Tag Archives: horror

The Capture (Guardians of Ga’Hoole #1)

Title: The Capture

Author: Kathryn Lasky

Series: Guardians of Ga’Hoole #1

Soren is a young barn owl with loving parents, a cute little sister, and a terrifying older brother. When he prematurely leaves the nest, he’s snatched up by owls who take him to their home. St. Aegolius has its own ideas about what an owl should be: numbered, unthinking, obedient. Above all, don’t ask questions. But Soren refuses to succumb, and with the help of Gylfie, an elf owl, he makes plans to escape . . .

I liked Soren, and the various owl kingdoms, and the little details of their lives. Especially the flying. The various types of owls have their own abilities according to their species, which shows up more towards the end when those abilities come into play. And Soren and Gylfie are both very cute characters. I like Gylfie’s faculty with language, and Soren’s sensitivity. I liked how the stories of bravery kept them going and inspired them to break free.

I am, however, tired of extremely dysfunctional societies. It’s just not fun to have the constant terror of brainwashing, monitors, and slavery drowning out all the possible moments of joy. The book being a clear first in the series means that the end doesn’t really wrap anything up, either.

Overall this isn’t a bad start. I found it a bit too depressing to be a favorite, but it was a decent read, and I’ll likely go on with the next book. 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.)

Storm Front (Dresden Files #1)

Title: Storm Front

Author: Jim Butcher

Series: Dresden Files #1

Harry Dresden is a wizard and PI in Chicago. When a pair of people are found dead—and the method looks like magic—he’s pulled into the case. But even figuring out that kind of black magic is going to get him on the bad side of the White Council, if not outright pegged for the murder himself. Still, he’s the only one who could help. Except now everyone seems to want him dead too . . .

I generally like urban fantasy like this, but Dresden Files never clicked for me. Frankly, I found Harry’s bits of backstory more compelling than the present-day story. The magic and creatures tends to only get introduced as they comes up, which makes for a better story, perhaps, but a rather haphazard magic system. I would’ve much rather read a book about Harry’s younger days, when he was first introduced to real magic, and the sequence of events that led to him having all the baggage he starts this story with.

The murder mystery isn’t the strongest. It was fairly easy to guess early on who would be involved, and Harry burns a lot of bridges with people he should be respectful of as contacts (or employers). I also wasn’t a fan of the sheer volume of nasty stuff that worked its way into this. Blowing up hearts, fine. Demons, fine. But I’d rather skip the people blown up in the middle of sex, and the orgies, and all the naked bodies (including, actually, Harry, who has a shower scene that goes bad). It just felt like mystery by shock factor rather than actual puzzle.

Overall, even though I’ve been told the series gets stronger, this book confirmed my disinterest in reading the rest of it. (Sorry, friends-who-recommended; I gave it a shot but I’m not going to keep going.) I rate this book Neutral.

Black Dog Short Stories II (Black Dog #2.5)

Title: Black Dog Short Stories II

Author: Rachel Neumeier

Series: Black Dog #2.5

This collection of short stories expands on a few more pieces of the Black Dog universe. The book contains four short stories and a short essay on how witches, vampires, and black dogs all fit into the universe.

The first story, Mothers and Daughters (although the interior text had it titled Mothers and Sisters) is Keziah’s backstory. As might be expected, it explains where she grew up and how her sister got her scar, and how and why they went to Dimilioc. This is the only story set before both Black Dog and Pure Magic.

Unlikely Allies follows Ezekiel as he’s out on a mission to clear up some strays. Bank Job is an amusing story about Ethan and Thaddeus as they’re out on a routine cleanup that ends up rather sideways. And the last story, A Family Visit, has Justin finally heading out to visit his grandmother.

I like all these little glimpses into the various characters, particularly Ethan and Justin. Ethan’s been in a bad place for a while, but as this story shows, he’s got a lot of skills that the strength-worshipping black dog society may not find noticeable. I particularly liked his interactions with Thaddeus, who is not at all what Ethan expects him to be.

Justin, of course, is trying to get more answers about himself and his family. And he finds them. Sort of. But I suspect the conversation that’s hinted at the end is going to be the start of the next novel, and I wish that story had run longer to cover it, as this seems the sort of event that could be the first chapter of a novel.

