Tag Archives: sports

Laid-Back Camp (Manga)

Mangaka: Afro

Status: Ongoing (currently 4 volumes)

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Rin loves solo camping, and even though she’s only in high school, she’s already made numerous camping trips on her own. The quiet, the beauty of the scenery, the delicious camp food . . . it’s all quite enchanting. On one camping trip, Rin encounters another student, Nadeshiko, who is about as bubbly and enthusiastic as Rin is calm and collected. Yet the two quickly form a fast–if unusual–friendship, texting back and forth, trading camping advice, and sending pictures of places they’ve gone. Sometimes they even go camping together with Nadeshiko’s outdoor club from school, which is fun too, if a different sort of fun from the camping to which Rin is accustomed.

Laid-Back Camp is a very unusual but charming manga. It’s very chill–the “laid-back” in the title is quite appropriate. There’s a seinen flavor to the story, even though the main characters are all high-school girls. And it’s a very cute, fun story revolving around Rin and Nadeshiko in their separate camping-related endeavors (Rin’s solo camping trips to fabulous locales, Nadeshiko’s goofing around with her school club, shopping trips to camping supply stores, and group camping trips) while also developing the unusual friendship between these two. The other side of this manga is that it is, in fact, a camping manga. Which doesn’t mean you have to like camping or be interested in it to enjoy the story; it’s cute and fun either way. But if you are interested, the manga actually provides a lot of information–comparing camping supplies based on cost and utility, describing various sorts of campsites, even going over camp-friendly recipes. It’s pretty cool, giving lots of info without obnoxiously overriding the story. I’ve really enjoyed reading Laid-Back Camp and look forward to reading future volumes of it.

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A Gathering of Shadows

A Gathering of Shadows FinalAuthor: V. E. Schwab

Shades of Magic, vol. 2

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Lila Bard has already done the impossible, slipping along with the Red London Antari Kell from her own world into his. Now she’s pushing the limits even further, finagling her way onto a privateer’s crew and studying magic–a skill she couldn’t possibly have any ability for, only she does. Meanwhile, back in London, the city is teeming with people all preparing for the great Essen Tasch, a huge magical tournament between powerful competitors from three neighboring countries. Prince Rhy is in charge of the preparations, and as usual, he is throwing himself into the spectacle with gusto. But he and Kell both feel a deep underlying tension as they continue to discover new, uncomfortable ways in which their life-connection links them. And if something isn’t done to let off some steam, they’ll both be likely to go off in some unseemly manner–probably sooner rather than later.

A Gathering of Shadows is the excellent sequel to V. E. Schwab’s hit story A Darker Shade of Magic. First off, I do have to note that you really need to read these in order; there’s a lot you won’t catch in this volume that is explained much more clearly in the first book. Secondly, I must say that A Gathering of Shadows well lives up to the standards of the first volume–possibly even exceeds them. It is really quite a remarkable book. The characters, who I loved from the first volume, are given a greater chance to bloom. Lila, in particular, shines in this book as her personality and thought processes are more fully revealed. We get to see a lot more of Rhy as well, which is fun. And the rakish captain Alucard Emery is introduced in this volume, adding another interesting dynamic to the cast. As for the plot, you’ve got two major threads, the first and the one that plays the largest role in this book being the games themselves, and the second more insidious being a plot seeping over from White London. Looking at it in retrospect from a birds-eye view, the plot is actually a bit gawky, but it doesn’t feel that way at all in the midst of reading it. It flows gorgeously. Where I did run into issues with the plot is at the end–the second plot doesn’t get a chance to resolve, and you’re left with this huge cliffhanger. So. I loved A Gathering of Shadows, but I’m don’t know how I’m going to wait for the next volume to be published. If you haven’t dived into this series yet, I would say go ahead and read the first volume; it ties up quite nicely at the end. But just save this volume until the third comes out, pick up both of them, and just plan to read straight through them both.

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Weslandia

Author: Paul Fleischmanweslandia

Illustrator: Kevin Hawkes

My rating: 5 of 5

Wesley’s always been, well, different. His parents worry about him; the other kids pick on him; he just doesn’t fit in anywhere . . . until one summer when everything changes. Wesley decides to work on a summer gardening project, but instead of growing carrots or tomatoes, he prepares the soil and leaves it open for whatever seeds happen to fall, refusing to pull up the shoots that appear to be weeds. And what plants they grow into! Wesley finds all sorts of uses for every single part of these incredible plants. But it’s more than that–he’s developing food, clothing, language, and eventually community and games–all because of this one summer project. In essence, he’s created his own miniature civilization. Pretty incredible!

