Monthly Archives: February 2017

Tokyo Ghoul (anime)

Tokyo Ghoul

Episodes 1-12

WARNING: MATURE CONTENT
– minor amounts of nudity, ghouls eating human flesh (mostly not shown), and an intense torture scene (the main reason to stay away if this will bother you)

Ken Kaneki is an ordinary human in a city where ghouls lurk. Ghouls eat people, and a special task force hunts them down. But it’s all distant from his everyday life—until a date gone bad leaves him no longer quite human himself. And even if he wants to live a quiet life, people from both sides have taken an interest in him . . .

This was far less of a horror story than I initially expected, although by the end it does go quite deeply into some hard things. I doubt I’ll watch the last episode or two again, as sitting through someone being tortured while chained to a chair was bad enough the first time. So I want to reiterate up front that this is NOT a children’s show and the Mature rating is for a reason.

On the more positive side, though, the characters are really strong. Although the whole “must eat people” bit would make it easy to characterize ghouls as monsters, both sides have a lot of gradations. There are members of the CCG (the anti-ghoul force) that have far crossed the line with their obsession to wipe out all ghouls. Similarly, some ghouls don’t see the point of giving humans any dignity, or restraining their own excesses. Ken isn’t the only character caught in between those two sides. He falls in with a group of ghouls who only want to be left alone, and try to exist in ways that minimally impact the general human population.

This comes to a head in tragic scenes like the confrontation in episode 8, where the person giving the speech about ghouls having the same right to live as any ordinary person is telling the one person who can’t be convinced, and the one who might be convinced is fighting someone who can’t figure out how to say the same thing. And it probably wouldn’t be as easy as winning that one man over to the ghoul’s side, but that would have been a start. A start that never happened, and might never happen, which leaves the world stuck in the same struggle it’s always been, where ghouls and humans mischaracterize and kill each other.

Some threads might be better in the manga, as, for instance, Ken’s best human friend, who is a major character early on, disappears from the story for no obvious reason. It would have been interesting seeing the two of them interact more after Ken was turned. However, the heart of the story is Ken and his relationship to the group of oddball ghouls who dare to believe they can coexist quietly with humans, and find ways to take the nourishment they need without becoming monsters.

Oh, and although this can be a dark and serious show, the space after the credits where the preview would normally go tend to be lighthearted side stories told in about 30 seconds, and are well worth watching.

Overall this is nothing like what I expected, and I enjoyed it a lot. I watched it in Japanese because I streamed most of it, so I’m not really sure how the English cast performed. I haven’t read the manga yet so I can’t say how faithful or not it was as an adaptation, but I understand a great deal of manga was condensed into these episodes, which may explain why some characters don’t get as much time as I thought they should. I rate this show Recommended.

(As a side note, regardless of what you think about the second season, episode 13 does make a much better ending than episode 12, as it finishes that fight and gives a better sense of an ending. But the box set will only come with episodes 1-12.)

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The Red Sun (Legends of Orkney #1)

Title: The Red Sun

Author: Alane Adams

Series: Legends of Orkney #1

Sam knows there’s something creepy about his new English teacher. She’s too interested in him, and weird things happen around her. But he never imagined the truth: he’s a Son of Odin, his parents are refugees from another world, and the birthplace he never knew needs him to break a terrible curse afflicting its sun. And his substitute English teacher is a powerful witch who wants to take over the world . . .

I never thought stupid protagonists were a dealbreaker until I read this book. Because Sam isn’t just ignorant and making bad choices based on lack of understanding. He’s walking into bad choices with both eyes open. The plot can unfortunately be summed up as: if someone is shifty, untrustworthy, outright evil, or wants him dead, he will do whatever they say. If someone has actually cared about him and put his best interests at heart, he will hide things from them and cut them out of his life.

*cue book bashing against wall*

It doesn’t even start that badly. Sam is a normal kid with a bit of a temper (and some interesting things that happen when he loses that temper). A weird new teacher shows up who has an evil interest in him, and shortly thereafter Sam finds himself in another world that requires his efforts to save. So far so good—all the bad decisions, like not telling his mom about the magical mishaps he’s run into, or trying to convince himself things aren’t really as bad as they seem, are well within reason.

Then we get to the alternate world. At that point, through the end of the book, it’s almost a comedy of “how stupid can you get?” Witches with magical powers have kidnapped his friends, so Sam wants to blaze after them—despite the fact that the few people who care about him warn him the witches are powerful, the ones eager to help him are the really shifty lot, and everyone else who depends on him to do this other quest is going to die if he doesn’t do that one eventually. So Sam goes after the witches. This goes about as well as you might expect.

And why are the witches evil? It seems to be something with their magic being intrinsically evil, which is never explained—Sam is assumed corrupted because he has witch magic, not because he’s done anything with it. But it’s not like he’s sacrificing babies to get power. It’s a combination of some internal force plus mystic words. I could write this off as prejudice against witches, except the plot enforces this by making Sam experience corruption the more he uses his power.

