Sunday, December 31, 2017

REVIEW: M.F.K. (graphic novel) by Nilah Magruder

This is a belated vacation reading review. As usual, be warned that there are major spoilers in this. I use spoiler tags on Goodreads, LibraryThing, and Booklikes if you'd like a spoiler-free version of this post.

A tweet from Magruder saying that "it's asexual AF" put this on my radar. I took this to mean that there was an explicitly identified asexual character. Um... If there is, then it's not in this volume. I haven't read the webcomic, which includes a fourth chapter that wasn't published in this book, so maybe it's in that chapter? That said, those looking for romance-free graphic novels may want to check this out. (I sincerely hope that Magruder didn't think "romance-free" and "asexual" are the same thing.)

REVIEW: The Ginza Ghost (short story collection) by Keikichi Osaka, translated by Ho-Ling Wong

The Ginza Ghost is a collection of mystery stories originally published in Japan, primarily in the 1930s. I got it via interlibrary loan.


Have I mentioned that I hate reviewing anthologies? Collections of stories by the same author are easier to review than ones with stories by many authors, but I’d still rather review individual novels, novellas, and short stories.

Anyway, this made it onto my TBR after I finished Soji Shimada’s The Tokyo Zodiac Murders and went hunting for similar books. The Ginza Ghost starts with an introduction about Osaka and his stories. Like Shimada, Osaka was an author of honkaku (orthodox) mysteries. He was born in 1912 and began prolifically publishing mystery stories starting in 1932. Unfortunately, this was a time when honkaku mysteries were looked at unfavorably in Japan, and so he eventually had to switch to comedy and spy stories. In 1943 he was drafted, and he died of disease sometime in 1945.

The collection includes twelve stories organized semi-chronologically by publication date. I’m not sure why there were a few exceptions mixed in. Perhaps to make sure the volume ended as strongly as possible? “The Phantom Wife” wouldn’t have made for as good a stopping point as “The Ginza Ghost.”

REVIEW: Stranger (live action TV series)

Stranger is a 16-episode Korean drama. Each episode is about an hour long.


I finished watching this series a few weeks ago. Netflix's brief description:

"As a teen, prosecutor Hwang Si-mok received surgical treatment for his abnormally developed brain, but the procedure left behind serious side effects."

Which is absolutely not what this show is about at all. Si-mok's surgery is barely discussed and only really comes up a couple times in any kind of important way. He tends to come across as very cold, because the surgery affected his ability to show his emotions. He also believes he can't feel most emotions, but that isn't exactly true.

For the most part, the show is a murder mystery/political thriller. The murder mystery comes first. If I remember right, Si-mok was planning on meeting up with an informant (or witness?). Unfortunately, the man was murdered in his own home. Si-mok (who, remember, is a prosecutor and not a cop) thinks he knows who the killer is, chases the man down, and arrests and questions him. There’s a speedy trial and the man is found guilty. He swears he didn’t do it and kills himself to show his conviction.

Si-mok goes on TV and promises that he will find the real killer in two months. From this point on, things get murky. It’s difficult for him to know who to trust, and he views almost everyone with suspicion. Can he trust his bosses, who he thinks may be corrupt? Or his trainee, Young Eun-soo, who has hidden connections to the murder victim? Or Seo Dong-jae, a slick fellow prosecutor who might have acted under orders from higher up. The only person in his life who seems to be 100% trustworthy is Han Yeo-jin, a cop. No, they don’t end up becoming a couple - this isn’t that kind of show. (Although I did think, at one point, that there was going to be a love triangle. That wasn’t the case either.)

Saturday, December 30, 2017

My reviewing plans have gone out the window

I was going to do a big push to write short reviews of everything I hadn't yet reviewed from 2017, to get it all done before 2018. Well, then my cat got sick. She's barely eaten anything for days - at the moment, I'm following the vet's advice and force-feeding her chicken baby food a few times a day. The current theory is that she might be constipated, or she might have eaten a non-food item. She lost half a pound over the course of three days, bringing her weight down to about 7.5 pounds. She's still behaving relatively normally, but I don't know how long that will last considering she isn't getting anywhere near the calories she should be. I have a feeling I'll be making another vet appointment on Tuesday, assuming I don't have to make an emergency appointment between now and then.

I'm very worried, and it's making it difficult to concentrate. I'm still planning on writing up a few reviews, but it won't be as many as I'd hoped. I had originally intended to start 2018 fresh - anything I hadn't reviewed by then wasn't going to be reviewed. Now, I'm not so sure. I definitely want to get my vacation reading reviews written. Those will happen, even if I have to write them after 2018 starts.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

REVIEW: Not Simple (manga) by Natsume Ono, translation by Joe Yamazaki

I'm not sure what genre Not Simple counts as. The best I can come up with is "family drama." It's licensed by VIZ.

Warning: this review contains slight spoilers. The manga itself features quite a bit of child abuse, and I mention some of the specifics below.


