Tag Archives: 5★

Elsewhere: The Fantasy Art of Jesper Ejsing (Artbook)

Artist/Author: Jesper Ejsing

My rating: 5 of 5

Right from the moment I first opened the package containing Elsewhere, my first thoughts were “gorgeous” and “stunning.” The book itself is large and thick enough to have an impressive heft to it. And the cover is the breathtaking painting of a white dragon just lightly looking back at you with a faint smirk. And that’s honestly a good barometer for the rest of the volume. In this beautiful artbook, we are given over 400 pages of absolutely wonderful fantasy art. And right from the start, the author invites us to take the journey into his imagination alongside him–introducing the reader to his method and giving short explanations of the origins of and his feelings about certain works. What a journey, too! Here we see dragons (lots of impressive dragons), watch fierce battles, encounter a variety of strange beings in various habitats, and discover terrifying monsters.

Throughout, I’m impressed by . . . well, a lot of things actually. The sense of movement that Ejsing captures in his paintings, for one. He mentions in here that he tries to capture that moment where the outcome is undecided, where you don’t know who wins, and I feel that is done quite well. The sense of focus and balance is also impressive, feeding into that sense of motion and giving it order and meaning. And that is where these paintings really begin to truly come together and shine–because each one is telling a story, inviting us into a world only the artist can otherwise see. And the characters depicted in the paintings are full of personality and emotion, from their nuanced facial expressions to the movement of their limbs to the widely varied clothing that adorns them. The variety and sheer depth of imagination that is presented here is also impressive, and I have to admit that as a gamer, it will likely provide inspiration to me for years to come. Because so much of this work is tied to fantasy worlds that I know and love, like D&D and Pathfinder, worlds that Ejsing clearly has a passion for as well. My sole complaint about this book is that in a few rare instances, with the two-page spreads, there were some details lost in the centerfold, including important details like the faces of some individuals. But honestly, that is such a minor thing compared to how truly fabulous Elsewhere is as a whole, that it hardly bears mentioning. This is an artbook that I would definitely recommend, particularly to fans of fantasy art and to gamers. And hey, it would make a gorgeous coffee-table book for those of the geekier persuasion!

NOTE: I received a free review copy of Elsewhere from the publisher in exchange for an unbiased review, which in no way affects the contents of this review.

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Gintama (2017 Movie)

Warner Bros. Pictures

My rating: 5 of 5

Edo-period Japan has been invaded by aliens from outer space, and the country looks a bit different now with aliens (known as Amanto) in positions of political and social privilege and samurai bereft of their swords. One such former samurai, Sakata Gintoki, has embraced the challenges of this new life by becoming a sweets-loving odd-jobber along with his young friends, Shinpachi and Kagura. But when rumors of a serial killer begin to arise, Gin finds himself drawn back by his past in order to protect the present that he loves.

Okay, first of all, confession: I totally started watching this live-action remake of Gintama just because I love Shun Oguri’s work; never mind the fact that I also love the anime/manga on which this movie is based. Having said that, Oguri did a fabulous job with the role of Gin, but there was a ton of other things that I loved about Gintama. First of all, the casting in general was very well done, and everyone did a great job portraying their characters. And, even though the particular story arc they chose involves a lot of characters, they didn’t go chopping people out left and right, so fair warning, there are a lot of people to keep track of. But I appreciated that they went to the trouble of not chopping . . . either characters or plot, actually. Plot context: at the start, we do get the cafe scene where Gin and Shinpachi first meet–but after that, there’s this big plot gap, and the majority of the movie is the Benizakura arc. I wasn’t expecting them to jump headlong into the story like that, but I think it was a smart choice. It’s one of my favorite parts of the anime/manga for a lot of the reasons that make it a great choice for the movie as well. It captures the absurdity and general silliness that makes Gintama (whatever the medium) such a  fun, funny story; I confess to laughing out loud for a great portion of the movie. You’ve got fourth-wall breaking, references galore, plus just plain ridiculousness (like the Yorozuya and Shinsengumi’s beetle-hunting madness). But this arc also has a lot of heart. It pulls from both Gin’s and Katsura’s childhood days as well as from their resistance-fighter exploits, incorporating that into the present-day plot. And of course, said plot allows for some great action sequences and sword fights–it’s one of the few points in the series where Gin gets a chance to truly look cool for a moment . . . before he ruins it by picking his nose or something. As far as the sets and makeup/CGI, it’s honestly not the greatest. I mean, a lot of the aliens are obviously just folks in animal suits or wearing body paint. But that fits the story–the absurdity and fourth-wall breaking and such–so well that I honestly prefer that over awesome, convincing CG for everything. It just works. So yes, I really loved the Gintama live-action movie, although I would caution that if you haven’t either read the manga or watched the anime at least a bit, you’ll likely be a bit confused; even with two-and-a-half hours of film, there’s still a lot that isn’t explained in a lot of detail. But for fans . . . absolutely recommended; it captures not just the story itself, but the heart of Gintama.

