Tag Archives: dragons

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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Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid: Elma’s Office Lady Diary (Manga)

Mangaka: Ayami Kazama

Spinoff of Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid by coolkyoushinja

Status: Ongoing (currently 1 volume)

My rating: 3.5 of 5

Lady Elma is a powerful Harmony Dragon who thrives on keeping peace and order back in her own world. But she’s traveled to the human world now, disguised as a human herself, in order to bring her frenemy–the dragon Tohru–back home with her. Only, Tohru is being stubborn about going back, and Elma’s not going without her, and well . . . looks like she may be staying for a while. And all the food in this world is soooo delicious–but also expensive. And thus, it’s time for Elma to get a job. She ends up with an office job in the same company as Tohru’s Miss Kobayashi, and surprisingly enough, gets on swimmingly despite her numerous quirks. Maybe people just find them endearing?

On the one hand, having both an original manga series and a spinoff series (Kanna’s Daily Life) already, adding another spinoff to the same series almost seems like a bit much. And yet, I found the first volume of this manga to be enjoyable, enough so that I will probably continue reading the series. It definitely fits with the series–actually, kudos to the mangaka for how well it meshes both with the original and the other spinoff series. Yet this manga also fills a unique niche in this particular universe. It carries on the absurdity, the humor, the over-the-top characters, and the contrast between dragons and normal people in a way that is just as amusing as either of the other series. But because the focus is on Elma, who we don’t see that much of in the others, and because it’s focusing on her time at work to a large extent, the flavor of the story is different. You’ve got a lot of coworker interactions, conversations with people who don’t have a clue that she’s a dragon, plus Kobayashi’s reactions to said interactions. The author also gives us more of a picture of Kobayashi’s own workday when she’s away from all the craziness at home, which is fun. Also, speaking of the story’s flavor, there is so much delicious-looking food in here; seriously, Elma loves her food, and it rapidly becomes a story focus, in an amusing sense. I also liked the chapter setup–sets of 4-koma manga grouped around a central theme or story. In all, I would primarily recommend Elma’s Office Lady Diary to those who are already fans of Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid, but for those people, I think this manga provides a good (funny) rounding out of the world and story already presented in the other two series.

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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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Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid (Manga)

Mangaka: coolkyosinnjya

Status: Ongoing (currently 6 volumes)

My rating: 3 of 5

Warning: Although this is technically rated T (actually, I think the first volume may even be rated A) there’s definitely some ecchiness and partial nudity, so . . . fair warning

Kobayashi-san lived a fairly quiet, normal life as an average office worker and closet otaku. . . . That is, until one night in a moment of drunken unthinking, she invited a dragon to live with her. That’s right, a dragon–wings, scales, the works. The next morning, she finds a cute girl wearing a maid outfit and sporting horns and a tail staying in her home. Weird, but hey, Tohru certainly keeps life interesting, and her undying devotion and eagerness to help is kind of appealing. With Tohru’s presence, Kobayashi’s normal life has disappeared, but can she really find it in herself to truly regret it?

Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid is one of those cute, episodic seinen stories that just sort of meanders through life in its own charming way. Honestly, there are elements of it that kind of remind me of Yotsuba&!, even down to the way a lot of the chapters follow the formulaic “Tohru and this or that ordinary thing that she’s just now interacting with.” Because Tohru isn’t accustomed to the human world, you get some unique, quirky perspectives on things that seem everyday to us. There’s a lot of relationship building and re-evaluation going on throughout this story as well, so it’s kind of more of a dramedy of sorts, because the humorous element is definitely present throughout. I guess there are elements that could almost be shoujo-ai flavored, but it’s in a way that could be totally platonic as well, so take your pick there. Again, fair warning that there are parts that are a bit more ecchi; that just seems to be the mangaka’s default, although it’s not quite as much here as in, say, Mononoke Sharing. The art itself is cute and fits the story, again in a way that seems pretty typical of the mangaka’s usual slightly sloppy/loose sort of style. Recommended for those who like cute seinen slice-of-life stories but who are open to a bit more of a fantasy flair.

