Tag Archives: shapeshifters

Attack on Titan s2 (Anime)

Title: Attack on Titan
Episodes: 26-37 (season 2)

Annie has been captured, but her existence has brought up huge questions. While the Scouts investigate what it will take to reclaim the land they lost between the walls, a new, beastly Titan emerges.

I’m not the biggest Attack on Titan fan (which is why it took so long to get through season 2), but this second season did a lot to address some of the problems I had with the first. Secondary characters, such as Connie, Jean, Ymir, Christa, etc, all got a chance to get a lot more fleshed out. Some of the origin of the Titans is revealed. On the other hand, the larger picture is unfolding very slowly, with only tiny glimpses here and there hinting at the unknown forces in play within the walls and without. We still haven’t reached the basement, there’s not really any new information about Eren’s father, etc.

One thing that’s still true is that a lot of characters show up only to die pretty quickly, so it’s hard to get invested in anyone in particular, because there’s pretty good odds they’ll die within an episode or two. But with more of a “core” cast now, that feels like less of a concern than it did in the first season.

I liked that this season did more to deconstruct Eren’s uniqueness, while at the same time highlighting him (especially the last episode). In other words, it was nice to see the various Titans all have their little quirks—Annie’s ability to make that unbreakable shield came up last time, but we see other abilities from other Titans. And it solves one of the early mysteries in an offhanded fashion that then provides the conflict for the back half of the season.

As always, the action is intense, the animation is strong, and the horror elements are well done. I do like how the series consistently shows people pushed past their limits by the terror and pain they’re facing, and who break under that pressure. I’m still not a fan of the ugly naked Titans, but at least there’s plenty of zooming around with the ODM. The last episode had some particularly good shots of near-flying battle sequences. Recommended, but you’ll want to see the first season first as this one relies heavily on everything that happened before.

 

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Song of the Sword (Animas #3)

Title: Song of the Sword

Author: C. R. Grey

Series: Animas #3

Bailey and Tremelo rebelled publicly against Queen Viviana, but the hoped-for revolution is still a distant dream. Driven to the tunnels, hiding from those who would turn them in out of fear or because they believe in the power of Dominance, the rebels are trying to figure out a plan. Tremelo wants to tinker and create something that can strengthen the bond. Many of his followers want war. Bailey just wants to not be sitting around. But before they can come up with something concrete, circumstances may decide for them . . .

I really liked the first book, wasn’t as impressed with the second, and found this one to be an okay ending. There’s so much here that I wish had gotten more focus. Phi’s dream of flight gets an unexpected outlet—but the cost turned out to be different than it initially looked, and I guess it can only be done once? I wasn’t clear on why that couldn’t be repeatable. This is the biggest magic the series has presented so far, and I wanted to see more.

Gwen’s problems with the visions were well done. She’s not sure if she’s seeing something that can be changed or not, and she’s getting enough of a vision without the context to misinterpret many things. I really liked how Tremelo confronts her at the end with the difference between her and the other Seers.

I didn’t like how the battle turned out. Viviana built an army of machines and dominated animal wills. It seemed odd that the machines all behaved just like the animals in the end (trying to be vague to avoid spoilers). It was also very odd that Viviana had followers enthusiastic enough to build and fight with her army, but Viviana herself was the only player that needed to be removed to let everything work out.

Overall this wasn’t a bad finish (except for Viviana), but I finished feeling like I’d rather have had maybe another book so that some of the best parts of this one had room to expand. I rate this book Neutral.

Ushio and Tora (Anime)

Title: Ushio and Tora
Episodes: 1-39 (complete, seasons 1 and 2)

Ushio is a normal student who discounts his priest father’s stories about the legendary Beast Spear (and monster it’s trapping) that their temple supposedly protects. At least, until he stumbles across the monster while cleaning out a storeroom. Ushio ends up releasing it to help him fight the myriad of tiny demons now assaulting himself and his friends. He calls the tiger-like demon Tora, and it’s a rocky relationship from the start—Tora’s cautious of the Beast Spear but determined to eat Ushio. And if he can’t eat Ushio, he’ll haunt him. Ushio, for his part, now has the Beast Spear, which grants him incredible power but is chipping away his humanity.

I remembered reading an enthusiastic recommendation for this when I was looking for something to binge-watch over New Year’s Eve, so I gave it a shot, and was instantly hooked. 39 episodes and less than a week later, it’s now one of my top anime series as well. I ordered the anime the first night, and I still have the manga to read, which promises quite a lot that couldn’t make it into the anime. Unfortunately the manga doesn’t have an official English release or I’d be collecting that too.

Ushio and Tora is a modern remake of a rather old series that ran from 1990-1996. This gives it a unique aesthetic (and sometimes, like with certain demons who look like a bunch of heavy metal band rejects, it can be unintentionally hysterical). The animation is generally good, though towards the end it suffers a bit more from still frames because the final battle is pretty epic in scope. I’m not overly fond of the first opening song, but the music during the show worked well.

