Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Anime Reviews: Fairy Tail Episodes 21-30

Finally, the Phantom Lord arc. This is what I've been waiting for ever since the anime started. For one simple reason, one simple fight. Which one you ask? Only the funniest, and most eccentric, and somehow romantic fight out there! But I'll get to that later.

The arc starts off with Fairy Tail having been destroyed by a rival guild, Phantom Lord. Natsu and several others want to retaliate, but Makarov forbids them, saying that a destroyed building isn't worth the trouble inter-guild warfare would bring. Of course he immediately changes his mind when three of their guild members are attacked and crucified to a tree.

During the attack Makarov faces Phantom Lord's master, Jose, but is ambushed and drained of his magic power. Discouraged, Fairy Tail retreats, and Natsu, having heard that Lucy was kidnapped by Phantom Lord, goes to rescue her.

This arc focuses on Lucy's back story, as the entire war is being fought by Phantom Lord to retrieve her, having been hired by her father. The arc culminates with Phantom Lord's mecha guild (just go with it) attacking what's left of Fairy Tail, while the wizards try to fight off their attackers.

There are several fights, the accident that killed Elfman and Mira's sister Lisanna is beautifully animated and incredibly well portrayed. There's a moment where all the sound goes dead in the flashback right at the moment where the berserk Elfman's monster form fist impacts with her body. It's a very stark image, as usually that's the kind of injury that shonen characters shrug off. But the way it's animated displays exactly how terminal that attack was for her. I'm not afraid to admit, I cried watching that.

But of course that wasn't what I had been waiting for all this time. With episode twenty five I finally got that fight. The Juvia vs. Gray fight.

This episode is easily as funny as it was in the manga. Juvia's voice actress, unfortunately her name isn't on wikipedia for some reason, is both a credible threat, a schoolgirl in love, and a woman scorned. Usually within two minutes of each other. She really pulls off the character, including her wild mood swings, that range from love sick to homicidal. If I have one criticism, it's that the anime hams it up a bit too much, both in the voice work and the animation.

Personally I'm more one for subtlety in comedy. It seems like the animators knew how funny this was in the manga, and are obviously trying too hard to top the manga.

The battle continues with several more awesome fights, including the anticipated Natsu vs. Gajeel, the Iron Dragon Slayer. What shocked me a bit about this part was that in the manga Gajeel is throwing knives at Lucy who is chained to the wall, when he throws one to actually hit her Natsu jumps in through the floor and stops the knife. Gajeel then says he knew Natsu was there, meaning Lucy wasn't in any actual danger. In the anime however Gajeel skips throwing knives and just goes straight to beating Lucy up. Not so sure "I knew you were there" works so well under the circumstances.

After the two final battles between Natsu and Gajeel, and Makarov and Jose, the arc ends with a sort of epilogue episode, episode twenty nine, where Lucy goes back home to deal with her father personally, telling him that if he tries to use his money and influence against Fairy Tail again that they will consider him an enemy.

Episode thirty has a filler feel to it, but it really isn't, it's taken directly from the manga, and not an omake this time. Besides the Juvia/Gray fight this chapter from the manga is one of my favorites just because of how funny it is. It's still funny in the anime, but again it feels like they are trying too hard. But I guess I can't complain too much, it's still funny, which is what matters. Also, I was quite amused when they gave Bora, the villain from the first episode a cameo, and retconed his motivations from the first episode from kidnapping girls for slavery, to forcefully recruiting Pun-Up models. Still not exactly a very kosher thing to be doing, but it does make him much less of a scumbag in the anime continuity. Lucy's reaction to finding out what she'd assumed he was doing was incredibly funny. So I have to give this episode points for that at least.

And with this I am close to caught up with the anime, just five episodes off, but I should have those done by this week, so I can start reviewing each new episode when it comes out on Mondays. That'll give me some kind of consistent posting pattern at least. I know I try to get a post every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, but that's usually pretty flexible, and having something consistent like this will help me. When Bakuman starts airing I'll be doing the same, as soon as it becomes available on Crunchyroll. I'll also be doing the same for Futurama, so expect more of those soon.

I'm also going to try and fit more book reviews into my schedule as well. I still don't have a specific focus for my blog, but so far books, anime, manga and sometimes movies, seem to be my focus. Which is an absolutely terrible focus because it isn't focused at all.

But anyway, expect consistent updates on the Fairy Tail anime every Monday, baring those days where an episode didn't air. I'd review One Piece every week, but I'm a bit behind in that anime, and the amount of time it would take to catch up and force those reviews into my schedule really wouldn't be good for the time I have available. For now two weekly anime/tv show reviews, soon to become three in the fall (not sure when exactly) will probably be doable on my schedule.

For the rest of this month I have mostly book reviews scheduled, with a few anime reviews lined up. I don't know if I'll have anything written for this coming week, I have two reviews scheduled, but those aren't really for this blog, I'm going to pick up reviewing a few more anime soundtracks for the anime instrumentality blog, since I have quite a lot more content compared to when I reviewed the Fairy Tail OST. Meaning there's more here for people to read and come back if they come to my blog from that other site. Other than using some time next week to work on those I'm also going to use my time to spend more time writing my book, as well as reading some of the books I have scheduled for reviews. So wish me luck, book reviews aren't like manga reviews. I can't exactly just open the book and write the review while I'm reading it, like I do with manga.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Naruto Volume Seven Addendum

Regarding my comment about the eating live octopus. Turns out it was Korea, not Japan. My apologies to the Japanese people.

Warning: The video linked above may be a bit much for those with queasy stomachs. Granted, I was able to watch it, and given my other review that's saying a lot.