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Merlin (2008 TV Series)

BBC

AKA: The Adventures of Merlin

Status: Complete (5 seasons/65 episodes)

My rating: 4.5 of 5 (if I’m being honest about the show’s merits) or 6 of 5 (if I’m expressing my undying love of this amazing show)

SPOILER ALERT: I’m going to try to make this review as spoiler-free as possible, but there are certain events which are so deeply a part of Arthurian legend that I can’t honestly consider them spoilers and as such, I may discuss the show’s treatment of them, at least a bit. So if you want a completely spoiler-free impression of this show, just go watch it . . . seriously, what are you waiting for?

Into the heart of Camelot, a kingdom where Uther its king has long made the practice of magic a capital offence, wanders a young man for whom magic is such an integral part of his being as his own breath. Merlin. He’s been sent by a desperate mother to be mentored by the one person she trusts, Uther’s court physician Gaius . . . but deeper and more ancient forces of destiny are at work than a mother’s worry. Merlin rapidly becomes fast friends with the Lady Morgana’s serving girl, Gwen, and just as rapidly gets on the bad side of the prattish prince Arthur. But just because Arthur’s a prat doesn’t mean Merlin wants to see him dead, so he manages to save the prince’s life (secretly using magic) and get himself rewarded by becoming the prince’s manservant (what an honor!). Destiny is at work, though, bringing these two together–the Once and Future King and Emrys, the greatest sorcerer to ever live who will help this king unite the land of Albion, little though they may know it. They may, in time, even become friends, although you’d be hard pressed to get Arthur to admit it.

I love Merlin so very much, and it’s one of those shows that gets better with time–both as you get further into the series and as you watch it again. Certainly, it has its faults (which will be discussed in a bit), but the characters grow on you so very much and their relationships are so rich that the problems with the show are easy to overlook (or at least I have found it so). Essentially, this show is a loose retelling of Arthurian legend–and I mean it when I say it’s a loose retelling. There are certain things that carry over strongly from the classic tales such as names/characters (Arthur, Uther, Merlin, Guinevere, Sir Gwaine, Lancelot, etc.) and events (for instance, you can probably guess how the story ends right from the beginning, the tragedies of Morgana and Mordred, etc.). There’s a lot of original material too, though; the Arthurian legends are only a rough framework for what is essentially an original story. As I said above, there are some things this show doesn’t do so amazingly. The first couple seasons can be a bit repetitive (there are memes; just saying) if you’re looking at the plot of each episode in relation to the other surrounding episodes. This does get better as the show progresses, and I also find that it becomes less noticeable as the characters and their relationships grow on you–the episode framework becomes a background on which the characters are displayed, rather than the main focus of the story. The passage of time is a bit strange and hard to keep track of, too; obviously, only about 5 years passes for the actors, but clearly more time does in the lives of the characters over the course of the show . . . it’s just hard to tell how much time, since the actors haven’t aged to match the passage of time (ignoring the times when Merlin goes old, which are fabulous). The other problem I’ve noticed (and I know I’m not the only one) is that certain characters, particularly Uther and Morgana, are (while brilliantly portrayed by their respective actors) written in an overly one-sided sort of way. For instance, I find it hard to believe that Uther could be so utterly single-minded in his hatred of magic as he is portrayed to be. And Morgana’s change of heart seems too abrupt, too lacking in internal conflict, even considering all that she went through to get to that point. But despite its faults, Merlin is one of my absolute favorite shows ever. Merlin’s character is just brilliantly portrayed (thank you, Colin Morgan), with enough internal conflict and richness of character to totally make up for any lacks elsewhere. And there are so many other brilliant characters–Arthur (obviously; Bradley’s work here is fabulous), Gwen (highly underrated; I adore her), Gaius(amazing mentor character), Gwaine (how can you not love him?!), Leon (also highly underrated), and so many others. The relationship between Merlin and Arthur is so good, too. You can clearly see how they both change over time through their growing friendship, going from basically despising each other to “you’re the only friend I have and I couldn’t bear to lose you.” There’s this great bromance between them, full of sass and humor and teasing, but stemming from a friendship that runs deep. And Colin and Bradley do such a great job of portraying this!!! There are plenty of other cool fantasy/legendary aspects of this show, heartbreaking plots, breathtakingly funny bits . . . but it’s their friendship that makes me love this show so very much.