I’m not sure how to summarize this story, since so much of it counts as spoilers. I suppose I’ll start at the beginning. A young woman named Irene wants to run away with her boyfriend but is afraid that her dad will find them and literally kill her boyfriend. She then comes up with an idea that immediately qualifies her as a horrible person: pick up a random homeless guy, convince her dad’s goons that he’s her boyfriend, and run off with her boyfriend while the goons beat the homeless guy half to death. It seems like a great (horrible) plan, until she learns that her random homeless guy, Ian, is actually same same guy who convinced a family member of hers not to run off three years ago.

Unfortunately, a misunderstanding results in Ian lying on the ground, dying from a gut wound. Ian’s friend, Jim, tells Irene that he plans to turn Ian’s life into a book that will be coming out in about a year. The rest of the manga is Ian’s life up to this point: growing up with an alcoholic mother and cold and dismissive father, trying to keep his promise to his sister so that he can see her again, and then walking across the US searching for his sister after she disappears.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

REVIEW: Tokyo Ghoul (manga, vols. 1-5) by Sui Ishida, translated by Joe Yamazaki

Tokyo Ghoul is a series that I feel torn about. On the one hand, it was an interesting read. On the other hand, it may be a little too dark for my tastes, and even after 5 volumes I'm still not particularly attached to most of the main characters, although I do have a few side characters that intrigue me (Nishiki and Kimi, Uta, Yomo, Yoshimura).

I'll probably continue on with this during my next vacation, but after the incident with Suzuya I'm not sure it's a good idea for me to try the anime. It would be nice if both the ghouls and the ghoul investigators came across, morally, as varying shades of grey, but, as of volume 5, it really does feel like the more prominent ghoul investigators are as monstrous, or possibly even more so, than the ghouls they hunt. I can think of only one ghoul investigator I could name, Amon, who might turn out to be a decent human being, and if he keeps turning a blind eye to the way his colleagues behave, I don't know that even he would count.

As usual for these posts, there are major spoilers from here on out. I wrote the descriptions with an eye towards allowing me to pick the series back up again a year from now. Oh, and I took terrible notes for this series. For example, I recorded Hinami's name as both Hinami and Hinako, and didn't write down several other characters' names at all. I had to rely on fan-created wikis to straighten things out.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

REVIEW: Delicious in Dungeon (manga, vols. 1-2) by Ryoko Kui, translated by Taylor Engel

I added Delicious in Dungeon to my vacation reading list after reading an interesting review of the first volume (sorry, can't recall which review nor who wrote it).

It was...odd. And probably not something I could binge-read too much, although I didn't actually think it was bad. It was basically a foodie manga with fictional food. It probably would have appealed to me a lot more if I were a Dungeons & Dragons person, but as it was it was still a nice read. It bugged me a little that the characters seemed so relaxed about rescuing the main character's sister, but it fit with the way the world was written. Death was pretty common, but also not something to be very concerned about, since it usually wasn't permanent. Very strange.

Somehow the covers had led me to believe this would be a more emotionally intense series, I think because the characters' expressions reminded me a little of the haunted survivors of Attack on Titan. This really is a very laid back series, though.

Again, this is a post-vacation review post, so there are spoilers from here on out. That said, I don't know that spoilers would really ruin this series much. A large part of its appeal is its delicious-looking fantasy food illustrations.

REVIEW: Black Butler (manga, vols. 21-23) by Yana Toboso, translated by Tomo Kimura

After weeks of not being able to write very much at all, I seem to be on a roll right now, so let's see how many more of these post-vacation posts I can knock out.

Black Butler is a series I've been reading chunks of every time I have a vacation. I always forget how enjoyable it is. I started reading the volumes I'd requested after slogging through a few mediocre manga, and it was like a breath of fresh air. Toboso's artwork is such a joy to look at that I'm willing to overlook that the main storyline may never get resolved. Do well all even remember what the main storyline is? Well, the arcs are generally fun, even if they don't necessarily have anything directly to do with Ciel's past and his investigation into his parents' murder.

I had thought I had finished the Emerald Witch arc during my last vacation, but apparently I wasn't quite done. I got back into it easily enough (that's what my spoiler-y post-vacation posts are for, after all), and it was lots of fun seeing Ciel's group do what they're best at, kicking butt.

There are huge spoilers from here on out. Continue on at your own risk.

REVIEW: Alice in the Country of Hearts: The Mad Hatter's Late Night Tea Party (manga, vols. 1-2) story by QuinRose, art by Riko Sakura, translated by Angela Liu

I will finish all the manga in this franchise, someday. Maybe.

This two-volume series features what I consider to be one of the series' most interesting pairings. Even though I don't think Blood is a particularly good for Alice, this pairing tends to dig the deepest into her past, the memories she most wants to forget, and her private insecurities, since Blood looks so much like the tutor she fell in love with back in her own world, and who married her older sister instead.

Not that The Mad Hatter's Late Night Tea Party delves into any of that. For a series pairing up Alice and Blood, it was pretty mediocre and offered nothing new. I would also highly recommend that those new to Alice in the Country of Hearts (or any of the other countries) not start with this. It may be tempting to start with one of the shorter series, but it's a bad idea all around.

