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The Doll’s House

Author: Neil Gaiman

The Sandman, vol. 2

My rating: 4.5 of 5

WARNING: MATURE AUDIENCE

After his long absence from the Dream world and his imprisonment in the world of the living, Morpheus returns to Dream to survey his lands, taking stock of those members who are missing and beginning his search for them. Little does he know that some of his younger siblings among the Endless are stirring up trouble for him in secret. Meanwhile, in the human world, Rose Walker is united in England for the first time with her grandmother Unity (a victim of the sleeping sickness that came over so many children for a time) and subsequently returns to the United States to search for her long-lost little brother in hopes of uniting the family. She meets a number of interesting individuals during her search, including Morpheus himself, unwitting that she herself is a dream vortex that he must deal with or risk the destruction of Dream entirely.

Well, I have to say that, although I was not particularly impressed with the first Sandman comic, Preludes & Nocturnes, Gaiman thoroughly made up for the issues I found in that book in The Doll’s House. It made me regret having waited so long to press on with the series. Whereas Preludes & Nocturnes never truly felt like Gaiman’s work, never really set properly (barring that lovely last chapter), The Doll’s House feels throughout like one of his books. It has the right flavor, the right perspectives on things, the right spark that I can’t properly describe; I can only say that it works. The entire volume reads like a novel, having a cohesive plot with multiple, interlacing stories. It also traces back to stories told in the first volume, actually giving them more weight and purpose in my mind. I really loved all the dream sequences that were a part of this book and the way in which they played into the plot. Even more so, I appreciated the way in which the author discussed the ideas of destiny and fate and free will; you would think this theme would be exhausted by now, but it’s something so integral to humanity that perhaps it will always be a pertinent topic. I like Rose’s character as well; she’s got spunk but she’s also kind of broken, and it’s interesting to see that developed. The art is very well done, although still in a very comic-book style that I’m still gradually adjusting to. Fair warning that this is definitely geared for an adult audience and there’s some pretty gristly violence (though not nearly as bad as the first volume) and some nudity here. I definitely enjoyed reading The Doll’s House and am now actually quite looking forward to future volumes of The Sandman in spite of the series’ rocky start.

Covers & Design by Dave McKean/Illustrated by Mike Dringenberg & Malcolm Jones III/Colored by Zylonol/Lettered by Todd Klein & John Costanza

 

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The Return of Doctor Mysterio

BBC

My rating: 4.5 of 5

NOTE: This TV special takes place following The Husbands of River Song” and immediately preceding series 10 of Doctor Who. It’s relatively spoiler-free, but you should still be sure to watch “The Husbands of River Song” first because you’ll miss half the feels of this episode if you don’t.

On Christmas Eve of 1992, the Doctor is in New York, trying to stabilize the mess he’s made of time there. That night, he encounters a young boy named Grant and accidentally gives the boy superpowers (don’t ask; it’s the Doctor) . . . and a strict command to never use those powers. Twenty-four years later, the Doctor returns to New York to investigate an alien invasion (surprise) only to encounter Grant–who is living a double life as both nanny to a small baby and local masked superhero “Ghost.” So much for never using those powers. . . .

At first, I was kind of exasperated with the writers for choosing a superhero story–I mean, that’s basically the only sort of movie that seems to be coming out right now! And honestly, I’m not the superhero movie type. But “The Return of Doctor Mysterio” is Doctor Who, and I have to admit that it brings in the best of both worlds. You’ve got all the quirkiness and geekiness of Capaldi’s Doctor (absolutely brilliant!) and the classic Who alien invasion story. Plus you’ve got a good guy trying to protect the people he loves and live up to the ideals of the old superhero comics he read as a kid . . . all the while keeping his true identity a secret from the very clever and insightful (except as it regards him) journalist that he works for. The lightness and action of the superhero plot (and the sweet, innocent romance they work in) actually do a lot to counterbalance what may otherwise have been a very dark and angsty story (if you’ve watched “The Husbands of River Song,” you know why). On the other hand, the interactions between the Doctor and the journalist, Lucy, are humorous on the surface but serve to draw out and develop the Doctor’s inner turmoil, which is neat to see. In any case, I would definitely recommend “The Return of Doctor Mysterio” to any fan of Doctor Who.

Written by Steven Moffat/Directed by Ed Bazalgette/Produced by  Peter Bennett/Music by Murray Gold/Starring Peter Capaldi, Matt Lucas, Justin Chatwin, & Charity Wakefield

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Heart of the Dragon

Author: Keith R. A. DeCandidoheart-of-the-dragon

Supernatural books, vol. 4

My rating: 4 of 5

SPOILER ALERT: The events in this book take place after season 5, episode 8, so there are likely to be spoilers for any episodes prior to that. Plus, knowledge of events leading up to that point will be very helpful in knowing what’s going on in this book.

In 1859, an honorable ronin, known as “Heart of the Dragon” for his brave feats, is defeated by a far-sighted demon and turned into a vengeful spirit, one that may one day be of great use to the forces of darkness during the apocalypse. Years later, a young descendant of this ronin discovers how to bring this spirit back and bend its will to his own petty vengeances. The rash of mysterious (and obviously supernatural) deaths that follow become a plague to three generations of Campbells and Winchesters as the spirit returns once every 20 years.

