Sunday, October 31, 2010

Slacker blogger, that's me!

Since my last post, I have watched nothing but Naruto Shippuden (only 137 episodes before I'm finally caught up!) and read...nothing. Seriously, I haven't read anything in a couple weeks. I also haven't written anything, not even just enough to finish some of the posts I've got sitting in the "draft" stage.

I don't know how much of that's going to be changing, seeing as how National Novel Writing Month starts tomorrow and I plan on participating. Since I was able to extend last year's NaNoWriMo attempt by several thousand words by adding a (completely out of the blue) zombie attack, this year I plan to start off with zombies. Turns out they're lots of fun to write, and hopefully that fun will help me finally reach the 50,000 word goal. Every year I've done this, I always start off strong, and then my daily word count drops to nothing. I start to think too much about how bad my writing is, and it becomes harder and harder to write more. Maybe I should tape this reminder to my monitor: "NaNoWriMo is about quantity, so stop worrying and just WRITE." I don't know if it will work, but it's worth a shot.

To anyone else out there planning to take part in NaNoWriMo: Good luck!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Black Butler (manga, vol. 1) by Yana Toboso


Ciel, the head of the Phantomhive family, is young in years but otherwise often seems like a little adult. His loyal and talented butler, Sebastian, keeps everything running smoothly, even as Ciel's other servants seem to make a mess of anything they attempt to do.

Only Ciel knows that Sebastian is actually a demon. After his parents were killed, Ciel bound Sebastian to him. Sebastian is Ciel's completely loyal servant, following his master's every command, even when those commands seem impossible. Ciel serves the Queen, as all heads of the Phantomhive family before him have done, but Ciel's ultimate goal is to find and kill whoever it was that killed his parents. In exchange for Sebastian's help in accomplishing this goal, Ciel has agreed to allow Sebastian to eat his soul.

Most of the things Sebastian helps Ciel with in this first volume aren't exactly earth-shattering. Sebastian makes sure that an important dinner with a Mister Chlaus goes perfectly, despite Finny, the gardener, killing the entire garden, Meyrin, the maid, breaking the tea set, and Baldo, the cook, ruining dinner by trying to cook it with a blowtorch. When Ciel's fiancee, Lizzie, arrives and redecorates the entire manor to make it more cute, Sebastian keeps Ciel from irreparably damaging his relationship with Lizzie when she accidentally breaks his precious ring. It's not until the second half of the volume that Sebastian gets involved in more dramatic events.

When Ciel is kidnapped by a member of the Italian mafia, Sebastian leaves the Phantomhive manor in the hands of Ciel's other servants and goes to rescue him, armed only with forks and knives. Thankfully, with Sebastian's superhuman fighting skills and speed, forks and knives are all he needs to defeat an army's worth of the kidnapper's people. Just before he can rescue Ciel, Sebastian is shot multiple times, making it look like the kidnapper won - except that Sebastian is a demon and the bullets do little more than mess up his clothes. Ciel's orders give Sebastian the power and ability to finally save him, and Sebastian takes him home. Unfortunately, though, as good as Sebastian is, he's not quite god enough: he didn't manage to rescue Ciel in time to prepare dinner.


I think some of my synopsis includes information that isn't quite clear yet in this particular volume, but I had problems separating what I remembered from the anime from what I remembered from the manga.

I've found that, usually, manga will take hinted at relationships and sexual (or near-sexual) content farther than anime, but in this case I think the anime goes father. Of course, this opinion is based solely on what I've seen in this first volume, so it's possible this will change. At the point, the manga and anime are still basically the same (although Madame Red makes more appearances in this portion of the anime than in this volume of the manga - most notably, a Sebastian butt fondling scene was added in the anime), although I've heard that the anime deviates from the manga quite a bit.

Art-wise, I like the anime better than the manga. Although the differences aren't huge, the anime art tends to look a bit cleaner to me, and Sebastian looks more like an adult. That doesn't mean I disliked the art in this volume, however - far from it. I just think Sebastian is more consistently sexy in the anime, and I think the character designs are, in general, more consistent throughout in the anime.

I know, I'm comparing this to the anime a bit too much. I can't help it, since my first exposure to the series was via the anime. I couldn't seem to stop myself from comparing everything in this volume to the anime. My comments about the artwork in the manga are nitpicks, really, although there is one thing about the manga that I would change if I could - the translation of Sebastian's catchphrase. The manga has him saying, "I'm a devil of a butler," while in the anime (sub) he says, "I'm one hell of a butler" (or something similar). I think the anime version works better and is more clever.

