Tag Archives: fantasy

Yona of the Dawn (anime)

Yona of the Dawn

Episodes 1-24

Yona is a pampered princess with a peace-loving father. She’s in love with her cousin, Su-won—but when Su-won kills her father and usurps the throne, Yona becomes a fugitive, with only a single guard, Hak, to protect her. In order to survive, she’ll need allies. So begins her quest to gather the four legendary dragon warriors.

I was hoping for something similar to the excellent 12 Kingdoms, and in that regard was disappointed. Yona is very solidly a shoujo with a dash of reverse harem, and the show focuses a lot on the string of guys she accumulates and the various semi-romantic hijinks that occur between them. That said, there’s a fair amount of action as well, and even if I didn’t like Yona, the guys tended to be a lot more interesting.

Hak, for all that he isn’t a dragon (officially, at least) can rampage just as well as any of them. He’s also in love with Yona, although his position as her servant won’t allow him to admit it (and Yona is extremely clueless). The dragons themselves are a fun lot. Each of the dragon warriors has a specific power, and generally very different relationships with that power depending on how their villages viewed it. The one major exception in the anime is the Yellow Dragon, mostly because he shows up in just the last episode, but presumably the manga digs into his character more. I like Jaeha’s power the best, and his stubborn insistence not to let dragon-blood-destiny run his life (although he ends up coming anyway, of course). Rounding out the group is Yun, whose competence with everything not fighting makes him a vital support.

(I did read the manga and once we FINALLY get Jeno/Zeno’s backstory and get to see his powers, he easily became my favorite. I like his casual, happy attitude, rumpled appearance, the moments of surprising insight or wisdom that shows he’s not an idiot, the spirit of self-sacrifice that says, “This may be all I can do, but I will do it.” He’s really not a fighter the way the other three are, and his approach to battles horrifies everyone who watches him because of how much he has to suffer to use his abilities, but he never complains, and even volunteers his own suffering to save them pain. And his powers are SO MUCH FUN. Even if, far more than the other three, his could honestly be called a curse.)

Yona, though, is almost unbearable in the beginning. I’m glad the anime beginning included a flash forward, because I don’t think I would’ve stuck around long enough to get there otherwise. Eventually she realizes the depths of her helplessness and determines to get better, but it’s a long journey to even marginal usefulness. She’s almost more of a mascot, whose job is to keep everyone else happy and willing to fight. This is starting to turn around by the end of the anime, and I can only hope the manga grows her up more.

The plot can also suffer from some bizarre moments, particularly early on. Like the snakes that show up out of nowhere, at night, and are chasing Yona and Hak through a forest. Because . . . cold blooded creatures with no legs can run as fast as two humans? Yeah. Although I ended up liking the show, especially once I read the manga and got to see some of the later ways things play out, the beginning is just hard for me to watch.

Overall whether or not you like this is going to depend on how much you like the shoujo aspects of it. It does have a good amount of action, humor, and depth of character, so there is enough to enjoy if the presence of some of the tropes doesn’t ruin it. One of the more surprising aspects, to me, is that the usurper Su-won is actually a remarkably good king—and so much better than Yona’s father that it’s arguable if it would even be a good thing for Yona and the dragons to go against him. Certainly Yona’s not ready to sit on a throne. But neither the anime nor the manga treats that question much. It’s more about Yona being able to survive in a desperate and dangerous world. I rate this series Recommended.

Tales of Berseria (PS4/Steam)

Title: Tales of Berseria

Platforms: PS4, Steam

Demons roam the land, spreading terror and death in their wake. Even Velvet Crowe, who lives in the small village of Aball, has lost family to their attacks. But her brother-in-law Arthur is an exorcist, and he’s protected them . . . until the Scarlet Night when everything she thought she knew is torn apart. Now Velvet herself is a demon, out for revenge against Arthur, the man who stole everything she had left.

This is a much more solid Tales entry than the last several. It’s connected to Zestiria, but as a distant prequel, so no knowledge of Zestiria is necessary to enjoy this game (although certain nods are often given). However, playing both games does help expand the world.

The plot stays compelling throughout. Tales games have a tendency to lose focus along the way, surviving more on the character interactions than the main plot, but this one stays strong. And the cast is generally very good too. I was fairly sure going in that Eizen would be a favorite, but I was surprised how much I enjoyed everything he’s in—he’s even more fun to play than Velvet against trash mobs, where he can go into full shadow-dragon fury. And his dour outlook, Reaper’s Curse (basically Murphy hates him), and nerdy interests kept him fun from a story perspective too. Pretty much every favorite skit I have involves Eizen in some major way. (See the skit Two Headed Coin for a great example).

Gameplay was generally solid, but the new Souls system led to a rather unbalanced feel overall for me. This is the only Tales game I played the majority on Hard from the beginning (moving up to Chaos by the final dungeon) because the enemies died too fast otherwise. On the other hand, especially with bosses, getting stunned/statused down to one soul means a really not-fun time trying to get it back when you can only do one attack at a time. I liked the equipment mastering system, but overall I preferred Zestiria’s system. I got the 30 hour menu achievement NORMALLY playing through this game because I was micromanaging my equipment so much. At least with Zestiria it was possible to both create a build, and feel no need to upgrade it until you had a better one in mind.

The game also contains a number of minigames (the card one is especially fun), a decent number of in-game costumes, some optional areas, and the usual postgame dungeon. So there’s a lot of content, and what isn’t fun is usually skippable.

The New Game+ option unfortunately doesn’t let you carry forward some of the more useful items, like the geoboard, which doesn’t come in until late in the story, or any of your equipment (although you can choose to carry forward mastered skills). But you can carry over various gameplay features, and the usual bonuses to grade/exp/gald.

