Tag Archives: slice-of-life

My Neighbor Totoro (1988 Movie)

Studio Ghibli

My rating: 5 of 5

Satsuki, her father,  and her little sister Mei move to an old, slightly decrepit house in the country to be closer to the hospital where their mother is being treated. It’s a big change, but it’s also an adventure, and both girls are delighted, especially when they find the house is inhabited by soot sprites–tiny spirits that the adults can’t even see. Even better, Mei encounters a large, friendly spirit calling himself “Totoro” during her explorations while Satsuki is at school. (Satsuki’s a tiny bit jealous about that.) But one rainy evening when the girls go out to meet their father’s bus, Satsuki gets to meet Totoro as well! It seems that not only are their new neighbors glad to welcome the family to the area; the forest spirits are as well. Good thing, too, because it will take everyone’s help when Mei goes missing.

My Neighbor Totoro is one of those movies that never gets old and that has something for everyone. My two-year-old niece adores it, and my dad does too. It’s a wonderful story for many diverse reasons. Just as a start, the animation and the music are wonderful. Joe Hisaishi has some of the most interesting and beautiful film scores out there, and the score for this movie is no exception. And yes, the art isn’t always as detailed in some scenes as the modern CG stuff that’s created today, but the form, the details that the artists choose to capture, and the overall flavor of the place and time that is evoked is absolutely stunning. The characterizations of the children–everything from the art to the scripts to all the tiny details–is incredibly captivating and believable. Satsuki is the quintessential big sister trying to hold it all together and mother her little sister while still being just a kid and worried about her mom’s health herself. And Mei is so full of whimsy and imagination and childish impulses and mannerisms. I love the way in which the culture and community of a rice-farming community in late 1950’s Japan is presented, too, with all sorts of details. And the way in which the wonders of the spirits and traditional beliefs and fantasy are all woven in is just lovely and charming. In short, My Neighbor Totoro is a sweet, lovely animated movie that I would highly recommend to basically anyone of any age.

Note: I watched the 2005 English dub for this movie. It’s excellent.

Written and Directed by Hayao Miyazaki/Produced by Toru Hara/Music by Joe Hisaishi/Starring Dakota Fanning, Elle Fanning, Tim Daly, Lea Salonga, & Frank Welker

 

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Ten Inch Hero (2007 Movie)

Follow Spot Entertainmentten-inch-hero

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Warning: Mature Audience/Rated R

The help-wanted sign outside the quirky little sub shop tells you everything you need to know: “normal people need not apply.” The employees certainly attest to that, from the owner Trucker, a surfer child of the sixties who is obsessed with owner of the crystal shop across the street, to the new hire Piper, a bright young artist who came to Santa Cruz in search of her daughter. Then there’s Priestly of the crazy hair and ironic t-shirts, Tish who mostly uses her (formidable) sex appeal to get what she wants, and Jen who feeds the homeless and is sure she’s met her true love online. Together, these individuals form something more than just a group of co-workers–they’re a family. Which is a good thing, because for all the fun, flirtation, and laughter that permeates the very foundations of the shop, there’s a large measure of tears and broken hearts to get through as well. . . . Which they will do, together.

Ten Inch Hero is definitely one of those movies that I would normally never have watched and that I basically picked up just because Jensen and Danneel are in it–because I feel like you can hardly be a Supernatural fan and not watch the movie where they fell in love. And I have to say, the Priestly/Tish dynamic in this story is superbly adorable. But I found that I loved this movie for so much more than just that. Actually, I found myself entirely captivated within the first five minutes. The characters are–every single one of them!–unique, well-written, and excellently cast. They cast some seriously talented people (not what you’d typically expect on an indie film like this), and the actors fit the roles beautifully. The story itself is adorable and heartwarming–a quadruple love story, no less, so if you’re in the mood for romance, this should fit the bill. Plus you’ve got all the friendship dynamics within the shop and Piper’s interactions with eight-year-old Julia, which are just wow. Those are aspects I would love to see a lot more of in any and all stories. Honestly, the movie could easily have been disgustingly Hallmark-y, but the combination of indie quirkiness, funky humor (it’s very funny), and the language/sex/nudity that make it R-rated help to counterbalance the sappiness and keep the story grounded. Just be warned that the rating is earned; there is a lot of sexual content here, although surprisingly I found it a lot less embarrassing to watch than some PG stuff I’ve seen. That’s probably just me. In any case, for adult viewers who like a cute romance with a refreshing indie tone, quality acting, and nice original music, Ten Inch Hero would definitely be on my recommended list; it’s certainly a happy place for me.

