Monthly Archives: October 2012

#CBR4 Maneuver #38 – Scholar

Target: L.E. Modesitt, Jr.’s Scholar (Imager Portfolio #4)

Profile: Fantasy, Political Fiction

Summary: Taken from the back cover, “Hundreds of years before the time of Imager, the continent of Lydar is fragmented.  Quaeryt is a scholar and a friend of Bhayar, the young ruler of Telaryn.  Worried about his future and the escalating intrigues in the capital city, Quaeryt persuades Bhayar to send him to Tilbor, conquered ten years earlier by Bhayar’s father, in order to see if the occupying army there can be redeployed along its border with the warlike nation of Bovaria.

Quaeryt has managed to conceal the fact that he is an imager, since the life expectancy of imagers is short.  His voyage to Tilbor is filled with pirates, storms, poisonings, attempted murder… and the discovery that he is not quite who he thought he was.”

After Action Report:

In practice, there are two solutions to mental stagnation.  The first is to innovate; take the established scenario or problem and approach it with new ideas or a different perspective.  The second is to do something else.  If Modesitt successfully innovated in Imager’s Intrigue, the third book in the Imager Portfolio, he is now using the second tactic, abandoning everything but the setting from book three.  Scholar upends the progression of the series by taking us back to the formation of Solidar and a new/old Imager who helped create the nation that Rhennthyl fights to defend.

To be fair, this isn’t a new tactic to Modesitt.  He frequently abandons major protagonists, storyline events and even time periods, to inject new life into flagging series.  For me as a reader, this can get a little annoying.  I don’t like being kept in the dark about characters I’ve come to care about.  But from the perspective of a reviewer, this methodology is kind of a blessing.  Not only can it bring a new energy to a series, but I can actually talk about the plot without having to worry about spoilers.

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#CBR4 Maneuver #37 – Ghost Story

Target: Jim Butcher’s Ghost Story (Dresden Files #13)

Profile: Modern Fantasy, Urban Fantasy

Summary: Taken from the back cover, ::REDACTED::
The rear cover summary is a major spoiler for the end of Changes (Dresden #12) and has been redacted.

After Action Report:

I have to give this to Jim Butcher: he knows how to drag a series past its expiration date.  Changes, book twelve in this somewhat mammoth sequence, took some major risks and really shook up the Dresden formula.  And ended with a hell of a cliffhanger.  It was/is such a big cliffhanger that I can’t actually talk about the plot of Ghost Story at all without spoiling everything.  So where does Butcher take this embarrassment of storytelling riches?  Straight back into the ground.  Or do I mean grind?

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LAB Notes #2 – Kids on the Slope

Target: Kids on the Slope – Sakamichi no Apollon (lit. Apollo of the Slope)
Studio: MAPPA with Tezuka Production
Genre: Slice of Life, Drama
Notable Themes: High School, Musicians, Youth Politics
Episodes: 12
Fanservice Level: Low

Reasons to Watch:
Brilliant soundtrack and musical direction
A touching romance with strong historical ties

Reasons to Not:
Somewhat clichéd storytelling
Uneven and inexplicit time skips make viewing confusing

Similar to: BECK: Mongolian Chop Squad, Nodame Cantabile

Review:
If I were writing these reviews in the 90s or the early ‘Aughts, I would have started this one by lamenting the condition of real Slice of Life dramas in the U.S. anime market.  The problem was that Slice of Life shows aren’t easily monetized and didn’t have a huge appeal to the original baseline Otaku.  The genre is still rarely brought overseas, but most anime fans can identify it when they see it now, and have one or two examples of the genre to call up if asked.  Another, separate issue is that Slice of Life concepts are frequently combined with other genres, such as comedy, supernatural horror or harem scenarios.

Kids on the Slope is none of these.  It is a drama in the purest sense, and one that is firmly rooted in the reality of 1960s Japan.  It is a skillful examination of the social politics of the era, while still being, at its core, a touching story of friendship and young love.  The show is bound together by the jazz music that helped define the youth culture of the era.  It is the heart and soul of the series and, ultimately, is what really makes the show worth watching.

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#CBR4 Maneuver #34-36 – The Cartoon History of the Universe 1-3

Target: Larry Gonick’s The Cartoon History of the Universe, Volumes 1-19

Profile: History, Nonfiction, Cartoons!

Summary: From Volume 1, “This cartoon history is the outcome of my nine years at Harvard, where I studies mathematics – yes…  Nine years the math department scoffed at my theories!  But what do they know about time travel?  Most mathematicians can’t tell a second hand from a second base!!  We parted ways in 1972

After I dropped out, I built this time machine!  Let’s hear ‘em scoff now!  You see?  Simple!  Just a pile of old history books!  Gad, but that musty smell is bracing!!

If I read the right books and concentrate hard enough, the machine transports me – in my imagination – anywhere in the past that I want!   For you it’s even easier – all you have to do is KEEP READING!  But hang on tight!  I’ve set the controls for the time before time began…”

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#CBR4 Maneuver #33 – The Break of Noon

Target: Neil LaBute’s The Break of Noon: A Play

Profile: Drama, Spirituality, Religion

Summary: Taken from the back cover, “What if God told you to be a better person but the world wouldn’t allow it?

