It's licensed by VIZ Media. I got my copy of this used.

Review:

Warning: this review includes spoilers for volume 1.

Although Takara wants to beat Ouri, she doesn't want it badly enough to risk the death of her beloved Raimei. Ouri arrives and manages to save the day, although Dark Olivier's appearance is neither explained nor 100% dealt with. Then it's time to figure out the next step in the party's journey to the island of G. It turns out that there's a boat that leaves from Diohaan to G, but landmark gold pieces are the only things accepted as payment for that trip, and Ouri unwittingly sold the group's only landmark gold piece. Luckily, there's a way to get another one: a tournament that's only held once every five years, and that conveniently happens to be starting soon. The winner gets a landmark gold piece. Unfortunately, one of Ouri's siblings is also in the area and trying to get a landmark gold piece.