Comics Review: Tonoharu

December 11, 2016 0

On the show, we’ve given a lot of love to Marvel Comics, and I can assure you, the Unreliable Narrators could do a very similar show on DC as well. It’s the independent comics that are a little harder to give love to. We have our faves (Mouseguard, Hellboy), but which indies you read are often a matter of personal taste.

Last night I drove home through an Iowa snowstorm after a full day of battening down the hatches for a creative snowy Sunday at home. I didn’t feel like digging into the writing or the huge epic fantasy I was reading, so instead I grabbed the volumes of Tonoharu that my comics guy, Ken, had tracked down for me.

Tonoharu may not pique everyone’s interest. It certainly picqued mine. The story is about two Americans serving as teaching assistants in English (think JET) in a small rural town. The art is in small squares, and is a simple, gray-washed style of moment pictures. In the prologue, Dan talks about whether or not he will renew for a year. For most of the story, we follow his predecessor, also named Dan, through his troubled, isolated year in Tonoharu.

Lars Martinson, the author, emphasizes in the support material, that the story paints a very grim view of living in Japan, and he goes on to wax poetic about how vital and life changing living in a whole different culture for a long time can be. I have to agree. While I have not lived for a year in Japan, my relationship with Japan has totaled 5 trips and probably about half a year in the country if you add it all up. My longest stay, as a student of Japanese in the summer of 1998, really helped me relate to Tonoharu. Dan is very much a fish out of water, although you can see that he would be just as uncomfortable in the US. His successor is much more like me, and figures out how to make it work in a compromise of the two cultures he’s negotiating.

The characters in the story seem real to me, because I have met so many of them. I have my own admirable sensei who is a fantastic person. I know my own shy students, strange expats who impose their culture upon the country, guys who are just there to sleep with Asian women. They all exist, and I found it eerie the way these characters might typify the expat experience in Japan.

I love Japan. Like any multi-cultural interaction, we find each other complicated and we have stereotypes about each other. We find enlightenment when we are surprised, we find isolation when we can’t understand. Tonoharu is a quiet comic, but if you’ve ever lived somewhere else for a while, you will find it a rewarding read. This will probably be one of my recommendations for the year as we close out 2016.

Review: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

November 25, 2016 0

It has been said films which are set in the 20’s do not do well at the box office, and I understand this is true of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, which had, according to Warner Brothers, a somewhat disappointing opening weekend. If you are looking for all Harry Potter, all the time, of course you aren’t going to want to see this movie. It’s set in the US, and in a different time period. The central figure in the film is Newt Scamander, whom many of you might know as the author of the textbook Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find from the Potter series.

Turns out Newt is the Jane Goodall of the magical world. Newt has a mission–to help his fellow wizards realize the magical creatures they share the world with are not as dangerous as the ban in the US would make them appear. Well, let’s be realistic. They’re dangerous like all animals are dangerous, but Newt is a trained professional and unnaturalist, if you like. Newt’s a quirky, captivating character, very interesting and single-minded, so the film must be supported by some other emotional layers. Unfortunately, the female lead, an ex-female Auror, Tina Goldstein, is kind of lackluster and dull.

However, it is in the supporting characters where one finds the real emotional meat of the film. One Jacob Kowalski, a non-mag (Muggle to those of you in the know) ends up involved in the plot and seems like he will be the butt of jokes, but turns out to be a stalwart friend and yes, a romantic lead. Tina’s sister, Queenie, is a mage who reads minds, and is a charming, sweet woman. The chemistry between Queenie and Jacob is all the more poignant because Jacob is not allowed to remember his interactions with wizards at the end, a strange unnatural American law, as Newt points out to Tina.

The other emotional plot involves the manipulation of an orphan named Creedence, who has been adopted by the  anti-Wizard organizer of Second Salem. Creedence is manipulated by Mr. Graves, a wizard high in the Magical Congress of the United States, who thinks he is the way to a dangerous young wizard who has a powerful, evil occulus. I can’t reveal much here without revealing a lot of spoilers, but this plot also has emotional depth, and also reveals Tina at her best.

If you want to see more of the Potterverse, as in not more Harry Potter, but more of J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World, this is a great way to go. Costumes are wonderful. Special effects are great. Newt is winning. Queenie and Jacob are fantastic. Go check it out and give it the love it deserves.

Miraculous (Miraculous Ladybug)

November 11, 2016 0

And now, for something completely different.