Directed by David Mackay/Written by Betsy Morris/Music by Don Davis/Starring Elisabeth Harnois, Clea DuVall, Sean Patrick Flanery, Jensen Ackles, Danneel Harris Ackles, Alice Krige, & John Doe

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Artist Spotlight: Boomslank/P-shinobi

Website: Boomslank.com

So, I know artist spotlights aren’t something I usually post, but . . . this past weekend while I was (having a blast) at Ichibancon, I got to meet an intriguing original artist. Going by P-shinobi under the label Boomslank, this artist has a fascinating, beautiful style that pulls strongly from anime-style influences. His work is a neat blend of conceptual stuff, odd perspectives, and surrealism that, while clearly influenced by greats like Hayao Miyazaki, is also refreshingly original. The content is everything from mecha to slice-of-life to some really amazing surreal stuff like fish in the sky (which looks waaay cooler than it sounds). Plus, I love the color schemes used in these prints, especially the use of lots of neutral colors combined with splashes of brighter ones for contrast and accent. So yeah, if you like anime-style art and are interested in some more original stuff, you should check out Boomslank’s offerings.

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The War at Ellsmere

Author/Illustrator: Faith Erin Hicksthe-war-at-ellsmere

My rating: 4 of 5

In a tale as old as boarding school accepting scholarship students, Jun enters the prestigious (read “stuffy”) Ellsmere Academy on the merits of her academic achievement alone. Not surprisingly, she runs into just the sort of problems you’d expect–snotty rich kids, uncomfortable uniforms, bullying. At least she excels at the school part and she’s not so concerned about making lots of friends. Unexpectedly though, Jun and her roommate Cassie swiftly become fast friends in spite of their distinctly different personalities. And together, the two friends determine to make it through the year at Ellsmere regardless of the problems that get thrown their way.

I’ve never really read much Faith Erin Hicks, but I was pleasantly surprised with what I found in The War at Ellsmere. As mentioned above, the plot isn’t anything particularly outstanding: poor kid, rich school, bullies, rivalry, the one friend who sticks around no matter what. Pretty standard stuff. But what Hicks does with these typical plot elements is pretty spectacular, actually. The art is bold and expressive, which definitely helps. But where she excels the most, I think, is in crafting believable, interesting characters that the reader enjoys and empathizes with. Jun and Cassie are definitely two such characters, and their interactions totally carry the story. On a side note, the touch of magical realism thrown in at the end was . . . interesting. It worked with the story, but as with Larson’s Mercury, it was surprising and difficult to mesh with the rest of the graphic novel. Still, for those who enjoy a high-school graphic novel with great characters, The War at Ellsmere is definitely on my list of recommendations.

 

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Aya of Yop City

Author: Marguerite Abouetaya-of-yop-city

Illustrator: Clément Oubrerie

Aya, vol. 2

My rating: 3.5 of 5

The town of Yopougon is booming with life. While Adouja struggles to care for her new baby, her father roams the streets taking pictures of everyone he can in an attempt to identify his grandson’s father. Adouja’s friends try to help her with the baby while attending to their own lives as well (like Bintou’s new boyfriend). A beauty pageant is in the works for the whole of Yopougon. The local beer factory struggles to stay in business, making uncomfortable cuts in employment to do so. All over town, couples pair off and make love. And in the midst of it all, young Aya lives circumspectly, kind and beautiful, devoted to her studies and her friends.