Written & Directed by Yūichi Fukuda/Based on Gintama by Hideaki Sorachi/Starring Shun Oguri, Masaki Suda, Kanna Hashimoto, Yūya Yagira, Ryo Yoshizawa, Masami Nagasawa, Masaki Okada, Nakamura Kankurō VI, & Tsuyoshi Dōmoto

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Taproot (Graphic Novel)

Author/Illustrator: Keezy Young

My rating: 5 of 5

Being a ghost, Blue had missed human interaction . . . until he found Hamal, a guy who can actually see and talk to ghosts. The two quickly become friends–okay, Blue maybe has fallen a bit in love–and the small gardening shop Hamal works at soon becomes a popular hangout for a number of lonely ghosts. But something dark is creeping into the area, and Hamal seems to be at the center of it all. How far will Blue have to go to protect the guy he cares for and the other ghosts?

Taproot was one of the most charming, refreshing stories I’ve read in a while. Originally a webcomic, it’s now available as an updated single-volume graphic novel. But yes, it has that independent, webcomic sort of feel, which is delightful. The main characters are just absolutely lovable and sweet; like, I wanted things to work out well for them right from the start. And, not to give away too many spoilers, but I promise, they do get their happy ending. The art is really nice–distinctive and attractive. I really love the mix of bright colors with dark, especially the way the panels are overlapped to provide a fade-in at certain points. It’s used well to emphasize the contrast of light and darkness in the plot itself. As for the plot, again, a good mix of feel-good fluff and eeriness that resolves well and left me feeling happy. Taproot is the perfect sort of story for when you need something short to cheer you up and make you believe in hope again.

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Powerless (Danny Phantom Fanfic)

Author: PixieGirl13 

FanFiction ID: 4389824

Status: Complete (24 chapters)

My rating: 5 of 5

Rated T, mostly for whump/violence and Vlad-typical manipulation and evil machinations

Danny’s finally got the house to himself for a week and a half of unsupervised, (hopefully) ghost free summer relaxation. Even Sam and Tucker are going to be out of town, and Danny plans to take advantage of the opportunity to sleep in and take it easy for once. But nothing seems to go the plan for the teenage half-ghost superhero as he finds himself kidnapped by his (also half-ghost) archnemesis Vlad Masters and dragged halfway across the world to help save Tokyo (or at least Vlad’s evil drug-lord friend) from a golem that has been terrorizing the drug trade there. So much for a vacation!

Powerless was a brilliantly executed fanfic displaying, yes, the aspects I really want in a fanfic, but also a lot of what I would want even in a published short novel. It goes without saying that the writing itself was excellent, if in need of some minor editorial work in a few places. Very enjoyable to read, expressive, and engaging. The characterizations were remarkably well done. Getting into Danny’s head to write him in first person is never easy, but particularly so in such a tense, chess-like situation, and I feel like the author not only gave us a credible rendition of the character but also an insightful one. Not to mention, one that’s a lot of fun to read. And the interactions between Vlad and Danny throughout are spot on–not some over-indulgent father figure or some slashy nonsense, but rather the incomprehensibly confusing manipulation of a brilliant but self-centered and morally-lacking mastermind trying to mold/mess with a toy/protégé/pet. The insight into Vlad’s character and the ambiguous (is he evil? or does he actually care?) way in which he’s written is perfect, making the way Danny is manipulated by him entirely credible. Also major kudos to the author for writing engaging, complex OCs that are a delight to read; I’m not normally big on having OCs in my fanfic, but I’ll gladly make an exception for these ones. As for the actual story, it’s surprisingly, refreshingly plot-centric, with lots of interlinked pieces gradually falling into place. There’s a great balance of suspense and action, plus a good bit of whump. Also, the author’s dragging the characters out of Amity Park and into such exotic locales as Prague and Tokyo is a really nice touch that gives some much-needed variety and room to breathe and be creative. All in all, Powerless is a gripping, balanced story that I highly recommend.