My experience with media tie-in novels has been extremely patchy, with some being little better than poorly-researched fanfiction (minus the fandom) and others actually being great stories in their own right. I thing Heart of the Dragon is a surprisingly good story . . . if you love the TV series and know what’s going on. And I do have to say, watching the show up to season 5, episode 8, is basically essential to really get much out of this book. But within that context, I was actually really impressed and enjoyed this book quite a lot. I felt like DeCandido got a much better feel for who the characters are than he did in his previous novel Nevermore (which didn’t really impress me). The characters don’t just have a few phrases or stereotypical elements that typify them; they act and talk more like I expect Sam and Dean and the rest to act and talk on-screen. Plus, I thought the plot was interesting. I’ve heard people complaining that there’s just too much going on or that only a small portion of the story actually focused on Sam and Dean. True on both counts, but I enjoyed having a story that spanned from Mary and her parents to John and Bobby to Sam, Dean, and Castiel. Plus, the author did a great job of bringing in authentic period detail in relatively subtle ways to help keep the time jumps distinct. My biggest complaints are probably just me being snobby, honestly; for instance, the author uses “Cass” instead of “Cas” for Castiel’s nickname–he claim’s it’s what’s officially in the scripts, but I’ve never seen that actually used anywhere. Why would you even? But truly, I really enjoyed Heart of the Dragon for both its great characterizations and its interesting plot . . . but mostly for the characters.

 

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Ouroboros (2015 TV Series)

TBSouroboros

Status: Completed, 10 episodes

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Growing up together in the orphanage of Mahoroba, Danno Tatsuya and Ryuzaki Ikuo found love, inspiration, and strength in their caregiver, Yuiko-sensei. . . . That is, until one night when she is murdered and the case is covered up by a police man wearing a gold watch. Young Tatsuya and Ikuo vow to find Yuiko’s murder and exact their own justice. Twenty years later, Tatsuya is a leader in the yakuza and Ikuo is rising through the ranks of the police, working together to ferret out any clues as to Yuiko’s killer. But will they be able to handle the truths they find?

Ouroboros is probably the best J-drama I’ve seen to date. Of course, part of that is the fact that it stars both Shun Oguri and Toma Ikuta, two of my favorite actors. They have a really great dynamic when they work together, and their part in this show was definitely a huge plus for me. But I think that even for those unfamiliar with these two, the show has a lot to offer. It’s a cops and yakuza story, with lots of interconnecting plots, tragic backstory, and a nice balance of drama and action. There are some nicely choreographed fight scenes, even. And an adorable but tragic love story (more than one, depending on how you look at it). Of course, being a J-drama, there’s a certain amount of just plain goofiness, especially at the beginning (then again, can you put Toma in a show without some goofiness?). But again, it balances out, and by the end of the show, it’s just plain heartbreaking. This is a tear-jerker, to be sure, but I think the writers did a great job of making the story fall the way it needs to, not the way you necessarily want it to. . . . It feels like hitsuzen when you get down to it, I guess. Also just have to mention that the character development is remarkably well done–especially for this sort of show–and even the relatively minor characters are interesting. And one last point of note: the casting for the childhood versions of Tatsuya and Ikuo are fabulous. So often, kids seem just picked at random, but the kids chosen for the roles here are perfect, both in appearance and in how they act. Ouroboros is high on my list of recommendations, both for those who enjoy J-dramas and for those who like detective stories in general.

Note: At this point, I don’t know of an official English version of this show, but there are some quite decent fan-subs available.

Based on the manga by Kanzaki Yuya/Directed by Yasuharu Ishii/Music by Kimura Hideakira/Starring Toma Ikuta, Shun Oguri, & Juri Ueno

 

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Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon (manga)

Mangaka: Naoko Takeuchisailor-moon

Translator: William Flanagan

My rating: 3.5 of 5

Usagi Tsukino is an average middle-school girl–cute, cheerful, and prone to oversleeping. She’s also the reincarnation of an ancient Moon Princess–a Sailor Guardian wielding the power of the Legendary Silver Crystal to protect the world she loves. As she awakens to her powers, Usagi discovers other Sailor Guardians, friends from her past life who join her in the battles she faces. And they will definitely face numerous enemies in battle as those drawn to the power of the Legendary Silver Crystal for their own greedy reasons seek to take it from her.

