How to Talk to Girls at Parties (Graphic Novel)

Story by Neil Gaiman

Adaptation, Art, & Lettering by Fábio Moon & Gabriel Bá

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Fifteen-year-old Enn doesn’t really get girls. He’s at that awkward age where they seem to have flown ahead, all mysterious and unknowable. His best friend Vic keeps telling him to just talk to them, but . . . what exactly are you to say to someone you don’t understand at all? Enn’s troubles come to a head when Vic drags him to a party, waxing eloquent on the girls they will encounter there, only to find halfway through the evening that they’ve crashed the wrong party–and the girls here are an even more bizarre variety of mysterious and strange than any Enn has encountered before.

I’ve enjoyed Gaiman’s short story “How to Talk to Girls at Parties” ever since I first read it in M is for Magic many years ago. It’s classic Neil Gaiman–the magical clash of the mundane and the extraordinary, couched in such a way that it hints at all sorts of wonders unseen without ever stooping to spell everything out, to take away the mystery of it. It’s breathtaking. Moon and Bá’s graphic adaptation is far better than I expected, managing to preserve much of the ethereal strangeness, the predatory otherness, that makes this story so gripping. Likewise, they do well making Enn awkward and ordinary, making the culture clash here painfully, magically apparent. I think that there are a few parts where more is shown than I would like; this is the sort of story where more left to the imagination is better. But then, that’s the challenge of telling this sort of story as a graphic novel at all, and I think the adapters did well in not overdoing the showing on the whole. The art style is lovely, capturing the alien and the ordinary both in an ethereal collision. Highly recommended.

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Big Hero 6: The Series (Cartoon)

Disney Television Animation & Man of Action Studios

Status: Ongoing (currently 1 season/22 episodes)

My rating: 5 of 5

They didn’t set out to be heroes (well, except for maybe Fred). Certainly, after handling the mess with Callaghan, Hiro Hamada and his friends were more than ready to put away their super suits and dive into the challenges that “nerd school” presents them, especially with an intimidatingly impressive new dean at the school. But it seems there’s a new villain in San Fransokyo, and the Big Hero 6 team is needed. So Hiro, Wasabi, Honey Lemon, Go Go, Fred, and Baymax don their secret identities and work hard (and smart) to protect their city–while also facing the challenges of being students at a highly advanced university. Good thing they’ve got each other to rely on.

Big Hero 6 is one of my favorite movies, period, and it’s grown on me with each time I’ve watched it (several times at this point). Big Hero 6: The Series picks up where the movie left off, although it retcons the ending just a smidge to make it work better as a series. I really love that Disney chose to take this tack with the story as opposed to doing another movie; it works so much better for this particular story. All the things that I love from the movie are here–the amazing characters, the neat art style, the great blend of action and humor, and the emphasis on character and doing what’s right. But because of its being a series, it’s allowed to be its own thing and develop in its own way as well. For instance, the art maintains the lines and general style of the movie, but rather than being the CGI style of the movie, it’s more of a traditional 2D animation–it manages to be soft, detailed, and very attractive while still lending itself to the action and comedy elements well. This is a smart show in that the characters are smart and there’s a lot of science thrown in, but it’s certainly not a hard-science story; you’ve got villains who completely defy all known science, for instance, and even the science that’s used is always secondary to the story. And the storytelling and characterizations are where this series truly shines. You’ve got the same brilliant, lovable characters that we were introduced to in the movie, but here they’re allowed more time to be developed gradually in more different circumstances; they truly shine, and I love them. The stories themselves tend to be episodic while tying in to a bigger plot that gradually unfolds (I do recommend watching in order), with some episodes being more focused on handling villains and others dealing more with normal everyday life–school, friendships, making good choices, that sort of thing. Usually, there’s a good mix of both, though, with enough humor  to make me laugh aloud at least once per episode. As far as the intended audience, well, I enjoy it as an adult, but it’s rated TV-Y7, I believe, and I would feel completely comfortable letting my 4-year-old niece watch it. There’s some superhero action/violence, but they keep it pretty safe on the whole; no blood or anything like that. Definitely recommended, especially if you enjoyed the movie.

Developed by Mark McCorkle, Bob Schooley, & Nick Filippi/Directed by Stephen Heneveld, Ben Juwono, Kathleen Good, & Kenji Ono/Starring Ryan Potter, Scott Adsit, Jamie Chung, Genesis Rodriguez, Khary Payton, Brooks Wheelan, & Maya Rudolph/Music by Adam Berry

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Mononoke Sharing (Manga)

Mangaka: coolkyosinnjya

Status: Ongoing (currently 3 volumes)

My rating: 2.5 of 5

Warning: Mature Audience. This is at least a hard T+ with lots of fanservice. Fair warning.