Created by Julian Jones, Jake Michie, Johnny Capps, & Julian Murphy/Written by Julian Jones/Produced by Julie Gardner & Bethan Jones/Starring Colin Morgan, Bradley James, Angel Coulby, Katie McGrath, Richard Wilson, Anthony Head, Nathaniel Parker, & John Hurt/Music by Rob Lane & Rohan Stevenson

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Aurelie: A Faerie Tale

Author: Heather Tomlinsonaurelie

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Once upon a time, four children were the best of friends: three humans, a boy and two girls, and one fae, a drac who loved mischief and gave the other three a salve that allowed them to see the true form of the fae. Years passed, and the four grew apart. Princess Aurelie lost her mother and became caught up in great responsibilities as her country descended into war. Her dear friend Netta was blinded by another fae, angered by her ability to see him truly, and now she refuses to leave her quiet country town. Loic, the drac, is convinced that his friends abandoned him on purpose and has isolated himself in the world of the fae. And Garin has returned to his home country with his parents–a country that is at war with the land of the princess he loves. Yet none of them have forgotten their affection for each other, and as circumstances rage around them, the four find themselves once again drawn together. . . . And just perhaps, the bonds they share will be enough to save them all.

Having never read any of Heather Tomlinson’s work, I was intrigued by the cover and summary of Aurelie, which promised something along the lines of a new fairy tale or maybe a retelling. I really wasn’t expecting the story that unfolded, though–a politically-charged, romantic fantasy along the lines of Tamora Pierce and Megan Whalen Turner’s writing. I loved it! The plot and the prose are tight and sure, making this a short but engaging tale. The multiple perspectives (of all four friends) work very well in this context. I found it particularly intriguing that Tomlinson chose to give first-person perspective to the three “secondary” main characters–Netta, Garin, and Loic–while writing Aurelie’s perspective in third person. It’s unusual, but it works; I actually didn’t notice until a good ways into the story. The slightly French feel to the story gave it an interesting flavor as well, something more along the lines of Perrault’s fairy tales as opposed to the Brothers Grimm, say. Aurelie was exciting and sweet both, full of unexpected turns and great characters, and I would highly recommend this story, especially to those who enjoy the works of authors like Pierce and Turner.

 

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A Dragon’s Guide to the Care and Feeding of Humans

Authors: Laurence Yep & Joanne Ryderdragons guide to the care and feeding of humans

Illustrator: Mary GrandPré

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Miss Drake (who is of course a dragon of the highest breeding) has just lost her favorite pet Fluffy–a human who insisted on calling herself Amelia. And while Miss Drake had intended to give herself some time to mourn before choosing a new pet, fate (with some help from Amelia) has other things in mind in the form of Amelia’s incorrigible 10-year-old great-niece, Winnie. Now Winnie is convinced that Miss Drake is her responsibility, and she’s not about to leave the dragon alone, no matter how she’s ignored or threatened. It looks like Miss Drake has a new pet after all, one that’s sure to make life . . . interesting.

What a fun story! A Dragon’s Guide to the Care and Feeding of Humans was a delight from start to finish. The story is told in first person from old Miss Drake’s perspective–so you get an ornery-yet-genteel flavor to the story as a whole. And her reactions to Winnie–who is energetic, precocious, and bright–are most amusing. This is a very unusual children’s fantasy, highly character-driven with a mostly slice-of-life plot flavored heavily by, oh, the presence of a dragon and her dealings with other fantastic beings. The feel of the book actually reminds me of Patricia C. Wrede’s Enchanted Forest books somewhat (especially the first one). In any case, I’d definitely recommend A Dragon’s Guide to the Care and Feeding of Humans, especially for elementary-age girls, but truly for everyone (my dad loved it)–it’s fantastically cute and funny!

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