Anime Reviews: Fairy Tail Episodes 11-20

I couldn't have started the review at a more convenient place. Episode 11 is the start of a new story arc that will carry on to episode 18. This was also the point where I noticed a significant improvement in the series. The animation quality improves slightly, bit by bit, and the music quality improves immensely. For the first ten episodes I noticed far too much unoriginal music along with the original soundtrack. Starting with this storyline we get not only a fully noticeable track of original music, that music also kicks a ton of butt. As my previous review already stated.

For those of you that have gotten used to my image heavy reviews I'll have to apologize. I don't really have much to use here, but I'll try to use as much as possible. Fact is I don't know how many images I'll use for this review and the next one, but once I start reviewing individual episodes I'll be able to take screen shots that I can use. Quality might be questionable, I usually download 480p files just because they're faster and the lower resolution makes it easier for me to watch them on my computer.

The Galuna Island arc is the first major arc of the series, both in the anime and the manga. Granted the Cursed Lullaby arc was also fairly major, but comparatively it was shorter and seemed more like one of the introductory arcs of the series, kind of like the Everlue Mansion arc. The Galuna Island arc is the first arc that introduces characters that will reappear later on in the series. Though I can't help but wonder if the anime will last that long. I can only hope that it will.

The thing about this current arc is that it's the first arc that introduces the past of one of the supporting characters. In this case Gray. The arc starts off with Natsu and Happy convincing Lucy to go on an S-Class mission, an elite mission category for which they do not have clearance. Lucy at first resists this idea, being the voice of reason that she is, but once she realizes that part of the reward is a rare Key of the Zodiac, she quickly abandons reason for self interest and heads off on the quest with Natsu and Happy.

Once Master Makarov realizes that the three of them are missing he sends Gray off to bring them back. He tries to at first, but is tied up by Natsu and dragged along with them to the island. Once they get there he changes his mind and decides to help them. When they discover the frozen remains of the demon that destroyed his home town, and that his master sacrificed herself to seal in eternal ice, Gray realizes that there is more to the curse that turns the islanders into demons at night than they at first realized.

The main antagonist turns out to be Gray's former fellow pupil Lyon. What follows is Gray's back story, along with an explanation of why he has the chronic habit of stripping down to his underwear without noticing.

My favorite part of this arc is definitely Natsu's fight against Lyon's two henchmen Yuka andToby. What I like about this fight is that not only does it show Natsu fights in the typical determination style as most shonen protagonists, but he's also really inventive in the way he fights and actually really smart. Smarter than Toby at least.

Why'd the poison electrocute him, you ask? Well, Toby' that.

Natsu may be naive and goofy most of the time, but he isn't an idiot, which is a refreshing change of pace from the Gokus and Narutos and Luffys out there. I still love those characters, but a change of pace is always enjoyed. If I had to explain it, I'd say that Natsu has good common sense for a dragon, not so much for a human.

After the eight episode arc the last two episodes, nineteen and twenty, are both filler. Out of those two filler episode twenty is Happy's backstory, and taken directly out of an omake in the manga, so it's not entirely filler. Episode nineteen was one of those filler episodes that gave me a little bit of faith in A-1 Pictures and Satelight, the production companies. The previous all filler episode wasn't anything special, but it wasn't horrible, this episode on the other hand was actually kind of funny, as Natsu discovers a request sheet on the board that contains a spell that switches the bodies of several of the guild members standing there. The episode ends with everyone still in the wrong bodies, but it's made quite clear that it doesn't really have anything to do with the main storyline. Granted as far as standalone episodes go it isn't necessarily the greatest and I wouldn't want to see Fairy Tail devolve into an episodic type of show. But it was funny enough, and watchable enough that my worries about the series being ruined by filler, as too many others have, were calmed for now. I'm still keeping my eyes open for lousy filler, but so far the studios have done good.

These ten episodes are definitely the turning point for the series. They are when I realized that the overall quality was going up, and that anyone who has lasted this long won't be going anywhere soon. And anyone that gave up on the series in the first ten episodes, I urge you to come back to the series, as the quality really did improve.

I'll admit, I'm two episodes behind on my own watching, but that's more because of two Loki centered episodes that aired around the time I was approaching midterms. And since Loki isn't exactly one of my favorite characters, I tend to dislike the flirtatious characters on principle, I put watching them off for a while. Also, I have to confess, the Tower of Paradise Arc isn't one of my favorites from the manga, but it's not enough to make me stop watching completely. Really I think it's after that arc that things really pick up in the storyline, or at least I have some of my favorite arcs. Here's hoping the anime makes it past that untouched by filler arcs.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Manga Reviews: Naruto Volume 7

It's been kind of interesting, seeing how close I can follow a schedule for these reviews. I'm starting to think updating three times a week might be a bit much for me. I definitely need to be able to be flexible so I can put in time for reviews of series I am following. I hope to be able to start reviewing the Fairy Tail anime series as it updates every week. If things go well this week I should be able to start that fairly soon.

I should probably mention that this will be the last of the Naruto Manga reviews until further notice. Unless of course I can get my hands on Volume eight and beyond sooner. My campus library doesn't have them, but the town library does. So I'll definitely be able to get my hands on them, but this won't be until much later as I've scheduled several other reviews already (this was before I knew I could get my hands on the other Naruto volumes) and I want to get through those first. In the interest of catching up with this series however, I might reschedule some of my Fairy Tail and Bleach manga reviews in favor of more Naruto reviews. It all depends on what's available though, you know how libraries can be.

