Thursday, September 14, 2017

Review: D. Gray-man Hollow




What's it about?

Return to this alternate timeline where the world is a mixture of science and magic and exoricists hunt down mysterious weapons called Innocence to defeat the Millenum Earl.  Allen Walker, an exorcist, discovers secrets of his past and how he is truely tired to the Noah, the Millenium Earl and the 14th.

Thoughts:

Back when I'd originally started this series, I loved the characters but the series cut off with no real resolution thanks to a host of issues.  Sadly it left things unresolved and upon hearing that there was a continuation I was eager to jump back in.

I am a huge sucker for anime that focus on religion, mainly because it's so interesting to see how other cultures see something that I'm familiar with.  So anime that deal with exorcists and demons and the like are super interesting to me.  There's always something new about it and so much creativity they aren't afraid to explore.  In the course of a continuation I was excited there too, because the characters I'd been introduced to were very interesting and deserved more screen time.

Sadly this continuation didn't turn out as I'd hoped.  Unlike other projects out there that pick up old source material and continue it for a new audience, this anime drops the viewer right into the thick of it.  While this might work for some series, D.Gray-man it does not.  There are just far too many characters for one to keep track of, and this was in detriment to the series as a whole.

The original D.Gray-man series had a habit of introducing the audience to a daily monster, then defeating it and recruiting them to The Order of exorcists.  This style makes it easy to follow from day one, but jumping back in it means you're left with about 20 characters to juggle.  Add to that the newly introduced members of the Noah family (the bad guys), the Crows (exorcists in red), the Thirds (more exorcists), the scientists, the Bookmen and a couple more daily monsters and it will make your head spin. It almost made me want to take out a pen and paper to take notes - which is not a good thing.

Though, realistically I should have realized from the opening, as it basically shows all these characters as different groups and hints that there's a lot to keep track of.

Even setting the characters aside, the plot arc of the 14th is heavy, and a lot to swallow.  Without giving too much away it causes an upheaval in The Order and Allen is stuck right in the middle of it.  He's not so much an active character, but rather along with the right, trying to survive with everyone else.  This fast pace leaves the viewer wanting to take more notes.  It also made it feel like I was watching a long winded recap due to the speed, and I found myself really hoping that they would slow down and re-cover a few things, rather then handing characters so much exposition dialog.

Sadly, the final nail in the coffin was the ending of the season.  It's left wide open with no resolution, obviously hinting at them expecting to have more time.  Sadly, like the previous series, it was cut off after just one season with no resolution in sight.  I'll have to hunt down the manga for a resolution, which isn't horrible, but it would have been nice to see it in animated format before I do that.

While not all bad, there were some good points of the series.  For one, Kanda gets a well done arc that explains quite a bit of his back story and where he came from.  Though rushed, I did like learning about the 2nds and Alma.  The sad part is that like the rest of the series, this is left open ended and at the end of the season we are left seeing only the beginnings of his reactions to discovering the truth.  I would have loved to see this full story line all the way to the end with his reacting to what he learned, but no such luck.

The Noah family, also, enjoys a bit of a redesign for the better.  While more is learned about the Millennium Earl that completely destroys his ability to be threatening, other characters like Tyki Mikk are done beautifully.  For as a little as he shows up in this new series, him and Road are high points in the season and there's never enough of them, ever.

The animation is a bit of a sticking point as well.  While overall it looks stunning and beautiful, there are certain points where it misses the mark entirely.  Comical moments are paired with 1st season Naruto style animation that makes me want to wash my eyes out and high tension fight scenes are paired with oddly drawn eyes that make the characters look squished or cross-eyed and destroy the tension completely.  It's highly distracting and really detracted from the series as a whole, no matter how much I wanted to know what was coming next.

Final Thoughts?


While series like Black Butler and Full Metal Alchemist have made anime retreads and continuations all the rage, this is one you can skip.  The plot points are interesting and the characters are there, but it makes more sense to read a well edited Wikipedia article then try and keep track of everything over 12 episodes.  I wasn't impressed, it actually saddened me that I spent the time on it.

Oh well, time to hunt down some fanfic about Kanda and Alma and look into the manga series, hoping there's some closure and better explanation there.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Review: The Witch



What's it about?

Set back in the 1600's, a family is banished from their colonial town to build their own farm and find their own way.  However, things don't go well on their own.  Within the first year they are set upon by an evil force, set on bringing them to ruin.