Moving beyond the characters, the general situation with the world didn’t make a lot of sense to me either. The sun is poisoned, which is fine, but the rate of everything dying and people starving seemed vastly accelerated to me. Crops wither and instantly there are people starving. This ignores the obvious problem that if crops were still growing, they were probably not being eaten just yet. No one kept any food? No one had dried/preserved anything in case of a drought or insects or a poor harvest? And with the threat to the animals known, no one is making any effort to keep their herds/flocks indoors during the day to graze or forage by night?

If the stupid overload hasn’t driven you off yet, the characters might. Sam has very little struggles with doing the wrong thing–he just does it anyway. The bad guys (with the High Council as the worst offenders) are ludicrously one-dimensional, with any depth sacrificed for the “everyone hates Sam” angle. Nearly every character treats him like an object and not a person, whether it’s the good guys who have voluntold him to go on this quest or the bad guys who voluntold him for a different quest. Mavery is supposed to have redeeming qualities but mostly comes off as really annoying, and Keely and Howie are almost comically helpless and unable to contribute to the plot other than being used as hostages (the final battle . . . I think I was almost laughing, which is not the effect the plot was going for).

I regret picking up this book. It looked good, started decently, but my desperate hope that it would eventually get better was completely wasted. I rate this book Not Recommended.

The White Widow’s Revenge (Ferals #3)

Title: The White Widow’s Revenge

Author: Jacob Grey

Series: Ferals #3

Caw’s problems have only multiplied. Selina is still hospitalized in a coma, the escaped convicts-turned-ferals have sparked off a crime wave, and Caw’s possession of the Midnight Stone continues to attract trouble. Can Caw save himself, much less his friends?

I really liked the first two books, so I went into this one hopeful for a strong cap to the series, but wound up not liking most of what happens here. The conflict between Caw and the well-meaning adult ferals isn’t unexpected, but it is disappointing even those like Pip who would probably side with him get pushed offstage. The humor with the crows isn’t really there anymore, and the whole thing with the crows deciding someone is worthy really needed to be brought up well before now, as that’s not the impression the entire series has given for how these powers work. Come to that, I didn’t get why certain actions would offend all of crowdom, and not just those involved. And why would this caveat apply solely to crows? Given the usage the convicts have been putting their animals through, I would expect those animals to have a few opinions.

So the humor wasn’t really there, the plot takes several bizarre twists that don’t feel all that well set up, and the conflict between the past and the present just happened so fast it was hard to feel any weight behind it.

That said, I did still enjoy some of the weirder sequences, like how a bison is set to robbing a bank. And the story does tie up some loose threads (pun intended) dangling from the first and second book. And although the end cleans up most of it, the world remains an inviting place that I hope will host more stories later on.

Overall, if you read and enjoyed the first two books, you might as well finish the series. I just don’t find this one up to the same level as the earlier books. I rate this book Neutral.

 

Impyrium

Title: Impyruim

Author: Henry H. Neff

It’s been 3000 years since Max, David, and Mina won the war against Astaroth. The Faeregine have ruled since then, expanding their dominion until they control most of the world. Hazel Faeregine is the youngest of the triplet Faeregine sisters. She has no interest in the throne, only her magic. But simply being a Faeregine comes with dangers and expectations . . .

Hob is a poor miner in the mountains until an unexpected opportunity brings him to the capital. Here, he finally has a chance to help overthrow the Faeregine family’s 3000-year rule, which he hopes will bring a better life for all the non-magical people who suffer under the current policies. But revolutions are tricky business, and Hob is only one player in a much larger game . . .

I’m glad we get a chance to return to this world, although the huge time-skip means it’s not necessary to read the Tapestry books before this one (although I would highly recommend it anyway because they are excellent). This is a different sort of story, with various powers clashing and two kids caught in the middle of things.

Hazel and Hob are both good characters, although I preferred Hob for his determination and his competence. Both Hob and Hazel are considerably less able to influence their situations than one might expect. The ending also leaves Hob particularly in an inconclusive situation, which I wouldn’t mind as much if there was definite news of a sequel. It’s otherwise irritating to get so many hints that big things are stirring without being able to see many of them worked out.

My only downside is that the book felt somewhat long for a payoff that feels like it ought to take more than one book. The whole war with the demons issue is important, but the heart of the book is more with the struggle between the caste system that’s grown up around magic-users versus non-magicians, with the new technologies the Workshop could unlock against the way people have always lived, with the old and inflexible Spider Empress and the extremely young heir to the throne. Those conflicts, as well as a certain necromancer still in the wild, would be plenty of material for future story.

All in all, it’s a solid beginning, and I hope it will be a series of its own. There are some nods to fans of the Tapestry books, though mostly those times are treated like the ancient history they now are. I rate this book Recommended.