Such is the dilemma facing Joe Smith, a run-of-the-mill white-collar businessman who survives an office shooting and is subsequently touched by what he believes to be a divine vision. His journey toward personal enlightenment – past greed and lust and the other deadly sins – is, by turns, tense, hilarious, profane, and heartbreaking.

Exploring the narrow path to spiritual fulfillment and how strewn it is with the funny, frantic failings of humankind, The Break of Noon showcases Neil LaBute at his discomfiting best.”

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LAB Notes #1 – Xam’d: Lost Memories

Target: Xam’d: Lost Memories – Bounen no Zamned
Studio: BONES
Genre: Action, Adventure
Notable Themes: Mecha, War, Religious Persecution
Episodes: 26
Fanservice Level: Mild

Reasons to Watch:
Top quality animation from Studio BONES.
Strong, original story that doesn’t feel like a retread.
Great characters and very strong character development.

Reasons to Not:
Lots of obscure terminology that is never explained.
Very random ‘final-boss’ ending with little real resolution

Similar to: RahXephon, Eureka Seven, Laputa: Castle in the Sky

Review:
There isn’t a good reason for why I started this new anime review series with Xam’d: Lost Memories.  It isn’t my favorite series, though it probably sits in the top twenty-five.  It is a rather good exemplar of the kind of things I like in shows, anime or otherwise: strong main character development, good storytelling over the entire arc and fun action sequences that don’t dominate the rest of the show.  Xam’d doesn’t feel as polished as some of the real classics in its genre, but still manages to stand above the crowd as a show that provokes thought and emotion.

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Expansion/Reconstruction (LAB Notes)

Back in the the heady 2000s, (or the Aughts, as Wikipedia informs me) I wrote and managed a rather uninspired anime blog called LAB Notes.  The LAB stood for Lyrinoir (my primary screen name) Anime Blog, and it was mostly just a place for me to complain about how most American anime fans were hurting the local industry by refusing to recognize quality anime and promote it.  I wanted to prove that there was a significant segment of Japanese anime that could stand side by side with American primetime television and come out looking better, if only the entire genre wasn’t being dragged down by the misconceptions and stereotypes that anime has acquired.

At the time, I was marginally in charge of a college anime club, which I managed with more or less the same philosophy.  Much to my chagrin, most of my membership didn’t care about what I perceived as quality and were just as happy watching shit as they were watching the the high quality stuff.

All of this is tangential to the fact that I really enjoy anime.  While it is true that the weaknesses of the format are many, and a majority of the shows are horrible experiments into the depths of fan service, there still exists a worthwhile core of programs that are not only worthwhile, but just as valuable as classic Hollywood movies, top notch live action dramas or even literature.

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#CBR4 Maneuver #32 – Deadhouse Gates

Target: Steven Erikson’s Deadhouse Gates (Malazan Book of the Fallen #2)

Profile: Epic Fantasy

Summary: Taken from the Malazan Wikia, “In the vast dominion of Seven Cities, in the Holy Desert Raraku, the seer Sha’ik gathers an army around her in preparation for the long-prophesied uprising named the Whirlwind. Unprecedented in its size and savagery, it will embroil in one of the bloodiest conflicts it has ever known: a maelstrom of fanaticism and bloodlust that will shape destinies and give birth to legends…

In the Otataral mines, Felisin, youngest daughter of the disgraced House of Paran, dreams of revenge against the sister who sentenced her to a life of slavery. Escape leads her to Raraku, where her soul will be reborn and her future made clear. The now-outlawed Bridgeburners, Fiddler and the assassin Kalam, have vowed to return the once god-possessed Apsalar to her homeland, and to confront and kill the Empress Laseen, but events will overtake them too. Meanwhile, Coltaine, the charismatic commander of the Malaz 7th Army, will lead his battered, war-weary troops in a last, valiant running battle to save the lives of thirty thousand refugees and, in so doing, secure an illustrious place in the Empire’s checkered history. And into this blighted land come two ancient wanderers, Mappo and his half-Jaghut companion Icarium, bearers of a devastating secret that threatens to break free of its chains…”

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#CBR4 Maneuver #31 – Gardens of the Moon

Target: Steven Erikson’s Gardens of the Moon (Malazan Book of the Fallen #1)

Profile: Epic Fantasy

Summary: From goodreads.com, “The Malazan Empire simmers with discontent, bled dry by interminable warfare, bitter infighting and bloody confrontations. Even the imperial legions, long inured to the bloodshed, yearn for some respite. Yet Empress Laseen’s rule remains absolute, enforced by her dread Claw assassins.
For Sergeant Whiskeyjack and his squad of Bridgeburners, and for Tattersail, surviving cadre mage of the Second Legion, the aftermath of the siege of Pale should have been a time to mourn the many dead. But Darujhistan, last of the Free Cities of Genabackis, yet holds out. It is to this ancient citadel that Laseen turns her predatory gaze.
However, it would appear that the Empire is not alone in this great game. Sinister, shadowbound forces are gathering as the gods themselves prepare to play their hand . . .
Conceived and written on a panoramic scale, Gardens of the Moon is epic fantasy of the highest order–an enthralling adventure by an outstanding new voice.”

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