Yata is an average student going to school on scholarship and desperately in need of a cheap place to stay. She finds one, but her five roommates are, well, different. As in, not human. But hey, the rent’s cheap. She’ll make it work, right?

I have so many mixed feelings about Mononoke Sharing. By the same author as Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid, this story shares the messy-cute art style and the light-hearted slice-of-life comedy with a supernatural element of that manga. But Mononoke Sharing is a lot less serious–not so much the drama and deep backstories and such, more goofy slapstick and waaaay more sexual content and ecchiness and flat-out fanservice. The fanservice aspect is one reason that I didn’t like this so much; it’s just too much. Plus, I’m not so much into that sort of humor. This story has been described as “oddball,” “over-the-top,” and “raunchy,” and yeah, all of those descriptors fit. But at the same time, I love the concept–a human dumped in a house full of yokai, or mononoke as they’re called here, and just doing life with them. As with Miss Kobayashi, the whole otherworldly-beings-interacting-with-normal-life aspect is intriguing and amusing. And the relationships that are developed between these roommates can be quite sweet at times. I also really loved that, while this story included some more commonly seen beings such as a devil and a kitsune, it also included less common ones such as a kappa, a yuki-onna, and even a stretchy-necked rokurokubi. They’re interesting characters, even if some aspects of their character design are so physics-defying as to be frankly annoying and very weird. So yeah, mixed feelings. . . .

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Solstice (Visual Novel)

Created by MoaCube

My rating: 4.5 of 5

In the far north, a city rests nestled safe in the perilous snow under a magically-created dome. It’s lauded as the Jewel of the North. But as the brash young doctor, Galen, and the mysterious young woman, Yani arrive on the last caravan to the city before the roads shut down for the winter, they find that all is not as it seems. For this is a city that keeps secrets, and those secrets may just spell the end of both the city and the lives of all its residents if Yani and Galen can’t get to the bottom of things before the winter solstice.

By the same creators as the visual novel Cinders, Solstice brings us a similar sort of visual novel. You’ve got a choose-your-own adventure sort of layout, with multiple story paths depending on the choices you make–definitely some replay value there. I haven’t managed to get all the endings myself, yet. The story is described as a “dystopian mystery thriller,” which is surprisingly accurate. You’re trying to uncover the dark secrets of the city and save it, while everyone is trying to keep secrets from you, with a limited amount of time before disaster strikes and everyone dies. It’s actually a quite well-written and interesting story, although definitely kind of dark. The characters are solid, varied, and interesting, including Galen and Yani–both of whom you get to play as at various points. I will caution that the themes and content of this game are a bit more mature, probably in the region of a T+, including murder, language, and some sexual content. As for the gameplay itself, it’s text-based–visual novel, so duh–with the written story overlaying illustration, and text-box choices that you click. The illustrations are quite detailed and attractive; a similar semi-realistic style to that used in Cinders, including small animations to make characters fidget and gesture and such. The music is also quite nice and suits the story well without being intrusive or excessively repetitive. Solstice is a visual novel that I would recommend and will likely replay at some point.

Note: I played this on Steam, and it can be found here. You can also find out more at the official MoaCube website here.

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A Phantom Marooned (Danny Phantom Fanfic)

Author: LordPugsy

FanFiction ID: 9820196

Status: Complete (19 chapters)

My rating: 4 of 5

Danny knew something was off when his entire English class won a fancy cruise–in a contest no one remembered ever entering. Unsurprisingly, it’s not long before things go horribly pear-shaped, leaving the class stranded alone on an island, all their technology fried, and non-native tropical animals dangerously near. Worse, Danny has lost half of his ghost powers due to some weird barrier surrounding the island. Now the class is going to have to work together to survive, and Danny is going to have to be the hero his friends know him to be . . . somehow without revealing his more famous alter ego to the rest of the class.

