Tag Archives: shapeshifters

Parasyte – the maxim – (Anime)

Title: Parasyte – the maxim –

Episodes: 1-24 (complete)

Shinichi wakes up one night reflexively slapping at a bug that then proceeds to burrow into his right hand. Only quick thinking saves his life . . . but in the morning, his right hand starts talking to him, and he realizes he’s now unwilling partners with a bizarrely intelligent parasite. But Migi isn’t the only parasite that’s shown up in Japan. And most parasites eat humans.

I liked this a lot more than I expected. Shinichi changes a lot over the course of the series: from a nervous, wimpy guy who freaks out easily to a shell-shocked survivor of extreme situations to someone who takes everything that happened and actually comes out stronger.

I do disagree with Shinichi’s assessment of himself being unable to cry as a sign he’s not human. It’s very clear why he would believe that, but this also strikes me as an extremely normal reaction to the kinds of violence he’s been exposed to and involved in. He comes off to me more as a state of shock or PTSD, where he’s gone numb in self-defense since he doesn’t have the luxury of breaking down if he wants to survive.

The violence is mostly short, sharp, and brutal. A lot of the messier scenes are more implied than shown, and Shinichi and the others exposed to it are dealing with the consequences long after the actual events are over. I really liked the drawn and haunted look Shinichi has after a certain major event—he’s physically, mentally, and emotionally at the end of his rope, and you can tell just from looking at him.

And Migi is great. I loved how his viewpoint differs so drastically from Shinichi. They may share the same body, but they’re complete opposites. Migi is powerful, coldly logical, and only interested in his own survival. Migi sees nothing wrong with killing anything that gets in his way. Shinichi keeps flailing around with what the definition of being human actually is, and trying to prove he’s different from Migi’s criticisms. But the show isn’t about proving Migi right with his animalistic evaluation of humanity. Migi makes some good points, but so does Shinichi, and both of them end up adopting parts of the other’s viewpoint.

I can’t say I found Kana to be compelling, though. I hated her from pretty much the moment she shows up, as she’s standing there with a bored expression watching her friends beat the crap out of some poor guy, and then joins them in mocking Shinichi when he ineffectually tries to get them to stop. Even if Shinichi weren’t trying to explore a relationship with Murano, I would’ve been mad if he’d started dating Kana, who clearly has her own self-interest ranked much higher than any kind of empathy.

So when Kana makes a stupid decision in episode 12, I found this hilarious rather than heartbreaking. All the romantic comedy shenanigans between Murano and Kana are mixed with the slasher-horror story that is Shinichi’s life, and that kind of crossover was hugely entertaining for me. Especially since Shinichi is responsible for a fair amount of the killing himself. Or rather, Migi is. So the typical girls-getting-mixed-signals is not because the guy can’t choose between them, but because a lot of people are dying and Shinichi can’t extricate himself from bad situations.

I’ve heard complaints about the later half of the series, and I don’t entirely agree. The show as a whole does stumble a bit at several points, in both halves. It’s a bit too focused on over-explaining some things, some characters die in pointless ways, and the random serial killer at the end was out of the blue. But it’s not as though I wasn’t engaged during the second half of the series, and there were still some very good moments (Shinichi’s confrontation with Gotou particularly…. He’s shocked by what ends up working, and I was laughing hysterically). Actually the thing that bugged me the most was Migi’s decision at the end. It felt like a bit of whiplash with him in the last few eps, and hearing what he decides makes little sense.

But for all that, I was still looking forward to each episode, and I enjoyed my time with the show.

Overall, this is definitely a series for more mature viewers who don’t mind a bit of violence. I think the series handles this without glorifying all the slaughter, as it keeps coming back to the negative effects on those who encounter it. And for all that it can be a brutal series, it manages a mostly-happy ending, so it comes off more as dark fantasy/dark sci-fi than horror. I rate this show Recommended.