A thought that just occurred to me is that there are plenty of people who have complained about Naruto because of the bright clothing worn by the so called ninjas. Nobody could possibly be stealthy in bright orange. Personally I think that sneaking around in the dead of night isn't all there is to being a ninja. In fact, ninjas wearing their black uniforms during the day would stick out like sore thumbs. Which is why the Naruto ninjas are so ingenious. They look so much like anything but a ninja that nobody would suspect them.

You'll never see them coming.

Granted the orange jumpsuit is a bit much, and wearing stealthy clothes at night would be a good idea. But I still think that the best clothes for a ninja to wear are clothes that wouldn't attract attention to themselves or label them as ninja. And so far Naruto is one for two.

At the beginning of volume seven, Ino's team does a pretty good job of fighting off the sound ninja. But once the surprise of the new team's fighting tactics wears off the sound ninja fight them back with relative ease. All seems lost for our young protagonists as they are outmatched by the ruthless sound ninja. Until, at the last minute, a spark of hope arrives. Tenten!

Neji might be a little bit of help.

Of course before Neji and Tenten have to do anything, effectively hiding their true capabilities for a more dramatic date, Sasuke wakes up!

Smart Zaku. Real Smart.

You know, as far as retarded villains go. I think Zaku, the guy who shoots pressurized air from his hands, takes the stupid-cake. Seriously, when a guy who looks that evil, and has FREAKING SMOKE COMING OFF HIM!!!, asks you who hurt his friend, the right answer is "He went that way!" Then point in the opposite direction you're going to be running. It is most definitely not advised to confess to the brutal beating of said person's friend.

What follows is a massacre, that ends with both of Zaku's arms broken, that horrifies everyone present, except for Naruto who is still asleep. Sakura manages to calm Sasuke down with a cooldown hug. Personally I just wish she'd take the hint that he's psychotic and it's just going to get worse as time progresses. Granted I guess you could excuse his ruthless behavior as being part of the curse's effect on him, but personally after having to put up with his ultimately pointless character arc I'm not that forgiving.

After the sound ninja leave, Naruto wakes up, having missed everything that happened, and understandably still thinking that they are being attacked by Orochimaru. Of course his natural, even reasonable assumption leads to everyone just smack talking, or simply smacking him. Easily the most under appreciated protagonist ever. Granted, if you go by the past few chapters, you wouldn't think he's the main character at all.

After some more "Naruto Abuse" we learn from Tenten's interior monologue that if Lee hadn't been distracted by trying to protect Sakura he could have wiped the floor with the sound ninja.

Sorry, but that still just sounds strange to me.

Sound Ninja.

When Sasuke finds out that Lee was beaten by the guys he just trashed he is shocked, obviously remembering his humiliating defeat at the hands of Lee.

I love how I keep thinking of ways to bring this back.

Sakura is of course appreciative of Lee's gallant behavior, beating Naruto when the latter is rude to Lee. Of course it really doesn't take much to make her beat him, and she still doesn't appreciate Lee enough to ever go out with him.

The plot then switches to focus on Gaara to showcase what a blood thirsty psychopath he is.

But he's still so dreamy.

Of course, cultural differences aside, this manga still is for a relatively younger audience. So it's not likely that there will be any actual killing...HOLY CRAP!!!

He's just misunderstood!

To clarify, that is not ink that the artist spilled on the page. That is blood. There was a human in the middle of that. I would also like to point out that Gaara had a pretty big fangirl fanbase before he was redeemed. Am I the only person who sees something wrong with this?

Granted, the way he just stands there with the umbrella is pretty badass.

Naruto, Sakura and Sasuke meet up with Kabuto, who explains a little about ambush tactics and such, when they are ironically ambushed by the same ninja who tried to impersonate Naruto in volume six. This time he's brought along his friends, and after another clever battle that once again reminds me that Kishimoto used to be really good at these, our protagonists win, mostly on Naruto's prerogative, as Sasuke is still weak from the curse, Sakura used up all her action points for the next several volumes, and Kabuto is pretending to be weak.

Very convincing.

Of course Kabuto turns out to be a spy for Orochimaru, and the volume ends with Naruto and Sakura about to open the Earth and Heaven scroll after having reached the tower. Since it was previously shown that anyone who opened it before finishing the test was put under a hypnosis that kept them out until the end of the test (in the middle of a wild animal infested forest I might add), there is some amount of tension as Naruto and Sakura almost opened it before in order to cheat (what happened to the "Won't cheat when he's supposed to cheat" Naruto?), but were stopped in time by Kabuto. And so the volume ends with me wondering what could possibly happen!

Or pretending to, I already read the series remember?

Overall this volume had a lot of action going for it, which at this point really is Kishimoto's strong point. As such it's a great read and worth taking the time to continue the series. It doesn't take nearly as long to get through the forest of death as the anime does, so that's one more score for manga.

Granted, this is the point where Sasuke slowly starts evolving into the character I love to hate, so there are mixed emotions here.

I think I can confidently say that anyone who has reached this point is already hooked, and slowly starting to form a bond of trust with Kishimoto's abilities as an artist and writer. I think that bond of trust is what makes the series so strong. Fairly early on readers were shown strong evidence that Kishimoto knew what he was doing and was sticking to his strengths. That kind of trust is a powerful thing that I think is one of the main factors that made Naruto such a global phenomenon.

Of course, One Piece is still more popular in Japan. One of those cases where Japanese taste is shown to be more refined and sensible than American taste. Granted these are also the same people who will eat live Octopus, so I'm withholding judgment about what that means for the series. (For the record, I love Japan, their culture, their people, and manga and anime obviously, but you have to admit, they are a peculiar people our Oriental friends).