Okay, maybe the basic premise of this story isn’t the most original ever, but I found the execution of the story in A Phantom Marooned to be quite enjoyable. The character development is well done, allowing more optimism and less angst than a lot of DP stories I’ve read. The characters are a bit older–around sixteen at this point–and they’re allowed to grow as people while still operating within their root personalities. There’s a nice blend of adventure and suspense–lots of tension both from the situation and from Danny’s trying so hard to keep his secret–with a pleasant dash of romance thrown in–both between Danny and Sam, and unexpectedly but welcomely, between Tucker and Valerie. Plus plenty of BAMFery on Danny’s part, which is thoroughly satisfying. If you want a story where he gets to shine and actually be recognized for being amazing as Danny Fenton, not just as Danny Phantom, then this is your story. I will warn that, although the author has this rated as K+, it’s probably closer to a T, maybe a T+. There isn’t a lot of language, and the romance is kept remarkably innocent and sweet, but later in the story, the group runs into a very violent, crazy group of bad guys, and . . . lets just say there’s a lot of blood and whump at certain points. The writing itself is quite good; there are a few grammatical/word choice issues at times, but nothing too obnoxious, and certainly not enough to detract from how enjoyable the story is as a whole. Definitely recommended.

Note: You can find A Phantom Marooned at https://www.fanfiction.net/s/9820196/1/A-Phantom-Marooned.

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The Inheritance (Escape Room)

Hosted by Escape Experience in Chattanooga, Tennessee

This weekend, my brother and sister-in-law dragged me to an Escape Room–something I’d never tried before, although they are obsessed with them. Turns out, it was actually a pretty fun experience. Basically, it’s a game that’s played in a locked-room set with a time limit, rather than on a board or with cards. Your group of players are dumped in this room and set free to explore. There are clues, puzzles, and challenges throughout the room, and you have to beat them all within the allotted time in order to win. It’s actually pretty intense, as well as a good mental challenge.

We did “The Inheritance,” a mystery game in which your scientist uncle has passed away, leaving behind some sort of treasure which you have to find and escape with before your uncle’s dangerous enemies show up. I thought that both the premise of this plot and the execution were well done for this sort of game. The detailed set was thoroughly immersive and conducive to a good gameplay experience. The puzzles were varied and challenging while still being accessible to the average individual. I do think that some basic math skills, science,  and geographical knowledge would be helpful for this particular game, but mostly just some solid teamwork, problem-solving, and logical skills are what you would need the most. There were a lot of puzzles in this particular game; it’s theoretically one of the more difficult ones, and we didn’t even finish it (although we were on the very last puzzle when we ran out of time!).  Our one complaint, honestly, was that any hints we were given were displayed on screens in the room . . . which is nice in that you can refer back to them, but not helpful in that several were given in two parts, and the first part disappeared way too quickly, with only the second part remaining on the screen. On the whole, though, this particular Escape Room was a good experience that I would recommend.

 

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Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid: Kanna’s Daily Life (Manga)

Mangaka: Mitsuhiro Kimura

Spinoff of Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid by coolkyosinnjya

Status: Ongoing (currently 3 volumes)

My rating: 3.5 of 5

Kanna originally left her homeworld for the human world to follow after Tohru, her dragon senpai. Finding Tohru happily settled in with the human Kobayashi-san, working as her maid, Kanna moved in with them–the more the merrier, right? Now Kanna is living disguised as an (adorable) human elementary-school student, going to school, making friends (especially Saikawa, who has a huuuuuge crush on her), dealing with bullies, and generally experiencing human life . . . all without revealing her true identity as a dragon herself.

This adorable, fluffy manga is exactly what it sounds like: a spinoff of Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid, focusing on the daily activities of the little dragon girl, Kanna. While knowledge of the original manga is not required to enjoy this spinoff, it is referenced, and characters relationships and such will be easier to understand with at least a bit of prior knowledge of the original story. But this story really does hone in on Kanna specifically. There are a lot of chapters about her friendship with Saikawa (and yes, those have an innocent but distinctly present shoujo-ai flair, much like the interactions between Tomoyo and Sakura in Cardcaptor Sakura), which are really cute and sweet. There are also several family-centric chapters, with Tohru, Kobayashi, and Kanna just enjoying life together. And for those who love the extended cast, yes there are chapters including Fafnir, Ilulu, Shouta, and the lot. The actual stories are very cute slice-of-life episodes, each one focusing on a specific topic, much like in the original manga. An interesting distinction here, however, is that each chapter is divided into single-page 4-koma comics; a nice change-up, especially if you enjoy the 4-koma style (I do, personally). As for the art, it’s similar enough to coolkyosinnjya’s in the character designs and such that it’s hard to tell a difference, although the art here may be just a smidge neater–again, it’s all really cutesy. Recommended for fans of the original manga (although do be aware that it’s by a different author) and for those who just enjoy cute, slice-of-life manga.

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