Tag Archives: mystery

The Hollow (2018 Animated TV Series)

Slap Happy Cartoons with Netflix

My rating: 3.5 of 5

Three teenagers find themselves waking up together in a doorless room with no memory of who they are or what their lives were like before that moment. An old typewriter on the floor and names written on pieces of paper in their pockets are their only clues–Adam, Mira, Kai. Accepting that these are their own names and that playing along with whatever “game” or “puzzle” is afoot is their only way to escape, the three begin working together, putting their skills to work in the series of ever-stranger situations they find themselves in. And they’ve got some pretty crazy skills to put to work, too! Which makes them have to wonder, who on earth are they? Because normal people can’t do the things they can do, and they’re freaking themselves out.

The Hollow is a show that I actually watched on recommendation from some family members, and while it’s not exactly what I would normally watch, I did enjoy it. But I feel like I can’t properly review it without totally spoiling it, and it’s one of those shows that you do not want to go into with spoilers. The mystery and watching it unfold is a huge part of the enjoyment of this story. And yes, mystery there is aplenty. The what-on-earth-is-going-on factor is on a level that nearly surpasses that of Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, and that’s saying something.  It’s such a strange mix of genres and themes that I never really felt like I knew what was going on, right up until the end where everything’s explained. It did kind of feel like some of those kids’ stories where each character has specific skills that are suited to specific tasks and everyone fits just so; I didn’t care for that so much, it’s just not my thing, but it does make more sense once you get the explanations. The characters were good, not great, but good. Normal, if you can consider teenagers with superpowers to be normal. They’re relatable, which given the situation they’re in and how you’re supposed to be getting into that, is what you really want. The art is interesting; an animation style somewhere between an American cartoon and, say, A Cat in Paris, at least in terms of the character design. I think the character designs felt a bit inconsistent between characters, like the styles switched somewhere in between them, but it worked in this context. Overall, for those who enjoy having their head messed with and watching an inexplicable mystery unfold, I would recommend The Hollow.

Created by Vito Viscomi/Directed by Josh Mepham & Greg Sullivan/Starring Adrian Petriw, Ashleigh Ball, & Connor Parnall

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The Demon Prince of Momochi House (Manga)

Mangaka: Aya Shouto

Status: Ongoing (currently 12 volumes)

My rating: 4.5 of 5

When she turns sixteen, orphan Himari Momochi mysteriously receives a will stating she’s inherited her family’s ancestral home, Momochi House. Not that she thinks to question it much; it’s a true windfall, and she cheerily packs her bags and sets off into the mountains to move in. Only, once she arrives, she finds this mysterious boy Aoi is already living there, claiming to be the house’s guardian, along with a variety of yokai. Because apparently the house is on the border between the human world and the otherworld, a gateway of sorts. Not one to be so easily discouraged, Himari determinedly declares she’s the house’s landlady and tries to get the squatters to leave . . . only to be confronted with the fact that Aoi literally cannot leave the premises since he’s been chosen as the house’s guardian. Well, Himari’s not about to leave either, even if it does mean she has to share her home and deal with whatever weirdness comes through from the otherworld. And believe me, the weirdness is just beginning.

Personally, I find The Demon Prince of Momochi House well worth reading for the gorgeousness of its art alone, especially the color spreads at the beginning of each volume. Absolutely stunning. As for the story itself, well, I’m almost tempted to think of it as xxxHOLiC lite. You’ve got all these encounters with traditional Japanese yokai and suchlike, as well as other traditional folklore, all set in this mysterious house on the border between worlds. Yeah, sound familiar? But instead of this dark josei sort of flavor, you’ve got something much more traditionally shoujo. Bishounen galore–and it’s only Himari’s fixation with Aoi that keeps this from becoming some kind of reverse-harem situation–for one. A tendency for shoujo tropes, gentle romance, and a generally lighter tone in spite of going to some dark places at times. Oh, and Himari is a pretty classic shoujo heroine–innocent, romantic, stubborn, slightly blonde, and a total do-gooder. But she’s pretty likeable for all that. And Aoi’s mysterious dark past (and sometimes present) kind of counterbalances her air-headed sweetness. Shouto-sensei actually does quite a good job at making the characters more nuanced than you’d expect, especially through their facial expressions. I really love Aoi’s variety of expression in particular; well, I love his character in general, so there’s that too. Currently there’s a lot of uncertainty still as far as where the story will go, but it’s shoujo enough that I’m hoping for a sweet, satisfying end. I’m certainly curious where the story will go from here.