So, that's it for the Naruto reviews for now. Until further notice I have other reviews I need to focus on, and I'm going to be taking a small break from reading manga for a while, as I've recently noticed that my reading speed for regular books has gone to seed. So I need to work that up to par again.

I don't know when the next Naruto review will be up, it might be sooner rather than later, but I won't make any promises. You might even get a review of Fairy Tail or Bleach first. But for the sake of keeping a bit of continuity going in this blog I'll do my best to get my hands on volume eight when the time comes.

If you liked my review, buy the manga here: Naruto - Vol. 7

Anime Reviews: Evangelion - 1.0 You Are (Not) Alone

First off, could somebody explain what the deal is with all the different titles for this? The original, according to wikipedia that is, is called Evangelion: 1.0. The copy I have, the American Dub, is called Evangelion: 1.01. And then the special edition is called Evangelion: 1.11. Is that the new thing? Changing the title when you release a special edition? It confuses me and I don't like being confused. Also, what makes absolutely no sense is that 1.11 is cheaper than 1.01. So you pay less for the special edition? Even stranger? The Blu-ray copy of 1.11 is a whole five dollars cheaper than the DVD version. I no longer understand this world. If I owned a Blu-ray player I'd be sorely tempted by that price. Fact is I don't, and I already own a copy of 1.01. I'm feeling slightly cheated that the special edition is now cheaper. I'd feel a lot less annoyed by this whole strange naming if I wasn't convinced that it's just a way to trick us into buying the same movie twice, or more. I'm not a huge fan of special editions anyway, if you were going to give us that stuff, put it in the first edition. Or wait a bit longer before releasing the special edition. It doesn't feel very special if it only comes out a few months after the regular edition. You now what you could have been doing with that time, Funimation? Licensing and translating the second movie. Not only would that actually feel like you made progress, but then I'd actually be able to get my hands on a clear copy of the movie. Sure I've already watched the fansub, the horrible, horrible cam-rip fansub, but I'd appreciate actually owning a copy of the movie.

Now that I've got that rant out of the way, let's move on to the actual review.

The storyline is basically exactly the same as the original up until Episode Six. As such the re-watch-ability isn't the highest. It sets the stage for the other three movies, but if you're a huge fan of the series you won't find anything in this movie that you haven't already seen. The fact that the animation looks much cleaner is a big advantage that the movie has over the series, so for anyone that hasn't gotten into the series yet I'd recommend trying out the movie, as the movie format has to focus on the main plot rather than extending it over several episodes as the TV series does.

As far as the English Dub goes Spike Spencer returns in his role as Shinji, but other than Alison Keith for Misato most of the characters have new voice actors. It's important to note however that all the other voice actors fit their roles, and never at any point was I distracted by the different voices.

After having to wait so long to finally get my hands on a copy I was of course ecstatic, and watching it through the first time was definitely worth it. Only downside is that when I watched it through a second and third time the novelty of it wore off a bit and the improved animation really didn't help much that I'd already seen this story before.

Needless to say, I am a pretty big Evangelion fan, I know it's not "teh greatest anime evar" (sorry, that guy in the suede) but it was still one of my first anime that wasn't Pokemon, and I think we can agree that was a step up. As such I grabbed this one for my collection as quickly as possible. I recommend this one for fans who have to own everything Evangelion, even if you won't rewatch it that much, and for anyone that hasn't gotten into the series yet. It's a pretty decent starting point and cuts out all the pseudo religious babble.

If you liked my review please by the movie here:
Evangelion: 1.01 You Are (Not) Alone (DVD)
Evangelion: 1.11 You Are (Not) Alone (DVD)
Evangelion: 1.11 You Are (Not) Alone (Blu-ray)

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Graphic Novel Reviews: Batman - The Return of Bruce Wayne Issue 3

We start off this third issue with a flashback of when Bruce was hit by the Omega Device (is that what it's called? I wouldn't know, didn't read Final Crisis) right after having used a gun *sigh* to shoot Apocalypse.

One of the things we learn about this issue is that Bruce doesn't travel through space, only time. So he's always ending up at the same place, which is nice because it gives a connection between the individual issues that all run on individual plots, and creates a running thread through the whole thing.

Bruce is captured by Blackbeard, who mistakes him for the Black Pirate, and threatens the life of his hostage if Bruce does not show him where the Black Pirate hid his treasure. They go into the caves, which is where we get the connection of his having been there in the past. The scene changes to Dick and Damian searching the site where Batman disappeared. This adds up to the other superheroes trying to figure out how to get Bruce back.

After defeating Blackbeard, Bruce leaves, slowly gaining an understanding of what is happening. The book ends with him as a Cowboy, and opens with the promise of a cross-over with Jonah Hex. Already I am liking issue four.

This issue was pretty decent. It helps that the story is slowly coming together, and we're approaching the end of the mini series. Here's hoping it ends strong.

If you liked my review, buy the issue here: Batman Return of Bruce Wayne #3

TV Reviews: Futurama Season Six Episodes 1 + 2

I'm a pretty big Futurama fan. I became incredibly bored with Family Guy - the first two seasons are good, irreverent, but incredibly funny - but after that it got worse and worse, until we reach the current seasons where really I can tell the production team have stopped caring. There is no narrative to speak of and the characters are even bigger flaming jerktards than they were to start out. At least early on there were some redeemable qualities, but I can honestly say that the cast of that show is the biggest collection of some of the worst characters ever. And maybe that's what it thrives on. But where it drops the ball is emotional connection. It's all laughs no heart, or soul depending on the episode (read: all of them).