Thoughts

I'll say first off, that as a practicing witch, movies like this give me pause.  I often laugh off the way my kind are portrayed in movies and during the holidays because it's usually quite comical or so far off the mark.  However, there are some portrayals that really get under my skin, and that's usually when they're rooted in the fear people have of witches and the severe hatred that some people have based on religion.  It bothers me because their view of us is nothing like what we really are and when a lot of people hate, well, stupid and dangerous things happen.

That said, this movie got under my skin in a really good way, so much to the point that I actually turned it off halfway through and took a break before I could finish it.  There's a severe amount of religious self loathing and self hatred in this movie that I wasn't prepared for.  That plus the dated style of speaking really pulls you in to this family and what they are dealing with.  You feel for all of them, and when the shit starts to hit the fan, it's painful to watch, but it's also like a train wreck, because you want to see where it all ends up.

The other thing that got under my skin was the treatment of Thomasin.  A lot of how she was treated scared me, because the family was so quick to jump to hatred and fear and she's put in a really impossible place.  She has to deal with all of it and somehow survive.

My biggest gripe with the film is that in some cases they showed a little too much.  While I understand why they included the imagery they did, I wish there were two scenes where they didn't, because it kind of ruined the effect. But that's mostly minor and can be overlooked.

All in all, the movie is quite good, if you can get past some of those points.  It's not scary in a bloody way, really.  Instead I found this movie scary and effective because of how well it shows how quickly people will turn on each other when scared.  Especially considering the current world and how much people are emboldened to act on such emotions, this movie cut a bit closer then I was expecting.

Over all, after making it to the end, I really liked it.  I admire where this film went and how the story played out.  Though hard to watch, it's a very well done folktale.

How I saw it

Streaming on Amazon Prime

Monday, September 4, 2017

Book Review: My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness



It's hard to describe this book and really do it justice. 

I picked it up on the recommendation of a friend on Facebook, and do not regret it for a second.

The book tells, in manga form, the story of a young woman who has never viewed herself highly and how that has effected her view of herself and the world, and held her back from living. 

This is an intensely personal story from the author. In a simple and crude style she gives us a view into the personal and crushing parts of her life. She doesn't expect us to understand everything and doesn't give excuses, but is rather very up front and blunt with the turns her life has taken and why and where it has taken her. 

While some of her experiences were totally foreign to me, several hit far too close to home. Several times I found myself looking away from the book and pausing as I remembered parts of my life growing up. This is not just for queer teenagers, but also speaks to eating disorders, issues with belonging and the need to be accepted but also be alone, just to name a few. It is an emotional book to read and grasp, however the rough manga style makes it very easy to read and light to take in, to contrast the heavy material.

But with all of that it's also worth it. No deep answers are given, no fixes suggested, just honesty. The type of honesty I wish I'd had when I was experiencing the worst of this in my teenage years. The author doesn't claim to be an expert, or even fixed. She just exists and is still learning how to be herself and deal with who she is, if she even knows. 

In that I found the book to be refreshing and needed. Having someone present this much emotion and personal info while not claiming to be an expert is so sincere. This book's simplest message is that 'you're not alone' no matter how alone you feel, and that is something so important.  It's even more important then being fixed or able to cope with life, because sometimes just having someone understand is enough.

Every once in the great while I come across a book that I have feel a deep need to buy multiple copies of and give them to friends. This is one of those books. I highly recommend giving this book a read and a chance. It doesn't offer any answers or fixes, but sometimes just knowing that someone else gets it means just as much.  Seriously, go get yourself a copy. 

BTW: This was soooooo me in high school.  I should have known:



Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Netflix Death Note - The Story that Could Have Been

There's a problem you run into when becoming a published author, that I hadn't anticipated.  Me, always an avid reader, has found it really hard to read as many books as I used it.  It's not just about the time investment or the work to find stories I'm interested in with all the novels out there - it's the intimate knowledge of the process of getting published.  I know all the work that goes into getting out there and all the blood, sweat and tears that come from those before they hit this point and all those who haven't made it yet.

So when crap comes across my plate, it tastes even worse then I could imagine.


So with that in mind, let's talk about the Death Note movie from Netflix.  This is not a review, but it does contain spoilers so if you have a desire to see this movie after all of the horrendous reviews you've scrolled past on your social media feed, you might not want to read this.  Or do.  Maybe.  Whatever.

Beyond all the issues with whitewashing and the watering down of the story - which trust me, I could write pages about.  But both of those have been tackled in several other reviews, so I'm going to aim a little differently.

