Sunday, September 30, 2018

REVIEW: My Neighbor Totoro (anime movie)

[This post includes spoilers.]

My Neighbor Totoro is a fantasy movie. I watched it (or, more accurately, re-watched it) as part of the Fathom Events Studio Ghibli Fest.

Satsuki (11 years old), Mei (4 years old), and their father, a university professor, move to an old house in the country in order to be closer to the hospital where the girls' mother is currently staying (and also potentially for the mother's health once she's out of the hospital?). It's never stated what illness the mother is recovering from, but whatever it is has been going on for some time. The girls are holding up fairly well, but there is an undercurrent of fear that their mother is going to die.

While exploring the area near their new house, Mei discovers a path that leads to a giant furry being she calls Totoro. Satsuki eventually meets Totoro as well, and their new friend helps them through a difficult period.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

REVIEW: Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit, Episode 1 (live action TV series)

Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit is a Japanese live action TV series adaptation of Nahoko Uehashi's fantasy book of the same title. I was very excited when I spotted it on Amazon Prime, but the kicker here is that it isn't a movie, like I at first assumed it was. It's the first episode of a 22-episode series (three seasons), the rest of which is not available on Amazon. It also isn't available on Netflix or Dramafever, the two other streaming services I use.

So I'd like to start this review off with a great big thumbs down to Amazon. If you can't get the rights to stream a full series, or even just a full season of a series, you shouldn't be streaming it at all. This isn't the first time I've seen something like this on Amazon. Their listings will say that they have an entire season available on Amazon Prime, but when you actually click through, they've really only provided access to a few random episodes. This Moribito thing is particularly annoying, however, because it wasn't clear from the outset that this was only the first episode of a much longer series.

But I watched it, so I'm going to review it. (Conveniently ignoring all the things I've read and watched that I have yet to review...)

This first episode introduces Balsa, a female spear-wielding bodyguard. She saves young prince Chagum from drowning and is immediately arrested and beaten. Chagum's mother, the Second Queen, manages to arrange to meet with Balsa and says she'll help her escape if she agrees to be Chagum's bodyguard. Chagum's father, the Mikado, is determined to kill him because he's possessed by a water demon. Balsa has multiple helpful connections in town, but she and Chagum can't evade the hunters chasing them forever - the episode ends during Balsa's first encounter with them.

REVIEW: The Wild Robot (audiobook) by Peter Brown, narrated by Kate Atwater

The Wild Robot is a Middle Grade sci-fi/survival/talking animal book. I had seen it before and considered getting it, but I have too many books as it is. When I saw that my local public library had added it to their Overdrive audiobook collection, I pounced on it. I believe my checkout included access to accompanying files with illustrations, but I didn't attempt to find and open those files.

The Wild Robot begins with a terrible shipwreck during a hurricane (although the words "climate change" are never used, this is definitely a vision of the near future that includes some of the effects of climate change). The ship's cargo included several robots, only one of which survived the wreck. That robot, Roz, is activated by a group of curious otters. Over the next few months, Roz gradually learns how to survive in the wild and communicate with the animals around her. Can a robot somehow make friends and find a home in such a wild place?

Monday, September 24, 2018

REVIEW: Land of the Lustrous (manga, vol. 4) by Haruko Ichikawa, translated by Alethea Nibley and Athena Nibley

Land of the Lustrous is SFF manga.


I wish I had a pile of these volumes to read all in a row. It's too easy to forget details. I may have to break down and start buying this series. Goodness knows where I'll keep the volumes.

If I remember right, the previous volume ended with what looked like a tragic memory loss on Phos's part - Phos gained new arms but appeared to have forgotten who Cinnabar was. This volume begins by telling readers this was a fake-out. Phos merely had a momentary memory glitch.

But that doesn't mean Phos is the same. Whereas Phos was previously childish, weak, and too fearful to engage the Lunarians in battle, they're now strangely competent and useful, to the point that Bort offers to pair up with them. It's an awkward offer. On the one hand, Phos could use Bort's strength and experience, especially since Kongo-sensei has just fallen asleep for who knows how long. On the other hand, Phos knows that there's a rift between Bort and Dia and that accepting Bort's offer may widen it.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

REVIEW: Wotakoi: Love is Hard for Otaku (anime TV series)

Wotakoi is a romantic comedy series.