The Simpsons, a contemporary to Family Guy, did right what Family Guy does wrong. Or at least they used to. They had good laughs, ultimately lovable characters, and some pretty clever stories. Unfortunately in the course of their long run the stories have since become as shallow as those of Family Guy.

Futurama on the other hand picks up the ball where its other two contemporaries dropped it. Not only is it outrageously funny, but it actually had characters and a story that I care about. The overarching story is one common to syndicated TV shows, where the connecting threads are the relationships between the characters. Because I actually care about the characters, no matter how outrageously stupid they can be, I am invested in their stories.

Which is why I was furious when I heard the series was canceled with season five. I enjoyed the movies, with the exception of the second one which seemed incredibly contradictory to the first movie. Since the strength of the series are the character arcs and relationships the fact that Beast with a Thousand Backs ignores what the first movie established annoyed me to no end. Then there was the simple fact that the whole story was stupid. Granted, the Fry subplot was a fun twist.

When I heard that the series was finally going to be renewed I was overjoyed and couldn't wait for new episodes. I was a little wary of course, since the main plot of the series has always been the relationship between Fry and Leela and their slow shift towards friends and possibly more. The fourth movie gave that storyline closure, which to me was satisfying. My biggest fear was that the same thing would happen that happens in all TV series that rely on the main relationship for a continuous story. That they'd jump the shark and abolish the relationship in order to tap back into the sexual tension/relationship drama.

Of course my hope for the series was that this would not happen, but that instead we'd see a forward development of the main Fry/Leela relationship. I know that it seems like I'm putting too much emphasis on the relationship aspect of the show, when the main purpose is comedy. But that relationship forms the basis of the narrative thread. As such I have quite a bit invested in that storyline.

Well the first episode starts, oddly enough, with everyone dead. They get better of course, except for Leela, who remains in a coma despite having been resuscitated. In grief Fry builds a robot with purple wire for hair, and one eye. Conrad downloads her personality into the robot, who thinks she's Leela, though that plot thread only lasts until Nibbler bites off her arm.

I wont spoil too much, but let's just say that the rest of the plot is ridiculous plot twist after ridiculous plot twist that ends awesomely. Huh, apparently that's an actual word. The strange thing is that I swear the production team expected people to be worried about the whole romantic closure form the movie thing, and played around with it, making it look like it wouldn't work out for some reason or another several times. Well played Mr. Groening and Staff.

Overall? A satisfying new episode that promises more. Now on to episode two of the hour long premier.

How strange, they continue the "Will the shark be jumped?" line of thought with this episode where Leela and Zap crash land on a planet after trying to destroy a deathsphere that is heading to Earth. I'm wondering if this will continue for the rest of the series, as a different way of creating tension rather than breaking the main characters up and starting from scratch?

After a series of hilarious plot twists I have to say, this episode made me laugh more, even if the ending was a bit strange. Then again, I am watching Futurama.

Well, can't wait for the next episode.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Book Reviews: How To Train Your Dragon

After watching the movie I got onto wikipedia and looked up the book series it was based on. When I saw that there were some major differences between the books and the movie I was instantly wary. I'm not a huge fan of non faithful movie adaptations of books. But since I saw the movie first, and loved it, I figured I could check out the book and keep the two of them separate in my mind.

I'm slowly developing a new theory. Who cares if the movie is different from the original? Sometimes it's just as good, sometimes the changes are for the better. At the very least it gives me two alternate versions to enjoy. Small changes can make a movie better, and since I've realized I don't like reading or watching the same story over and over, the differences keep the movie fresh and the book enjoyable.

First off you should be aware, there are characters in the movie that don't exist in the book. The book is a Middlegrade novel, intended for younger readers, and because romance isn't a big part of that genre Astrid is not in the book. Since the movie is targeted at not only children, but the entire family, it introduces her as a romantic interest to appeal to the older target audience. Overall I'd have to say the movie is targeted at an older audience in general compared to the book.

The book itself is quite different from the movie in several ways. Hiccup himself is pretty similar, with a few minor changes, ie/ in the movie he's an inventor, not so much in the book. Instead of fighting a war against the dragons like they do in the movie, the vikings in the book actually have the tradition of capturing dragons and using them for hunting and war.

The book is an easy read, which is obvious, considering that it was written for children under the age of eight. Still, the plot may have been simplistic, but overall it was well written and easily understandable. The pace is incredibly fast, and the major plot can be summarized as:

  1. Hiccup gets Toothless
  2. Hiccup fails the initiation test
  3. Hiccup saves the island from a giant dragon.
Not the most extensive plot, but for a middlegrade book it worked perfectly. To be honest, even though it wasn't exactly written with someone of my age in mind, I quite enjoyed it. It was simple, quick, and told a coherent story. That and I enjoyed learning a bit more about writing middlegrade novels. My primary aim is YA right now, but I think I want to try a middlegrade sometime.

Overall, a good book, and one that can be enjoyed by a fairly wide range of age groups. As long as you don't consider middlegrade books beneath you. If you do, you might want to skip this one. Which would be a shame really, as it's a good example of how good a straightforward plot can be.

If you liked my review, buy the book here: How to Train Your Dragon Book 1 (Paperback)

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Book Reviews: I Am Not A Serial Killer

I've met Dan Wells before when he visited our creative writing class to give a guest lecture. It was a great lecture, he was a very good speaker and had a great sense of humor. I'd have to say that the best part was when he joked about how the people in his writing group didn't want to be in alone in a room with him ever again after reading his book. After his mother in law read the book for the first time she called his wife and asked her if she felt safe at home with him.