One thing I really loved about this volume was the humor - Ciel's clueless servants were hilarious, and Sebastian's amazingly successful attempts to clean up after their messes were fun, too. I hope that later volumes develop Ciel's servants more. In the anime, they sort of get the short end of the stick, with bare bones explanations for their various...quirks...given near the end of the first season. I think I might like a little more. Then again, I've heard some very fun things about future volumes in this series that will probably make me forget I ever wanted to hear more about Baldo, Meyrin, and Finny.

Overall, my feeling about the manga is the same as my feeling about the anime: it's not really something to rave about and spend all your money on, but it's still nice. It helps to be the sort of person who goes all fangirly over sexy male characters. Manga Sebastian, like Anime Sebastian, is awesome and sexy, although he's at a bit of a disadvantage without the benefit of Daisuke Ono's voice behind him.


Two full-color pages, one of which shows Sebastian, Ciel, Finny, Baldo, Meyrin, and Tanaka (who I can't believe I forgot to mention - he's adorable!); a 2-page comic showing how Black Butler came to be; 3 pages of translator's notes (very nice); and, on the inside back cover, an illustration showing what the series might be like if it were about the "'Phantomhive' host club" (get rid of the text and word bubbles, and I'd want this image as a poster, even if there was no chance of it ever being in color).

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • Ouran High School Host Club (manga) by Bisco Hatori; Ouran High School Host Club (anime TV series) - Yet another fairly light series with over-the-top humor and plenty of fan service for girls.The main character is a girl who is attending an elite school on a scholarship. She gets mistaken for a guy and is forced to join her school's host club in order to pay back a debt. Each guy in the host club is a different type, both physically and personality-wise, so there's bound to be someone there to appeal to just about everyone. About the only potential red flag I can think of is the implied twincest - twin host club members who have a very close relationship. That part of their relationship isn't played seriously at all, but it might still bother some people.
  • Godchild (manga) by Kaori Yuki - Those who'd like another semi-historical series set in England, starring a boy detective sort, might want to try this out. If I remember right, this one is more serious than humorous.
  • Artemis Fowl (book) by Eoin Colfer - Again, not nearly as silly as this first volume of Black Butler, but it might be a good one to check out for those who are interested in something else starring an adult-like child and a devoted butler/bodyguard. Artemis Fowl is a child villain who uses his amazing intelligence to carry out thefts. His latest plan, to steal from the fairies, beings most of the world doesn't even believe exist, may end up being more dangerous than he anticipated.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Kitten and electrical cords

I'm probably jinxing myself by writing this, but I seem to have found a solution to the whole "kitten playing with electrical cords" issue, and I thought I'd share. Since she mainly concentrates on the power strip that has all my computer stuff plugged into it, I put several rows of double-sided tape on a vinyl place mat and set that under the power strip. The tape isn't sticky enough to do more than annoy her, but that's good enough - this is the first day since I got her that she hasn't threatened to turn my power strip off or loosen cables. None of this was really my own idea, by the way - I got the idea from a show about cats that had a little segment in which a cat trainer showed a couple how to train their cat not to jump on kitchen counters using the same method.

Now let's see how successful I am at teaching her not to scratch my furniture...

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Post-vacation post

I now have my new kitten! She was a bit scared at first, but once I broke out the jingle ball toys she got over that. She's already got me Googling ways to keep cats from playing with electrical cords, but, other than that, we're getting along fine so far. Of course, she's only actually been with me for a few hours, but watching her attack jingle balls gives me good feelings. We even played something that sort of resembled fetch.

I figured that, in addition to kitten stuff, I'd also write about my vacation reading. With all the niece-watching I did, I ended up having plenty of time to read (and massive amounts of time for TV watching, which may have reawakened my addiction to House).