Weslandia was an unexpected find, although I’ve always enjoyed Fleischman’s writing. It’s an incredible picture book–beautiful and imaginative–that doesn’t just bring a whimsical fantasy to life (although it does that with aplomb!) but also delves into the concepts of what really makes a civilization. Even better, it breaks the concepts down into pieces that even younger children can readily appreciate–without being didactic about it. It’s a story about creativity and ingenuity. Also a tale about being yourself, not giving in to peer pressure, and making friends your own way. All in all, pretty amazing. Not to mention, Hawkes’ art is, as always, charming. I would recommend Weslandia to readers of all ages–but I’d also note that it would make a great jumping off point for classroom discussions about building civilizations and suchlike. Either way, great fun!

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The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon

Author: Stephen King

In our world of comforts and conveniences, cars and refrigerators full of food, it’s easy to forget that there’s a big, scary world out there . . . and most of us are little equipped to deal with any of it. Nine-year-old Trisha McFarland gets a very real reminder that the world is terrifying–and full of things we don’t fully understand–when she wanders off the path during a hiking trip, trying to get avoid the argument her mother and brother are clamorously having further up the trail. What began as a quick detour rapidly deteriorates into desperate lostness–which continues for days as Trisha keeps walking, surviving on the snacks she brought for the hike and, later, on whatever she can scrounge up. Sometimes, she feels like giving up, but the example set by her hero Tom Gordon somehow keeps her looking up and pressing on. . . . But how long can she last?

I have heard a lot about Stephen King’s writing, but other than the odd short story, The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon is the first of his writing that I’ve read. It was totally different from what I was expecting–in a very good way. When I hear the name “Stephen King,” I think horror, mostly, not a psychologically intense look at wilderness survival from the point of view of a nine year old. I’ve never read anything that could remotely compare, to be honest. The psychological study is fascinating: Trisha’s own personality (way more mature that I was at nine, but definitely credible), her family situation, her obsession with the Red Sox, and how all these factors played in to her experience being lost in the woods for days on end. Moreover, it was strange but neat how King wove in this creepy “god of the lost” being who may have been real and may have been a figment of Trisha’s fever- and hunger-demented mind–either way, definitely creepy in the extreme. The pacing of the story was slower than I expected from  “horror” writer as well; I actually put the book down several times, but kept coming back to it and enjoying it each time. It’s just slow enough that I wasn’t going to stay up late to finish (except for the last couple chapters–I did stay up late for those). I would say that if you have some patience and are looking for something a bit different from anything else and a good psychological study, The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon would be a good choice.

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Monsters University

Pixar Animation Studios

Written by Daniel Gerson, Robert L. Baird, & Dan Scanlon/Directed by Dan Scanlon/Produced by Kori Rae/Music by Randy Newman

Being an expert scarer providing energy for the community–and looking awfully cool while doing so–has been Mike Wazowski’s dream ever since he was the little kid being wowed by how cool the current scarers were. After years of hard work, the young monster has finally gotten into his dream school, Monsters University. Exuberant and studious, Mike plows through his studies, impressing his teachers with his knowledge and technique. But when it comes down to it, he’s faced with the hard reality that sometimes enthusiasm and hard work just aren’t enough. Another student, James P. Sullivan, seems to be the embodiment of this unfairness as he does well without even trying by relying on natural skill and a reputable family name. But when an unfortunate accident gets both of these two kicked out of the scare program, they are forced to decide: work together, however unpleasant that may be, or fail separately and live miserably for the rest of their lives. . . .

To be honest, Monsters University probably doesn’t need my review at all–it’s popular enough that most everyone has seen it, with good reason. This movie is classic Pixar: a good solid story about teamwork and friendship, nice visuals, a liberal sprinkling of humor, and nothing too controversial to gum up the works. It’s definitely not a serious, thought-provoking story, but it’s not supposed to be. More like, it’s a fun and funny movie that’s appropriate for elementary-school kids, but would also be enjoyable for adults. Probably one of the aspects that stands out most to me is the color; seriously, the entire campus is vivid, and the students are even brighter . . . which could be garish, but is actually rather beautiful. And as is typical with Pixar, the random little observations about people–as magnified through the lens of monsterdom in this case–is both amusing and revealing. I don’t really remember the music much even after having seen this twice, which means it’s probably not outstanding, but it isn’t bad either–it just works with the story enough that the story itself stands out the most. One last note: Monsters University is definitely a prequel to Monsters, Inc., and should be seen after seeing the original . . . if you don’t, you’ll probably be really confused.