This is one of my post-vacation posts, so be aware that there are spoilers past this point.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

REVIEW: Alice in the Country of Hearts: My Fanatic Rabbit (manga, vols. 1-2) story by QuinRose, art by Delico Psyche, scenario by Shinotsuki, translated by Ajino Hirami

I have no idea how close I am to finally finishing all the manga in this franchise that's been translated into English. I feel like every time I check there's more.

At any rate, I think I've read all the enjoyable stuff, and now this is more about me being able to say "I'm done" than anything. The first volume of My Fanatic Rabbit was mediocre, but I've read worse. In general, I'm not a fan of the ones where Elliot is Alice's love interest because they're either too silly for my tastes and make Alice too focused on her love for Elliot's ears, or they focus too much on Elliot's violent side and make me worry about Alice. This one went in the latter direction, with a little of the former.

The second volume left me filled with rage, primarily because I've seen the kind of stuff that was pulled on Alice pulled with a family member. This wasn't even vaguely romantic, and it left me feeling terrible for Alice.

REVIEW: Haven't You Heard? I'm Sakamoto (manga, vol. 2) by Nami Sano, translated by Adrienne Beck

This is another post-vacation review.

Sakamoto tutors Yoshinobu (the bullied kid from volume 1) while deftly avoiding and finally defusing Yoshinobu's amorous mother. Then Sakamoto outwits a teacher bent on believing he's trouble, even managing to add the teacher to his list of admirers due to a kind act he performs. Then there are a few shorter episodes: dealing with a slug in cooking class, drawing a classmate in a way that manages to be both flattering and insulting, and saving a classmate during a fire drill (?). The volume ends with a group of delinquents pursuing Sakamoto and always just missing him. As they try to find him, they hear about his past mysterious exploits. Then there's an incident involving a delinquent trying to pick a fight with Sakamoto and ending up in a bizarre push fight against him.

REVIEW: Arisa (manga, vols. 2-12) by Natsumi Ando, translated by various

I read the first volume of Arisa almost a year ago. I felt that it had significant problems - a premise that required too much suspension of disbelief and artwork that didn't really fit the "feel" of the series - but I was intrigued enough by it to want to continue on.

Boy am I glad that I decided to continue on via library checkouts during my vacation rather than via purchases. If I had purchased it, I'd have instantly offloaded upon finishing it. It was a mediocre series that never got better and that, in fact, became downright bad at the end. The one bright spot was a short spin-off included at the end of one of the volumes, a horror-comedy featuring Mariko, Arisa's best friend. Unfortunately, as good as that short was, it made it even clearer that many of the characters in this series really, really needed therapy, and not just for someone to like them for who they are.

Ando had no idea how to properly build up suspense, was fond of fakeouts, and threw a cheap twist at readers right at the end. Also, it really bothered me how much her characters were willing to excuse and/or forgive.

While writing up this post, I discovered that my notes were pretty bad. I left out lots of details, resulting in volume descriptions that seem to have little-to-no connection to the previous volume. Also, I somehow neglected to record the volume in which Mariko's short was included. That said, even though my volume descriptions are incomplete, please be aware that they're still filled with spoilers. Read on at your own risk.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

REVIEW: My Neighbor Seki (manga, vols. 1-6) by Takuma Morishige

I'm finally getting around to writing the first of my vacation "review" posts. If you're unfamiliar with how I do these, be warned that they're mostly intended for the me of about a year in the future. They're absolutely filled with spoilers. I suppose those are unnecessary when I've finished a manga series, but they're incredibly helpful when I'm reading an ongoing series, have to stop at a certain point, and plan to pick it up again during my next vacation. If you're wary of spoilers, I do plan to start each post with general impressions of what I read during my vacation. These should be relatively spoiler-free.

Okay, let's get this ball rolling. I have fourteen series that I'd like to write about before the end of the year...

I can't remember how My Neighbor Seki got on my radar, but I'm relatively sure it was via a review I read online. It sounded intriguing, but not so much that I actually wanted to buy it, so it went on my "vacation manga binge" list.

I started my vacation with six volumes of this series, and I got through all of them, although it took some effort. This is not a series to binge-read. Although it wasn't in 4-koma format, it read like a 4-koma series, and it just got so old. There were occasional new character introductions to spice things up, but not nearly enough to keep things fresh for six volumes read back-to-back. And so a couple volumes sat on a table, partway read, while I read other things for a while. But the damage had already been done, and I kind of dreaded making myself finish the volumes, even though I knew the series technically wasn't bad.

A funny story: at one point, I read most of volume 4, only to look over at my piles of manga and discover that I'd actually started reading the previous volume the night before and hadn't finished. Since almost nothing of importance happens in the individual volumes, I hadn't realized I'd skipped most of a volume.

I might request more of this series during my next vacation, but it occurs to me that it might actually be better to periodically get volumes via interlibrary loan instead. Long waiting periods between each volume would likely improve this series for me.