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Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency

Author: Douglas Adams

My rating: 3.5 of 5

A computer programmer out to describe the rhythms of the universe in computer-generated music. A sofa stuck in a physically impossible angle on the stairs outside his apartment. A ghost stuck between life and death. An impossible magic trick. An electric monk from an alien world, created to save the people of that world the trouble of believing things for themselves. A visit to an old college professor. The works of a dead poet. Seemingly disconnected pieces, and yet they come together surprisingly in the hands of one Dirk Gently–who firmly professes to not be psychic. He’s a holistic detective, that’s all.

I’ve enjoyed Douglas Adams’s writing in the past, and I found Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency to be an enjoyable read, but definitely a more challenging piece. Not that it’s a difficult read exactly. But it’s very fragmented, especially towards the beginning, and there are a lot of moving pieces to keep track of if you want the ending to make any sense at all. The author certainly doesn’t dumb it down enough to give the reader the full breakdown, although everything is pretty thoroughly explained by the end if you pay attention. But yeah, fragmented and kind of pretentious would be my best way to describe this book. It’s well written, though, and has some quite interesting turns of phrase. I would almost say that’s one of the biggest selling points of this book, honestly. Of note, the titular character doesn’t actually appear until, like, halfway through the book. It’s really more about the programmer Richard, honestly, than it is about Dirk. Dirk’s just the guy strange and open-minded (or something) enough to connect all the weird, impossible dots. In any case, recommended for those who enjoy some slightly older speculative fiction (the bits about 1980’s computers were cool) and who has the patience to piece together all the randomness this story offers.

Of note, since I recently reviewed the BBC rendition of this story: they aren’t even the same story. Like, at all. They can’t even be considered AUs of each other, since that would require at least some level of semblance. The only things they have in common are the name Dirk Gently–the character is completely different, despite the name–and the concept of everything being connected–the “holistic” thing. Other than that, characters, plots, everything is different, to the point that it’s possible to enjoy each completely without comparing them to each other . . . as long as you don’t go and try to make them fit, because they just won’t.

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Endless Summer (Visual Novel)

Pixelberry Studios

Status: Complete (3 books)

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Along with a group of fellow college students, you find yourself on a plane heading for a Caribbean island paradise. Sounds just about perfect, right? Only, before you even land, things begin to go awry. There’s an extra person on the plane, and no one can figure out which of you isn’t supposed to be here. A freak storm nearly causes your plane to crash. And when you arrive on the island, instead of a bustling tourist resort, you find . . . nobody. Eerie in the extreme, but also kind of tempting since you’ve got a huge resort stocked with food and booze, nice rooms, beaches and pools, and a fun group to hang out with. Only, how long can you have fun before the strangeness of the situation begins to have larger repercussions? And will you be able to find the clues you need and make the choices you have to in order to survive?