What makes the show so fascinating to me is the characters. Ushio is almost the definition of average. He’s got very average looks (no special hair color or wild design that calls him out as the protagonist, at least before the Beast Spear). He might have some talent for sports (and getting into fights), but his passion is art, despite a rather low amount of artistic talent. But he’s got enormous emotional range, and most unusually for a guy, he’s not ashamed to cry. Which he does, often. He empathizes with people (and youkai), stands up for what’s right, defends the weak, and often puts himself in considerable danger if someone else is in need. And once the Beast Spear comes into his hand, he gains slitted eyes, claws, huge hair, and a massive power boost. (Also, the Beast Spear seems to have something against shirts. Ushio may start wearing layers but as soon as he picks up the spear the shirt is usually toast.)

Tora is his polar opposite. Strong, vicious, bestial, prideful, and most of all selfish, Tora despises the heroic impulses that drive Ushio. He’s quick to pick a fight with anyone that offends him. But he’s also very childlike in personality—the modern world fascinates him (his reaction to television, cars, and bus rides left me in stitches). And that childishness in the end makes him really easy for those who know what he’s like to manipulate him (Mayuko does it with kindness, and Ushio has a variety of ways to bait Tora into helping him out). Tora was my favorite part of the show, but he wouldn’t work nearly so well without Ushio drawing such a sharp contrast.

On the love interest side, Asako is the childhood friend who won’t admit to anyone she likes Ushio (he returns the sentiment). Mayuko, though, also has a crush on Ushio—and in a radical departure from modern storytelling trends, admits that because she loves both Ushio and her friend Asako, she’s willing to move on so they can be happy together. AND SHE DOES. And this does NOT take vast numbers of episodes of her internal agony, but comes up quickly and is stated as a matter of fact. Mayuko won my respect with that. I also like how both of them have their own ways to be strong, whether that’s Asako’s refusal to give into fear despite the hopelessness of her situation or Mayuko’s steady faith.

It’s also really neat to see how Ushio’s kindness changes the people around him, and how that has unexpected dividends. And how as long as he has people who support him, he can’t fail—but when he feels utterly alone, no amount of his own strength is enough.

Another area that struck me is how integrated everything is. Ushio and Tora end up getting filmed fighting a giant monster IN THE SECOND EPISODE. And he KEEPS making the news, along with the other youkai-caused disastrous events. He’s only a “secret” hero because his looks change so drastically using the spear that even his own friends have a hard time recognizing him. He’s not jumping into a hidden war, but a very public one. The real enemy threatens humans and youkai alike—and BOTH GROUPS are needed to stop it. Every time I thought the show was going to rag hard on something (like the scientist episodes) it turns around and points out that this, too, can have a purpose. Most of the things that started out looking extremely cliche turned out to have something more running through it.

And the show is gut-bustingly funny. Tora wins pretty much every scene he’s involved in. Whether it’s his wide-eyed enthusiasm about watching himself on the news or his rage at someone else wanting to eat the human he picked out for his own lunch, he’s going to throw himself into things wholeheartedly. His vicious streak also makes him great at trolling enemies.

Equally, the story has tons of pathos. Ushio gets his heart broken again and again by the various things he’s going through. And he’s dealing with a lot of people in emotional crises themselves. It’s not just a story that knows how to deliver great action and funny lines, but one that’s honest enough about pain and joy and all the rest to go deeper.

All in all, this is one of the rare few shows I’d highly recommend to pretty much anyone. It packs so much in that even 39 episodes feels far too short. If you’ve missed out on this one so far, definitely give it a try. It’s currently streaming at Crunchyroll.

Ancient Magus Bride (Anime)

Title: Ancient Magus Bride

Episodes: 1-12

Chise Hatori has had enough of a life of being tossed from relative to relative, unwanted. But rather than commit suicide, she sells herself into slavery. Her buyer is an inhuman mage named Elias. And gradually, he introduces her to a world of magic and mystery, where creatures from the oldest folktales live. A world she was seeing all her life without knowing how to deal with any of it. But what are Elias’s true motives? And could this strange place be a true home?

This show wasn’t really on my radar until I started reading all the immensely positive reviews of the first few episodes. I’m not much of a romance fan, or slice-of-life, and those elements are present. But the story isn’t ever as simple as that. Chise’s possibly-romantic relationship with Elias is challenged a number of times, by people who point out this really isn’t a good place for her. And Chise herself is dealing with a lot of emotional issues and therefore finds it very hard to stand up for herself.

Chise and Elias’s relationship can’t really be boiled down to something as simple as a romance. Does she see him simply as a protector and provider, more of a father figure, or are there threads of love? And his point of view is even murkier—it’s impossible to tell if he’s growing into a friendship, a romance, or if he’s just too inhuman to have the same ability to bond.

Beyond that, though, the show’s main appeal is its magical world. I’ve read a fair number of myths and legends over the years, but this show digs so deeply into English folklore it was constantly finding something new to bring up. Every episode seems to introduce some new facet of magic or some new kind of creature.