All in all, if you’ve been following the Black Dog universe this is a good addition. If you haven’t, it might be better to start with one of the novels, as some of the short stories will otherwise spoil a few revelations. I rate this book Recommended.

Goldenhand (Abhorsen #5)

Title: Goldenhand

Author: Garth Nix

Series: Abhorsen #5

When an urgent telegram sends Lirael across the Wall, she’s not expecting to run into Nicholas Sayre, or a highly-dangerous Free Magic creature. Nick said no to her, to the Old Kingdom, after they defeated Orannis several months back, choosing instead to live in Ancelstierre. Now that Nick’s changed his mind, she can’t stop thinking about him, or the wild blend of magic inside him that might be a catastrophe waiting to happen. But they may not have time to figure anything out, because a new threat is lurking . . .

This would get five stars just for Nick, but the rest of the story is quite compelling too. I like seeing an older Sabriel and Touchstone, finally in their own home (although their attempt to take a vacation ends as amusingly as one might expect). I liked Ferin, and her hard, bold ways. She makes a good contrast to Lirael, especially near the end. I liked seeing Lireal grown up in her role as Abhorsen-in-Waiting, and how that changes her relationship with the people she grew up with. (Now I’m really wanting to re-read the original trilogy to get caught up with all these people again.)

But, Nick. I love what the story does with him, and although I wish more neat stuff related to his power had come out, it’s impossible for me not to like him as a character. He’s still got a bit of his old self-assurance and charm, but he’s been humbled a lot, both from being taken over by Orannis and because he’s finally in the Old Kingdom and realizing that what the Old Kingdom lacks in mechanical technology it makes up for in magic. He’s also falling head-over-heels for Lireal (and the feeling is mutual), but he keeps getting caught in the awkwardness of new love and the much funnier awkwardness of being a total cultural outsider (the clothes bit had me laughing so hard). One minute he can be suave and then he’ll say something that totally kills the mood, or some accident will happen. And then, of course, he who did not believe at all in magic is trying to come to grips with the various flavors of it. (The bit with the bespelled sword was also amazingly funny.)

I love the worldbuilding, and the way that the characters come out through what they do. They’re all so real, so human, and the world itself is fantastic. Nick’s so new to the Old Kingdom that even the familiar bits like the Paperwings feel fresh (his reaction to riding in a plane made out of paper is great). It’s been years since Sabriel first came out, but the stories feel solid and interconnected, pulling bits from each other and shaping them in new ways. This book will work best if you’ve read most of the previous material, especially Nicholas Sayre and the Creature in the Case, but I think there are enough light reminders of previous plot points to adequately clue in new readers.

All in all, I couldn’t be happier that Garth Nix is returning to the Old Kingdom once again, and this is a very solid followup to Abhorsen (chronologically, although Clariel was published later, it’s a prequel to Sabriel). Although everything more or less ties up, I would still love more books to come. I rate this book Highly Recommended.

God Eater (anime)

Title: God Eater
Episodes: 1-13

The world has been ravaged by the sudden and inexplicable scourge of monsters called Aragami. No ordinary weapon can harm them. But a small class of people who are compatible with the artificial-Aragami weapons called God Arcs can fight. These God Eaters are all that stands between the Aragami and humanity.

I just started playing the second game and thought I’d check out the anime as a shortcut to the plot of the first game. So as an adaptation, I have no clue how accurate this is. As an anime, though, I mostly enjoyed watching it.

The present-day story of Lenka, a new God Eater who is equipped with the next evolution in God Arcs, weaves with the story of the three scientists who originally discovered Oracle cells and the disaster that followed. I liked this technique, as the devastation of the present lends a weight to the past, and the past fills in several questions about the present. Also, it serves as a contrast between two of the three scientists: Johannas as he grows ever more willing to do whatever needs to be done to ensure the survival of humanity, and Paylor who tries to stand on principles of conscience and peace. (Which makes it funnier that Paylor is the one who invented God Arcs . . . for a man of peace, he certainly invents plenty of excellent ways to kill things.)