Endless Summer is another choose-your-own-adventure style visual novel that’s playable through the Choices app. And the first thing I have to say is, quite simply, play it. It’s a lot of fun, it’s well thought out, and it’s engaging. The art style is unique and in many places quite beautiful–especially the island scenery, of which there is a lot. This story is largely character driven, and they manage to create characters who are interesting and fun to interact with. Of note, a lot of what goes on in this story is driven by your relationships with the other characters, and those relationships are impacted by your prior choices. So choose wisely. The initial plot lands you on this seemingly deserted island with a group of fellow students, but the plot quickly spirals in an ever-expanding whirlpool of mysteries, time travel, strange people, and evil plots that somehow manages to remain unified and coherent in spite of the strange paths it takes. I also feel the need to note that this story is absolutely rife with geeky and pop-culture references–not that you can’t play without a good knowledge of these, but stuff is definitely going to go over your head. Personally, I thought this aspect of the character development was absolutely marvelous. The sole reason I don’t rate this visual novel a 5 of 5–and this is significant–is that a lot of major choices and story paths require diamonds (i.e. real money, in most instances). It’s possible to play, enjoy, and complete the story without spending any real cash–I did it and had a blast doing so. But you should know going in that there are lots of major things you just aren’t going to be able to do, or you should go ahead and purchase a set limit of diamonds before going in, if you choose to spend anything . . . otherwise the spending is just going to get out of hand. But despite that, I would highly recommend Endless Summer to anyone looking for a fun choose-your-own-adventure story that’s a bit off the beaten path.

 

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Ghost in the Game

Author: Christopher Keene

Dream State Saga, vol. 3

My rating: 4 of 5

Noah has made the difficult choice to work for Wona–the company he had believed responsible for his girlfriend Sue’s death as well as the deaths of several other individuals–in order to find those truly responsible and hopefully see justice done. But that choice has come with a cost as most of his friends in the Dream State now see him as having betrayed them . . . which he kind of deserves, actually. He’s trying to fight for the greater good and hope they come around eventually. Of course, working for Wona has its perks, too. Cushy living conditions and great pay IRL, position and privilege in-game–it’s not all bad. But things continue to get more complicated as players in the Dream State find themselves attacked by seemingly untraceable random attackers . . . especially when one of these Screamers, as they quickly become known, shows up wearing the face of Noah’s friend Chloe’s brother, one of several beta-testers who had previously disappeared. Now it’s up to Noah to bring together a functional team and figure out what’s going on and who is behind it all.

As with the first two Dream State books, I found Ghost in the Game to be a treat to read. Keene continues to impress with his world building, giving us a sweeping, imaginative view of the Dream State world in its many iterations. I think I’ve mentioned this before, but I really think that his way of presenting the world and the way the characters interact with it in-game are not only one of his greatest strengths as an author, but it’s also some of the best I’ve read, period. It manages to be immersive, easily understood, and captivating. I really enjoyed that in this volume we move away somewhat from the revenge theme, getting into more mystery, adventure, and relationship building/repair. There’s definitely some intriguing plot going on, which is fun to read, and it’s nice to get more interpersonal development in this volume as well, especially with where Back in the Game left us. I’m still not sure about Noah’s way of looking at the whole situation, but after three volumes, I’ve basically come to the conclusion that he and I just think really differently about stuff . . . and it’s actually kind of neat to have a character that is developed enough that I can draw that kind of conclusion about him. I also quite enjoyed getting to see more of the characters IRL in this volume; combining both in-game and IRL character interactions seems to add a lot to the character development and really flesh Noah’s group out as individuals. I should mention, we get left with a bit of a cliffie, or at least with lots of room for plot development in future volumes, which I am looking forward to. I would recommend Ghost in the Game, particularly for gamers, cyberpunk fans, and LitRPG fans in particular.

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

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Choices: Stories You Play (Mobile Game/App Review)

Publisher: Pixelberry Studios

Platform: Android

My rating: 4 of 5

Do you enjoy visual novels with solid characters, great music and visuals, and real choices that affect the course of the game? The Choices may be just the choice for you. Find true love, save your kingdom, solve the mystery . . . just remember that the decisions you make matter, so choose wisely.