The eternal problem, when I'm writing reviews for anime or manga: should I refer to the characters by their given names, their family names, or the name I best know them by? In this case, I'm going with the name I best know them by, which is going to result in almost all of the characters being referred to by their given names.


Narumi is a fujoshi otaku: she likes otome games and reading and creating BL manga. She's been this way for years, but now that she's in her twenties it's become a real problem. She hides her interests in an effort to blend in, but slip-ups happen. Her previous boyfriend dumped her when he found out she was a fujoshi, and she eventually left the company they both worked at in order to make a new start. Things will be better at her new workplace, she's sure.

Unfortunately, on her very first day she runs into Hirotaka, a fellow otaku (game otaku) and her best friend back in elementary and middle school. He almost immediately reveals her otaku nature, not realizing she's trying to hide it. All is not lost, however. Koyanagi and Kabakura, the two employees who heard what Hirotaka said, are otaku themselves (and also a couple!). And as for the whole dating thing, Hirotaka proposes solving Narumi's problem by dating her himself.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

REVIEW: The Lemonade Crime (audiobook) by Jacqueline Davies, narrated by Stina Nielson

The Lemonade Crime is Middle Grade realistic fiction. It's technically legal fiction for kids.


Evan and his little sister Jessie are both in the fourth grade, not because they're twins, but rather because Jessie skipped a grade. Jessie is particularly good at math, very focused, feels strongly that things should be fair, and believes that rules are meant to be followed.

When one of their classmates, Scott, announces that he now owns a fancy new Xbox 2020, Evan sees red. He knows exactly where Scott got the money for it - Scott stole that money, over two hundred dollars, from Evan's shorts when they were swimming at a friend's house. Evan doesn't have any proof that Scott did it, but it's the only explanation. Then Jessie comes up with a plan: she's going to bring the truth to light in a court of law created by her and her classmates.

REVIEW: The Atrocities (e-novella) by Jeremy C. Shipp

The Atrocities is gothic horror. It's pretty short - it was only 75 pages on my Nook Simple Touch, and it ended on page 65.


The spooky house and governess heroine made me think this was a historical story at first, but it's actually contemporary-set. Danna has been hired to teach Mr. and Mrs. Evers' young daughter, Isabella. The Evers' home, Stockton House, is an odd place. It used to be a church, and in order to get to it, it's necessary to walk through a labyrinth populated by the Atrocities, statues depicting horrific violence and suffering. Stockton House's interior is no better - every wall and nook and cranny has something grotesque and unsettling on/in it.

Danna has her own horrors to deal with. At times, she slides into what she calls her "hospital dreams," vivid and twisted nightmares that feel terrifyingly real. She tries to focus on the job at hand, teaching Isabella, but it soon becomes clear that there's a lot the Evers didn't tell her about themselves and their daughter.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Nozomi Entertainment Kickstarter - English dub for Season 1 of Emma: A Victorian Romance

Look what I heard about today! If we're all very lucky and enough people back it, there could be an English dub of the first season of Emma: A Victorian Romance, and possibly the second (you have no idea how badly I want to hear English-dubbed Hans). Here's a link to the Kickstarter.

I feel a bit weird about companies doing Kickstarters for things like this, but I ended up backing this anyway. It's only the second Kickstarter I've ever backed. Crossing my fingers that both seasons get funded and that the dub actually turns out well. I've only heard two English dubs Headline Studios has handled (based on this list), Gravitation and His and Her Circumstances. I don't recall liking the Gravitation English dub much at all, but His and Her Circumstances was great. That said, neither of those shows featured the kind of issues that Emma has - English characters from a variety of social classes and situations, an Indian prince, and, if Season 2 gets backed, several German characters.

At any rate, some of the higher level Kickstarter tiers have amazing stuff in them. I'm not even a cosplayer and the Housekeeper tier (includes a custom-made cosplay costume) sounds exciting to me. And I don't collect figures and still want one of those Emma figures. It's gorgeous. Not that my budget could withstand backing at that level. I can dream, though.

Well, I should get to bed so I can hopefully handle tomorrow morning better than I did today (some kind of stomach thing going around, I think?). I just wanted to make sure I posted about this first.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

REVIEW: The Haunting of Hill House (audiobook) by Shirley Jackson, performed by David Warner

The Haunting of Hill House is gothic horror. I checked this out via my public library's Overdrive.

My note at the end could be considered a spoiler.


I'll be brief, since I only just read and reviewed a paper copy of this back in June.

