Tag Archives: alternate history

The Saga of Tanya the Evil (Movie)

Title: The Saga of Tanya the Evil

Format: Movie

Tanya had hoped to get away from war, but as usual she’s been dragged to the front lines. This time, Russia is the primary enemy—but an international unit that gets entangled in the fray suggests the United States may not be far behind. With no other options, Tanya puts her all into staying alive . . .

This feels like an extended next episode of the series. Picking up right where the series left off, it showcases Mary Sue and her new placement in an international unit visiting Moscow to help foster friendly relations in their mutual fight against the Empire. Mary Sue isn’t paying attention to anything other than her own goals for revenge.

It’s an interesting contrast to Tanya, who strives for ultimate professionalism in what she does (though sometimes her emotions do slip through). This war, like the wars before it, creates a perfect storm to draw Tanya in. Between her superior’s shortsightedness, unexpected enemy action, and some manipulation by Being X (though he doesn’t have a direct role like in the series), Tanya is unable to grasp the peaceful life she so desires.

Visually this was stunning. The cloudscapes were gorgeous, and there were several amazing arial dogfights. The flying battles are reason enough for me to buy this. A few shortcuts are evident in some of the more intense fight scenes, but given the sheer dynamic motion of the rest of it I’m more than willing to overlook it.

Overall, this is best watched after seeing the regular anime, but there is enough context for a new viewer to jump right in. The only real downside is that the relatively open nature of the end implies there needs to be another season to continue from where this one leaves off. I rate this movie Recommended (if you enjoyed the series, Highly Recommended).

Saga of Tanya the Evil (Anime)

Title: Saga of Tanya the Evil

Episodes: 1-12

In an alternate world in the middle of its own WWI, a young girl named Tanya is a formidable member of the military. With a harsh standard and a reputation for success in the worst circumstances, she eventually gains the nickname “Devil of the Rhine.” But Tanya is actually the reincarnation of a sociopathic businessman, and her current life is the result of an unintentional wager with a supernatural entity she calls Being X.

There’s a lot about this show that initially put me off. I mean, what kind of military allows a 9-year-old to enroll, even if it is for a magic division? I’m amazed Tanya managed to pass the physical (even mages have equipment to haul around, so presumably there are SOME standards). It feels like pandering. Thankfully the plot never sexualizes Tanya, focusing instead on the disparity between her age and looks, and her sociopathic personality.

I also wasn’t sure what to make of the religious angle to the conflict, although after watching the show I agree with Tanya that whatever she’s arguing with isn’t God, despite the trappings. The whole show is basically a narcissist versus a sociopath—Tanya’s whole life happened because the man he used to be told Being X only poor people in hard life circumstances had faith in God. So he got a one-way ticket to exactly that life. The interesting thing is that Tanya is, in some sense, refusing to budge from her position no matter what evidence is presented to the contrary—but on the other hand, the God Being X is pretending to be is also supposed to be a supporter of free will, which Being X is definitely not.

Visually, it’s a fun series. I really like flying scenes, and it’s also fun seeing the various adapters each country uses to fly. (Full disclosure: flying scenes are why I picked this up at all.) Tanya’s country uses a boot-like apparatus tied to something like a battery pack. Others use pseudo-horses, skiis, etc. It’s interesting to see how this affects their aerial mobility and tactics.

I’m not a history buff so I can’t say how closely this hews to actual events. Tanya is on the basically-Germans side, and it’s pretty easy to identify all the major players because the names weren’t changed all that much.

There were some weird visual bugs in the first episode especially, mostly around Viktoriya’s face, but after that the art stays pretty good. The air battles are the best part, but the series offers a lot of variety in the kinds of missions Tanya and her company are assigned. (The mad scientist whose research she’s validating makes this all the more hazardous.)

Tanya’s personality was another interesting facet. She knows what the rules are and in most cases abides by them scrupulously, but she also knows how to twist the rules around to get what she wants (or say what she wants). So on the one hand, she’s an ideal soldier—and she’s also someone pretty much nobody wants to work with or under. She’s incredibly hard on her troops, but most of the situations she’s exposing them to are a good mirror of what they will run into in the future.