Choices was quite an interesting find; I’m frankly at a loss as to whether to refer to it as a game itself, or to just call it a platform, like Steam or Tapastic. More the latter, I suppose, although between the visual novels offered on this platform, there is a consistent system and gameplay style, so it’s sort of all one game consisting of multiple stories in that sense. Either way, it offers a variety of interesting stories (which I’ll likely review individually at a later date) including a number of romance stories, at least one epic fantasy, some quirky mysteries, and a couple of horror games. Pros include a solid gaming system that is explained clearly, interfaces well for the player, and is actually interesting to play. You also really do get some significant choices, which is cool, although in my experience the ones I’ve played have kept me from dying so far. And so far, the stories I’ve played have been well written–as stated above, attractive art, good characters, and nice music. Cons are mostly in the way they’ve set the game up financially. Technically, this game is ad-supported and free-to-play, which is cool and technically true. You get one (generally un-obnoxious) short ad before each chapter, and it’s otherwise a clean game without interruption. Where this technicality falls apart is that you have limited keys (stamina, essentially) to unlock new chapters, and you have to wait a good bit of time or pay for more keys if you want to play more than the allotted amount at any given time. Now, that’s not entirely a bad thing, although it can be annoying, since it keeps me from spending hours at a time staring at my phone. More significant is that the games use diamonds to unlock certain options, but you only get one diamond for completing a chapter, and most options require several to unlock them. So your choices are to generally take less favorable/special options and save up your diamonds for where it really counts or spend money to buy extra diamonds. Having said that, I’ve yet to find a place where the story suffers significantly or where you can’t proceed if you only take the free options; you just miss out on some extra scenes and such. So the general conclusion is that, while I have to take points off for being a bit annoying in making me want to spend money when I shouldn’t (and yes, I would pay a lump sum to install a version of this where that’s not an issue), I think Choices still has a lot of potential to be a fun (even addictive) visual novel platform with a solid interface and some enjoyable game options. Recommended.

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Lost Boys

Author: Orson Scott Card

My rating: 5 of 5

Warning: Mature audience; also, 1) this book made me cry more than I have since Grave of the Fireflies, and 2) kids do get hurt here–it’s dealt with as the heinous, awful thing that it is, but it still happens, so worried moms might not want to read this if they want to sleep at night.

In 1983, Step and Deanne Fletcher move their growing family to the small town of Steuben, North Carolina, for Step to start a promising new job for the growing computer company Eight Bits, Inc. But right from the start, things seem to go wrong. Step’s new job turns out to be nothing like what he’d expected, being relegated to writing program manuals and being told to sneak around behind his immediate supervisor’s back, even though he had great success in the past as a programmer himself. Deanne’s pregnancy makes her constantly sick, adding to the burdens of caring for their three young children. Their oldest, eight-year-old Stevie is becoming withdrawn, spending his time talking to imaginary friends. The house they’re renting seems beset by plagues of insects. And little boys in the area have started disappearing, presumed kidnapped and murdered. But in the midst of all their stress and worry, the Fletchers are determined to not quit, throwing themselves into serving in their new church ward, parenting their children, and generally doing their best with the situation they are given, however difficult it may be to trust all will be well in time.

Lost Boys was an unusual and unexpected book. The only other think by Card that I’ve read is Ender’s Game, and this book is nothing like that. The majority of this story is just this story about this Mormon family and their lives–the most innocuous, simple thing imaginable. And Card does that aspect of the story well, giving us a deep, developed view of Step, Deanne, and Stevie in particular, as well as of their other kids, Robbie, Betsy, and later Zap. The pacing is slow, leisurely, giving us time to get into these people’s day-to-day existence, sharing in their concerns and their little joys and victories, feeling how much their faith and family bolster them. And you know what? I really came to like these people; they’re good people, doing their best to do what’s right, to protect each other, to love others and be compassionate. But underneath this innocuous slice-of-life story, you’ve got this constant undercurrent of something deeper and darker and possibly supernatural going on. It reminds me of some of Stephen King’s books, the way the tension lies just under the surface. There’s a slow, certain inevitability to the plot development in this regard that makes the ending (which I won’t spoil) an expected conclusion by that point–which makes it no less a tear jerker, but it’s kind of cathartic as well. Peaceful, strangely enough. In any case, Lost Boys was a story that struck a deep chord with me and that I would highly recommend, if you have the patience for the slow development.

 

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