See, along with the being able to taste the infinite details of the crap set before me, I also find myself graspoing at plot threads that could have worked.  In some cases this makes me like certain movies that others might have hated.  With the Netflix Death Note there is a specific thread that my creative side latched onto.  In other words, lets talk Mia Sutton.


In the movie, Mia Sutton initially reaks of 'edgier then you Bella Swan.' However, as the movie goes on, she's obsessed with finally having power on her own terms that isn't filted through a stereotypical glass.  (AKA: To be a popular girl, one must be a cheerleader.  To be noticed in high school, one must fit in a specific archetype.  But to be a god, she can kill whoever she wants.)  Mia becomes more 'Kira' then this protrayl of Light ever is, and she also becomes a villian in the film.  There in lies the thread of a plot that would be interesting.  Give her a different Death God/Shinigami and have this girl be smart enough to not make herself the figure head and instead manipulate a fuckboy into killing for her and keeping her hands clean.

That, right there, is the makings of plot gold and a story that we don't often see told.  Yes, she is a female caught in a storyline about sex, as many women are, but this is sex on her own terms and used as a weapon.  In a world where the sultry badgirl is so common, why not take the moment to flesh her out and give her a little more then expected.  You can have a smart woman and then write a really engaging story about her downfall. That is a story I would devour that and happily hunt down surrounding media for like fanart and fanfic.

Sadly the Netflix version of Death Note doesn't hold up to this premise which it offers.  It chooses to focus squarely on Light, and while he has some doubts about Mia, they're easily passed off in the lackluster finale in a very YA fashion.  Instead of a showdown like they deserved, Mia makes her last fatal move and unceremoniously dies in a bed of flowers, along with any dream that she might have been a more interesting character.  I wish they'd delved a bit more into her story, give us a reason why she likes to kill so much and why she feels she needs this power, heck, show her planning and plotting more with Ryuk, because I'm sure he's intelligent enough to leave her clues... after all others can see his eaten apples.

All in all the movie presented us with a very different take on Misa Misa and didn't follow through, much to my dismay. That's not to say that the original Misa Misa was perfect, she was however very interesting and much more fleshed out then this version.

If you take anything away from this movie, whether you watch it or not, I hope you look at your own works and take a step back.  If, at any point, any of your characters can be replaced by a 2 dimensional cardboard cutout then you have not done your job as a writer and story crafter.  It is up to you as a creator to show us all sides of a character you create - not to hand us an archetype and expect us to fill in the details.  We, the audience, came to watch your movie... not play MadLibs with the plot points from the last handful of things we've watched.

I think, to a degree, a lot of movies of late are getting sloppy.  Well written character moments are traded in for flashy montages and chase scene climaxes that are a dime a dozen.  Be bold, take a chance.  Flesh out a character for the audience and give us a reason to love and/or hate them.  Let us see their path and convince us with your writing that this is the path they chose, where ever it may lead.  Because therein lies the stories we want to read and see.  Therein lies the best kind of storytelling.



Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Books You Should Check Out: Paper Terminal by Tyrine Carver

Fall is right around the corner in Minnesota and the weather is cooling down - the perfect time to curl up with an open window, a blanket and a book.  So perhaps add this one to your shelf?


Paper Terminal is the first illustrated novel adventure of Riley.  She's rescued by and then dragged into the magical wake of two people who are constantly getting involved with Sirens, Dragons and a mysterious entity who is trying to kill her.  Or maybe they're trying to kill her dead brother.

And remember how I said illustrated novel?  Not only is this Riley's story, but it's punctuated with beautiful art by MuseTap Studios, of whom Tyrine is a member.  I've already started to fall in love with the characters through her art and can't wait to read their adventures.

You can pick up the book at this link!

Check it out, and don't forget to leave a review if you do!




Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Review: Jessica Jones Season 1

What's it about?

On the Netflix side of the Marvel Cinematic Universe there's a little apartment turned into an office with an often broken window in the door.  This is Alias Investigations and - if you can convince her to help you - Jessica Jones is one great PI.  However, at the moment she's out of the office, trying to track down the man who ruined her life. 

Thoughts?

There's a lot of really good things about Jessica Jones.  First and foremost it's a super hero show with women in the forefront - front and center.  Yes, I said women: plural.