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Shining Resonance Refrain (PS4/Switch/XBOne/PC)

Title: Shining Resonance Refrain

Systems: PS4/Switch/XBOne/PC

Yuma is a young man with the power of the strongest dragon, the Shining Dragon, living inside him. After being rescued from the Empire’s clutches by the knights of Astoria, they beg him to use his power to help them fight the Empire. Yuma isn’t eager to grasp a power he doesn’t fully control, but the Shining Dragon may be the only hope against the powerful Empire . . .

This is a mediocre game, which can still be fun but has a lot of lower-budget frustrations. If you know what to expect going in, that should help decide if it’s worth your time.

The voice acting is excellent (too good for some of the lines these poor actors had to say). Zest and Agnum were particular standouts for me, but pretty much everyone is done really well.

The gameplay is not too bad. The action battle system provides virtually no challenge if you’ve spent a bit of time investing in aspects (I didn’t even get the best magic-boosters and was able to use Agnum to basically solo the final boss in about a minute). There’s a lot of flexibility with setting up your characters to suit your playstyle, and the Grimoire makes obtaining materials much easier. Some drops are restricted by chapter, though, so it’s not possible to craft certain aspects early.

It is disappointing that the “true dragon form” is actually worse than the first form (and the game recognizes this enough to give you an aspect to change Yuma back to that first form, if you feel like wasting a slot). It wouldn’t be as awful if you could at least pick the elements to attack with, instead of cycling through all the elements with every breath. Dragon form is a fun gimmick at first, but it doesn’t take long for un-transformed Yuma to noticeably out-damage his dragon form.

The world map is frustrating. You can warp back to the main city, but there is no way to warp anywhere else, which means re-treading the first few areas of the map over and over and over and over. At least the enemies are on-map so they’re easy to avoid.

Also, I’m not big into framerate wars, but this game was absolutely terrible at managing a decent framerate when magic spells or flashy abilities are on screen. It was dropping to a point where everyone was running in slow motion. I avoided Excella because most of her gravity spells caused huge lag.

The story lacks any real standout moments. There were a few places where I was laughing at something that wasn’t supposed to be funny, like Excella declaring she’s totally for the people in the same speech where she’s willing to sacrifice the whole nation to keep her dying father alive. But there were also moments of genuine humor, and although some characters stuck closer to their tropes than others (Lestin), it was still fun to see the various character interactions.

I’m not a fan of the visual novel format, which looks ridiculous when the screen blacks out to show a slash mark as a substitute for actual fights. I’m also not really a fan of the whole dating aspect, although that part at least is entirely skippable.

You do get some control over the ending, which is nice. I picked Agnum, because he was my favorite character all game, and he had the most interesting hints about what he and Yuma would do after the game is over. I mean, exploring the uncharted areas of the world with a guy who is also an excellent cook (and also cheerful, encouraging, and generally a total best friend) sounds like the most fun to me.

Overall, this is a budget title and it shows. I found it enjoyable enough since I knew going in the kind of game I could expect, but I don’t know that I’d be interested in a replay (I set it down after beating the final boss, with no interest in postgame). It took me about 60 hours to beat the main content, which allows for quite a bit of grinding, so the actual story content could be beaten significantly faster (especially if you don’t max out every character’s affections like I did). I rate this game Neutral.

The Detective & The Unicorn

Title: The Detective & The Unicorn

Author: Michael Angel

Derek Ridder never had much interest in the fantastical creatures from the Morning Land that contacted Earth. He was more invested in doing his job as a cop and trying to get over the loss of his wife. But that was before a call brought him face-to-face with a warlock. Now he’s somehow ended up with the unicorn Tavia as his partner as they hunt down the madman who wants to open Earth to demons . . .

I received this book for free as a gift.

If you’ve seen the author’s other series (Fantasy & Forensics), this has no relationship, despite a rather similar premise.

I loved this. The characters all have a lot of depth, especially those like Coombes, the unidentified-agency agent, who would have been easy to write as stereotypical given his relatively minor role. I loved that Coombes kept showing his humanity. I also appreciated that Derek seems to work at a hard but mostly functional police department with a boss and co-workers who look out for him. And Thunderbolt (the Wonder-Colt) was hilarious. Kids will be kids, no matter the species . . .