Other than Tanya, though, I found most of the characters forgettable. The most distinct secondary character is an officer who distrusts her and is looking for reasons to discredit her. Some of the members of the opposing armies get more personal detail than any of Tanya’s subordinates or superiors.

Overall if anything about the premise sounds interesting, give it two episodes, as the second episode provides most of the setup that contextualizes the first. The first episode is a misdirection in several parts. I rate this series Recommended.

Very Truly Run After (Travels with Michael #2)

Title: Very Truly Run After

Author: William Duquette

Series: Travels with Michael #2

Michael has gotten married, and more or less gotten used to his abilities as a Traveler who can cross between parallel worlds. Unfortunately, he’s now attracting increasing numbers of other Travelers who presumably want his growing collection of finders. Thankfully, most Travelers aren’t very good assassins . . .

This is a very different book from the first, but equally funny. Most of this is because Michael spends a great deal of time in a parallel regency steampunk world. It’s a world where everyone dresses smartly, holds to a strict set of manners, and is “packing more heat than a summer day in Las Vegas.”

Yes, that’s right. Regency steampunk with lots and lots of guns. Gwen has a derringer and is considered basically unarmed.

Mostly this is because the local wildlife is oversized and deadly, but it certainly made a refreshing read after the nonsense I read last week.

Michael end up there somewhat by accident, but given the number of people after him, he concludes it’s a good idea to recuperate in a place where his assailants have to go through an armed populace that does NOT take kindly to assassins.

Of course there’s plenty of “regency” in the plot there, too. One of the more amusing segments is Michael discovering just what that term entails when his wife provides several books as research on the subject. And then watching a similarly convoluted dramatic plot working out in the lives of those he’s become acquainted with. Also fun is that Michael honestly can’t be sure what’s exaggerated and what’s not when he’s trying to read about life in the colonies, so he more or less has to take it all as truth.

I also appreciated this is the only steampunk novel I have read that does not go on and on about dirty smoke. Whatever they’re using with their aetheric contraptions, it isn’t dirty like actual steam (which is one reason Michael can’t figure out how any of it works).

All in all, this advances some interesting threads on the main mystery of Michael’s family and powers, and also provides a host of new and fun characters. I rate this book Highly Recommended.

Toukiden 2 (PS4/PC)

Monsters known as Oni are invading the real world from the Otherworld. Ten years ago in Yokohama, the Oni broke through—and threw you through a gate ten years in the future. Now you are tasked with defending the village of Mahoroba from the Oni as a Slayer.

There isn’t much to talk about plot-wise for this game. It proceeds mostly as you might expect (although I was pleasantly surprised by both Benizuki and Kuyo). I like that there is a story mode, though, which helps add some variety and meaning to otherwise randomly going out and killing monsters. The Professor was easily my favorite character, for her snarky attitude and rather dangerous inventions.

Toukiden 2 boasts a world map in addition to missions that can be taken through the base town. I would’ve liked the world map a LOT better if you could warp to any of the portal stones (you can use any stone to go back to HQ, but you can only transfer from HQ to your bases, which makes getting to certain points on the map a trek every time). Also, I was frustrated by the fact that you get a grappling claw that lets you vault over cliffs…. but you still often need to walk around relatively minor barriers, which made some maps (Age of Grace in particular) more like mazes. I am also not fond of the “miasma exposure limit” still being a thing even after you purify an area. It feels like a way to artificially limit how much you can explore without going back to some kind of base.

That said, it was still nice to have actual environments to explore. The game provides both shiny object pickups, various crests, and wooden markers with some backstory as an incentive to poke around every corner.

Your teammates are good at dispatching the Oni, so picking companions for me usually involved picking whomever I needed to max out relationships with. You don’t get any control over their skills, and you have limited ability to direct them in battle (which I never used because I forgot the button combination).

I didn’t play too much with all the weapon types, but there is a good amount of variety. I mostly stuck with knives because I like fast-hitting weapons, although a major downside is that they offer no defensive capabilities. Tutorials are available for every weapon type, and every skill type, and these can be repeated as desired, so it’s easy to sample the various weapons and choose a favorite.