The show does an amazing job of showing us a variety of female characters (good and bad) that have been severely lacking for sooooo many years. We have super hero females, best friends, lovers, assholes and innocent victims.  Men are barely present in this series, which is a refreshing change, but they are present in some very integral parts.  The downside is that this really highlights the lack of such care in the Cinematic Universe as a whole and makes me glare at the movies for not offering us more.  (I love Scarlet Witch, I do, but come on, give us more main females then just her and Black Widow!)

The down side is this show also made me realize something else about the Cinematic Universe and I find it super troubling.  There are no female characters in the Marvel Universe who do not come from a place of sexual trauma or abuse.  And if you think they don't, it's because we haven't heard all the details from their backstory yet.  This is a serious problem with female characters and probably deserves a huge rant in and of itself.  However I'm gonna stop myself, cuz this is a review.

Back to the good stuff, one of the things this series does amazingly well is side characters.  Aside from being fully fleshed out with a lot of really diverse bits, they are given an important part that makes the series as a whole work.  While the character of Jessica Jones is trying her best to hunt down Kilgrave and stop him, he's leaving a pile of bodies around her.  Jessica Jones doesn't have time to mourn all these bodies (though she really wants to), so these side characters do it for her and give the audience that much needed release.  There isn't a stack of nameless faces around her like a slasher movie, nope these are actual people and the series goes through episode after episode to show us that and remind us.  It has a very sobering and real effect that I don't think could have been portrayed in a better way.

Kilgrave himself was a really interesting villain and one who kept me guessing.  Aside from being written incredibly well, David Tennant did an amazing job portraying him.  At every turn he was more and more devious and untrustworthy.  This isn't just a man you fear.  He's a man you hate and avoid because you don't dare give him an inch.  There were several times in the story where it seemed like they were trying to give him some motivation for how he was - but then it came to light that he was lying again, manipulating with every fiber of his being power or not.  It's truly scary to see someone who can do nothing but manipulate everyone around him.  And he's really really good at it even without his power.  Seriously, this kind of character and writing gives me nightmares and inspires me to create at the same time - I love it.

Final thoughts?

Overall I'm quite happy with the series even with it's flaws.  I'm looking forward to jumping into the rest of this world and what comes from it.  Hopefully the amazing female characters cross over into the other series, because there's a few I would love to see again, aside from Jessica herself.

Where'd I get it?

Steaming on Netflix of course!

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Back Seat Gamer: Persona 5

Intro

I'm just going to buy the game, she says, but we won't play it until after conventions settle down.
I'm just going to watch the opening, she says, but we're not starting it yet.
Maybe just one battle, to see how the mechanics work, honest.

I know it's a lie, of course.  This is how Persona games get you.  3 had a great opening, 4 had nearly 2 hours of cut scenes before the first save point.  And Persona 5?  Well, it drops you in the middle of the story as a thief in a flashing casino escaping the police.  That's how Persona gets you, so it's just best to give in and go.  You'll enjoy the ride.

Summary

As the main character, you're on parole from a recent court hearing and are sent to a large city to attend school and hopefully not get into any trouble.  You are supposed to keep your head down and be good, and especially not form a group of Phantom Thieves who spend nights in another world battling to change the hearts of the rotten adults of the world.  Something like that is way over the head of a normal teenager, such as yourself.

The Persona series are JRPG games where teenagers deal with deep issues and summon a part of themselves (their persona) as a physical way to fight and survive in the world around them.  Powers are leveled up by making friends and connections in the normal world and at night you battle the supernatural forces lurking in the world to your heart's content. Honestly, it's hard to explain if you haven't played one, but they are some of the best RPG games I have ever seen.

Thoughts?

Since seeing that first Gamestop video - was that a teenager shooting himself in the head to summon a monster?? - the curiosity hooked us.  Persona is one of the most unique JRPG series I've ever heard of and each installment catches you in it's clutches with masterful story telling, engaging characters and heart-wrenching reveals.  You can jump in anywhere, but the games don't forget about the previous installment, so there's still enough call backs to make your little fangirl heart swell up with nostalgia as you meet the new main characters and explore their world.

Persona 4, without getting into too many spoilers, was phenomenal and easily held it's place as one of the best stories I've seen in a video game.  Not to mention one of the best treatments I've seen of teenagers dealing with queer identity. Persona 5 takes that amazing storytelling to another level with several plot points that left us yelling at the screen or just staring dumbfounded as the truth revealed itself.  While this new set of characters doesn't have the same queer-centric story lines that made me love Persona 4, I wasn't left with a shortage of things to love in it's place.