Tavia and Derek play well off each other. They’re both guardians of the peace, with serious personalities and a lot of smarts. Derek doesn’t take long to adjust to her as a partner, and while he doesn’t have her knowledge of magic, he also doesn’t have her blind spots. It’s interesting to see how their histories have so many common points, even though they’re from vastly different backgrounds. And I liked that Tavia points out that it’s possible to lose the one you love without death necessarily being the cause—that just because one loves deeply, truly, and well doesn’t mean everything will work out.

I also really like the exploration of various fantasy races. Unicorns, pegasii, dryads, the werewolf-like yena . . . they have their familiar points, but they’re also drawn up in new and interesting ways. Like unicorns as predators as much as herbivores. Or like a pegasus diplomat, and how things work out for him. Or certain creatures being able to run faster than a speeding car. Or, my favorite, a MALE sphinx (who is just as cat-like as one might expect. Which is to say arrogant, ruthless, a bit cruel, and not interested in much outside of himself). There’s a surprise in each chapter, but overall it all hangs together very well.

If I have one small criticism, it’s that it feels Tavia should have picked up on the reason for her own immunity to William Teach’s mind control a while back, and only been confused at how Derek was also able to resist. After all, she knows a good amount about magic, and it doesn’t seem that the ultimate cause was that obscure to someone of her education.

Overall, this is a fast-paced and fun ride, especially for those who wanted a “first contact” type story to be with a fantasy world instead of an alien race. I rate this book Highly Recommended.

The Door to the Lost

Title: The Door to the Lost

Author: Jaleigh Johnson

Two years ago, the magical gate that led to the world of Vora blew up, scattering magic everywhere. And now magic itself is broken, unreliable, distrusted. Rook and Drift have been scrounging for a living since then, bartering Rook’s ability to open magical doors to anywhere for cash. But when she opens a door she never intended, and a gigantic fox slips through, her life will change drastically . . .

I adored this. In a weird way, it’s an anti-dystopia: the harsh, desperate, oppressive times we start out in gradually come to light as not actually as bad as Rook always assumed. That not everyone outside of the band of magical children is a horrible person just waiting to turn them in. The world’s broken magic makes an interesting backdrop. All sorts of things went sideways thanks to that.

The characters are so much fun. Rook and Drift are two of the last people who had come through the gate before it exploded, along with a host of other children. Unfortunately, since the explosion wiped out their memories, they have no more idea than anyone else why everything went down. I love the tight friendship between the two of them. Both of them struggle with mistaken assumptions, both fear that their commitment isn’t mutual, and both of them realize that their friendship means more to them than anything else.

Fox is amazing. He’s a gigantic fox that Rook initially mistakes for a monster, and he certainly has several interesting abilities (shadow foxes!). Even though he doesn’t say much, I love how he worms his way into Rook’s heart.

Overall this is a complete story, but I do hope for more in this world because it was such a charming stay. I rate this book Highly Recommended.

Strangers in Atlantis (Seaborne #2)

Title: Strangers in Atlantis

Author: Matt Myklush

Series: Seaborne #2

Dean Seaborne had hoped to leave the life of a pirate behind. Then he got arrested, and he’s left with the choice to hang or participate in another dirty scheme. This time, he’s tasked with robbing a castle island for nobility. But the island hides the undersea kingdom of Atlantis, a kingdom of legend . . . and secrets.

It’s pretty funny to watch other people call Dean out on his bluffs. In this case, it leads to him, Waverly, and Ronan being mislabeled “entertainers,” and therefore required to show off the skills that supposedly got them hired. So Dean told just enough of the truth that this means they’re all considered professional daredevils.

Which means Dean just volunteered himself to go swimming with sea serpents. Again.

I liked the growing tension between Dean and Waverly. They just aren’t connecting with each other anymore, and she’s pushing him away with her assumptions. I do wish Ronan had more of a role, as his best moment happens offscreen.