David Warner's narration was good, although I occasionally wished that a female narrator had been chosen instead, since he didn't always fit Eleanor and Theodora very well. From the look of things, both Audible and Kobo only have the version of this book narrated by Bernadette Dunn, which might potentially have worked better for me for that reason.

This is definitely one of those books that invites rereading. This time around, I knew what was going to happen and could therefore approach the story's events in a different way. Although I enjoyed that aspect and ended up with a new favorite interpretation of what happened, I was still frustrated with the way The Haunting of Hill House promised more of a ghost story than it actually delivered. It had some great creepy moments, and I just wanted more. Instead, I got several characters who became increasingly difficult to tolerate, and that ending.

I appreciated the ending more this time around than I did the first. In fact, taking my new interpretation of the story into account*, it was a perfectly logical and fitting ending. But I really wanted more creepy haunted house stuff, and ghosts.

REVIEW: Missing Abby (book) by Lee Weatherly

Missing Abby is YA suspense, but aimed more at the younger end of YA. It was an impulse library checkout of mine - I went looking for some YA or older Middle Grade mysteries or thrillers and this looked interesting.


I assume this is set somewhere in England, based on the author's bio. It's written from the perspective of Emma, a 13 (or possibly 14?) year old girl who realizes that she was likely the last person to see her former best friend Abby before she disappeared. She reports their encounter to the police and is forced to think about a time in her life that she thought she'd left behind and that she desperately hopes no one at her new school will ever find out about. Although a part of her wants to try to continue with her life as normally as possible, she can't stop thinking and worrying about Abby, Abby's last words, and the events that eventually drove them apart.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

REVIEW: Chi's Sweet Home (anime TV series)

Chi's Sweet Home is an adorable slice-of-life comedy. I watched the second season (series?), Chi's Sweet Home: Chi's New Address, six years ago, but between now and then I've also read the entire manga series. I picked up this particular boxed set during a sale and kind of wish I'd gotten the second one as well. I suppose I had a good reason not to, though. No shelf space!

Chi's Sweet Home adapts most of the first three volumes of the manga into 104 3-minute episodes. The Yamadas find Chi, a kitten that accidentally became separated from her family, and take her in despite living in an apartment that doesn't allow cats. They try to find a home for her but fail, and eventually realize they want to keep her themselves. Unfortunately, that may be a difficult decision to stick to if their apartment manager finds her and they're faced with the choice of either giving her away or being evicted.

Overall, the series is very light and gentle. There's the threat of Chi being discovered, Chi's occasional vague and slightly heartbreaking memories of her mother and siblings, and the part where Chi was accidentally locked outside during a severe storm. That's about it as far as stressful content goes, and even that stuff is depicted as gently as possible. There are no cats in Chi's Sweet Home that get run over by cars, or die of old age (or anything else for that matter).

Monday, September 10, 2018

REVIEW: Killing Mr. Griffin (book) by Lois Duncan

Killing Mr. Griffin is a YA suspense novel originally published in 1978.


Brian Griffin is a strict high school English teacher. He doesn't accept late assignments for any reason. He considers an "A" grade to indicate perfection, meaning that even his best students don't get more than a B in his class. He once humiliated one of his students, Mark, making him beg to stay in his class after an incident with one of his assignments, only to tell him "no" and force him to take the class over.

Mr. Griffin's kidnapping starts with Jeff's frustrated and angry mumbling: "That Mr. Griffin's the sort of guy you'd like to kill." From there, Mark hatches a plan to scare Mr. Griffin by kidnapping him and making him think he might be killed. Jeff, Betsy (Jeff's cheerleader girlfriend), and David (senior class president and one of the most popular guys in school) also get involved, as does Susan. Susan is one of the Mr. Griffin's best students. She doesn't exactly like Mr. Griffin, but she doesn't have any reason to want to scare him. She does, however, have a huge crush on David, and it doesn't take much for him to convince her to help. Susan's job will be to make sure Mr. Griffin is in the right place at the right time to be kidnapped, while Jeff, Mark, and David do the actual kidnapping. Betsy is supposed to provide the guys their alibis. Unfortunately for everyone, the kidnapping does not go as planned.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

REVIEW: Honey So Sweet (manga, vol. 2) by Amu Meguro, translated by Katherine Schilling

Honey So Sweet is a high school romance series. I got this volume via interlibrary loan.

