Tag Archives: alternate history

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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The Year of the Hangman

Author: Gary Blackwoodthe year of the hangman

My rating: 4 of 5

What if. . . ? The year is 1777. The American colonies have lost their revolution, and many have been killed or have fled to Spanish and French territory for safety. Not that any of that concerns 15-year-old Creighton Brown. Living the high life in British society, he is much more interested in drinking and gambling away any fortune his family might once have had–and there’s little enough left since his father’s death in the war. But when Creighton is kidnapped and shipped off to the “uncivilized” colonies, his perspective is challenged . . . his perspective on just about everything.

I have admired Gary Blackwood’s writing ever since I discovered his middle-grade historical fiction story, The Shakespeare Stealer–which is amazing, just saying. I didn’t love The Year of the Hangman in quite the same way that I did Blackwood’s Shakespeare books, but I did find it quite enjoyable. The whole alternate history, “what if” idea was very interesting, and I think he handled it well, blending both real history and logical possibility in a manner that was very credible. On the whole, the plot and developments were, however, a bit predictable–still enjoyable, but not particularly gripping or surprising. Still, I think The Year of the Hangman was definitely an interesting read, particularly for those interested in Revolutionary War history or in alternate history stories.

 

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A Tale of Time City

Author: Diana Wynne Jonesa tale of time city

My rating: 5 of 5

Like many other children in 1939, Vivian Smith is on her way to the countryside to stay with her cousin while the bombing is going on in London. Only, she never quite makes it to meet her cousin. At the train station in the country, she is abducted by two boys who snatch her away (through a wall in the train station, no less) into what might as well be another world: Time City, a place set apart from time and ordained to govern over it. Only, things are going wrong, and the two boys, Jonathan and Sam, heard rumor that the Lady of the City–Vivian Smith–was going to be at that train station in 1939, so the went to get her. It quickly becomes apparent, however, that they have the wrong Vivian Smith. But they can’t just take our Vivian back to her own time, not now that she’s seen the City. So Jonathan, who thinks himself very clever, thinks up a plan to pass her off as a cousin of his, visiting from history (i.e., every time that isn’t Time City). Which is all a bit much, but Vivian’s quick to adapt. Unfortunately, they’re still left with that small, nagging problem of all Time coming to pieces around them. . . .

I love stories about time travel, and I absolutely adore Diana Wynne Jones’s writing, so I suppose I was pretty much fated to enjoy A Tale of Time City. It’s wonderful! And I don’t just mean that in the sense of it’s being “great” or “amazing”–it’s full of all sorts of wonders that surprise the reader at every turn. If I could do so and return safely home, I would love to get to tour Time City myself. I’d love to meet Vivian, too. She’s the perfect balance of a credible but remarkably spunky girl. Not to mention inordinately adaptable! She would stand out more but for the fact that the whole book is just full of lively, interesting people. And, as is so typical with Jones’s books, the plot is intriguing from beginning to end. The pacing is excellent, drawing the reader along comfortably but with enough ease to enjoy the setting and the characters as you go. And there are certainly surprises at the end, but ones that just seem to fit perfectly once you encounter them, like they were inevitably but you just never realized it. I would give A Tale of Time City high recommendations, especially to those who love a good fantasy and to those who are intrigued by the idea of time itself–because it’s just fascinating, isn’t it?

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The Eye of Zoltar

eye of zoltarAuthor: Jasper Fforde

The Chronicles of Kazam, vol. 3

My rating: 5 of 5

As usual, Jennifer Strange has her work cut out for her. As though being the under-age leader of a successful guild of magic-workers (all older than herself) weren’t enough, now she’s got a flesh-eating monster that they accidentally set loose on the town to catch. And one of her best workers managed to get herself held for ransom in the neighboring kingdom–a kingdom known for being intentionally dangerous. Oh, and she’s got a bratty princess to babysit, AND the most powerful wizard of the past few centuries (he’s lived that long) is threatening war against Kazam unless she finds a mystic jewel that may or may not exist! Time to declare a quest, for sure. Why is life never simple?

Ever since I first discovered Fforde’s Chronicles of Kazam, I have consistently been delighted beyond all possible expectations, and I must say that in The Eye of Zoltar he outdid himself. The combination of humor, quirk, and thrilling adventure is balanced perfectly, making this a quest tale with something for everyone. Added to that, you have all the fun and amusing details and satire that so characterize Fforde’s writing, and the Chronicles in particular. The characters as well  make this a tale to remember, and even the ones who start out being annoying rather grow on you. (And then you’ve got the characters who start out annoying, grow ever more annoying, and eventually get their just desserts to universal cheers.) Because (spoilers) a large portion of this volume takes place out of country, a number of the characters from the previous volumes don’t show up much–I really missed Tiger’s constant presence, for instance. And I will warn that this volume is kind of dark–not that the previous volumes were all sunshine and rainbows, but you know. . . . In spite of that, I think The Eye of Zoltar is an excellent fantasy, and I would highly recommend it. And hey, it comes with a promise of a follow-up volume which is bound to be more cheerful, right?