For one, the main character.  While most JRPGs are full of faceless and nondescript leads so that the player can easily insert themselves, this main character had the most personality I've ever seen. He doesn't talk much and you choose most of his dialog, but this is combined with subtle things like smirks and flair that give you a very clear idea who he is.  As Ryugi so finely puts it in the game "I'm already pegged as a trouble maker, so why not live up to the part?" The main character seems to have taken this quote to heart and is keeping his head low like he's supposed to, but he can't resist the urge to do what he can.  He's mischievous and the game communicates this very well with the limits it has on a character you play and great dialog choices.  I am generally not a fan of main characters in franchises, usually it's the side characters that get me.  But, believe me, this game is written so well that I love the main character the most and that is impressive!


The story line of Persona 5 deals with some very adult issues - ones that many teenagers will relate to.  Rotten adults are everywhere in this world and some are so rotten they've crossed the line.  However where movies and TV series will water down these issues or over-sexualize them, Persona 5 does a good job of walking the line.  The villains are not exaggerated cardboard cut outs and have just as much care in their crafting as the main characters.  A teacher who abuses his students - for example - isn't just shown as a rapist, but as a failed hero figure that took his Olympic status too far.  You can easily see how a simple desire of his went too far, got corrupted and now must be stopped.  Most stories out there would just make him a rapist and be done with it, but here the sexual aspect is toned down because he's abusing multiple students in multiple ways and not all of them are so obvious.  But all of it needs to be stopped so that is where the focus is placed.

Your teammates step outside of the mold as well.  Ryugi, the clown thug, is allowed to remain this and still be lovable in his dumb moments rather then being forced to grow more intelligent by the end.  Similarly Ann is allowed to be unapologetic about herself and isn't squished into the form of the 'sexy girl' trope.  All of the characters step outside their standard mold with well written story lines and reveals.  Most of the things I love about them are spoilers, so I won't go into them here, but let me just say that if you max out all of their social links, you'll find that these characters are much more complex then the marketing material might suggest.

A moment of attention must also be paid to the adults in this story.  While the majority of the story lines deal with shitty corrupted adults, the game doesn't let that be the only option.  You will meet responsible adults in the game who haven't become corrupted and who are actually still attempting to deal with the world as a whole.  And when things get rough, you will find adults who actually listen to the teenagers, again providing an under used story option to explore that most ignore.

There is also the fact that this story, aside from the masterful writing, gets seriously political and feels far too close to the current reality in the US.  It's scary how well it's written and I don't want to give it away.  But this is the game I really needed to play this year and I have all sorts of complicated feelings with it.

What I'm trying to say is that the story telling in this game is some of the best out there and it's hard for me to convey without a lot of arm flapping and pointing, but just trust me.  If you love good stories, you will love this game.

The game mechanics of Persona are familiar with the rest of the series.  Once again you, as the main character, have the ability to collect several powerful creatures like Pokemon and evolve and arrange them to give yourself more powers.  A newly added mechanic from other Shin Megami Tensei games is that you can now negotiate with the creatures you fight and ultimately collect.  Should you negotiate correctly they can give you money, give you items or join you without much of a fight. The mechanic makes sure that level grinding doesn't become tedious and repetitive, because there's always something new.

I also highly recommend the soundtrack for this game as it does a masterful job of sweeping you up into the moment so you feel even more accomplished when you beat that boss.  Level grinding has never been this catchy!

How Much I Played

I did not play this game.  The Persona series has me firmly in the passenger seat due to the mechanics for collecting and combining the persona you collect.  I love the variety of creatures, but there's no way I could keep track of all of that, plus all the other characters.  That and the fact that my wifey loves playing these games, I wouldn't take it away from her.  So I watched the whole game and helped her pick dialog and yes... I'm already planning cosplay.



Final thoughts?

I am not kidding, I can not think of a thing I didn't like about this game. We're on New Game plus, playing it a second time to unlock all we missed and I'm still invested.  We even went and hunted down the anime prequel episode The DayBreakers to get more content and it's still not enough.  I need more of this game, more of these characters and more everything.  Not because the story is unfinished, but because it's that good.  I'm even praying for an anime adaptation just to see a couple more scenes, because I can't wait to relive it all again.  This is what fandom looks like. 

Where'd I get it?

We bought Persona 5 for the PS4 at Gamestop and watched Persona 5: The DayBreakers on Crunchyroll.