One of the things that my animation-loving spouse recently introduced me to was a new cartoon originating in France, but with an international cast of producers and animators. It is called Miraculous in the United States and Miraculous Ladybug in France. A mere three days after we failed to elect the first woman president of the United States and elected a president who sets women’s rights back 20 years or so, shows like Supergirl and Miraculous Ladybug become increasingly important for maintaining and elevating the status of young girls.

There’s a lot to like in Ladybug. Our main character Marinette, half Chinese and half French, is a normal teenage girl, tongue-tied in the presence of Adrien, her crush. She has a good friend, Ayla, and a snobby rival Chloe, and is supported by a cast of well-rendered high schoolers. These students are important because every episode, someone is evilized by the show’s thematic villain, the Papillion (called the Hawk Moth in English because that’s more villain like that Butterfly, I guess), and while the evilized villain isn’t always a friend, it’s good to have a stock of misunderstood adolescents to choose from.

Remember Adrien? The rich son of an overprotective father, he too has a superhero ID. Marinette’s Miraculous (a cute little bug-like creature called Tikki) turns her into Ladybug, upon whom Adrien has a crush. Adrien’s Miraculous (a catlike stinky cheese eater called Plagg) turns him into the Chat Noir, or Black Cat. The gimmick is that Adrien and Marinette have no idea who their partner actually is. Ladybug plays down Chat Noir’s flirtations, and Marinette is hopeless around Adrien, a well-maintained tension.

While the show is presented as a partnership in the U.S., Ladybug usually saves the day with her lucky charm powers and resourcefulness. Chat Noir and Ladybug are great friends and partners, good role models, and a lot of fun to watch.

I prefer to watch the show in French with subtitles. It’s good practice for my rusty French, and I always think original voice acting is usually the best performance. But for your kids, you can watch the show in English on both Nickelodeon and the Disney Channel. They can learn French later.

So, go watch this bright, colorful show with good animation. Show boys and girls how well they can work together and get along. Enjoy its quirky villains and Parisian culture.

Spots on! Or words to that effect.

Animosity #1 by Marguerite Bennett and Rafael de LaTorre

September 29, 2016 0

Animosity is published by Aftershock comics and is the latest work from Marguerite Bennett, featuring stunning art work by Rafael de La Torre. There’s a richness and a texture to the drawings that would render them almost storybook quality.

Except that this is a horror comic. Undisputedly.

You might know Marguerite Bennett’s work from DC Bombshells, an interesting spin/retcon of DC heroines. This isn’t that.

On page two, all the animals in the world of Animosity become consciously sentient, capable of judging right and wrong. They become, well, like humans think of themselves as being. And they have all the same issues with being used or eaten or enslaved that you think they might. There’s a sequence which shows several very short stories of the animals gaining sentience, and it is a horrific four pages, tiny stories of immeasurable sadness or anger or horror or love. The rest of the comic is good, but it doesn’t measure up to all of those tiny stories.

The main story centers on a bloodhound, Sandhor, who awakens to realize how much love he has for the little girl who spends the most time with him, Jesse. In a world where animals want revenge against humans for many, many wrongs, Sandhor decides to protect Jesse as though she were his family. The comic will follow them through this new landscape. I am very interested to see what happens next, and heartily recommend the comic to you.

You can still get in on this limited series, but it’s hot. I understand it’s going back for a 4th printing. That’s good news for Aftershock and its creators.

Ash Versus Evil Dead. Groovy.

September 16, 2016 0

The husband and I  have been eagerly awaiting the release of Ash Versus Evil Dead Season One from Starz Original. It was released and promptly sold out at every local outlet we checked. A shout out to the Barnes and Noble that I am writing in THIS VERY MINUTE for getting us our copy of the 10-episode series.

Now, I know technically this would be a better review to post NEXT month, but I understand that things are gonna get crazy like Halloween woah around here next month, so I thought Bruce Campbell and Sam Raimi deserved to get a little loving early, and you might want to hunt this series down, and yeah, it’s gonna take some advance warning and leg work on your part, because it’s immensely popular.