Here's the stuff I managed to finish:
  • Evan Can Wait (book) by Rhys Bowen - I mentioned this author and her Constable Evans books as read-alikes for M.C. Beaton's Hamish Macbeth books, but I had never actually read any of Bowen's Constable Evans books. I decided to fix this, and it was a good decision. I can now say from personal experience that the Constable Evans books are definitely good read-alike suggestions for those who liked the Hamish Macbeth books. In this particular book, Evan Evans has the annoying task of watching out for a bunch of people filming a documentary about the recovery of a WWII plane. The most insufferable of the documentary people is murdered, and Evan must figure out who did it. The case ends up being tied to a bit of local history about some paintings that had been hidden in the slate mines during WWII.
  • Evanly Bodies (book) by Rhys Bowen - I loved Evan Can Wait, so I figured I'd try another Constable Evans book. These two books, by the way, were the only Constable Evans books I could get hold of at the library right away, but it doesn't appear to matter much which book in the series you start with. Like Beaton's Hamish Macbeth books, all you end up missing out on is a little character history. In Evan Can Wait, Evan was stressing out about his girlfriend and whether she might want to go back to her ex-husband. He hoped to marry her but hadn't asked yet. In this book, the two of them are newly weds. Evan has to deal with what appears to be a serial killer who targets husbands, stressful changes at work, and a Pakistani family whose daughter runs away and may be in danger.
  • Ready or Not (book) by Meg Cabot - This is the only YA novel I read during my vacation, and I almost didn't finish it. I got it because I remembered that Cabot is very highly regarded over at Forever Young Adult, but it didn't instantly grab me, so I almost quit after the first 20 pages or so. The end of my vacation swooped in, I only had three days left to read anything, and this was the shortest book in the pile of library books I hadn't read yet, so I decided to finish it - good decision. Samantha (aka Sam) has a lot to deal with in this book: she finds out her new life drawing class involves drawing naked people (in particular, a naked guy, her first naked guy ever); David, her boyfriend and the President's son, asks her to go to Camp David with him and his family, which she is sure means that he wants to have sex, something she's not sure she's ready for; and her conflict about sex and losing her virginity spills over into all sorts of other areas of her life. For those who are worrying that all this thinking about sex means that there's a graphic sex scene, rest assured that that's not the case. Reading about all of Sam's worries made me wish I could help talk her through them - she's an extremely likable character.
  • Dream Gold: Knights in the Dark (manga, vol. 1) by Tasurou Nakanishi - In this volume, the main characters join a group in which each individual is dedicated to finding a mysterious treasure hidden somewhere in the city. While this one wasn't necessarily bad, it didn't grab me at all. I have no interest in reading any other volumes of the series. Something about it reminded me a little of GetBackers, only the characters in GetBackers are more interesting.
  • Otomen (manga, vol. 1) by Aya Kanno - I liked Aya Kanno's Blank Slate and wanted to try this series. Happily, the library had volume 1. Unfortunately, I could find no other volumes on the shelves - I loved this volume, and definitely plan on reading more. The only issue I can see is that this could end up being a one-note series that gets stale quickly. In this volume, Asuka appears to be the proper manly ideal. What others don't know about him is that he secretly likes girlie things, like handicrafts, cooking, and cute animals. He falls in love with a clueless girl who likes macho stuff and meets a guy who starts off as his romantic rival and becomes something like a friend. What Asuka doesn't know is that this guy is actually a manga artist and author who's been basing his hit shojo series on Asuka's life. In case this description hasn't already made it obvious, this series is nothing like Kanno's Blank Slate. Kanno is a brave person to tackle such completely different tones.
  • The Kindaichi Case Files: The Gentleman Thief (manga, I didn't write down which volume this is) story by Yozaburo Kanari, art by Fumiya Sato - I've liked other Kindaichi Case Files volumes I've read, although not enough to seek them out and buy them. A mysterious thief called the Gentleman Thief has been stealing works of art and altering their real-life subjects (for instance, stealing a painting of a tree and then clipping the tree to look like the thief's symbol). None of this is very sinister until the Gentleman Thief targets a particular artist who became famous after painting a portrait of his daughter as he imagined she would look like years later. Several paintings are stolen, several people are killed. This was a nice, interesting mystery - I had fun trying to figure out who the killer was. I like the art style, too.
  • Millennium Snow (manga, vol. 1) by Bisco Hatori - A terminally ill girl meets a vampire who could save her life and make her live a thousand years just by drinking her blood. Unfortunately for her, he doesn't want to. If I remember right, this series is very brief, and I can see why. As a vampire romance (or werewolf romance, if you count the guy who shows up later in this volume), it's not very good. The supernatural stuff isn't very prominent, and the romance didn't prompt any fangirl feelings on my part.
  • What Happens in London (book) by Julia Quinn - This one was a very good choice for a vacation read. It was fast-paced and fun, and the suspense bits didn't get very dark. When I picked it up, I had no idea that it involved characters first introduced in The Secret Diaries of Miss Miranda Cheever, the only other book by Quinn I've read. I found this one to be much more enjoyable than that one - for one thing, the hero was much less of a jerk. This particular book features Miranda's friend Olivia, who has more suitors than she knows what to do with, and not a single suitor who cares to look past her pretty face and figure out what she's really like. The courtship through windows was wonderful, and I loved the proposal.
These are the books I didn't finish:
  • In a Gilded Cage (book) by Rhys Bowen - I didn't dislike this book, but it didn't really grab me, either, and that just won't do for vacation reading. I much prefer Bowen's Evan Evans books.
  • The Black Gryphon (book) by Mercedes Lackey - This was the very first book by Lackey that I ever read - I was a teenager on a gryphon kick. I've since read this many times. I took it with me to read on the plane and did not allow myself to read it at all once I got myself a stack of library books. That's pretty much the only reason I didn't finish it.