The entire class laughed, because we all knew how ridiculous it was to be afraid of him no matter what he wrote. He's just that nice of a guy.

Then I read the first chapter of I Am Not A Serial Killer. Well, I read the first half and had to skip to the second chapter. It wasn't even a very frightening scene, it wasn't frightening at all. At first I thought the embalming scene, which began about halfway into the first chapter, was incredibly interesting and detailed. Very informative. Then it got a little too detailed, and we actually had to stop the car so I could get out and hurl on the side of the road. Please note that I have a sensitive stomach that has plagued me my entire life. The one good thing that came out of reading this first chapter is that I finally figured out what my specific problem is. I don't mind so much when I get injured and bleed, or when I see injuries or general gore. Instead what I have is a phobia against the circulatory system, especially when it is being discussed in clinical detail. To say the least, I had flashbacks to high school biology while reading this first chapter.

So, congratulations Mr. Wells, your book made me physically sick. (And you know the funny thing, those of you who aren't Dan Wells? I'm pretty sure he'd take that as a compliment!)

Still, writing something that makes me physically sick isn't exactly very hard, nor does it suggest a disturbed, dangerous psyche on the part of the writer. So I still figured, "Okay, that was gross, but I still don't see how anyone would think he's dangerous just because he wrote this."

Then I actually finished the book.

Next time I'm in a room with Dan Wells I'm making sure I remove all clocks from the room.

I Am Not A Serial Killer revolves around John Wayne Cleaver, a fifteen year old boy suffering from Antisocial Personality Disorder, or, as he puts it in his own words, Sociopathy. He lives with his mother who runs a mortuary, and spends a great deal of his time around corpses. You'd think that with his apathetic views, and bizarre obsessions he wouldn't make a good protagonist. You would be wrong. John may think destiny wants him to become a Serial Killer, and usually that would be pretty creepy, but he himself does not want to become one. With a clear personal goal like that it is very easy for us as readers to root for him.

The main plot revolves around the Clayton Killer, a serial killer who brutally tears his victims apart, and steals a piece of the body. A friend of mine, Alex, pointed this out, and he said this before I'd read the book (he was reading my copy, I loaned it out before even reading it myself), but once reading it I realized how right he was. With a stipulation. I don't mind that we find out fairly early who the killer is, what bugged me while reading was that his supernatural nature was revealed in an offhand comment in the narrative before we even knew who he was. I love the book, and this flaw doesn't really detract from it, but I do think this was it's biggest flaw. And since it's only one major flaw, that's pretty good.

Like Nathan already said, the prose really is beautiful, and for a break through novel it is practically phenomenal. I'm not a huge fan of the first person narrative, but it seems to be gaining in popularity. In Dan Wells' case he uses it masterfully. There is so much we learn about John that we wouldn't have been able to if we were outside his head. Hearing everything from his point of view, his struggle against the monster inside him, makes for a much, much more chilling read.

This book doesn't really fall into any specific category, as Dan himself has said, but overall I'd say it's appropriate for older teenagers. Keep in mind, it is a horror novel, so if you don't like horror, obviously don't read it. Though, it is different from most horror novels I've read, where the monster isn't the thing scaring you, it's the protagonist who gives me the chills.

If you liked my review, buy the book here: I Am Not A Serial Killer (John Cleaver)

Monday, June 21, 2010

Manga Reviews: Naruto Volume 6

Trying to stick to a schedule is hard. Especially since some of these reviews take much longer than I thought they would. But now that I don't have classes or homework to worry about I'm able to structure my days around my writing more. This includes getting blog posts written on time so I can get through all the different topics I want to blog about in a timely manner. I kinda over planned myself during finals week, so I wasn't able to get anything done there. I had to drop one review I was going to write, that I didn't decide was as crucial, and might still write later, but not at the current schedule I've set.

Volume six starts with Kiba, Shino and Hinatat taking down a rival ninja team, drawing the first blood of the fight.

Well, sucking the first blood at least.

Granted Hinata really hasn't done anything yet, but so far Kiba and Shino have demonstrated the most ability among the rookie nine. I know that at this point we're meant to root against them in favor of Naruto's group, but I'm really finding myself rooting for them. Switching back to Naruto's group, where they're squabbling about urinating of all things, makes me realize why.

For the record, this:

Isn't quite as satisfying as this:

But it'll do.

Turns out Naruto was captured by an enemy ninja, who then tried to sneak up to the other two and steal the scroll. Fortunately he's dumber than Naruto, and overlooks some fairly obvious details in his transformation. Kind of how in the Spider-Man cartoon the chameleon puts the eye patch over the wrong eye when transforming into Fury. Only the Chameleon had an excuse, this ninja does not.

After beating off this ninja they decide that they need a password. When they get separated again Sasuke asks Naruto for the password, and when the latter gives it perfectly, Sasuke attacks him, because there's no way that Naruto would be smart enough to remember the password. This amuses me.

This is also where they encounter the main villain, Orochimaru, who remains the main villain up until after the time skip. I'll get into what happens to him after the time skip later, that is still a long ways off. Orochimaru's snake theme is perfect for a villain, snakes are already nightmare fuel for me, giant snakes just make it worse, and when it's a human with snake like abilities, like fangs, an extend-able tongue and the ability to stretch his body and move like a snake, then you've got one freaky, terrifying villain.

Granted, when the bodies of those that he killed stole the faces of are later discovered, I can't help but wonder if he's a bit of an idiot. He may have power, and a freaky animal theme going on, but you'd think that any kind of threatening villain would have to be intelligent. Leaving your victims in plain sight does not suggest intelligence.