For those not in the know: Sam Raimi, now a fairly well-known director started his career making horror films, notably Evil Dead and its remake Evil Dead 2. His buddy from high school, Bruce Campbell, was Ash, the less than brilliant hero of the classic “Don’t go into the woods, kids, unless you want to unleash unspeakable evil” movie. Campbell and Raimi are artists who started humbly, and are cult figures to many fans. Raimi went on to direct Hercules and Xena and the initial 3 Spider-Man films. Campbell has starred in Brisco County Junior, Jack of All Trades, and Burn Notice. And yet…

…the thing these two guys have been asked all the time is this: Why haven’t you made another Evil Dead film? Hey, wasn’t Army of Darkness enough? Apparently not. How about that other Evil Dead movie those other guys made with Raimi’s blessing? Close, but no cigar, we hear. So, okay, fine. But instead of a movie, isn’t a series better? Especially when that series has already been renewed for season two?

The answer appears to be a resounding yes. I keep telling people I’m not a horror fan, especially of films where people get carved up regularly by a man with a chainsaw arm. That said, yeah, Ash Versus Evil Dead is about as good as this genre can get. It’s pure, unadulterated camp. Since the events of the previous film, Ash has been laying low, continuing his gainful employment at ValueMart and trying to avoid the Deadites that could crop up in his life. One night while smoking marijuana, Ash makes a bad judgment call to impress the woman he’s with, and reads from the flesh-covered Necronomicon, which he’s been keeping in his trailer. Evil awakens, and Ash goes on the run, first to destroy the book, and then to do what he does best–fight evil.

Ash is not alone on this journey. With him is Pablo, played by Ray Santiago, his buddy from ValueMart who has natural brujo talents; Kelly, played by Dana DeLorenzo, a new ValueMart employee upon whom Pablo has designs; and Jill Marie Jones as cop Amanda Fisher, whose partner is killed early on by the Deadites. Lucy Lawless ducks in and out of the plot as the mysterious Ruby Knowby.

So, there’s lots of Karo syrup colored red to look like blood, and plenty of goofy jokes, lots of chainsaws grinding, and hapless people turned into Deadites. No one except Ash is truly safe in the show, and there are a few twists and turns, one that even made me gasp because I didn’t see it coming. It’s pretty good stuff, if you like your slasher films to be parody. Do they capture the magic? Yes. Ash is older, but in his essentials, he remains the same. Pablo and Kelly are loyal to Ash, some might say to a fault, and Amanda eases into the show as the comedic straightman, but comes into her own.

If you like comedy, horror, or the original Evil Dead, you’re probably gonna want to see this. If rationed properly, that’s 10 nights of quality Halloween month viewing in your future.

Book Review: Beyond Your Touch and A Hold on Me by Pat Esden

August 29, 2016 1

Pat Esden’s books are my first foray into New Adult fiction. I held a stereotype that New Adult is largely a soft porn delivery system. Now, Pat’s work is in fact very steamy and very humid.  Not only is her work satisfying on that front, but also it delivers a story punch as well.  Both A Hold on Me and Beyond Your Touch are published by Kensington.

So…spoilers about the first book. Be careful here.

Pat’s series starts with A Hold on Me, in which our heroine, Annie, discoveries that her past has been altered to protect her from knowledge of how her father’s magical family is involved in a war fighting djinn. As a child, Annie did not warn her family about how her mother was being visited by a djinn, and she feels responsible for her mother’s kidnapping. All of this is revealed against a backdrop of Annie’s father’s possession, cure, and reconciliation with his family. Also, there’s this guy named Chase, who happens to be half-ifrit, half-human, and all hot.

The next book, coming out in September, is Beyond Your Touch. Annie and Chase are now in a full-fledged, torrid and sexy relationship. Tension is introduced in two ways–a rescue mission will be launched to the djinn realms to rescue Annie’s mom, and in order to go to the djinn realms, the assistance of a magical flute player, Lotli, is required. Annie is convinced that something is up between Chase and Lotli, especially after Chase cools it with Annie so he can concentrate on the mission. Annie discovers more about her new family and her role in it. The mission to the djinn realm does not go as planned, and the book ends with the stakes higher than the book began.

If you’ve never read New Adult and you’d like to give it a try, I would recommend Pat Esden’s books. The story and the hot sex are co-conspirators in a partnership that pulls you in and keeps you moving through the story. Whether you are a lover of romance, or adventure, there’s plenty here to satisfy both those interests. I particularly found the subject matter interesting, as I have done some research regarding djinn and Solomon for my own work, so it’s nice to see how someone else interprets it.

A Hold on Me is available now. If you act very quickly, you may have just enough time to finish it before Beyond Your Touch arrives at your local bookstore.

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