First off, I must recognize that Sailor Moon has a certain appeal that uniquely comes from growing up with it; I have any number of friends who absolutely adore the story–all of whom first watched it on TV back in middle school. So I have to preface my review by saying that I only just read this manga recently, so I’m coming at the story from a different perspective, acknowledging that there are aspects of it that I’m just not going to appreciate in the same way. Please don’t be offended if you are one of those people who love this manga dearly. I can certainly acknowledge that is a classic–one that anyone who enjoys manga should read at least once–and that it has been highly influential not only on readers but on other mangaka over the years. I found Sailor Moon to be quite a unique story. The genre blend is something I’ve never seen before, at least not in this particular mix. While being essentially a shoujo story (with a strong mahou shojou flair, complete with the instantaneous costume changes and frou frou styles), there is a strong shounen vibe to the story as well. I found this particularly notable in the battles, both with the named attacks in the midst of the battles and with the sequence of each defeated enemy being followed by a stronger enemy. Personally, I found the enemies and their motives to be a bit bland and unoriginal. Although the character designs and the specifics changed, they were all essentially interchangeable otherwise, at least for the most part. On the other hand, the characters of the Sailor Guardians were charming, distinct, and interesting. I think the reason I enjoyed the series as much as I did was that I enjoyed the characters. As for the plot . . . the overarching plot of reincarnation, destined love, everlasting friendship, and all that goes into that was actually quite good. I enjoyed the time-travel plot elements that were thrown in as well. But the repeated fights just weren’t that enjoyable for me. Still, I think Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon is a solid classic manga that is well worth reading at least once, both for the characters and story themselves and to understand the innumerable references to it that pop up elsewhere.

 

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A Fox’s Family

Author: Brandon Varnella-foxs-family

Illustrator: Kirsten Moody

American Kitsune, vol. 4

My rating: 3.5 of 5

Warning: Mature Audience (14+)

Kevin Swift has finally agreed to be the lovely kitsune Lillian’s mate–to her abundant and obvious delight. Actually, the relationship is suiting Kevin pretty well also, although he’s well aware that being with Lillian is likely to bring plenty of outside conflict (more than it already has) in the form of various yokai who disapprove or are out to get her for one reason or another. Which is why Kevin has begun training with one of the toughest yokai he knows, the inu Kiara. Ouch, for sure, but he’s actually making progress. All seems to be going well . . . until one night when Lillian’s ditzy mom, overly lascivious sister Iris, and their maid (?) Kirihime show up on Kevin’s doorstep. As you can imagine, all kinds of complications arise from that.

I have enjoyed the American Kitsune series so far; it pulls a lot of flavor from Japanese light novels, particularly the more ecchi shounen rom-com ones, while also creating its own style and niche. A Fox’s Family is no different, although it shows definite development and a somewhat darker tone than the previous volumes. Make no mistake, it definitely keeps up the humor and the sexy hijinks–at least as much as previous volumes–but there are also some pretty bad villains involved and some big fights go down. Fights are something I personally have mixed feelings about in, well, any medium actually–not from a moral sense or anything, but just because they can be hard to follow and be interested in. (Basically the only fights I have been able to make myself care about in literature are the ones in Bleach.) Having said that, I do think the author did a good job with the fights in this book; they stay true to genre, but they’re also cohesive and reasonable to follow. I actually even found myself enjoying Kiara’s big fight (because it was epic and the combatants enjoyed it so much) and Kevin’s last big fight scene (because Kevin). Which brings me back to what I really enjoy the most about A Fox’s Family: the characters. While there are many aspects of this book that seem pretty typical shounen, I think the characters–especially Lillian and Kevin–stand out as being both intriguing and likeable, which is something that just makes the entire story in my opinion. I also have to note that this volume is pretty long and contains a larger cast than any of the previous volumes–and the author handles this added complication with aplomb, keeping plotlines and individual characters distinct and easy to follow for the reader. I would say, as with previous volumes, that if you don’t like ecchi stories with lots of otaku references, this probably isn’t for you; however, if that’s at all your style, A Fox’s Family would be a great light novel to try.

Note: I received a free review copy of this book from the author, which in no way alters the contents of this review.

 

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The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (Omnibus Edition)

Author: Alan Moorethe league of extraordinary gentelmen omnibus

Illustrator: Kevin O’Neill

My Rating: DNF

Warning: Mature Audience

In England during the year 1898, a mysterious unnamed individual–going merely by M–has begun collecting a most unusual group of people together. Strayed to the outskirts of society and beyond by choice or chance, these individuals have both the will and the abilities to do what many might consider impossible. And perhaps, for the sake of their country, they might even be motivated to have the will to work together and accomplish the task.

First off, apologies to those who love this, admittedly classic, comic book–you should probably stop reading now. Actually, this particular review is for myself more than for anyone else, so that when I look back in 5 years and wonder whatever happened to the characters, I’ll be reminded of all the reasons I stopped reading to begin with. Because The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen has the potential to be a wonderful story. The premise is intriguing, the blending of Victorian period literature and style with the superhero comic. I would even say that, at times, Moore and O’Neill manage to pull it off. Certainly, a familiarity with and appreciation of classic literature will certainly increase one’s appreciation of the comic–the incorporation of characters and stylistic elements was one of the things I appreciated the most. So if there’s that much good, why did I stop halfway through with no intention of ever picking this comic up again to finish it? Because I found this comic to also be racist, sexist, violent, bawdy, and offensive in the extreme. Is that seriously necessary?! So yes, I won’t elaborate further, but I can’t recommend The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, nor will I ever read any of it again.

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