I'm also loving this volume as much as the last one, because while we don't get quite the epic pwnage of Sasuke...

We still get to see him wuss out completely and get shown up by Naruto, whose more guts than skill personality finally comes in handy. He puts up a pretty good fight before he is subdued by Orochimaru. Surprisingly enough, Sakura actually has something good to say about him.

Well, there is still a bit of an insult hidden in there, but at least she's getting better at not being a complete witch. So credit where credit is due.

Sasuke fights back against Orochimaru, effectively chastised for his pussy behavior, but is defeated, despite putting up a good fight. I may not like Sasuke as a character, but his early fighting techniques really make for exciting reads. Of course this is before his fighting style becomes the incredibly dull discovering a new power every fight. Aka/ Plot Hax no Jutsu.

With both Sasuke and Naruto out of commission Sakura finds herself alone, with two unconscious boys in the middle of a forest filled with enemies. And given what a pervert Sakura has proven herself to be she probably wouldn't mind this if not for the "Forest filled with enemies" part.

Anko confronts Orochimaru, and we get another exciting, yet brief, fight scene that really was the staple of this manga, and the reason that it did so well. Say what you want about his characters, Kishimoto really is good at action scenes. Whether this will hold true for the rest of the manga is yet to be determined.

Besides learning more about Orochimaru's plan, we also learn that Anko has a cursed seal mark, just like Sasuke just received. I don't know if Kishimoto remembers this, I can only assume that he must, but it hasn't come up again in quite a long time, so I don't know if it will ever make a comeback. It would be quite interesting to see Anko use the transformation that Sasuke later learns to abuse.

Poor Lee, missing that last leaf is almost like Kishimoto is saying he's too nice a guy to get what he wants. And given how he gets shafted for screen time later on, I have to admit that theory is sounding more and more plausible.

The biggest surprise of this entire volume however, is that Naruto's team isn't the biggest failures in their graduating year. Seeing Ino, Shikamaru and Choji's team absolutely fail is not only hilarious, but it also makes me appreciate Naruto's group all the more. Sakura may be exactly like Ino, but at least she has a team that actually puts effort into their fights.

I can't stand it anymore. I know this probably won't show up in the fan translations I've been using in this review, but it's all over the official English volumes. Someone, please tell me, what the heck is "Lub Dub" supposed to mean? I've seen some ridiculous sound effects, but this one just takes the cake. And it's been driving me crazy for the past few volumes!

When Sakura is confronted by the three Sound Ninja (am I the only one who thinks ninja with powers based on making sound are kind of ridiculous?) she actually sets a pretty decent trap. Too bad it does her little good. Oh well, stand aside Sakura, it's time for you to be saved.


It's Rock Lee to the rescue, and this volume keeps getting better and better. But will purely physical attacks be enough to counter the sound based pressure blasts of the...

Holy crap tree root!

Apparently pure physical strength will do just fine. I know I said that Rock Lee is one of my favorite characters, but he's also the least believable. All the others have the excuse of "magic" to explain their powers, but just pure physical strength being this high is quite unbelievable. It is also incredibly awesome.

Congratulations Shikamaru, you are my new favorite character. And congrats on not looking like a monkey.

Unfortunately Lee gets his butt kicked, while at the same time we discover one of the major weaknesses of the series, taking a break from the action to explain the individual powers and techniques. Granted, I don't mind it quite as much, and it is nice to finally really comprehend Lee's Lotus technique. When I first read this manga I didn't understand the concept of our bodies only using a fraction of our strength, to preserve our muscle structure and tendons. I'd already read this part when I discovered this little factoid, so I didn't remember that Kishimoto already used this idea when I decided to use it for my own story. Now I feel like a plagiarist, but I'm just going to claim great minds think alike.

With Lee down, and no more traps left, Sakura has to take the offensive, and I have to admit, compared to her previous effectiveness in battle, she does quite well. Her skill may not be nearly as high as Naruto or Sasuke's, but she definitely proves Naruto's guts before skill philosophy. Unfortunately she also gets beaten, that seems to be happening a lot this volume. But just in the nick of time, after Sakura has proven that she isn't worthless, Ino and her team come in to save the day, ending the volume on yet another cliffhanger.

Compared to volume five this volume moves at a much faster pace, with much more action. The fights that we get are interesting and fairly creative, exhibiting Kishimoto's strength for action. Anyone that has made it this far into the manga isn't likely to give up any time soon. Me being exhibit A, considering how much the manga frustrated me at times in the future.

Ironically enough, rereading these volumes from the beginning has gotten me interested in the series again. It may have its issues later on, and at one point I'd decided I wasn't going to spend the money on any more Naruto volumes than the ones I already had. But these early volumes, especially this one, are genuinely good and worth owning.

If you liked my review, buy the manga here: Naruto - Vol. 6

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Manga Reviews: Naruto Volume 5

I've decided to enjoy these moments as much as possible.

Seeing Sasuke get his ass kicked really never will get old. I first really appreciated in his fight against Killer Bee, when he'd been busy being a perfect, annoying prick. If only I had hated him as much as I do now when I first read this series, these early moments would have made these few rare moments of Sasuke humiliation all the sweeter.

Of course we all know it won't last, fairly soon Sasuke will be unbeatably frustrating. So until then, gentle readers, let us enjoy this moment while it lasts.

In the last volume we were left with Rock Lee challenging Sasuke to a fight. And as their fight continues I am reminded that he is in fact one of my favorite characters. Not only did he beat up Sasuke...