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Hana-Kimi

Mangaka: Hisaya Nakajo

Ever since she first saw him high jump, Mizuki Ashiya has been inspired by Izumi Sano. So, being the stubborn, independent, airhead that she is, she decides to travel from her home in the US to not only meet him but attend school with him–at an all-boys high school. Surprisingly, her natural boldness gets her where most would never manage, and she ends up enrolling at Ohsaka High, and unexpectedly ends up even rooming with Sano! Mizuki, being Mizuki, is thrilled simply to be sharing an everyday school life with Sano and other classmates such as the goofy Osakan soccer player Nakatsu, the piningly girly Nakao, and the mysterious Kayashima (to name just a few). As she becomes comfortable with her friends at Ohsaka, Mizuki must struggle to keep her true identity a secret . . . even from Sano whom she is growing to not only admire but also love. (Of course, he actually discovered her secret in the first few days she was there, but he’s not about to admit that!)

This is my second time reading Hana-Kimi, and I must say that my opinions this time are quite a bit different, which is weird. The first time I read it, I had just read Koma Toki, and I think there were just enough random elements that overlapped that I was getting an odd mixture of the two going in my head. This time around, I really loved Hana-Kimi. The characters are a lot of fun–absolutely ridiculous, but fun. I think they’re off the stereotypical path, especially for a technically shoujo manga, enough to be particularly interesting. The plot is the same; it is a shoujo manga–a proper romantic comedy even–and it does read like one, but at the same time it totally doesn’t! I mean, most of the time, Mizuki’s the only girl around, and even she is trying hard to act like a guy. (By the way, a girl disguising herself as a guy and sneaking into an all-guys school in a foreign country is a really stupid idea–but it’s totally in fitting with her character.) As for the art, I have mixed feelings–Hisaya-sensei is a talented artist and she creates some really beautiful drawings (personally, I have a weakness for bishi Sano’s sideways glances), but then she’ll use panels with random square-jawed, cartoonish characters that are frankly ugly, although they do get the point across. But whatever. Also, do be warned that there are a few pieces that are a bit more ecchi/shounen ai–it’s all the fault of the crazy gay school doctor (but I still love him as a character)! I would really recommend Hana-Kimi for anyone looking for a fun shoujo story that’s just a bit off the beaten track.

Note: Also check out the wonderful TV drama spinoff of this manga, Hanazakari no Kimitachi e: Ikemen♂Paradise. The story is different, but the characters’ essences are the same, and it’s a lot of fun!

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Curses! Foiled Again

Author: Jane Yolen

Illustrator: Mike Cavallaro

Sequel to: Foiled

Aliera Carstairs is starting to get used to the idea of being the Defender, the one meant to protect the well-being of all the Seelie fairies and such with her weapon (it’s NOT a sword, okay?). As for having the most handsome boy in school tagging around after her and declaring his loyalty . . . well, that would be great if he weren’t a troll. Like, literally. But considering that he is, of course Aliera cuts Avery off and tells him to shut up, even when he has something important to say. And when the unthinkable happens and all the fairies disappear–good, bad, or otherwise–rather than finding Avery and asking for advice, Aliera turns to her brilliant cousin Caroline. Who does give effective advice . . . to return to the beginning to find the answers she seeks. What Caroline doesn’t know is just how dangerous finding those answers might be.

Curses! Foiled Again is a great follow-up to Jane Yolen’s wonderful graphic novel Foiled. Like the original, the sequel has a solid storyline and great characters. I really enjoyed seeing more of Caroline (and I really want to see what will blossom among this threesome in future volumes. There will be future volumes, right?). This story is more of a fantasy adventure and less of a fencing story than Foiled was, but it still has a cool fencing element and carries the general themes and style through well. And of course, it has plenty of fun references, although again, not as many as in the prior volume. The art is expressive and dynamic–I’ve said it before, but I love the visual contrast between the mundane monochromatic “real world” and the brilliantly colored fairy elements. Very nice visual and conceptual contrast both. Curses! Foiled Again is definitely a recommended graphic novel–just read Foiled first.

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