Tag Archives: urban

Wizards and Heroes

Title: Wizards and Heroes

Author: Clark Graham

Jason has been summoned to be the Hero of another world—but the wizard who did the summoning messed up, and Jason only crosses over to this world in his dreams. He’s got a mission ahead of him: capture the golden orb from the enemy King, or his dreams will continue to drag him to a world that’s trying to kill him. Problem is, his real life is falling apart because no one believes him when he explains how he keeps getting injured.

This had some good ideas, but the execution fell flat in a number of areas.

The first, and most immediately obvious, is the writing style. Between the wording choices, the occasional grammatical errors, and the tone, this feels like a first novel from a high schooler. The prose is very basic, and the storytelling tends to skip over important bits like battle scenes, or summarize them in a way that’s not all that believable. Like having Jason behead a bear-sized creature in one blow, when he hasn’t been gifted any kind of super strength.

There are errors like that in many of the events. Like the ease in which various characters are getting medical information bothered me. Simply pushing over a TREE because the ground was wet (and then hacking it from its roots with swords, not axes) was another. Most of these could have been fixed with some minor changes.

Many of the characters are flat and unbelievable. I think the school councilor had some of the best characterization, but other adults like the mayor (who doesn’t even get a name, just Mayor), or the evil king, are more like caricatures. I especially disliked the romantic elements. I’m not sure why she’s STARTING off with a kiss on the cheek, or why she thinks this is an appropriate reward (and I won’t even go into the whole sunbathing scene).

And it was really annoying how much of the final battle was just skipped over. Possibly because it would be hard to explain how a bunch of average adults and kids could win just by virtue of being taller against people who presumably have actually trained with their weapons.

Overall, this feels like something that was probably a lot of fun for the author to write, but really could have used another draft or editing pass to strengthen the story. I rate this book Not Recommended.

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My Hero Academia S3 part 2 (Anime)

Title: My Hero Academia

Episodes: 52-63 (Season 3 part 2)

It’s now time for Class 1-A to begin preparation for the job of becoming a hero. Special moves, a provisional license exam, and a glimpse of the new horizons ahead of them are a heady incentive to improve. But not everything is as it appears . . .

To be honest, the license exam is one of my least favorite arcs in the manga. Add to that this arc manages to put a filler episode in the middle of it, and that’s how I ended up getting distracted away from following it week-to-week and only marathoning it out at the end.

That said, even MHA at its worst is still pretty good. Special moves and a huge exam are both good times to show off some of the rest of the class. Other schools finally get a decent amount of focus. And MHA also uses the natural conflicts to examine some of the bigger implications of All Might’s retirement for both heroes and villains.

Both of my favorite episodes come near the end. Deku vs. Kacchan part 2 is an amazing fight on so many levels. The visuals are stunning. Bakugou’s explosive energy sometimes masks his real genius for fighting, but here his moves are on full display. And because all the best fights also have a lot of emotional depth to them, this is Bakugou’s chance to finally break down over everything that’s happened. (He’s not exactly the kind of guy who can talk things out. At least not without punching them too.) I think this episode does a lot to soften some of Bakugou’s rougher edges, showing that he’s not just some angry bully, but underneath it all he’s a kid who is trying to figure out how to grow into his dream. And he’s clever enough to be a real obstacle to Deku if he wanted.

Then the last episode for this season technically starts the next big arc by introducing three of the upperclassmen who will have a big role in the near future. Mirio’s little demonstration fight is a riot, as he’s just as concerned with staying dressed as he is throwing punches (the problems inherent in a quirk that lets him phase through things). His efforts not to traumatize the girls don’t seem to have been entirely successful . . . but it’s all played for laughs, and he’s just as quick to turn to a more serious and inspirational side.

All in all, this ranges from decent to excellent, and with season 4 confirmed in the credits of the last episode, it’s just a matter of time to see where it goes from here. I rate this show Recommended.

Parasyte (Movie)

Title: Parasyte
Format: Live-Action Movie

Shinichi wakes up one night to a bug in his room—one that burrows into his right hand and replaces it with an intelligent parasite. Now Shinichi and Migi must learn to live together, in a world where both humans and parasites pose a threat to their continued existance.

The live-action movie is probably best seen after (or in addition to, at any rate) the anime. Although the story preserves some of the main highlights, cutting down 12 episodes to one movie means a lot of the more extended character development just doesn’t have time.

That said, it was fun. The CG worked out better than I expected, and Migi looks suitably more creepy in a closer-to-life format. The parasite battles also looked more understandable than a lot of the similar fights in the anime.

I think what bothered me the most was taking Shinichi’s dad away. They probably decided to do it to give more pathos between Shinichi and his mom, but one of the more interesting parts of the anime to me was contrasting the way Shinichi and his father both handled the major event. And Shinichi’s concern for his father drove a lot of his later decisions.

Overall, if you liked the anime, or are just curious about the series and don’t feel you have time for the whole anime, this was a decent movie. But it doesn’t offer a whole lot above and beyond what the anime already did, so I would recommend if the movie interested you at all, then check out the anime too. I rate this movie Recommended.

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.