 

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FiND YOTSUBA (Artbook)

Illustrations by Kiyohiko Azuma/Photography by Miho Kakuta

My rating: 5 of 5

This gorgeous, adorable artbook features photographs from Japan, mostly of somewhat rural settings and everyday situations. And inserted into each and every photograph is an illustration of the world’s most amusing and cute kiddo ever–Yotsuba! Suddenly, each picture is both beautiful and fun.

Yotsuba&! is one of my absolute favorite stories, manga or otherwise. So naturally, I was delighted to discover there was an artbook available. But wow, FiND YOTSUBA surpassed my expectations. The photos themselves are a fabulous window into everyday Japanese life; they’re lovely. And the way Azuma-sensei fits Yotsuba into the pictures is wonderful. He manages to match color and lighting, use shadows and reflections brilliantly, play with the visual focus points, and even include the photo-blur you get when something moves too quickly to make her place in the pictures seem more natural. Sometimes, you have to pull a real “where’s Waldo” looking for her. And what really pulls everything together is that way that, even without any text or connecting storyline, Yotsuba’s personality, the way she’s so full of life and excitement, carries through so strongly in the pictures. They made me smile–a lot–and even laugh aloud at points. Highly recommended, particularly for fans of the manga, but also just for people who love cute things.

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Julia’s House for Lost Creatures (Picture Book)

Author/Illustrator: Ben Hatke

My rating: 5 of 5

Julia’s house has just come to town–on the back of a giant turtle!–and settled by the sea. It’s lovely, only the house is too quiet. So what does Julia do?  She puts out a sign, an open invitation for the lost, the unwanted, and the unusual to come live with her. And do they ever. Now there’s too much noise and chaos! Good thing Julia knows just what to do.

I have found Ben Hatke’s graphic novels to be utterly charming ever since I first discovered Zita the Spacegirl, and Julia’s House for Lost Creatures is just that as well–utterly charming. Julia herself drew me in right from the start. I mean, she has a house built on a turtle. She enjoys tea and toast in a delightful room filled with all sorts of interesting objects. And when it’s too quiet, her first instinct is to reach out to the lonely and the unwanted. What’s not to love? Plus, she has a sense of order that appeals to me. The way she models good problem-solving skills makes this a great read for kids as well. The general reading level of the story is quite picture-book appropriate, although I have to confess, I had to pull out the dictionary and look up one of the creatures–so it’s not all super-easy, little kid vocabulary either. The art is delightful, similar in style to that of Hatke’s graphic novels. The color palette is lovely–vibrant but still soft and mild–and the use of space and the amount of visual variety is also pleasant, going from full-page pictures to vast amounts of white space with a single picture and a couple of lines of text. There are even a few places where comic-style panels are used. All told, Julia’s House for Lost Creatures is a treat to read that I would recommend for kids and adults alike.

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Choice of Robots (Text-Based Game)

Producer: Choice of Games

Author: Kevin Gold

My rating: 5 of 5

You may just be in postgraduate studies right now, crafting the initial designs for your first real robot, but you know your creations are destined for greatness. One way or the other, you’re going to impact the world. But will you be a humanitarian, training your robots to work with people and crafting them to be useful in the medical field? Or will you create robots that are useful for the military, regardless of the consequences? Or hey, your robots are intelligent enough, will you just give them their freedom and let them decide for themselves what sorts of beings they should become?

Okay, so first off, I’m hesitant to call Choice of Robots either a video game or a visual novel–but I don’t really have a good word for what it is other than those. This is an entirely text-based computer game, devoid of pictures or background music entirely. Sounds kind of boring, right? It’s totally not. This is an indie choices matter sort of game that is just fabulous, truly. It’s smart, for one thing; the writer has a Ph.D. in computer science, and it shows. It’s very well thought out and organized. The game is like a visual novel in that you read a block of text and are offered a variety of choices you can make based on that text. Your choices are meaningful, and even small choices can have a big impact on what happens later in the game. Choices also influence your stats (empathy, grace, autonomy, and military appeal for your robot, plus your own wealth and fame) as well as your relationships with various other characters. I can see this game as having a great deal of replay value due to the huge number of story paths available; I’ve played through it three times already, and have only unlocked a few of the possibilities. If you’re willing to look past the surface simplicity of such a purely text-based game, I think Choice of Robots is an excellent game, and I will be trying other games by this group.

Note: I played Choice of Robots through Steam, and you can find out more at the Steam store page or on the game’s credits page.

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