Skills are handled through Mitama, which are spirits that choose to help you. They range from historical figures to literary figures to a few gods and goddesses. Each one gets a nice portrait and a little voice clip, and has a number of skills that can be learned and equipped. These can be earned through the story, sidequests, or by slaying Oni. It can be a big job to collect them all, but just going through the story and doing a little extra will get plenty for a more casual run.

I didn’t care for most of the Oni designs, sadly, with Drakwing (a more traditional western dragon) being a major exception. They do offer a good challenge, though, and fighting them feels more interesting because of a tendency to transform at about half health, which can completely change attack patterns. If KO’d, you get a limited amount of time to be revived, and if KO’d again, your revival time picks up where the last time left off, so whether or not you can even come back depends on how quickly your teammates can get to you, even the first time. This likely isn’t as much a problem for more skilled players but I die enough to find it annoying, especially when certain fights include multiple Oni and it’s easy to get slammed by the one you weren’t attacking.

On the plus side, the auto save functionality, plus the ability to manually save anywhere except inside a fight, means you probably won’t lose too much progress if wiped out, even if you were exploring the Otherworld at the time.

Overall, I had fun with this, although God Eater is definitely my hunter game of choice due to several different mechanics (ranged and defensive included on all weapons, a less arbitrary revival system, the ability to earn unlimited tickets for material crafting, more colorful monsters which are more visually interesting, better story, epic music). That said, I’m still poking around in postgame trying to collect more Mitama, craft a better weapon, finish collecting crests, and so on. I have no idea what my hour count was because the save files only indicate the last time you saved, not the total hour count, and it’s been pretty fun for the most part. I rate this game Recommended.

The Shadow of Black Wings (The Year of the Dragon #1)

Title: The Shadow of Black Wings

Author: James Calbraith

Series: The Year of the Dragon #1

Bran is a young dragon rider eager to graduate from the Academy and go on with the rest of his life—even if he’s not too sure what he wants to do. A journey taken with his father on a ship bound for places he’s never heard of sounds like a good start. But destiny has some marked him for something else . . .

The land of Yamato is more isolated than the Qin behind their barrier. An island unreachable by most sailors, it nonetheless contains a civilization to rival the rest of the world. But strange divinations foretell great changes. A shrine maiden and her best friend, a female samurai, are more involved than they suspect in the turmoil to come.

I really liked this, but the book suffers greatly from a lack of cohesion. The worldbuilding is excellent, picturing an alternate-history where Bran, who is from either Scotland or Wales (I never looked up what the new names referred to), finds himself on a sea voyage that takes him all the way to China and Japan. Along the way we see various kinds of dragons and magic, and the ways different cultures approach them both. The majority of the beginning and middle is devoted to this, with the greater plot only picking up at the end.

The biggest flaw is that the narrative doesn’t flow well at all. The initial scenes put a great deal of emphasis on Bran’s time at school and the bully that torments him. Both of these things drop out of the story after he graduates (hopefully they’ll surface in a future book so the time spent developing them wasn’t wasted). Then the sea voyage is less of a journey and more of a series of vignettes about various places Bran sees along the way (and the frequent switches from Bran’s point of view to his father’s don’t help much). Then we switch to Yamato and spend a good amount of time setting things up there before the story ever circles back around and connects the two threads. And the story cuts off in the middle of rising action, with nothing resembling a climax, even a minor one.

The ending may be less of a problem if you read the bundle, since I presume the second book will pick up immediately after this one left off. But whether or not you enjoy the book is probably going to come down to how much you like exploring the world, as the rest of the story feels like it needed another draft. I would have preferred alternating chapters between Bran and the girls, as it would have allowed the moment their stories merge to come much closer to the event that caused it.

Overall, I suspect I’ll keep going with this, because I do like it, but you’re probably better off getting the first book while it’s free and sampling it that way. I rate this book Neutral.