The animation is movie-quality. I love the desolate cityscapes (and artistic splashes of blood—and there’s a lot of blood). The crumbling buildings, abandoned personal artifacts, moldering fabric, destroyed furniture, and so on paint an almost picturesque urban decay. And Fenrir’s future-level technology is a nice contrast. The God Arcs are interesting weapons in-game, and the anime nicely captures both how unique and how disturbing they can get (ep 13 was overkill, though).

I didn’t care for the overabundance of slow-motion shots early on, or how often people would stare in total shock at the screen. And I roll my eyes at how impractical some of the girls’ outfits are for actually killing monsters (seriously, put on a bra. It makes a world of difference when running/jumping. Not that anime outfits have ever been terribly concerned with practicality).

To be perfectly honest, this probably isn’t something you’re watching for the plot. It works (sometimes better than others) until the last episode, when Lenka’s upgraded God Arc gets so ridiculous that it’s hard to take anything he does seriously. That’s probably why I found the backstory clips more compelling than the present-day, except for the fight scenes. It was still a fairly intense journey, as the ruthless horror of the Aragami keeps getting emphasized through various ways, but the character’s solutions are puzzlingly ineffective. It boils down to “Let someone else do it.” This is another reason I often liked the flashback sequences better than the present day plot. Johannas, Paylor, and Aisha are determined to find an answer and work tirelessly to that end. Even when things go wrong or it looks way beyond them, they continue to do everything they can.

Overall, if the visuals appeal to you and you don’t mind a somewhat weaker plot, this isn’t a bad series to check out. It’s short enough to marathon in a few days, and if it wasn’t priced so highly I’d buy it for my collection as I do quite like the visuals (I’m still considering, but ~$10 an episode is a hard price to swallow when there’s so much else on my to-buy list that’s significantly cheaper). I rate this series Neutral.

Re:Zero – Starting Life in Another World

Title:Re:Zero – Starting Life in Another World

Episodes 1-25
Natsuki Subaru is a young man with a purposeless life, until one day he finds himself in a fantasy world. Captivated by a half-elf girl he meets, he tries to get her to fall in love with him. Subaru is convinced his presence in this world means he’s destined to be a great hero, but the only power he seems to have is the ability to reset whenever he dies to a point sometime before then. And because he’s the only one who remembers those previous lives, Emilia keeps forgetting their relationship. It’s up to him to stop himself (or her) from getting killed so he can keep moving to the future.
This can be a very uneven show. Take Subaru’s arrival in the world—he literally blinks and he’s there. The show never bothers with how or why, or much of who he is or what he does beforehand (we know he’s a huge nerd and that’s about it). Or the whole competition for the throne gets no setup, and never explains what qualifies the candidates (or why they’re all girls). Emilia is in the running, despite being hated by a majority of the population for being a half-elf (and therefore suspect, as there was once a powerful witch who was also a half-elf, whom the population still remembers with fear and loathing). Many of the other candidates are equally confusing—one goes as far as saying her goal in becoming ruler will be to tear the kingdom down.
So the world isn’t particularly compelling, and the details are often lacking. But where it gets interesting is with the characters. Subaru is frequently annoying or presumptuous—and then he’ll die from that miscalculation. Sometimes repeatedly. The “gift” of being brought back to life functions practically more like a curse, as he has to experience usually violent death over and over, trying to prevent impossible situations. And he can’t tell anyone about his ability, either, which means he often can only say “Trust me” about some information he has no legitimate way of knowing. So he goes crazy, in various ways, and more than once. He tries everything from apathy to madness to mania to sheer hard work, and still fails until he gets smarter about how he tackles the problems.
And then he hits problems he can’t just reset around, because he doesn’t control the reset point, which make up the entire back half of the series. Subaru keeps running into the fact that, as much as he would like it to be otherwise, the people in this world (as cliche-ridden as they can be) have their own goals and agendas and lives, and he’s not as incredible as he wants to think he is.
All in all, this is a very mixed bag. If the tropes don’t immediately turn you off to the whole thing, it does evolve into something a bit more like a psychological thriller, as Subaru tries to find a way around whatever is killing him or the people he loves. But certain things about the genre still hold true (if I never have to watch that bath scene again… Really Not My Thing), and it’s those bits plus the often non-existent background that make me hesitate to give a blanket recommendation. Tentatively Recommended.