It’s also fun to see the depths of the mess Dean’s embroiled himself in this time. He’s got so many villains surrounding him he’s spoiled for choice, but the right answer isn’t obvious.

Overall this is a good continuation of the first book. This story would also be decent by itself, if you never got around to reading the first one. I rate this book Recommended.

Off Leash (Freelance Familiars #1)

Title: Off Leash

Author: Daniel Potter

Series: Freelance Familiars #1

Thomas Khatt is unemployed and growing more desperate for a job when the unthinkable happens. His elderly neighbor is murdered, he’s somehow been turned into a cougar, and now he’s expected to enter the magical society that’s always existed in his town on the other side of the Veil. But Thomas rebels against being auctioned off to become someone’s familiar, and he’s determined to take charge of his own life one way or another . . .

This book managed to tie in a number of my favorite subjects: shapeshifting, extra-dimensional beings / abilities, big cats, and werewolves.

I liked the view of magic as something that breeches dimensions, probably taught by aliens or other-planar beings, and complex enough that few humans would conceivably be practitioners. (Thomas is quite disappointed it’s not just chanting from some old book.) In fact that’s one of the main reasons for familiars: to provide an extra set of senses so the mage can calculate the multi-dimensional shapes accurately.

And the dragon was awesome. I hope we meet more multi-dimensional beings in the future.

The magical society as a whole, though, isn’t quite as nice. The mages are corrupt, the familiars have unionized (TAU), and anyone like Thomas who decides he’d rather stay outside the system is going to have an extremely hard time. In fact neither side is interested in leaving him alone—not complying results in him repeatedly being accosted so that someone else can profit off his existence.

It was nice to see a few of the worst offenders neutralized by the end, but it’s unclear Thomas can do much of anything to change the way things are. He might be able to keep himself more to the fringes, but if there is a major upheaval it will be a long time coming. I’m not terribly fond of these super dysfunctional societies, so I hope this one gets dismantled in flaming pieces. Because worlds where everyone is moderately to majorly sociopathic are harder for me to read because I get angry at so many of the cast and am just waiting for them to die in the most horrible way possible.

So overall I liked a lot of the elements in this world, and plan to continue the series sooner or later. I do hope Thomas can find a mage who is more willing to help him with his ideas to reform the magical world. I rate this book Recommended.

The Shield of Kuromori (The Sword of Kuromori #2)

Title: The Shield of Kuromori

Author; Jason Rohan

Series: The Shield of Kuromori

Kenny Blackwood only meant to save his new friend Kiyomi from an untimely death—but what he’s unleashed in her might be worse. With an oni’s lifeforce now powering her body, she’s starting to adopt oni mannerisms and habits. So he’s determined to find her a cure. No matter what it costs . . .

I didn’t like this one as much as the first. I did actually enjoy Kiyomi’s changing personality, as I felt that saving her in the prior book was a big cop out, and seeing that the action has ongoing consequences has made that more palatable. But Kenny is in the process of throwing everything away for the sake of “fixing” her, and it’s not hard to see that this is going to land him in a whole heap of trouble in the long term.

(Besides, she doesn’t seem to be losing her essential personality. It’s basically her with new eating habits and anger management issues. Which is to say not very different from before at all.)

The book is still packed with a variety of weird Japanese monsters. This time, though, there’s a particular gang of them in addition to the random surprises. And this gang is acting much more intelligently than the rest. I liked the mystery of what was actually going on with the telescopes. (And the humor involved in the whole setup.)

I was less fond of the new human characters. I loathed Stacey. Pushy girls that will pretend to be in danger to get a reaction just hit all my “please someone kill you quickly” responses. But she’s wriggled her way into Kenny’s life (mostly by blackmailing him) so I guess the story will be stuck with her in the future too.

Overall I was mostly annoyed as I read this book. Annoyed at Kenny for pretending to go along with people only to abandon them when they were counting on him. Super annoyed at Stacey. And I’m not sure I care about the series enough to finish it out, especially since that currently means tracking down a copy of the third book. Maybe if my library gets them I’ll reconsider. For now, I rate this book Neutral.