The Burning Page (Invisible Library #3)

Title: The Burning Page

Author: Genevieve Cogman

Series: Invisible Library #3

The Library’s timeless existence may be running out. Alberich, though he cannot enter, has found some way to threaten it—a fact painfully clear to Irene, who has been stuck doing dangerous missions thanks to her probation. But she, Kai, Vale, and the rest of her allies don’t have the slightest idea what Alberich is up to. Irene only knows she must do whatever she can.

This has good points and bad points. Irene remains amazingly competent in a great way. I love how ready and able she is to bite back on petty retorts, or force herself to overlook offenses, because it’s childish and won’t help what she really wants to do. She’s smart and quick to judge situations (usually correctly), but she’s not perfect by any means. She knows the Library is hiding things from her but accepts that as part of the way things are and tries to work within the system (at least, to the extent that’s even possible).

The dragons still frustrate me. We finally get to see Kai’s true form, which is nice. I’m way less a fan of how dragons appear to be the dumping ground for things that don’t make sense with their natures. This time around it’s creatures of order who are totally fine with a dragon’s gender being whatever said dragon says it is, regardless of biology. Which is a headscratcher. So dragons never change their minds? But mostly it’s the biology. We have a dragon willing to declare Irene insane and take over for her because she makes what that dragon considers an irrational choice, but declaring one’s gender to be opposite one’s physical sex somehow makes sense. It would make total sense as a Fae trait, because they define themselves by the stories they tell, or participate in. I guess the dragons got stuck with it in order to make this sound cool.

I had mixed feelings about the ending. The final fight was good, and everything plays out well until the very end, when certain matters about Vale suddenly come to a head. And then the completely-exhausted Irene does something that we’ve already seen is very difficult and it’s over in about two sentences. It felt more like getting this out of the way than bringing that tension to a climax and resolution. Vale mentions nothing, and we can’t even see him react, and then it’s the end.

I also suspect Irene may be more right than she knows, and Alberich may be wrong, about one crucial detail. And Bradamant probably found out in the first book, because she’s the one who actually read the Grimm story, and I still think she cut the ending short. But if that is the case, it will take another book or more to play out.

Overall this didn’t grab me as much as the previous books. The story was more straightforward, and one of the more interesting subplots fell flat on its face by the end. If you’ve been reading the previous books and liked them, you’ll probably still like this one. I rate this book Recommended.

The King’s Traitor (Kingfountain #3)

Title: The King’s Traitor

Author: Jeff Wheeler

Series: Kingfountain #3

King Severn has gone past the point of harsh but not unjust, and is now becoming the very monster everyone said he was. Which leaves Owen in a hard position: continue to support the man who rules over him, or support those who would rather see him fall? And the king’s decision to use Owen’s marriage as a bargaining chip is not a welcomed one—particularly not when Owen finds things going in directions he never expected.

This was the hardest book to read, in a way, but also the best. Owen is no longer young, or idealistic. The loss of his first love (to a happy marriage, no less) has embittered him, and the long-term presence of King Severn and his biting remarks has shaped Owen into someone much more like the king than he wants to be. Owen has little left but his honor, and Severn seems determined to destroy even that.

The plot took several unexpected twists, although I think the title is unfortunate as there can be little doubt as to whom it will refer. But I did enjoy the ambiguity of it all. Owen wants to do right, but it’s terribly unclear what the right thing to do actually IS. He’s so sick of destiny playing the same story of betrayal, revenge, and usurpation that he continually tries to find a better way—but when magic can manipulate the fates of men, is that even possible? Can he trust his own judgement about those who offer support, but might after all be something far worse than the alternative?

I also really liked Owen’s struggles to stay honorable. To be a true knight, even though that costs him some of what he desires. It’s rare to find characters who both struggle with questions of virtue but also ultimately triumph—lust vanquished, and love remains. And I was also impressed at the way it ended. Breaking the cycle of violence isn’t just a platitude. Owen is so serious about it he goes way beyond what I’ve ever seen. And because of that, although it may still go horribly wrong in the future, the ending feels far brighter.

Overall this would be a rather bad book to start on, as watching Owen grow, mature, and change provides a lot of depth to what happens here (not to mention it would spoil a lot of neat things from the earlier books). I rate this book Recommended.