Ruth is the best, though. I ended up reading the manga because the week delay between his two episodes was too long to figure out what happened next. I do wish the story had spelled out a little more that it’s aware Ruth is a girl’s name, and therefore the “mistake” is deliberate and a result of Chise’s imperfect English. But Ruth himself is just too much fun. His very simple way of seeing the world is a nice contrast to some of the murkier depths, and of course helps provide a lot of humor.

I previewed the dub, although I watched most of it in sub due to the delay in getting dubbed episodes out. Both versions were strong performances, although I could wish for more accents on the English speakers, since it’s kind of funny to have a show set in England and all the characters are speaking American-flavored English (perhaps this changes later; I mostly saw the beginning eps).

Overall, if you’re a fan of fairy tales and folklore, or just want something a lot different from the usual fantasies, this is a good watch. I rate this show Recommended.

Hand and Talon (World of Kyrni #1)

Title: Hand and Talon

Author: Melonie Purcell

Series: World of Kyrni #1

Krea is a thief who just stole the wrong moneybag. But when she’s about to be captured, an unlikely intervention changes the course of her life. Her rescuer, Sorin, is an old caller. He tells her about the kryni, the shapeshifters, and insists she is one—and that she needs to be linked up with a caller before her first shift or she will lose her humanity forever. Krea doesn’t agree with him, but they journey together towards the capital in hopes of finding help for her. But unexpected dangers dog their journey, and what seemed to be relatively simple keeps getting more complicated . . .

The description of shapeshifters who need callers to stay human admittedly gave me pause, because I was expecting something along the lines of a cheap hook for a romance. Thankfully, this is nothing like that—and Sorin makes a few vehement points about interbreeding totally not being a thing, so at least the story quickly loses any suspicion that this is going to go in a sketchy direction.

I really liked Sorin. He’s old and grumpy and emotionally closed-off, especially to Krea, because of some things that went on in his past. He tries to do his best by her, but realizes time and again he’s unconsciously holding back.

Krea, for her part, isn’t taking anything for granted. (Actually, she’s probably taking everything anyone else took for granted.) She is a thief, through and through, and her kleptomaniac tendencies often get her far more than she bargained for. The knife is especially good. What initially looked like an amazing find becomes something she can’t even give away, much as she wants to.

And Dane plays off Krea perfectly. They’re both thieves, but their different ages and abilities lead to squabbles more often than solidarity.

All in all this was a strong story. It leaves off with a clear hook for a sequel, which I will be eagerly anticipating. I rate this book Recommended.

Freaks & Other Family (Necromancer)

Title: Freaks & Other Family

Author: Lish McBride

Series: Necromancer (set after book 2)

This is a collection of two stories. It follows the many of the characters from the Necromancer universe, but the stories don’t require you to have read them (although they will spoil some things).

You Make Me Feel So Young – An undercover mission to investigate a suspicious organization at their black-tie dinner turns crazy. It was pretty easy to see where this was going, but still fun. Sam still manages to astound those who think he ought to know better with his almost-total ignorance about magical things.

Halfway Through the Wood – Ramon has had some difficulty keeping up with family events after being turned into a were-bear. But when his abuela has a birthday party, he’s no longer able to make excuses. This is definitely the stronger of the two stories, and I like the opportunity to see a bit more of Ramon, his family, and how he’s dealing (or not) with what happened to him. It’s the little things, like massive amounts of strength or trying not to shapeshift under stress, that worry him.

Overall this is a nice treat for fans of the Necromancer books, especially those who liked Ramon. I rate this Recommended.

Frogkisser!

Title: Frogkisser!

Author: Garth Nix

Princess Anya wishes she could simply be left alone to read. She’d like to study sorcery, but her stepstepfather, who is probably an evil sorcerer, keeps interfering. Between rescuing her sister’s suitors after they’ve been transformed into frogs to keeping the castle running, Anya has to do most of the odd jobs herself. Then she finds herself quite unwillingly going on a Quest, because if she can’t get away from her stepstepfather, he’ll do away with her.

This is a light and fast story that parodies quite a lot about ordinary fantasy stories. The basic structure, of course, is highly traditional: evil stepparent (or in this case, stepstep parent) is planning to take over the kingdom, which means getting rid of the legitimate heirs. But the story likes to play around, with associations for robbers, and the perpetual threat of a sorcerer turning you into something (almost always a frog).

I did love the dogs. Ardent is such a puppy: eager, energetic, clumsy, hungry. And good at making himself cute when he wants something or is in trouble. He wants to be heroic, but at the same time he keeps getting distracted on the Quest by conveniently placed bushes and such. He was easily my favorite part.

I suppose the rest of the parody fell flatter than it should because even though the tropes it’s parodying do exist, the parodies themselves have become tropes too. The Robin Hood-esque robbers. The female wizard who gets offended that Anya expected a male with a big white beard (honestly, these days I see so many female magic-users in fiction it’s hard to argue there’s a bias at all). Even taking a familiar story and explaining it’s something completely different. None of it is bad, but I didn’t find it more than mildly amusing at best.

Overall, this is still a pretty good read, though not one I see myself revisiting. I rate this book Recommended.