Overall, I enjoyed my time with this game. I beat the main story in about 112 hours, but mostly because I’m slow, I micromanage equipment, I let the card game distract me for way too long, and I had to keep redoing sections of the final dungeon. It does make me sad that Zestiria couldn’t get the same attention to detail as this game. Despite being set in the same world, Berseria got the depth it feels like Zestiria failed to reach—little things like how Eizen will talk about Edna here, but Edna basically never mentioned Eizen in Zestiria. On a personal level I think I enjoyed Zestiria more, because I like happy-go-lucky stories better than the grimness of a revenge-focused narrative, but objectively Berseria does a lot of things better. I rate this game Highly 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.

Yamada Monogatari: To Break the Demon Gate

Title: Yamada Monogatari: To Break the Demon Gate

Author: Richard Parks

Series: Yamada Monogatari (technically there are more about the same character but I was unable to track down what order they are supposed to go)

Yamada no Goji is a minor nobleman with a keen mind and a tolerable blade, but he has little influence at court. So when the conspiracies of the nobility reach out to ensnare him again, he’s reluctant to get involved. But for the sake of an old friend, he agrees—and finds himself confronted by a silent killer who is leaving dead bodies around the city. If he can’t solve the mystery fast enough, he’s bound to lose more of the few people dear to him.

I’m reading these incredibly out of order, I suppose, but it didn’t make much difference as far as I could tell. The story is good about introducing characters, places, customs and so on as needed, without assuming too much knowledge beforehand. I liked the historical Japanese setting, and how naturally the supernatural intersects everyone’s lives. Yamada is smart but not impossible to follow, and the layers of mystery generally work well.

I wasn’t as fond of the alcoholism, or the way the story breaks between its first segment and everything that comes after (largely because Yamada spends four months drinking his life away). It’s a little harder to sympathize with his poverty when he’s wasting multiple opportunities to stay farther out of it.

All in all, though, it worked far more than it didn’t, and I would be interested to read more in this series. This story is fairly self-contained, so it doesn’t hurt to read out of order or as a standalone. I rate this book Recommended.

Elizabeth’s Legacy (Royal Institute of Magic #1)

Title: Elizabeth’s Legacy

Author: Victor Kloss

Series: Royal Institute of Magic #1

Ben Greenwood was devastated the day his parents vanished. With his house wrecked, and no clues to where they’d gone, he has nothing but his own stubbornness and a fragment of shimmering cloth leading him to believe they haven’t just abandoned him. But when an unexpected legacy leads to a place he never suspected existed, he realizes his parents were involved in far more than he knew . . .

If there’s one major complaint I have about this, it’s that the prologue is too good to then drop Michael for the rest of the book. I had expected alternating chapters exploring what Michael saw in the past with what Ben was discovering in the present, but it appears the prologue is there mostly to provide that long letter of introduction to the Royal Institute of Magic (and so Michael’s name will be vaguely familiar the next time you encounter him as a historical footnote).

That aside, this was a lot of fun. I liked how overweight and unmagical Charlie wasn’t ignored or belittled, but has his own critical part to play at several points. And I especially appreciated that the end wasn’t looking to write him out of Ben’s life. Similarly, I liked Ben. His parents clearly have something weird going on, which they tried to keep him out of, but he’s mostly normal, although he’s got more of a gift of magic. He’s desperate to find his parents and clear their names, but he can’t do it alone.

The worldbuilding was also interesting. Various races and types of magic show up, although they do tend towards certain class stereotypes for the most part (with the hotel being an amusing exception). Then again, Ben doesn’t really get the chance to know any of them for longer than a few moments, so that could easily change.

All in all, this is a solid start to a series, with the hook at the end indicating what direction future books will take. I still wish Michael’s story got a chance to fully come out, but maybe he’ll get additional scenes in the future. I rate this book Recommended.

A Legend of Starfire (A Sliver of Stardust #2)

Title: A Legend of Starfire

Author: Marissa Burt

Series: A Sliver of Stardust #2

Wren still has nightmares about the land of Nod, the evil Boggin she so narrowly stopped, and the horrors at the gate between worlds. Unfortunately, it looks like her contributions to the peace aren’t over yet. When some work on the gate goes wrong, she ends up on another adventure, one that will determine the fate of both worlds.

I wasn’t as engaged by this one as the first book. Wren’s still struggling with the aftermath of her actions in the previous book, which was nice. But the plot tries really hard to introduce a lot of content, particularly in the latter half, and it feels like a lot just got skimmed. Take the mechanical animal hybrids. There’s certain twist, but there’s almost no time in the story to actually dig into that or what happens as a result. So it ends up feeling really rushed. Or Wren suddenly having a crush on a certain guy, which seems to consist of finding him cute but not much else, and no time at all to act on that. Not that I mind as much on that, since one thing that aggravates me is breakneck pace adventures slowing down for a lot of romance. But I do mention it because it was another area that felt underdeveloped.

That said, I did like the end. The Ashes and the Crooked Man were interesting, particularly with the conflicting information Wren has about them. Jack, particularly, was a star of the book for me. He’s not at all who he was in the first book, but he’s not entirely free of his old self either. I wish we’d had more of a chance to see how he’s changed and how he hasn’t, and walk with him through the major decisions he makes and the way they impact him.

Overall, this is still a good cap to the duology, although not one I liked as much as the predecessor. If you have more of a liking for dystopias some of what goes on probably won’t sit as badly. I rate this book Recommended.

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.)