Aya of Yop City was a graphic novel I randomly picked up off the shelf after seeing it mentioned several times in various places. I’m glad I did, even though it isn’t my favorite graphic novel by any means. For one thing, it provides a really insightful look at daily life in Ivory Coast in the 1970’s–and how often do you find a book that takes you there? I think this is the first book I’ve found that is set in Ivory Coast at all, regardless of the time period. And I think the style and plot of this book allow it to present a good picture of the culture, which is really neat. Furthermore, the story is funny (especially Hyacinte going around taking snapshots of everyone) and warm. I found the author’s explanations in the back of the book about child-rearing in this sort of community was also really interesting, as well as the way this is played out in the plot. The art is really attractive and bright; it fits the story well and gives a great feel for the community. On the other hand, I found the extent to which the book was scattered around numerous people and plots to be somewhat distracting. And the number of affairs going on in the story was a bit much. . . . I guess what I’m trying to say is that I would have enjoyed this graphic novel even more if it had been more focused on Aya herself, who is a fascinating character. Maybe it’s my own fault for jumping in on the second volume (although I have to say that this volume is generally quite easy to get into without feeling like you missed a lot from the first volume). In any case, for those who enjoy graphic novels full of drama and culture, I think Aya of Yop City would be an interesting choice to try.

 

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Awkward

awkwardAuthor/Illustrator: Svetlana Chmakova

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Peppi Torres manages to thoroughly mess up her first day in her new middle school by 1) tripping in the hall and dumping all her books, 2) getting helped by Jaime, a quiet kid with a reputation as a huge nerd, and then 3) pushing him and running away. Following this fiasco, Peppi does manage to find a place for herself in the school’s art club where she makes some good friends . . . even if she’s pretty much on her own during the rest of the school day. She still feels awfully guilty over pushing Jaime, especially when he begins tutoring her in math. And life becomes even more complicated when Peppi’s art club and the science club–of which Jaime is a member–become locked in a fierce competition for a table at the school’s cultural festival. Totally awkward, especially since Peppi finds that Jaime might actually be a great friend.

I absolutely loved Awkward! I can’t believe I haven’t seen it getting more love. This is a fantastic realistic slice-of-life school story for everyone–in graphic novel style. The setting is middle-school, so obviously that’s the primary intended audience, but the story is great and the messages it holds are valid for everyone (I’d say upper elementary and older). The writing tone is great–it captures that, well, awkwardness of being in middle school and figuring life out and all extremely well. The things Peppi goes through are credible, the sorts of issues that real people actually deal with. But the story is also funny and immensely positive in its message. It’s a great encouragement to work hard, work together, make all sorts of friends, and believe in possibilities. The characters are rich and fun to read, full of personality and individuality. And the art does a great job of reflecting this, with expressive character designs, attractive coloring, and a layout that’s easy to follow and focuses strongly on the people. I would definitely recommend Awkward to all sorts of people, and especially to those who enjoy graphic novels or are at that, well, awkward stage of life themselves.

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The London Eye Mystery

the london eye mysteryAuthor: Siobhan Dowd

My rating: 4.5 of 5

When Ted and Kat’s cousin Salim comes to visit them in London before moving to the U.S., they do what any group of kids would do–go ride the London Eye. Only, the lines are hugely long, so when a stranger offers them one free ticket, they agree to skip the ticket line and just let Salim ride by himself while they wait below. Kat and Ted find the impossible happening before their eyes, however, when Salim seems to disappear into thin air while riding the enormous wheel. Family members and police are baffled and frantic, with next to no leads. But Kat’s indomitable persistence and Ted’s uniquely wired brain might just be able to do what the police cannot–figure out what really happened to Salim.

I picked up The London Eye Mystery after seeing Patrick Ness’s reference to Siobhan Dowd’s work in A Monster Calls. I wasn’t really sure what to expect, but I have to say, I was impressed. The story is told in first-person, past-tense from Ted’s perspective. Which is very interesting, because Ted’s a fantastic character. He’s maybe eleven or twelve (it probably says, but I don’t remember), and he has Asperger’s syndrome. I love though that the book never actually labels him as such–the author does a wonderful job of expressing what it’s like to think that way through day-to-day details in the writing rather than showing it from an outside viewpoint. Honestly, I think Ted’s character is the very best thing about this book, that and his interactions with his sister Kat. But in addition, this story is also just an interesting and mentally intriguing mystery. Although I found it in the YA section, I think I would actually consider it a children’s book–say upper middle-grade, consistent with Ted’s own age. But I think The London Eye Mystery has the potential to be an enjoyable read for older readers as well; I would definitely recommend trying it at least.

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