In/Spectre (Manga)

Title: In/Spectre

Format: Manga

Volumes: 1-8

Kuro is a regular visitor at the hospital Kotoko goes to for checkups, but as he’s usually accompanied by his girlfriend, Kotoko has kept her crush a secret. After she learns they broke up, however, she’s determined to make her move. After all, they both have secret ties to the world of yokai, monsters, and spirits. But both of them will be stretched to their limits by a ghost that’s started appearing. Steel Lady Nanase, whose face is smashed in and who wields the I-beam that killed her, is starting to rampage . . .

This was a lot of fun. Kuro is so laid-back about everything, including having his arm chomped off by a giant monster. Turns out he’s basically immortal (and has one other fun ability that can only be activated when he dies). So he spends the story facing incredible danger with a really bored expression. He’s not good at fighting, but he doesn’t really need to be, because nothing can kill him so that he stays dead.

Kotoko is also interesting, although I don’t like her as Kuro’s girlfriend because she’s incredibly pushy. I suppose she does listen when he tells her no, even if that doesn’t stop her from continually trying. She’s missing one eye and one leg as part of a bargain she made with the yokai when she was a kid to be their goddess of wisdom. Which basically means she troubleshoots their issues, which is how both she and Kuro get involved in the Steel Lady Nanase case.

Steel Lady Nanase herself is a really weird little upside-down mystery. Kotoko’s relationship with the local spirits means that discovering the truth is actually pretty easy—but the truth is the problem. Steel Lady Nanase is an urban legend, empowered by belief, and allowing other people to believe that she’s responsible for the things she’s actually doing will only empower her to do worse. So now the question becomes how to put down a ghost that isn’t a ghost, and it will take everything Kotoko and Kuro can do to stop her.

Although I do find it hilarious Kuro’s role in books 5-6 particularly boils down to “get killed repeatedly to keep the ghost distracted from killing people who can’t survive the experience.”

The first six volumes cover the plot of the novel (which doesn’t appear to have an English version), and it was pretty obvious to me it was based on a book. The way the plot stays tight despite hundreds of pages, the flashbacks, the focus on the mystery, and the way a lot of the action is everyone sitting in a room trying to discuss what they know and what they need to do feels like a novel. Which isn’t a bad thing, as volumes 7 and 8 are definitely less compelling simply because their stories are too short to build up the same stakes.

These stories are also hilarious, even if you don’t have my sometimes macabre sense of humor. Kotoko quoting various pacifists and Kuro responding “He got shot, too,” in volume 7 is one of my favorite moments. Or the myriad of ways Kuro shuts down Kotoko’s attempts to get him to sleep with her. I was rooting the whole time for him to get back together with Saki. The one time he looks genuinely happy talking to Kotoko about their relationship is when he tells her if he can have anything he wished for, he’d wish to break up with her. I think they work well as friends and partners, but Kuro clearly isn’t on the same page as Kotoko when it comes to a romantic relationship.

Overall, this is a fun series that’s enough sideways to your typical modern supernatural story to stay surprising. Books 1-6 do comprise a complete arc, with 7 and 8 feeling more like bonuses. I rate this series Highly Recommended.

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 Isolator: The Stinger (Isolator #4)

Title: The Isolator: The Stinger

Author: Reki Kawahara

Series: Isolator #4

Still reeling from the aftermath of his previous battle, Minoru is determined to improve so that the people around him won’t be hurt. But the newest Ruby Eye proves a huge challenge—someone who attacks Jet and Ruby Eyes alike, and has a more dangerous ability than anyone they’ve met so far.

I liked this, but it feels like a big step back from the previous books.

The biggest issue is that it feels like more of the same. The new facet to Minoru’s abilities is immediately overshadowed by the Stinger’s attack, and the story never really gets back to it except to prevent him from trying this with someone else. Although we get a lot more insight into Liquidizer and Trancer, there still isn’t much about the Syndicate’s real goals. And it’s never clear if the Stinger is even human, much less what his actual abilities are.

I’m also really frustrated with turning the Professor into the latest girl in love with Minoru. For starters, she’s ten. And even if she wasn’t ten, she’s still presented as someone who has no handle on emotions, just super-smarts for logic. So the whole bit where she’s playing “little sister” comes off as creepy, like she’s aping the trope in an attempt to figure it out and make Minoru more attached to her. I also completely fail to see what she sees in Minoru other than a mystery she can’t solve, as his direct interactions with her are (as Suu accurately identified) basically ignoring the person in favor of the ability.

The fight scenes are still a lot of fun. I’m always up for more of Divider’s random sword skills, or Trancer’s clever use of water phase changes. And the fact that THIS enemy is targeting both sides leads to some initial misunderstandings followed by unlikely teamwork. I really liked seeing that Minoru’s big stand against Liquidizer in the last book actually shook her up enough to seriously consider his words.

And I love the science, especially this little gem in the author’s note afterwards:

To sum it up, weak forces are carried by elementary particles called weak bosons, strong forces are controlled by gluons, electromagnetic forces are what make giant robots move and stuff, and gravity is what makes them fall when they’re defeated in battle.

Overall, I really hope the next book has more progress on some of the bigger mysteries. I’m still enjoying the series but I miss the way the earlier volumes did so much more to expand the overall world. I rate this book Recommended.