But he's the exact opposite of Sasuke in every way. Not only does he have an interesting personality, but his strength is entirely the result of backbreaking effort. He wasn't born with any of his skills, like Sasuke, instead of relying on his family's reputation and inherited skills, he worked hard to get to where he is. Essentially he's like Naruto, but more so, because even Naruto's massive amounts of Chakra essentially come from the Kyubi. Frankly if it weren't for the obvious "hard work vs inherited skill" that seems to be one of the main themes of Naruto, I'd very much prefer to see Rock Lee take Sasuke's place as Naruto's main rival. Because he doesn't cause me severe mental pain, like Sasuke does, and seeing Sakura fawn over Rock Lee would be hilarious.

The nice thing about this volume is that we get introduced to a lot of new characters, pretty much the entire rest of the main b-list cast. Including...

I believe the proper response is:

So yeah, that's Guy Sensei, and the questionable introduction aside, he makes this manga better just by showing up every couple of hundred pages.

And this is why Lee and Guy are among my favorite characters. Already they've lightened my mood and I'm even less annoyed at Sasuke than I've ever been. I'm sure this will change soon.

The Trio move on to the first exam, where we are finally introduced to the other six graduates from their year. It's really kind of surreal, these are all characters that I've gotten used to, and seeing their first appearances is kind of bizarre. It's quite obvious in some cases that Kishimoto was still settling on their character designs.

In early character designs Shikamaru was secretly the Third Hokage's Summon, instead of Monkey King Enma.

Also, seeing how close friends Naruto becomes with the others in their year, it's so weird seeing them act like complete douchebags. Granted, they were all competing with each other at the time, but all their personality traits seem exaggerated compared to their later selves. Chalk it up to character development I guess.

This entire first section, with new characters and all, seems very much like it was an experimental stage for Kishimoto, as not only do characters change later into what we are more familiar with, but he also introduces concepts that will never show up again. Ever.

Thank Goodness.

Then again...

After a lot of...nothing really happening, the Proctors finally arrive and the exam begins. Since they're Ninja's, it's obvious this is going to be some kind of intense physical examination of skill, something really awesome to read and...

You said it Naruto. -_-

So yeah, apparently this was Kishimoto's School Life Manga experimentation phase. When I think ninja I really don't think of written exams. When I think of thrilling fiction I don't think an entire room full of brightly dressed ninja's taking midterms. Granted when I think "Ninja" I really don't think of this:

So I guess it all evens out in the end.

Still: BORING!

Also, am I the only one who thinks that's it's needlessly complicated to start off with ten points and then subtract one for every wrong answer, and keep one for every right answer? Why not just start with zero points and earn a point for every right answer, and no points for every wrong answer? You know, the way we do it in the real world? Sure it's nitpicking, but when it takes an entire page to explain the rules for scoring a written exam, then you're doing something wrong. At least Sakura points out that starting with points and then subtracting from them makes no sense.


Well...I guess that makes sense.

It's still a boring chapter!

However, as a testament that this is needlessly complicated, they include a recap of the rules as the cover page of the next chapter. They don't even think the readers can follow this!

Sorry, nothing you do will make taking a written exam look badass.

I'll be fair, Kishimoto does a pretty good job of making this scene tense, by setting up Naruto against his biggest weakness, and having the fate of the whole team rely on him. However, the entire test about three chapters, that's a third of the entire volume.

In an enjoyable little twist, Sasuke, just like Naruto, can't answer any of the questions either. It soon becomes clear that the only way to pass the test is to cheat, which is actually fairly interesting, as it later turns out that the purpose is to test their espionage skills. As the test continues we get to see several of the other characters' abilities and their information gathering methods so the entire thing is treated fairly intelligently.

Naruto on the other hand, while everyone has realized they have to cheat, sticks to his guns and doesn't cheat. While admirable as a protagonist, it still marks him as a hilariously unorthodox ninja.

Forty-five minutes into the exam they participants are given the option to either accept the tenth question and loose their chance to ever advance if they get it wrong, or to reject it and try again next year. It's here that Sakura finally starts becoming more likable as a character, when she decides to give up for his sake, as she is certain that he can't possibly answer the last question. Granted she isn't showing any faith in him, but compared to her previous behavior this is the first time we really get to see her caring about her not-Sasuke team mate. Of course Naruto declares that even if he remains a rookie the rest of his life (which after several years of publication with a three year time skip, he ironically still is) he'll never surrender or retreat.

Of course it all ends up to have been a psychological test, and the real test was whether they had the guts to take the chance of failing permanently. I know that I complained about so much time being spent on a written test, but surprisingly enough Kishimoto manages to make even a written test interesting, by including good plot twists and using it as a chance to showcase individual ninjas' skills.

I'd completely forgotten about Anko's introduction, and I have to admit, the lady's got style. I especially like that she prepared a whole backdrop for herself. Then again, she is also kinda creepy.


And volume five ends with the second exam turning out to be a survival course in the Forest of Death. Well, I'm sure this won't be so bad.

Despite a third of this volume being taken up with a written exam, it was surprisingly entertaining to read. Compared to volume four this one really ups the ante in quality. Sure there are some elements and character traits that won't survive past this volume (I'm pretty sure Anko isn't psycho later on), but despite the obvious experimentation that occurred with the minor recurring cast it all ties together quite nicely, along with some good character development, leaving off with a cliffhanger that definitely catches my attention and makes me want to read more.

Of course, there is one other thing that makes this volume the greatest Naruto volume I've ever read.

I'll never get tired of it.

If you liked my review, then please buy the volume here: Naruto - Vol. 5