I'm just going to put a general spoiler warning on this. Some of the things I mention could be considered spoilers.


Onise's words at the end of the previous volume cause Nao to wonder whether her feelings for Sou really are romantic. As she puzzles through the concept of romantic feelings and how to recognize them, Onise suddenly brings things to a head. He kisses her while she's dozing and she wakes up and catches him at it. He's utterly horrified with himself and sure that this will be the end of their friendship, while she experiences an epiphany after the kiss: the one she has romantic feelings for is Onise. She wants to tell him, but how? The volume ends with the introduction of a new character, Ayaha Futami, a classmate of Onise's who takes an interest in him.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

REVIEW: Horrorstör (audiobook) by Grady Hendrix, narrated by Tai Sammons and Bronson Pinchot

Horrorstör is a horror comedy about a haunted Ikea knockoff called Orsk. I felt guilty about not having used any of my local public library's services in ages and recently got my library card reactivated in their Overdrive. This was the first thing I checked out.


I reviewed a paper copy of this back in February, so I won't be writing a summary this time around and don't plan on writing a lengthy review.

I definitely preferred this in paper form. Although Bronson Pinchot did an excellent job reading the product description pages in a cheerful and comforting advertiser voice, it wasn't quite the same as getting to see the images. I know that the library checkout included an enhanced content PDF download that may have had all of those images, but I couldn't figure out how to download them on my phone (if that was even possible) and, even if I could have, it still wouldn't have been the same as reading the text and having it all right there.

Tai Sammons was okay as the narrator of the bulk of the text. She fit Amy reasonably well, and I thought she did an excellent job with Ruth Anne. Her Trinity voice grated, but that was probably the point. I really didn't like her take on Basil, though, and overall I felt like her narration leeched out a lot of the creepiness I remembered from my initial reading of the book. Then again, that might just have been due to me having read it before and knowing what would happen.

My favorite part of the book was still the bit where Amy was trapped in the Liripip. It was an excellent use of the location and Amy's Orsk employee skillset.

All in all, this was a decent audiobook, but I'm glad my first exposure to the story was via a paper copy of the book.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

REVIEW: Dark, Season 1 (live action TV series)

[I tried to keep spoilers to a minimum, but there are a few here and there. Unfortunately, an important aspect of the premise qualifies as a spoiler.]

Dark is a German sci-fi mystery/thriller series available on Netflix. I watched it after seeing someone recommend it on one of my German cooking discussion groups. At first, it reminded me a lot of the Netflix series Safe, which I'd started and abandoned. Both series have mystery/thriller, a small and interconnected community filled with secrets, and somewhat annoying teens. Still, I found Dark to be more immediately intriguing than Safe, and when the sci-fi aspects started cropping up, I was hooked.

Dark is set in the small fictional German town of Winden, where one of the country's last nuclear power plants is about to be shut down as the country transitions to other sources of power. There are concerns about the area's safety - a local teen has disappeared, and it's unclear whether he ran away, has been killed, or whether something else is going on. Then another boy, Mikkel, the youngest son of a local police officer, goes missing somewhere near a cave entrance. His father, Ulrich, fears the worst when a dead child is found, but the child turns out to be neither Mikkel nor the other missing boy.

As the series progresses, it weaves in parts of the town's history, from 1953, when the nuclear power plant was still being built, to 1986, when Ulrich's younger brother went missing, to the present, 2019, and its various disappearances, and shows how everyone's relationships are deeply interconnected.

REVIEW: Spiral (book) by Koji Suzuki, translated by Glynne Walley

Spiral is the second book in Suzuki's Ring series.

My review includes several spoilers. A spoiler tagged version is available on LibraryThing, Goodreads, and Booklikes.


Spiral begins hours after Ring's ending and stars Ando, a medical examiner who was once classmates with Ryuji, one of the main characters in Ring. Ando performs Ryuji's autopsy and is intrigued by several findings. First, Ryuji died of sudden heart failure despite being otherwise very healthy. Second, he has a mysterious ulcer in his throat. Further tests eventually reveal that Ryuji may have been killed by a virus that bears an eerie resemblance to smallpox. As Ando investigates, he learns of several other victims. But how is the virus transmitted? What does it do? And why did one man who was exposed to it, Asakawa, survive? The case takes on greater urgency when Mai, Ryuji's lover, disappears. Was she exposed via Ryuji somehow, and can she still be saved?