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Sabriel

Author: Garth Nix

Sabriel has spent most of her childhood safe on the south side of the Wall at boarding school in Ancelstierre. Meanwhile her father, Abhorsen, faced the dangers of the Old Kingdom, the world to the north of the Wall that operates according to an older, darker set of rules. Occasionally, he would come to visit her and train her in the ways of their family–doing the opposite of necromancers and sending the Dead back into Death where they belong. Sabriel’s life changes in an instant, when a messenger from her father brings his sword and magical bells to her, letting her know he is trapped in Death and it is up to her to take up his work–and save him if possible.

Sabriel is an affirmed classic of the fantasy genre and for good reason. In it, Garth Nix crafts an intricate and exciting high fantasy full of secrets, surprises, hidden identities, daring fights, unexpected heroes, and a rich, unusual variety of magic. All of this is set in a world that effortlessly combines necromancy and automobiles, telephones and walking Dead, talking cats and aircraft–an alternate-reality version of England that captures the imagination. Yet for all the glamour of the fights and the excitement of the adventure, Sabriel is also a dark tale, imbued with the chill of death–both the pain of losing the living and the wrongness of the Dead returned. Bringing a rich humanity to the story is an array of complex, intriguing characters, most notably Sabriel herself with her blend of solemnity and uncertainty as she goes through the change from an Ancelstierran schoolgirl to one of the most powerful mages of her time. I would highly recommend Sabriel to anyone who enjoys a good fantasy.

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The Boundless

Author: Kenneth Oppel

Will Everett has the privilege to be present when the last spike is driven to connect the railway crossing the entire continent. Only a few years later, he finds himself aboard The Boundless, the largest train ever imagined. What’s more, his father’s fortune has turned greatly, transforming him from a lowly laborer to chief engineer. Shortly after they board the train, Mr. Everett reveals that he foresees Will using his drawing talents masterfully in the railway industry, creating a stable, comfortable future for himself. But what of Will’s own dream to go to art school? And for that matter, what of the deeper dreams and buried memories of the girl he met the day the last spike was driven? Little could they know that their decisions will be highly influenced by their journey aboard The Boundless, particularly when danger looms and its near impossibly to know who to trust.

Kenneth Oppel is a huge favorite in my family, and to myself–particularly his Airborn trilogy. I really enjoyed The Boundless, especially since it reminds me a great deal in both feel and setting of those particular stories. There is a somewhat steampunk feel to the setting, and I love it! The story flows well, with a nice blend of predictability and surprise–it’s very character driven, which is great. I absolutely love the characters, especially Maren. (I think Oppel has a knack for strong, independent, capable, and wonderful female characters.) The blend of fantasy, science, and slight-of-hand seems to work really well in this setting, adding a fresh flavor. On a grammatical note, the entirety of the story is written in present tense–which normally throws my reading all out of whack, but actually works in this case. Finally, I love the way he puts so much into the first chapter; truly, I think seeds for all the major plot elements are planted there. Check out all of Oppel’s books, and particularly The Boundless!

 

 

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Thirteenth Child

Author: Patricia C. Wrede

Everyone knows that a seventh son is lucky, and the seventh son of a seventh son is not only doubly lucky, but a natural-born magician as well. Likewise, everyone knows that a thirteenth child is destined to come to no good, or so they say. Thus, Eff is oppressed from her earliest childhood by the stigma of being the thirteenth . . . especially since her twin brother, Lan, is a double seventh son. Fortunately, their parents are well aware of the fact that children often grow into exactly what people expect us them. And so, the family uproots from their comfortable home (and nosy, pushy relatives) back East and move West to the frontier, where folks are mostly too busy staying alive and warding off the wildlife to worry about trivialities like birth order. Not that that keeps Eff from secretly worrying about being cursed.

Reading Thirteenth Child was honestly something of a mind-blowing experience for me. I love fantasy novels, and I’d like to think that I read a wide variety of them. This one is something special and unique, though; it’s like the Little House books in an alternate reality where magic is commonplace. It was kind of weird to get used to, but I enjoyed it. Plus, Patricia C. Wrede is an excellent author and a lot of fun to read. This story was particularly interesting in that the first half or more of the story is very slice-of-life from a young child’s perspective–that’s something you really don’t see much of, especially in fantasies. Eff is quite an interesting character also, as are the numerous people she interacts with over the course of the book. I really would recommend Thirteenth Child as a creative, thoughtful, but fun fantasy with a frontier sort of feel.

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